It's time again for another venture into the drug-fueled cinema of the late 1960s, a time when the youth was running rampant and their elders had no idea how to control them, let alone talk to them! Paired here are two very obscure relics of the period, which couldn't be any more different if one was an MGM musical and the other was an Avon porno flick! One is a forgettable and embarrassing wannabe-hippie flick, the other an unsung gem dealing with the hardships of drug addiction.
Plot? Who needs plot? Kicking off with a balding "member of the establishment" telling a hippie to cut his hair only to have the long hair flip him the bird then flash him the peace sign, GHETTO FREAKS follows the misadventures of a gang of misfits, runaways and drug pushers as they fight for peace, love and flowers in the winter of Cleveland. Yep, that's right, this hippie opus takes place with snow covering the ground and lots of warm clothing covering pale cold bodies. With no discernible storyline in sight, the film floats from setpiece to setpiece: the group is busted for a mild "love-in" of sorts in a freezing public park; the leader of the group, a pusher man named Sonny, has a fight with his girlfriend when she throws women’s lib in his face; and Sonny gets stoned and raps with his mustachioed right-hand man in an alleyway. The conflict of the film kicks in when a young runaway named Diane is dragged out of a far-out club by her rich society gal mother, then flees to Sonny's well-occupied apartment to become a member of his bunch.
Unfortunately, after seeing the awesome trailer for GHETTO FREAKS (which sadly is not included on this disc!), there is very little footage of a ghetto and even fewer freaks to keep the curious interested throughout the entire film. The most fascinating aspect of the film is the dated dialogue, almost all of which was surely improvised on the spot by the unprofessional actors. The best of these sequences finds the gang of hippies giving away issues of an underground newspaper in exchange for any loose change from a variety of real passers-by. It's obvious that the whole scene was shot on-the-fly, with each person they encounter an honest-to-goodness stranger on the street. And dig that tall black guy with the giant Afro who offers some of the best jive one-liners in any exploitation film! Also of mild interest is the fact that Psychotronic Magazine editor Michael Weldon failed an audition to play a "ghetto freak" when the film held open casting calls in Cleveland. Go figure. The actress who plays Diane is quite good, a likable performer with a winning smile and reminiscent of a darker Elaine Giftos. With tons of original music by local psychedelic bands, including two stage performances by a flamboyant singer named Mouse (think Tom Jones starring in WILD IN THE STREETS), the brief tacked-on sequence of a black cult leader slitting the wrists of white girls with giant Afro wigs (which transformed from its original LOVE COMMUNE version to GHETTO FREAKS); a far-out hippie pad with Joan Crawford and Rolling Stones photos amongst the typical colorful posters on the wall; more stoned potheads rambling than any sane person could take; and a tripping girl thinks she is giving birth, GHETTO FREAKS just isn't as freaky as expected. Sure it has its moments, but it's not a film to rush back to anytime soon.
Jumping from a film which celebrates drug use to a film that condemns it, 1966's WAY OUT has a hard time fitting in on this double feature. GHETTO FREAKS at least had wild colors, hip dialogue and dated threads. After grooving on some of the psychedelic hippie trappings of that film, this is one is a major come-down...but is also one of the hidden treasures of exploitation cinema. Filmed on location in The Bronx, the film introduces a group of Puerto Rican drug-addicted saps wandering through the underworld in search of yet another fix. The lead character is Frankie, a constantly unemployed family man with a beautiful wife, Anita (wonderfully played by Sharyn Jimenez, the wife of the play's author), and four kids to support. When young hood Jim rescues Anita from being harassed by a gang of street toughs, Frankie introduces him into the world of drug dealing and heroin addiction and soon, the two are best friends and are pulling off daring diamond store robberies to afford their expensive habit. Rounding out the cast of characters are Rudy, a sniffling addict who wakes at 4:00 in the morning to search the streets for a quick fix; Jerry, a streetwise pusher in dark sunglasses who gets his lovely girlfriend Stella addicted to the stuff; Che Che and Louie, Frankie's partners who spend the whole movie living in a dark basement dwelling; and Fats, a greasy dealer who seen cutting pure heroin in his apartment. However, all good things must come to an end: Frankie is tossed in jail, Jim and Anita become lovers and begin sharing the needle and Jerry sells Stella to Fats in exchange for a cheap fix. There may be a happy finale in store for the characters, but do they have the strength to find faith and overcome their obstacles?
