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THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES

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.

The Package
     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.

The Story
     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 Direction
     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!
 

Vital Statistics

THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES
Morgan-Steckler Productions

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

     

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