DIRECTED BY: Christian Marquand
FEATURING: , John Astin, , , , , Walter Matthau, Charles Aznavour
PLOT: A nubile girl separated from her father wanders the U.S. meeting a poet, gardener, general, doctor, guru, and more, learning that men only want one thing from her.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Ah, the late 1960s all-star wacky counter-culture cash-in flop. I have a personal affection for this suspect subgenre, which includes Casino Royale and Myra Breckinridge among other campy disasters. The whole mini-movement was inspired equally by “Laugh-In,” screenwriters with LSD connections, and Hollywood execs’ hopes of wringing the spare cash that hadn’t been blown on grass from out of hippies’ pockets. Sadly, as the number of available remaining slots on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies grows ever smaller, we have to be ever more selective, and Candy has neither the balls-to-the-walls weirdness nor the cinematic competence to challenge for a spot among the very strangest films. Having the even more stunning and misconceived Skidoo on the List to represent this movement takes some of the sting out of reluctantly passing on this wild and wooly folly.
COMMENTS: , fresh off an Oscar for The Graduate, wrote Candy‘s script. Douglas Trumbull (the man responsible for 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s “cosmic gate” scenes) did the opening and closing effects. The Byrds, Steppenwolf and Dave Grusin appear on the impressive soundtrack. With that lineup of talent, along with a cast sporting multiple Oscar winners, it’s a shock how awful Candy can be at times. The blame can go to none other than director Christian Marquand (a successful French actor), whose second and final turn at the helm of a major motion picture was this financial shipwreck. Fortunately, at its best (er, worst), Candy is laughably awful, with enough “WTF?” moments (both intentional and unintentional) to keep your eyes glues to the tube.
The plot is a series of nearly-satirical vignettes in which a cross-section of American manhood attempts to grope, seduce, and violate the naïve Candy, who only wants to find her missing father. It is, as the kids today say, kind of rapey; but the menaces the nubile Ewa Auin faces are so silly and absurd that it’s hard to take offense. Candy appears confused rather than frightened by the men’s advances, and whenever someone does score, she enjoys it, in the free love spirit of the times. Her molesters are, in turn, a drunken poet (Burton, as a teen idol version of Dylan Thomas); a Mexican gardener (Ringo Starr, who makeslook like a Guadalajara native by comparison); an air force commander (Walter Matthau); her father’s twin brother; two medical professionals (Coburn and Huston); an underground filmmaker; a hunchback (Azvanour); a self-appointed guru traveling the country in a big rig (Brando); and a mysterious cloaked figure. Among the male cast, opinions are divided on who comes off best and worst, but even if their performances are halfway decent (Coburn), the actor’s star is tarnished just by appearing in this mess.
If you’re looking for weird bits beyond the spectacle of big names embarrassing themselves, we only need to point to the opening and closing, which imply that Candy is some sort of star child sex messiah. Then there’s the scene in a glass-bottomed limousine, shot from below; a drunken Burton making love to a mannequin; a wall-scaling hunchback; and every moment of Brando’s politically incorrect brownface performance as an Indian guru who teaches Candy both levitation and the advanced spine-warping version of the Kama Sutra. Individually, some of the sequences work, but the movie never gets a comic rhythm going, and even the horrible acting rarely elicits a chuckle. It does, however, get weirder as it goes on, coming to resemble a softcore “Alice in Wonderland” more than its original inspiration, Voltaire’s “Candide.” It’s one of those fabulous extravagances that could only have emerged out from behind of a cloud of smoke in the psychedelic era.
