[Videolib] Psychotronic West Virginia

Steve Fesenmaier (fesenms@wvlc.lib.wv.us)
Thu, 29 May 2003 16:32:29 -0400

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The Ten Best Psychotronic
Films Made in West Virginia
By Steve Fesenmaier

Taking Wrong Turn seriously is like believing Bruce Almighty is a
realistic portrayal
of TV cameramen. – SF while talking to WOWK news reporter May 29, 2003

I have spent almost half my life living in West Virginia, coming to the
state in fall 1978. Since then I
have come to use the word “psychotronic” [as in Psychotronic
Encyclopedia of Movies (1983) – not
PSYCHOTIC as the owner of one WV newspaper mis-read the word with regard
to Mike Lipton’s
annual Psychotronic Christmas Light Contest.] to describe life in a
state that ranks number one in lots
of areas. During this quarter-century I have seen and even helped make
some really unusual films,
some unusual because of the subject, others because of the style of the
film. Tomorrow nationwide
the latest psychotronic film, Wrong Turn, opens nationwide. Even though
the film was made in
Canada, like most Hollywood films these days, this one targets WV as the
home of in-bred
cannibalistic hillbillies. [ There is more below….] Here is my current
list of films made in the state that
definitely should be counted psychotronic.

1. Since Teenage Strangler (1964) was listed in the first Psychotronic
Encyclopedia this one has to
be ranked first. Local TV people in Huntington decided to make their
own version of the very
popular B-movies of the Sixties, movies you usually saw at a drive-in
[which is where the film
premiered, across the river in Ohio]. Michael Fenimore, a local
Charleston disc jockey, told me
about the film and Something Weird Video out of Seattle had recently
issued a video of the film. This
was in 1990. On Halloween Night 1991, at the St. Albans Public Library
under the direction of
Yvonne Farley, the film had its WV premiere. [ You can read about this
event on page 559 of the
Psychotronic Video Guide (1996)] In 1967 the original film was shown
around the country at
drive-ins along with B horrormeister Herschell Gordon Lewis’ A Taste of
Blood. Access: Now you
can buy a DVD from Amazon.com with this film plus Teenage Gang Debs
(1966) or buy just the
1990 VHS of Strangler at Facets.com.

2. Lullaby for Ben (1993) Apparently in 1992 a Russian film director
came to WV from Washington,
DC to make this unusual film. The IMDB has no listing for it – it does
have a listing for another
Russian film, Lullaby for Men (1976). This film is about Jack Skuce, a
man who has been away a
long time from Shepherdstown. As he drives around the town, visiting
various sites, we hear his
thoughts about the future world that Ben, still in the womb, will
inhabit. The film is in Russian of
course with English subtitles. I have written the largest distributor of
Russian films in the US and an
old friend, Nikita Mikhalkov, a leading Russian filmmaker and president
of the Moscow Film
Festival, to see if they can find anything for me. Almost no one knows
about this film, including
people in Shepherdstown. I recently told some visiting Russian
librarians about the film. Access:
WVLC has the only two copies I know to exist.

3. Whispers from Space (1996) Ralph Coon, a LA filmmaker, came to WV in
1995 to make a
documentary about legendary UFO man Gray Barker. Barker was the author
of one of the first
books on UFOs – They Knew Too Much. He also published various early
magazines on the subject.
He grew up in Clarksburg, making his living running a drive-in theater.
He invented the idea of “men
in black” and made the Mothman famous in his book on The Silver Bridge.
Merle Moore, the past
library director for the Harrison- Clarksburg PL, created an archive of
his materials and helped make
the film as did myself. The film had its world premiere at the Cultural
Center in Charleston as part of
the Spring WVIFF and made the cover of Graffiti magazine. The film is
called a cross between David
Lynch and Errol Morris. Access: Facets.com and Amazon.com.

4. Captured Alive (1995) Pat Morita, famous for starring in the series
of films about the Karate Kid,
stars in this amazing B-film. Passengers flying from Pittsburgh to
Atlanta are shot down by a Civil
War-era cannon, forced into becoming toxic waste slaves. It has the
cheesiest shoot-out scene ever
filmed – the same shot of the people shooting their guns is re-cycled
over and over. Arrow Releasing
made this film….and it may be the only copy ever released! Access: WVLC
has one copy.

5. Communication from Weber (1988) This short documentary by WV
filmmaker Robert Gates is
only available on 16 mm. It will never be put on VHS, partially because
he has pasted some of
Michael Weber’s writings over the image as it runs. Weber was a
transvestite from California who
died in Montgomery, WV from a brain tumor. The film has a clip from a
Hollywood B-movie that he
actually acted in. The film was chosen by the Village Voice as the “best
film shown at the NY Gay &
Lesbian Film Festival” and toured England as part of a series of new gay
films. It had its world
premiere at Sunrise Museum and has since been shown all over the state
and country. It was
distributed by Picture Start Films of Chicago. Access: WVLC has one
16-mm copy and Robert
Gates (304-342-2624) has the other. The niece of Weber had to borrow
Gates own print so that
she could see the film about her eccentric uncle.

