Thursday, 15 March 2012

Cult Of The Damned (1969)

Another scary example of what could have gone through AIP filter in the late 60's. Originally released as "Angel, Angel, Down We Go" it was written and directed by practically unknown Robert Thom, and produced by unfamous master of trash – "Jungle" Sam Katzman, whose first exploitation picture distributed by AIP was legendary "Riot On Sunset Strip". None of these were ever officialy released on DVD and the reasons needn't to be explained. Before this gruesome flick hit the drive-ins, Katzman proclaimed he finally turned his back on B-movies and wanted to offer something with "depth and meaning" instead. Well, it wasn't exactly an Oscar step, Sam.

Although "Angel, Angel, Down We Go" premiered in one of the most prestigious Hollywood theatres to comply with Katzman's vision of going bigtime, it was yanked off by the distributor just a week later and shelved without any mercy. It re-emerged in 1971 under new title "Cult Of The Damned", which didn't have anything in common with the content, except it was a part of AIP perfect sales pitch, aiming to push the new double feature including Hammer lesbian vampire flick. As I'm not in possession of any sources, explaining later fate of this "masterpiece", it would be quite safe to presume it got shelved againg after dancing around American drive-ins for couple of months, just to be brought to you again by brave bootleg distibutors.

The story is something of an acid trip gone raped by fevered fantasy of a half-witted schizophrenic. As Tara – obese daughter of a filthy rich industrialist meets Bogart – a rock star, who pops her cherry and promptly becomes a spiritual guide, dozing her with halucinogens and effectively brainwashing, her miserable life gets a completely new spin. She decides almost immediately to hang out with her new guru and his buddies 24/7, loafing in a mansion with wacky, psychedelic decor, featuring pictures of Humphrey Bogart, Charles Chaplin and other Hollywood stars. Eventually, she gets turned on the path of "evil yoga", getting superpowers like laying on the ceiling. As she's a skilled pilot (hmmm...), she gets to fly a private Cesna while the band goes sky diving, uttering satanistic affirmations before jumping off the plane.

In the end, "the cultists" have enough of her, thus turn to tormenting Tara's mother (played by Academy Award winner - Jennifer Jones. They mock her porn business past (although she never faked an orgams in a movie) and lack of commitment to her shitty family... hanging out by the pool. Eventually Bogart fucks her, steals her precious jewellery and then offers sky diving session as an incentive to put her back on the track. She dies unable to open a parachute and Tara drowns in madness. However fascinating this plot might seem, "Cult Of The Damned" is a piece of insipid gibberish, which makes even worse impression by coming up with experimental tools like non-linear narration or footage of static collages as a way to externalize what's happening in poor girl's head. Unfortunately, director lacked Bob Rafelson's talent and couldn't pull off another "Head" (1968). Does it havy any value at all? Possibly an obscurity factor... on second thought, it could be probably sampled for rave visuals.

As Robert Thom said in an interview for Variety in 1969: Here again I want to say something about society. It deals with a court reporter who concentrates on tax evasion to get the Mafia. If you've read this review carefully, you must've noticed an obvious contradiction to these words. Apparently, AIP recut the movie so extensively, that it didn't carry any resemblance to the original version... or maybe they just tried to sell this flick to the public as a criminal drama, being convinced that diabolical version of The Rolling Stones might not pass in the press. In this case, you're absolutely free to choose what you want to believe in!

[The movie can be purchased from Cinema de Bizarre]

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