Troma Entertainment is an independent film production and distribution company notorious for cheesy, over-the-top, low budget, infomercial-esque B-movies such as Nuke ‘Em High and The Toxic Avenger. However, Luther the Geek (1990) stands out among films distributed under the company’s name. Dialing down the cheesy ’80s infomercial element while retaining just enough gore and a slight comedic undertone, this film is one of the best and most underrated of the Troma releases.
Opening in a 1938 rural Illinois landscape, a crowd of farmers carrying torches makes its way to a local carnival sideshow chanting, “Geek!” eager to see a caged, disheveled man bite the head off of a live chicken. Among the excitement, a young boy named Luther Watts (Will Albright) squeezes his way to the front for a better view, but is incidentally pushed over, getting his teeth knocked out. After the spectacle, the crowd dissipates and the lingering boy stands up remaining unnoticed, smearing his hand in the chicken blood and tasting it to satisfy his curiosity.
Years later, a fully-grown Luther (Edward Terry) is up for parole after having been imprisoned for animal cruelty and murder. Armed with a pair of razor sharp metal dentures, Luther is released and wastes no time getting into trouble. After being escorted out of a Kroger supermarket in the small town of Sterling, Illinois, for stealing and eating raw eggs from the containers, Luther sits next to an old lady on a parking lot bench. When the woman drops the egg Luther gives to her, the unstable ex-con is enraged and attacks ripping out her jugular with his metal teeth.
Fleeing the scene, Luther hides in the backseat of a car belonging to Hilary (Joan Roth), a young mother finishing her grocery shopping. Leaving the supermarket, Hilary is completely unaware of her stowaway and unintentionally gives the metal teeth-wielding killer a ride to her farmhouse located outside of town. The simple mistake of leaving her car door unlocked leads to an evening of terror for Hilary, her daughter, Beth (Stacy Haiduk), and Beth’s boyfriend, Rob (Thomas Mills).
In a special features commentary interview, director Carlton Albright said the idea for Luther the Geek came to him after a dinner conversation with his kids while explaining where the term “geek” originated. During the popularity of sideshow carnival acts in the ’20s, ’30s and ’50s, depraved and desperate people called “geeks” would serve as an entertainment act by biting the heads off of live chickens and snakes in exchange for their next dollar and whiskey.
In the commentary interview, Albright also explains that he chose Sterling/Rock Falls, Illinois and the surrounding area to film this project due to an old farmhouse owned by his mother-in-law located on the outskirts of town. The last tenants to rent the property from Albright’s mother-in-law trashed it before moving. Deciding to cut her losses, the director’s mother-in-law gave permission for the space to be used for the set’s location.
Helping drive this feature forward despite its small budget is a cast of outstanding talent. While character development is lacking, Haiduk and Roth bring their characters to life through panic, shock and an absurd yet believable meltdown. However, Terry steals the screen portraying the deranged, metal teeth wearing, chicken-eating psychopath.
Given that Luther never speaks a word but humorously communicates with clucking noises, this trait could have caused much more laughter at the character than intended. While it adds a slight comedic undertone – especially when he lets loose a rooster crow – Terry’s mannerisms and body language displays a twisted killer with no fear or remorse. This man’s psychological instability is made exponentially clear when he dances with a corpse before laying it down to be found later with another victim.
Along with the special effects offering just enough realistic gore and the cinematography creating tension, the film’s score is a great touch adding to the suspenseful, serious overtone. Throughout the film, the score is subtle and abstract, helping to move the plot along. Though Luther the Geek pales in comparison, the film’s score effectively helps build suspense giving it a similar feel as John Carpenter’s masterpiece Halloween (1978).
Due to the original release being fumbled by the film’s original distributor Quest International, Luther the Geek rightfully found a home with Troma Entertainment, allowing it to gain a cult following over the years. In March of 2016, Vinegar Syndrome brought the film into the age of HD, re-releasing the feature on Blu-ray and packing it full of interesting and worthwhile commentary interviews. While it is by no means a coveted masterpiece in horror history, it holds its own as a gem in the world of B-movie cult classics. Revisit this obscurity now on Amazon Prime.