The ultimate head trip that's a big thrill in a little pill.
Two LSD-themed films from the AIP (American International Pictures) banner are released as an MGM Midnite Movies Double Feature.
Facts of the Case
Psych-Out: A deaf-mute runaway attempts to find her brother in the Haight-Ashbury stoner district. With the help of Stoney (Jack Nicholson in one of his early roles), she gets involved with the drug scene. Will she find her brother or will she get lost in a culture she doesn't understand?
The Trip: Commercial director Paul Groves' (Peter Fonda in fine form) life is falling apart. In the middle of a divorce and a career that's going nowhere, he turns to his friend John (Bruce Dern). John suggests an LSD trip. Groves agrees and begins a personal odyssey.
Both films haven't aged very well. Made at the height of the psychedelic era (1967-68), the ideals expressed in these films seem dated and of a bygone era. Yet they're worth watching once, if only for the historical value.
Psych-Out was produced by Dick Clark (yes, that Dick Clark) and directed by Richard Rush. Rush has made some good films (The Stunt Man, The Savage Seven) and some stinkers (Color of Night) in his very sporadic career. The screenplay by E. Hunter Willett and Betty Ulius is chock full of stupid, unrealistic dialogue, often poorly organized and doesn't make sense. Yet Rush and a good cast that includes Nicholson, Dern, Susan Strasberg, and Dean Stockwell manage to make a decent movie out of practically nothing.
Much better is The Trip, produced and directed by the great Roger Corman (House of Usher, The Wild Angels).Unlike Psych-Out, Corman's film starts with a well-written, intelligent script (by Jack Nicholson!). Corman explains in his commentary that he wanted to make a realistic film about LSD and that he actually underwent a trip of his own as preparation for filming. Now, I have never been on an acid trip ever in my life, so I have no idea if he's telling the truth about whether or not his film is realistic. But Corman has always had a reputation for being an honest man, so he can be believed. I think.
Anyway, back to the film. The film's visual effects are more imaginative and invigorating than most drug films of the time. The acting is very good, with Fonda giving his best pre-Easy Rider performance and Dern equaling him as the guru friend who guides him through his trip. Dennis Hopper makes an appearance here, setting the record for saying "man" the most times in a single speech (36 times, according to Corman).
The score is by An American Music Band, later renamed The Electric Flag. It accomplishes what all great scores are supposed to do: enhance the film without giving away what is going to happen in the picture. The soundtrack album went gold in 1967 and it's still in print in a good edition from Columbia. Guitar buffs will recognize Mike Bloomfield's soaring guitar. He was one of the greatest guitarists in music history but never reached the heights he deserved to. His life was cut short, ironically, by a drug overdose in 1981.
AIP may have financed both productions, but that didn't guarantee final cut. Both films were severely cut before their release. According to Corman's commentary, co-founder Jim Nicholson was becoming conservative and didn't agree with the message of the films. Psych-Out lost a few acid trip scenes, but The Trip was significantly changed, the worst of the changes being the ending where spoiler warning a jagged edge was added to the final close-up of Peter Fonda indicating that LSD was bad and ruined his life. Corman preferred an open ending, leaving it up to the viewer. Watching it today, 36 years later, I have to agree with Corman.
MGM presents both films in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The MGM presentations of the AIP library have been a mixed bag with some looking fantastic (the Poe pictures, Die Monster Die!) and others looking pretty bad (At the Earth's Core). This is one of their better efforts. Colors are fresh and vibrant, which is extremely important given the theme of these films. No edge enhancement is visible in any scenes. There is a small amount of grain in Psych-Out, but none in The Trip. Scratches and specks are present, but none that are a major viewing distraction.
The sound is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix. Stereo would have been preferable considering the amount of music in both films. But as it is, it's passable, nothing spectacular or groundbreaking. Some hiss in the more silent moments, but relatively clean.
The Trip could almost qualify for Special Edition status with the surprising amount of extras included. First is a commentary track by Roger Corman. It isn't as good as his previous commentaries (a little more silence than I would have liked), but it is still worthwhile. Corman always gives good information whenever he speaks, and even if he talks less than usual, it's worth a listen.
A 15-minute featurette called "Tune In, Trip Out" is next. Featuring interviews with Corman, Bruce Dern, and Allen Daviau (who did the visual effects for the film), this fills in the gaps in Corman's commentary quite nicely.
A second 15-minute featurette called "Psychedelic Film Effects" features Daviau talking about how he created the visual effects. Good information is present here. They could have combined both featurettes into one half-hour documentary, but that's a minor complaint.
The "Psychedelic Light Box" is simply Daviau's effects separated from the feature and set to Bloomfield's music. This is only for the initiated or fans of the era. [Editor's Note: What I think Bill means is that it's only for those who are stoned, man.]
The original theatrical trailer is included in full frame and in poor visual shape. It shows how AIP completely misunderstood the film Corman gave them.
Last but not least is an article published by American Cinematographer about how the film's effects were photographed. A fascinating read, but you'll need a set at least 32 inches wide to be able to read it.
Psych-Out only has two extra features. A theatrical trailer in non-anamorphic widescreen is included. Also, a 12 minute featurette titled "Love and Haight" is included featuring interviews with Dick Clark, Richard Rush, and Dern. Clark apparently took the film seriously (!) and treats it as if it's a major contribution to cinema. Nice try, Dick.
With a retail price of $14.95, I recommend it as a rental. Corman fans might want to purchase this for their collection, but this is the kind of disc that won't be spun more than once.
Free to go. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Psych-Out: "Love and Haight" Featurette, Theatrical Trailer
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