The magnum opus of the late
Ray Dennis Steckler, who lavished his
largest-ever budget--a whopping $38,000--on this screwball
horror-musical from 1963.
This film was initially titled THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE
CREATURES, OR HOW I STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME A MIXED-UP ZOMBIE, but the
moniker was changed after Columbia sued Steckler due to the fact that
the title resembled that of Stanley Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I
LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB.
THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES… marked the first-ever
appearance of producer/director/star Ray Dennis Steckler’s then-wife
(and frequent future cast member) Carolyn Brandt. The film’s director of
photography Joseph V. Mascelli was assisted by Vilmos Zsigmond and
Laszlo Kovacs, who went on to become two of the world’s greatest
cinematographers, and a youthful James Woods is said to be featured in a
small role--although no one (including Steckler himself) has ever been
able to spot him.
Jerry, a teenaged James Dean wannabe, visits a fortune
teller named Madame Estrella, who operates out of an amusement arcade in
Long Beach, CA. The Madame doesn’t disclose what she sees in her crystal
ball, revealing only that Jerry’s future is “unclear.”
Jerry returns shortly thereafter and is hypnotized into
becoming a murderer. He kills several unsuspecting women before
returning to the arcade to confront Madame Estrella--who throws acid in
Jerry’s face and attempts to lock him in her back room, together with a
bunch of other acid-scarred homicidal freaks. In doing so, however,
Estrella inadvertently releases the freaks, who overrun the area. As for
Jerry, he ends up chased around the beach by gun-wielding cops.
THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES… isn’t the best of Ray
Dennis Steckler’s films, but it is ideal viewing for Steckler novices
wondering what makes his films so distinctive. The film’s compulsive
genre splicing--from teen melodrama to musical to psychedelic spectacle
to horror movie--combined with the poverty row production values make
for something altogether unique and even somewhat artful, putting one in
mind of the films of European auteurs like Fellini and Antonioni.
Then again, it’s important not to take this or any of
Steckler’s films too seriously (as the seminal RE/Search volume
INCREDIBLY STRANGE FILMS made the mistake of doing), as the whole thing
is a big goof. As with most of Steckler’s other films, this one contains
some noticeable padding (a lot, actually) and plain bad filmmaking
(likewise), as well as much gratuitous footage of co-star Carolyn
Brandt’s shapely legs. For that I’m not complaining!
THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME
Director/Producer: Ray Dennis Steckler
Screenplay: E.M. Kevke, Gene Pollock, Robert Cellophane
Cinematography: Joseph V. Mascelli
Editing: Don Schneider
Cast: “Cash Flagg” (Ray Dennis Steckler), Carolyn Brandt, Toni Camel,
Erina Enyo, Atlas King, Brett O’Hara, Gene Pollock