Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Alabama’s Ghost (1973)

          Fairly late in the brief but jam-packed running time of the unclassifiable flick Alabama’s Ghost, the leading character—a nightclub stage manager-turned-superstar magician—loses his cool after surviving a bizarre attack by vampires, then runs into the comforting embrace of his mother, even though he’s a full-grown man. Upon reaching her, the fellow exclaims, “I’m freakin’ out, Mama!” You can’t blame the guy. In fact, chances are you’ll feel the same way after watching Alabama’s Ghost. Although it’s neither well-crafted nor particularly involving, Alabama’s Ghost is thoroughly weird. Consider the bizarre opening salvo. Newsreel-type footage lets us know that in the 1930s, a robot expert named Dr. Caligula was sent by Hitler to Calcutta with the goal of interviewing a famous magician known as the Great Carter about “zeta,” a mystical form of hashish. Say what now?
          Soon afterward, the story cuts ahead in time to an American nightclub where a band plays a creepy song called “Alabama’s Ghost” while the opening credits unfurl. Then we meet our protagonist (Christopher Brooks), a skinny dude working as the band’s stage manager. In a slapstick sequence (yes, really!), he operates a forklift and accidentally breaks open a wall beneath the club, revealing the Great Carter’s cache of costumes and props. Then he tracks down the Great Carter’s sister—or at least the guy in drag who claims to be the Great Carter’s sister. Oh, and at some point during this stretch, the protagonist learns that the Great Carter had “frog skin over his heart,” whatever that means. Using the dead magician’s costumes and props, our protagonist becomes the stage illusionist “Alabama, King of the Cosmos,” at which point the film shifts into a sort of “Devil and Daniel Webster” riff, with the protagonist corrupted by his unchecked ambition. Enter Otto Max (Steven Kent Brown), the talent rep with a vaguely Liverpudlian accent who takes control over Alabama’s skyrocketing career.    
          Despite being set in the ’30s, Alabama’s Ghost becomes more and more ’70s as it goes along, with the protagonist driving a bizarre car shaped like a piece of abstract art, canoodling with groupies, and experiencing what can only be called bad trips. Highlights during the second half of the picture include an extensive jazz-rock dance sequence, and an indescribable bit set in Africa featuring weird magical/tribal signifiers. Good luck discerning which material is meant to occur in “reality” and which occurs inside characters’ addled minds. Moreover, good luck figuring out much of anything regarding Alabama’s Ghost. Is it a blaxploitation joint for the midnight-movie crowd? A druggie picture with a hip music angle? A perverse throwback mixing images from different decades to achieve a bewildering effect? And what’s with all that Biblical stuff in the desert at the end, when the picture becomes an ultraviolent parable?
          Short of ingesting some of whatever the people who made this movie must have been putting into their systems, better to just groove on the movie’s strange rhythms and make of Alabama’s Ghost what you will. That is, if you can come up with any compelling reason to watch the picture in the first place.

Alabama’s Ghost: FREAKY

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