Wednesday, 18 April 2018

The Incredibly Strange Creatures who stopped living and became Mixed-Up Zombies (3 Stars)

Alongside "The Room" and "Plan 9 from Outer Space" this is supposed to be one of the worst films ever made. It's difficult to compare it with the other two films for practical reasons. "The Room" and "Plan 9" are both well preserved, whereas "The Incredibly Strange Creatures" has pop and crackle on almost every frame. Even the 40th anniversary version that I'm holding in my hand shows no sign of having been even partially restored. Nobody cares about it.

Ray Dennis Steckler is the undoubted king of micro-budget films. He boasted that he could make any film for $500. He starred in the films himself -- that's him holding a knife in the poster -- with his family and friends filling the supporting roles. He would hire anyone who was prepared to work for free. He never asked for permits when filming in public, he just looked over his shoulder to make sure the police weren't nearby. He went into nightclubs and filmed performances, as long as he didn't have to pay for them. He had a pyramid method of releasing films: first he sent the master tape to a nearby drive-in theatre; with the money he earned he made copies which he sent to another few local theatres; with the money from them he made more copies, and so on, until he had enough copies for a national release. That explains why the film has been so badly preserved.

The film's plot is so jumbled that a brief summary hardly does it justice. There are numerous unrelated sub-plots that I have to leave out. You need to watch the film for yourself to figure it out for yourself.

Jerry, played by Ray Dennis Steckler, goes to a fun fair, where the main acts are a fortune teller, Estrella, and her sister Carmelita, an exotic dancer. After watching Carmelita she invites him to her dressing room. She hypnotises him, and he goes into a wild rage, killing two people in a nearby nightclub. The next day he doesn't remember what he's done.

If you think Carmelita is evil, Estrella is far worse. She throws acid on the face of men who visit her tent, then locks them in cages. She hypnotises them to make them mindless killers. In the film they're called zombies, but they're not like the zombies in any other films you might have seen.

Jerry suspects something evil is happening at the fair, but when he returns to investigate the two sisters team up against him.

There are various musical numbers in the film, leading Ray Dennis Steckler to call the film a monster musical, but that's going too far. Most of the songs and dances are unrelated to the story, so they look suspiciously like padding to fill out a film that's too short. If they were removed the film would only have been about 30 minutes long.

I said at the beginning of this review that he could make films for $500. That was later on. "The Incredibly Strange Creatures" was only his second film, made when he was 25. He wasn't as experienced back then. He spent a whopping $38,000 on the film, the biggest budget of his career. I wonder what he spent it on.

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