NOT Available on DVD: WICKED, WICKED
For better or worse, 3-D is here to stay but what of the one-shot movie gimmicks of yesteryear? HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) had ‘Emergo’, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton that swooped over the audience at a key point in the movie. EARTHQUAKE had ‘Sensurround’, massive Cerwin-Vega subwoofers that shook the theatres and for POLYESTER (1981), John Waters passed out self-explanatory ‘Odorama’ cards. ‘Duo-Vision’ was a split-screen technique used for the entire 1973 shocker WICKED, WICKED, a film as forgotten as it’s gimmick and one that is NOT available on DVD. Split-screen is an effective story-telling device when used sparingly. Brian DePalma used it quite a bit in SISTERS (also 1973) and in many of his other films.It was used intelligently in WOODSTOCK (1970) and THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968) but way overused in MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1979). WICKED, WICKED, where the device is used in 99% of the shots (only a couple of violent inserts and establishing shots are full frame) has an underserved bad reputation as a film where the gimmick was the only memorable thing about it. I recently caught up with WICKED, WICKED and was surprised to find a more than capable shocker with a gimmick that was absolutely integral to the story it was telling.
WICKED, WICKED opens with a warning reading: ‘You are about to see a new concept in motion picture technique….DUO-VISION. In this process you will witness simultaneous action through the use of a double screen…an experience that will challenge your imagination”. WICKED, WICKED is the story of a knife-wielding maniac (Randolph Roberts) in a fright mask named Jason (!) who kills women in the sprawling resort hotel where he works as the handyman (filmed at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, where parts of SOME LIKE IT HOT were shot) in retaliation for being sexually abused as a child by his foster mother. Jason targets beautiful blondes and spies on them with binoculars before the attack. Jason’s hides out in a specific room that’s hidden within the hotel’s walls (shades of BAD RONALD) which gives him easy access to roam the hallways. A security agent (David Bailey) leads the investigation into the murders and when his brunette ex-wife (Tiffany Bolling) arrives at the hotel to sing, he makes her bleach her hair to act as a decoy and a cat-and-mouse between killer and detective begins.
WICKED, WICKED dispenses with any mystery as Jason yanks off his fright mask and shows his face after the second murder so, despite the introduction of some colorful red herrings, there’s no attempt to building any suspense about the identity of the masked psycho. What makes the film work is its gimmick, the ‘Duo-Vision’, and the film makes the most of this technique’s visual possibilities. The split screen often shows Jason on ones side and his victims on the other. Sometimes flashbacks to his traumatic childhood are shown, or actions at opposite ends of a hallway or building are illustrated. This all makes WICKED, WICKED a real masterpiece of (pre-digital) editing. The two images interact inventively and they play off each other in ways that well advances the narrative. Director Richard Bare and his hardworking editor give the viewer twice as much information as a standard movie telling in effect, two stories at once. It’s impressive how they manage to sustain it for the entire 93 minute running time, even though it appears Bare inserts shots a creepy woman playing the organ to use as filler when needed. It’s a clever gimmick that draws the viewer in as a voyeur in the grisly proceedings and I’m surprised it hasn’t been used for a complete feature again (or maybe it has?)
‘Wicked, Wicked … that’s the ticket…’ the theme song is performed no less than three times by the film’s star Tiffany Bolling who released an album of songs that year titled ‘Tiffany’. Her singing career never panned out but Bolling, a tanned and sexy stunner, will always be remembered for starring in a pair of sleazy drive-in classics that same year. In BONNIES KIDS she and Robin Matson played sisters on the run after gunning down their perv stepdad and THE CANDY SNATCHERS was a nasty, nihilistic kidnap drama inspired by THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Both of these films been released on DVD in special editions recently, but WICKED,WICKED remains MIA. It’s never been available in any format although Turner Classic Movies reportedly has aired it. Bring back ‘Duo-Vision’!