Saturday, 21 March 2009

Something Weird (1967)

In the case of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s 1967 movie Something Weird, the title really says it all. This is an attempt to cash in on just about every craze and every obsession of its time period, from the occult to the paranormal, from the Cold War to the drug culture, all thrown together without any real consideration as to whether any of these elements are compatible with one another. And all filmed with the amateurish enthusiasm and technical ineptitude you expect from a Herschell Gordon Lewis film.

I’ve only seen one of Lewis’s celebrated gore films, Two Thousand Maniacs, which I found to be one of the most tedious experiences of my life. She-Devils on Wheels was slightly better. Possibly even more inept, but with an edge of true weirdness and a certain manic energy. My expectations of Something Weird were therefore somewhat low, but strangely enough this one actually works. It even has a coherent plot. The plot is outlandish and bizarre and outrageously nonsensical, but scarily enough it holds together.

Mitch is an electrical linesman accidentally electrocuted on the job. He is left horribly disfigured by burns, burns so severe that plastic surgery is impossible, but the electric current has left another legacy - he now possesses immensely powerful psychic abilities. While he is pleased to have these powers, he’s still fairly despondent about his ravaged face, and especially by the effect this is going to have on his love life. Fortunately he meets a witch who offers him a deal - if he becomes her lover she will repair his face. She’s one of those witches who is impossibly old and hideous but is capable of appearing to be a young and beautiful woman.

Things get complicated when the US government hears about his psychic powers. They want him brought to Washington to take part in a secret project to combat the psychic warriors being trained by the Kremlin. Mitch is always wanted by the police in a town in Wisconsin. Not for any crimes, but they want him to help them catch a serial killer using his paranormal abilities. Meanwhile the US government operative sent to retrieve Mitch has fallen in love with Mitch’s girlfriend, not realising that she’s a witch. The drug angle is introduced when the government doctor suggests that Mitch might want to use an exciting new drug called LSD to enhance his powers. This gives Lewis the opportunity to stage a surprisingly well-filmed and interestingly executed drug trip sequence.

What really makes Something Weird special is the acting. It’s atrocious, but it’s atrocious in just the right way. The actors recite their lines with such delightful seriousness, and Tony McCabe is wonderfully intense as Mitch. Elizabeth Lee tries to vamp it up as his witch girlfriend, with very amusingly unsuccessful results. While the pacing and the editing are fairly ponderous the movie just has so much extreme weirdness that it remains consistently entertaining. No-one has ever made a movie quite like this before, and no sane person is ever likely to do so again, but I rather enjoyed it.

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