The late 1960s saw a rash of films extolling the virtues, or warning of the horrors, of the drug of choice for the summer of love. Notable LSD films include The Trip (1967), directed by cult B-movie king Roger Corman, and starring Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg, Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper, about an advertising executive who escapes the stresses of his job by taking LSD. This film, banned in the UK until 2002, had an unofficial semi-sequel, Psych-Out, reuniting Strasberg, Dern and Nicholson in San Francisco’s happening Haight-Ashbury area, where a deaf girl tries to find her long-lost drop-out brother. These films had relatively high budgets and production values, but other films attempting to cash-in on newspaper headlines are well enough judged by their titles: The Acid Eaters (1968), The Hallucination Generation (1966), Alice in Acidland (1969), Satan’s Sadists (1969) and Movie Star American Style, or LSD I Hate You (1966) combine low budgets and technical ineptitude with lurid, sensationalist content bearing no resemblance to real LSD use. And then there’s The Weird World of LSD.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public DomainThe only research the makers of this 75 minute epic seem to have undertaken is watching drugs exploitation films of the 1930s, scaremongering nonsense such as Reefer Madness (1936), Cocaine Fiends (1935) and Assassin of Youth (1937). Such films, now heralded as camp classics, attempted to convince the viewer that one puff of marijuana leads to immoral behavior, promiscuity, orgies, murder and suicide. The Weird World of LSD simply changes the name of the drug and keeps the message the same, except the film can’t keep even the loosest grip on its moral, with some users shown as having no serious side-effects from using LSD, whereas on others, use of the drug leads to death and disaster.
The Weird World of LSD also employs film-making techniques to make Reefer Madness look like Citizen Kane (1941). If you’ve ever watched Manos The Hands of Fate (1966), Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972) or any of the films of Colman Francis, you’ll know access to cameras and recording equipment isn’t the same as knowing how to build a film, resulting in movies which are almost a different type of art form in themselves, so far do they stray from the regular conventions of narrative and visual imagery. The producers of this film, American Entertainment Association, invested so little money in shooting The Weird World of LSD that director Robert Ground (about whom nothing is known) had to shoot in black-and-white on stock that looks more like Scotch tape than celluloid, and without sound (the giveaway sign of a no-budget 1960s film), with various narrators describing what passes for the action on screen. Along with the sparse details available on the making of the film, which don’t go much beyond the fact shooting took place on location in Tampa, Florida, gives The Weird World of LSD the impression of appearing out of nowhere, like the film on the cursed video cassette in The Ring (2002), only with a worse effect on those watching.
In the first of the film’s vignettes (there’s nothing so expensive as a plot here), a young man lies on a sofa, takes a tab, and hallucinates a cartoon chicken that would not have passed muster in an episode of Roger Ramjet. “We call this trip To Fly A Giant Bird,” the narrator informs us, though who the ‘we’ are is left a mystery, inferring there’s a committee of boffins with thick-rimmed spectacles and no social life, devoted to categorizing LSD trips. As our user flaps his arms and rolls his eyes, the impression is of a child over-acting an illness to get a day off school. If that’s what this guy is attempting, he succeeds a little too well, as he dies of what looks like a mild nosebleed.
There follows a brief interlude showcasing some sketches of what Henry Kissinger might have considered ‘modern art,’ and then we have our credits, all featuring actors, for the most part, with precisely one line on their IMDB page, and we’re watching it. Sadly, the credits do not include character names, leaving it difficult to know who is playing who, especially the three actors at the bottom of the bill who aren’t even provided with first names (Take a bow L Hale, S Johnson and J Willis).
As we watch random scenes, filmed in negative, of people fighting and women adjusting their undergarments, some tepid jazz plays and another narrator (who sounds like a cross between Droopy and Boris Karloff) tells us “LSD has hit the US with the strength of a medieval plague,” and the drug is capable of destroying “a city of 300,000 people.” It also leads to badly parked cars, if this drug seller is anything to by, as he clearly blocks in the car behind him. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for being trapped in a trip, where “an hour can seem an eternity,” in which case the entire film is the most ingenious metaphor conceived by cinema.
