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MGM Studios DVD presents
Psych-Out / The Trip (1968/1967)

"You've got to do just exactly like they say. You've got to turn off your mind and relax. Then, just float downstream. Okay?"
- John (Bruce Dern)

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: April 14, 2003

Stars: Jack Nicholson, Susan Strasberg, Dean Stockwell, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Salli Sachse
Other Stars: Adam Roarke, Max Julien, Katherine Walsh, Luana Anders, Gary Marshall, The Seeds, Strawberry Alarm Clock
Director: Richard Rush (Psych-Out),
Roger Corman (The Trip)

Manufacturer: Sunset Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for nudity, language, sexual situations
Run Time: 02h:48m:48s
Release Date: April 15, 2003
UPC: 027616885555
Genre: cult


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A B+A-B+ A

DVD Review

God bless MGM, particularly the folks in charge of their Midnite Movies division. While other studios make us sit on our hands waiting for much requested favorites to surface, these guys have been delivering the goods. Thanks to their ownership of the classic American International Pictures oeuvre, Christmas has come at least three to four times a year in the last 24 months for lovers of classic drive-in fare: virtually all the Beach Party movies, Roger Corman's classic Edgar Allan Poe adaptations and many a cult favorite including The Wild Angels, "X" The Man With the X-Ray Eyes and The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

The latest go round of Midnite Movie releases includes a mind-bender of a double bill, Psych-Out and The Trip, both from the era of peace and love I've heard much about. Sometimes time is not kind to movies of another era, so I braced myself for the possibility of these efforts not living up to legend. But three hours later, I was grinning wider than the Cheshire cat.

Psych-Out is an atmospheric slice of psychedelic cheese from 1968, produced by America's oldest living teenager himself, Dick Clark. Arriving smack dab at the corner of San Francisco's Haight/Ashbury in the middle of the "Summer of Love," Jenny Davis (Susan Strasberg) is a fresh-off-the-bus runaway in search of her missing brother, Steve (Bruce Dern). Stepping into a nearby hippie hangout, she crosses paths with a sarcastic, ponytailed musician with the appropriate moniker of Stoney (Jack Nicholson). While attempting to make small talk, he discovers Jenny is deaf and proceeds to use her condition as a source of cruel ridicule until getting wind of her emotional situation.

With aid from his band, Mumblin' Jim, Stoney becomes Jenny's protector, shielding her from the cops (including a very young Gary Marshall), getting her some new swingin' threads and providing a little lovin' (or as the kids say today, nookie). In between gigs, the quest to find Jenny's misplaced sibling moves onward. Word on the street has it that Steve has pulled a Cat Stevens and is now known as "The Seeker." Providing more obstacles than the police are a group of hippie-hating thugs who would like nothing better than to do away with the likes of Stoney and his long-haired brethren, not to mention Seeker Steve.

Energetically directed by maverick filmmaker Richard Rush with mesmerizing documentary-style photography courtesy then-unknown Laszlo Kovacs, Psych-Out had me more giddy than Dennis Miller on a euphemism overload. Put aside its naturally dated aspects and you have a beyond cool cult movie that doubles as a time capsule of a pivotal period of the counter-culture. In addition, there's the novelty of seeing a young Jack Nicholson at his early, mellow, hippy-dippy best, along with early appearances by a supporting cast full of future stars, including an almost unrecognizable Bruce Dern, Dean Stockwell (who looks like he just came from the grounds of Monterey Pop) and Broadway veteran Strasberg.

Adding to the enjoyment level are rare filmed appearances by two of the West Coast's most popular bands at the time: The Seeds and The Strawberry Alarm Clock (sharp-eyed viewers will recognize future Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Ed King). However, these combos don't provide the musical high point of the film. That honor goes to the movie's psuedo-rock unit Mumblin' Jim. In vintage 1960s fashion, when you had actors that had never picked up a musical instrument in their lives, strategically placed dancing extras and extreme close-ups help create an instant super group riffing their way through what sounds uncannily like Purple Haze played backwards (as it may have been arranged by Vanilla Fudge). Only the performance of Fourteeen or Fight in Wild in the Streets (a Roger Corman-produced gem sorely needed on DVD) rivals it for sheer unintentional hilarity.

The Trip is a 1967 film that also features the talents of Nicholson, but in an off-screen role as screenwriter. If the graveyard scene in Easy Rider was a turn-on, this is your ticket to ride, baby; 79 minutes of sheer psychedelic euphoria as fine-tuned and crafted by director Roger Corman.

Paul Groves (Peter Fonda) is an ambitious television commercial director looking to broaden his horizons on a chemical level. So, with a little help from his friend Max (Dennis Hopper) and drug guru John (Bruce Dern), Paul takes his first tab of LSD and proceeds to take his confidante's advice to "relax and float downstream." (Quick trivia: Did you know that Peter Fonda helped inspire the classic Beatles track She Said, She Said via a poolside conversation in Los Angeles with John Lennon while the actor was on a real life trip of his own? Screenwriter Nicholson had to be paying homage to the witty guitarist and his bass playing mate by naming the two main characters John and Paul.)