6. Chillers (1987), Strangest Dreams: Invasion of the Space Preachers
(1990), Paradise Park
(1996). WV native son Daniel Boyd studied filmmaking in Arkansas with
the man who wrote the
classic B-film, Rollerball. He came back home and after making several
shorts, most notably Coal
Dust/Fairy Dust got a job at WV State College, the only film program in
the state. During the next
decade he directed three homegrown films that followed in the steps of
WV’s first indie feature,
Teenage Strangler. The first is a horror film, the second a joke
sci-fier, and the last a trailer-trash film
with a message. ( See the recent 8 Mile or even better the lost classic,
Cockfighter (1974) starring
Warren Oates, directed by Monte Hellman, king of the Bs.) His films have
won awards and been
shown all over the state. He created the Paradise Film Institute to help
himself and others make local
films. Since 1996 Boyd has been producing films, traveling to foreign
film festivals and taking students
along. He has also produced a film with Russian students here in the US
(unshown as of this time)
and a film made in Tanzania – Duara (2002) and a film about making it,
Sound the Drum. In 2000 he
directed a remake of WV’s most famous lost film, Smilin Sid. Below are
two reviews of Paradise by
reviewers for Amazon.com. Access: Facets.com sell the first two films.
Paradise Park (also known
as Heroes of the Heart) is for sale at Amazon.com

*****Paradise Park (a.k.a. Heroes of the Heart): Excellent Movie,
December 7, 2001
Reviewer: A viewer from WV USA
Paradise Park is an excellent movie. I live in southern West Virginia
myself and though it displays a
lot of West Virginia stereotypes, it does it in a hilarious, yet
truthful depiction of our culture.

****Warm-Hearted Fun, November 25, 2002
Reviewer: A viewer from Roanoke, VA
A regional, independent film with some surprisingly good performances &
a decent script. Set in a
poor trailer park in West Virginia, the residents each have a fantasy
about transcending their bleak
lives. The community pulls through at the end (it's a bit corny, but
what the heck)! Cameo
appearances by country-western singers Johnny Paycheck, Webb Wilder, T.
Graham Brown and
Porter Wagoner as the Governor of West Virginia! Wrestler Dusty Rhodes
turns in a decent acting
job as the Sheriff.

7. The Lights (2002) This is the newest film on the list. Ray Schmitt,
a retired Congressional
Researcher and longtime filmmaker and musician, moved to the Lost Valley
in Hardy County. As
soon as he moved to the area, he began hearing stories about UFOs
zooming in all over. He directed
this fictionalized film about a man making a film about UFOs who
suddenly has a missing co-ed on his
hands. Schmitt is also making a documentary about all of the local UFO
stories. Schmitt refused to
use any curse words, thus creating a family-friendly tale using himself
and friends as the actors. He
premiered the film at the WV Filmmakers Film Festival in October 2002,
and only recently (May
2003) screened the film at the local public library. The editor of the
local paper wrote a nice editorial
about how nice it was to have a local filmmaker. Ray has been making
films for decades, usually
doing profiles of unusual people like belly dancers, twig artists,
world-famous nature photographers,
signers for the deaf for musical events, and others. I think that this
film would make a nice
double-feature with Teenage Strangler – they are each just over 60 mins.
Long Access: Patchwork

8. COAL FIELDS( 1984) New York City experimental filmmaker Bill Brand
came to WV in the
early 1980s. He collaged industrial landscapes through a series of
mattes that transform the
photographed scenes into a kinetic field of shapes and spaces. Woven
into the film is the story of
Fred Carter, original poetic text by Kimiko Hahn and sound composition
by Karl Howard. I met Bill
Brand at the First NY Conference on Film Exhibition held in Saratoga
Springs. This film would make
a nice program with Gates’ Communication from Weber. Access: WVLC has a
16-mm print.

9. The Amazing Dolores (1985) Jacob Young, famous worldwide for Dancing
Outlaw, directed this
other part of the Different Drummer series that ran on WVPBS for several
years. Here is the official
description –

45-year-old Charlestonian, Delores Boyd has been
dubbed "Amazing
Delores" by musicians and audiences alike. A lady
with a love for fashion,
her voice has been likened to that of Janis Joplin
with a phrasing of Van
Morrison and an imagery similar to Captain
Beefheart's. She has the soul of
Little Richard and the dance moves of Tina Turner.

All of the films in this series- 14 including Dancing Outlaw – are about
psychotronic people. This
particular episode almost didn’t make it to the air because WVPBS people
thought that the angels
standing on her trailer home gave the state a “bad image.” It ran and
was much appreciated. I got to
know the Amazing Dolores personally, hosting her on my cable TV show.
Michael Lipton, WV
music promoter, produced a record for her. Access: WVLC has the only
known VHS copy. Unlike
Outlaw, it was never promoted. It is a masterpiece!

10. Lost Love (1995) 40 M. Soul Miner NOTE: Preview-Adult Material
West Virginia filmmaker David Claypool tells the story of a young
man who discovers his
murdered "object of desire," a local flower girl. He retrieves the body,
turning her into literally a giant
puppet. In the nightmare world of porno films and snuff movies, he finds
both his dreams and the
horrific truth that lead him to his bitter situation. Filmed on location
in Charleston and Nitro. This film
is indeed lost. Claypool made this film, but shortly thereafter
disappeared from the local filmmaking
scene. Its intensity is extremely high given the fear the local
filmmakers have of showing flesh. Even
the recent Correct Change (2002) did not equal its focus on sex and
perversion. I certainly hope that
it will be shown again in the state and elsewhere. Access: WVLC has only
known copy.

Conclusion: I wish that I had room to include some other films like The
Jolo Serpent Handlers (1978)
or Jacob Young’s magnus opus, the three-hour Holy Cow, Swami! (1996) I
would even like to
include Kevin Carpenter’s coming film, Elk Hotel (2003).
Few people have seen all of the hundreds of films, both short and long,
made in the state over the last
100 years of cinema. [ See my article on Early West Virginia Cinema
posted on the website for
Goldenseal magazine. Most of the above films were NOT included in the
lists Goldenseal published
of New Films on WV/Appalachia from 1979 up to the present. Their policy
is to NOT include
non-family friendly films.]

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