Review Date: October 11, 2008
Released by: Something Weird
Release date: 7/9/2002
Region 1, NTSC
What is the fine line that separates a movie from being so bad that it’s funny and so bad that it’s just painful? Many have tried to answer that question in varying forms, but for my part I have a very simple formula: the more cynical the filmmakers show themselves to be, the less tolerable their bad film becomes. Notice how many of the most entertaining bad movies, films like Plan 9 From Outer Space
, are usually also the most earnest efforts by dedicated but incompetent filmmakers. The more obvious it is that someone is simply throwing something together for the money on the assumption that I as an audience member will pay to watch any old crap, the less I enjoy it. If anything, the more insulted I become by the contempt that the filmmaker has shown me as a viewer. That brings us to today’s review, billed by Something Weird as a “Way-Out Double Feature”. Neither of the films included here is actually good, but are they at least so bad that they’re good?
Monster a Go-Go
opens in a wooded area outside Chicago as Colonel Steve Connors (Phil Morton
) leads the search for a NASA space capsule that is believed to have crashed nearby. The pilot of a search helicopter radios to say that he has sighted the capsule and is going to land and check it out. Suddenly over the radio Connors hears the pilot scream “Oh my god!” while making painful, guttural sounds. Connors rushes to the scene, only to find the helicopter pilot dead and shriveled up. There is no sign of the space capsule’s occupant, an astronaut named Frank Douglas. Not long after, a boy and girl making out on a lonely road are attacked by *something* that leaves the boy dead and shriveled up and the girl in shock.
The two lead scientists on the project are Dr. Henry Logan and his brother Conrad. Suspecting that there is something seriously afoul, Henry goes out snooping in the woods near where the space capsule was found. Tramping through the brush, he is attacked and killed by a disfigured, ten-foot tall monster. His body, too, is shriveled up, apparently by the monster’s intense radioactive energy.
Two months pass without further killings or sightings of the creature. As it turns out, the surviving Dr. Logan managed to capture the monster soon after it killed his brother, and he has been hiding it in an unused part of the space laboratory while he tries to cure it with an anti-radiation serum. The treatment was working – it cured the creature of everything except its tremendous size – but its effectiveness gradually wore off as time went on. When Dr. Logan is late with a dose, the monster escapes and the scientist is forced to go to Colonel Connors and the other project members with what happened. The monster – who everyone assumes is a mutated version of Frank Douglas – is now running loose and headed towards Chicago, with its radioactivity increasing with each hour. The authorities scramble to meet the threat, but will they stop the monster before it contaminates the entire city? And is the creature even Frank Douglas?
I have a personal story to tell about Monster a Go-Go
. Some years ago, when this DVD was first released, some friends of mine expressed an interest in seeing it. They were big Mystery Science Theater 3000
fans but had never seen the movie, even on the MST3K episode that showcased it. I brought it over one afternoon that we were all hanging out and put it on. They watched it for a few minutes and quickly lost interest and started talking amongst themselves and playing video games on the other TVs we had set up. But the film was left playing in the background, the TV being set at a normal volume. And then it happened. The film hit a scene where it used a series of ultra high-pitched sound effects to indicate the monster’s presence, pumped through the soundtrack at such a high decibel that several of my friends covered their ears and screamed at me to turn off the movie. This is a telling example of just how bad the film is – it can hurt people who aren’t even watching it.
Directed by Bill Rebane, the film started life as a drab little production called Terror at Halfday
. Rebane never finished the movie, and it sat around until it was picked up by Herschell Gordon Lewis, of all people. Lewis needed a co-feature for Moonshine Mountain
, and so he finished the movie, re-titled it and released it upon a completely unsuspecting public. Lewis claims that he tried to make it a parody, but other than the new title (with a non-hip rock and roll song to go with it) there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of it.
