A prime example of what critic/novelist Kim Newman termed a “Weird Hippie Shit” movie, an early seventies production about bikers and witches. It’s every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, although it does contain a wealth of acting talent.
HEX was filmed in 1971, under the working title GRASSLAND, but not released until 1974, by which time its sixties counterculture ambiance was hopelessly outdated. It marked the starring debut of Keith Carradine, and featured his father John in a performance that was included only in the European prints of HEX, and hasn’t turned up on its VHS or DVD versions.
Speaking of which: HEX was released on VHS as THE SHRIEKING, and on DVD as CHARMS.
The early 1900s: several motorcycle-riding ruffians, apparently the world’s first-ever biker gang, cause a ruckus in a town square. They’re chased away by gun-toting locals, and end up taking refuge on the home of two strange sisters, one blonde and one brunet. What none of the guys know is that the gals have supernatural powers bequeathed by their long-dead magician father.
The group spend the night getting stoned on “loco weed” and having sex. But when a biker tries to take one of the ladies by force he’s killed by a malevolent owl.
The following day a funeral is held and the brunette finds herself falling for one of the bikers. She spies her sister coming onto the guy and grows extremely jealous; she gets even by sewing a toad’s mouth shut, which somehow causes the blonde sister to experience horrific visions.
By now the bikers are growing suspicious of their surroundings, especially after another of them dies, this time from a gun that unexpectedly blows up in his face. The surviving bikers opt to take off, but the ladies have other ideas, and put those plans into action by blowing up the guys’ bikes…
For an early seventies counter-culture product this is a surprisingly coherent piece of work, but there’s still plenty of laughable self-indulgence on hand: a plethora of unmotivated freeze-frames, a loopy psychedelic sequence, etc.
In fact, the film could have used more such scenes, because it’s quite dull. The narrative is uneventful, the filmmaking uninspired and even the acting isn’t much. Despite all the future stars in the cast, including Keith Carradine, Scott Glenn and Gary Busey, none of the actors ever make much impression—-although actress Christina Raines is quite compelling from a purely visual standpoint.
To be fair, there is one aspect in which HEX stands out, and that’s the surprisingly memorable honkytonk score by Charles Bernstein. Of course the music hardly fits the images, although, this film being what it is, I’m guessing that was at least partially intentional on the part of the filmmakers.
HEX (a.k.a. THE SHRIEKING)
Twentieth Century Fox
Director: Leo Garen
Producer: Clark Paylow
Screenplay: Leo Garen, Steve Katz
Cinematography: Charles Rosher, Jr.
Editing: Robert Belcher, Antranig Mahakian
Cast: Keith Carradine, Scott Glenn, Gary Busey, Hilary Thompson, Robert Walker Jr, Christina Raines, Dan Haggerty, Mike Combs, Doria Cook, Tom Jones, Iggie Wolfington, Pat Blymyer, Billy Ellison, Richard Strockton