"These are the PLEASURE LOVERS !"
"They'll ask you for a dime with hungry eyes..but they'll give you love for NOTHING"
Straight off (literally) the bus deaf runaway Jenny Davis (Strasberg) arrives in the midst of counter culture 1968 'Frisco to search for her missing brother. Wandering into a coffee shop she makes the acquaintance of "Stoney" (Jack Nicholson) who along with his friends Ben & Elwood (Adam Rourke & Max Julien) head up a rock group known as Mumblin' Jim. Hiding her from the police in their Mumblin' Jim day-glo painted Chevy van they take her back to their commune located in an old Victorian house that comes complete with hippies lounging around and making love on pillows, plentiful drugs and trippy lighting. As it turns out Jenny's missing brother Steve is a local street corner preacher and sculptor known as "The Seeker" who's disappeared from his apt. after sending Jenny a postcard that reads mysteriously reads "JESS SAES God is alive and well and living in a sugar cube".
After being informed that local artist Warren (who also designs Mumblin' Jim's concert posters) is "freaking out" on STP Jenny and the boys arrive just in time to stop him from cutting off his supposedly rotting hand with a circular saw and plus he imagines everybody as festering zombie-like creatures ! There Jenny recognizes a sculpture as her brothers work which leads them to guru Dave (Dean Stockwell) who's the "oracle and speaker of the truth" character that's always around in hippie films. Dave was also a past member of Mumblin' Jim but quit because he thought the band was too concerned with success and "playing games for the man". He's standoffish to Stoney but seems attracted to Jenny (with motives that don't seem all that "truth seeking") and is eager to help her whereupon he gives them information that leads Jenny and the boys to a local junkyard for clues to the missing Steve.
Watch out for that bad acid !!
Mumblin' Jim jammin' at the ballroom !!
Once there they see a Jesus Saves sign with a couple of letters missing which ties into Dave's cryptic postcard to Jenny. They also run into into gang of short haired thugs who attempt to rape Jenny (and as it turns out are looking to put an ass whoppin' on The Seeker). Luckily during the fight a stoned Elwood hallucinates that the junkyard thugs are knights and dragons and proceeds to wipe them out with a hunk of metal pipe.
Meanwhile Mumblin' Jim seems to headed for the big time as they get an offer from a promoter to perform at "the ballroom" (a reference to the Avalon or Fillmore) on a bill with The Strawberry Alarm Clock and as Stoney says "maybe be as big as the Airplane". This causes a major rift between Stoney and guru Dave as he feels the band is "selling out" and "chasing the dollar" (Hey !, where's my official band sanctioned Mumblin' Jim t-shirt !). Stoney's preoccupation with making it big also hurts his burgeoning love affair with Jenny (which was punctuated by some stoned out blurry love making) and this allows Dave to start putting some non-guru like moves on Jenny and trick her into drinking some acid laced Kool-Aid (with resulting dire climatic consequences including hallucinatory exploding fireballs, flashbacks to evil moms and Golden Gate Bridge freak-outs). To top everything off it seems that "The Seeker" is a somewhat crazy and wacked out Jesus like figure and is played by everybody's favorite crazy and wacked out actor Bruce Dern. Holy Crap !
In addition to the appearance by The Strawberry Alarm Clock (who also supply several songs to the soundtrack) there's also Sky Saxon and The Seeds preforming at a mock hippie funeral. Although there is some great documentary style footage street footage of San Francisco (complete with a quick appearance by Jerry Garcia) the majority of PSYCH OUT was filmed in Los Angeles, including Jack Nicholson's actual house. This might explain the presence of two Los Angeles bands in the form of The Seeds and Strawberry Alarm clock rather then San Fran based bands. Director Richard Rush's original cut was 101 minutes (and this was mistakenly issued on video cassette by HBO), but was cut down for release to 82 minutes - which is now the cut available on DVD from MGM. I've never seen Rush's 101 minute version, but seemingly how there is some filler here the shorter version probably works best.
The cast were all in their late 20's with this seemingly most apparent with Nicholson as his looks practically scream out NARC (!) and would probably be pretty much guaranteed to clear out a hippie pad in no time. As mentioned Kovac's photography is beautiful (this would look gorgeous on blu-ray) such as the opening close-up of a wistful Strasberg gazing out of the bus window while coming into San Francisco and the film makes great use of the bright psychedelic color scheme of the time.
Hey, Mumblin' Jim have even got themselves a flute playin' hippie chick ! Far Out !
With its in the open drug use (plus showing its sometimes ugly after result) along with Nicholson's presence make this an interesting companion to Peter Fonda and 1966's THE WILD ANGELS as precursors to EASY RIDER. The pretty girl stringing beads all over the commune at one point is played by Mireille Machu who was Jack's girlfriend at the time and played "The Pleasure Girl" in The Monkees HEAD (billed as I.J. Jefferson). Pretty cool stuff !
LOOK OUT ! Some more trippin' on that nasty ol' bad acid !