Written by: George Pacheco on December 22nd, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1975
Director: Curt McDowell
Writers: Mark Ellinger, George Kuchar, Curt McDowell
Cast: Marion Eaton, Melinda McDowell, George Kuchar, Mookie Blodgett, Ken Scudder, Bernie Boyle, Mark Ellinger, Laurie Hendricks
BluRay released: December 8th, 2015
Approximate running time: 160 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: DTS-HD Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese
BluRay Release: Synapse Films
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: $39.95
If there was ever any doubt that the 1970s were the most prolific period for transgressive cinema, then Synapse’s 40th anniversary Blu-Ray for filmmaker Curt McDowell’s Thundercrack! serves as the proverbial proof in the pudding.
This slice of arthouse adult horror-cinema takes the idea of “bonkers” to the extreme in its bizarre amalgamation of genres, blatant sexuality and its unrepentantly long running time of nearly three hours. McDowell directs, edits and shoots this film, while his screenwriter/actor George Kuchar take the gothic, haunted house tropes of classic horror and melds them with avant-garde performances and long, rambling monologues from the actors. This creates a surreal viewing experience which is frankly, or maybe thankfully, one of a kind.
One of the most striking aspects of Thundercrack! is how well it’s shot, with gorgeous black and white photography, moody lighting and smart, purposeful framing. McDowell and his whole crew clearly knew what they were doing and what they wanted to create here, with Thundercrack! being so much more than the sum of its parts. Yes, there’s a lot of hardcore material here, but the film uses these sequences just as much for artistic visual impact as it does any sort of prurient interest.
McDowell and Kuchar had been very active shooting gay male loops and shorts, but Thundercrack! presents all of its cast in flagrante delicto with each other, regardless of orientation. The camera lens definitely lingers over the handsome male leads Kuchar, Ken Scudder and Mookie Blodgett with a loving eye, but every actor here has a moment to shine, where their presence on screen is captured exquisitely by the lens, including McDowell’s sister Melinda as Sash and Moira Benson as Roo, whose expressive faces possesses a classic beauty on screen.
The musical score from Mark Ellinger-who also provided the story from which Kuchar’s screenplay was penned-perfectly sets across the old Hollywood vibe McDowell and Co. seem to be going for here, with memorably melodic piano lines and dramatic cues driving home an palpable sense of mood. Ellinger’s work is set on its own during the film’s Intermission (!!) sequence, where the composer’s cues are set to a plain black title screen with white lettering, further driving home comparisons to Thundercrack! and the big-budget studio pictures of yore.
This certainly isn’t a film for everyone, however, particularly not those who are willing to deal with wacky and extreme behavior from the principal cast. Not all of the dialogue works, either, with some of the monologues unsuccessfully drifting off, while other actors occasionally step on each others’ lines. The performances on the whole, however, are incredibly strong, given the story’s over-the-top nature. Marion Eaton is particularly magnetic as Mrs. Gert Hammond, who takes in a group of stranded travelers into her dilapidated mansion during a particularly nasty storm.
Eaton’s performance is simultaneously culled from Old Southern charm -think Rue McClanahan from Golden Girls or Gone With the Wind-and unsettled psychotic, as it’s revealed that Mrs. Hammond has more than a few secrets lurking behind the mansion’s walls. The camera loves her face, and even indulges in some impressive split scene action during a couple of her expository monologues. Sure, one could accuse the performances of Eaton or some of the other actors as being hammy or awkward, but it’s truly admirable how devoted everyone is to their roles, especially assuming that they were all made quite aware of the film’s adult content prior to casting.
Open minded film fans would be well advised to take the Thundercrack! challenge, as it’s virtually guaranteed we’ll never see a film of its like again in our lifetime. If there’s any justice in the world, then the work of Curt McDowell and his one-of-a-kind passion project, cut from a similar cloth, will be featured in the annals of such similar arthouse mavericks as John Waters and David Lynch.
This 1080p Blu-Ray of Thundercrack! has been long time coming from Synapse, the troubled history of its delivery and restoration being detailed on the disc’s excellent liner notes. The 16mm print has undergone some extensive work in both the audio and video departments, giving this disc a presentation which is clearly the result of a lot of love, and even more hard work.
The film is presented in a 1.33:1 full screen aspect ratio, and looks damn sharp, especially when considering the shape of Synapse’s original master. While there are some scratches and damage which pop up immediately after the intermission, Thundercrack! and its cinematography simply look fantastic. The audio portion of the film, according to Synapse’s notes, has always been a point of contention, and it’s true that sometimes dialogue can be muffled when there are a lot of voices or effects on the screen. Still, much of it can be made out, more or less, making this an issue which can easily be forgiven.
Synapse, predictably, went all out with the extras on this release, as well, beginning with an audio interview with McDowell himself, originally recorded in 1972. This interview runs 85 minutes, and is presented on the second of the disc’s audio tracks. There is also a full length documentary included, It Came From Kuchar, which details the life and films of George and Mike Kuchar, who amassed over 200 shorts over the course of their career.
There’s also a completely separate DVD disc of extras here, which includes a number of Curt McDowell’s infamous short films and loops from the world of gay adult cinema in the 1970s. There are also archival interviews with George Kuchar, a 2004 interview with Marion Eaton, a chat with composer Mark Ellinger and a twenty minute interview with McDowell himself. Additional outtakes, deleted scenes and other Thundercrack! footage also are included-including excised sex footage, audition reels and the film’s original trailer-making this a jam packed, damn near perfect disc from a unique and fascinating film for the ages.