Monday, 15 August 2011

Scala Forever preview : Thundercrack! (1975)

As part of the currently running London festival Scala Forever - a celebration of the infamous Scala Cinema - some of the oddest, greatest and obscure films from cinema history will be screened on a variety of screens and venues across London.Genre standards Russ Meyer, John Waters, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento rub shoulders with cult Euro fare and genuine cinema legends like Alfred Hitchcock, The Marx Brothers and, on the opening night, King Kong. Over the course of the 6 weeks there is so much to see, it makes me wish I could spend even more time in 'that London'. Sadly, It looks like I'm going to be stuck up here in Manchester for the most of it. Big sulk. To make up for it, I'm planning on watching and re-watching some of the films as a mark of solidarity.

One film I'd like to bring to attention (so to speak.. you'll understand in a moment) so you don't miss it, is Curt McDowell's Thundercrack! (1975), a black and white film which almost is indescribable.
What starts off like a old style old dark house film, taking place during a heavy thunderstorm (hence the title) A group of characters take shelter in the house of Mrs. Hammond (Marion Eaton), who looks like the departed angelic songbird Amy Winehouse*  doing an impression of Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane,  who is a lonely widow getting drunk,  and before opening the door to her first house guest has to draw on her eyebrows, put on her best wig, force herself to be sick in the toilet, drop the wig in and promptly put it back on.

She is the not the only bizarre character we will meet though, there's a religious fanatic Willene (Maggie Pyle) who, seeing Mrs H's dishevelled state insists on giving her a bath. While doing so, she inadvertently masturbates her. Did I say this wasn't your normal, mainstream film? We find out that Mrs H's husband died, and her son 'no longer exists'. More people reach the house to try ans shelter the relentless storm, one of whom is the husband of a famous girdle manufacturer/retailer, who died in an accident involving her girdle catching fire. From that moment on, whenever he has tried to be with a lady, the fact they all wear his late wife's girdle designs makes him fail to rise to the occasion, shall we say. As the house fills with stranded motorists, the action and perversion is just beginning. I won't attempt to summarise all the inmates of the cinematic madhouse, but be assured you will never see anything of its like again!

If you thought John Waters pushed the boundaries of taste, then McDowell surely steps over them. Having said that, I wouldn't say Thundercrack! is as shocking as some of Waters' best. (well, when you see the proper uncut versions of Waters' films, not the slightly sanitised UK cuts). Sure, there is full blown (literally) hardcore porn scenes - all performed by the proper actors, not stand ins that were filmed afterwards by some exploitation producer and inserted (I can't help it the puns write themselves) later. Marion Eaton really uses a (very) large peeled cucumber in her hoo harr.. It's worth pointing out she would later appear in mainstream films, the best known being Sundown: The Vampire In Retreat (1990). The director's sister, Melinda is one of the other women. He directs her doing all manor of naughtiness. There are people using toys, dolls, straight and gay sex (maybe the one thing that would put off some of the less open minded sleaze lovers). To top it all off, the films' writer, George Kuchar steals the show as Bing, a circus employee who is driving a truck full of animals (which all escape leading to a brilliant shadow of an elephant passing the front door) and a horrible secret which threatens the motley bunch. Add in the mad Mrs H's husband pickled in various jars in the cellar, and her son who, after a visit to Borneo to add to his collection of sex objects (all tried out by our heroes and heroines), was cursed and as she keeps repeating 'no longer exists'.

Thundercrack! works on many levels, part black comedy, part old dark house spoof, part porno, part Tennessee Williams.The version I managed to find was the 152mins version, (I'm not sure which version is being screened at Scala Forever as the theatrical cut was apparently just 120mins, and a version of 95mins circulate on the grey market) and I can honestly say when it was finished I was surprised that 2 and a half hours had passed. A special remastered version has been promised on DVD for a while - it will only be available through the official website apparently, but that seems to have vanished from the net. You will, however, definitely NEVER see this in your local HMV store.
It certainly is one to check out, so I recommend you get down to the Horse Hospital in London on September 20th yourself and find out what the fuss is about.
9 out of 10
Update: 6th September, Thundercrack! screenwriter and Bing in the film, George Kuchar passed away. R.I.P.

*yes that's sarcasm

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