Bad Movies Beware!
Ah, Roger Corman!
This dude was the MAN! He brought us such classic gems like Plan 9 from Outer Space and Attack of the Crab Monsters. And who could forget Teenage Doll?
Actually, I think most people did. Oh well.
Imagine my surprise when I revisit the Box of Cine-crap my aunt gave me a few years ago and run across this classic. A young Jack Nicholson? Boris Karloff? I’m in! I pop it in, and I wait to be “Cormaned” for the next hour and half, my mind and senses flooded with questions! Yet, I only come away with one question that burns in my mind and keeps me awake in the night…
What the hell is this Happy Horse S**t?
I usually go into the synopsis at this point, but that might be a problem in this review. The storyline is about as evenly distributed as whatever hit the fan when M.A.S.H. went off the air, so I might as that you be a little forgiving if this synopsis is a clusterf**k because, well, the movie is a clusterf**k.
Let’s give it the college try, shall we?
It opens with Boris Karloff walking through the castle in the middle of the night, opening large portcullis gates and a secret passageway that leads down to a crypt. He opens the door to a closet and finds a gnarly-looking skeleton.
Because, you know, he has…skeletons. In his closet.
The skeleton is never explained, nor is it ever addressed or seen in the film again. We move on to Jack Nicholson’s character, Andre, who has been separated from his French regimen and is lost. He happens across an insanely beautiful girl who invites him to frolic with her.
Yes. I said “frolic.” No, I’m not kidding.Things seem to be going well until she disappears and supposedly turns into a hawk. This is where the movie starts to nose-dive straight to hell. Nobody in this movie except for Jack Nicholson is who they say they are. Helene, the girl, is also Ilse, the Baron’s deceased wife. But not really. She’s a girl possessed by the witch in the forest to help avenge the death of Eric, the witch’s son. But not really. She’s a ghost under the control of the dead to haunt the Baron and kill him. But not really. She’s…ah, hell with it.
And then there’s the witch in the woods. She’s definitely the witch, but most of her lines are dubbed, and she denies all knowledge of Helene. Her servant, Gustaff, meets up with Andre in the middle of the night and explains that Helene is possessed and needs Andre’s help. He whispers, supposedly so the witch won’t hear him, I guess? I mean, really, the guy whispers every line he has in the movie.
Maybe he’s going for his Death Metal rasp?
Andre goes off to the Baron’s castle to look for clues. There he meets the Baron and Stefan, the castle servant. It’s just the two of them, and the Baron welcomes Andre while Stefan seethes about it. In fact, Stefan does a LOT of seething throughout the film.
I think somebody needs a hug.
Anywho, Andre starts seeing Helene around the castle and the property. The Baron explains that she is the ghost of Ilse, the former Baroness. The Baron murdered both her and her lover, Eric, one night and buried them in the crypt.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the witch summons Ilse to Helene’s body in a sequence that is fully dubbed like a classic Godzilla movie gone wrong. Helene/Ilse turns into a hawk and flies away, and Stefan confronts the witch. We find out that Eric was her son, and she’s out for revenge.
Back at the castle, Stefan suggests killing Andre to the Baron, who refuses. Andre, meanwhile, explores and finds a gun in a chest in a bedroom. He hears the Baron talking to someone and bursts in to find the Baron alone.
Okay, s**t. I need to take a moment and note that we are 47 minutes into an 81-minute film, and NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. It’s ALL exposition and character crap. Truth is, by now, the only character you identify with at this point is Andre because he wants the same thing you do: to find out what the hell is going on!
In the very next scene (f**k your transition) we see Gustaff metal-whispering to Helene, telling her that her name is Ilse…wait. I thought she…oh f**k.
Helene/Ilse/Whoeverthef**k she is disappears, and the hawk returns and claws out Gustaff’s eyes. He dies from falling off the cliff, but not before he tells Andre to help Ilse McHelene get free of the witch.
Andre heads back to the castle and meets Helene in the cemetery. She explains to him that she is in trouble with the most gripping dialogue in cinematic history:
I am possessed of the dead.
You are a warm, living woman. Who has told you these things?
I swear man. Grabbed me like a tortoise swimming up the leg of my bathing suit.
Andre returns to the castle and we get to see the entire opening scene again, but with cuts of Andre following spliced in. We also hear Helene/Ilse urging him along to “do it.”
Do what? Wtf?
Andre and Stefan run into each other, and Stefan makes a-OH GOD WHY?! WHAT THE HELL?! EVERY FRIGGIN’ SCENE IN THIS MOVIE IS YET ANOTHER PLOT TWIST.
Stefan killed the Baron. The Baron isn’t really the Baron. He’s Eric. Helene isn’t really Ilse. She’s just some random chick.
Stefan and Andre split up, and Andre goes to the cemetery and meets the witch. She finds out that the Baron is really Eric, but she randomly gets struck by lightning and dies. Because, you know, reasons. Andre and Stefan make it into the crypt in time to stop the Baron from killing himself, but the crypt begins to flood, because…reasons, and Stefan and the Baron drown.
Andre makes it back out and meets up with Helene in the cemetery again. He tells her that she’s free, they kiss, and he pulls back to find that she’s begun to decompose. Thus, she really was a ghost. Or a dead thing.
Or a girl. Or something. F**K.
Credits. End. Why, Roger? Why?
VERDICT: FLUSH IT WITH DINNER FROM LAST NIGHT.
What, in the name of all that is holy, was Corman thinking? Okay, I can probably answer that. He was thinking it’d be fun because it’s true: doing little side projects is always fun. But at what point does one decide to be entertained and fulfilled by tormenting others?
The acting is atrociously bad, though I have to be forgiving because the movie was largely unscripted. The only scenes that may have had any script were the scenes filmed by Frances Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, or any other member of the clown car that directed this movie.
Yep. Coppola. Don’t get your hopes up: only about 10 minutes of the movie is his.
Every scene in the movie is a new plot twist. It’s like watching a bad soap opera gone wrong, and they decided to toss in a skeleton in the beginning and give it a mediocre title to attract a larger audience. Even when the big twist happened, it was lackluster because I was already burned out on the sheer number of head spinners that, frankly, made absolutely no sense when it came to the continuity of what little story this movie has.
The events and characters in the movie are totally random. You have Helene, who shows up at the cemetery often for no real apparent reason other than she may/may not/but possibly could be/but really isn’t the ghost of the baroness (yes, my head is spinning too). You have the witch, who is also Eric’s mother, show up and JUST SO HAPPENS to get struck by lightning in the cemetery. Then there’s the Baron/not really the Baron/Eric/thinks he’s the Baron/because he is the Baron/but not really.
Yeah, me too.
What’s sad is that this could’ve been a really fun project. The problem is that impromptu doesn’t always work. So how do we handle shooting a mish-mash of footage that makes no coherent sense whatsoever? We send it to Frances Ford Coppola! And then Monte Hill! And then Jack Hill! And, why the hell not, let’s just let the lead actor have a director’s credit. That’s right! Ol’ Jack Nicholson, himself, sat his a** in the director’s chair for a bit.
This movie, at its best, is a hot mess. And that’s being nice. Watching it is like have a conversation with small child on a sugar high. The ideas never become concrete, and everything is explained to the point that nothing really gets accomplished other than confusing the absolute hell out of the audience. If you see it and you just want to see Jack Nicholson in his twenties, watch it. Just be ready for the reality that you’ll get more out of scooping your cat’s litter box after a food dish full of shrimp tacos from Taco Bell.