Cleansing the Doors of Cinematic Perception, for a better worse

Monday, November 28, 2011

THE BIG CUBE (1969) - Lana Turner and the Unscrupulous Doser


Acid has long been considered a safe, healthy, happy, spiritually freeing drug  --at least by me in the late 1980s. But even then, as a mere sprat, I was conscientious and careful, ever aware of the mind-bending, never-ending roller coaster of terror that results from taking even a quarter-tab too much. This is not to mention the left-out feeling of boredom and missed opportunity that results from taking too little, which can lead to taking more before the first ones have kicked all the way in, bringing you from an enervating semi-glow to a terrifying descent in a flash.

A very, very powerful substance is our friend LSD: one drop can set your soul free to caper through inter-dimensional levels beyond time and space; two can make you god-like. Five drops and you better get sloppy drunk... fast --or, if no one can spare a Valium, you can always chug some Nyquil before the demons get you.

Imagine then, the danger when sending someone to heaven or hell all depends on the whims of an unscrupulous doser! The difference between 1-3 or 4-6 drops from a dropper, dispensed at a crowded beatnik bar; the person holding the dropper over your tongue is drunk, malicious, and mad at you for stealing his girl and knocking over his bong! He could send you to the psych ward just by squeezing a hair harder than usual.

Chakris advises his ant client on proper dosage
The CIA did some notorious experiments in that regard: much clawing out of eyes and off of faces ensued. Even if you know what you're getting into (which the CIA test subject did not) you're liable to claw your way through your face before you make it to the ER and its waiting drip of sweet, sweet Thorazine and/or sweet sweet Ativan.

Still, even the face-clawing demons can be 'an experience.' I remember one or two of my more depressed voyagers (the winters up at SU could be brutal) taking like half a sheet of blotter in a last ditch effort to break through the veil before the depression made them do something even more desperate (this being long before Prozac's popularity). Most who did this wound up hospitalized. Not me, though! I ended up watching Nightline on a goddamned crappy TV all night, no other channel tune-innable (we didn't have cable, or a VCR as yet), trapped in a black and white nightmare hell.. oh god, I can't even think about it. Like Scotty on the Vertigo ledge I feel like I'm still back there, stuck with Ted Koppel's voice as the same few stories played in endless loop through to dawn. Save me, Pamela Rogers!

Pamela Rogers (left) almost saves Lisa from being a stone drag 
A similar thing occurs with the maligned 'ropies' i.e. Rohipynol. Today it's stigmatized as 'the date rape drug,' in the context of--as assumed by the average anxious suburban parent--vicious frat boy parties where it's given to freshman naifs in grain alcohol punch without their knowledge. Yes, with too high a dosage it can knock you out and leave you to the mercy of horny misogynist dickweeds, but if the dose is right it merely removes all inhibitions and hang-ups --and only mildly impairing memory and motor coordination. And all our girl friends were into it. Starting an orgy without some in the mid-80s in my scene was almost unheard of. But then when you're that high, just rubbing against each other in a giant, semi-clothed pile, is pretty amazing. A half a pill makes for a dynamite Halloween party; a whole pill, however, makes it suddenly three days later, and you check your phone (or at the time I'm writing about, answering machine), there's 30 angry messages from your boss.

All of which is a preface to the candy-colored opus of bargain basement glitz and 'now generation' posing known as THE BIG CUBE. An underrated camp classic from '69, year of Manson, it stars Lana Turner as a former Broadway star living the high life in a Mexico-L.A. hybrid with her new wealthy industrialist husband (Dan O'Herlihy) and his sheltered 'pure' stepdaughter Lisa (Karin Mossberg), who dresses like she's still 12 and heading to her first church social.

Lisa reacts not well to the new step-mom, and in a passive-aggressive moment of naivete even takes up with a smooth-talking med student played by George 'you came with your mouth / open' Chakris and his gang of former lovers, hairy clowns, and hipster pallies, including the sly and sinous Bibi (Pamela Rogers). The blog by Captive Wild Woman (from whom I cribbed many of these screenshots) loves Pamela Rogers in this film, and I totally dig she digs it:
Saving it all from becoming a big snore-fest is Pamela Rodgers as Bibi... I could never convey the fantastic bubble-brained delivery she strives to deliver so expertly. I LOVE all scenes featuring Bibi and only wish the entire movie revolved around her. (more)
Alas, Bibi is only on the periphery, as the story has places to go, and people to drive crazy. Chakris' med student status apparently means he has unlimited access to commercial grade LSD and, since he uses it for evil, he's a dangerous mix of Manson and a SHAMPOO-style fortune climbing gigolo. LSD wasn't officially illegal until around '68 and before then was used quite successfully for all matter of psychiatric treatments (with great effect, making its banning the true crime), so at the time of the film it was no harder to get than, say, 4-Loco. And when the dad conveniently dies in an off-camera yachting accident the stage is set for the unscrupulous doser and Lisa to drive the already shaken Lana over the edge via a massive LSD infusion into her bedside Valium bottle.


An interesting comparison can be made between this film and the AIP title ANGEL, ANGEL DOWN WE GO! (1968), which also concerns a sheltered heiress getting too involved with the now generation and letting a charismatic young cult leader type convince her to arrange the death of her rich parents (Jennifer Jones fills the fading trophy / absentee mom role in ANGEL) and let his gang move into her mansion. ANGEL kind of loses momentum by the time it decides to critique materialism; CUBE ends up going the self-reflexive meta-epiphany Freud route (the only way to 'cure' Lana of her "strange affliction" is to write a play about her boating accident so she can make peace with her drowned husband).



The moments with Lana on acid are freaky enough, but the really scary moment is when Chakris spikes the drink of a guy he's annoyed with at the club--a big brawling bearded guy--who freaks out, starts tearing up the joint and is thrown out on the street raving like a foam-mouthed, face-clawing lunatic. As someone whose been there I had a lot of sympathy for this clown, though he was awfully annoying he didn't deserve that. No one does. If you've been there, good lord, you know what I mean. As I said earlier, taking the right dosage can be like being lifted up the ladder of your own evolution, while too much is like having the ladder shoved down your throat while Hell's full roster of demons climb up from it and peel your skin off and every kid who ever hurt you in grade school materializes like accusatory ghosts to laugh at your extreme skinless nakedness.


Acid in CUBE is, unfortunately, employed almost purely as a weapon, but like firearms maybe these drugs are too dangerous to be left to criminals. Legal, it could be diluted to the point where overdose would prove a difficult task. In the twilight world of schedule-one substances, however, it's a risk in the best of times. So... know your dealer, stay away from sleazy gigolo med students, and err on the side of prudence til your batch's strength is tested. Or you could just say no, but don't you want to see what Hell looks like before, you know... you move in?

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