A nasty in name only (and maybe for its sexualised poster art), Human Experiments (also known as Beyond the Gate) is a dull and unexceptional horror. One that should have never landed on the nasty list as it was given an uncut X rating by the BBFC for theatrical release in 1979.
There are many examples of the absurdity of the video nasty list, some way more egregious than this, and Human Experiments joins the niche of nasties that aren’t particularly nasty. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have some blood and gore, but it’s extremely tame and only at the start of the movie.
That’s where we meet country music singer, Rachel (Linda Haynes) who ekes out a living working off-road dive bars. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle, and she has to deal with a lot of rubbish while on the road. Once such issue is having her pay withheld because she wouldn’t sleep with the owner of a bar.
Stressed and angry, she gets back on the road, but ends up hitting a young girl. Desperate for help, she runs to local house and finds a scene of slaughter. Adults and children dead from gunshot wounds. The culprit? A young boy who aims his gun at Rachel, but she manages to shoot him first.
Afterwards, she is promptly arrested and accused of the murders. Not helped by the fact that the actual culprit is now in a coma, so not talking. She is convicted and sent to a woman’s prison. Where Dr. Kline (Geoffrey Lewis) is secretly running experiments on some of the inmates. A form of brainwashing that sees the subject mentally broken down, then supposedly rebuilt to have a new, no-violent persona.
Of course, the crimes that Rachel has been convicted of make her a prime target for the doctor.
If you think that story sounds like nonsense, you’re right. It’s poorly told, and the details are left exceptionally light. There is no explanations for the ‘how’ or the ‘why’, which is all the more galling when the movie has a lot of nothing happening.
Rachel adapts to life well, and as far as prisons go, this one is pretty relaxed. Aside from feeling bitter about why she is even there, she seems well adjusted. Which makes her rapid mental breakdown quite unbelievable. This isn’t helped by the film failing to detail time passing in a satisfying way.
It’s a shame really because Human Experiments’ first 15 minutes are good, and the character of Rachel is likable. Linda Haynes does well in the role, and there are some notable turns from the likes of Ellen Travolta and Aldo Ray. However, Geoffrey Lewis is wasted in this role. Given nothing to sink his teeth into and coming across far too placid for the role he has. Was it the writing? Or did he just not really feel this one?
Perhaps Human Experiments takes itself too seriously. This is not an exploitation horror by any stretch. Those hoping for prison exploitation trash will come away extremely disappointed. Summed up by the lack of violence, blood, and gore after the initial house find.
Human Experiments (1979)
The Final Score - 5/10