6/23/10

Who the F@&k is Vernon Zimmerman?: Hex (1973)

If you only ever see one post World War I, supernatural, Western biker horror film that features Gary Busey getting his face eaten off by an owl, then you should definitely make it Hex (1973) [a.k.a The Shrieking and Charms]. Welcome to the penultimate installment of ‘Who the F@&k is Vernon Zimmerman?’ In the last couple of weeks I took a look at Zimmerman’s meta slasher Fade to Black and one of his writing gigs Bobbi Jo and the Outlaw starring a young Lynda Carter. Today I have another one of his screenplays, one he wrote in conjunction with the film’s director Leo Garen who would go on to write Band of the Hand (1986), Doran Cannon the writer of Otto Priminger’s 1968 film Skidoo (famously mentioned in Devil’s Rejects for featuring Graucho Marx as God), and first time writer Stephen Katz. The four cooks in the kitchen probably explains the uneven tone and madcap scenes that show up in Hex, but I can just about guarantee that it is unlike any other film out there.

The film opens on two sisters, the demure, flighty blonde Acacia (Hilary Thompson) and the raven haired, stone faced Oriole (Cristina Raines), as they make their lives in the barren west of South Dakota. Their quiet lives are disrupted when a group of bikers on World War I era bikes ride into their lives. The bikers lead by Whizzer (Keith Carradine) are on the run from an angry mob they left in the last town and on their way to California. The sisters reluctantly allow the fugitives into their farm where they have dinner and smoke the sister’s sacred wild herbs. That night one of the bikers, Giblets (Gary Busey), tries to rape Acacia, and things go downhill from there. Soon anyone who crosses the sisters comes to a grisly end, and no one knows to what extent Oriole might take her dark rituals to protect her sister.

From that synopsis, Hex may sound like a rather dark affair, and in a way, it is. At the core of the film is a Gothic style horror tale, but it is surrounded by wacky motorcycle antics and trippy scenes of drug use. Now I’m only going to defend Hex to a point. While it might be entirely different from anything that I’ve ever seen, it doesn’t always act like a cohesive unit. It never got boring, but the fact that I couldn’t predict at all what might happen one scene to the next didn’t leave me on the edge of my seat. Instead I was more pushed back in the cushions wondering what was going on in the minds of Zimmerman, Garen, and the other writers when they came up with Hex. So while I was plenty entertained, I wished the film could have a more consistently dark tone throughout.

What first attracted me to this film was the cast, and that was before I saw Gary Busey whacked by an owl. The chance to see if Busey always acted like Busey (he did) was the first thing to catch my eye, but looking deeper and seeing Keith Carradine and Scott Glenn were involved as well sealed the deal. Carradine brings to the screen all the charm that he would later bring to films like Nashville, and comes across as an interesting character though you just want to slap him each time he stays at the farm after one of his friends dies. Glenn is less of a force with a limited amount of scenes in the film, but still puts in a solid performance. Aside from the appearance of these three stars, Hex also contains appearances by Dan Haggerty (Grizzly Adams), Doria Cook (The Parallax View, The Swarm), and Robert Walker Jr. (Easy Rider, Beware!The Blob), The real stars are the two sisters, and both Thompson and Raines give their roles interesting facets. Raines has the choice role as the stony mystic wielding dark magic, but she needed to bring her performance up from the level of mere monotone delivery to really sell her evil streak.

This was the only film that Leo Garen would direct, and I would have actually liked to see what he might have done with a second feature. Hex had plenty of promise, but there was only so much that the fine group of actors could do with such a scattered, uneven film. What’s interesting to see for me was Zimmerman being involved in a film that sort of combined moments of both Fade to Black and Bobbie Jo. I’ve long thought that the Western setting is ripe for horror tales, and the desolate Dakota Territory is a perfect setting. The problem is that Hex just can’t be happy being merely a horror film. It definitely is a curiosity that fans of cult films will probably enjoy watching, but it’s not one that you need to run out and try to find. Yet if you ever have anyone tell you that they’ve seen every kind of film there is, then Hex is a great one to bring out and blow their mind.

Bugg Rating 

There's no trailer available, but instead I'm leaving a video of Gary on VH1's Celebrity Paranormal Project doing what he does best, saying some crazy ass shit.

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1 comment:

  1. I just was reading a book about JAck Hilla dn it mentioend Vernon Zimemrman in passing.

    ReplyDelete

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