Berserk! (1967): “Kill, kill, kill, that’s all I feel inside me!”

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A ceremonious showing last night of Berserk! (yes, with an exclamation point) in honor of Dan’s birthday (he of the gorgeous recent Madeline Kahn piece). We all gathered with wine and “miniature cheese” (only in this crowd would someone reference Love Streams when someone shows up with a bunch of “miniature cheese” – “Member when Gena Rowlands shows up with all those ponies and she’s like, ‘They’re miniature horses!”) at Keith and Dan’s, and reveled in the GLORY of late Joan Crawford.

Crawford plays Monica Rivers, the owner (and master of ceremonies as well) of a circus. “This circus has been in my family for 50 years,” she declares. Of course it has. Every night, she puts on an unfortunate leotard showing her still-slamming legs, and walks out into the ring, announcing all the acts (which director Jim O’Connolly has decided to show in their entirety – a bizarre choice – do I need to see 30 poodles jumping through hoops for fifteen straight minutes?). But sadly, the “Great Rivers Circus” is going through some hard times, as the brilliant opening credits sequence shows (I’m not being sarcastic – seriously, you want to see ART? Mixed with CRAY-CRAY? Find Berserk and watch the opening credits) – and people are being murdered while doing their acts. A tightrope walker plummets to his death. Scotland Yard is called. Because yeah, Scotland Yard concerns itself with the petty jealousies swarming through a low-rent jank circus.

Crawford is supposedly a third-generation carnie, yet she dresses like, well, Joan Crawford in her Pepsi corporate days, with ropes of colored pearls on her neck, and strangely colored boxy-shaped suits. Except when she puts on her spangly leotard of course.

Crawford’s business partner is a melancholy vaguely homosexual Englishman who sadly BITES it one night in a rather grisly manner. Right around this time though, a hottie tightrope walker (played by Ty Hardin, a truly strange individual – look up his bio on IMDB and you’ll see what I mean. Dude, you need to chillax with the Ruby Ridge mindset. Gotta love those self-righteous Christians who also have had 8 or 9 wives! Way to walk the walk!) shows up and offers his services, to be the new act, something no one has ever seen before! He walks on a tightrope (“blindfolded” it is announced – although he actually puts a black hood over his head so he looks like a long lost photo from Abu Gharib) without a net, and on the ground below him is a bed of sharp knives, sticking up into the air. Crawford takes him on, in more ways than one. One second she is sizing up his act, next second she is wearing a flowy nightgown, her hair is down, she’s smoking a cigarette, and obviously having a May-December sex fling with the dude. “Man, she works fast,” one of us commented.

There are many complications to this plot (which sadly you have a LOT of time to ponder because of the interminable circus acts you are forced to sit through), including a perky daughter of Crawford who has been thrown out of boarding school (for smoking cigarettes. What? Also, the headmistress accompanies the daughter to the circus to hand her off to her mother. Really? A headmistress of a boarding school has nothing better to do than travel by train across England with an expelled student so that she can then snottily state the exposition to Crawford? The daughter is not a BAD girl, you understand … it’s just that she’s circus folk … she wants to be with her “peeps”.)

Crawford wants MORE for her daughter (who looks vaguely like, hm, Cristina) than the circus life, but due to her love for her child she says, “Okay fine, you can come back – but you’ll work.”

There’s also a blonde bodacious slut (Crawford actually calls her that in one of the best moments in the movie – she walks right up to her and says, “You … slut“) – who does the best act in the circus (apparently) with a suspicious-looking guy of apparent Serbo-Croatian heritage named Lazslo – and when we finally see the act, THE thing that has been drawing in the crowds over all those years – we all were like, “That’s it? That’s the headliner?” But anyway, blonde slut who dresses like a cheaper less interesting version of Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop becomes convinced that Crawford herself is behind all the murders. Blonde slut starts to stir the pot, whispering in a conspiratorial manner with the other circus performers. So there are great scenes involving a strong man, a bearded lady, a midget, and a blonde slut, whispering about murder. There are lines like, “I’m a strong strong man, but even I couldn’t commit murder” followed by ,”I may have a beard, but I know right from wrong,” followed by, “I’m a midget but I’m no murderer.”

Cinema doesn’t get any better than that.

Crawford, when filmed head on, always has a dark band of shadow across her chin and neck, to hide her age. It doesn’t matter if the scene takes place in a small circus trailer where there is no outside light and also, well, no BARS to make shadows … she still has her special light with her.

Her hair deserves its own zip code. It is pulled back sleekly, with then tiers and tiers of braids coiled on top, sometimes with jewels woven through. But then she’s wearing these sea-foam-green corporate suits, or boxy black and white jackets. Because people who own traveling circuses look like that.

Events unfold with very little tension (due to the breaks we are forced to take to watch the elephant act or the trotting ponies), but a lot of unintentional comedy, and man, just watch Crawford SELL this abysmal material.

