Richard L. Bare, 1973
Starring: David Bailey, Tiffany Bolling, Randolph Roberts, Edd Byrnes
“Wicked, wicked, that’s the ticket!”
The majestic Grandview Hotel in California has become the site of several murders. Blonde female visitors check in, but then never check out. The hotel’s detective, Rick Stewart, is on the case, but is distracted by the arrival of his ex-wife, Lisa, who shows up to perform as a singer. He believes Lisa is in danger, particularly because she wears a blonde wig during her performances and the hotel’s quiet, awkward handyman, James, has begun to pay a lot of attention to her...
Written and directed by Richard L. Bare, Wicked Wicked was shot in what Bare called Duo-Vision, a split screen technique that allows two different visuals to be shown at once. Brian de Palma more famously used the split screen the same year in Sisters and later in Carrie. I really enjoyed the Duo-Vision. Though Bare doesn’t have the technical artistry of someone like De Palma, he is clearly having a great time applying the script concepts to the split screen. One interesting use of the Duo-Vision is when characters discuss their pasts and the split screen shows the actual events. They are often lying or exaggerating, such as when an older woman says she was abused by her husband (we see her killing him) or when Lisa says she used to be a ballet dancer (it was really burlesque). Often these scenes are very humorous and are an effective use of the split screen.
A lot about this movie fits into the realm of “so bad it’s good.” The dialogue, for starters, is hilariously unbelievable, which fits in perfectly with some of the performances. Soap opera actor David Bailey was cast as the plucky, yet downtrodden hotel detective, and his role often veers into the ridiculous. B-movie actress Tiffany Bolling (Kingdom of the Spiders, The Candy Snatchers) is memorable as his obnoxiously singing ex-wife/love interest. A young Vietnam vet, Randolph Roberts, was cast as the killer. Unsurprisingly, this is his only role of note. Edd Byrnes (77 Sunset Strip), Madeleine Sherwood (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Flying Nun), and Arthur O’Connell (Anatomy of a Murder) also appear.
This campy slasher flick has an equal focus on music, comedy, and violence. Regardless of how you feel about horror comedies, Wicked Wicked has a feeling of freshness and excitement. Director Bare, mostly known for directing television shows like Green Acres, The Twilight Zone, and Lassie, really tried to do something unique and different, and though he doesn’t entirely succeed, he made a wildly entertaining film that has been seen by far too few people.
The film has an air of absurdity, but also charm, and will appeal to fans of B grade horror. The humor feels unintentional - everything is very straight-faced - but I expect Bare knew what he was getting himself into. There are certainly some flaws and the film does drag, particularly during the middle and we are forced to endure a lengthy scene of Tiffany Bolling single the catchy, but annoying title song. Another issue is that there is really no mystery who the killer is and, like a sloppy version of Psycho, we see why Jason has such blonde women/mommy issues. It’s a shame his identity is revealed so quickly, because the film introduces a number of oddball characters that could have been further explores.
There is a pleasant amount of gore and the effects hold up reasonably well. The lag in the middle of the film - plus that dreadful song - are easily forgotten by the film’s enjoyable conclusion. The ending is delightfully grotesque, as we glimpse Jason’s lair full of doll-like corpses. It’s clear the set designers were having a lot of fun that day, as well as Roberts, who is allowed to really go off the rails at the end of the film.
Wicked Wicked wasn’t successful upon its theatrical release, so Bare’s planned follow up film, which was supposed to be another Duo-Vision film focusing on a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro, was cancelled. The film has been shown on Turner Classic Movies a few times, but has not yet released on DVD. I had the fortune to see it at a cult film screening. Though the theater is the best place to see Duo-Vision, you can find decent bootlegs floating around online. Wicked Wicked definitely comes recommended.