Sunday, July 5, 2009


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, born independent filmmaker Herschel Gordon Lewis has many claims to fame. Among those accolades, many film historians cite him for creating the ‘splatter’ horror film. H.G. Lewis worked on the fringe and produced what most people derogate as ‘exploitation’ films. He acquired his reputation for “Blood Feast” (1963) and replicated the formula with two more gore features “Two Thousand Maniacs!” (1964) and “Color Me Blood Red” (1965).

Despite his recognition in the eyes of many film historians, H.G. Lewis has directed some potboilers. Budgeted at $35-thousand dollars, “Something Weird” (** out of ****)looks amateurish at times with uneven acting and sometimes out of focus, photography crops important information out of the frame. These two defects diminish what little credibility it musters from its thoroughly conventional, workman-like James F. Hurley screenplay that blends fairy tales with the modern day scourge of Communism. Don't read me wrong, however, because the murder scenes where the unknown assailant kills the women are filmed using Dutch tilt angles that make everything look askew. These scenes were superbly done and Lewis deserves applause for the way he creates an aura of unease in these sequences. However, in other scenes, either the Something Weird Video master cropped the widescreen picture or Lewis did not shoot the scenes wide enough to include all of the actors. Examine the scene when Mitchell wrestles with the severed power cable.

You can tell when Lewis and Hurley are slipping in exposition (information that we need to know about the action and the characters)into scenes that are designed to convey nothing but data. The theme that an individual have to pay for something to get something recurs throughout "Something Weird." Mitchell acquires his psychic ability but he also gets a hideously ugly face until the witch offers to fix his face. Mitchell has to pledge his love to her so that he can get a new face.

Basically, "Something Weird" makes you want to laugh rather than cringe when its melodramatics turn to antics. Lewis appears to be channeling Bill Gaines' notorious EC Comics. For example, the fairy tale subplot about an evil witch falls apart due to childish, Halloween make-up on the actress. It looks as if Lewis and Hurley decided to throw caution to the wind and camp up the witch factor. "Something Weird" comes off being more like "Something Wan" until the Vaudville witch crops up. Clocking in at 80 minutes, “Something Weird” remains mercifully brief and tosses in the legitimate use of the narcotic LSD in a plot about an individual burned so severely in an accident that he acquires a supernatural psychic ability.

“Something Weird” opens with a brilliantly lensed crime sequence. A man whose identity is concealed by the camera to generate tension strangles a beautiful young woman to death in what appears to be an alley. This serial killer of sorts will figure prominently later on in the story. Afterward, the scene changes to a martial arts studio where an instructor comments about his student’s improper exhibition of karate when breaking a board. Dr. Alex Jordan (William Brooker) has the instructor, Kim, show him the proper way. Later, we learn that Jordan is a womanizing James Bond type government man.

The scene shifts to an exterior where an electrician plunges from a telephone pole, hits the roof and then falls to the ground with a severed power cable dangling near him. His body flops involuntarily from the electrical charge and several other men surround him. One man, Cronin Mitchell (Tony McCabe), pulls the cable away from the prostrate body, but Mitchell suffers injury when the cable gives him a jolt of electricity and knocks him down and out. An old-fashioned style ambulance with red lights arrives and a medical crew hauls Mitchell’s body off on a stretcher to the hospital. Interestingly, the medical techicians ignore the other body on the scene.

H.G. Lewis pauses the narrative at this point to linger on a long shot of a cloudy sky and the following narration is heard. “Science knows that people contact the world around them by their five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. But many times a person reports an awareness of a happening when none of these channels could possibly be involved. This then is the sixth sense, the extra sensory perception, commonly known as ESP. The Russians for the past decade have intensified their experimentation in extra sensory perception research. They are working and experimenting on a crash program whose goal is to surpass America in the field of parapsychology. Dr. Alex Jordan, a renowned parapsychologist, is employed by a branch of the federal government for the top secret work in ESP and its relationship to American defense. This organization is determined that the United States will be the first to communicate with other planets, the first to advance in the field of ESP, and the last to perish in an all out nuclear war.” With this narration, Lewis has added a modicum of significance to “Something Weird” and turned it into a Cold War thriller.

