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Rated PG (odd)
Copyright 1983 Overseas Filmgroup Inc.
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 10 May 2008

The Characters:  

  • Frederic Lansing - He wants to stop writing trashy sex books and create a real novel, but first he had better do something about his eyebrows. They are long enough to get caught in the typewriter. Doesn't that sound painful?
  • Kate - Living in a small coastal town has lowered her expectations for a romantic partner so low that Urkel might look tempting to the poor woman.
  • Dr. Paul Batton - If you see this man, shoot first and ask questions later. You will thank me.
  • Fritz - Paul's sidekick and personal archivist who wears a recording rig to preserve the adventurer's words for future generations. The year is 1983, so the equipment is not exactly compact. It's funny. Laugh.
  • Ralph - Crazy old man who rides around on his bicycle and tells people, "You're doomed!"
  • The Bloody-Handed Medical Examiner - Why can I imagine Jeffrey Combs playing this part?
  • Captain Howdy - Richard Kiel! Lost at sea (though he was a lighthouse keeper) a century ago, he returns from the deep as a waterlogged revenant.
  • The Zombies - People killed by Captain Howdy turn into these. They wear turtlenecks and are only capable of saying five words: "What difference does it make?"
  • Venecia - Julie Newmar! The spirit of an evil woman who has returned to seek revenge against the town that once mocked her. She is a disembodied head in a lighthouse; I am sure that nobody is laughing now.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

The year is 1882 and Captain Howdy is impatiently, so much as anyone could be impatient about travel when ships depended on wind power, awaiting his wife's return. Ms. Howdy's ship is battling its way through a severe storm, but we see her on the deck, gazing at the beacon of her husband's lighthouse as waves crash over her. Unfortunately, Captain Howdy is not alone in the lighthouse. His lover, a spiteful woman named Venecia, is present and throwing a fearsome tantrum that the lighthouse keeper is ending their affair (something always changes when the wife comes home - be it the wife or the mistress). In her fit of jealousy, Venecia attacks the light and electrocutes herself. The discharge also blows Captain Howdy off the tower and into the crashing waves below. Since bad things always come in threes and the lighthouse's beacon is extinguished, would you like to guess what happens to Ms. Howdy?

What you should be asking yourself is how Venecia was electrocuted by a lamp and reflector system that ran on oil or kerosene. I have stuck my finger into a burning liquid before, and it did hurt, but electricity was not to blame for my nerve endings screaming in agony.

Flash forward one hundred years (an anniversary divisible by ten, that never bodes well). Frederic Lansing is not enjoying the wealth and attention that his latest book, "Mouth to Mouth" is creating. He wants to ditch stories involving lesbians, well-endowed chauffeurs, and marmalade to write a true masterpiece of Western literature. The forlorn author decides that the old lighthouse in Hellview, Oregon is the perfect setting to kindle his creative juices.

To hide his identity, Frederic goes under the assumed name "Casper" and tells the rental agent, Kate, that he is a ghostwriter. Oh, don't leave now. Not all of the humor is of that quality. Most of it is much, much worse. Take, for example, when Frederic meets Kate and we hear their thoughts. Both of them fall immediately in lust and the tangled dialog becomes the cinematic equivalent of Chinese water torture. You know, this movie should be considered a form of torture and quite a bit of it involves water.

On his way into town, the protagonist did encounter Ralph and I honestly find the old man amusing. Ralph rides around town on his bicycle and tells everyone he meets, "You're doomed!" Seconds after delivering his dire proclamation, Ralph invariably has an accident, usually meaning that his bicycle goes somewhere a bicycle was never intended to be (into the water, off the road, in front of a truck, etc.). Anyway, when Frederic meets Ralph, Ralph tells him, "You're doomed!"

Living in the lighthouse is not conducive to Frederic's literary productivity, because Venecia's spirit wakes up and starts causing trouble. I guess that her soul was trapped inside the light when she died and, amazingly, the same fixture that was in place in 1882 is still there in 1982. The evil spirit pulls Captain Howdy's soggy corpse from the briny deep, scaring the heck out of half the harbor in the process. Faced with a mystery corpse, the Hellview medical examiner elects to call upon a man known to be a scientist of the bizarre. The town sends out a call for Dr. Paul Batton. The good doctor is a little busy at first, because he is trying to kill Dracula and Drac is not cooperating, but eventually things get sorted out. Dr. Batton and Fritz are soon enjoying the sights and sounds of scenic Oregon.

Which is to say that they are soaking wet, listening to the rain, and watching water fall from the sky.

Captain Howdy disappears from the morgue and starts doing what the ghosts of cursed sea captains often do: killing people. Anyone stabbed, chopped, or something'ed to death by Captain Howdy is instantly transformed into a gray-faced, turtleneck-wearing zombie. The undead always say, "What difference does it make?" (over and over and over). It takes a while, but the main characters finally notice an awful lot of people in town who wear turtlenecks and keep repeating the same phrase.

Confound it! I cannot understand how Captain Howdy sneaks up on his victims. The killer is a towering giant and he always carries a lantern in one hand. How does he surprise people? Master Tonberry carries a lantern and also has a tendency to appear when you least expect him. Maybe there is something about this lantern business that I do not understand.

