Code Red // 1977 // 82 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // September 2nd, 2011
Imagine if you took a bunch of different books -- a mystery, a western, a romance, a ghost story, a psychological drama, a coming of age story, a family saga -- ripped out all the pages, shuffled them, and then put them together in a random order.
Then imagine that a director took this new book and filmed it, using the least interesting and cohesive aspects of the source.
What would you have?
Why, you'd have Haunted, a film so badly made and nonsensical, it makes Ed Wood's output from the '50s seem like the lost work of John Ford.
Try to follow:
In Civil War era Arizona, a foxy Native American woman, Abanaki (Ann Michelle, Virgin Witch) is falsely accused of a crime. Her sentence: Death, naturally. "Get the horses," intones one of the executioners. Is she going to be dragged to her death? Quartered?
Nah, these guys know a good thing when they see it. She's sentenced to ride through the desert topless until she dies.
But while a fey priest and some fey cavalry men look on, Abanaki puts on curse on them, damning their "future generations" to all sorts of misery. Just like The Haunted Palace, right? A future of cursed mutants awaits, right?
Anyway, Abernathy (or whatever her name is) gallops off to her jiggly death, and we're transported to modern day.
We notice that many of the 1970s townspeople are played by the same actors who'd witnessed Albuquerque (whatever her name was) being led by her breasts to the desert of doom, so clearly they are the cursed descendants. These townsfolks -- all of them male -- are just as fey as their ancestors. Is this the curse? A generation of men who can only make snappy repartee, quote old movies, and disco into the dawn? Cool!
We then meet Patrick (Jim Negele, Fraternity Row), whose affected manner and Daisy Duke denim cut-offs suggest that he too is one of the accursed.
He's being told by a doctor -- who looks just like the long-ago priest (how did the priest get descendants?) -- that his mother, who suffers from hysterical blindness, must be put away. Not for any particular reason, mind you; the doctor says she has to be put away, so off she goes.
Patrick goes to tell his brother, Russ (Brad Rearden, The Silent Scream), another short-shorts clad youth with thick glasses and a bitchy demeanor, about Mom's impending yet inexplicable exile. But before they can have their discussion, the phone company sends a pair of bickering -- and fey -- workers out to install a new payphone -- in the nearby CEMETERY!
Things are falling into place, right?
We then meet daffy, hysterically blind Mom (Virginia Mayo, White Heat) -- called "Michelle" on IMDb and "Frances" in a newspaper clip in the film -- who lives with her sons and her late husband's brother, Andrew (Aldo Ray, God's Little Acre), in some sort of failing Wild West ghost town tourist place. Andrew has always been in love with Frances/Michelle and loves her still, despite the fact that she's hysterically blind, given to crazy pronouncements ("Why would anyone want to come here? We haven't had any visitors since yesterday...it's been years!"), and most upsetting, years ago rejected him and married his brother when she might or might not have been pregnant by Andrew himself, which would make him the father of Patrick and Russ.
Uh-oh, things are starting to fall out of place.
Into this indecipherable domestic drama drives a British woman who looks just like Wakasabi (whatever her name was), the martyred-by-toplessness woman from a century ago. The Brit is Jennifer (also played by Ann Michelle), and she's on her way to Hollywood when her car conveniently breaks down. Patrick takes a shine to her, and Mom insists that they've met before ("Just turn it around in your mind a few times and you'll see...See? We're all friends already"), inviting the confused vengeful-spirit lookalike to stay the night.
OK, so we've got our set-up: a cursed town; a reincarnated spirit; a madwoman who speaks in riddles and is "blind;" a "dangerous" man (Ray) with some kind of agenda; a dispute over property (the boys are planning to sell the ghost town and split); a young romance (Patrick and Jennifer); an old, bitter romantic entanglement; and some side stuff involving short-wave radios, a crazy old medicine woman, clueless but fashionable townsfolk, and that old devil phone booth. Time to play!
Only it isn't.
Haunted takes all sorts of ideas and remnants, throws them out there, and leaves them dangling; it's a bunch of plot threads in search of a story. It's like a group of bad writers got together, tossed pages of their unfinished manuscripts into a box, had a yard sale, and writer/director Michael A. DeGaetano bought up the lot.
I can't imagine what DeGaetano was thinking when he tried to put this soup together. All I know is he must have had some serious dirt on Mayo and Ray; how else to explain the participation of these veterans in this bunch of hooey? Their scenes are supposed to be integral to the plot (whatever that is), but instead, they're just disconnected from everything else that's going on. This includes their out-of-synch performances, with Mayo stumbling about like a lobotomized Blanche DuBois and Ray trying -- ickily -- to get into her pants by bellowing like Mel from Mel's Diner attempting to get into Flo's pants. We even get a scream-worthy scene in which Mayo bares her breasts while fantasizing having sex with some young stud while she's actually being dry-humped by a shirtless and hairy-backed Ray.
The curse of Nakaraki (whatever her name was) never really amounts to anything; Andrew bellows about it from time to time, but everyone just ignores him. Patrick and Jennifer sleep together in the desert, upping the dose of requisite Ann Michelle nudity, but it really has nothing to do with anything. The inexplicably placed phone booth in the cemetery gets a lot of play, but its existence makes as much sense as the randomly scattered gymnastics equipment littered about the hostile country countryside in Gymkata. It does liven things up, though, and provides a salient life lesson: If you douse yourself with gasoline, avoid incandescent lightbulbs at all costs.
Code Red unearths this fragrant turnip as part of "Maria's B-Movie Mayhem," Maria being Maria Kanellis, former wrestler and also-ran on Celebrity Apprentice. Kanellis provides a corny-but-cute introduction and closing, and we get a music video for her song "Fantasy." If having Kanellis around means Code Red will be turning out more obscure freak show movies, then more power to her.
Besides Kanellis, the disc features a pretty great supplement: an interview with Haunted star Jim Negele. Long out of the business, Negele serves up some pretty funny and candid recollections of the Haunted experience, including memories of Aldo Ray being so drunk that they had to overdub his lines and the observation that besides himself and Ann Michelle, virtually everyone else on the set was gay. Does this mean he just outed Brad Rearden? Or did the costume department do that for him...
Negele also talks about how some of the footage wasn't checked properly and turned out to be damaged; it was discovered too late for reshooting, which might explain the film's disjointed feel.
The disc also features a whole bunch of trailers for upcoming CR releases; it looks like Code Red has acquired the old Crown International catalogue -- which Mill Creek had been releasing on cheap jumbo box sets -- and it would be great to see films like The Babysitter and The Hearse get the Code Red treatment.
Don't be fooled by the low judgment score: the folks at Code Red are up to their old bad movie tricks, and the world's a bit of a better place.
This awful film gets just as much respect as it deserves. Fie on the movie, Bravo, Code Red.
Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Code Red
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Music Video