By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Singer manipulates rich family.
Tara (Holly Near) is an overweight teen who feels like a social outcast. Her family is rich, but empty on love. Her mother (Jennifer Jones) is a former star of stag films and boozes it up on the bottle, but still manages to look quite attractive, even better than her daughter, which she constantly reminds her of. Her father (Charles Aidman) is a closet homosexual who routinely brings in male lovers for entertainment. When a rock group with a dashing lead singer (Jordan Christopher) arrives at her sprawling family home to help host a party Tara doesn’t hesitate to fall into his open arms. At first he seems to be the answer to her loneliness, but after a while she realizes he has a plan of his own as he not only seduces the mother, but her father as well before manipulating his way into the family fortune.
The main reason to watch this film, if not the only one, is for the performance of Jones in this her second-to-last cinematic appearance. She gives an incredibly strong, multi-faceted portrayal of a middle-aged woman on the emotional edge who realizes she’s being used, but allows it to happen simply so she can still feel desirable. Her presence lifts the sleazy material to watchable heights and comes just a year after she herself tried to commit suicide after hearing of the death of a close friend in real-life.
Near, who has later become a well-known folk singer, gives an effectively sensitive portrayal of a troubled teen, which allows her to be the one character that the viewer has any sympathy for. The rest of the cast though, which includes Roddy McDowall and Lou Rawls as Christopher’s band mates, are essentially wasted although you will get a full view of McDowall’s bare bottom for those few who are interested.
The garishly colorful collages done by Shirley Kaplan are visually alluring, but writer/director Robert Thom goes back to them too often. The aerial skydiving footage is excellent, even breathtaking, but the script as a whole, despite its lurid and even groundbreaking subject matter, falls flat. A lot of the reason for this is the fact that it’s poorly paced with too much time given to Christopher who sings a total of five songs, which does nothing but slow the proceedings down to a screeching halt. The ending is vague and aloof, which only helps to cements this as a misfire and good only as a curio.
The film did quite poorly upon its initial release, so it was reissued under another a title called Cult of the Damned in hopes that it could cash in on the hysteria of the Manson murders that had occurred around the same time, even though the story doesn’t have anything to do with a religious cult and the movie still fared no better at the box office.
Alternate Title: Cult of the Damned
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: August 19, 1969
Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes
Director: Robert Thom
Studio: American International Pictures
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video