From every conceivable standpoint, whether it be artistic or technical, Monster a Go-Go
is absolute rock bottom filmmaking. The production values are so bad that they’re almost legendary. The sound recording is atrocious. The dialogue has a tinny, distant sound to it, while effects like the aforementioned monster sound are mixed painfully loud, and the cinematography is usually murky and flat-looking. Scientific laboratories are represented by drab rooms full of test tubes and other high school level chemistry accessories. In fact, the most elaborate piece of design in the entire movie is the space capsule at the beginning, and it doesn’t even appear big enough to fit a normal man, let alone a ten-foot space monster. Even basic continuity is missing, as the character of Connors is sometimes called a captain and at other times as a colonel (to make matters worse, the uniforms he wears alternate their insignia; in some scenes he is wearing a captain’s bars, in other scenes he is wearing the leaf-shaped insignia that would make him either a major or a lieutenant colonel).
Although he would eventually become a somewhat competent director of regional horror films, here Bill Rebane didn’t have a clue what he was doing. The movie barely qualifies for having been edited, since Rebane presents most dialogue scenes with just a single master take and maybe one or two cutaways. During these scenes there is rarely any onscreen action to keep us interested in the visuals. Characters only move when they are entering or exiting a room, otherwise they’re just standing or sitting still. Just as bad, the camera angles are completely static and flat. The movie is not only hard to watch, it’s also hard to even look at.
Despite all of this, Monster a Go-Go
might still have been marginally tolerable if it had showed some spark of creativity in its conception, but even in this department it is totally lacking. The script shows no imagination, no originality, and no evidence that the writers knew how to properly structure a movie. It is a paint-by-the-numbers monster movie whose basic story is really no different than any 50’s monster movie. The difference is that neither AIP nor Allied Artists ever made anything nearly this bad. And it’s not even so bad that it’s funny. The only laughs to be found in this painfully serious production are in the voiceovers added by H.G. Lewis, some examples of which I have quoted below:
“Without question this was the capsule that had put Douglas into orbit, and without question Douglas was gone without a trace. The helicopter pilot who had discovered the capsule was dead, horribly mangled in a way no one had ever seen before.”
“What changes the delicate interlocking of fates that determine life or death? A series of ifs – if the girl had danced with her boyfriend, instead of the other boy, and they had stayed later. If the two of them hadn’t parked to kiss and make up. But that is not what happened, and fate and history never deal in ifs.”
“Suddenly there was no trail. There was no giant, no monster, no thing called Douglas to be followed. There was nothing in the tunnel but the puzzled men of courage who suddenly found themselves alone with shadows and darkness. With the telegram, one cloud lifts, and another descends. Astronaut Frank Douglas, rescued, alive, well, and of normal size some 8000 miles away in a lifeboat.”
That last quote is from the end of the film, which is perhaps the most famous thing about the movie. The climax shows Colonel “Captain” Connors and another soldier advancing through the Chicago sewers in hot pursuit of the highly radioactive monster. Suddenly their Geiger counter loses the trail of the creature. They head back to the surface where Dr. Logan hands them a telegram saying that Frank Douglas has been found alive in a life raft in the North Atlantic, of normal size, and with no memory as to how he was separated from his space capsule. And that’s it. No explanation, no logic, no reason. The movie doesn’t end – it stops. This “ending” was not present in Rebane’s original shooting script. It came about because the movie didn’t have a climax when H.G. Lewis bought it up. Low budget filmmakers are a lot like mothers in that they are supposed to have all the answers and be able to make any problem right again. Lewis certainly fixed Terror at Halfday
enough to get a release, but his decision to close the movie on that note wasn’t an act of ingenuity, or even an act of cynicism. It was an act of desperation, an acknowledgement that the movie was beyond any and all help.
There is an episode of the old Seinfeld
sitcom where the Kramer character has his portrait painted. Later, when high class art connoisseurs view the picture, one of them says “He is a loathsome, offensive brute...yet I can’t look away.” To me, that sentiment is a perfect representation of how I feel about Monster a Go-Go
. It is a complete train wreck of a movie, the cinematic equivalent of a colonoscopy. It does nothing right on any level. But yet I feel myself drawn to it, as if I was an insect attracted to a light in the dark. No matter how bad it is, I can’t help but watch it in fascination, and wonder how something like this could have actually been made. It’s a movie that nobody has any illusions about, not even its director. To quote Bill Rebane:
“I call it the worst picture ever made. And I mean it.”
I do too, Bill.