We see various youngsters buy from the seller, hoping to experience “a symphony of colors and a sea of sound,” which sounds like good fun. “Congress reacted with suppression,” we learn, implying illegality pushes the drug underground and into the hands of dealers, a line which if followed up, would make The Weird World of LSD quite subversive for its time, but it’s actually just a verbal dead-end and part of the film’s interminable padding.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public DomainOur next scene of mayhem and depravity sees two women, both secretaries straight out of a Gary Larson cartoon, stop for a lunchtime chat at a park café. One of the secretaries is from Maine and feels abandoned and rejected in this “big city,” which seems a little insulting to Maine, which I’m sure has one or two cities of its own. Both women look bored and barely mouth a word to each other. Instead, the narrator lets us know one of the secretaries uses LSD to escape back to her childhood, and the pets she used to love. We see the secretary return to her apartment, where she plays with three adorable kittens; as she rolls around with them on her bed, the secretary almost squashes one of the poor little mites. “She pretends to be a cat and rejects the human world.” Were the secretary from Maine licking milk from a bowl or washing herself in physically improbable manner, I might agree, but if this woman’s gone mad then so have millions of moms and grandmas across America.
The third character study in The Weird World of LSD gives us “Elizabeth Bentley, who lives in her euphoric dreams, but she demands more.” Ms Bentley lounges by a swimming pool in a mismatching bikini and couldn’t look less euphoric if she'd seen a verucca plaster float past. Taking some LSD, Ms Bentley goes for a swim and the next thing we know, she’s wandering around a darkened room full of clothes store mannequins, part of her “search for an elusive ideal.” Elizabeth touches the dummies’ faces and finds one of them is a real live man who’s good at keeping still for no reason. Pleased by finding her elusive ideal, Elizabeth leads him away, only for the man to vanish once her back is turned, similar to how the incidental music cuts out when it thinks no-one is paying attention. Our young lady comes to, and leaves the pool for a spot more sunbathing. Anyone out there horrified yet?
Next we have Martin Gelber, “a successful young salesman,” whose extremely 1960s lounge would instill ennui in an elk, but who turns to LSD not as a result of his choice of interior design, but “under pressure of his next appointment.” Well, best you take a good old dollop of LSD, Martin (and as elsewhere, the tab Martin takes looks more like a cube of cream cheese) and this leads our young clerk to run down the high street, past a branch of Fabric King, while looking in dismay in shop windows, like a Dad who can’t remember which store he left his kids in and the parking meter is almost up. In the end, falls to his knees, tears apart his shirt and collapses. Boy, that next customer must have been a tough sell.
Also finding the business life difficult is James Dunlop, art dealer and Bruno VeSota lookalike, Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Basiliwhose usual solution to stress shows “in his 350 pounds,” says our heartless narrator. “Alone and lonely,” Mr Dunlop has a hectic job and only an empty apartment to look forward to each evening, so naturally enough he turns to LSD. This leads him to stroke and venerate the sub-de Kooning daubs on his wall, but Mr Dunlop comes back to Earth with a bump when he examines his paltry supper, which comprises two thin slices of processed ham. Luckily, LSD transforms this pauper’s meal into “a feast fit for a Roman emperor.” Mr Dunlop rips into a heavily lacquered turkey, corn cobs, fruit cocktails and makes a mess of a bottle of champagne, while wisely ignoring a rather schlumpy-looking gâteaux. Sadly, the dream soon passes, and Mr Dunlop leaves for work again “with fond memories perhaps, his stomach a bit more empty.” This guy is spending a lot on LSD if he can’t afford to buy food, and he didn’t get so rotund on slices of ham. Rather like our art dealer, The Weird World of LSD wants its cake and to eat it. What other travesties can LSD inflict on its unknowing users?