The next scene finds Mitchell wallowing restlessly in bed in a dimly lighted hospital room, suffering from the memory of the accident. Lewis then cuts to a professor’s office at a nearby university where Mitchell’s doctor, Dr. White, has gone to consult about Mitch’s psychic ability. The professor is impressed with Mitchell. “Not doubt about it, Dr. White, Cronin Mitchells Now, it may be that his accident was the cause, I don’t know. Or it may be the electrical current he was subjected to. We have several theories.” Nevertheless, the skeptical Dr. White doesn’t share the professor’s opinion. He thinks Mitchell is a fake. “I have tested literally thousands of these psychics and he ran through my deck of ESP cards like it was child’s play.”

Later, Mitch proves his paranormal ability with a nurse as he guesses correctly each playing card she selects from a deck. She inquires about her future and then Mitchell makes a pass at her. She admonishes him for his inappropriate behavior and switches on the lights. The brightly lighted room propels Mitchell into the bathroom where he gazes in terror at his scarred face in the mirror. “You’re disgusting. No one can look at you, not even yourself” the nurse shrinks in revulsion. “A freak like you should have died!”

Eventually, Mitch makes a living where he reveals the future for $2 dollars a reading per client. He sports sunglasses and a dark veil so nobody can see his disfigured face. After work one day, he is surprised when the Bible of Witchcraft has materialized in his hands. Suddenly, a long gray haired crone in a yellow dress appears out of nowhere. Mitchell’s scarred face disturbs him so deeply that he listens to a Faustian proposition that this witch, Ellen (Elizabeth Lee), makes that he cannot refuse. “Become my lover then you shall have your pretty face.” Naturally, Mitchell agrees.

The complication is Ellen looks gorgeous to everybody else except Mitchell since he can see what she really looks like—a hag. The vain Cronin Mitchell becomes a celebrated psychic and appears on television shows. Dramatic events occur when Cronin tries to identify the serial killer with his psychic abilities in the small town of Jefferson, Wisconsin. The police cannot apprehend a serial slayer who has slain seven women in a month and has the local populace up in arms.

Meanwhile, the government dispatches Dr. Jordan to assist the Jefferson, Wisconsin, police. Jordan's superior wants Mitchell because he may serve as a new arsenal in the Cold War against the Soviets. Jordan emerges as an American version of James Bond. When he exits his superior's office, he makes small talk with his boss's secretary, kisses her and calls her 'pussycat.' Jordan mets Mitchell at the police chief's office and offers Mitchell LSD as a part of a question and answer session that he plans to have with the psychic. Complications arise when Jordan grows enamored with the witch, while Mitchell has an liaison for another woman. Jordan tries to force himself on Ellen and she bites his hand. Later that evening, in his motel room, Jordan is attacked by his bed covers in a scene that looks just plain absurd. Matters are helped when we catch a glimpse of Ellen in her haggy witch mode laughing at Jordan. The surprise ending includes three revelations. One of the cops is the insane woman killer and the jealous Jordan lets the crazy cop assassinate Mitchell so that he--Jordan--can have Ellen. Later, after Jordan admits to Ellen that he gave the killer time enough to ice Mitchell, Ellen reverts to hag mode and Jordan freaks out. He tries to escape from Ellen, but he slips and falls on a flamng smudge pot and burns half of his face. Ellen arrives and assures him that she can make him as good as new. "Something Weird" comes full circle.

“Something Weird” isn’t top-notch H.G. Lewi but it is entertaining nonsense. Indeed, it may strike most people who know nothing about his prestige as unintentional, half-baked, quasi-sci-fi/horror hokum. William Brooker gives a stilted performance, while the rest of the cast vary.