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Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/8/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/13/2015
As someone who is getting older everyday and raising two teenaged daughters, I often think about how things change over time. I try not to sound like an old man, but I find myself telling the girls what things were like when I was young and the things that existed back then that aren't around today. One thing that has apparently gone the way of video stores and double-features is the midnight movie. I can clearly remember scanning the movie ads in the newspaper (yes, that used to be a thing) and seeing the ads for things like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Dawn of the Dead playing at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. With all of the choices in home video, I guess that there's no longer a need for midnight showings of cult movies. Still, that sort of vibe still exists and there are those who are interested in that sort of fringe entertainment. And if there's ever been an example of a movie which personifies things which weren't fit for the light of day, then Thundercrack! fits that mold.
Thundercrack! takes place on a dark and stormy night. Sash (Melinda McDowell) and Roo (Moira Benson) are driving through the night, when they stop to pick up hitchhiker Toydy (Rick Johnson). Sash and Roo begin to argue and the car wrecks. Similarly, Chandler (Mookie Blodgett) picks up Bond (Ken Scudder) and when they stop to talk to Sarah (Virginia Giritlian), they hear the crash. They rush to help and everyone goes to a nearby house, where Mrs. Gert Hammond (Marion Eaton), an odd recluse lives. As the group piles into the house, they begin to get to know one another and many secrets are revealed.
To say that Thundercrack! is a weird movie would be an understatement. For starters, this is the epitome of a low-budget affair. The car scenes are "poor man's process" (where the car is sitting still and lights are shone on it to simulate passing cars), the interior of the house if comprised of a few slapdash set, and, the coup de grace, the exterior of the house is simply a drawing. The acting ranges from amateurish to non-existent and we often get the feeling that the participants are simply reading the lines as opposed to trying to be characters. The music is made up almost exclusively of piano, which makes the cheesy keyboard soundtrack from The Evil Dead sound like a full orchestra.
But, plenty of movies have low budgets and bad acting, what else makes Thundercrack! different? Well, for one thing, the movie is 2 1/2 hours long. Yes, you read that correctly -- a low-budget, black and white midnight movie which runs 2 1/2 hours. Why is it that long? I can't give you a definitive answer, but I can tell you that one reason is that this is two movies in one. On the one hand, we have a quirky drama with comedic overtones in which a group of strangers come together and reveal themselves to one another. Chandler was once married to a lingerie heiress, Sarah is married to a country singer, Sash once lived in Tucson, and so on. The biggest oddity is Mrs. Hammond, who goes on and on about her late husband and her son, who "no longer exists". As the night wears on, Roo becomes more and more curious about Mrs. Hammond's story and the bizarre locked door in the living room.
The other part of Thundercrack!, and, again, I'm not making this up, is comprised of hardcore pornography. Once the group is safely in the house, they are urged by Mrs. Hammond to change out of their wet clothes in her back bedroom, a place which is like a museum of debauchery. This puts an already heated crowd over the top and the pairing off begins in earnest. I'd read descriptions in the past which were somewhat vague, but I'm here to make things as clear as possible -- there is explicit, hardcore sex here and very few taboos, heterosexual and homosexual, are spared. It's interesting to note that while most any act imaginable is depicted here, the dialogue is basically free from profanity and it made up almost exclusively of double-entendres.
So, who exactly is Thundercrack! for? The honest answer is, I don't know. Co-writer/Director Curt McDowell and Co-Writers George Kuchar (who also acts in the film) and Mark Ellinger obviously wanted to make a movie which was different, and they definitely succeeded. And, given the time period in which Thundercrack! was made, one can assume that the goal may have been to make the ultimate counter-culture picture, as it pushes the boundaries of decency and some gender roles. But, it also plays like something a young David Lynch may have contributed to, as it contains some decidedly surreal flashbacks in the second half. Having said that, the movie also features some very corny, almost Vaudeville-like dialogue, which actually could have been funny if everything going on around it hadn't been so weird. In the end, Thundercrack! may be the ultimate alternative film, which is sure to intrigue everyone, but please no one. As the film has gone unseen for years, it is a must for those who crave the absurd and unique. The one big question remaining at the end is, is it just a coincidence that there is a character named Chandler and a character named Bing?
Thundercrack! is...well...Thundercrack! on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Synapse Films. The film is framed at 1.33:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The detailed liner notes by Don May Jr. explain how the video and audio was restored for this transfer from some used elements. Given that, the image looks pretty good for a forgotten 40-year old film. There is certainly some grain and defects from the source materials. But, the interior scenes look good, as they are the appropriate brightness and the grain isn't overly pronounced. Some shots look notably soft, but this may be a stylistic choice which appeared in the original film. The Disc carries a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.7 Mbps. Again going to the liner notes, May explains how the original track was too soft and unintelligible at times. This has certainly been corrected, as the dialogue is always audible. However, it does have a certain "canned" feel at times and we get some occasional clicks and pops here.
The Thundercrack! Blu-ray Disc contains only two extra features. "It Came from Kuchar" (86 minutes) is a 2009 documentary which explores the life and career of George and Mike Kuchar. We see George at work teaching students in San Francisco, and we hear from the likes of John Waters, Buck Henry and Atom Egoyan. From there, the piece explores the film of the Kuchars and how they influenced a generation. The film can be viewed with an "Audio Interview with Director Curt McDowell", which isn't an audio commentary, but does address the film at times. It runs for nearly 90 minutes. This set also includes a DVD which contains additional extras. We start with an "Interview with Thundercrack! Author, George Kuchar" (10 minutes), which was conducted in 2004. "Marion Eaton Recalls 'Gert Hammond'" (6 minutes) is another interview from 2004 in which the actress, who is wearing a very interesting sweater, talks about her character. "Recalling Thundercrack! with Mark Ellinger" (8 minutes) has the Co-Writer discussing the origins of the story and the production of the film. "Curt McDowell & Marion Eaton 1976 Interview" (23 minutes) comes from what looks like a cable access show by the San Francisco Bay Area Filmmakers and allows the pair a forum to discuss the movie. (McDowell looks like all of the men in the film.) "Outtakes & Behind-the-Scenes Footage" is a 30-minute reel of extra footage from the set, some of which does not have audio. "Sex Scene Outtakes" (17 minutes) is just what it sounds like. We get to see the actors before they didn't become famous in "Original Cast Audition Footage" (8 minutes). "Short Films Directed by Curt McDowell" offers five early works from the director. The Original THEATRICAL TRAILER is included here.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long