By Chuck Francisco
November 10, 2012 Source: Mania.com
Many movies, especially of the horror and exploitation persuasion, lived and died along a central gimmick. The film catalogue of William Castle typifies this, with shock buzzers attached to seats for The Tingler, a skeleton on a wire for House on Haunted Hill, and hysterical screamers planted among audiences. The greatest gimmick of all, 3D, is again fully in vogue, but it should luckily disappear soon for another 30 years (if familiar patterns hold true). Today, I'd like to call your attention to the only movie ever released completely (outside of the climax) in DUO-VISION. This seldom heard advertising buzzword is actually an overly fancy name for split screen, which 1973's Wicked, Wicked doubles down on.
Wicked, Wicked was the brainchild of director Richard L. Bare, who worked on many famous 60's TV shows, including Lassie, The Twilight Zone (the famously popular episode "To Serve Man"), Maverick, and Green Acres (and as of this writing, he's still alive and kicking at 99!). Bare decided that it might be interesting to split the movie screen in two, telling two concurrent stories at the same time. This high concept could have easily devolved into a whirling bout of nightmarish ADD, but amazing lengths were taken to format the movie in such a way as to make it viewable. Great care was taken to ensure that dialogue or action on one side was not drowned out by the same from the other. Basically this means that Bare had write two simultaneously interwoven scripts that effected acted as Yin and Yang, reversing and playing off of each other for the full 95 minute running time. Creating this strange script required a rare typewriter, which could accommodate legal sized paper in a landscape format. In that way, Bare could plot out exactly how two movies could unfold side by side on the same screen. Amazingly, the picture is unique, cohesive, and striking in it's effectiveness.
At it's core Wicked, Wicked is a psycho slasher, depicting the depraved deeds a killer hotel handyman (Randolph Roberts), who can't stay his hand where attractive blonde guests are concerned. The hotel detective, played by David Bailey, is unable to stop the killings and is himself under the gun, as his ex-wife arrives to play a gig in a blonde wig. One particularly tense murder utilizes the Duo-Vision to let ride along behind the mask of the psycho hiding in the closet while simultaneous showing us the victim going about her (undressing) business, unaware that her life's flame is moments from being snuffed out. Lending a great sense of grandeur and atmosphere is the films' locale: The Hotel del Coronado. This astonishingly picturesque marvel of Victorian architecture and Hollywood opulence was built in 1880 on the beaches of San Diego. It's seen partying presidents and vacationing movie stars. Shortly after Wicked, Wicked was released, it was add to the list of National Historic Landmarks (though this was certainly unrelated). This beautiful setting lends an extra feeling of expense to the film's production; it made this shoe string budget seem like a million bucks.
Wicked, Wicked's uniqueness doesn't yet end there. It was also released in the abnormal aspect ratio of 2.65:1. Very few films have ever been released so wide a ratio. It was also released in stereo, so that sound could come for the side of the split screen that it synced up with (Stereo wouldn't see wide adoption among movie theaters for several more years yet). Editing this simultaneous double feature picture show took five times as long as a normal motion picture of the time (32 weeks as opposed to 6). And for all of this trouble, Bare's genius has gone unlauded, primary because no one has seen Wicked, Wicked! There has never been a home release (probably because of the excessively wide aspect ratio). I was incredibly fortunate to have found this at a film festival, even with a slightly pink 35mm print. In fact, currently the only way to even see this stylistic Siamese cinema is via a rare showing on TCM via their TCM Underground cult series (they've really been knocking it out of the park). It's become such a renown and desirable flick to catch among horror circles, that group members commonly will make announcements when an airing is coming up to DVR (usually in the overnight hours).
Levelly, this is by no means the most impressive, shocking, or important of slasher films. It is, however, something different; something unique; something interesting. A comment lament of modern cinema is its lack of originality, of which the horror genre is doubly guilty. Step out of that stream of convention, and keep an eye peeled for Wicked, Wicked. I promise you haven't seen anything quite like it before.
Rather than show you the trailer, which is not in DUO-VISION, here's a scene from the film itself (gets more interesting at the 3 minute mark):
And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
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