Wicked, Wicked is a mundane slasher item about a nervous mama’s boy (Randy Roberts) who, while working as an electrician at a hotel, puts on a mask and waiter’s uniform to stab pretty blonde guests because of his traumatic childhood flashbacks. His latest target is a singer (Tiffany Bolling), who happens to be the ex-wife of the house detective (David Bailey, later on soaps) who’s tracking him down. Even by the standards of numerous psycho knock-offs in the ’70s, the script is uninspired.
What it’s got is a gimmick — because you gotta have a gimmick — and the film deserves points for formal creativity, at least in conception. Producer-writer-director Richard L. Bare unreels almost the entire widescreen movie in “Duo-Vision”, i.e. with a split screen. We don’t know whether he could have had knowledge of Brian DePalma’s brilliant Sisters, released the same year, or his earlier but obscurer Murder a la Mod, but Bare is no DePalma. Surely Bare wasn’t inspired by Andy Warhol’s The Chelsea Girls, but everyone in Hollywood knew of the great split-screen scare of the 1967-68 season, when just about every movie had such a sequence.
Bare mostly tells the story from two angles, sometimes eavesdropping on a second location without having to cross-cut, and sometimes using one screen to illustrate the other’s dialogue via flashbacks or other ironically revealing information. A bit of campy humor is injected when, during the murders, one screen shows an elderly organist playing music from Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera. (By strange coincidence, DePalma was a year away from Phantom of the Paradise.)
Those organ segments are the closest Bare gets to the surrealism and wit he displayed in the Joe McDoakes shorts of the ’40s and ’50s or the TV series Green Acres, two credentials that might have lifted this project to a higher realm. Instead, the plodding movie is flat twice over. The violent moments are edited so jaggedly, we must wonder if they were cut to secure the PG rating.
The supporting cast is dotted with recognizable minor names, including Edd Byrnes (from the series 77 Sunset Strip, which Bare directed several times), Diane McBain, Arthur O’Connell, and Madeleine Sherwood. Above all (literally), the film’s biggest “star” is the Hotel del Coronado, a picturesque Victorian landmark seen in better cinematic outings such as Some Like It Hot.