Combustible Celluloid
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With: Susan Strasberg, Dean Stockwell, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Adam Roarke, Max Julien, Henry Jaglom
Written by: E. Hunter Willett, Betty Ulius
Directed by: Richard Rush
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 101
Date: 03/06/1968

Psych-Out (1968)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Plastic Hassle

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Perhaps the definitive look at Haight Street in 1968, Richard Rush's Psych-Out is more an exploitation film than it is a true experimental film, but that doesn't take away from how much silly fun it can be. Susan Strasberg stars as Jenny, a pretty deaf girl who arrives in the Haight district, looking for her brother. Instead she meets the members of a struggling rock band: Stoney (Jack Nicholson), Elwood (Max Julien), and Ben (Adam Roarke).

They go to cafes, drink coffee, drive around in a van, put up rock posters, take LSD, and get into some, like, heavy conversations ("Everything is part of everything else."). Dean Stockwell turns up as a hippie who thinks that Stoney's band is a big sell-out. Eventually, they discover that Jenny's brother has turned into kind of a space-out guru (Bruce Dern). It all ends badly, thanks to drugs.

The Strawberry Alarm Clock performs several songs (including their favorite "Incense and Peppermints") and is shown on stage. The Seeds are also shown, but much more briefly. (Too bad these were both L.A. bands... no San Francisco bands are in this movie.) Director Rush might have been one of the great talents of his time, but he mostly suffered from bad luck and timing. His one triumph was The Stunt Man, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Director in 1981.

Olive Films released Psych-Out on DVD and Blu-ray in a director's cut running 101 minutes. The quality is up to their usual standards, but with no extras. It was previously issued by MGM on a double-feature DVD with Roger Corman's The Trip; that release is out of print.

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