Psych-Out
U.S.A / 1968
Directed by Richard Rush
Starring
Susan Strasberg
Jack Nicholson
Dean Stockwell
Color / 89 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD
Double Feature Disc / R1 - NTSC

MGM Home Entertainment
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
5
    9   10 = Highest Rating  
Before his breakout role in Easy Rider and achieving stardom in the '70s, Jack Nicholson spent the early phase of his long career appearing in low budget horror, biker and western films, most notably for Roger Corman and Monte Hellman. Psych-Out an AIP quickie produced by America's Immortal Teenager, Dick Clark (American Bandstand), to cash in on San Francisco's drug-fueled "Summer of Love" came at the very end of this formative period. If you ever wanted to see ol' Jack draped in love beads, sporting a ponytail and air guitaring very badly to laughably faux Hendrix, this is your movie.
    The biker film model is utilized here, so there's very little plot to get in the way of showing the characters doing their thing and living the lifestyle. We're introduced to the Haight-Ashbury scene by Jenny (The Trip's Susan Strasberg), a young deaf runaway who's come to San Francisco in search of her older brother Steve. At a coffee shop she falls in with a group of pot smoking musicians led by Stoney (Nicholson), who takes a shine to her. When Jenny comes up empty-handed in the search for her sibling, Stoney and Co. offer to let her crash at their pad while they help her look for him. By all accounts brother Steve, a Jesus freak known as "The Seeker", discovered God in a sugar cube and has pretty much vanished. They learn that he's made some enemies among a crew of rednecks who hang out at the city dump. (Just what their beef is with him is never explained.) There's an action scene as Stoney and his bandmates beat up the rednecks when they try to accost Jenny... So much for "make love, not war". (One of the hippies starts tripping during the fight, visualizing himself as a knight-errant battling a Jabberwocky-like dragon.) Jenny tries to adjust to life at the crowded, shabby commune-style house the guys live at as she falls in love with Stoney. The feeling is mutual but Stoney's uncomfortable with the thought of a regular relationship cramping his groupie action on the side. When the opportunity for a potentially lucrative gig presents itself, the band's hippy dippy guru, Dave (The Dunwich Horror's Dean Stockwell), warns Stoney about selling out to grasp the brass ring of success. (Why would anyone consider taking advice from an acid-head who lives in a box?) Finally, the sought-after Seeker (Bruce Dern in a really bad wig) makes an appearance, babbling nonsense, but his reunion with Jenny is thwarted by tragedy. Since the film was produced by Dick Clark the taking of hallucinogenic drugs would have to be shown as detrimental... The titular "psych-out" occurs when Jenny, thinking she's been jilted by Stoney, downs a super-potent acid cocktail prepared by Dave. A surprising number of on-set (as opposed to optical) special effects and pyrotechnics are used to illustrate her real bummer of a trip.
    While too commercial to be counted as one of the emblematic films of the hippy period, Psych-Out makes for mildly entertaining cinema if only for the presence of its soon-to-be-famous main cast, the nutty dialog ("It's all just a big plastic hassle, man") and a couple of groovy tunes supplied by The Strawberry Alarm Clock. ("Incense and Peppermints" being the only recognizable hit. The languid, psychedelic rock song that plays over the opening credits is pretty catchy, too.) Due to the participation of director Richard Rush (The Stunt Man) and cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs (Shampoo, Ghostbusters) the flick is lensed much better than it has any right to be. A freak-out scene, in which Stoney's LSD-trippin' artist buddy sees his friends as menacing zombies, is pretty funny.
    Despite some less than convincing hairdos (most of the main male actors had to wear hippy wigs), Psych-Out is a tie-dyed time capsule that should bring back memories for any middle aged cult movie enthusiast. Man, that whole "free love" thing must've been great.

Psych-Out is the A-side flick on an MGM Midnite Movie double feature DVD pairing it with Roger Corman's The Trip (1967). It's an absolutely terrific disc. Not only do you get two films but a surprising number of bonus features for an exceptionally low price. The Trip (which we hope to review sometime down the road) gets the lion's share of the extras no less than three (!) featurettes and a Roger Corman audio commentary. Pysch-Out rates only a single documentary in addition to the theatrical trailer but it's a good one running over 19 minutes. Director Rush, producer Clark, cinematographer Kovacs and Bruce Dern all weigh in with their recollections of the picture; Rush and Kovacs go into some detail about the "rack focus" technique used in many of the film's key sequences.
    The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer isn't the greatest in terms of visual quality (there's grain and occasional speckling) but it gets the job done well enough for a low budget film that's 35 years old. The mono audio track is somewhat flat and certainly doesn't do the music justice; dialog, however, is clear and readily understandable. (Note: EC's DVD rating of "9" factors in both films and all the extras for each.) 9/01/03
UPDATE This DVD went OOP in 2005; during 2008 it was made available again, albeit in very limited quantities.
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