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Something Weird

Between the Blood Trilogy and 1970's The Wizard of Gore, director Herschell Gordon Lewis explored a wide variety of themes outside the hard-gore arena while continuing to court viewers with the sensational and the exploitable. One of his most unusual offerings of this period was this category-defying tale from 1967. It would be too easy to simply suggest that Something Weird lives up to its title. What's truly remarkable is that this exploration of psychic phenomena, criminology, drug therapy, and the supernatural actually manages to remain coherent throughout its running time! The concept began as a script by producer James F. Hurley, who later complained that director Lewis had compromised his serious vision. (Interestingly, Hurley's original intent was reflected in his own subsequent film The Psychic in 1968, which utilized Lewis as cameraman. Viewing this film, one can see immediately why Lewis felt the story needed some "juicing up.")

Tony McCabe (Cronin Mitchell) suffers a disfiguring accident via electrical shock. While the incident destroys his face, it apparently enhances his dormant psychic abilities to the point where he can accurately predict future events. But in a twist not even he could foresee, McCabe receives a visit from an ugly, cackling witch (Elizabeth Lee) who offers to restore his face--but only if he becomes her lover! Resistant at first, McCabe accepts the bargain. True to her word, the witch makes the psychic presentable once more; while she herself is transformed (in the eyes of everyone else) to a young, beautiful woman named Ellen.

McCabe continues to make the most of his psychic talents--and is ultimately called upon to help the police in their efforts to identify and apprehend a serial killer. This investigation, however, brings McCabe and Ellen into contact with fellow sleuth Alex Jordan (William Brooker), and Jordan's immediate infatuation with Ellen spells trouble for all concerned. Things come to a head when McCabe gives his mental energy a boost with an experimental dose of LSD....

For a film so concerned with hitting as many hot, current topics of its time as possible in a deliberately bizarre fashion, Something Weird continued to echo well into the 1980s, as several elements of the Lewis film were incorporated into far-better known genre mainstays. Nearly twenty years before Ghostbusters, McCabe is pressed into service to make contact with a restless spirit haunting a church. Readers of Stephen King's The Dead Zone (or viewers of David Cronenberg's film adaptation) will not only recognize a major subplot but will even anticipate the identity of the killer -- so strong are the similarities. And while everyone laughs at the infamous sequence in which Jordan is attacked by his suddenly murderous bedsheets... nobody laughed when Wes Craven staged a reminiscent sequence in the original Nightmare on Elm Street.

While some of the special effects are less than impressive (McCabe's "levitation" sequence in particular), the deadly serious histrionics of the cast, the audacity of the story, and Lewis's professional camerawork work in the film's favor: the viewer's attention is unlikely to flag during its brief running time.

Something Weird is, of course, the film that inspired the name of Mike Vraney's video company. As such, it is presented as a centerpiece of not only the Lewis collection (its bright yellow packaging and chronological placement make it stand out in the lineup) but of Something Weird's DVD line in general. Unfortunately, both the presentation of the film and the supplemental materials on the DVD fall short of the standards set by the previous releases. The film itself is well-rendered, with strong colors, good mono sound, and a lack of artifacting problems. The DVD even contains several minutes of footage missing from previous video releases (mostly involving Jordan's martial-arts training). However, the attempt to letterbox the film to its theatrical 1:85:1 ratio was a mistake: the top and bottom of the image are cropped off severely, to the point where portions of both the opening and end credits can no longer be seen. As with the other films in Something Weird's Lewis DVD collection, audio commentary in the form of a chat between Lewis and Mike Vraney is provided. In this case, though, Lewis begs off after a plot summary and a few brief anecdotes--less than fifteen minutes into the film. To cover the remaining running time, Jimmy Maslon and David F. Friedman join Vraney as he relates the history of Something Weird Video itself. It's an interesting series of anecdotes, full of "kid-in-a-candy-store" moments sure to provoke empathy and jealousy from all video collectors--interrupted only briefly by the participants' observations on the Lewis film (which none of them seem familiar with at all). The commentary becomes frustrating at these points, as the remarks are completely out of sync with the on-screen action. The Something Weird story comes to an end well before the film does, leaving the commentators to struggle for material. Vraney ultimately offers an apologetic assurance to the listener that the commentary tracks on the other Lewis DVDs are far superior to this one--which they most assuredly are.

No trailer of Something Weird was available for the DVD. Supplemental material here includes the usual "Gallery of Exploitation Art" and three lengthy LSD-related clips from the Something Weird archives. While the black-and-white nightmare sequence from The Weird World of LSD commands attention with its monstrous apparitions, the other selections fail to complement the Lewis film.

Something Weird remains an entertaining and surprisingly rewarding Lewis film, and fans of the director will certainly find this release worth having. But certainly not the gem of Something Weird's Herschell Gordon Lewis DVD collection.


Go to:
A Taste of Blood (book review)
Blood Feast
Two Thousand Maniacs
Color Me Blood Red
A Taste of Blood
Something Weird
The Gruesome Twosome
She-Devils on Wheels
The Wizard of Gore
The Gore Gore Girls