The Something Weird Video Time Machine – Ghetto Freaks Under the Sign of Aquarius

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The world of Something Weird Video takes me back to a time when a world of movies from the outer limits of Exploitation would play theaters here and there like as if they were Punk bands on tour – and in fact one my favorite concert experiences of The Late 80’s was seeing The UK Subs as the Harbor which closed up as a Porno house weeks before. Sexy, cheap, controversial, exploitative, trend-riding, artistic, mad, and just plain entertaining, these movies are of a serious interest to me for being the kinds of works that would not have much of a chance of being made today with modern clean production smoothing out the edges that make them great to watch at 1 AM. Many of these films never had a major coast-to-coast Distribution, maybe area by area from year to year at times (and in this case title-to-title!), and many have a mystery of where they played with the answers going beyond the still-true cliche of the world of the Drive Ins in the South.

Being someone who just caught the Grindhouse party when it was closing shop and changing location to the Video Store and interested in the Late 60’s-Early 70’s I existed as a child, it was a natural to go through it’s counter-culture scene – or really the many attempts to do something before the usual crap settled in – and Sign of Aquarius was a film that jumped out at me. Made in Cleveland, OH as an attempt to exploit the success of Hair by trying to whip out a film filled with whiny long hairs, “meaningful” songs, arguments with straight society, and music powered by Wah Wah Guitars, this also threw in a story of a group leader escaping from his drug selling past only to find out the hard way that “once in-never out” was the rule and those who stood in the way had to be dealt with – in this story a sad case from the “She’s Leaving Home” department. Produced by Cinar, a company (based in The South?) that was cranking out Adult potboilers like Dare the Devil and later X-Rated fare like Trick, this was it’s one attempt to break into the Hippie Flick trend that was already wilting away or in a few cases going to the Arthouse, and it was a serious bummer of a film which captured a time and place so perfectly with it’s High School/College Drama Club theatrics, moments of pseudo-Documentary flavor, and local scenery with a couple of good tunes to go with it and a release history that’s a perfect lesson in Exploitation.

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I first caught the information through the AFI books as Sign of Aquarius, but the Psychotronic Video Guide had it under Love Commune with an amusing story by Michael Weldon about an “audition”/promotion for it’s life as Ghetto Freaks, the title most of us have seen it as. Looking through it’s history was going to be a trip without drugs!

vlcsnap-2015-03-22-23h19m16s210vlcsnap-2015-03-22-23h27m36s94toledo7870-17-8-70, Toledo – It’s hard to think why Blood Feast would be the B, but then again the Hippie world was headed for a slow death after Altamont as the scenes across the US falling into hard drugs and violence (the Goose Lake festival was proving it’s failure in Michigan). It would be impossible to read into this, so just let the dark vibes flow “In Loving Color” and “In Blood Color”!

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2-12-71, Ottawa – Sign of Aquarius also hit Canada “In Turned-On Color” Maaaaaaaan! The Mall was a theater that was doing alright with it’s Exploitation programming until the Porno theaters killed off it’s business. Even with some adventurous epic late night movie festivals trying to keep thing afloat, it closed around 1974.

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2-23-71, Brandon, Manitoba – I’m still wondering how that image had to be censored from a newspaper.

bridgeport-conn-4-5-71-swvchi11-5-71mixswv-sign-copy4-5-71, Bridgeport and 11-5-71, Chicago, both selling it like an Adult film that was R-level at best. It will finally get an official rating soon enough.

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3-24-72, Chicago and 5-10-72, Detroit – By 1972, it was obvious that the Hippie version was not going to work and a change was needed in the plan with the Urban Action genre gathering steam. Although it was a fact that most Hippie centers were actually in the ghettos of the city, nobody was thinking about that when it came to throwing in some scene about an urban blood cult that had no connection to the original movie. With the deletion of an anti-Draft song and a big jumble of scenes that ruined whatever flow the film had, Sign of Aquarius turned into Ghetto Freaks and Exploitation history was made.

Filming in the Midwest was a perfect plan as it avoided all of the marks of a Hollywood-made film: poster-ready stars who slum in the movies, professionally produced music, clever special effects, and brilliant photography. Shoving aside the obvious, the low budget film making with local actors made this more like a documentary at times with some attempts to dramatize things by following a popular formula of the day lightening things up. Despite the clumsy editing and campaign change, the film still remained playable through The 70’s in the Midwest!

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5-6-72, Cresaptown, MD – In a case of “but that’s not all!”, it was also released as Love Commune for the smaller cities and out-of-the-way Drive Ins. The Potomac was seriously a definition of Out-of-the-Way as it could get!

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10-12-72, Daytona Beach – What the…?!!! They should feel lucky that this false hype did not lead to destruction.

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1-22-73, Kansas City – Trying to sell it with a dramatic Urban film was not as mind-blowing at least…

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1-10-73, Kansas City – …but pairing it with Walk the Walk (nice fit) and of all things The Gruesome Twosome was a bit of a crazy ride. Not making this up, it played with ANOTHER HG Lewis Gore epic!

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1-22-73, Greenville, TX – This looked like the most honest way of selling the film (I wonder if the Love Commune version was the original edit with just a title change?). In real life, some people had very little choice than to join up with a group like this, although the “Love People” angle was already done and over with by the first minute of 1970.

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4-25 and 8-23-73, Panama City, FLA – I’m still trying my damnedest to see where Distributors found a connection between playing this with an HG Lewis film! Maybe there was some anti-Hippie message in there, somewhere.

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6-21-75, Panama City – Late Show. I’m sure it had to be just thrown on the screen.
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6-24-75, Greenwood, SC – The infamous Ghetto Freaks/Ghetto Rat combo that played some areas in the US. Ghetto Rat was the first of two films by Satan’s Children Director Joe Weizycki originally released as Willie’s Gone.
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akron-10-6-789-8-78, Detroit; 9-22-78, Toledo; 10-6-78, Indianapolis; 10-6-78, Akron – One more round of showings in the Tri-State area of Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana before moving into the forgotten world until someone thought it cool to save it from disappearing. These showings were all in the Urban Action and Drive In circuits with fitting co-features.

vlcsnap-2015-03-22-23h26m08s174vlcsnap-2015-03-22-23h26m20s101vlcsnap-2015-03-22-23h38m22s148vlcsnap-2015-03-22-23h16m14s177As an attempt to ride on the Hippie Exploitation trend, Sign of Aquarius was slightly too late in the trend but at least had some local charm which brought the viewer into the scene. With it’s changes, it was an example of Exploitation history that will never happen in these know-at-the-moment times – Cinar’s Trick would face the same kinds of changes that will led to it’s change to Dirty Trick with added scenes with a young Grace Jones in the Late 70’s. It’s a recommended film to those who want to see all of the examples of how a subculture turned into a quick-sell plot point with a flavor that accidentally was it’s own in the end in either version.

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~ by screen13 on October 28, 2016.

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