Now that I’ve finished reviewing the Friday the 13th series, I can finally take the time to make a few comments about a film that I’ve been meaning to review for a while here on the Shattered Lens: Herschell Gordon Lewis’s 1967 film Something Weird.
How to describe Something Weird? Well, I could tell you that it was one of the first films to realize that ESP, witchcraft, and LSD made for a potent combination. I could also point out that everyone’s favorite company — Something Weird Video — took their name from this film. However, I think the best (and maybe only) way to tell you about this film is to simply tell you what happens.
The film starts out brilliantly with ten minutes of vaguely connected and disjointed images. We start out with a close-up of a pair of legs that apparently belong to someone being chased down a city street.
Two guys practicing karate. One of them we will never see again. The other one is a doughy-faced guy named Alex Jordan (William Brooker). The one we will never see again explains to Alex that he’s not actually that talented when it comes to the martial arts. Alex looks annoyed.
Alex is fooling around with a blonde that we’ll never see again and who will never be mentioned again for the rest of the film. “You’re electrifying,” she tells him.
Some random guy is electrocuted by a downed power line. Cronin ”Mitch” Mitchell (Tony McCabe) runs over to help him and gets hit in the face by the same power line. He falls to the ground while a group of random people wander over. “Has anybody called an ambulance yet?” someone calmly asks.
Suddenly, there’s a man in a suit kneeling down by the two bodies and apparently, he’s some sort of medicine man because, while looking at the first man, he says, “I’ll have to call the coroner on this man.”
However, Mitch is still alive so he’s put into the back of a station wagon and driven to the local hospital. As we watch Mitch being pulled out of the back of the car, the camera pans up to the cloudy sky and suddenly, a narrator comes out of nowhere and starts rambling about “the sixth sense, ESP!” The narrator is also nice enough to let us know that Alex — the guy from the Karate lesson — is apparently a government scientist who is in charge of figuring out how to use ESP against America’s enemies.
This all happens in the first 10 minutes of the film and, unfortunately, the remaining 70 minutes of the film struggles to live up to the surrealistic brilliance of this little montage.
Anyway, Mitch is alive but now he’s got both a scar on his face and the ability to see the future. As one of his doctor’s puts it, “He’s a different man since the accident … cynical. Maybe even morbid!” Once he’s released from the hospital, Mitch takes to wearing a black bandana over the lower half of his face and becomes a professional psychic.
He finds a little success but, as we’ve been told, he’s now “cynical…maybe ever morbid!” However, things change for Mitch when he’s approached by a grotesquely ugly woman with a blue face and a cackling laugh. She explains that she’s a witch and she’s willing to restore his face but only if he takes her as his lover. Mitch reluctantly does this and his scars suddenly vanish.
Soon, Mitch is a celebrity, appearing on television. Everywhere he goes, the witch is on his arm. The rest of the world sees her as a beautiful woman named Ellen Parker (Elizabeth Lee) but whenever Mitch looks at her, he sees her in her true blue-faced form.
Meanwhile, there’s a serial killer preying on the woman of Jefferson, Wisconsin and the chief of police (played by Lawrence Wood, the man who gave the infamous “fire sale” monologue in Lewis’s Scum of the Earth) invites Mitch and Ellen to come help with the investigation. The government meanwhile sends Alex (remember him?) to the town to investigate Mitch and perhaps recruit Mitch into the service of his country.
Alex is, at first, skeptical of Mitch but then he sees Mitch exorcising a disgruntled spirit from a local church and he starts to think that Mitch might have some psychic abilities after all. Mitch might just need a little help and Alex is there to provide it.
Meeting with Mitch in the police chief’s office (and with the entire police force looking on), Alex produces two white pills from his pocket and says, “I have a drug here — LSD. Ever hear of it?” Alex proceeds to echo many real-life MK-Ultra conspiracy theories as he explains that LSD will increase Mitch’s psychic abilities to the extent that he’ll be able to catch the killer. Mitch replies, “I’ve never taken the drug before but I’ll be glad to, doctor.”
Well, needless to say, the LSD produces the typical cinematic red-tinged, desert-themed trip but it still ends with Mitch figuring out who the killer is. It also allows Mitch to understand that the killer is sane “98% of the time.” However, there’s a problem because now that killer is out to kill Mitch and Alex has fallen in love with Ellen, the blue-faced witch…
To be honest, Something Weird is not one of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s best films. Even by typical Lewis standards, the plot doesn’t make much sense and the acting is incredibly bad. Whereas other Lewis films (like Blood Feast) featured performances that were deliberately over the top, 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, it should be noted that Elizabeth Lee at least seems to be having fun in the role of the constantly cackling witch.)
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. There’s just so much to love in this film. Check out the way that Mitch’s “facial scars” never look the same from scene-to-scene. (At one point, the scars cover his entire face but, in the next scene, they can be easily hidden by a bandana.) Watch in amazement as the same set is used and re-used for almost every scene in the movie, with just the furniture occasionally being rearranged depending on whether the scene is supposed to take place in an office or a hotel room.
Ultimately, my love for this film comes down to the little details. I love how the ambulance at the start of the film is just an old school station wagon (complete with wood paneling) with a siren on top of it. Even better is how the police captain’s office is decorated with a faded pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln that literally appear to have been ripped out of an old history textbook.
In the greatest tradition of the grindhouse, there is no other movie like Something Weird and, for that reason alone, it’s worth watching.