The Ten Most 
Psychotronic Films 
Made in West Virginia

June 2003

Steve Fesenmaier
Research Librarian
West Virginia Library Commission

Taking Wrong Turn seriously is like believing Bruce Almighty is a realistic portrayal of TV cameramen. – SF while talking to WOWK news reporter, May 29, 2003



Introduction: 
I have spent almost half my life living in West Virginia, coming to the state in fall 1978. Since then I have come to use the word “psychotronic” (as in Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Movies (1983) – not PSYCHOTIC as the owner of one WV newspaper mis-read the word with regard to Mike Lipton’s annual Psychotronic Christmas Light Contest.) to describe life in a state that ranks number one in lots of areas. During this quarter-century I have seen and even helped make some really unusual films, some unusual because of the subject, others because of the style of the film. Tomorrow nationwide the latest psychotronic film, Wrong Turn, opens nationwide. Even though the film was made in Canada, like most Hollywood films these days, this one targets WV as the home of in-bred cannibalistic hillbillies. (More below.) Here is my current list of films made in the state that definitely should be counted psychotronic.



1. Since Teenage Strangler (1964) was listed in the first Psychotronic Encyclopedia, this one has to be ranked first.  Local TV people in Huntington decided to make their own version of the very popular B-movies of the Sixties, movies you usually saw at a drive-in (which is where the film premiered, across the river in Ohio).  Michael Fenimore, a local Charleston disc jockey, told me about the film and Something Weird Video out of Seattle had recently issued a video of the film. This was in 1990. On Halloween Night, 1991, at the St. Albans Public Library, under the direction of Yvonne Farley, the film had its WV premiere. (You can read about this event on page 559 of the Psychotronic Video Guide (1996).  In 1967 the original film was shown around the country at drive-ins along with B horrormeister Herschell Gordon Lewis’ A Taste of Blood.  Access: Now you can buy a DVD from Amazon.com with this film plus Teenage Gang Debs (1966) or buy just the 1990 VHS of Strangler at Facets.com.

2. Lullaby for Ben (1993) Apparently in 1992 a Russian film director came to WV from Washington, DC to make this unusual film.  The IMDB has no listing for it – it does have a listing for another Russian film, Lullaby for Men (1976).  This film is about Jack Skuce, a man who has been away from Shepherdstown a long time.  As he drives around the town, visiting various sites, we hear his thoughts about the future world that Ben, still in the womb, will inhabit. The film is in Russian, of course, with English subtitles. I have written the largest distributor of Russian films in the US and an old friend, Nikita Mikhalkov, a leading Russian filmmaker and president of the Moscow Film Festival, to see if they can find anything for me. Almost no one knows about this film, including people in Shepherdstown. I recently told some visiting Russian librarians about the film. Access: West Virginia Library Commission (WVLC) has the only two copies I know to exist.

3. Whispers from Space (1996) Ralph Coon, a LA filmmaker, came to WV in 1995 to make a documentary about legendary UFO man Gray Barker. Barker was the author of one of the first books on UFOs – They Knew Too Much about Flying Saucers. He also published various early magazines on the subject. He grew up in Clarksburg, making his living running a drive-in theater. He invented the idea of “men in black” and made the Mothman famous in his book on The Silver Bridge.  Merle Moore, the past library director for the Harrison - Clarksburg PL, created an archive of his materials and helped make the film as did myself. The film had its world premiere at the Cultural Center in Charleston as part of the Spring West Virginia International Film Festival and made the cover of Graffiti magazine. The film is called a cross between David Lynch and Errol Morris. Access: Facets.com and Amazon.com.

4. Captured Alive (1995) Pat Morita, famous for starring in the series of films about the Karate Kid, stars in this amazing B-film. Passengers flying from Pittsburgh to Atlanta are shot down by a Civil War-era cannon, forced into becoming toxic waste slaves. It has the cheesiest shoot-out scene ever filmed – the same shot of the people shooting their guns is re-cycled over and over. Arrow Releasing made this film….and it may be the only copy ever released! Access: WVLC has one copy.

