Monday, 4 March 2013

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? (1964)

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? has one of the best titles in movie history. Can the movie live up to its title? Sadly, the answer to that is no.

The movie starts promisingly, with a rather weird-looking woman pouring acid on the face of a would-be boyfriend. It then meanders along for forty minutes, with no hint of any plot. Finally a plot of sorts does kick in. Bad boy loser Jerry (Cash Flagg) gets hypnotised by the gypsy fortune teller we saw at the beginning of the movie, and he’s turned into a sort of zombie killer. In fact the gypsy, Madame Estrella (Brett O’Hara), has a whole roomful of zombies, all of whom have apparently rejected her romantic advances.

Jerry had first encountered Madame Estrella at the carnival, and he then became obsessed by her beautiful sister Carmelita, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend Angela.

After being zombie-fied Jerry tries to kill his girlfriend Angela but she still feels sorry for him and wants to save him.

We don’t really learn very much about what drives Madame Estrella, apart from the fairly obvious jealousy of her sister’s beauty. There’s also a sub-plot involving dancer Marge Neilson, who loves the bottle more than she loves dancing. This sub-plot has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie. We get to see Mare and her partner do three dance routines, which is three too many.

Apart from being a horror movie this is also a musical, sort of. A least, there are quite a few musical numbers, one of them actually reasonably good in a campy sort of way although the others are unbelievably terrible.

There’s an extended dream sequence that tells us nothing we don’t already know. It does give the movie some claims to being a precursor of the psychedelic movies of the mid to late 60s.

Ray Dennis Steckler wrote, produced and directed this oddity and it has given him a reputation as a low-budget auteur. A reputation that I find difficult to understand. To make a decent cult movie you need more than just technical incompetence and a zero budget. You also need some kind of vision. The vision doesn’t have to make much sense but it has to be there. That’s why people still watch Ed Wood’s movies. Ed Wood had a vision, and it gives his movies a sense of weirdness that is more than just skin deep. Russ Meyer, Doris Wishman and Jess Franco all had that vision of what they were trying to do. Ray Dennis Steckler doesn’t really seem to have any such vision. His idea of weirdness is a few flashing lights and people running around in Halloween costumes. You also can’t just make the plot up as you go along, as Steckler seems to have done. You can improvise, certainly, but you need to have some sort of idea of what your movie is about.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? also commits the cardinal sin of low-budget movie-making. It’s boring. That’s something you can’t say of the movies of Wood, Wishman, Meyer and Franco.

Ray Dennis Steckler plays Jerry, under the rather curious pseudonym Cash Flagg. His acting is roughly up to the standard of his directing. The other actors are pretty much on a par with Steckler. Marge Neilson is played by Carolyn Brandt, who was married to Steckler at the time. You can’t help suspecting her role was simply tossed in so he could have his wife in the movie.

Media Blasters have released this movie on DVD, in a stunningly awful transfer. This picture is very soft and very dark and there is an enormous amount of print damage, and the colour balance is wrong. It’s not quite unwatchable but it’s like going back to the VHS era. It’s one of the worst transfers I can remember seeing.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? contains no incredibly strange creatures, although it does at least have mixed-up zombies. There is some weirdness but the 82-minute running time becomes something of an ordeal while you wait for something, anything, to happen. A disappointing movie that is difficult to recommend.

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