Wicked, Wicked (1973) poster

Wicked, Wicked (1973)


USA. 1973.


Director/Screenplay/Producer – Richard L. Bare, Photography – Frederick Gately, Music – Philip Springer, Organ Solos Played by Ladd Thomas, Art Direction – Walter McKeegan. Production Company – Richard L. Bare-William T. Orr.


David Bailey (Rick Stewart), Tiffany Bolling (Lisa James), Randolph Roberts (Jason Gant), Madeleine Sherwood (Lenore Carradine), Roger Bowen (Simmons), Arthur O’Connell (Mr Findlay), Edd Byrnes (Hank Lassiter), Scott Brady (Sergeant Ramsey), Jack Knight (Bill Broderick), Diane McBain (Dolores Hamilton), Maryesther Denver (Adele Moffett), Indira Danks (Genny)


At the Grandview Hotel in California, house detective Rick Stewart, a former cop who was disgraced after the shooting of an innocent suspect, is asked to investigate a routine case where a guest appears to have vanished without paying her bill. As he looks into the matter, Rick finds that a number of other women, all blondes, have similarly vanished with nobody having heard of them since. Both the police and hotel management think that Rick is being over-imaginative in suspecting foul play. Behind the killings is Jason Gant, a handyman at the hotel who enters the victims’ rooms with passkeys while wearing a mask and stabs the women. One of the guests to sign into the hotel is Rick’s ex-wife, singer Lisa James. Rick and Lisa cautiously debate about restarting their relationship at the same time as Jason befriends Lisa and targets her as his next victim.

Wicked, Wicked is a strange and interesting curio to be able to unearth. The film has not enjoyed a wide reputation and indeed most film commentators dismiss it. It was one of the very last works filmed by Richard L. Bare, a prolific tv director during the 1950s and 60s, and producer William T. Orr who was Warner Brothers’ television head of production during the 1960s.

Wicked, Wicked has been made as a gimmick film. That gimmick being that the whole of the film is shot in split screen – something that the filmmakers refer to as Duo-Vision. This makes for an intriguing narrative device – on one side of the screen, we see Randolph Roberts’ psycho going about his business and on the other side either his target or David Bailey’s detective hunting him with the two screens occasionally merging into one as the two streams of action converge. It is possible that Wicked, Wicked was inspired by Brian De Palma’s novel use of split screen in Sisters (1973), several months earlier the same year.

The use of split screen does present a film with a problem. As Brian De Palma, a frequent user of split screen in his films, notes it is difficult to create a dramatic film while one’s attention is constantly being divided between what is going on in different frames. The other problem that is presented watching Wicked, Wicked even on a 29” screen in a 2.65 :1 aspect ratio is that this makes the picture difficult to watch – it is akin to viewing a film on two different 14” tv screens. The credits at the end are impossible to read, for instance.

Hotel detective David Bailey and psycho Randolph Roberts in Wicked, Wicked (1973) 1
(back to front) Pursuing hotel detective David Bailey and psycho nemesis Randolph Roberts
The masked killer attacks Tiffany Bolling in Wicked, Wicked (1973)
The masked killer (Randolph Roberts) bursts in to attack Tiffany Bolling

That said, I rather liked Wicked, Wicked. There is a cleverness to it at times. Particularly clever are when Richard L. Bare starts using the split screen to act as the equivalent of comic-strip balloons, offering up fantasies of characters’ inner thoughts in contrast to what we are seeing in the other frame – like where Randolph Roberts has flash fantasies of sitting with Tiffany Bolling on the beach, or where he mentions how he is studying chemistry and the other screen cuts to him reading a copy of The Theory of Embalming. There are some clever moments here like where Mrs Carradine tells her lifestory to Randolph Roberts – where she says “I must get my Royal Dalton out of storage” and the other frame cuts to an exterior of a pawn shop; or where she talks about being a ballerina and what we see in the other frame is her as a stripper in front of a jeering crowd, how her mention of happy days with her husband are echoed by the grimmer reality of him drunkenly beating her, or her narration about her husband dying after tripping and hitting his head is contrasted with the image of her whacking him in the head with a poker.

There are times that Richard L. Bare’s direction gets rather silly like when David Bailey has sex with Tiffany Bolling and this is represented by stock footage of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders charging, war footage and the A-bomb exploding, before ending on an American flag. Footage of a woman (Maryesther Denver) sitting playing the organ – and apparently the score that was written to accompany the silent The Phantom of the Opera (1925) – is rather overdone, not the least of which is that the woman seemingly goes through the whole film with a bizarre expression of frozen horror on her face.

You also have to complement Wicked, Wicked for taking the time to establish a credible psychological backstory for its psycho in an era where most Psycho Films took their lead from the contorted Freudian traumas and split personalities/gender confusions of Psycho (1960) and its ilk. The film reaches an amusing end where the detectives and psycho all converge on the hotel attic, the lead detective (Scott Brady) challenges Randolph Roberts who is threatening to jump: “Go ahead. You’re yellow, you’d never jump” and Roberts shrugs and says “okay” and jumps. We then see the jump in slow motion, mirrored in the two split screens while a song plays on the soundtrack. What an appealing whacky ending to a psycho film.

Trailer here

Actors: , , , ,
Themes: ,