Monday, February 22, 2016

Glutton for Punishment: Alice in Acidland

by JB
We find Acidland at the intersection of disappointing and insulting.

We are all interested in bad movies, inexcusable cinema, worse-than-mediocre pictures, and miserable excuses for art, for that is the stuff we use to fill the empty spaces in our souls. You are interested in the unknown, the mysterious, and the unexplainable—that is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you the full story of some of the worst movies ever made. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable soul who survived a screening. I am that miserable soul. The absurdly low budgets, the cramped soundstages, the ridiculous plots, the inane dialogue, the risible acting—my friend, we cannot keep these a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. Remember, my friends: terrible movies such as these will affect you in the future!

Alice in Acidland would not exist had it not been for the mores of its time and a sizable group of lonely middle-aged men with time on their hands and disposable incomes. In 1969, hardcore pornography was still illegal in most of the US, and the equipment to watch films in the privacy of one’s home was still rare, cumbersome, and expensive. Literate lonely men read Playboy. Rich lonely men hired prostitutes. Bold lonely men frequented sad, grimy “grindhouse” theaters that catered to a clientele with raincoats in their laps. Such was the genesis of twenty years of “nudie cuties” and “soft-core society exposes.” Many of these films purported to explore a social problem (drug addiction, in the case of Alice) so when local authorities and church officials tried to ban these films, the producers could hide behind the films’ tissue-thin “redeeming social value” to justify their production and exhibition.

What an exciting time to be alive!
The Plot in Brief: Alice Trenton (Sheri Jackson) is new to the community college scene and takes up with an unsavory group of new friends, including Frieda (Julia Blackburn), Kathy (Janice Kelly), and Animal (Bob Fletcher). They soon have her drinking whiskey in a bathing suit, sharing a tub with another woman, smoking marijuana, participating in all-night make-out sessions, taking acid, and being committed to an insane asylum for the rest of her natural life.

Because exploitation filmmakers often changed the titles of their films during their exhibition history to trick audiences into seeing a bad film more than once, I wonder if the producers of Alice in Acidland deliberately filled their picture with enough exploitable elements (hippie chicks, unsupervised pool parties, lesbians, marijuana smoking, men named “Animal,” and LSD experimentation) to justify as many title changes as possible. Given that the actual “acid” section of Alice in Acidland is less than five minutes long, I can easily imagine this film being re-titled and marketed as Alice in Hippieland, Alice in Weedland, Alice and Animal, or Alice Takes a Two-Lady Bath.

As many online critics before me have pointed out, Alice in Acidland’s cardinal sin is boredom. It’s not that there isn’t something going on—there’s plenty going on—it’s just that I don’t care and I don’t want to look at it. The pool party that is the centerpiece of the film accounts for more than half of its meager running time. With a bare minimum of editing, the audience is “treated” to over twenty minutes of black and white pool party footage shot in real time. I get bored at real pool parties quicker than that (and I can swim AND see in color!)
The film features no synchronized dialogue, only an off-screen narrator who drones on and on, DESCRIBING what is happening in the screen. The only source of entertainment one could possibly find in this film is to observe the unnatural and uncomfortable ballet the actors and actresses are forced to perform to keep their various… er, danglers and de-lovelies… from facing the camera. The filmmakers are astutely aware of the line between the junk they are making and porn, and they straddle that line to an absurd degree. The men are helped by the fact that no actor in this film ever removes his (oversized) jockey shorts. Sexy! Watching this film is being invited to a junior high school “basement” party with ten of your least appealing friends. You are the only one without a date. You spend the evening crammed into the farthest corner of the couch with a bowl of Cool Ranch Doritos, trying not to watch 58 minutes of uninspired dry humping. Trust me, somehow revisiting that absurd and unlikely basement scenario would be more interesting and engaging than watching this film.

ON THE OTHER HAND: Critics of our current society and media’s obsession with unhealthy body images might find Alice in Acidland a film to champion. All actors and actresses that wind up stripping down to the altogether in this film are manifestly and refreshingly average: paunchy guts, pasty skin, flabby thighs, generous buttocks, bandy legs, droopy breasts, and hairy backs—a celebration of the real human form!
I read some other online reviews of Alice in Acidland because when I finished watching it, I was still unsure that it actually existed. One critic grew so bored during the interminable soft-core sex scenes that he started timing them. (The film’s longest tryst lasts just shy of twenty minutes.) Another critic admitted that it took him five tries just to get through the whole thing. I am not alone. Alice in Acidland made me question my own existence, made me wonder if I were dreaming, made me examine every life decision I ever made that brought me to the fateful afternoon when I screened the “film.” When Alice in Acidland was over, to borrow a phrase from my former boss, I was a little less alive.

THIS JUST IN: According to eagle-eyed reviewer Perry Black, who owns both the original Something Weird VHS tape of Alice and the more recent DVD, the disc version has been cut and censored; this disc version is only 53 minutes long, compared to the VHS running time of 62 minutes. Mr. Black suggests that some full frontal nudity and more brutal violence are the victims of the cuts. Watching the DVD, I did notice an unusual amount of jump cuts. I had chalked it up to the age and condition of the print.
My friend, you have now read this column, based on my own sworn testimony. Can you prove that this film doesn’t exist? Perhaps on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it, but he or she may be the director of Alice in Acidland. Many scientists believe that bad movies are being filmed at this very moment. We once laughed at fire, the wheel, gravity, the horseless carriage, the telephone, the electric light, and the airplane. So much laughter! And now some of us laugh at very bad movies. God help us in the future.


  1. JB's triumphant return! Hurrah!

    I have a feeling this is going to be my new favorite column (assuming it's a recurring thing), since I do have a big soft spot for really terrible movies. I know it's a sickness, but reading the column really made me want to seek out Alice in Acidland and check it out. I'll try to resist the urge.

    1. Well, I think we all have a bit of that, which is why this coloumn is going to be good. I think the fact J. B warned us of the height of boredom here will keep me solidly away though!

      'Alice Takes a Two-Lady Bath' sounds like an interesting way of taking on the wonderland story... I love your last paragraph J. B! Brilliantly funny.

      'Made me question my own existence... I was a little less alive' Ah yes, those! Those films are always quite something. Not many give you that sensation. Maybe that is the acidland reffered to, that of existential crisis.

    2. How on earth would you know if the rich men who made this film were lonely? Answer: you don't.
      Most likely they were just cool wealthy people. Save your assumptions for an opinion piece.

    3. You've misread the paragraph. I'm saying that rich, lonely men were the intended AUDIENCE for these films, NOT that rich, lonely men MADE them!

  2. I'm a fan of the genre but don't want to waste my time and money on something that is cut to pieces. Thanks.

  3. Anybody watching the DVD or watching online should be aware they are watching a cut version of the movie. Years ago I discovered what was believed to be the only 35mm print in existence from a defunct Texas film exchange. I cleaned it up a bit and worked on it and got it in good usable shape and sold it to one of 3000 tape companies that called themselves Mondo Video. They were supposed to send me a VHS copy, but I never heard from them again. Something Weird used Mondo Video`s tape to produce VHS copies, enabling me to finally get a tape of the damn thing. The quality is good enough if a little splicey in spots. The 35mm print used for the Something Weird DVD looks good, but is missing a lot of footage, much of it from the color segment. The color sequence is so competent I`ve always speculated the producers bought a surreal, abstract short and added the cheap B&W silent-shot footage to it to release it as a feature. Note that, excluding the final shot of Alice, none of the performers from the B&W footage show up in the color footage.