Local history: The worst movie made in Long Beach — or anywhere.

Local History is a weekly feature that looks at the people, places and events of Long Beach’s past. Have a question or a piece of history you want us to explore? Email [email protected].

Long Beach has been featured in hundreds of movies throughout its life. It’s been a shooting location for Academy Award-winners like “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “American Beauty” and “Crash,” as well as a host of thrillers and comedies—most notably “It’s a Mad. Mad, Mad, Mad World.”

But one feature film stands head and shoulders beneath all the others—being hailed in at least one compilation of the 50 worst movies ever made, as the worst of all worsts. Its title is long as well as a spoiler of sorts: “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?”

The award-winning film (the awards being a silver medal for longest title, having failed to surpass Roger Corman’s 1958 film “The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent,” and the gold for being the first monster musical, edging out “The Horror of Party  Beach,” which came out a month later, was released as not even a B movie, but as an opener at drive-in theaters for righteous B movies.

It was largely filmed at the Pike, the defunct and sometimes wistfully recalled amusement park in Long Beach, though, as is usually the case with movies made in Long Beach the Pike didn’t play itself in the movie. Rather, it took on the role of a  decaying Coney Island in Brooklyn.

The film’s poster promised a lot of weirdness if only in the movie’s use of the latest in horror technology and gimmickry: Not only was it filmed in Eastman Color, according to the advertisement, it also made use of “Terrordrama,” which, if you look at the film now, means giving everything a murky, swamplike look, and it was further billed as featuring  “Hallucinogenic Hypnovision,” which isn’t as drug-addled as it sounds but was instead a bunch of guys who got paid to run hollering into the theater at intervals to scare the crowd, as if moviegoers weren’t mortified enough by the movie and its gruesome plot that included a screaming wind-up monkey, a woman using either hypnosis or a splash of acid to her victims’ faces to turn them into zombies, one of whom goes totally amok and winds up getting shot on the beach by police.

In the midst of the mayhem, the viewer is treated to glimpses of the venerable Cyclone Racer and the always sort-of-dicey Laff in the Dark funhouse, featuring the cackling animatronic Laughing Sal and Laughing Sam and Blackie the Barker.

The music is torturous, with numbers such as “It Hurts” and “Shook Out of Shape” clamoring around strip acts amid swirling psycho-hypno effects, much of which takes place at the Pike.

Whatever talent that was involved in the movie came from behind the cameras.

The director of photography was Joseph V. Mascelli, who, as a civilian cinematographer for the Air Force, shot the aerial footage of the first H-bomb test at Bikini Atoll and wrote the seminal book “The Five C’s of Cinematography”; the late László Kovács, who would go on to work on “Easy Rider,” “Ghostbusters,” “Miss Congeniality” and many other films; and Vilmos Zsigmond, who made “The Deer Hunter,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “Deliverance” and who won an Oscar for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Zsigmond, who died on Jan 1, 2006 at his home in Big Sur, was voted in 2003 as one of the 10 most influential cinematographers in history by the members of the International Cinematographers Guild.

Local history: Long Beach’s first ‘thrill ride’ began rolling in 1907

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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