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Friday, March 14, 2014

Alabama's Ghost

Alabama’s Ghost
1973
Fredric Hobbs

A Venn diagram of Alabama’s Ghost would show it occupying a spot between hippiesploitation film, art film, horror film, and probably a dozen more genres.  It is a truly bizarro work that hurls itself from one plot point to the next, never really worrying about staying coherent. It never wholly dissolves into nonsense and keeps enough of a plot going for the viewer to hang on by their fingernails. It’s the kind of movie that will just throw vampires and robot duplicates into the mix without explanation and it expects you to keep up, or at least not worry about it. 

After a lengthy crawl explaining a cosmically powerful form of hashish and its potential for world domination, we are introduced to Alabama (Christopher Brooks), a janitor at a nightclub called Earthquake McGoon’s. While storing some stuff away in the basement, Alabama drives a forklift through a wall and discovers the belongings of Carter the Great, a famous magician. He also finds a box of the aforementioned hashish. The box has an address on it, and Alabama decides to return it.  He meets an old woman (Kent Grantham) who tells him to keep it, and she will even help him learn Carter’s tricks so he can become a world famous magician. This is where the vampires and robots (plus an elephant) get involved in plot to take over the world.

Christopher Brooks is terrific as Alabama. He’s charismatic while at the same time a bit of a coward and a buffoon. Still, faced with an evil force looking to use him to it's own end, you can’t help but root for the guy. Kent Grantham plays numerous roles in the film, and embodies them all with a sleazy malevolence, probably his best character is Moxie, assistant to Alabama and secret member of a vampire cult. There really isn’t a bad performance in the whole film, especially notable since so many characters are so cartoonish and broad.

There is no shortage of spectacle in Alabama’s Ghost, Frederic Hobb’s own "Art Cars" are on display looking something a cross between a mummified dinosaur and a Cadillac. There is a factory complete with conveyor belt for feeding vampires that is actually quite disturbing, and a finale that includes motorcycles, panicked crowds, explosions and an elephant on a rampage. Say what you want about the film’s coherency, there is rarely a dull moment.

There only seems to be a murky VHS version available these days, so it is difficult to say how the movie is actually supposed to look. Hobbs doesn’t have a huge body of film work and I hope one day he will get the recognition his deserves for injecting genre films with a certain level of art film weirdness and without ever becoming pretentious or dull. I would highly recommend some of his other works, Godmonster of Indian Flats, and Roseland.  Alabama’s Ghost stands out as his finest film and one I very much encourage you to see.

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