Performance (1970)

Donald Cammell was raised in a home “filled with magicians, metaphysicians, spiritualists and demons” and spent his childhood bouncing on the knee of “the wickedest man in the world” Aleister Crowley. Originally a painter, he became a screenwriter before meeting the Rolling Stones through Anita Pallenberg.

Performance was supposed to be a light-hearted swinging ’60s romp, but it ended up being what John Simon of New York Magazine called “the most vile film ever made.” It’s the story of two men*, Chas (James Fox), a brutal street thug, and Turner (Mick Jagger), a rock star who has gone into hiding.

Chas was a member of an East London gang, a man of violence who is prized for his ability to get money for his employer Harry Flowers. However, his complicated past with another gangster and that man’s murder has ostracized him from the gang and put him on the run and into the orbit of Turner and his two women, Pherber (Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michèle Breton).

By the end of the film, fuelled by drugs, cross-cutting techniques, a disjointed narrative and no small amount of magic, the two men have switched identities, with Chas displaying Turner’s face and Turner, well, not having a face any longer.

Warner Brothers thought that with Jagger in the movie they getting a Rolling Stones movie that young people could go see. Instead, they got a movie filled with drugs, sex, violence and ideas about cross-dressing and sex transforming identity that would still be dangerous half a century later.

The behind the scenes events — the house in Lowndes Square used in the film was investigated for drugs, Keith Richards was outside in a car fuming because Jagger and Anita were really having sex, Fox stopped acting for fifteen years to become an evangelical Christian — are just as interesting as the film, but the movie itself is astounding.

It was almost unreleased, as a Warner exec would complain, “Even the bathwater was dirty” and the wife of one of them would throw up at the premiere. Ken Hyman, the leader of Warner Brothers, decided that “no amount of editing, re-looping or re-scheduling would cover up the fact that the picture ultimately made no sense.” The film was shelved for two years until Hyman left and even then, the movie was re-edited and the Cockney accents were redubbed.

Time has been kind to Performance, a movie that points out the juxtaposition between the violent lives of East End with the rock and roll world of London. “A Memo to Turner” predates music videos. Bands from Coil to Big Audio Dynamite and Happy Mondays all referenced or sampled the movie while it’s been an influence on so many directors.

As for Cammell, he struggled against the mainstream after this movie — and with Marlon Brando, who kept asking him to write films and then deciding not to make them — before making Demon Seed, a film that deals with transformative sexuality, just like Performance. He’d make White of the Eye and Wild Side before killing himself with a shotgun. Kevin Macdonald (co-director of the story of his life, Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance), said “He didn’t kill himself because of years of failure. He killed himself because he had always wanted to kill himself.”

I held back watching this for years, because I wanted to make sure that I was ready for it. I needed to be prepared for this film, to not use it as wallpaper or background noise. It deserved more than that. And I’m glad I waited. It was worth it.

*It’s directed by two men as well, Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, who would go on to make Don’t Look NowThe Man Who Fell to Earth and The Witches.

The Theta Girl (2017)

Gayce (Victoria Elizabeth Donofrio) deals a drug called theta when she isn’t trying to get people in the club to see her friends’ band play. But when they’re murdered, the mind-altering substances that she’s selling turn out to be so much more than just your average LSD.

That’s because everyone in the club has been dosed with Theta as that band, Truth Foundation, hits the stage, including a group of Christian zealots that need just one fix to go completely off the rails and start killing for God. As everyone emerges from a shared trip, bodies line the flood with blood and guts spilled out occult symbols.

You know what? So often I make excuses for movies having low budgets, as do the people that make them. This thing cost $14,000 and that’s exactly what it needed to get made. If it had a huge budget, it wouldn’t be so amazingly grubby and vital and in your eyeballs.

Shane Silman is a force of nature as the obsessed Brother Marcus, the leader of the religious gang. And man, just look at that poster. Donofrio looks — and acts in the best of ways — like the spiritual heir to Christina Lindberg, which is one of the highest compliments I can give.

You can learn more at the official Facebook page. You can watch it on Amazon Prime or order the DVD from Amazon.

Check out Christopher Bickel’s other film, Bad Girls, for more greatness. And oh yeah, those Thetas were totally Lemonheads.

The Flaming Teenage (1956)

Irvin “Shorty” Yeaworth was born in German, became a singing star on Pittsburgh’s KDKA, made more than 400 religious and education films, and near the end of his life, was planning on helping to build a theme park called Jordanian Experience at the Aqaba Gateway.

