Alabama’s Ghost (1973)

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Sometimes, you see a film and you simply don’t know what to make of it.  For instance, take Liquid Sky.  The first time I attempted to watch it, I bailed on it about twenty minutes in.  A few months later, I gave it another crack, and I made it to about the 30-minute mark before giving up on it.  About a year later, I tried it one more time and actually persevered until I had watched the whole thing.  I ended up liking Liquid Sky, but it took three tries over the course of about 15 months for me to actually watch the whole thing.

Alabama’s Ghost has tormented me in much the same way.  Because it was next in the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, I couldn’t wait another three or four months to finish it, as that would have ground this blog to a dead halt until I had seen it.  So, I started it watching it early this morning, but had to stop because I was so confused as to what was going on.  I picked up where I left off this evening, but had to stop it to take a nap, as it apparently has the same effect on me as Sominex®.  After waking up, I finally girded my loins and finished watching it, although it took a Sisyphusian effort.  The Sisyphus reference is quite appropriate, because when I had finished it, I realized that it had been a pretty much futile effort on my part.

Alabama’s Ghost is the story of a guy named Alabama, who works in some vaguely-defined capacity for a jazz band.  This jazz band, the Turk Murphy Jazz Band, is not some cool, progressive-jazz outfit like Weather Report or Return to Forever; no, they play the type of Dixieland jazz that I imagine one would have heard in speakeasies in the 1920s.  The odd thing is, the Turk Murphy Jazz Band was a real band, and their leader, Turk Murphy, is in the film playing himself.  The band’s scenes were shot in what was Turk’s club, Earthquake McGoon’s.  So, if you’re a Dixieland jazz aficionado, you’ve already got a MUCH better shot at enjoying this film than I did.  Here’s the cover from one of Turk’s albums from the 1950s:

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Anyway, Alabama is using a forklift in the club’s basement one night (?!) when he accidentally tears down a wall that leads to a series of tunnels.  In one of the tunnels, Alabama finds a cache of magician’s equipment and an ornately-carved box containing what looks like hashish, but which is actually a substance called “raw zeta”.  Oddly enough, the box has a street address for the owner on the inside, so Alabama goes looking for the owner.  It turns out that the owner is the “sister” of the world’s most famous magician, Carter the Great, who had died 35 years earlier.  To keep him from turning the box in to the police, she tells him that she’ll apprentice him with Carter’s former assistant so that he can be the world’s best magician.  I put “sister” in quotation marks because after Alabama leaves, “she” pulls off a wig to reveal that she’s actually a man.  With fangs.

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Alabama meets with this assistant (who is the same guy that was the “sister”), and he’s taught all of Carter’s tricks over the next six months.  His first public magic show is done at Earthquake McGoon’s, and the audience goes wild for him.  A music promoter, Otto Max, sees the show several times and decides that he can make a lot of money for both of them, so he sets up a tour for Alabama, which will end at a giant free Woodstock-like concert which is being promoted by music’s biggest promoter, some guy in a wheelchair named Gault (who is also played by the same guy that played the sister and the magician’s assistant).

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After this, the film starts to break down a bit in the narrative department, but it has something to do with Gault being the head of a worldwide vampire clan (with the cheapest dime-store fangs imaginable), which needs Alabama to put on the show so that they can infuse him with raw zeta, which will then turn into “deadly zeta” and immobilize anyone who is watching in person or on television.  Then the vampires can run roughshod over the world, turning Earth into one big vampire planet.  There’s also some voodoo involved, Carter’s ghost shows up several times to warn Alabama that he’s making a big mistake, an elephant (played by “Neena the Elephant”) somehow gets a big role in all of this, and the Nazi scientist Dr. Caligula makes a perfect robot replica of Alabama.  I have a feeling that if I cared to watch the film several more times, I could piece all of this together into a coherent, if utterly goofy, plotline, but I really don’t care to do that.

I did learn one important thing from the film, however, and it may prove handy one day:  An elephant can kill a vampire by stepping on it.  Here’s hoping that, eventually, in True Blood or Vampire Diaries, the writers will use this arcane bit of vampire lore to liven things up a little.  If so, THAT season set will be mine.

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You may want to try watching Alabama’s Ghost for yourself to see if you like it.  There are those who think that it’s an exploitation masterpiece and foist it upon unwitting friends.  I, on the other hand, don’t plan on revisiting it for quite a while.

A few years ago, some deranged individual posted Alabama’s Ghost IN ITS ENTIRETY on YouTube.  Alas, it seems to have been taken down.  BUT–to give you a taste of how whacked out the film truly is, here’s a longish clip for you to gnaw on (and don’t say that you haven’t been warned):

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