Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomena (1976)



          More entertaining “nonfiction” silliness from the folks at Sunn Classic Pictures, The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomena is a journalistically dubious survey of various mental powers that people have claimed to possess throughout history. You name it, it’s in here: astral projection, precognition, spirits, telekinesis, and so on. Actor Raymond Burr, summoning all of his Ironside-era gravitas, hosts and narrates the picture, which comprises archival footage, dramatic re-enactments, interview snippets, and cheesy vignettes of Burr “participating” in staged experiments. This is the Sunn Classics formula in full bloom, with a barrage of unsubstantiated facts and figures thrown at the audience alongside creepy dramatic scenes right out of a low-budget horror movie.
          For example, one early scene features a woman piloting a small plane until she receives a telepathic “distress call,” at which point she diverts her plane to a highway 70 miles distant and rescues her mother from a flaming car crash. Later in the movie, a woman and her young child freak out during the seeming visit of an apparition to their home—the duo watches, terrified, as their front door appears to undulate in tune with a mysterious breathing sound. Fantastic claims are presented without skepticism, as are guest stars including famed ’70s Israeli mentalist Uri Geller (who does his signature routine of bending spoons with his mind).
          It’s hard to differentiate the genuinely unsettling exhibitions from the outright nonsense, because everything is explored with the same degree of wide-eyed intensity. At its worst, the movie features laughably loose logic. “If we continue to exist after our physical bodies die,” Burr asks at one point, “is it possible to communicate from one world to the another? One way of communicating between these two worlds is with the help of a medium, at what is popularly known as a séance.” Notice the quick shift from speculating about alternate dimensions to treating them as documented reality. Or consider this howler of a voiceover line: “The best evidence for the existence of spirits is that presented by the owners of haunted houses.” Because, of course, haunted houses are indisputably real.
          Still, as with all of Sunn Classic Pictures’ wonderfully irresponsible documentaries, the goal of The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomena is simply to catalog creepy-crawly maybes on the fringes of the known world. So, by the time the movie barrels through things like Kirlian photographs and mentalists who “psychometrize” the identities of murderers by studying objects found at murder scenes, it’s easier to go with the entertaining flow than to worry about veracity.

The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomena: FUNKY

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