Quicker than one can say cranberry sauce, Groves is buzzing as we're shifted back and forth between reality and his chemically-altered state. Oranges and seashells become centers of the universe; nature walks segue into sensual sex with multiple partners. But a pleasant lift off turns sour when darker trips with disturbing images begin to hint at potential tragedy. Through it all, John remains by Paul's side with an emergency hit of Thorazine in case the first-timer can't come down from his high naturally. As evening shadows fall, that latter scenario is looking more possible as John steps out to get Paul a glass of apple juice in hopes that will help calm the madness in his head. Leaving someone alone in the midst of a drug trip for even a few seconds is about as bright an idea as leaving an untrained dog unattended with Grandma's prized throw pillows scattered about. As you might guess, Paul escapes into the bright lights of the Sunset Strip, which have never looked more colorful or vivid. Yet haunting and uncontrollable thoughts laced with paranoia continue, leaving us wondering if Paul will ever come down from his unnatural high.

Coming off my own cinematic high with the exhilarating Psych-Out, The Trip was a bit of an anti-climatic experience. Not as coherent or involving as the A-side of this double decker, it still has its moments, mainly due to superb technical work courtesy of editor Ronald Sinclair, montage assembler Dennis Jakob and the special effects trio of Peter Gardiner, Bob Beck and Allen Daviau, whose kaleidoscope visuals were groundbreaking at the time. Thanks to their handiwork, flaws like Fonda's initial stiffness and a mid-film psychoanalysis scene set on a merry-go-round (!) that falls flat are easier to forgive.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: If only every movie of 1960s vintage could look as vibrant as these two, particularly Psych-Out. Both films are taken from very well-preserved prints, with very little in the way of noticeable defects, and the folks at Sunset Digital did a marvelous job of fine-tuning them. Other than a few moments in Trip where the colors appear muted, both of these movies look fabulous.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish (Psych-Out); English, Spanish (The Trip)yes


Audio Transfer Review: Psych-Out is hands down the most impressive sounding of the duo, with a two-channel mono mix that possesses so much presence, it sounds almost stereophonic at times. Every esoteric line of dialogue is easily understood and the bottom end sounds fantastic during the musical sequences. The Trip suffers in comparison with a very muddy track (also 2-channel monophonic) that could have benefited greatly from a total re-mix (in fact some of the music used in this film is heard in gloriously clean stereo during the supplemental material adding credence to this).

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Roger Corman
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Love and Haight Featurette (:19m:29s)
  2. Tune In, Trip Out Featurette (:17m:14s)
  3. Allen Daviau, ACS: Psychedelic Film Effects Featurette (:07m:58s)
  4. Psychedelic Light Box (Psychedelic Images Montage) (:05m:43s)
  5. Bob Beck American Cinematographer Magazine Excerpt
Extras Review: Good golly Miss Molly, where do I begin? Three very informative, insightful and very entertaining mini-documentaries, your very own psychedelic light box and an excerpt from a film tech magazine written by Trip special effects guru, Bob Beck.

Love and Haight is a very nicely done and quickly paced overview of the film with new interviews from producer Dick Clark, co-star Bruce Dern, director Richard Rush and cinematographic genius Laszlo Kovacs. A refreshing change of pace from the fawning and butt kissing of most featurettes, this 19-minute presentation fascinates from top to bottom with great stories, including how American Bandstand's change of scenery to the West Coast in the mid 1960s helped sow the seeds for the film; Kovac's innovative techniques in spite of a low budget; and the trend setting gimmick of featuring original music by popular bands of the time that helped pave the way for the likes of Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and The Strawberry Statement, all of which used music to further enhance their effectiveness.

Tune In, Trip Out features new interviews with director Roger Corman, co-star Dern and special effects tech Allen Daviau. Like the previous featurette, lots of fun and insightful tidbits including Corman's description of his one and only LSD trip, which he felt he had to take to lend credibility to the film. One revelation I found extremely funny and fascinating was Dern's straight arrow lifestyle, which is in sharp contrast to his on-screen persona (in fact, he came "this" close to qualifying for the Olympics in the mid-1960s); the veteran actor was one of the few participants on and behind the set that wasn't on any drug of any kind. Nicholson devotees will get a kick out of Dern's description of the actor's perfectionist streak as he recalls how the future screen legend came on to the set to inspect props and set designs to assure as accurate a portrayal as possible.

Four other extras wind up an already impressive package: Allen Daviau, ACS Psychedelic Film Effects brings back the likeable effects whiz for more behind-the-scenes tales that, while technical in nature, give an excellent insight in how those incredible multi-patterned psychedelic displays came to life. Psychedelic Light Box is a nifty five-minute montage of the film's most memorable visual set pieces as a medley of score highlights from The American Music Band plays in the background (in beautiful re-mixed stereo, I might add); in a cool touch, the montage will automatically replay over and over to your heart's desire until you've had enough. American Cinematographer Article features a behind-the-scenes piece authored by Bob Beck, with rare photos. Finally, director Corman contributes a laid back but fact filled commentary. Among the more notable revelations are how American International Pictures inserted a cautionary prologue to the film against his wishes and the challenges he faced in working with and simplifying Nicholson's ambitious script (which makes me wonder if Jack took some of those deleted concepts and re-worked them for the much superior Head, the Monkees' cult classic, which he co-wrote with Bob Rafelson).

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Another worthy addition to MGM's Midinite Movies line with two of Hollywood's first forays into the drug culture, combined on one value-packed disc with happenin' extras, man. Early Jack, day-glo painted go-go girls, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, psychedelic freak-outs and Dennis Hopper setting a world's record for multiple use of the word "man" in a single sentence, man. What more could you want, man?!

 


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