That said, he’s probably best known amongst maniacs like you and me for directing The Blob.

Originally filmed in 1945 as Twice Convicted, new footage was added eleven years later and this was re-released, telling new audiences — or those duped into seeing it again — all about Fred Garland, a small town boy whose trip to the big city introduces him to booze and women of loose morals. Before you know it, he’s on the dope, shoplifting for money and by the end, happy to go to jail and get away from the life he’s been leading.

Movies like this are why it took me so long to do drugs. I was convinced that with just one inhale that I would become an addict, selling my family store and living on the street. Then I realized that my family did not have a store. Also, I was high.

You can watch this on the Internet Archive.

Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion (1970)

As drug use gets out of control at a small college, one of the professors (Alex Rebar, The Incredible Melting Man himself and the writer of Demented and To All a Goodnight, as well as a contributing writer to Beyond the Door.

This starts off just right — a crazy theme, trippy visuals and Ewa Aulin (CandyDeath Laid an Egg) getting her groove on — before Dr. John, worried that the college’s reputation is being tarnished by all the drug use, particularly when one of his fellow professors takes one of those Dragnet acid trips and thinks he can fly.

The scheming professor decides to work with one of the nerdier kids to take a heroin addict named Billy (Carlo De Mejo, The House by the CemeteryThe Other Hell) and appoints himself the troubled youth’s personal savior. But then his wife — there’s Ewa Aulin — decides to try some of the horse for herself and things get out of hand.

Billy decides that this would the perfect time to test the masculinity of his captor and try to cuck him, which seems to be a bad idea when white knighting teacher takes you against your will. I mean, this is a movie with the line, “Elizabeth, have you ever seen your husband’s penis? John, have you ever seen your own penis?”

With a title like this one and Aulin appearing, along with De Mejo, it’s easy to think that this is a giallo. To be honest, even this movie has no idea what it is.

To be fair, this movie is a total mess, but a fascinating one. It was directed by a man named John Shadow, who some thought was Joe D’Amato — if only! — but it turns out that he was married to Aulin for four years and had a son together named Shawn. He used his own money to produce this movie and it ended up playing nowhere in the world.

Seriously, Shadow is a conspiracy figure. According to IMDB, in spite of numerous newspaper and magazine articles, photos, discographies, interviews with Aulin, the existence of their Swiss-born son, people think that Shadow was really Italian producer Roberto Loyola (I mean, on IMDB, he’s listed as using the name John Shadow to write Pieces and to direct Tales of Canterbury, a movie that D’Amato was also thought to have made). I mean, Shadow even wrote the songs for this movie and people still think he’s Loyola.

These are the strange mysteries that this somewhat lost movie has swirling around it. As they say, the story of the movie is better than the movie itself. To add to the occult nature of this one, the copy I found is a beat up Greek VHS* that was uploaded to YouTube and is well-nigh unwatchable. And yet, I watched it just the same.

*According to Oblivion DVD, there are only two copies of this movie left in existence.

Dope (1968)

Drug films come in two flavors. Those that make you want to try them to open your mind and explore the palace of wisdom or those that warn you that horrible things occur when you’re an addict. This film would be in the latter camp.

A documentary by Sheldon and Debbie “Flame” Schon, this movie follows a junkie named Caroline as she moves through the drug scene of 1960s London, like being painted head to toe in the style of her mentor, psychedelic artist Vali Myers.

The Schon’s lived with the characters in this film for months and there’s a disturbing downward trend toward all of their lives. The only positive is that you get to see a sequence filmed at the original UFO Club on Tottenham Court Road where Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd are playing.

This film was lost for some time, but Flame Schon was selling copies of it through her website at one point. It’s not a movie for those that hate seeing needles going in arms or worrying about addicts attempting to take care of childen, who are caught in their drug haze.

You can see how drugs grabbed people in this era, but you’re on the outside, unable to fully know its lure and how it destroyed lives because you are just someone watching from the normal world. That said, this is a strong movie that needs to be watched.

You can learn more at the film’s official site.

Christiane F. (1981)

“Once there were mountains on mountains
Once there were sun birds to soar with and once I could never be down
I got to keep searching and searching
Oh, what will I be believing and who will…”

David Bowie, that chameleonic 20th century demigod, had transmuted from his Halloween Jack and plastic soul “Young Americans” look to become a new and much darker character, the Thin White Duke, given to “throwing darts in lover’s eyes.”