While Dr. Batton and Fritz try to get to the bottom of the local turtleneck fashion craze, Frederic attempts to romance Kate. Venecia causes no few problems there; every time that the pair is about to make a real relationship breakthrough, the evil spirit afflicts Frederic in some manner. Eventually, Kate is tired of her date bellowing like a demon and spontaneously growing hair in all the wrong places. If she wanted that kind of aggravation, she would be dating a gym teacher.

I should mention that copies of "Mouth to Mouth" crop up throughout the movie. It is a continuing attempt at comedy that becomes annoying by the film's halfway point. Imagine watching a slovenly mother encourage her unwashed children to beat a dead horse with their wooden baseball bats. "Git it! Git it!" she screams, spewing half-chewed Little Debbie snack cakes from her swollen lips. The only other sounds are the various whacks and thumps as the inbred freak squad does just that. Now imagine watching that for ninety minutes. Now imagine that somebody thought that was funny.

I do not like this movie.

When it seems that all is lost and the town is overrun by zombies, Ralph rallies the loonies to stem the undead tide (yes, I know how stupid that sounds). The unexpected charge of the loony brigade gives Frederic, Dr. Batton, and Fritz a fighting chance, if they can survive the zombie carnival scene. Oh...good, zombies on a merry-go-round. Just what the world needed: more stupidity masquerading as humor. The worst thing about this mess is that we know the main characters will make it out alive. Heck, even Ralph will come through in one piece and Captain Howdy and Venecia will reconcile. Despite knowing that, I am still angry that all of these people survived the lighthouse exploding.

I watched the whole thing, hoping that one of the main characters would be turned into a zombie. At least then I would know that their eternal soul was suffering incomparable torment, just like my own. Damned be thee, Hudson Brothers three, and damned be me, too.

Based on the bare bones premise, "Hysterical" should have been funny. People get excited about seeing it when I describe the basic plot; then they watch it. By the end of the film, their excitement is noticeably diminished (meaning they sullenly stare at me). I am not certain when the change happens, but it might be around the time that the camera focuses on a fake rooster hanging from an overhead electrical line.

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • Bushy eyebrows on a sea captain is an evolutionary adaptation that keeps the rain out of their eyes.
  • Julie Newmar is a descendent of the Bride of Frankenstein.
  • ORM should never discount erosion as a possible hazard.
  • Wearing an "Indiana Jones" hat and jacket does not automatically make you cool.
  • Being dumped is even more humiliating when popcorn is involved.
  • Balsa wood is not the proper material for building a guard rail.
  • Striking someone in the small of their back with an axe will cause them to say, "Ow."
  • Zombies do not float.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 6 mins - Steinbeck did not write novels with titles like "Mouth to Mouth." The closest I can come to that trashy is if you think that "The Log from the Sea of Cortez" is a euphemism.
  • 20 mins - If that was true the movie's running time would be twenty minutes.
  • 31 mins - I think that I am going to need more brandy to make it through this film.
  • 44 mins - Hahahahahaha! Kill me.
  • 50 mins - Who filled that lamp with milk?
  • 52 mins - Even perpetual copyrights could not stop this scene.
  • 60 mins - Mousse or duct tape. Your choice, but the duct tape is what I suggest.
  • 63 mins - Trumpy, cut it out!
  • 68 mins - Did I accidentally switch the TV to the Republican national convention or...nope, still the movie.
  • 77 mins - Frederic must have repaired the guard rail at some point.


  • Zombie: "What difference does it make?"
  • Reporter: "Did you say in your review of 'Mouth to Mouth' that this was, 'A milestone in bad taste'?"
    Critic: "It's a novel meant to appeal to the baser emotions. The values in it are convoluted and sensationalized to a point of no return."
    Reporter: "It's a dirty book."
    Critic: "Yes. I recommend it."

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note hysterical1.wav Venecia: "Soon, you will hear me, my lover. Soon, you will be my new captain. I, Venecia, will control you. You will be mine! Time has come to get even with those sneering Hellview busybodies. I will bring Captain Howdy back to kill them. Revenge will be mine!"
Green Music Note hysterical2.wav Dr. Batton: "I've got a feeling this'll be a pretty easy case, though. Nothing unusual is gonna happen. Absolutely nothing unusual."
Ralph: "You're doomed!"
Fritz: "Me?"
Ralph: "Yeah, you're doomed."
Fritz: "I'm doomed?"
(Ralph goes off the road on his bicycle and crashes.)
Green Music Note hysterical3.wav Sheriff: "I know it sounds crazy, but a couple of people saw a sea captain running around town that fit the description of the missing corpse."
Mayor: "A walking corpse? Look, the people around here are so inbred and stooped in superstition, they'd tell ya they'd seen the Man in the Moon, if you asked them."
Green Music Note hysterical4.wav Dr. Batton: "There's this huge man with a lantern and an axe. He's a zombie, but listen, he's also a killer. He kills people but they don't really die. You see, they come back to life and they have big, bushy eyebrows, and they're pale. And they all wear turtlenecks. And for the rest of their poor, misbegotten lives, all they say is, 'What difference does it make?'"

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Cliphysterical1.mpg - 3.3m
Two scantily-clad ladies are keeping Dr. Batton and Fritz company, but the innkeeper hands them a note. Suddenly, the girls need to make a call. Captain Howdy kills them in the phone booth, meaning that both girls turn into turtleneck-wearing zombies that say...(drum roll, please)..."What difference does it make?"

The girls had to make a call, making them call girls. Get it? Get it? GET IT?

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