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THUNDERCRACK!

A cinematic endurance test to be sure, but an interesting one.  This is the legendary underground opus that interweaves Tennessee Williams-esque dialogue, hard core porn and gothic horror into a bizarre black-and-white micro epic.    

The Package 
     The San Francisco lensed THUNDERCRACK!, released in 1975, was an immediate cult item, and became a longtime staple of the NYC midnight movie circuit.  It’s been speculated that the film, with its ultra-campy account of “normal” folks going sexually bonkers in an old dark house populated by a variety of colorful weirdoes, was an “inspiration” on the similarly themed ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW
     The writer of THUNDERCRACK! was George Kuchar, an underground legend whose films, most of them self-directed, include COLOR ME SHAMELESS (1967), THE MONGRELOID (1978) and ASCENTION OF THE DEMONOIDS (1985).  The director was the late Curt McDowell, most of whose films have vanished from circulation.  THUNDERCRACK! (the exclamation point, FYI, is part of the title) never attained the popularity you might expect among weird movie buffs, due largely to its unprecedented depiction of hard core screwing (much of it of the gay variety) in an otherwise non-pornographic context.
     Nor has the film been at all well-preserved.  Its initial running time was a reported 158 minutes, but was pared down to 122, which nowadays is the only version that remains.  Furthermore, the quality of the remaining prints is negligible at best, marred by bleached-out, scratched-up film stock (this includes the “digitally restored” version released on DVD by Njutafilms).

The Story
     Gert Hammon, a sexually voracious old loon, lives in Prairie Blossom, an ancient, secluded mansion.  She spends her days pining away for her deceased husband, who years earlier was devoured by locusts; his bodily remains are now pickled in jars stored in Prairie Blossom’s basement.  Gert’s son, meanwhile, suffers from elephantitis of the scrotum--contracted while on an expedition in Borneo--and is locked away in a hidden room.
     Late one night a millionaire industrialist and a famous singer are separately driving down country roads with their respective wives.  They end up stranded in Prairie Blossom with a thunderstorm raging outside. 
     All manner of perversion rages over the course of the night, including masturbation, voyeurism, and nearly every conceivable sexual permutation.  Eventually, however, the participants grow suspicious of Prairie Blossom and its inhabitants, especially once the pickled remains of Gert’s hubbie are discovered and her son is loosed from his confinement.  Everyone decides they’ve had enough and takes off in the morning, leaving Gert alone--taking things in stride, Gert gets down and dirty with a cucumber, observing that “People come and go, but cucumbers must stay.”

The Direction 
     THUNDERCRACK! often feels more like a prolonged student film than an honest-to-goodness movie, with oft-clumsy staging and largely terrible performances by non-actors.  Scenes are allowed to drag on for interminable periods of time, and the hard core business isn’t much (in other words, nothing you can’t see in most porno flicks).  Adding to the irritation is the fact that the only existing prints are in deplorable condition, marring what I understand was a superbly photographed film.  And the 122-minute running time is positively mind-numbing; it’s difficult to believe the film was initially over half an hour longer.
     But there are some good, or at least interesting, things herein.  Mike Kuchar’s Tennessee-Williams-on-acid dialogue is rich and fine (even if it is, like everything else in this film, excessive and often interminable), and delivered with gusto by actress Marion Eaton, who also performs at least one projectile vomiting sequence and masturbates with a cucumber.  Eaton was a veteran porn star when she made THUNDERCRACK!, and is easily the best part of the movie, fully embodying its campy and excessive aesthetic.  Still, this is definitely a film that’s more fun to read about than actually sit through!  


Vital Statistics 

THUNDERCRACK!
Thomas Brothers Film Studio 

Director/Cinematographer/Editor: Curt McDowell
Producers: Charles Thomas, John Thomas
Screenplay: George Kuchar
Cast:  Marion Eaton, Melinda McDowell, George Kuchar, Mookie Blodgett, Ken Scudder, Bernie Boyle, Mark Ellinger, Laurie Hendricks, Moira Benson, Virginia Giritlian, Michelle Gross, Rick Johnson
 


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