Hex (1973)

Director Leo Garren only made this one movie and his directing career is limited to an episode of I Dream of Jeannie and a short film called Hootpurr. He was better known as a writer, working on shows like Vega$Quincy M.D. and T.J. Hooker. Plus, he wrote the Band of the Hand, a movie I keep trying to get to and write up for the site.

He was joined in the scriptwriting by Vernon Zimmerman, who wrote and directed The Unholy Rollers and Fade to Black, two of my favorite movies. He also wrote Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw and Teen Witch, so top that! They were also aided and abetted by Steve Katz, who wrote for The A-Team and Hardcastle and McCormick, as well as Doran William Cannon, who wrote the original story. His credits include Brewster McCloud, the 1980 TV version of Brave New World and a little film called Skidoo, which explains why this movie is just so strange.

The original screenplay was written in 1969 with the goal of being “the biggest piece of schlock,” combining two hot genres — biker films and supernatural horror.

Set in 1919, this movie was shot on location at the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota. After being acquired by Twentieth Century Fox, it gathered dust on the shelf while the studio re-cut it into a more straightforward occult-themed horror film. Well, they tried, because this movie is still really odd.

It’s also been released under its working title, Grassland, as well as The Shrieking and Charms.

After the First World War, a loosely knit band of motorcyclists — let’s call them a gang — make their way across the U.S. on the way to California. Right now, they’re in rural Bingo, Nebraska, where they lose a hot rod race and flee after a dispute.

The gang includes Archibald “Whizzer” Overton (Keith Carradine, who I never realized was Martha Plimpton’s dad), Golly (Mike Combs, in his only acting role), Jimbang (Scott Glenn, The Right Stuff), Chupo (Robert Walker, Beware! The BlobEasy RiderThe Passover Plot), Gibson “Giblets” Meredith (Gary Busey!) and a woman named China (Doria Cook-Nelson, the wife of Craig T. Nelson who shows up in The Swarm and Evil Town).

They hide on a remote farm owned by two sisters, Acacia (Hilary Thompson, the wife of Alan Ormsby and an actress who shows up in The Fury and Nighthawks) and  Oriole (Cristina Raines, who of course starred in The Sentinel). Their Native American shaman father has just died and Oriole must run the farm with an iron fist. Despite letting the bikers stay, Giblets tries to assault Acacia. He gets hexed and an owl promptly rips out his eyes.

Oriole supplies them with a wheelbarrow and a shovel, as she does not want the man buried on her land. However, they supervise the funeral.

Soon, Acacia is falling for Golly. And Oriole and Whizzer grow close, but China soon reveals that the man is a liar. He was never a veteran but instead a mechanic who is trying to invent a better life story for himself.

So, you know, Oriole does what anyone else would. She takes some of China’s hair, sews it into the mouth of a toad and gives the girl horrific visions. Then, she begins  to take out the gang one by one.

Jimbang attempts to shoot Oriole, but his gun lives up to his name, as it misfires and kills him instead. Chupo gets possessed and attacks Whizzer against his will. After he’s sliced with a sickle, Oriole makes love to Whizzer, who also kills the frog who is an effigy of China. Whew!

Acacia, tired of Oriole using their father’s magic for evil, renounces him, just as she shows up clad in his robes. But it all strangely works out — Golly stays behind with Acacia and on the only bike left, Oriole drives away with Whizzer riding on the back. Four fighter jets — it’s 1919? — pass overhead.

What did I just watch? Because I think I loved it.

Oh yeah! Dan Haggerty has a small role as Brother Billy and Iggie Wolfington, who represented actors in at least 10,000 equity cases as part of the Actors’ Fund of America, plays a bandmaster. John Carradine is in some of the production stills as an old gunfighter, but he never shows up in the U.S. cut of the film. Perhaps once someone like Vinegar Syndrome or Severin gets their hands on this, we’ll know more.

While Norman Mailer considered Hex one of the top-ten best films of 1973, it basically sat and sat in the valuts of 20th Century Fox. For his part, Garen was happy with the re-cut of the film that he completed, referring to it as “sort of carnival, snake oil, underground comic book entertainment. The only trick I tried to pull off was to keep the audience constantly shifting. When it gets serious, I pull the rug out. It goes from blatant farce to serious to scary to balletic to phantasmagoric.”

Trinity Home Entertainment released this on DVD way back in 2006 under its Charms title. Seeing as how this is near impossible to find today, I’ve decided to share it below. It comes from the Deranged Visions YouTube channel, which always has so many completely berserk offerings.

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