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Deliberately Lost SF Classics
by K. A. Laity


Despite a cast that included several purebred llamas and enthusiastic jockeys, the film failed to take off—perhaps for the same reasons. Rumour had it that producer Alana Perez refused to work the llamas for the grueling shifts that director Jimenez Arlberg demanded, citing the concerns of the Quechua handler of the beasts who claimed they were never used as mounts at all. Indeed throughout the production it is possible to see llamas doing their best to dislodge riders with bucking, rolling and lying down on top of them. By the end of the shoot, the disgusted breeder took off with his llamas and it became necessary to shoot several key scenes with large dogs. It is to the credit of editor Roberta Santiago that in most of the scenes the change is hardly obvious. However, with the majority of the budget spent on acquiring the llamas, the sets were rushed and poorly constructed. In fact during the infamous crater scene, it is possible to glimpse the surprised crew revealed as one panel of the set falls away. Arlberg’s attempts to connect the script to a Ray Bradbury story for publicity purposes backfired when the angry writer sent him a fake vicuņa scarf in retort.



Despite the public’s seemingly bottomless desire for sexy bloodsucking dames, this film not only failed to find an audience, but was singled out for scorching ridicule by an unexpectedly large number of professional critics, who had been led to believe that they were seeing an Otto Preminger film. One might hazard a guess that lead actor Barbara Titanium could be singled out for her poor acting, terrible timing and apparent inability to remember her lines even though, as the Times critic Langdon Aulder sniffed, she seemed to be moving her lips as she read them from cue cards, painfully sounding out each syllable. Yet worse than the ludicrous plot (the women had become vampires after being stung by radioactive wasps) and the tedious dialogue (allegedly Truman Capote had been begged to act as script doctor on the project but claimed ‘Even Gina Lollabrigida couldn’t resurrect that corpse’) was the confused direction from first-time director (and multi-millionaire) Roderick Bingley. Bingley had only the vaguest notions of how to make a film and seemed to actually believe that actors made up their dialogue as they went along. His first pass at the script with his polo team buddies was refused acceptance by the Writer Guild of America. Their letter acidly suggested that he find a native speaker of English to adapt the script. Yale University denied he had in fact graduated from their august institution after the leaked letter made the rounds of the Harvard Club.



The idea of the last of two legendary creatures teaming up certainly must have seemed like a fantasy sure to provide a magical screen sensation. However, the film suffered from two obvious defects, perhaps most disastrously that writer/director Derek Heath thought it would be exciting to have the unicorn speak with the voice of former child star Mercedes Benevolent and to have the fairy be played by the 6’5” actor and notorious libertine, Jacques San Cruste. Benevolent had suffered through years of alcoholism after her fall from grace (see “The Child Star and her Pony” which had nothing to do with horses) and was well onto developing the lung cancer that would end her life. Consequently her voice sounded, in the words of Pauline Kael, like ‘wheels on gravel.’ San Cruste, who had outraged television audiences with his single appearance on ‘What’s My Line?’ and forever condemned live broadcasts to somber news and sports coverage, was said to have encouraged Heath the most outrageous elements of ‘lavender sporting’ or what we now call ‘homoerotic subtext’ although to be fair there was nothing subtextual about it, particularly when one considers the ‘Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden’ sequence. While other films in this vein have been rescued as camp gems from the blinkered past’s restrictions, ‘The Unicorn’s Fairy’ deserves obscurity. There is nothing even vaguely resembling wit in Heath’s script or San Cruste’s performance which mostly consists of single-entendres and attempts to fondle the unicorn’s tender parts. Nonetheless he seems to have enjoyed inflicting the film on guests to his home for decades afterward.



Would it be too cutting to refer to Buford Helaine as a low budget Russ Meyers? The cleverest thing about this film was its title, a hasty change before printing the reels for distribution. The film originally called ‘Witches on Wheels’ seemed doomed from the start by the director’s cavalier attitude toward story, dialogue and perhaps most unfortunately, focus. While his nominal star, Agatha Plenty, certainly enjoyed herself with the abandon of a small child playing in mud, she could not seem to stay upright on a motorcycle long enough for even a brief road sequence. Inserts patently show her on a stationary motorcycle, leaning over to show off her primary assets which the director always encouraged. Alas, the elaborate ritual sequence allegedly designed by Marjorie Cameron had been so poorly lit that it is possible now only to see some flickering candles and hear the women giggling. While tales of the orgy sequence scandalized Hollywood during filming, it is not possible to see whether Helaine and Plenty were actually performing the act in question amongst an array of fornicating cohorts because he did not actually check to see that the camera was in focus. Perhaps we are lucky it is so.