I pick these movies up one at a time on cable and elsewhere so I don’t have access to the Val Lewton box set bonus material which would explain why it’s his name I always hear associated with this and Cat People instead of Robson and Tourneur. This one is more eventful than Cat People, has quite a large cast and a packed, twisty plot for a seventy minute film.

Mary (Kim Hunter of A Matter of Life and Death in her first film role) is told by her school that her sister Jacqueline quit paying her bills six months ago so she’ll have to go home. Mary heads for scary, shadowy Manhattan to locate her sister and gets caught up in all kinds of intrigue. Turns out the sister joined a satanic cult (the most gentle, mild satanic cult I’ve ever seen in a movie) and mentioned it to her psychologist Dr. Judd. Well, the first rule of the satanic cult is you do not talk about the satanic cult, so the members have been hiding her away trying to get her to kill herself. Sorta. She found time to get married (to a dude named Greg Ward) and she continues to see Dr. Judd at least once a week, and she’s spotted around town, so the seclusion thing doesn’t seem to be happening – plus the cult sends a man with a knife after her towards the end, kinda defeating the get-her-to-kill-herself angle.

Mary falls sorta in love with her sister’s husband, and a poet who hangs out at the Italian restaurant under her apartment (called Dante) falls sorta in love with her, and I can’t tell whose side the doctor is on, exactly. A craggy-faced private investigator with no known motive tries to help Mary but gets killed by Jaq by accident. Jaq shows up then disappears then is easily located again. The cult members ask very politely and straightforwardly for her to drink poison, but she just won’t. Finally Dr. Judd and either the husband or the poet (it’s not important) tell off the cult by invoking the lord’s prayer (good luck with that) and Jaq has an intriguing chat with a sick, dying neighbor then goes and hangs herself.

Kim Hunter with private eye Mr. August (Lou Lubin, was a bartender in Scarlet Street)

(L-R): Jason the poet (Erford Gage of Curse of the Cat People), Dr. Judd (Tom Conway of Cat People, 12 to the Moon, The She Creature, Bride of the Gorilla) and secret husband Greg Ward (Hugh Beaumont of The Human Duplicators and The Mole People, also the Beaver’s dad on TV)

More weirdness: The woman who bought Jaq’s cosmetics company, Mrs. Reddy, uses a satanic symbol as her brand trademark (not too subtle for a secret society). The society has presumably coerced six others to kill themselves before (hence the title). And they go on about something that sounds like “the pilates movement.”

The Satanic Cult, led by a guy whose name I didn’t catch

Jacqueline (Jean Brooks of The Leopard Man and some 40’s serials) stares down a glass of poison

Katy told me Jack Black was in a depression after this movie failed, so I felt bad for skipping it and thought I’d rent it to cheer the guy up. Maybe it’s director Liam Lynch who’s in a depression… if your feature debut bombs, do you get a second chance? I hope he’s at least working on a second album (and more music videos).

The celeb cameos are as good as you could hope for – meaning the film isn’t weighed down by the awkward injection of whichever actors would say yes, but they actually have funny parts that work with the movie. Amy Poehler as a waitress: (“do we have to pay for all these refills?”, “No, you’re so pretty you get everything for free.”), Neil Hamburger gets about one line, Dave Grohl was apparently the devil, Tim Robbins is surprisingly good at silly comedy under lots of makeup – only Ben Stiller is a problem as a prophetic Guitar Center employee, and even that is only because his scene goes on too long.

After an outstanding musical intro (a kid who is perfect as a young Jack Black with Meat Loaf as his metal-disapproving father), the D members meet and perform open mic nights, but in order to win the big open-mic grand prize they’ll need the titular pick made from satan’s horn. It’s a mix of some original episodes (biggest fan Lee is in the movie; they borrow then trash his car) and music videos (the final scene is basically the “Tribute” video with a less catchy song, and there’s a hilarious shroomy Sasquatch sequence). Kept me entertained.

I’ve always wondered about this one. In my mind it represented all the non-musical Potter plays, the other half of his career, and so I had to coax myself into finally watching it for fear it’d damage my image of the great man. Liked it for sure, but don’t think I would’ve been hooked if this was the first one of his plays/adaptations I’d seen. Well-written, subversive, but dark as all hell… I am surprised this guy was allowed to work in television.

Over two decades before The Blair Witch Project:

Michael Kitchen (Out of Africa, recurring role in recent James Bond flicks) is Martin, an evil young man who bumps into strangers on the street and tries to convince them that they know each other. Denholm Elliott (A Room with a View, Bad Timing, best known as a good guy in the Indiana Jones movies) almost falls for it then ditches him, but Martin stole Elliott’s wallet, takes it home and easily talks his way into the house with the wife Patricia Lawrence (in Potter’s Son of Man a few years earlier). Martin sees that their daughter Pattie is lying brain-damaged at home and fakes that he was an ex of hers who was turned down for marriage, offers to help care for her, acts ever so polite. Elliott is suspicious but doesn’t move fast enough, and Martin integrates himself. The wife might be gullible, but she’s also so weary from taking care of Pattie constantly and jumps at the chance to leave her in compassionate hands for a few hours each day. One night when Martin is about to rape Pattie for at least the second time, she wakes up screaming, aware of herself at last, and Martin flees, immediately starts looking for a new family.

Move mouse over image to see Michael Kitchen get over-excited:

Barry Davis (who also directed Potter’s Schmoedipus the same year) keeps things lively on a miniscule budget. The not-at-all-naturalistic lighting effects (see first screenshot) are especially nice. From the initial street scene on, it stays remarkably intense, bizarre and horrifying. Martin has supernatural powers and hairy demon feet. He talks politics with the family, encourages their own worst impulses. Potter writes: “Deport them, that’s what I say. England for the English” into the mouth of the devil. Then of course there’s the home invasion aspect, the rape of a mentally damaged girl and the miracle ending. This was banned for eleven years (“brilliantly written and made, but nauseating”) – that’s why IMDB lists it as a 1987 release. The theatrical remake starring Sting was actually the first version released in the UK.

Denholm Elliott:

My favorite line… having some brandy – “There’s fluoride in the water, so are you able to drink it neat, dear?”