2 and half stars   

directed by: Richard L. Bare
starring: David Bailey, Tiffany Bolling, Randolph Roberts, Scott Brady, Edd Byrnes, Diane McBain, Roger Bowen, Madeleine Sherwood, Stefanianna Christopherson, Arthur O'Connell, Jack Knight, Patsy Garrett, Robert Nichols, Kirk Bates, Maryesther Denver

choice dialogue:

"What does it feel like to have your throat cut?"

- An insensitive journo asks the question on everyone's lips.

slash with panache?

[review by JA Kerswell]

A proto-slasher movie curio released by major studio MGM in the early 1970s. Remembered for its gimmicky split screen presentation, it is mostly a misfire but has enough subgenre elements to take a look and is jam-packed full of 1970s weirdness, quirks and eye-melting wallpaper.

   Tiffany Bolling fends off the mad killer
  Tiffany Bolling fends off the mad killer in WICKED, WICKED.

The story is pretty basic, and is driven by a young hotel worker named Jason (Randolph Roberts) who is messed up by an amorous foster mother and now has a hatred of women with blonde hair. Unsurprisingly all the busty young ladies with blonde hair who check in fall victim to the knife of the mad electrician. The manager of the establishment believes the missing blondes have actually just absconded without paying their bill, so he insists the house security guard prevents it from happening again. Stewart (David Bailey) takes time out from screwing the staff to look into the missing guests, and discovers that they all have golden hair in common. Thankfully Jan Brady doesn't check in. A disgraced ex-cop, his old colleagues don't take notice and the management fearing a scandal tell him to drop his investigations.

Coincidentally, his ex-wife turns up for a series of engagements at the hotel as a lounge singer. The brunette chanteuse Lisa James, played engagingly by cult movie legend Tiffany Bolling, strikes up an awkward friendship with Jason after initially being rude to him. But when she dons a blonde wig for her show, Jason's murderous passion explodes and she becomes a target of his flashing blade. He attacks her in her hotel room, but she manages to escape and is persuaded to stay on the promise that she will be protected. However, Jason lurks in-between and behind the walls of the antique building waiting for his next chance to add her to his collection of formaldehyde dolls ...

WICKED, WICKED very much falls into the mould of other tongue-in-cheek, revisionist horror comedies popular at the time. Everything from THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974) to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) had one eye on the nostalgia of the past and another focussed on the emerging post-Love pre-Punk nihilism of the early-mid 1970s. The film riffs - like many at the time - off this nostalgia and the post-PSYCHO shockers that had become more outlandish through the 1960s and early 1970s. As with a film such as THE SINGLE GIRLS (1974), it could appear that WICKED, WICKED was parodying slasher movies before they were supposedly invented in the late 1970s. In reality, all these films provided the rich melting pot that gave rise to to subgenre's golden years when John Carpenter unleashed the straight-faced HALLOWEEN (1978) onto an unsuspecting public who had, by this time, treated psycho shockers (with notable exceptions such as Bob Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)) as mostly parodies and black comedy fodder.

  Sensationalist press advert for WICKED, WICKED.

Talking of nostalgia, WICKED, WICKED ironically shows that there never were any good old days with the pathetic (in the truest sense of the word) character of Leonore Karadyne (Madeleine Sherwood). She plays a fading actress who has been resident at the hotel for over twenty years, who Jason takes pity on and gives her money when she can't pay the rent. Utilising the split screen device, she tells the young man she used to dance for royalty, but the other side of the screen flashes the truth back to her dancing on the bar at a club in front of drunken, leering men, selling herself and later braining her abusive husband with a poker for the insurance money.

The film's biggest nod and a wink to the audience is the score. For much of the running time, when the action ramps up, it is accompanied by the original music from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) banged out on a huge organ by an elderly woman who knowingly bugs her eyes to the viewer. Although the cast play it, for the most part, admirably straight the film's makers were under no illusion what type of movie they were making. When asked about the film's tone, writer-director Richard L. Bare described the movie as "High camp" and continued "We call it half Grand Hotel (1932) and and half Grand Guignol."

Of interest to slasher aficionados, the killer in WICKED, WICKED dons a grotesque, oversized mask to carry out his deadly deeds. It is not unlike a proto-Freddy and is similar to the crispy faced killer in the infamous 70s PG-rated sickie BLOOD AND LACE (1971). The knife killings - especially the first murder - are surprisingly graphic for the time. However, the film isn't especially interested in violence and therein lies part of its problem. Too much of the running time meanders around the on-off relationships of its protagonists and the killer is relegated to the shadows for large portions. However, the film's closing scenes do perk up with a truly Grand Guignol ending, which includes a moment where the killer throws a severed head at a policeman. It also features a sequence, heavily hinted at throughout, that would provide a trope for future slasher movie denouements for everything from HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) to PIECES (1983) - although it was actually filched from the Spanish shocker THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (1969).

  Randolph Roberts plays the young killer in WICKED, WICKED.

The film was shot through the late summer, early Autumn of 1972 outside San Diego.The main location - the Hotel del Coranado posing as the fictitious Grandview Hotel - will be immediately recognisable to anyone who's seen the classic Marilyn Monroe vehicle SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959). The budget was, for the time, a not inconsequential $1.5 million. The split screen process used in WICKED, WICKED had been in development for a couple of years (and was utilised around the same time in Brian DePalma's SISTERS (1973)). Critics dismissed Duovision as simply another gimmick, along the lines of 3D, that movie makers had implemented to try and lure back audiences away from television (although there are a few instances where the full screen is used for effect). Roger Greenspun, in his review of the film in The New York Times, identified part of the film's problem was that when you saw the victim on one screen and the killer on another it effectively leached the film of suspense. In any case, the movie failed to attract an audience even with MGM's might behind it. Bare blamed the film's lack of financial success on under-promotion by the studio, but it probably has more to do with the fact that it is an interesting failure that can be curiously disengaging for periods of time. Even Bolling removed it from her resume because, according to her, no one saw it. The film, at the time of square televisions, understandably failed to find an audience even in the days of VHS and late night TV runs.

Bolling is probably the best known cast member of WICKED, WICKED and - before her notoriety for eccentrically patriotic YouTube videos - she was a popular cult movie star throughout the 1970s. She soon went onto to appear in another proto-slasher THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (1974) and the little seen late 1980s' slasher OPEN HOUSE (1987). She also briefly launched a singing career off the back of her turn in this film. Eagle-eyed viewers may also spot Arthur O'Connell as an elderly handyman. He had been in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) the year before this - about a ship that sunk, much like WICKED, WICKED, more-or-less without a trace.


BODYCOUNT 5  bodycount!   female:1 / male:4

       1) Female stabbed to death
       2) Male hit on the head with poker
       3) Female stabbed in stomach
       4) Female decapitated
       5) Male impaled on spikes