Director: Gregory Goodell
Scorpion Releasing

The women-in-prison genre gets particularly twisted as inmates become HUMAN EXPERIMENTS on Scorpion Releasing's Blu-ray.

Singer-songwriter Rachel Foster (Linda Haynes, ROLLING VENGEANCE) is making her way across the country with one night gigs in dive bars on her way to the West Coast. Stopping over in Putnam County, she performs for bar owner Matt Tibbs (Aldo Ray, HAUNTED). When she rebuffs his overtures, Tibbs stiffs her on her fee with the backup of his sheriff brother (silent film star Jackie Coogan of Charlie Chaplin's THE KID). Reeling from the encounter, Rachel runs her car into a ditch while trying to avoid a girl who wandered into the road. Looking for help at a nearby farmhouse, she stumbles upon a quadruple homicide and shoots the killer (Bobby Porter, DAY OF THE ANIMALS) in self-defense. The locals refuse to believe that the now-comatose boy would murder his family, and the testimony of Tibbs and the sheriff about Rachel's hair-trigger temper is enough to railroad her through the court system and into a life sentence to be served at the Gates Correctional facility. Settling into the facility, Rachel catches the interest of prison psychiatrist Dr. Kline (Geoffrey Lewis, SALEM'S LOT) who has been conducting rehabilitation experiments on inmates with the cooperation of the warden (Mercedes Shirley) designed to reduce them to an infantile state in order to raise them again as nonviolent good girls. Although Rachel is self-assured enough to believe she is being gaslighted when she starts seeing and hearing things – in spite of Kline's assurances that her paranoid delusions are part of adjusting to the environment and her sentence – she becomes more determined than ever to escape before she ends up like the other failed subjects whose disappearances the warden has covered up.

A title more heard about than seen – as much through blurbs in the likes of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE HORROR MOVIES as the film's status as a Video Nasty in the United Kingdom – HUMAN EXPERIMENTS is much more accomplished than the grindhouse flick suggested by the synopsis, some reviews, and the film's trailer. There is a greater emphasis on character with much of the running time spent on Rachel's mental deterioration and not only Kline's gaslighting of her but his own quirks that hint at unseemly motivations behind his project, while also presenting the warden and the principal cell block guard (Cherie Franklin, TEEN WITCH) as more complex than usual characters. Rachel's cellmates are the usual roster of stereotypes – the "mover" (Ellen Travolta, GREASE), butch dyke Jimmy (Wesley Marie Tackitt), fragile Pam (Caroline Davies), old timer "grandma" (Laurene Tuttle, WALKING TALL), and no-nonsense prostitute Tanya (Marie O'Henry, THREE THE HARD WAY) – but they each get to make an impression, and their familiar interactions with the protagonist have a justification in the plot. The film saves its nightmare set-pieces for the third act, but still has another twist in the aftermath of Rachel's breakdown and an ambiguous resolution that may frustrate some or prove thought-provoking to others. Besides Rachel's song "Hill Country Rain" – actually voiced by Linda Handelman – the film also features a concert by "Lucifer and the Arch Angels" (actually Arthur King Williams, who also penned the songs). HUMAN EXPERIMENTS was one of producers Summer and Edwin Brown's attempts to branch out from adult films along with the slasher THE PREY (released in 1984 but produced somewhere around the same time as HUMAN EXPERIMENTS). While director Gregory Goodell's subsequent career consisted of a handful of TV movies of the week – including the memorable GRAVE SECRETS: THE LEGACY OF HILLTOP DRIVE with Patty Duke Austin and David Selby – screenwriter Richard Rothstein penned the desert slasher DEATH VALLEY, the memorable Wes Craven TV movie INVITATION TO HELL, wrote and directed the 1987 telefilm BATES MOTEL, wrote the film UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, as well as creating and writing several episodes of the long-running genre show THE HITCHHIKER.

One of the few non-hardcore/softcore films released theatrically by Essex Distributing – first as BEYOND THE GATE and then as HUMAN EXPERIMENTS – and given an early 1980s VHS release by VidAmerica that has become hard to find, HUMAN EXPERIMENTS became a hotly anticipated title when it became known that either Code Red or Scorpion might have it. Transferred from a scan of the original 35mm A/B camera negative, the film's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer looks spectacular without the qualifier of "for an obscure film." The materials were well-archived, and the professional competence of cinematographer João Fernandes – who cut his teeth on films like DEEP THROAT and THE STORY OF JOANNA before moving onto slashers like THE NESTING and THE PROWLER and higher-budgeted fare later in the eighties like CHILDREN OF THE CORN and FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER – yields a clean-looking image with natural grain and deep blacks even in scenes that would look noisy and underexposed in other films of this type and budget. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is clean with dialogue that is more intelligible than the heroine's singing.

The film is playable with optional "Katarina's Nightmare Theatre" introduction (4:58) and post-script (1:57), and hostess Katarina Leigh Waters also co-moderates with Lee Christian an audio commentary with director Goodell who voices his preference for the BEYOND THE GATE title – a theater marquee of which Waters mentions was visible for years in the original credits for THE DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW – his concept and Rothstein's script, as well as the producers' concern that Haynes was not "glamorous" enough. They discuss the impressive cast, including Lewis' pranks, but Goodell brushes off suggestions by the moderators that he and Rothstein were paying homage to other films. Waters mentioned in her introduction an interview with Haynes that would be featured on the disc. Although it did not materialize for reasons unknown, Waters does draw on it for input and prompting in the commentary, noting that Haynes was fine working with all of the insects but the cockroaches. The disc also includes two theatrical trailers for the film (2:31 + 2:09) as well as trailers for DEATH SHIP, SILENT SCREAM, THE PSYCHIC, and THE UNSEEN. Available for sale at Ronin Flix, HUMAN EXPERIMENTS comes with a reversible cover and a slipcase. (Eric Cotenas)