Wanna see something weird? Wanna see a schizophrenic mess unfold before unexpecting eyes? Look no further than Ray Dennis Steckler's INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES (whew). Presented here in a 41st-Anniversary (?!) special edition packed with extras, this cult classic better-known for its lengthy title and outrageous poster can finally be seen by the curious and adventurous moviegoer.
Plot? What's that? In a Ray Dennis Steckler film, a straight and narrow storyline is a foreign luxury. Opening with a gripping sequence of Madame Estrella and her monstrously deformed hunchback servant pouring acid onto the face of a nasty drunk who spurns her advances, INCREDIBLY STRANGE lives up to its title and then some. Juvenile delinquent Jerry and his roommate Harold (with an accent that couldn't be cut by a axe) take out Jerry's goodie-two-shoes girlfriend Angela to the carnival against the wishes of her uptight mother. Entranced by the exotic dancer Carmelita (Madame Estrella's sister), Jerry ditches his girl and goes backstage to visit the bewitching harlot...only to end up hypnotized into a murderous zombie, using a trusty butcher knife to slice and dice innocent victims chosen by the two sin sisters!
With a film so deliriously absurd and hard to describe in plain English, it's easiest to entice the uninitiated to pick up this flick through Steckler's advertising technique:
SEE a bizarre dream sequence with screaming, laughing showgirls, ballet dance moves, swirling opticals! SEE Ray Dennis Steckler, aka Cash Flagg, dressed like the Unabomber stab a dancing couple to death on-stage! SEE musical numbers which have nothing to do with the actual film! HEAR a Brenda Lee-wannabe crooning "It Hurts" and "Shook Out of Shape"! SEE the ugliest hunchback ever captured on film! SEE the Hypno-Wheel and its disastrous results! SEE the worst stand-up comedy routine ever! SEE the Mixed-Up Zombies attack their mistress Brett O'Hara, famous look-alike and stand-in for Hollywood legend Susan Hayward! SEE a goofy beach chase! SEE endless footage of the carnival to bring back that good old feeling of nostalgia! SEE swirling camerawork by Laszlo Kovacs, Vilmos Zsigmond and Joseph Mascelli! HEAR hip beatnik dialogue! FEEL the nausea induced by yet another...and another...and another musical number! LEARN the "Zombie Stomp"!
In other words, every cult/drive-in/exploitation/kooky film fan should have a copy of this on their shelf pronto!
As much fun as INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES is, it has never looked like a million bucks and this Guilty Pleasures disc is no exception. Letterboxed at 1.66:1 (which seems questionable, considering some of the framing on display here), the image is plagued with grain, dirt, debris, muddy colors, and very dark lighting. Skintones are all over the place, colors bleed, and there is no detail to the images; however, the film is so much fun that any issues over the picture quality can be easily forgotten. The mono audio is strong enough to appreciate the campy dialogue, addictive musical numbers, and organ-driven scare score. Early reports on the disc mention the film is missing a small portion of footage, cutting from the middle of one scene to the next, but this reviewer honestly couldn't tell. This appears to be a pressing problem that plagues many of Media Blasters' recent discs (WARLOCK MOON, HELL HIGH), so hopefully MB will reissue the problem titles. Doubtful, but would be best.
Not one, but two commentaries are included on this special edition disc: first up is director Ray Dennis Steckler. Steckler never stops talking, spouting out info on cast and crew, how the project came about and where the funding came from, stories of his friendships with Vilmos Zsigmond and Laszlo Kovacs, filming in Long Beach, California and the various locations and where key members of the cast and crew are today. Funnily enough, Steckler still refers to "Cash Flagg" as "Cash Flagg," never mentioning that HE is Flagg!! One of the most fascinating stories is that he is fighting for ownership of the film at this time with the daughters of the late producer of this and THRILL KILLERS! Steckler does sometime shift into "description mode," simply talking about what is happening on-screen, but that doesn't happen too often. Still recommended listening. Joe Bob Briggs delivers another superb "comedy commentary," and gives away tons of information about the cast, the crew, shooting the film, background info on carnivals, cocktail lounges and just about anything else he could find related to INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES. Briggs has recorded consistently entertaining commentaries for a series of discs for Elite and Media Blasters, and his audio essays should be blueprints for anyone planning to record commentaries for films they weren't involved in making. He doesn't just spout info from the Internet Movie Database, which is a major plus! Both commentaries don't have too many overlapping facts, each offering unique facts and complimenting each other wonderfully, so be sure to listen to both.
Steckler appears again in a video interview, looking quite different 40 years after his directing/acting days. Wearing a Berkeley hat, sunglasses and sporting a white moustache, Ray explains the problems he ran into with Stanley Kubrick (!) over his lengthy title, co-star Atlas King giving him money to finish the movie, building the dance numbers around his affection for Carolyn Brandt, reveals here that he was "Cash Flagg" and throwing in everything but the kitchen sink into the finished product. Carolyn Brandt (aka the former Mrs. Steckler) is interviewed as well, in a short 3-minute piece discussing her background in dance and shooting the many musical numbers in the film. Her part in INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES is pretty negligible, but she does offer some nice anecdotes about shooting her dance scenes.
Trailers for INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES, HELL'S ANGELS '69, SAMURAI COP, HOLLYWOOD STRANGLER MEETS THE SKID ROW SLASHER, RUN ANGEL RUN, WARLOCK MOON, BLOOD SISTERS, HELL HIGH and BLOOD SHACK finish off Guilty Pleasures' best disc to date. (Casey Scott)
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