She’s basically an old lady at this point in her life, and yet there she is, in this piece of shit movie, but she has obviously demanded that she have things her way. “I must have a band of shadow across my neck at all times, I must wear my own clothes, and you must get out of my way to let me do whatever I want to do.” Why not, the woman is Joan Crawford for God’s sake. To quote her best line from the movie, “I’m running a circus, not a charm school.”

Damn straight.

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27 Responses to Berserk! (1967): “Kill, kill, kill, that’s all I feel inside me!”

  1. Emily says:

    That is the greatest movie poster I have ever seen.

  2. red says:

    hahahahahahahaha I know!!

  3. Catherine says:

    When I read the title of the post and clapped my eyes on that redonkulous poster, I literally laughed aloud. I laughed the entire way through reading this post and Im currently still in chest- heaving, side-splitting, eyes watering, throat-aching laughter, trying to figure out how I can see this film.

    “There are many complications to this plot (which sadly you have a LOT of time to ponder because of the interminable circus acts you are forced to sit through)…”

    SERIOUSLY.! THAT IS TOO FUNNY. And…

    “There are lines like, “I’m a strong strong man, but even I couldn’t commit murder” followed by ,”I may have a beard, but I know right from wrong,” followed by, “I’m a midget but I’m no murderer.” ”

    !!!!

    Please, please tell us what on earth the slut does that brings in all the crowds!?

    Also, have you seen “Trog?” Joan’s last film where she plays an English (!) scientist (!) who takes charge of a locally-discovered troglodyte (!) much to the chagrin of the community, who don’t understand the historical/scientific and, yes, sentimental value of having a 3 billion year old ape man running around. Joan struts around her laboratory, wearing powder blue and light pink labcoats, attempting to pronounce words like “Neanderthal”, playing catch with the troglodyte and getting snippy with her daughter character, Ann. It’s a wreck, but totally worth watching for comedic value. It’s sad that this is what she was reduced to in the last phase of her career, but at least she kept working. I actually read somwehere that she was glad to take the part in “Trog” because a) she’d never played a scientist before and b) there were no sex scenes, which she didn’t approve of in films. Uh…okay. I would DIE if you saw the film – if you haven’t already – and write something on it.

  4. tracey says:

    I have never before seen a leotard with shoulder pads.

    Mind-boggling.

  5. tracey says:

    Okay. It’s probably her little jacket, but what if it’s NOT??

  6. red says:

    Also, Tracey, the jacket has long tails like a formal tuxedo. Awesome!!

  7. red says:

    Catherine – hahahaha TROG!

    wearing powder blue and light pink labcoats, attempting to pronounce words like “Neanderthal”, playing catch with the troglodyte and getting snippy with her daughter character, Ann.

    Howling!!! God, I love to play catch with troglodytes.

    The headliner act was basically the blonde slut lying in a box with her feet and head exposed – as her Serbo-Croatian partner ran a buzz saw through the middle of the box. Seems pretty standard trickery to me – nothing that would be responsible for the survival of this circus for so many years

    It is pretty cool to see a woman of her age blithely having an affair with a young beefcake dude – she still “got it” – but God, it was all so, well, BERSERK!

    The film is not on DVD more’s the pity. We watched an old VHS copy.

  8. Alex says:

    I have so much to say about this film I don’t even know where to start.

    First, one of my favorite parts of the movie (and of any..to be honest) is when Crawford is passing backstage talking with one of the carnies, and as they pass, there’s a HUGE machine with the words:

    PEPSI COLA

    ..written on it. In BIG RED LETTERS!

    This was in Joan’s contract before she said yes to the movie.

    Secondly, one of the best lines she ever spoke in any of her movies:

    “I’m running a circus, not a CHARM school.”

    And lastly, what about the fact that she literally travels around the entire circus with her own Key Light. She’s never lit full face. She’s always followed by her Mildred Pierce Light.

    I love you SO much for writing about this. SO much Sheila.

  9. Alex says:

    …I’m sorry, I can’t be done here:

    And THEN, can we PLEASE talk about the “Freak” musical number with the bearded lady, the Bones Man, the Tall Guy and the freaking Midget?????

    …………………..what?

    And the blond you’re taking about is Diana Dors. She was supposed to be the new answer to Mamie Van Doren who was a second rate Jayne Mansfield, who was a second rate Marilyn.

    And speaking of Mamie…if I never showed you “Girl’s Town” (and I think I might have) you MUST have a viewing of it. It’s absolute genius.

  10. Alex says:

    Okay, last one, I promise.

    Don’t you find it just a bit odd that Joan’s betrayed by a beautiful, blond daughter who wants to be just like mommy and yet feels neglected and vows revenge?

    I mean…..this movie’s genius. Pure genius.

  11. red says:

    Alex – if you ever stop commenting on this post, I will kill you.

    How could I not have mentioned that crazy musical number?? Seriously Alex, I am begging you to tell me what the hell that was and WHY.

    I love how Joan is standing in the audience laughing and clapping as though it’s the best musical number she’s ever seen.

    Seriously – what???

