Imagine a film that mixes elements of Psycho, John Waters’ trash epics and Douglas Sirk melodramas and then ladles all that up with lashings of full-on, 1970s moustached and hairy-assed porn. The existence of Curt McDowell’s Thundercrack!, the infamous 1975 perverted noir underground comedy means you don’t have to imagine such a beast.
Thundercrack! became my very own Moby Dick (pun very much intended) when British customs officials seized the print of the film on both occasions I attempted to see it at London’s Scala Cinema in the mid/late 1980s (or at least that’s what we were told by management, maybe it was just a bit of good, old fashioned carny huckstering), but now anyone can indulge themselves in the comfort of their own home with Synapse Films’ 40th anniversary blu-ray edition.
When a disparate group of strangers are stranded at the old, dark house of a bereaved and off-her-rocker widow, the stage is set for a deranged psychodrama of extraordinary proportions and a night of psychological game-playing and rampant sex ensues. Men, women, dildos, penis pumps, vegetables and escaped circus animals engage in down and dirty shenanigans, with pubes and cum filling the screen and making sure you’ll never look at a cucumber in the same way again. Mix all this with pickled brains in jars, death by locust, the fear of girdles, the curse of enlarged testicles and some wonderful, feverish storytelling and lighting effects and you know you’re witnessing something unique and unforgettable.
Pitched at a constant, heightened state of near-hysteria, the film is full of cracked performances and hilarious, ripe monologues (delivered even in the midst of blowjobs), and the sheer, joyful tastelessness of this perfect parody leaves you in no doubt that Thundercrack! was never intended for the dirty mac brigade but rather as an almost artistic attempt to push some boundaries for the more imaginative (not to mention brave) viewer.
Synapse worked closely with the director’s sister (and one of the film’s stars) Melinda McDowell, for this anniversary edition and the effort shows. It’s a beautifully put together disc, with the film looking and sounding as good as it’s ever likely to, and packed with a gaggle of great extra features including a documentary, a director’s commentary (taken from audio interviews) and outtakes from the film. Really, it’s a miracle that we would ever live to see this film treated with such respect and care on home video.
I worried that there was no way this film could possibly live up to almost thirty years of expectations. I’m happy to say that McDowell and company proved me wrong, shocked me on the sofa and left me feeling delighted, entertained… and grimy as hell.