Monday, February 2, 2015

ANGEL, ANGEL, DOWN WE GO 1969

aka CULT OF THE DAMNED


"Drugs, thugs and freaked-out starlets, ritual murder and 
cannibalism, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created evil !"



    Produced by Sam Katzman and originally released in 1969 by A.I.P. as ANGEL, ANGEL, DOWN WE GO, this combination counter culture drama/musical & (very) black comedy was directed & written by screenwriter Robert Thom. After failing at the box office it was re-released as CULT OF THE DAMNED with a much more lurid advertising campaign that played up the "hippie cult murder" plot line in order to tie into the Manson case, which at the time was turning into a niche genre for low budget/drive-in film makers. Unfortunately, it once again tanked and except for a few late night cable showings it disappeared from view. Drifting into obscurity (it was championed by Michael Weldon in his Psychotronic film book which helped build the film's deserved cult status) and never showing up on any video format, it was recently rescued from oblivion courtesy of  Kino/Scorpion and their spiffy new blu-ray release (anytime we can get more A.I.P. released, its a good thing).


   One of A.I.P's excursions in the then current youth counter culture it falls somewhat into the same category as the company's earlier jaunts into "hippiesploitation" such as PSYCH-OUT (1968), THE TRIP (1967) and WILD IN THE STREETS (1968), but in other ways is an all together different beast. A.I.P. had always courted the youth market and its fascinating to watch how they were constantly trying to keep up with the changing times as only a few years before they were still cranking out beach pictures, until 1966's THE WILD ANGELS skewed them in more counter culture direction.
  Thom had written the "beat" drama THE SUBTERRANEANS (1960) and later worked in television. In 1968 he wrote WILD IN THE STREETS for A.I.P. and was given a shot at directing. In spite of ANGEL, ANGEL DOWN WE GO's failure at the box office Corman hired Thom as a writer for New World where he was responsible for the classics BLOODY MAMA (1970) and 1975's DEATH RACE & CRAZY MAMA. He would pen the the very weird & creepy (and worth seeking out) THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA in 1976 and the 1974 T.V. movie THE PHANTOM OF HOLLYWOOD. He sadly passed away at the age of 49 in 1979.




   Full figured debutant Tara Nicole Steele (future folk singer Holly Near - who gained considerable weight for her role here) arrives back home after being abroad at school and her parents which include ex-cigarette girl/porn star (and most likely hooker) mother Astrid (Jennifer Jones from DUEL IN THE SUN) and closet homosexual/ billionaire stock broker father Willy (busy T.V. actor Charles Aidman) throw her a coming out party. It's obvious from the beginning that Tara has some emotional baggage as her mother admits that the party is really for her and in a flashback sequence we see as a child Astrid & Willy abandoning her at a restaurant on the eve of her leaving for school as the father throws money at the waiter and tells him to take of her. Later we discover that the waiter took her home to play poker with his young boys (with some later not too subtle references to a sexual assault).
    At the party Tara hooks with the entertainment in the form of rock star Bogart Peter Stuyvesant (Jordan Christopher from WILD IN THE STREETS) who while wearing leather pants and shirtless withers around on stage seeming to channel Jim Morrison. Stealing away from the party with Bogart (who is named that as he was conceived while his mother was watching THE MALTESE FALCON), Tara very quickly jumps feet first into his decadent world along with his new group "The Rabbit Habit" which consists of Joe (soul singer Lou Rawls - who ironically doesn't sing here), 40 something year old hippie Santoro (Roddy McDowell) and the pregnant Anna Liva (Davey Davidson from THE STRANGLER). Tara immerses herself full force into Bogart's world (complete with weird sex & trippy negligee dancing), but Bogart himself has bigger plans has he integrates himself into Tara's family by proposing to her and like an avenging angel leaves a trail of death and destruction along the way.




    Along with the opening credits the movie also uses collages at certain points to illustrate dialogue and narration that features photographs of the cast along with historical & entertainment figures juxtaposed over psycheldelic LSD inspired art. As to be expected with a movie directed by a writer CULT OF THE DAMNED is a very dialogue driven film (along with narration and the songs there are barely any non verbal moments) with the characters spewing out their words like bile-laced beat poetry. The movie surprisingly enough also has elements of a musical with Bogart's songs all relating to the plot or characters in the film. The songs are written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and their pseudo-psychedelic contributions are reminiscent of the duos work for Paul Revere and the Raiders.
    Academy Award winner Jennifer Jones as the mother follows in then current trend of famous Hollywood leading ladies who were dipping their toes into lower budget horror thriller movies (which can be traced back to 1962's WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE) such as Lana Turner dropping acid in THE BIG CUBE (1969), Joan Crawford and a missing link in TROG (1970) and the above mentioned BLOODY MAMA with Shelly Winters. To 50 year old Jones credit she jumps into her role here with gusto as she prances about in see-thru dresses uttering such unforgettable lines as "I made thirty stag films and never faked an orgasm" & "In my heart of hearts, I'm a sexual tramp", plus engaging in some semi-nude love making with Jordan Christopher as he nuzzles her breast. At one point Astrid mentions to her daughter that she was named after GONE WITH THE WIND which is ironic as Jones at one time was married to producer David O' Selznick.




    Ava Gardner and Robert Stack were the first choices for the mother and father roles and Jeanne Crain turned down the role of Astrid, although she did appear later in the Manson-esque THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED from 1971. Nancy Sinatra in mentioned once in a bit of dialogue and if I'm not mistaken she shows up in a quick shot at the party.  
   Upon viewing this now, its easy to see why A.I.P. had trouble marketing it (the strange poster art for the ANGEL, ANGEL version surely didn't help matters much) and why the box office was such a disaster. Although easy to label nowadays as just a dated curiosity with its psychedelic trapping, hallucinatory imagery and bizarre sequences (skydiving, Near's dialogue while mysteriously attached to a ceiling and a cryptic ending), there is something oddly compelling & weirdly hypnotic about it, and it does require attentive viewing in able to absorb the dialogue heavy plot.








2 comments:

  1. Sounds sorta awesome. I kind of love films that don't know what kind of film they are trying to be, when they do so in a failing way that ends up working!

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  2. AIP and their nutty counterculture movies from that time - amazing stuff. I haven't seen this one - but I'll be watching for a chance to check it out.

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