Color, 1975, 78 mins. 40 secs.
Directed by James Glickenhaus
Starring Bob Byrd, Monica Tidwell, Mark Buntzman, Alison McCarthy
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Five years before he scored a major trashy action hit with The Exterminator that led to six more gritty crime films (including The Soldier, The Protector, Shakedown, McBain, and Slaughter of the Innocents) and the founding of VHS-era exploitation factory Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, writer-director James Glickenhaus kicked off his career on a very different note with The Astrologer. A dreamy and almost indescribable would-be midnight movie that mixes mysticism with apocalyptic horror, the 1975 film was given a theatrical reissue and VHS release (from Continental Video) under the more exploitative title Suicide Cult and likely left most viewers scratching their heads at what they’d just witnessed. It didn’t help matters that a 1976 film was also called The Astrologer, features very similar poster art, and has since become notorious for its unlicensed Moody Blues songs that have kept it out of general circulation for decades apart from rare one-off screenings. After years of unavailability, the Glickenhaus film has been brought back to the public via Severin Films with separate Blu-ray and DVD editions in 2020 that should be received a bit more warmly now that you can have a great drinking game every time someone says "zodiacal potential."
The plot… uh… such as it is, involves a covert government agency in Arlington, Virginia called Interzod for whom master astrologer Alexei (Byrd) has developed a unique path to finding individuals with just the right amount of cosmic mojo to align with modern technology and produce a new path forward for mankind. Unfortunately, the yin to his yang is Kajerste (Buntzman), a mystic cultist whose potential is entirely negative and poses a major threat to the world’s balance from his headquarters in India. There’s also some chatter about a new virgin birth that will usher the world into the next age and the fortune-telling fandom of Alexei’s frequently unclothed wife, Kate (Nocturna’s Tidwell), with whom he hasn’t consummated their marriage because she possesses a Messianic prototype that’s rarely found in the human race.
Certainly bizarre but never dull, this one throws in so many elements you’ll feel adrift by the end of the first half hour. Incredibly, this was based on a 1973 novel by John Cameron that fits in nicely with that ‘70s fixation with literature based on the occult, and it makes sense that Glickenhaus would latch onto it as a project just out of film school. The director himself bemoans the overly chatty nature of the script, though in this case the dialogue is also plenty weird and will have you either chuckling or scratching your head at random intervals (e.g., "We can now directly wiretap into a man's soul, and all we need is his birthday"). The whole thing is also soaked in that intangible hungover quality that permeates many genre films from the period (see Blue Sunshine and Phase IV for other prime examples), and for good measure, you get some lingering mondo-level footage of real dead bodies (including kids) at the halfway point just to throw you further off balance.
Off the market for decades and pretty much forgotten, The Astrologer comes back into the orbit of home video from Severin looking pretty solid with a transfer cited as a 4k scan from the director's personal answer print. Detail looks nice and film grain has been left fully intact, thankfully; the flesh tones have started to veer to the pink side but it's likely this is the best it will ever look. The DTS-HD MA English mono track also sounds fine for a mid-'70s mono mix pulled from a print, and optional English SDH subtitles are included. Three featurettes shed some light on the concoction of this oddity starting off with "Sign of the Times" (9m58s) with Glickenhaus noting how this was essentially a learning experience (basically a non-union student film in his estimation) that posed challenges as he learned how to tell a story visually and amp up the action in his subsequent features. Then an interview with Tidwell (5m55s) covers her casting after an appearance as a Playboy model and a pleasant overall experience with everyone involved. In "Tales from the Set" (14m11s), filmmakers Brendan Faulkner (assistant camera) and Frank M. Farel (gaffer/grip) have a walk down memory lane about their first 35mm production and cutting their teeth on the fly with equipment they'd never used before. Finally, "Zodiacal Locations" (8m7s) features New York location pro Michael Gingold doing another terrific, thorough job of pointing out the various familiar locales from the film including SUNY Purchase. Because nothing goes better with occult conspiracy theories than a naked Lina Romay writhing in your face, you can also buy this as part of The Astrologer's Open Pleasure bundle.
Reviewed on March 11, 2020.