The Duke was the flipside of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, the evil antonym second self of the Man Who Fell to Earth, who at first looked much simpler and more normal than the past versions of who audiences had come to expect Bowie being. Yet he was a character of contradictions, in Bowie’s own words “A very Aryan, fascist type; a would-be romantic with absolutely no emotion at all but who spouted a lot of neo-romance.”

The Duke was beyond amoral; he’d make statements supporting Hitler and give alleged sieg heil salutes outside London Victoria station. Was it theater? Or was it a steady diet of red peppers, milk, and hard drugs, further fuelled by paranoia, Kabbala and Crowley teachings, and the constant fear that witches were coming for him, leading him to keeping all of waste matter in a series of locked refrigerators?

Realizing that the Thin White Duke was “a very nasty character indeed,” Bowie left California and headed to West Berlin with Iggy Pop. Unlike Ziggy, the Duke did not have a public retirement. He just went away.

“I brought my baby home, she, she sat around forlorn
She saw my TVC one five, baby’s gone, she
She crawled right in, oh my, she crawled right in my
So hologramic, oh my TVC one five
Oh, so demonic, oh my TVC one five”

Christiane Vera Felscherinow grew up in West Berlin with an abusive alcoholic father and an absent mother, lost in the throes of an affair. By 12, she was smoking hash. She soon moved to pills, LSD and heroin. And by the time she was 14, she was hooked on smack and hooking on corners.

Kai Hermann and Horst Rieck from the news magazine Stern met her when she was a witness in a trial for a man who was paying sex workers with smack. They had the idea that she’d help them tell the hidden story of Berlin’s teen drug epidemic. A two-hour interview turned into two months, as Felscherinow provided them with enough stories to be in a weekly series of articles that became the book Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, the story of her life between 12 and 15.

After the initial success of the book and the film made from it — we’ll get to that in a bit — she became a star, with her look emulated by young girls who made pilgrimages to the Bahnhof Zoo. Along with her boyfriend, Einstürzende Neubauten member Alexander Hacke, she released two albums under the name Sentimentale Jugend. They also appeared together in the movie Decoder.

When she came to America to promote the film, she was busted for heroin and had to leave the country. In 2013, while promoting her second book Mein Zweites Leben [My Second Life], she told VICE that she still had to consume methadone and claimed that she never wanted to give up drugs. She suffers today from a combination of hepititus C and cirrhosis of the liver, and said in that article, “I will die soon, I know that. But I haven’t missed out on anything in my life. I am fine with it. So this isn’t what I’d recommend: this isn’t the best life to live, but it’s my life.”

“Come see, come see, remember me?
We played out an all night movie role
You said it would last, but I guess we enrolled
In 1984 (who could ask for more)”

Christiane F. is the very definition of a rough watch. Unlike the gentlemen junkies media had presented up to now, the addicts of this story are still children, passing out in public bathrooms, covered in piss and blood and vomit, washing out needles in the toilet to use them again, selling themselves for just one fix and passing through lives as unloved forgotten husks.

The love of music — of David Bowie! — brings our heroine to SOUND, a club where she takes her first pills, which leads to LSD, which leads to heroin after a Bowie show that barely anyone enjoys as they’re so bombed out of their brains, yet there’s a radiant rock star in their midst*.

The love of a young boy is even worse, because that’s why the heroin starts, and when he goes, the heroin stays. Selling her body is just another way to stay close to the boy, who sells his body to men for the drugs he needs to stay alive. or stay dead, who can say.

She and the boy try to go cold turkey together after a friend dies, but one trip to the Bahnhof Zoo ruins it all. They run to one of his clients houses and she walks in on the man taking the man she loves from behind and runs, finding that more of their friends are dying all around them before she overdoses herself, but lives.

“I can remember
Standing, by the wall
And the guns, shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
And the shame, was on the other side”

At the German premiere of the film, Bowie picked up Felscherinow in a limousine.

“I thought David Bowie was going to be the star of my movie, but it was all about me,” she said. And she didn’t really like the movie that much.

*Actually, the footage shown is an AC/DC show in Berlin, juxtaposed with footage of Bowie shot in New York City.

Walk the Walk (1970)

This film starts with a title card that says, “America’s Fearless Showman Kroger Babb.”

