Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Suicide Cult (1975)

... aka: Astrologer, The

Directed by:
James Glickenhaus

In India, dangerous sociopathic cult leader Kajerste (Mark Buntzman, who also produced) is keeping busy performing ritualistic mutilations and "public defloration ceremonies." He's such a bad dude that he's wanted for crimes committed in at least three different countries. Authorities from different parts of the world gather together at a conference to discuss this new threat. The top secret group is called Interzod and one of its highest ranking members is professor and scientist Alexei Abernal (Bob Byrd), who's been blending technological advances with astrology. He informs the panel "We are now able to use computers to accurately determine an individual's zodiacal potential for response to environmental situations and stimuli." Say what? Make sure to keep that phrase on the tip of your tongue, because it will spill from your mouth frequently as you're slogging your way through this highly confusing film. From what I gathered, Alexei's research has determined that one's birthday and thus their astrological sign can determine one's "zodiacal potentional;" whether they are destined to live just a normal life, destined for greatness or destined to commit atrocities. Of course, Kajerste has scored extremely high on the evil scale - he's up there with Hitler - and must be stopped.

So it's 10 minutes into the film and we've already been to five different cities in three different countries. Make that four different countries: We're now off to London, England. Alexei arrives at Heathrow Airport, runs across young Congressman Joe Harwell (Al Narcisse) and decides to give him a lift on his private jet. He asks the Congressman if he wants to join his organization. Meanwhile, Alexei's very naive new wife Kate (Monica Tidwell) goes to New York City to see spiritual advisor Mother Bogarde. Sensing she is possessed by evil and that evil is forcing her to be dishonest, the psychic has her remove her clothes and change into a robe to "strip away your pretenses." When Kate returns home to Maryland, she talks this over with her husband. For some strange reason, Kate doesn't seem to know her own birthday or has changed it because Alexei told her to. He also keeps security close at hand to watch over her, seldom introduces her to his friends and lies to her about what he does for a living. Even stranger, Alexei has never had sex with his wife and they've been married for five months. Kate is frustrated and confused. Alexei takes her to Arlington, Virginia to visit an old archeologist who is trying to use ancient documents to uncover the Virgin Mary's birthdate (?).

Interzod member Ellen (Alison McCarthy) concocts a scheme to sneak into Kajerste's camp and assassinate him. She plans on shooting him with a tranquilizer dart and, while he's out, placing electrodes on him to then sending videotape transmissions using a double to trick him into stabbing himself with a poisoned knife (??) Let's hear it again folks: Say what? Congressman Joe decides to go along with her. When Ellen finally encounters Kajerste, he uses his mesmeric / hypnotic abilities to make her stab herself with the knife, then Joe is killed by the cult. Back in America, Kate returns to the psychic for advise, but a man possessed by Kajerste tries to hunt her down until the psychic stabs him to death. The archeologist finally gets together enough information to come up with the Virgin Mary's birthdate and it turns out Kate has the same exact extremely rare zodiacal configuration as Mary. In fact, as a teen Kate had an immaculate conception of her own and ended up giving her baby over to the Catholic church. Kajerste has a extremely rare zodiacal configuration himself...

Originally (and more accurately) titled The Astrologer, this was a downright painful viewing experience. It's not painful in the usual boring / inept / derivative kind of way though, but painful because we have to sit and watch a potentially fascinating idea being botched right before our very eyes. The film boasts a premise that's completely unique, which is something one doesn't stumble across too often in this genre. The problem is that the whole thing is so talky, needlessly complicated and confusing that it's a true test of endurance to make it all the way to the end. The film begins to tie up some of the loose ends after a certain point but ends abruptly on a very ambiguous note and fails to complete the job. For its obviously very low budget, there's definite ambition here. It's simply not executed all that well. Scene transitions are often done using negative images, we get constant reaffirmation of places, dates and times scrolled out on a computer screen and, though there's little violence and no gore, there are some slideshows featuring actual corpses which are pretty grisly. The actors range from average to awful, but they're hardly the biggest problem here.

It was the directorial debut of James Glickenhaus, who'd go to make the violent exploitation hit THE EXTERMINATOR (1980) and a few other films before becoming a producer. His company Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment would produce such films as MANIAC COP (1987), BASKET CASE 2 and 3 (1990, 91) and many others; primarily in the action and horror genres. The company folded in 1995 and Glickenhaus became a Wall Street trader. Leading lady Tidwell (who provides some nudity) was a 1973 Playboy Playmate and went on to a small role in the vampire comedy NOCTURNA before turning her attentions to Off-Broadway plays. The rest of the cast seem to be complete unknowns in more ways that one. There aren't any familiar faces and the end credits are so small and blurry I couldn't even make out any of the names.

The copyright date appears to be 1977 but, again, I couldn't quite make it out. The film is usually listed in reference books and online as being released in 1975, so I'll stick with that for the time being. It played theatrically under the Astrologer title, then was released in 1986 by Continental Video under the misleading Suicide Cult title (also the title of a 1982 theatrical reissue).


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