[This article was originally posted by Rik Tod Johnson on The Cinema 4 Pylon on December 3, 2006.]
The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film
by Michael J. Weldon
Ballantine Books | 1983
Trade Paperback | 816 pg.
Almost a year ago, I related to you my love for a book by Michael J. Weldon called The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. I have had a copy in my possession (the same ragged, dog-eared, spine-ravaged copy) since it came out in 1983. One of the benefits of working for a bookstore was that you got to jump on these things when they first premiered, sometimes even earlier, and this was a title that simply leapt out at me. Hard not to, considering the insane cover, and I was hooked immediately.
You see, up to about 1980, my movie obsession had been primarily TV-based, and network and local TV, at that. The movies that I saw were those that I caught on late night broadcasts, or afternoon matinee shows. I had cable at home with my parents by 1980, and we also had a VCR. Not only weren’t there a tenth as many cable channels as there are now, Anchorage itself had a single cable channel at the time called Visions, which carried HBO between this hour and that in prime time, and WTBS and WGN stuff in the mornings and afternoons so you got Cubs and Braves games, Calliope, Bill Tish news reports, and Space Giants. At midnight, on certain nights, full-on hardcore porn would be shown on Visions (the listings would go from “10:00 pm – The Island of Dr. Moreau – PG” to “12:00 am – Tigresses and Other Man-Eaters – XXX) and the only parental block was to make sure the kiddies weren’t awake by that time of the night. (And, of course, I found every possible way of seeing that porn.) So even with the addition of a cable channel, I still had limited choices for movies.
The world at that time was bombarded with fly-by-night VHS (and Beta) rental places, and as a kid who was just barely old enough to rent much of the good stuff, i.e. the junk with mucho sex and violence and gore, I was in heaven. The problem? What the hell to rent… there was so much easily available for the first time, that it was often hard to find out what was worth your while and what sucked. You’ve heard the phrase “can’t tell the players without a scorecard”? Well, within a couple of years, after I had moved out of the house and gotten a job and started serving time in the real world as a somewhat functioning young adult, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film become that scorecard for me. Weldon’s tome wasn’t really a book of critical reviews, however, but more of a catalogue of, well, the cover states “Over 3,000 of the wildest movies ever made!!” The keyword was “weird,” and the Encyclopedia delivered weird in spades. The back cover points out, in short phrases punctuated with rampant exclamation points, some of the topics covered in the book:
“Ghouls! Science Fiction! Beach Blankets! Drag Racing! Sex Changes! Crazed Farmers! Mad Scientists! Disaster! Surfing! Vampires! Sex Goddesses! Ax Murderers! Cave Women! Bikers! Killer Teens! Gorillas! Rock ‘N’ Roll! Jungle!”
The book covered not only these topics, but so many, many more. If it was goofy and on film and released by 1981, it was pretty much in this book. Also helpful were alternate titles, directing, writing and producing credits, and availability on video (a new concept just hitting review books at the time). Many of the films had their film posters printed within the pages of the guide, and Weldon even saw fit to print a handful of film frames with ample nudity on display here and there. What a guy!
Earlier this year, I picked up two far-less-dog-eared copies of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film at a used bookstore in Santa Rosa (which I wrote about here in January). My intent at the time was to keep one as a backup copy to my much-loved first edition, and to send the other copy to my pal Aaron back in Anchorage. (Mr. Lowe, I know I have not sent it yet, but I seem to have misplaced your address. Please get it to me again, and I will get this in the mail to you post-haste.) So, as I have been perusing the book anew over the intervening months, something struck me… when I first purchased this book, while many of the titles in it were out on video, there were still a large number that I never got around to watching. Or even finding: there were titles in there that I was interested in, but that I was unable to locate at the time. Then adulthood happens; marriage happens; divorce happens; work happens; everything happens. The resolve with which I used to attack video stores has waxed and waned over the years, and films that I once expressed an interest in seeing long ago have fallen to the wayside for films of more recent vintage.
But now it is almost 2007, and DVD is king. More and more older and obscure titles seem to crawl back out of their hidey-holes all the time, and with a greater emphasis on special editions and superior film elements, this is perhaps the best time to seek out some of these older, stranger films. And flipping through the book, I decided it was time that I did a film-by-film analysis to discover which of those films I still needed to see. Just in A alone, there were a great many films that I had yet to see, so I decided the best thing to do would be to go alphabetical and start checking on Netflix to see which films they were carrying.
As it turns out, a great many of them, though there are still pitfalls in the book. Right on the second page is an entry for the 1974 blaxploitation Exorcist rip-off Abby, which apparently, due to legal threats, never been released on video at all. So, I probably won’t be seeing that one — ever — even though I am interested because William (Blacula and Pee Wee’s Playhouse’s King of Cartoons) Marshall is in the film. But there are more than enough films sitting now in my Netflix queue that I will be watching the bigger films in the book for a good while or so.