Psyched by the 4D Witch
tells the story of innocent young Margo, a pretty and virginal student who has never known sexual climax, even through masturbation. Margo is also deeply interested in witchcraft and researches the topic. Her family even has an honest-to-goodness witch in the family, a woman named Abigail who was burned at the stake. One night while practicing a ritual she learned in books, Margo is suddenly contacted by the dead Abigail’s spirit, who offers her a way to find sexual satisfaction while still remaining a virgin. Abigail will create vivid, realer-than-real fantasies for Margo that will allow her to achieve a sexual climax. She will know a fantasy is coming when she hears Abigail say, “Let’s fantasy fuck now!”
Margo’s first few fantasies are relatively simple and pedestrian, but then Abigail creates a fantasy for her in which she seduces her busty aunt. Despite being aroused, Margo has misgivings about lesbianism and is upset with Abigail. But she’s even more upset when the witch creates a perverted fantasy for her involving her best friend and a snake. Repulsed, Margo tries to fight back against Abigail, but witch has her in her spell now. It seems her real motivation was revenge for Margo stealing her lover in a former life, and now it’s time for the young girl’s soul to pay!
If Monster a Go-Go
is the worst film ever made, then Psyched by the 4D Witch
must surely come in a very close second. This cinematic cluster bomb is so incoherent and bizarre that it barely qualifies as a movie. Obviously made to cash in on the new era of adult filmmaking brought out by the MPAA’s new ratings system (the opening of this print still carries its ‘R’ rating from the organization), the production intentionally avoids any of the filmmaking techniques that might require any amount of money to pull off. If anything, it is more cynical than its companion feature. That production was started by an earnest filmmaker and finished by a cynic. But this movie was made by a cynic whose cheap calculations are apparent from the start.
The audience knows that they are in trouble when it becomes apparent that the entire movie is going to consist of voiceovers. There is not a single line of genuine, spoken dialogue in the entire production. Characters converse is bizarre internal dialogues with each other that are usually disconnected from anything onscreen. And why should they do anything else? After all, live audio recording requires additional equipment, and ADR can get pricey depending on how much time you spend in the studio. A voiceover that doesn’t need to be synched to anything specific is about as cheap as it comes for lab work.
But of course you still have to put something on the screen, but why do anything expensive there? After all, if you have no dialogue, it liberates you from the strict disciplines of narrative shooting and editing. Sure, you’ll still need to shoot some scenes in a semi-coherent fashion, but the rest of it you can fill in by creating trippy visual effects of random things and hauling out your friends and putting them on camera in cheap Halloween masks to represent the “astral demons” that inhabit Abigail’s plain of existence. Throw in some footage of southern California locations and some telephoto shots of college kids going about their campus, and you start having enough footage to edit into...something.
Such is the essence of Psyched by the 4D Witch
, a movie that has its own strange energy that makes it seem to inhabit a world not much more normal than Abigail’s. Viewers may come out of Monster a Go-Go
enormously confused, but they’re likely to come out of this movie in a hypnotic daze. Watching the production, I’m reminded of stories my friends have told me about their experiences with hallucinogenic drugs (and if this is what that experience is really like you can count me amongst the “just say no” crowd). It is fitting companion to the Rebane/Lewis film, and I’ll extend my compliments to Something Weird: somehow, against all odds, you guys managed to get the two worst movies ever made together on one DVD.
Monster a Go-Go
is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and looks very beat up. Although I myself would get a perverse kick out seeing the film receive an extensive frame-by-frame digital restoration, it’s hardly reasonable to expect any company to invest that kind of money in a movie like this. Fortunately though this presentation is at least better than the previous VHS versions. On the plus side, the transfer features excellent contrast with deep, true blacks, clean whites and a good looking grayscale in between. The film also looks surprisingly clear and sharp when the production’s haphazard cinematography allows it. But, on the downside, the print it was struck from was in very bad shape. Vertical lines are a constant presence throughout the entire running time, and there’s barely a frame that isn’t affected by scratches, specks, splices and grime. The movie still has a grainy look to it, and since much of it wasn’t lighted properly to begin with, night scenes are still murky with poor shadow detail.
