Theatrical Release: December 29th, 1975
DVD Release: December 8th, 2015
Directed by Curt McDowell
Review by Craig Sorensen
There is no film quite like Thundercrack!, an art film parody of 50’s Hollywood melodrama, film noir and Old-Dark-House tropes masquerading as a porno film. Filtered through the eyes of filmmakers Curt McDowell (Load) and George Kuchar (Hold Me While I’m Naked, The Craven Sluck) the film contains all the hallmarks of their previous underground hits, sort of mashed together in a wonderful, one-of-a-kind film that has never been duplicated and never will. And unlike more mainstream, palatable ‘transgressive’ films (cough-Rocky Horror-cough), Thundercrack! still retains it’s shock value. Try watching this film with your parents.
Seven strangers end up stranded at the estate of Gert Hammond (Marion Eaton) during a thunderstorm. Among them: Willene (Maggie Pyle), Chandler (Philip Heffernan), Sash (Melinda McDowell), Toydy (Rick Johnson), Roo (Moira Benson), Bond (Ken Scudder) and Bing (George Kuchar). They all get together to tell their darkest secrets and, of course, fuck. All while certifiable Mrs. Hammond watches through peepholes into her degenerate son’s bedroom. Where is her son? Why, he’s ceased to exist (not dead, just ceased to exist). And where is Mr. Hammond? AND what has happened to the circus animals that Bing was transporting, including Medusa the sex crazed gorilla?
The only thing that comes close to comparing to Thundercrack! is maybe the films of John Waters or Guy Madden. In fact, the films of the Kuchar Brothers were a big influence on the films of the former and it’s fairly obvious. Both have a penchant for ‘50s melodramas and B-movies. While sexuality in George Kuchar’s films is sort of viewed through a lens of naiveté, Curt McDowell brings overt sexuality to the proceedings. Together the two filmmakers create a weird hodgepodge of ‘70s sexual freedom and ‘50s exploitation tropes that has to be seen to be believed.
The film has had a strange release history. Evidently there were only five release prints ever made. Of those prints, four were heavily edited (one having about an hour of the film removed) and one thankfully staying with the director. That last remaining print is what has been used for any theatrical screenings in repertory houses. So it’s seen some action and has been beat to hell. It was this print that was used by Synapse for their Blu-Ray release. Knowing that, it’s amazing that the film looks as good as it does. It’s still a low budget 16mm production and the transfer still shows some very minor print damage here and there but Thundercrack!, in my opinion, looks amazing. Audio has never been the film’s strong point, due to the low budget production. It still sounds better than it ever has here in it’s original mono. Also included is a commentary track featuring the director being interviewed about his career and films. It’s only 85 minutes long however.
One major extra on the Blu-Ray is the 2009 documentary It Came From Kuchar, about the life and times of George and Mike Kuchar. If you are a fan of their works (as I am) this is essential viewing and a very welcome extra. This set also contains a second DVD of extras containing interviews with George Kuchar, Marion Eaton and Mark Ellinger (who wrote the music, did the sound and stars in a flashback as Mrs. Hammond’s late husband). You also get an episode of San Francisco Bay Area Filmmakers (a public access show) featuring McDowell and Eaton discussing Thundercrack!. You also get a couple of sets of outtakes, one of regular takes and behind the scenes stuff and another of sex outtakes. And finally you get five of Curt McDowell’s short films.
Thundercrack! is probably my favorite release of the year.