Trust no one

Pub date July 20, 2010

CULT CINEMA The ’70s were prime time for conspiracy theories, particularly at the movies — thanks to Watergate as well as queasy unresolved 1960s conflicts between the counterculture and the establishment.

Paranoid thrillers like Three Days of the Condor (1975) and The Parallax View (1974) riffed off nonfiction All the President’s Men. An entire independent studio-cum-distributor — Sunn Classics — made or bought "documentaries" befuddling folkloric fears around topics like Bigfoot, reincarnation, the Bermuda Triangle, and crop-circley UFO invasions. Bestselling novelist Ira Levin (The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby) unleashed antifeminists, Satanists, and more as figures of pulp speculation.

The Vortex Room’s July schedule has been entirely taken up with cinematic expressions of vintage conspiratorial paranoia. You’ve already missed some, but what’s left is choice. Thursday’s double bill offers two seldom-seen whoppers. Once-famous (if now forgotten) is The Hellstrom Chronicle, 1971’s contribution to a long line of questionable Best Documentary Oscar winners. Tricked out with extraordinary nature photography, it portentously posits mankind’s greatest peril as takeover by the insect world. Ooh … scary?

Equally swacked is 1978’s The Lucifer Complex, a bizarro patchwork — clearly shot at different times, under sharply different budgetary circumstances — eventually pointing toward a Nazi rejuvenation scheme à la Levin’s The Boys From Brazil. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.‘s Robert Vaughn is its unfortunate star.

July 29 brings the mutha lode of ’70s sci-fi conspiracy movies. First the nearly terrific action fantasy of Peter Hyams’ 1977 Capricorn One, in which such colorfully mismatched chess pieces as Elliott Gould, Karen Black, O.J. Simpson, Sam Waterston, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro, and Telly Savalas shuffle in a government cover-up scheme. Spoiler: we never really landed on the moon!

Five years earlier, English "Supermarionation" marionettist Gerry Anderson (of Thunderbirds fame) released his sole live-action feature. Invasion: UFO offers Swinging London perspective on a war against invading aliens in the distant future of 1980.

This typically brisk, academy-trained, Dr. Who-like Brit take on coarse commercial nonsense is woofed up by bombshells in skintight leotards and platinum-wigged minions in white/burgundy overalls. (Clearly the costume designer was heterosexual, and then some.) Although let’s face it, there’s nothing like a silver Mylar jumpsuit to bring out the disco-licious in either sex. Meanwhile, others wear mesh muscle tees well before your average Judas Priesthead started doing so. Invasion: UFO is the gift that Quaaludes keep on giving. (Dennis Harvey)


Thurs/22 and July 29, 9 p.m., $5

Vortex Room

1082 Howard, SF