Psyched by the 4D Witch
is also presented full-frame 1.33:1, and if anything the movie looks even worse than its companion feature. This transfer was taken from a 35mm print (quite possibly the only one in existence) but the film looks like it was shot in 16mm, or possibly even 8mm. The image looks incredibly soft, washed out and often out-of-focus. Colors are faded and dull, grain is everywhere and the print is littered with every type of film damage imaginable. Specks, splices, scratches, grime, tears in the film, and the most bizarre part is a series of strange blemishes or divots or – well, I don’t even know what they are – that appear over the entire film (picture at right), only obscured by dark scenes.
The soundtrack for Monster a Go-go
is presented in Dolby 1.0 Mono. This is where poor production values meet poor film preservation. The original sound recording is bad enough (all the voices sound tinny and distant), but even the narration, likely recorded in an actual studio, sounds flat and muffled. There’s also lots of hissing, popping and other background noise.
Psyched by the 4D Witch
also gets a Dolby 1.0 Mono mix, and here the results are somewhat better thanks to the fact that there is no live dialogue recording. The soundtrack still sounds hissy and crackly, but at least you can understand everything that’s said.
The extras kick off with a bizarre short film that Something Weird has dubbed Driving Miss Daisy Crazy
. This thirty-six minute, black and white production tells the story of a wealthy New York socialite who discovers that her abusive husband Robert is trying to drive her insane so that he can have her committed and take control of her fortune. Employing a small army of hired actors, he drugs her in order to get her into awkward sexual situations, then uses a number of tricks to scare her out of her mind. With no opening or ending credits and apparently no IMDb entry, the existence of this little film is a complete mystery, although other writers have identified the lead actress as being someone who worked for director Michael Findlay (Shriek of the Mutilated
) in several movies. Based on the fashions and cars it seems to have been shot in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. The film emulates the style of Psyched by the 4D Witch
with no dialogue, just voiceover narration. It’s bad but fun, so prepare to enjoy over a half an hour of lesbianism, awkward editing and men in Halloween masks. The image quality of the black and white presentation is actually quite good, with a sharp, bright image and little print damage.
Next up are two short films which Something Weird has dubbed Bedtime Booga Booga
and Psyched by the 2D Dot
, which run approximately five and two minutes, respectively. The former was obvious shot on Super 8 film, and tells the story of a man who falls asleep while watching Night of the Living Dead
, only to have bizarre nightmares and wake up with a man slitting his throat! The second film begins with an attractive and nude young woman dancing with a sunflower, only to find herself being assaulted by black blobs of ink painted on the film, which follow her around the room trying to cover up her private parts!
We then get a nearly six-minute gallery of horror promotional art set to vintage radio spots for movies like Last House on the Left
, and a big chunk of trailers featuring previews for Blood Bath
, Bourbon Street Shadows
, Creature of the Walking Dead
, Eyes of Hell
, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
, Monster a Go-Go
, Something Weird
, Tales of the Bizarre
, a double feature of Witchcraft
and The Horror of It All!
, and something labeled the “Insect-o-thon Midnight Show.” The trailer for Monster a Go-Go
desperately tries to sell the film for it’s dubious comedic elements, but it’s actually quite an interesting piece of work because it seems to include a few snippets of footage that didn’t make the actual movie.
Monster a Go-Go
and Psyched by the 4D Witch
are two of the worst films ever made, but people nowadays do not watch movies like this for enjoyment - they watch them for the experience of seeing them, of identifying with unsuspecting audiences who saw them back in theatres. Similarly, people do not buy DVDs like this to maximize the home theater experience with their fancy equipment. But this release does its job, creating a decent package out of very unpromising source material.
Monster a Go-Go
Movie – F
Image Quality – C-
Sound – D
Psyched by the 4D Witch
Movie – F
Image Quality – D
Sound – C-
Supplements – B+
- Color and B&W
- Running Time – Monster a Go-Go – 1 hour 9 minutes
- Running Time – Psyched by the 4D Witch – 1 hour 21 minutes
- Not rated (Monster a Go-Go)
- Rated R (Psyched by the 4D Witch)
- 1 Disc
- English 1.0 Mono
- Driving Miss Daisy Crazy short film
- Bedtime Booga Booga short film
- Psyched by the 2D Dot short film
- Gallery of exploitation art and radio spots