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The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (sometimes "!!?" is appended to the title) is a 1964 monster movie written and directed by Ray Dennis Steckler. Steckler also starred in the film, billed under the pseudonym "Cash Flagg".

In the film, three friends visit a carnival and stumble into a group of occultists and disfigured monsters. Produced on a $38,000 budget, much of it takes place at The Pike amusement park in Long Beach, California, which resembles Brooklyn's Coney Island. The film was billed as the first "monster musical", beating out The Horror of Party Beach by a mere month in release date.

The DVD release of Incredibly Strange Creatures features a humorous and informative commentary track by "drive-in movie critic" Joe Bob Briggs.

Plot

Jerry (Steckler as "Flagg"), his girlfriend Angela (Sharon Walsh), and his buddy Harold (Atlas King) head out for a day at the carnival. In one venue, a dance number is performed by Marge (Carolyn Brandt), an alcoholic who drinks before and between shows, and her partner, Bill Ward, for a small audience. There Jerry sees stripper Carmelita (Erino Enyo) who hypnotizes him with her icy stare and he is compelled to see her act. Carmelita is the young sister of powerful fortune-teller Estrella (Brett O'Hara), and Estrella turns Jerry into a zombie by hypnotizing him with a spiraling wheel. He then goes on a rampage, killing Marge and fatally wounding Bill. Later, Jerry attempts to strangle his girlfriend Angela as well. It develops that Estrella, with her henchman Ortega (Jack Brady), has been busy turning various patrons into zombies, apparently by throwing acid on their faces. Interspersed through the film are several song-and-dance production numbers in the carnival's nightclub, with songs like "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" and "Shook out of Shape". The titular zombies only make an appearance in the final act, where they escape and immediately kill Estrella, Carmelita, Ortega and several performers before being shot by police. Jerry, himself partially disfigured but not a zombie, escapes the carnival and is pursued to the shoreline, where the police shoot him dead in front of Angela and Harold.

Production details

Title

At the time of release, "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies" was the longest title in film history. It was overtaken three years later by the film Marat/Sade, whose full title is 26 words long). This was not, however, the originally intended title of the film. Steckler intended to release it as The Incredibly Strange Creatures: Or How I Stopped Living and Became a Mixed-up Zombie, but changed it in response to Columbia Pictures' threat of a lawsuit over the name's similarity to Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, which they were producing at the time. This anecdote is related by Steckler himself on the DVD release of the film.

Notable cast and crew

Brett O'Hara was usually a stand-in for Susan Hayward. Madame Estrella was the only "real" role of her career.

Sharon Walsh was not originally meant to play Angela. Bonita Jade was given the role, but when it was time for her scene, she said she had to leave to meet her boyfriend, because he was performing and she always went to his gigs. Steckler was furious, and he pulled Walsh out of the chorus line, telling her she was now the female lead. Unfortunately, Sharon had already appeared in several dance numbers during the movie, and they had to "disguise" her with a new hairstyle.

The cinematography/camera operating was done by three men who would go on to become major figures in cinematography: Joseph V. Mascelli, author of The Five Cs of Cinematography; Vilmos Zsigmond (listed as William Zsigmond), who won an Academy Award for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind; and László Kovács (listed as Leslie Kovacs).

Studio

Much of the movie was filmed in an old, long-empty Masonic temple in Glendale, California, owned by actor Rock Hudson. The nine-story building was a series of makeshift "sound stages" stacked floor after floor, some big enough to create the midway scenes indoors. This was the "studio" used that year for production of The Creeping Terror, another film which is widely regarded as stunningly inept. "Film Center Studios" was popular with non-union producers, because they could turn off the elevator to lock out IATSE union agents, who were too old and out of shape to climb to the seventh floor main stage.

Tight finances

During the filming of the movie, Steckler was in terrible need of funds, both for the movie and for rent, food and basic needs. Atlas King, who had grown close to Dennis, gave him three hundred dollars out of his own pocket.

The station wagon Jerry drives in this movie was the Steckler family car.

Reception

At release

In some screenings, employees in monster masks, sometimes including Steckler himself, would run into the theater to scare the audience. Allegedly an audience member suffered a heart attack during one such performance.

As camp

The film is currently celebrated by fans of camp or kitsch films. The rock critic Lester Bangs wrote an appreciative 1973 essay about Incredibly Strange Creatures in which he tries to explain and justify the movie's value as camp:

. . . [T]his flick doesn't just rebel against, or even disregard, standards of taste and art. In the universe inhabited by The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, such things as standards and responsibility have never been heard of. It is this lunar purity which largely imparts to the film its classic stature. Like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and a very few others, it will remain as an artifact in years to come to which scholars and searchers for truth can turn and say, "This was trash!"

Incredibly Strange Creatures was lampooned in 1997 by Mystery Science Theater 3000, and was awarded "first" place in a 2004 made-for-DVD documentary, The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made.

References

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External links

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