DIRECTED BY: Herschell Gordon Lewis
FEATURING: Tony McCabe, Elizabeth Lee, William Brooker, Mudite Arums
PLOT: Electrical worker Mitch is horribly disfigured in an accident, acquires psychic powers, and is blackmailed by a hideous hag who promises to restore his looks in exchange for becoming her lover.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: It is honestly surprising that we haven’t yet found a way to include the Godfather of Gore among our honorees, although it would be amusing if the movie that did so failed to feature any of his trademark bloodshed or exposed skin. Still, it says a lot that the man responsible for such no-room-for-nuance titles as Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs chose to call this one Something Weird. The combination of ESP, LSD, and witchcraft ladled with heavy doses of terrible acting, barely decorated sets, and herky-jerky editing make Lewis’ titular assessment feel pretty spot-on.
COMMENTS: Before I’ve watched a frame, this movie has me at a disadvantage. Look at that title, practically daring me to leave it off our list. Think you can do my job for me, do you, movie? Well, I’ll be judging whether you’re truly something weird, thank you very much.
It does seem like they’re on to something, though. The first few minutes make a strong case for its peculiarity, with dramatic swings in tone and a schizophrenic mix of characters and locations. The opening credits share the screen with a murder-in-progress. (The interruptions are a mercy, as Lewis offers a credit to seemingly every actor in the film, and possibly a few that aren’t.) This is immediately followed by a karate demonstration in which one untalented black belt lectures another even-less-talented black belt. Their sparring gives way to a different kind of wrestling, in which a couple’s heavy petting leads to the woman’s to declare, “You’re electrifying!,” which gleefully segues into an actual electrocution. Even at this point, there’s room for a quick educational voiceover about the fascinating and totally real world of extrasensory perception before our story can truly begin. It’s a dizzying kickoff.
The actual tale threatens to be a major letdown, as our hero is the newly scarred, newly psychic Mitch (an insufferably smug McCabe). He’s immediately unlikeable, assaulting a nurse, bemoaning his fate, and barely concealing his contempt for the clients who visit his fortune-telling parlor. Fortunately, he meets his match in a hideous crone resembling a “Laugh-In” dancer whose makeup was done by a 5-year-old and whose laughter is so forced that it manages to go past sarcastic and come all the way back around to creepy. We don’t see it happen, but Mitch and his mysterious companion Ellen (the unnamed harridan now in disguise as a beautiful young woman who can’t act) quickly become the toast of the town with their incredible abilities.
Somehow, the story still hasn’t gotten started at this point, because Lewis seems unsure where the focus belongs. Is it Mitch trying to balance his selfish needs with his revulsion toward the woman who has entrapped him? Is it federal agent Alex Jordan (Brooker, making a bid to match McCabe for levels of annoyance) and his dogged efforts to turn the sixth sense into a government tool? Is it the hunt for a serial killer that’s dropped in roughly halfway through the movie? Heck, for as easily distracted as the film is, it might even be a quest to find all the hottest attractions in the happening burg of Jefferson, Wisconsin. Everything is being thrown against the wall; nothing really sticks.
At least there’s the ESP stuff to fall back on. It does seem to be the one thing that Lewis finds compelling, so that’s where he lavishes most of the film’s attention. That intense focus on the supernatural means Something Weird has to find some way to convey unimaginable power. It can be hard to know the best way to accomplish that, and it’s a task that definitely eludes Lewis. Mitch gives several lo-fi demonstrations of his powers, ranging from identifying playing cards to drawing a hidden knife to making many, many people saying that they “feel something.” A dramatic chair levitation is accomplished through a double exposure and a lot of haze. And then there’s the piece de resistance: after Jordan assaults Ellen almost out of nowhere, the witch retaliates by psychically attacking him with… a possessed blanket. It’s as ludicrous as it sounds—and it literally sounds ridiculous thanks to the hyperactive xylophone that fills the soundtrack. It’s as though Lewis watched the notorious scene from Bride of the Monster where Bela Lugosi had to pretend to be attacked by an inanimate prop octopus and said, “Hold my beer.”
The film has one other major weird card to play, and that’s Mitch’s attempt to solve the crime by dropping acid. (Because, you know, reasons.) Lewis bathes the screen in red with multiple exposures, atonal electronic bloops, and distorted vocals to illustrate the LSD-inspired dreamscape. Amazingly, that seems to do the trick, as Mitch identifies the killer, only to be foiled by Jordan’s duplicity and an ambush that everyone can see coming except, for some reason, the psychic guy. A lame, drawn-out chase ensues, scored by a mad jazz quartet fronted by a spasming guitarist and a jaunty flute, and culminating in the one of the most hilarious confrontations ever filmed, including gunshots that seem to have been foleyed by gently tapping on wet cardboard while the cop moves his lips as though providing the “pew pew” himself.
By the time we reach the not-quite-Shyamalanesque final twist, we’ve been on a rollicking journey of surprise and ineptitude. Something Weird is earnestly clumsy, amusingly wrongheaded, even stubbornly independent. So does it live up to the title? I won’t argue that it’s the weirdest thing we’ve ever seen, but its innocent dumbness and overall perplexing nature definitely merit further consideration. Because even when Something Weird isn’t all that weird, it sure is something.
Something Weird is one of the fourteen movies included in the Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast Box Set.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…the cast of Something Weird comes across as if they were as confused while making Something Weird as the audience would later be while watching it… However, I still love Something Weird because, unlike so many other movies, it actually lives up to its name. This is a movie that promises to be weird and that’s exactly what it is.”–Lisa Marie Bowman, Through the Shattered Lens (DVD)
(This movie was nominated for review by shaboingboing. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)