Produced and directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr., the man behind THE BLOB and DINOSAURUS!, and co-written by his wife Jean, this is quite a departure from his creature-feature roots. In fact, WAY OUT barely qualifies as an exploitation film. It's a low-budget film, for sure, at times resembling an off-Broadway play (it was based on one called "The Addicts") and shot primarily in dark alleyways and dilapidated apartments. But it's too gutsy and real to be lumped in with the other "hippie" and "drug" films of the time. Every performance is genuinely moving and brings the excellent script to life beautifully. In a tactic that one-ups on other drug addict films of the decade, Yeaworth's cast is made up of former drug addicts. All of the male leads are played by actors who kicked the habit, lending a unique authenticity to the film's anti-drug message; they all provide testimony before the end credits in a very special move by the filmmakers. Other notes of interest: there's a depressing jazzy theme song sung by John Gimenez (author of the play the film was based on, and he also plays the cop father of Frankie!) and the film was edited by John Bushelman, who had earlier directed the equally unique DAY OF THE NIGHTMARE (1965) and would return in 1976 with an atypical gang film, CAT MURKIL AND THE SILKS. At 102 minutes, WAY OUT sometimes wears thin in spots but it's so damn fascinating and well-made that it can be forgiven for slowing down the pace. With plenty of on-location photography capturing the grungy feel of the Bronx in the late 60s, Yeaworth's masterpiece has remained forgotten for too long and Something Weird should be commemorated for bringing this one out of retirement to entrance adventurous exploitation fans over 30 years after it was made.
In addition to the feature films, dig into the drug-themed supplements! There aren't any trailers for the feature films (which is strange, because the very memorable GHETTO FREAKS trailer has been around forever), but carrying on the anti-drug message of WAY OUT, witness the horrific addiction of former soldier and boxing champ Cameron Mitchell in MONKEY ON MY BACK! Believe it or not, MGM is unleashing this one on DVD in 2005, so watch for it! The musical score should be familiar from AIP's THEY CALL HER ONE EYE trailer!! THE PUSHER is a melodramatic look at a vicious drug peddler who preys on the weakness of his clients. While Robert Lansing plays the suave debonair peddler, it is disfigured character actor Felice Orlandi who plays the title role, who actually isn't as important to the plot as Lansing. Another one MGM owns, but it's doubtful this one will be coming to DVD anytime soon. THE HARD ROAD is the ultimate exploitation film. Its ten roadshow features packed into one amazing masterpiece! Gary Graver (and Greg Corarito) directs pretty Connie Nelson as a young teenage girl who gets pregnant, runs away from home, becomes a prostitute to support her drug-addicted boyfriend and is finally driven to ruin by too many tabs of acid. Something Weird offers this on a double-feature disc with the abysmal DAMAGED GOODS, so buy it right away! THE HIPPIE REVOLT is aka SOMETHING'S HAPPENING, the grungy documentary double-featured with MONDO MOD on another Something Weird DVD. Lots of psychedelic lights, dancing girls, interviews with hippies and love-in footage, this is a fun escape to the early days of the Free Love Movement.
"Narcotics: The Inside
Story" is a color classroom scare film from 1972 with lots of nifty graphics,
friendly narration and a cast of good-looking teenagers. It's not as horrific
as other anti-drug classroom films, and actually does a terrible job of educating
anyone about the dangers of narcotics, but it's a fun escape none-the-less.
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