Nathan Schiff’s third (and arguably best to date) feature is a blood-soaked romp filled with nasty mutilations, long drawn-out gore sequences, stunted dialogue, and some would argue a mean streak a mile long – particularly toward women. But before I get into all that, let me at least extol the merits of this super-8 cheapie that has more heart than most films with a million times the budget.
A lot of viewers will take one look at They Don’t Cut the Grass Anymore and dismiss it as a cheap, inept piece of garbage – nothing could be further from the truth. Initially intended as a satire/comedy spurred from Schiff’s own negative experiences with corporate America and the yuppie attitudes of the early/mid 80s, the director’s vision was altered by the need to complete the film under extreme time constraints. Lead actor John Smihula (Weasels Rip My Flesh) was set to join the Peace Corps just two weeks after production began leaving a mere five days to actually shoot the film (Schiff’s Long Island Cannibal Massacre took 6 months), which forced the filmmakers to discard a lot of concepts they were initially wanting to explore. In this case I feel the film benefited from these changes; what the project evolved into is a far more mean-spirited and despondent view of the world. Despite the low budget, dearth of solid actors, and thrown together feel of the film, it’s a testament to the amount of talent and drive that Schiff possesses to have cobbled together such a wonderfully gritty and nasty end product. Had Schiff the time and resources to hone the comedy aspects as initially intended, I don’t think this would have been nearly as remarkable of a film.
There’s not much to really expand on regarding the plot; in fact there never was a formal script involved in any of Schiff’s first three features. Expect to be treated to two crazy hillbillies butchering vapid suburban yuppies with vicious aplomb and that’s essentially it – but the underlying themes here are where the film really hits the mark. They Don’t Cut the Grass Anymore is a scathing commentary on corporate America’s cutthroat attitude so prevalent in the business world.
The symbolism contained within – in particular with all the images of mutilated Barbie dolls – could easily be mistaken for mere scrimping in terms of budget etc, in fact serves as a statement on the artificiality and inhumanity of the yuppie subculture. Scenes such as a coked up debutante getting an explosive crammed in her mouth only to see her face become that of an inflatable sex doll are very intentional and not just a result of cost cutting in the effects department. I initially viewed that scene (and the subsequent shotgun blast to her ladybits complete with dog eating the leavings) as very misogynistic, but according to Schiff in interview it was meant to equate her to a “living puppet to be disposed of” – so more of a comment on human emptiness rather than a slight against the fairer sex. Regardless of intent, scenes in the vein of the aforementioned add a unique dimension to the film and can obviously be interpreted in a variety of contrasting ways. The use of the Shelley Stuart song “Yummy Yummy Dum Dum” during the segment with two girls lazing about is also markedly chauvinistic and condescending in addition to the young ladies getting dispatched rather viciously.
Extreme gore sequences make up the bulk of the running time, predominantly involving female victims. Is this more hate on the ladies, or do people just prefer to see the fairer sex when watching a person get hacked the fuck up? Schiff has stated that he wanted to go for something that hadn’t been done before with one of the girls being taken apart slowly, bit by bit. These killings are very brutal and even though the effects don’t always work that well are conceptually very sadistic. The decimation of the bourgeoisie culture that Schiff so fervently despises is very well realized here.
There’s something to be said about taking the time to film a crazed hillbilly taking apart someone’s face in painstaking detail with his bare hands. Glorious elements like this make it very easy to overlook any shortcomings with They Don’t Cut the Grass Anymore; if I had to find fault (and when do I not?) it would be the abject lack of nudity included. These girls keep every scrap of clothing on them no matter what, which is likely understandable given the limited resources available. Still, They Don’t Cut the Grass Anymore would have really benefited from some T&A to go along with all the violence and bloodshed. There’s even a bit of dialogue that alludes to a potential rape of one of the girls, but the assailant just makes some off color comments about how she “smells like fish”. Again likely played for laughs, but the end result is more caustic than it is effective.
They Don’t Cut the Grass Anymore is nothing short of excellent. What Schiff has managed to scrape together here with very little time or budget is commendable and inspiring. Absolutely essential viewing.
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