[24 June 2008]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
A gang of goofball mobsters, led by the Van Dyke-sporting Vito, robs a jewelry exchange, but the gems accidentally end up in the back of a contractor’s truck. A simple commute home, and the heist is a complete bust. As the criminals regroup, our blissfully unaware builder, David Clarke, celebrates his child’s birthday by giving her the most politically incorrect toy ever to hit the market (and that includes the anatomically correct “Joey” from All in the Family).
This little symbol of insensitivity, decked out in blackface and singing the kind of racist minstrel music that made Al Jolson such a Roaring Twenties sensation, is loved by the incredibly gap toothed Nancy…so much so that she takes the pilfered baubles she discovered in the back of Daddy’s rig and stuffs them up the doll’s backside.
Since Vito wants the trinkets returned pronto, he puts Joe Cory and his life partner Curtis on the job. Unfortunately, Joe has a jones for homicide, and needs to get in a few pre-diamond-hunt killings before he goes bug butt. After ascertaining that contractor Dave is married to local lounge singer Linda, Joe heads over to the floorshow to do a little mopping up. But Linda has taken Nancy and her Dixie doll on a Greyhound bus tour of northern California.
While Vito and the rest of the motley crew that couldn’t steal straight take David hostage, lovebirds Curtis and Joe make for the Pacific Coast Highway to stop the chanteuse. Long stretches of stagnant, silent pursuit ensue. Everyone ends up on Grizzly Adams’s doorstep, trying to figure out how to get hold of the treasure while avoiding Joe and his tired Psycho a Go-Go shtick.
As it starts, Psycho a Go-Go has a lot of promise. The swinging nightclub setting, with swirling, gyrating dancers in their frilly fringe minis and knee-high boots. The throbbing back beat of a typical ‘60s bit of garage pop. Flashing, psychedelic lights and the air of civil debauchery (exploitation, here we come!). But then Tacey Robbins shows up like a bouffant Winnie-the-Pooh and starts to croon. As the haunting, hateful “My L.A.” drives a stake of shamelessness right into your cranium, the musical barrage just won’t stop. All hopes for something sordid and swinging die down.
The editing picks up and soon everything starts spiraling out of control. Your mind starts to free-associate on such ideas as suicide, self-abuse, and playing in traffic. The anonymous torsos that pass for dancers keep shouting, “We got it!” and images of the plague and pleurisy shuttle across your retinas. And still, Tacey tunes on, hoping to sell us on the notion that she is actually entertaining. But our hopes are already dashed, both the flesh and the spirit are weak, and we end up metaphysically drawn and quartered.
Then the real plot kicks in. Oy! What a narrative it is. Botched robberies, irritated construction workers, little girls with heinous dental issues, and a bald, bulky Jack Nicholson wannabe with his own cap-toothed traumas (Roy Morton, making his Joe Corey a mindless mental case) add up to one shape-shifting cinematic sludge pit. Mixing your motion picture metaphors is never easy for a low-budget film, but this stealing-meets-slasher-by-way-of-Desperate Hours doody is so chaotic the Sex Pistols are wishing it for the UK right now.
Dammit, certain elements here ought to work! They should push the puzzling, pedestrian storyline out of its sheer stupidity and over into surreal estate territory. After all, our child actress has a brown-painted doll called “Christie Minstrel” that constantly breaks into chipmunk-ish versions of such sour Southern sop as “Camptown Races” and “Swannee River”. The crime syndicate employs a hulky, mute handyman named Curtis who lusts after every man he sees like he’s ready for a Fire Island rendezvous. His homosexual love leanings are so obvious and overt that you expect Curtis to start singing Bronski Beat songs.
But no, instead we have the sullen, shrill Tacey Robbins and her ill-conceived musical numbers urping all over our eardrums. Unable to lip-sync convincingly, and with all the stage presence of a jar of spoiled mayonnaise, Robbins and her songs should add up to at least a few minutes of miscreant fun. After all, if Arch Hall Jr. can make atonal talentlessness terrific, why can’t she?
The answer is all Al Adamson. You can tell that he had no idea how to make all these divergent, disconcerting elements labor to his advantage. What could have been riotous and ridiculous is played straight, and as a result, comes across as dense. Adamson’s Psycho a Go-Go is an angry movie, filled with contempt for everything: the characters, the plot convolutions, and the audience. He doesn’t try to entertain you—he more or less brow beats you into cinematic submission, following the illogical premise that if he puts it on the screen, it will somehow magically transform into a movie. But that doesn’t happen. Instead, we get endless shots of Roy Morton / Joe Corey mindlessly groping Ms. Robbins, Curtis mentally undressing the male cast members, and a demonic race-baiting doll. Suddenly, Psycho a Go-Go turns a must-see into a no-no.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/psycho-a-go-go-1965/