So here it is — the “lost” and “forgotten” second feature film (not counting numerous hard-core porn flicks he made under various pseudonyms) from legendary (a term I don’t use lightly) cult auteur Roger Watkins, the brains (and heart) behind one of my personal favorite movies of all time, Last House On Dead End Street (the very first film I reviewed on this site lo, those many years ago — okay, enough parentheses for a little while here).
Needless to say, die-hard Watkins worshiper that I am, this is a flick I’ve always wanted to see even though a)Watkins himself disowned it completely and slapped — or, more likely, had slapped , but we’ll get to all that in a minute— the pseudonym of “Bernard Travis” in place of his name for his director’s credit; and b)pretty much everyone else who’s ever seen it has said that it completely sucks, as well.
Still — this is the guy who gave us the most gutter-level, unflinching, uncompromising, and downright nihilisitc piece of no-budget (literally — not a single dollar was spent on the production of LHODES) exploitation cinema ever produced — how bad could it be?
The answer, as it turns out, is pretty fucking bad.
A brief understanding of the behind-the-scenes dictates placed on Watkins is probably in order if we’re to fully comprehend what a celluloid abortion this thing is, and while exact details are sketchy at best, according to the late, great Mr. Watkins’ own recollections, his leading lady in this film, one Marion Joyce, was actually married to the guy who financed this effort, and while she quite obviously couldn’t act, her old man was convinced otherwise and hired Watkins to film what essentially amounted to a feature-length demo reel, complete with script (written by Watkins in collaboration with his friend and former film professor Paul Jensen and Joyce herself) in order to display her dubious “talents” for various potentially interested parties (assuming there were any).
So, yeah — this thing probably shouldn’t have gone any further than a storage box in the loving (but apparently quite annoying) couple’s basement. But then nobody would see it. And nobody would ever know of Ms. Joyce’s abilities (or lack thereof).
And so — well, shit, here’s where things get a bit confusing. Bernard Travis was more than just a pseudonym, it turns out — or, ore accurately, it wasn’t a pseudonym at all, it was the name of this film’s financier/producer, a guy who apparently owned a chain of movie theaters in New York state. And he also, somehow, got his hands on the rights to LHODES — as a matter of fact, he’s the guy who’s responsible for cutting that film down from its original three-plus-hour length to the 77-minute version that’s been released on VHS and DVD. How legal all this was is anybody’s guess, but I’m thinking the answer is “not very” given that Watkins was able to establish and assert copyright ownership over the film for which he’s best known prior to its seminal DVD release from Barrel Entertainment (and watch out, by the way, apparently Vinegar Syndrome will be re-issuing it later this year in a more complete cut under its alternate title of The Funhouse, along with tons of new extras — how good life can be sometimes, my friends, how good life can be!).
Of course, by 2005 when Watkins emerged from the shadows of history (rather than the mind) to claim directorship of both these films, Mr. Travis had committed suicide, so there probably wasn’t much chance of a protracted court fight over who actually “owned” what here.
Watkins, of course, is gone himself now, and so we’ll never know why he didn’t try to claim any sort of legal ownership over Shadows Of The Mind, as well — unless the answer is a very simple, and understandable, he just didn’t want the damn thing.
Anyway, back to the late Mr. Travis. With both this flick and LHODES in his possession, he was able to cut numerous cheap deals with numerous even cheaper fly-by-night VHS distribution outfits both here and abroad (as you can see from the images included with this review) for the two films, and while neither enjoyed any sort of widespread release, both were put out, in small numbers at any rate, here, there, and everywhere. I couldn’t tell you exactly when this movie was shot, but most VHS releases are dated 1980, so we’ll just go with that as the closest thing to an official “street date” we’re ever likely to have here.
So that’s our history lesson out of the way. On to the plot particulars of Shadows Of The Mind itself : Poor Elise (Joyce) was an eyewitness to the drowning deaths of her father and stepmother as a child, and has been a thoroughly traumatized — and institutionalized — basket case ever since. You can’t stay in the loony bin forever, though (funny, they told me the same thing), and so the day comes when her therapist, Dr. Land (Erik Rolfe) decides she’s perfectly fit and ready to go home — to the cold, empty, abandoned, desolate estate that where she lost her marbles in the first place. Sound psychology at work, I guess,
And so we’re treated to a good 30 minutes or so of Elise not doing much but listlessly and aimlessly wandering the grounds of her old (and now, I guess, new) homestead until her creepy, estranged step-brother , Leland (played with a certain degree of relish by G.E. Barrymore — no relation, I’m assuming, to any or all members of the celebrated cinematic Barrymore dynasty — in the closest thing this snoozer has to a competent performance) shows up and weird things start happening — like, ya know, people dying.
At this point Shadows Of The Mind at least begins to approximate something interesting, but trust me when I say that you’ve seen this same story done before and seen it done much better. I desperately wanted to like the proceedings just out of sheer loyalty to Watkins and his small but undeniably powerful legacy, but try as I might, anything resembling actual interest in what was happening on-screen just never materialized, despite some moody and evocative location work (like LHODES this was shot in Watkins’ home environs of upstate New York, and has a bleak, early-November vibe to it) and some reasonably well-executed (sorry for the shit pun) kill scenes.
For his part, Watkins at least eschews the kind of point-and-shoot dullness that you or I might resort to with a script this garbled and lame, but he’s certainly not giving things anywhere near his all. The cast go through their motions with, apart from Barrymore, apparently little to no actual idea of what they’re doing, and when the truncated (and probably largely falsified) end credits roll, it feels more like a relief than anything else.
Still, as with all things, don’t take my word for it — a generous cult film aficionado has gone to the trouble of posting this movie in its roughly-80-minute entirety on You Tube(apologies for the German — I think — subtitles, but beggars can’t be choosers), and I offer a link to it here to sate the ravenous appetites of the curious, masochistic, or both :
So yeah. This is Roger Watkins’ “lost” and “forgotten” second feature film. And it’s fair to say that it was both lost and forgotten for very good reason.