Reviews

Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies!!?, The (1963)

Before you have time to catch your breath, Cash Flagg (aka Ray Dennis Steckler) says his piece:

“The world’s here to be enjoyed, not to be depressed.”

With one line of dialogue, director Steckler sums up his entire body of era-defining mid-1960s work. And he’s right. The proof’s in the pudding.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies!!? is an elaborate, no budget, teenage trash-monster opera. Steckler’s second feature length film as a director and his first as a truly independent filmmaker, the film is a true labor of love. While not his most cohesive production, Creatures is the most ambitious and highest budgeted film ($38,000) that Steckler would ever have a hand in. It’s also the most serene. Imagine Serge Gainsbourg meeting up with The Chordettes at a showing of The Weird World Of LSD, then stopping off for snow cones at Coney Island. There’s no point in stating that this film was ahead of its time. The experience is far too resplendent to draw comparisons.

“NOT FOR SISSIES! Not 3-D but real FLESH and BLOOD monsters ALIVE! In the audience!”

Creatures is the story of alcoholic dancer Marge (Steckler’s then-wife, Carolyn Brandt), free spirited rebel Jerry (Cash Flagg aka Steckler), an amusement park with inexplicable secrets, and the brief period of time that wraps around them all. Ushered in by Wurlitzer organ tinkles and reckless violence, the film takes us through a series of events that simply exist without meaning. There’s no clarity implied and none expected. Fortune teller Madame Estrella’s acid-scarred zombies attack showgirls, mid-performance. During the half dozen musical sequences (some amazing, some unbearable), time sits still as we grab a corner table. When Jerry suffers from a five minute long, acid-tinged dream sequence, we stare with slackjawed awe.

While not as singularly striking as 1964’s The Thrill Killers, Creatures finds Ray Dennis Steckler at his most charmingly pure. The inventive camera work, home movie crudeness, and rapid edits that would come to define his work (The Lemon Grove Kids Meet The Monsters in particular) are all here, though not as chiseled. Stuffed full of interesting visuals (cheaply elaborate sets, postcard photography), Creatures, like all of Ray’s output from 1963 to 1966, is an everyday reminder of one of the most engaging eras of twentieth-century pop culture. That’s reason enough to relish the moment. Still, this is Steckler we’re talking about, not Barry Mahon. Creatures is an Ektachrome sliver of inspired indie filmmaking circa 1963 — unpretentious, resourceful, and talented. You just can’t hold this guy back.

The Incredibly Strange…, like all of Ray Dennis Steckler’s early work, is a spontaneous, wonderful monument to 1960s pop culture. If you own and enjoy a copy of “With The Beatles,” you should also have this DVD. There’s not another film like it in the world.

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