February 15, 2018
What’s in a name? For movies, it can be a lot. Would Life have been better if it were called Space Station Massacre? Would The Spidery Double have made a better title than Enemy? In the world of B-movies, exploitative titles are almost a badge of honor – just look at Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungles of Death, or Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers for examples. But, back in 1964, way before any of those movies, the bar was set by The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? is about a fortune teller at a boardwalk carnival named Madam Estrella (Brett O’Hara) who consistently gives bad news to her customers. When a young man named Jerry (director Ray Dennis Steckler, although credited as Cash Flagg) visits Estrella with his girlfriend, Angela (Sharon Walsh), and his buddy, Harold (Atlas King – apparently his own cool real name), their fortune spells doom for Angela. After they leave, Jerry and Angela get into a fight, and Jerry slips into a strip club where he meets the lovely Carmelita (Erina Enyo), who happens to be Estrella’s sister. Carmelita seduces Jerry, allowing him to be hypnotized by Estrella into becoming her murderous servant. It soon becomes clear how Estrella’s deadly predictions all come true.
Like many B-movies of its ilk, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? is just as silly as the title makes it sound. The movie was directed by Steckler from a screenplay written by Gene Pollock (who also co-wrote The Thrill Seekers for Steckler) and Robert Silliphant (The Creeping Terror), based on a story by E.M. Kevke (Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters). Contrary to what the title might imply, there are very few incredibly strange creatures or mixed-up zombies in the movie, and only as a tertiary plot point about how Madam Estrella deals with men once she is finished with them. It’s a bit of a misnomer, but with The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?, the title is half the fun, so why would you change it?
And speaking of the title, it has an interesting story all its own. Originally, Ray Dennis Steckler wanted to call the film The Incredibly Strange Creature: Or Why I Stopped Living and Became a Mixed-Up Zombie. Of course, that same year, Stanley Kubrick was making Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Reportedly, Columbia pictures threatened to sue Steckler over the name. After a phone call to Columbia and a conversation with Kubrick, Steckler decided to change the name of his movie to The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?. But it wasn’t over yet; Steckler also experimented with the titles The Incredibly Mixed-Up Zombie, Diabolical Dr. Voodoo, and Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary, before finally giving in to the long-winded name that cult movie enthusiasts know and love.
But enough about the name. The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? was shot by cinematographer Joseph V. Mascelli (Strange Compulsion, Wild Guitar), who had a pair of future legends on his camera team in László Kovács (Easy Rider, Ghostbusters) and Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Deliverance, The Sadist). The natural talent of the men behind the camera explains why the photography in the film is so interesting. The gimmicky posters claim that the movie was filmed in both “Bloody-Vision” and “Hallucinogenic Hypnovision.” There is a crazy amount of attention paid to color, with hairstyles matching walls and clothing matching furniture and such, which explains the “Bloody Vision.” The “Hallucinogenic Hypnovision” refers to fun camera tricks and handheld antics like panning motion, spastic zooms, and, most hypnotically, a superimposed spinning swirl that lets the audience become hypnotized along with Jerry. Not their best work by a long shot, but the artistic potential of both Kovács and Zsigmond is on display in a fun and creative way in this little B-movie.
Seeing as how a good chunk of the movie takes place at a cabaret, there are a number of time-padding musical interludes in The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?. Some are elaborately choreographed (but lacklusterly performed) dance numbers with the stripper girls (as the barker says, “we’ve got twenty beautiful girls, and only ten beautiful costumes!”). Others are vocal performances by random singers, including a couple tunes performed by none other than legendary studio musician and The Wrecking Crew member Carol Kaye (who, of course, has more rhythm than the rest of the stage entertainers combined). The actual cinematic score, composed by Libby Quinn and (an uncredited) André Brummer, is mostly frantic orchestral shouts and discordant keyboard runs that fit the B-movie vibe perfectly. So, between the theatrical score and the musical numbers, the soundtrack to the film is rock solid.
By all means, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? could have (and probably should have) been called something like Hypnotic Assassin. But that name isn’t nearly as much fun. Plus, it would have also shortened this column by about a hundred words.