When he's unable to track down a trio of guests who vacated without paying their bill, who then apparently fell off the face of the Earth, a hotel detective begins to suspect foul play might be involved. And his investigation kicks into high gear when his old flame hits the lobby, who physically matches the description of the other missing persons -- all female, pretty and blonde. Turns out he's right to be concerned, too, because there's a deranged killer on the loose in this hotel; a killer who's already got his sights locked onto the girl in question as his next victim; a victim just like all the others; a victim who will check in, and then check out -- permanently.
As the legend goes, writer, director, and producer Richard Bare got the idea for Anamorphic DUO-VISION while driving to work one day. Seems as his mind wandered, he noticed the dividing lines on the pavement and how the freeway lanes had two distinct and different perspectives when looked at with just one eye at a time. This resultant mind-blow planted the seeds of an idea to make a movie with two simultaneous images, telling the same story from two different perspectives, for both eyes.
Dusting off an old, unsold script called The Squirrel, Bare tore it apart and then reassembled it to fit his scheme. And after conquering a few logistical obstacles to pound out a new version, he presented the script to his old boss, William T. Orr, with whom Bare had worked on a ton of TV shows for Warner Bros. (Maverick, Route 66, 77 Sunset Strip). Then, together, they took the script and the gimmick to MGM and within 48-hours they had a check and a green-light to proceed.
When filming began, Bare was smart enough not to overload both screens with action as to not confuse the audience. I'm hard pressed to recall a scene that had dialogue happening on both screens at once. Making one frame active and the other passive, DUO-VISION actually kind of works, especially in the scenes where the root cause of the killer's psychosis is revealed via flashback on one screen while he slowly cracks up in the other. The process also works as a lie detector, allowing the audience to see the real truth while characters spin their lies, give false truths, and offer shaky alibis. Bare's film was also one of the first to really utilize Stereo-Sound, allowing the soundtrack to be split down the middle as well, depending on which screen held the dominant action.
Where DUO-VISION starts to break down, however, is when one screen is occupied by obvious filler; most notably some batty organist, who provides the mood music for our psycho-drama by pounding out selected movements from The Phantom of the Opera. Apparently, while trying to edit the film together, Bare realized he was way, way short of coverage to fill both screens and had to go back and shoot more footage to fill those gaps. Even then, it took him almost 8 months to splice a working print together.
For his cast, Bare threw together an actual returning Vietnam veteran making his big-screen debut as the psycho-killer (Bailey), a Mitchum deodorant spokes-model as their hero (Roberts), and a failed singer /1970's Scream Queen Almost Was for their heroine (Bolling). Now, I've always enjoyed Ms. Bolling's work, and though I don't think she's all that good of a singer, by god, she gives it all she's got:
Rounding out the cast is Bare and Orr's old 77 Sunset Strip buddy, Eddie Byrnes, as the lecherous bellhop, Madeline Sherwood as the dotty Gloria Swanson clone, who has plenty of dastardly secrets of her own, and genre veteran Scott Brady as perhaps the world's crankiest detective. And speaking frankly, though I think DUO-VISION does have its perks, and the cast never lacks for enthusiasm, Bare's bare script betrays them and just isn't up to the task to pull it off and fill things out properly.
Bare's film also serves as a time-capsule of earth-tone decor and questionable fashion statements -- and I recall one particular scene where a band member's shirt blended in perfectly with the wallpaper. Seriously, all you could see was his cheesy 'stache and rockin' proto-mullet. Filmed at San Diego's historic Hotel del Coronado, Bare claims his film shouldn't be taken all that seriously and should be treated as the goof he had intended. Half Grand Hotel half Grand Guignol, the director insists, the film is pretty laughable, and downright hysterical in spots, but it also gets surprisingly morbid and twisted, especially when we get into the killer's back-story and the sexual abuse endured by our villain that set him down this homicidal path, which led to his morbid collecting hobby and what he currently has squirreled away in the hotel's attic. And that ending ... Oh, lord, that ending...
Alas, parody or not, audiences didn't get the joke and when Wicked, Wicked fizzled at the box-office a planned follow-up film using the same process was quickly scrapped. Bare claims this failure wasn't really the film's fault but due to a lack of publicity, caused by a cost-cutting MGM, who, at the time, was leeching and funneling the majority of its money away from productions and into Las Vegas to build their new mega-casino. And due to it's split-screen gimmick, the film posed a major problem for TV syndication or a home video release; and what limited VHS tapes there were were cropped down to one frame. Thus the film has been off the radar and been wallowing in relative obscurity ever since it's initial release. As of this writing, Wicked, Wicked still hasn't been released on DVD, though it should be, but one can track down some gray-market foreign releases. It's also showed up on TCM's Underground in its proper, split-screen ratio. So, the film is out there, and if you have the chance do take a look. This kooky, one of a kind piece of ... something is well worth your time and effort.
Other Points of Interest:
Newspaper ads for Wicked, Wicked at the Morgue.
Newspaper ads for Wicked, Wicked at the Morgue.
Wicked, Wicked (1973) United National Productions :: MGM / EP: William T. Orr / P: Richard L. Bare / D: Richard L. Bare / W: Richard L. Bare / C: Frederick Gately / E: John F. Schreyer / M: Philip Springer / S: David Bailey, Tiffany Bolling, Randolph Roberts, Scott Brady, Edd Byrnes, Roger Bowen, Madeleine Sherwood, Diane McBain