5. Communication from Weber (1988) This short documentary by WV filmmaker Robert Gates is only available on 16 mm. It will never be put on VHS, partially because he has pasted some of Michael Weber’s writings over the image as it runs. Weber was a “third sex-role transgender person”(Weber’s language) from Detroit who died in Montgomery, WV from a brain tumor. The film has a clip from a Hollywood B-movie, Street Girls, that he actually starred in. The film was chosen by the Village Voice as the “best film shown at the NY Gay & Lesbian Film Festival” and toured England as part of a series of new gay films. It had its world premiere at Sunrise Museum and has since been shown all over the state and country. It was distributed by Picture Start Films of Chicago. Access: WVLC has one 16-mm copy and Robert Gates (304-342-2624) has the other. Appalachian State College may also have a copy. The niece of Weber had to borrow Gates own print so that she could see the film about her eccentric uncle.

6. Chillers (1987), Strangest Dreams: Invasion of the Space Preachers (1990), Paradise Park (1996).  WV native son Daniel Boyd studied filmmaking in Arkansas with the man who wrote the classic B-film, Rollerball. He came back home and after making several shorts, most notably Coal Dust/Fairy Dust got a job at WV State College, the only film program in the state. During the next decade he directed three homegrown films that followed in the steps of WV’s first indie feature, Teenage Strangler. The first is a horror film, the second a joke sci-fier, and the last a trailer-trash film with a message. (See the recent 8 Mile or even better the lost classic, Cockfighter (1974) starring Warren Oates, directed by Monte Hellman, king of the Bs.) His films have won awards and been shown all over the state. He created the Paradise Film Institute to help himself and others make local films. Since 1996 Boyd has been producing films, traveling to foreign film festivals and taking students along. He has also produced a film with Russian students here in the US (unshown as of this time); a film made in Tanzania – Duara (2002), and a film about making it, Sound the Drum. In 2000 he directed a remake of WV’s most famous lost film, Smilin Sid. Below are two reviews of Paradise by reviewers for Amazon.com. Access: Facets.com sell the first two films. Paradise Park (also known as Heroes of the Heart) is for sale at Amazon.com

*****Paradise Park (a.k.a. Heroes of the Heart): Excellent Movie, December 7, 2001 
Reviewer: A viewer from WV USA
Paradise Park
is an excellent movie. I live in southern West Virginia myself and though it displays a lot of West Virginia stereotypes, it does it in a hilarious, yet truthful depiction of our culture.

****Warm-Hearted Fun, November 25, 2002 
Reviewer: A viewer from Roanoke, VA
A regional, independent film with some surprisingly good performances & a decent script. Set in a poor trailer park in West Virginia, the residents each have a fantasy about transcending their bleak lives. The community pulls through at the end (it's a bit corny, but what the heck)! Cameo appearances by country-western singers Johnny Paycheck, Webb Wilder, T. Graham Brown and Porter Wagoner as the Governor of West Virginia! Wrestler Dusty Rhodes turns in a decent acting job as the Sheriff.

7. The Lights (2002) This is the newest film on the list. Ray Schmitt, a retired Congressional Researcher and longtime filmmaker and musician, moved to the Lost Valley in Hardy County. As soon as he moved to the area, he began hearing stories about UFOs zooming in all over. He directed this fictionalized film about a man making a film about UFOs who suddenly has a missing co-ed on his hands. Schmitt is also making a documentary about all of the local UFO stories. Schmitt refused to use any curse words, thus creating a family-friendly tale using himself and friends as the actors. He premiered the film at the WV Filmmakers Film Festival in October 2002, and only recently (May 2003) screened the film at the local public library. The editor of the local paper wrote a nice editorial about how nice it was to have a local filmmaker. Ray has been making films for decades, usually doing profiles of unusual people like belly dancers, twig artists, world-famous nature photographers, signers for the deaf for musical events, and others. I think that this film would make a nice double-feature with Teenage Strangler – they are each just over 60 minutes. Long Access: Patchwork Films.