No matter what happens after that, I love this movie.

Bernie Hamilton, who was Capt. Harold Dobey on Starsky and Hutch, as well as appearing in Scream Blacula ScreamThe Swimmer and Luis Buñuel’s The Young One, is Mike, a black theology student dealing with addiction.

Writer, actor and producer Jac Zacha had aspirations here, but the film falters. Supposedly, there was a cut opening where he explained how this was the true story of his life. Maybe he wanted to take that out after, you know, there’s that scene when a woman goes off a cliff. Beyond being as convincing as a falling in a Fulci movie, this movie would implicate him in a death.

One of the actors in here, Eric Weston, would go on to write and direct Evilspeak.

You can watch this on the amazing ByNWR site.

Alice In Acidland (1969)

Rescued by Something Weird, Alice In Acidland starts as a nudie cutie before its black and white sequences go full color once that acid gets dropped.

Alice (Sheri Jackson, The BabysitterLove Camp 7) is a good college girl who goes to a party with her not-so-good friend Kathy (Janice Kelly, Run, Swinger, Run!) being thrown by their French teacher Frieda (Julia Blackburn, The Ramrodder). What follows are baths, nudity, sex, more drugs, orgies, more nudity, more sex and more drugs for an hour and a few extra minutes. None of the sex is hardcore, but mainly the titilation that pre-Deep Throat films usually end up having.

Donn Greer, who directed and produced this, also is the narrator, saying things like, “Removing her clothes, Alice changed into a costume more befitting her new personality. She now belonged to another society, another world. A world of Pot, LSD and Free Love. Alice Trenton, as her father knew her, was dead. Long Live Alice. She had now become a wild and provocative twinight hippie. Complete with the Indian beads and moccasins.” and “Here was her chance to prove that she belonged in the sex-for-pleasure inner circle, and prove it she did.”

This was written by Gertrude Steen, which has to be a Greer pen name.

You can download this from the Internet Archive.

Mantis In Lace (1968)

Oh Harry Novak just seeing your name makes me realize that I am about to see something incredibly scum-sodden. You have such a fancy signature and make movies filled with such pulchritude. Let’s all have a moment to think of all Mr. Novak has done for us.

Like this movie, which is exactly what I was looking for when I started this week of drug movies.

Lila (Susan Stewart, The First Nudie Musical and credits for additional voices on Scooby-Doo, which really could be the best IMDB credits listing ever) is a go-go dancer who gets turned into a literal mankiller thanks to C20H25N3O. All she wants to do is make it with the men she picks up on the Sunset Strip, but once they get back to her pad, she hears her theme song and sees an old man with a huge stack of money and a handful of bananas. That’s when she must kill them with garden tools and then she imagines that she is chopping up fruit while she’s really dismembering their bodies to dump off into cardboard boxes. I kid you not!

Then, we get lots of drug use, topless dancing and strobing and zooming camerawork. I’m in. I’m all the way in. And hey look — it’s Pat Barrington from Orgy of the Dead! Yay!

Speaking of Pat, she dated Melvin Rees at the time that he was arrested for mass murder. She was working as Vivian Storm in mob-owned go go clubs and he was a jazz musician. Pat’s life really could have been made into a movie, as she kept on dancing until the mid 1990’s when she was in her fifties. Rees? Well, he was arrested for at least five murders and numerous other crimes.

As for Mantis In Lace, it’s a film awash in sin and debauchery. They don’t, can’t, won’t and maybe even shouldn’t make them like this anymore.

Still Smokin (1983)

As Cheech and Chong would make their fifth movie in five years, they went back to the routines that had made them stars on their old comedy albums, with a story that they were in Amsterdam for a Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton festival, with the promoters believing that Cheech is Burt.

After a series of skits, including a parody of The Harder They Come, the last twenty minutes of this movie is concert footage from Cheech and Chong’s show at the Tuschinski Theatre.

Susan Hahn, who played the hotel maid in this, was only in one other movieMassacre in Dinosaur Valley, which is a very strange film trajectory. You can also look out for cameos from Kay Parker (yes, from Taboo), Linnea Quigley (her second Cheech and Chong appearance) and Victoria Wells (in her third Cheech and Chong appearance; she’s the woman who discovered the body of Bob Crane).

I can be honest and say that this is not the team’s finest work, but as films made to fulfill a contract or get a free trip to Amsterdam go, it’s not the worst.