Twice the tension! Twice the terror! Half the plot!
A psychotic electrician is on the loose at the Grandview Hotel, picking off young blonde guests faster than you can say “split-screen.” It’s up to the hotel’s detective (because that’s a thing, apparently) to solve the murders before his ex-wife is the next target.
Way back in the early 1970s, writer-director Richard L. Bare (‘Green Acres’, the ‘Twilight Zone’ episode “To Serve Man”) suddenly realized that if you look in one direction, your brain sees a different image than when you look in a different direction. With that stunning realization, Duo-Vision was born. A fancy name for split-screen, Duo-Vision allowed the audience to get twice the film for one ticket price. On the flip side, the cost to shoot was also twice the normal amount, and with ‘Wicked, Wicked‘, the Duo-Vision process was laid to rest.
The split-screen gimmick may seem like the only thing that carries ‘Wicked, Wicked’ but there’s quite a bit to enjoy, particularly for classic movie fans. For starters, the film is set to the score of the 1925 silent version of ‘Phantom of the Opera’. It was also shot entirely on location at the instantly-recognizable Hotel del Coronado, which has been featured in several Hollywood films such as ‘Some Like It Hot’ and the 1990 version of ‘My Blue Heaven’. The cast isn’t too terrible, including capable soap opera star David Bailey as a hotel dick, cult film actress Tiffany Bolling as a wiggy lounge singer, and popular TV actor Edd “Kookie” Byrnes in a supporting role as a shady hotel busboy.
‘Wicked, Wicked’ is largely concerned with the staff and guests at the Grandview Hotel, where three young women have independently skipped out on their bills. Security man Rick Stewart (David Bailey) isn’t so sure that the women cut and ran, particularly because they all have a few things in common, including being blonde and having enough money to pay for their rooms. His ex-wife Lisa James (Tiffany Bolling) shows up one evening on a gig singing at the hotel, and during a rehearsal she befriends shy electrician Jason (Randolph Roberts). Jason has some interesting hobbies outside of repairing sockets and curling irons for the guests; he’s also into embalming, collecting knives, and stabbing sexy blonde women. When Lisa opts to don a platinum wig for her act, she puts herself in the spotlight in more than one way.
The film doesn’t really keep the murderer’s identity much of a secret, and there’s a lot of foreshadowing and telegraphing going on really early in the film. There aren’t very many scares in this so-called horror film; in fact, there are far more comedic moments as well as a lot of great visual puns. This is where the Duo-Vision process gets the most mileage – one frame may be showing us a body being loaded into a meat wagon while the second frame is focused on a sign outside the hotel that says, “Thanks For Visiting – Come Again Soon!” It’s this kind of goofiness that really makes ‘Wicked, Wicked‘ stand out over any kind of spookiness. The film’s ending is also pretty out there. We know Jason’s up to something creepy in the attic, but we’re not entirely prepared for what he’s been doing to his victims. It’s almost Argento-esque, but that’s giving director Bare too much credit.
‘Wicked, Wicked’ was long unavailable on any kind of home video format, usually surfacing in bootleg form after it made an appearance on Turner Classic Movies TCM Underground series. Recently, Warner Archive restored the film to its original glory for a bare-bones, print-on-demand DVD release, including a brilliant stereo mix that only enhances the Duo-Vision process. Fans of oddball cinema should definitely seek this one out for their collection. ‘Wicked, Wicked‘ is a cult cult classic classic.
Rating: for the left side of the screen,
Rating: for the right side of the screen,
Trailer on YouTube.