Something Weird DVD

Psychotronic man

Some time in the mid-1960s, Herschell Gordon Lewis met James F. Hurley, a teacher at Triton College and a firm believer in psychic phenomena. Hurley wanted to promote his theories via film, and convinced Lewis to use his script for his next film. Lewis was looking for a second feature for A Taste of Blood and other features he had awaiting double feature drive-in release, and thought he could make Hurley’s story into something exploitable. What resulted is one of Lewis’ screwiest features — one that certainly lives up to its name.

A karate demonstration introduces playboy Dr. Alex Jordan (William Brooker), after which the movie ignores him for the next 24 minutes.

Jefferson, Wisconsin, electric company worker Cronin “Mitch” Mitchell (Tony McCabe, also in Lewis’ Suburban Roullette) is shocked by power lines during an accident. A narrator introduces the subject of psi-power, along with its effect on the cold war.

Mitchell tests off the chart in ESP, as well as telepathy and psychokinesis in tests administered by parapsychologist Dr. White (Lewis regular Jeffrey Allen of Two Thousand Maniacs and Moonshine Mountain). He bears horrible facial scars from his accident, but wears much worse scars on his psyche. “A freak like you should have died!” shouts the nurse, after Mitchell puts the moves on her.

Mitchell becomes a masked storefront psychic, giving out cynical advice to suckers. One day he’s visited by a horrid old witch (credited to “Mudite Arums”), who proposes a bargain — she’ll return his handsome face, and all he has to do is become her lover! The old hag becomes his girlfriend, disguising herself in public in the form of a beautiful young girl who calls herself Ellen Parker (Elizabeth Lee).

Mitchell is asked by police to help out catching a local maniac who has killed seven women with a blowtorch. In turn, the feds call in hotshot agent Jordan to investigate Mitchell. Jordan is also an expert in parapsychology, and only annoys the Jefferson police department, including Chief Detective Maddox (Ted Heil), with his questioning.

Mitchell proves his abilities with some levitation at a party, then exorcises a ghost (Kathleen Koenig) from a church. Jordan only makes progress in hitting on Ellen and fighting with Jefferson’s drunken detectives. Meanwhile, Mitch is having an affair of his own with the chief’s dumb brunette wife (Peg Stewart). Though regretting his pass at Ellen, that night Jordan suffers a psychic attack by angry blankets, which he subdues with his karate skills!

Back on the job, Mitch theorizes that the reason he can’t get an impression of the killer is that he’s a “part-time maniac”, only dangerous during his “schizophrenic” episodes. It takes a psi-boosting dose of Jordan’s LSD for Mitchell to get closer to the solution to the mystery — which should be Something Obvious for any viewer who’s not on LSD himself.

Or is it? When Mitchell points out his suspect, the killer shoots him in the head. This leads to an H.G. Lewis rarity: an action scene. Jordan chases down and shoots the killer, making a shocking revelation of his own.

The acting is poor, even for an H.G. Lewis cast, with only the leads making any kind of impression. The plot bears a slight resemblance to Roger Corman’s X – The Man with the X-ray Eyes crossed with odd fairy tale, giallo, and spy flick elements. The soundtrack music by Edward J. Petan, a jazzy composition full of echo that Something Weird Video also uses for their title sequences, is perfect for a Lewis picture.

The DVD transfer is from a very nice widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio) print that looks to be matted too tightly on top, but is nonetheless the best this feature has ever looked outside of Lewis’ camera. The image is almost too good, revealing in sharp focus the cheapness of the motel and schoolroom sets and the crappy make-up. The soundtrack picks up a lot of camera noise in some scenes.

A “Herschell Gordon Lewis Gallery of Exploitation Art” shows off a collection of posters and press books from Lewis’ films made after his split with partner Dave Friedman, from his hillbilly shocker Moonshine Mountain to his other hillbilly shocker This Stuff’ll Kill Ya. Ever at the ready with hyperbole, Lewis’ original ad mock-up for Something Weird says it “makes Blood Feast look like a Sunday school coke party”!

The disc includes three “archival short subjects”, which are actually clips from other Something Weird Video titles, shown here as examples of other freaky psychedelic trip scenes, I believe. These are fun and welcome clips, but I’d rather see genuine shorts or trailers included.

On the audio commentrak, host Mike Vraney explains how he took the film’s title for the name of his video label. Lewis tells how he came to collaborate with Hurley on the picture, and explains the relationship to the later picture The Psychic (on which he served as cameraman).

The pair is also joined by Lewis’ ex-partner Dave Friedman and Vraney’s partner Jimmy Maslin for some comments (after which Lewis leaves). The commentary track is of lower quality than other SWV titles, with annoying distortion and muffling and some confusion as contributors enter and leave. When it’s discovered that the early karate scene is out of order on the print the group is screening (a scene that is missing from other prints I’ve seen), they have to figure out how to cover the mistake.

It’s a raucous track, and I would’ve liked to hear Lewis say more about the various actors, effects and locations. However, it’s a valuable conversation for anyone interested in the continuing history of independent and exploitation film distribution.

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