8. Coal Fields (1984) New York City experimental filmmaker Bill Brand came to WV in the early 1980s. He collaged industrial landscapes through a series of mattes that transform the photographed scenes into a kinetic field of shapes and spaces. Woven into the film is the story of Fred Carter, original poetic text by Kimiko Hahn and sound composition by Karl Howard. I met Bill Brand at the First NY Conference on Film Exhibition held in Saratoga Springs. This film would make a nice program with Gates’ Communication from Weber.  Access: WVLC has a 16-mm print.

9. The Amazing Dolores (1985) Jacob Young, famous worldwide for Dancing Outlaw, directed this other part of the Different Drummer series that ran on WVPBS for several years. Here is the official description – 45-year-old Charlestonian, Delores Boyd has been dubbed "Amazing Delores" by musicians and audiences alike. A lady with a love for fashion, her voice has been likened to that of Janis Joplin with a phrasing of Van Morrison and an imagery similar to Captain Beefheart's. She has the soul of Little Richard and the dance moves of Tina Turner. All of the films in this series- 14 including Dancing Outlaw – are about psychotronic people. This particular episode almost didn’t make it to the air because WVPBS people thought that the angels standing on her trailer home gave the state a “bad image.” It ran and was much appreciated. I got to know the Amazing Dolores personally, hosting her on my cable TV show. Michael Lipton, WV music promoter, produced a record for her. Access: WVLC has the only known VHS copy. Unlike Outlaw, it was never promoted. It is a masterpiece!

10. Lost Love (1995) 40 M.   Soul Miner NOTE: Preview-Adult Material West Virginia filmmaker David Claypool tells the story of a young man who discovers his murdered "object of desire," a local flower girl. He retrieves the body, turning her into literally a giant puppet. In the nightmare world of porno films and snuff movies, he finds both his dreams and the horrific truth that lead him to his bitter situation. Filmed on location in Charleston and Nitro. This film is indeed lost. Claypool made this film, but shortly thereafter disappeared from the local filmmaking scene. Its intensity is extremely high given the fear the local filmmakers have of showing flesh. Even the recent Correct Change (2002) did not equal its focus on sex and perversion. I certainly hope that it will be shown again in the state and elsewhere. Access: WVLC has only public copy.


Conclusion: 
I wish that I had room to include some other films like The Jolo Serpent Handlers (1978) or Jacob Young’s magnus opus, the three-hour Holy Cow, Swami! (1996). I would even like to include Kevin Carpenter’s coming film, Elk Hotel (2003). Few people have seen all of the hundreds of films, both short and long, made in the state over the last 100 years of cinema. (See my article on Early West Virginia Cinema.)



Additional AppLit Resources: 
Complete List of AppLit Pages on Film

Steve Fesenmaier's Annotated Bibliographies of West Virginia and Appalachian Films

See Also:

Appalachian Film and Television Topics

Dr. Stephen D. Mooney, Instructor, Department of English and Appalachian Studies Program, has compiled a list of film and television shows for his Appalachian Studies Classes at Virginia Tech, VA.   

Appalshop For a complete catalog, contact the Appalshop Marketing and Sales Office at 1-800-545-7467 or appalshopsales@appalshop.org.

Davenport Films and From the Brothers Grimm  
American versions of classic folk and fairy tales, many Appalachian.  Davenport has also made many other Appalachian films.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
, Huntington, WV

Press release from September 9, 2002, entitled “World premier screenings at Flooded Out Film Festival
All proceeds from Oct. 10 event go to flood victims”

West Virginia Film Makers Film Festival

Winning Festival Films, background information on the first festival, local history, links to sponsors, links to information on film such as The Griffin and the Minor Canon, The Night of the Hunter, Invasion of the Space Preachers, etc.


West Virginia Filmmakers Guild 

The West Virginia Filmmakers Guild was created in 1985 to provide networking and communication between West Virginia film and video makers and those interested in these crafts in West Virginia. Central to its mission is educating the public and promoting West Virginia filmmakers and their films to the public.

 

 



Created:  06/30/2003
Last Update:  07/07/2003 12:40:17 PM
Links Checked:  07/02/2003


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