The intriguing premise of this grisly slasher pic about a surgical serial killer is riddled with too many coincidences to generate scares. However, because the film's cop hero and amateur detective heroine are sensibly written with recognizable human flaws, SAWBONES commands attention even
at its most ridiculous.
Constantly put down by her medical student boyfriend, Brad (Nicholas Sadler), hospital admissions secretary Jennie Sloan (Nina Siemaszko) marshals her unfocused energies into crimesolving after she discovers a mutilated corpse in an alley. The deceased woman is one of a string of victims slain by
Willy Knapp (Don Harvey), a rejected med school candidate. Unable to match the brilliance of his late surgeon father, psychotic Willy makes barbaric surgery his hobby. Pressured to capture elusive Willy (who uses a muscle tranquilizer but no anesthetic on his captive patients), police detective
Burt Miller (Adam Baldwin) prevails upon Jennie to provide hospital and med school info denied him by admissions director Rita Baldwin (Barbara Carrera). While Burt is chastised for interrogating a prominent citizen's son and Jennie gets fired for raiding her institution's files, Willy continues
his deadly surgery on a tow truck driver, a blue-collar worker, and a beautiful young woman.
Serendipitously locating Knapp's misplaced file, Jennie provokes Willy with a nasty official rejection letter to flush him out. Meanwhile, Burt is able to narrow the suspect field due to an obsolete surgical tool Knapp leaves embedded in a discarded corpse.
Jennie walks in on Brad and Rita having sex. Distraught, she leaves. To avenge his medical-school rejection, the deranged Willy kidnaps the cheating lovers to prepare Rita for a Hoover-powered liposuction and Brad for the relocation of his testicles. Posing as an assistant physician, brave Jennie
gains entry into Willy's home operating room after leaving a message for Burt to meet her there. Jennie survives a life-and-death struggle with suspicious Willy, and when Burt arrives, Willy attacks him with a surgical saw. Jennie shoots Willy with the gun Burt drops. Frustrated Sawbones Willy
faces life in a madhouse. Dropping her beau Brad, Jennie bonds with simpatico Burt.
Aside from irking the audience with the foolhardy risks its heroine takes, the major problem with SAWBONES is its wavering treatment of the villain, Willy Knapp. Poised on the verge of camp, actor Don Harvey doesn't quite get all he can out of his one-liners. Conversely, he doesn't register as
diabolically terrifying either; the handling of the film's titular figure is perfunctory. Because the movie indecisively shifts from over-the-top Grand Guignol to straightforward suspense, sickie surgeon Willy never rattles the audience's bones. Although gore groupies get their money's worth with
the sadistic operation scenes, horror film traditionalists will prefer the relationship developed between hard-pressed cop Burt Miller and perpetual doormat Jennie Sloan, whose self-esteem is elevated by cracking this murder case. If the parallel story of Willy's tragic keeping-up-with-Daddy
complex exhibited a pathos that complemented Jennie's psychological struggle, SAWBONES might have been a complex genre piece instead of just another passable nail-biter. (Graphic violence, extensive nudity, extreme profanity, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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