US | 1975 | Directed by Curt McDowell
Logline: Two pairs of friends find themselves stranded in a remote household in the middle of a storm, swapping stories from their past, teasing the homeowner, and engaging in sexual activity.
“The coin of sexuality always has two faces.”
Not all yarns have happy endings, but some happy endings have a bit of a yarn in them. Certainly the homestead of Prairie Blossom has a few cracked tales between her legs, er, its walls. Mrs. Gert Hammond (Marion Eaton) is keen to spill a few, beans and all. But cocktails first, questions later. There’s a knock at the door, or was that another clap of thunder? Ol’ Gertie is a bit under the weather, and she prefers to be on top - reverse cowgirl, if you don’t mind me implyin’. A madam caller is here, a Miss Willene Cassidy (Maggie Pyle), wet through, but a little green behind the ears. But to her, Mrs. Hammond looks like something the cat dragged in! Soon ol’ Gertie is in the bath and Miss Willene is working her clean and dirty magic.
As the night wears on, more strangers descend upon the creaky mansion. Chandler (Mooke Blodgett) and Bond (Ken Scudder), Sash (Melinda McDowell) and Roo (Moira Benson), and Toydy (Rick Johnson). These five cats and dogs have skeletons in the closet and they wish to rattle some bones. It will take the arrival of Bing (George Kuchar), late in the piece, a carnie with a hairy secret he’s itching to scratch, to bring everything to a throbbing head. But first, let’s lay down a few key strokes.
George Kuchar was one of the pioneers of the American underground film scene. Along with his brother Mike, they immersed themselves in the DIY indie aesthetic of the period, along with other shakers and movers such as Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger. Kuchar made more than two-hundred films and videos. He taught film at the San Francisco Art Institute for forty years, until his death in 2011. He became a close friend and mentor to Curt McDowell and he provided the screenplay for Thundercrack! based on a story idea of McDowell and Mark Eillinger, who scored the film’s Golden Aged music.
Thundercrack! was in many ways a labour of passion between the two men. McDowell not only directed, but also shot and edited the two-and-a-half hour film (actually, two hours forty if you include its original ten-minute intermission!). George did the makeup and helped with the special effects and lighting. The producers were Charles and John Thomas, who financed the movie with funds from their fast-food chain inherited fortune. It was shot on 16mm in monochrome, an adventurous move for such an adult movie, as by the mid-70s there were no blue movies being made in black and white.
But Thundercrack! is no ordinary blue movie. This “very strange film” (as one of its many tagline’s proclaimed) is a hybrid creature as alluring as it as alienating, as exotic as it is erotic, as daggy as it is perverse, and certainly as weird as it is wild. Imagine John Waters arriving at The Frankenstein Place from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, getting stoned and falling asleep and having a wet dream about Freaks. Maybe not. Maybe, I should just shut up and let you venture into Prairie Blossom abode and make your own mind up!
Just make sure you have a bunch of bananas with you. And maybe you should sniff the cucumbers before you take a bite.
There is much to lap up and much to wrinkle your nose at, it depends on your disposition. Thundercrack! is an acquired taste, much like salty anchovies. I must champion the presence of Marion Eaton, whose performance as Gertie Hammond is like something out of a Shakespearean brothel. She binds the movie together like a yeasty secretion. You can smell her oozing off the screen, it’s something to behold. The men all have rubber arms, curling facial hair, and dicks just as pliable. Young Roo hops about like a mischievous little beast in heat, while voluptuous Sash will give any red-blooded male a boost in the trouser department. Everyone has wants, and everyone has agendas. But as we all know, there is no such thing as romance and adventure, only trouble and desire. Oh, and we mustn’t forget Medusa (played with gusto by “Pamela Primate”), and her jungle roar. She is the reason bananas are so important, and for a far different reason than those cucumber friends of Gertie’s. But I digress …
Thundercrack! could have been a silent movie with inter-titles, but McDowell instead made a hardcore talking picture. The pursuit of ecstasy has never been so verbose. It’s a fusion of elements, boiled up, reduced, leaving a unique and sticky jus of dodgy melodramatics and sexual soap operatics. Leave all sensibilities out in the rain. Shed your inhibitions, maybe your clothes. Shake up a cocktail or five, stir up a lover or three, and don’t feel shy, hell, open up wide, after these players play you, you might even decide … to swallow.
“I had me my protein, now I want my starch!”