The eclectic cast and crew of the film adaptation fits Candy’s curious history. It started life in 1958 as a satirical pornographic novel by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg, which was originally banned but became a succès de scandale when it was republished in the 1960s. “Candy” helped launch Southern’s career: he went on to write or contribute to screenplays for Dr. Strangelove, Barbarella, Easy Rider, and the adaptation of his own novel The Magic Christian. (Reportedly, Southern was not a fan of this 1968 adaptation). Candy was remade twice in 1978 (without authorization, with just enough changes to avoid lawsuits), as dueling hardcore sex films: The Erotic Adventures of Candy and Pretty Peaches. Pretty Peaches, at least, was quite accomplished for an adult film, with bubbleheaded Desiree Cousteau arguably outperforming debuting Ewa Aulin, and has probably been seen far more often than this official studio-backed adaptation. Long neglected, in 2016 Kino Lorber re-released Candy on DVD and Blu-ray, with interviews with Buck Henry and film critic Kim Morgan ( ‘s wife) among the extras.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a trippy, candy colored comedy with sci-fi and fantastic overtones, complete with a mindblowing cosmic finale. There really hasn’t been another movie quite like it, and for those who can handle cinematic head trips laced with chuckles and gorgeous visuals, this Candy is dandy indeed.”–Mondo Digital (DVD)
(This movie was nominated for review by “kengo,” who rhapsodized “Cheesy sleazy patchy fun, with a bit of hit and miss satire and no discernible plot, but it does have McPhisto! – Richard Burton at his best. Hollywood was good in the sixties.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
FEATURING: Linda Blair, , Louise Fletcher, Kitty Winn, James Earl Jones,
PLOT: Four years after Father Merrin died casting a demon out of young Regan, a priest investigates the affair and discovers the demon isn’t completely gone; further investigation takes him to Africa in search of the evil spirit’s roots.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Scenes like the one where James Earl Jones, dressed as an African prince, apparently turns into a leopard when he shouts at the devil made this goofy semi-Satanic sequel come closer than you might think to being considered for the List.
COMMENTS: You’ve probably heard that Exorcist II is a bad movie, and that’s certainly true. It’s important to note, however, that like most of ‘s bad movies, it may be laughable, but it’s never boring. Four decades out from its theatrical debut, the sense of outrage over the betrayal of William Friedkin’s horror classic has subsided, and more viewers are now willing to let The Heretic‘s hypnotic camp spell wash over them.
“Satan has become an embarrassment to our progressive views,” complains Richard Burton, speaking with the pseudo-Shakespearean diction he believes Catholic priests use (which includes pronouncing devil as “dev-ILL” and evil as “EEE-ville”). Burton already knew a thing or two about embarrassment, and he discovers a couple of new tricks in this outing. The Heretic goes completely off the rails very quickly when Burton’s priest, investigating the exorcism-related death of Father Merrick four years ago, is inexplicably invited to sit in on teenage Regan’s private post-possession stress disorder therapy sessions with her skeptical secular therapist. He arrives just in time for her first therapy session with a dual-user hypnosis machine which allows her to relive the repressed horrors of possession. The device also allows them to speak to the demon directly, gives the therapist atrial fibulation (which Burton fixes with a little psychic open heart surgery after he dons the machine’s disco headband), and causes girl and cleric to form a permanent psychic link. “Your machine has proved scientifically that there’s an ancient demon inside of her!” declares Burton, with conviction.
The hypnosis machine, with its strobe-lights and a methodology which involves syncing “tones” via biofeedback, is a perfect encapsulation of the blend of the eerily effective and utterly ridiculous that characterizes The Heretic. And believe me, it gets more unhinged from there, as Burton goes to Africa searching for the demon Pazuzu and Boorman goes into one of his famous directing frenzies where he lays logic aside to focus on hallucinatory set pieces. You get multiple shots from the locust cam, including a great locust tracking shot where we follow the speeding insect as he zips across the savannah accompanied by the sound of a cracking whip. You get scenes of tribespeople fighting off swarms of locusts on a golden-hued studio backlot. There’s a hidden city perched on top of a massive cliff, accessible only by scaling a narrow cleft between two mountains. And who could forget James Earl Jones dressed like an insect in his cave throne room, only when the priest puts a spike through his foot he turns out to be an entomologist? Meanwhile, back in New York City, demonic possession is a minor inconvenience for Regan, who is more concerned with her upcoming tap dance recital. It all has something to do with finding the “good locust” who will turn the swarm into “happy-go-lucky grasshoppers.”
As you can see, Exorcist II has a lot of issues, but being dull isn’t one of them. Long tracking shots through a theater-bound Africa, set to Ennio Morricone’s typically great, chant-heavy score, provide an appealing dreamlike character to long stretches of the film that make you want to forgive (or even embrace) the lapses in logic. Add in a hammy, over-enunciating Burton giving his all to lines like “is there no hope once the wings have brushed you?” and you have a bad movie that keeps you watching. It’s no Zardoz, but, whether they be good or bad, Boorman does not make boring movies (or at least he didn’t in the 70s and 80s). The Heretic is far more entertaining than its poor reputation suggests and, although it may sound like heresy to Exorcist fans, given the choice between re-watching the terrifying original or taking another crack at this rollicking disaster, I would hesitate for a moment. The choice would depend on whether I’m in the mood for shivers, or shivery chuckles.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: