Monday, September 06, 2010

Great Acid Cinema: ANGEL, ANGEL, DOWN WE GO (AKA Cult of the Damned, 1969)

"Screw anyone who hates killing!"

Netflix streaming has just delivered unto its subscribers a vast wealth of MGM-owned AIP and independent horror/sci fi titles from the 1960s-90s (many unavailable on DVD at all) just in time for the trippiest of all seasons, autumn, as in fall.. as in fall down and down we.....go.... If you have Netflix, drop everything and stream CULT OF THE DAMNED! No Jim Jones (but there is still some Kool-Aid floating around, if you know what I mean).

In fact, CULT turns out to be a counterculture 1969 AIP gas(ss) filmed in Los Angeles, California that might even be better than PSYCH-OUT, almost as good as HEAD. So whether you're an AIP fan or just a cinematic "experience seeker," take the CULT trip and instead of pinching yourself to see if you're dreaming, you'll be pinching your mom, shouting obscenities at passing pigeons, and howling; your lips frothing, your pupils wildly dilated, meaning to say hello but instead just laughing insanely. You will definitely have, as they say, totally lost it, and then you'll know, Bogart's mad vision of an America that's eaten itself down to the overweight health crisis bone has come to pass. The man is a prophet.

CULT OF THE DAMNED originally had the much more sensible (relatively) title, ANGEL, ANGEL, DOWN WE GO, referring to one of the psychedelic rock songs performed by said prophet for the gone generation, the skydiving rock impresario, Bogart "as in the real Humphrey!" Peter Stuyvesant (Jordan Christopher). He's thinking of calling his new group 'Rabbit Habbit,' a trio consisting of skydiving hipster freaks: stone cool Lou Rawls ("Everybody knows black is better, baby!"), a cute blonde flower child ("Birth control can be controlled by the mind!") and Roddy McDowell! ("I heard alcohol is coming back!") The songs are full of groovy organ and funky but non-slapped bass lines I could totally play if my bass wasn't so far away, and written by the ISHTAR-ish song-writing team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, clearly aping the oft-aped style of the musical 'HAIR.'  Since the lead is obsessed about her weight issues and there's an uber bitch-control freak pill-head former glamor girl mom, it becomes a kind of HAIRSPRAY/HAIR mind-meld, sans the terrible smell of permanents, but with the pungent incense of the Manson killings to come ("My mom always told me the next war would be between the blacks and the whites!")

The film begins, still trying to make me think it's about GUYANA (it was originally mixed up under the GUYANA image above on Netflix, so I spent a good hour wondering when these hippies were going to move to Guyana). There are lots of jungle noises in the beginning to bear out the assumption that we're watching the right movie (at least for me, who always thought Guyana was in Africa). But as it goes on it gets very Joan Collins plays Mommy Dearest as written by Valerie Solanis channeling Oscar Wilde. There's first person-narrated childhood of debutante, Tara Nicole Steele (Holly Near) who hallucinates disturbing collages of her riches-to-riches life story, where "everyone dies on schedule, beautifully." Jennifer Jones is the faded mom, who shouts at Tara: "You are a fat girl, you idiot! I don't know why anyone would even touch you!!" When she throws Tara Nicole a coming-out party it's like a champagne bottle missile... aimed straight at the head. Yo, that's poetry.

All through the film, I presumed Tara Nicole was going to go off to Guyana and join Jim Jones to escape her mom's cold clutches, or something, and that an angry reel of camp atrocity footage would be tacked on at the end, intercut with Tara Nicole freaking out in close-up so you couldn't tell she wasn't really there. But then, left turns start and go, baby, go, until you're freaking out in the best free love acid flashback kind of way, with just a little dab of Manson-esque foreshadowing to keep everything from getting too Partridge Family.

Bogart lays Tara by the lake; she fantasizes weird Freudian melt-down bloody Bluebeard forbidden stained-key-style. Bogart's friends show up and sweep her into their world of forbidden pleasure and love, love, freedom, mama angel! Pillows and purple gel accent lighting and a groovy old LP player and reel-to-reel. He even records a song to his new love about how "growing high and going wide gives you lots of 'room' inside." Tara gets confident with all this attention and learns to dance free and easy like Mama Cass and tease her mom about her obsession with expensive jewelry. With a little research Tara learns that fat used to be the height of beauty and that "Twiggy only dates back to Buchenwald."  When Bogart decides to get with Tara's pillhead mama ("maybe you'll adopt me, maybe I'll adopt you, but oh crazy lady crazy lady!") Tara freaks out and starts crying up on the ceiling. Mom hangs by the pool and notes: "He is the sort that makes you take all sorts of tranquilizers before breakfast, isn't he? And wash them down with bloodys." Cheers, Mrs. S.! "You drive, I dive! We all die!" With Bogart around, bloody's always for breakfast.

Needless to say, Mom gets her own song, too:, in a slow grinding bluesy vamp:

I just met a mother -
ain't gonna tell you her name.
I just met a mother
she puts us all to shame.
Well the bigger that they are,
the harder they fall.
Looka here, what do we got?
the biggest mother
of them all!

Bogart can just magically come up with some cool thing to sing and instantly move the whole cast in and out of his recording studio to belt it out, sometimes with the pre-recorded version, then actually singing it, then just listening to it, then having it play in the background as they drive around in his groovy car, all within the course of a three minute song. Meanwhile, photos everywhere, on all the walls, keep it all weird, man, like below:

So, if you haven't seen ANGEL AKA CULT on Netflix (where it's mislabeled GUYANA) streaming, you haven't seen it. See this stone groove motherlover timeless remembrance of the days of cults and parental anxiety about drugged-out rebels that talked too fast and sang too much.

For Squaresville adults it was like looking right into Medusa's hazel blue eyes. Mother Lover!

Perhaps this film isn't as well-known as its other AIP psychedelic brethren due to bad timing, i.e. the Manson murders. That little event broke up negotiations between the generations like a bomb at Middle East peace conference. Suddenly an innocent film--full of song, freak, and flag that just happened to be about killing your parents--was seen as something very dark, which the film's satirical tone was maybe just too frazzled to support; so they changed the name to CULT OF THE DAMNED. If four people count as a cult then oh, crazy lady crazy lady. So stuck in a limbo where BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLL fans can't find it (they'd love it), the film's been rolling around in a time warp obscurity ever since, ever since now, crazylady crazylady!!

So remember, the only way to find this film is to look for another film on Netflix under the similar title, GUYANA: CULT OF THE DAMNED -- and somehow, that makes the actual film even better, for even if they never actually get to Guyana, this damned cult's Kool-Aid still packs a 'Lovely Sort of Death' in every sip, so drink up, tune in, and dive, cannibal America, dive!

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