The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Made for $38,000, this film beat The Horror of Party Beach as the first monster musical by just a few months. It was the brainchild of the man known as Sven Christian, Sven Hellstrom, Harry Nixon, Wolfgang Schmidt, Cindy Lou Steckler, R.D. Steckler, Michael J. Rogers, Michel J. Rogers, Ray Steckler, Cindy Lou Sutters and, of course, Ray Dennis Steckler.

Before he became a B movie director, supposedly Steckler worked at Universal, where he bumped into an A-frame and dropped it onto Alfred Hitchcock. This ignominious exit would soon lead him to a world where he’d make baffling films like The Thrill KillersRat Pfink a Boo Boo and The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher. His adult film titles read like the kind of movies that exist only in my dreams, such as Sexual Satanic Awareness and Sexorcist Devil.

Jerry (Cash Flagg, another name for Steckler, auteuring it up by starring in his own movie), Angela and Harold decide to head out to the carnival, where they watch Marge (Carolyn Brandt, Steckler’s wife; their station wagon is also in the film) dance.

Marge is spooked by a black cat, which leads her to consult with Estrella, a fortune-teller who is throwing acid in peoples’ faces and making them zombies under her control. She predicts death for Marge, as well as a death near water for someone Angela knows.

Jerry falls in with the carnies because Estrella’s sister Carmelita stares him down and does her bad girl dancing to hypnotize him into acts of murder. You know how it goes. Of course, the zombies soon break loose, nearly everyone dies and Jerry is shot on the beach in front of his one true love, making that earlier prediction come true.

Also — dance numbers!

Steckler was a real showman, taking this movie on the road and constantly retitling it with outlandish names like The Incredibly Mixed-Up Zombie, Diabolical Dr. Voodoo and The Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary. The posters proclaimed that the movie was made in Hallucinogenic Hypnovision, which really meant that at some point, maniacs in rubber masks would run around the theater. If you guessed that Steckler was one of those maniacs, you’d be right.

It was shot at The Film Center Studios, a former Masonic lodge owned by Rock Hudson — yes, I realize that this sounds like the start of a conspiracy story.

Perhaps most strangely — incredible strangely? — the cinematography and camera operating crew included three men who would go on to become major figures in the field.

Joseph V. Mascelli, who also worked on The Thrill Killers and Wild Guitar, wrote The Five Cs of Cinematography. Laszlo Kovacs would work on movies as disparate as A Smell of Honey, a Swallow of Brine and Easy Rider; he was considered a guiding light in the American New Wave. And then there’s Vilmos Zsigmond, whose work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind would win an Oscar (he also worked on The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate).

In his 1987 book Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, Lester Bangs wrote an essay called “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, or, The Day The Airwaves Erupted.” Within, he’d state, “…this 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!”

Even more astounding, Columbia Pictures threatened to sue over this movie’s original title, The Incredibly Strange Creature: Or Why I Stopped Living and Became a Mixed-up Zombie. Supposedly the title was too close to the Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Steckler called the studio and demanded to speak to Kubrick, a crazy move, and of course, Kubrick answered and agreed to the new title and the lawsuit was dropped. This whole story feels so insane that it has to be true.

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