  12. red says:

    And yes – Diana Dors! She’s terrible – and her breasts were totally pointy – there was something weird going on with her undergarments. The scene where she comes on to Mr. Ruby Ridge Ty Hardin was strangely disturbing to me. Her skin looks orange. I dont know – something is way off.

  13. Alex says:

    Okay…the musical number….here’s what I have to say:

    WHY is the Midget’s voice the DEEPEST and most MASCULINE!?? I mean, it’s this weird, distorted, uber male bass thing. He sounds like he’s under water and singing through a tube.

    And I have NO idea who’s idea this was. This weird, twisted “Look how much the SAME we all are!” thing. The only thing I can think of was that it was the 60′s and everyone was into trying NOT to be racist and treat everyone like equals.

    By the way, the song was called:

    “…And It Might Be Me.”

    Diana was just PISSED through the whole thong, wasn’t she? I mean, she was ACTING! She was having her Gena Rowlands moments by the bushel. This was her Big Chance. And her death? What about her in the chainsaw cabinet as the saw is ripping through her and all of a sudden, out of of nowhere, there’s a RED SPOTLIGHT on her face??

    Just beautiful. Who DOES that anymore????

  14. red says:

    “It might be me” – hahahaha that’s right! Yes, it was all like – “yes, I’m a midget, but we’re all freaks …”

    Or … what was the message again? I love that you just took the time to not only analyze it but put it into the larger context of the social upheaval of the 60s.

    I LOVE YOU.

    Laughing out loud!!!!!!

    The midget’s dubbed voice was so strange that I wasn’t sure who was singing.

  15. red says:

    Also, hahaha

    Diana Dors = Gena Rowlands.

    It is so true that Ms. Dors was just GOING FOR IT (for good or evil) in every scene. She was acting the SHIT out of that thing.

  16. red says:

    Also, how about the Scotland Yard bigwig saying to his head detective (yeah, because this is the kind of case that Scotland Yard would assign DOZENS of agents to cover) – “I think we need to call in support” – and the detective said, “No, I’m really getting close here … let me handle it … we’ll just see what happens …”

    Meaning: let us have MORE murders occur ON MY WATCH … and the bigwig says, “All right, I’ll go along with it.”

    But … why? Why does that make any sense?

    It’s delicious.

  17. red says:

    I also love Joan “doing the books” in the first scene, wearing some sort of pink cotton muumuu. And a Mildred Pierce shadow across her chin.

  18. Alex says:

    Oh God Sheila, I’m literally watching it right now on my VCR cuz you have me so hyped on this thing. I’m like a junkie right now. I’m sitting here with the computer, a bowl of popcorn, and a MacDonalds cup of ice tea.

    Can I also say……how DU-RUNK is Crawford through this whole movie???

    In the first scene with the Muumuu, she says to her lover:

    “I want you to check all the circus’, far and wide…in London, Paris, and BERLIN!”

    And she SLAPS her hand for emphasis on the word “BERLIN!”

    Like really Joan? What’s so brilliant about Berlin? Are all the great acts in Berlin? Why the Gesture, Joan? What am I missing about Berlin that YOU see and *I* don’t??!

    And what about over the title credits as The Amazing Gardon is hanging from the rafters? What does Joan do? She HURLS all the midget clowns out on stage in a big Clown Clump!!

    Like, what’s that supposed to do, Joan? Are you distracting the audience from the swinging body above their heads with midget clowns?

    And then she proceeds to beat the snot out of some random photographer who’s snapping furiously at the body on the ground. I mean, she beats the HELL out of that guy!!

    This is the best night of my life right now.

  19. red says:

    Oh my God, we all loved that “Berlin” moment too – it is so random, just a random emphatic gesture that is NOT CONNECTED TO ANYTHING.

  20. red says:

    Alex – yes, send out the midget clowns while the dude is still dangling??

  21. Alex says:

    …also, I just have to say: Remember the night I practically forced you at gun point to watch “Straight Jacket”???

    God.

    Her performance in that thing is unparalleled.

  22. red says:

    The match on the record player …

    I honestly don’t know if I have ever laughed so hard in my life.

  23. red says:

    Okay I am shaking with laughter about that checklist

  24. Catherine says:

    Oh lordy. What’s with that stupid double-negative at the end of the trailer? Oh, the first guy who gets spiked through the head in the trailer – Michael Gough – also appears in “Trog” as Joanie’s enemy, the leader of the anti-Troglodyte brigade.

  25. red says:

    hahahahahaha

  26. A. Trice Berkley, III says:

    This has got to be one of the best (and most hilarious) reviews of a movie I have ever seen. I own a copy of the move (along with her other shocker of that era, “Straightjacket.” I discovered this review because I was watching “Autumn Leaves,” and decided to search for “why does Joan Crawford always have a shadow over her neck,” which, of course, occurred in ALL of her late movies. Even in the good ones, it is amusing to watch as a dark band of shadow appears across her neck, and then if another actor or actress stands in the same position, there is NO shadow. It follows Joan around like a dark ghost, and is quite disturbing if one gets too focused on it. Anyway, thanks for this great review!

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