What do you get when a Spook-Show magician (and local TV-horror host) writes, produces, directs, does the special effects, and stars in a no-budget murder-mystery courtroom-drama permeated with a pre-Faces of Death - style obsession with death by execution? Yup: The Electric Chair, a wonderfully off-kilter filmed-in-the-Carolinas regional rarity that's a perverse joy from beginning to end.
Reverend Sam's marriage isn't working. His much-older (an tough-as-nail) wife Clair wnats none of "that dirty physical stuff." So, after a prayer meeting, the Rev. Sam steps out with Miss Marilyn, whose beer-swillin' fat slob of a husband ignores her: "I need tofeel like a woman, the way you need to feel like a man!" Together, they have a brief affair -- until someone murders them. Sam is shot point blank in the head while Marilyn has her tongue "ripped right out of her head" which is "damn near cut off her body." But who done it? The D.A. pins the murders on loony religious fanatic Mose Cooper (hilariously overplayed by the director, J.G. "PAT" PATTERSON) who claims to have had a vision of the murder: "Yey, there's been a judious Judas right here in our midst!" Sentenced to die in the electric chair, Mose is "fifteen seconds away from gettin' fried" when a surprise alibi clears him. Clair and her brother Crazy Billy are then put on trial until...well, Billy goes nuts and --in a surprisingly exhilarating moment -- start shooting everyone in the courthouse...
Marvelously crude and unslick, The Electric Chair is the kind of backwoods Americana that delights in exposing the underbelly of Small Town U.S.A., a feat helped in no small part by a cast of local unknowns doing their best on mostly real locations. (Except for the execution chamber. Look around and you'll spot a number of props Patterson later recycled for Doctor Gore. And what's the atop the electric chair itself? Yes, folks, believe it or not, it's a sparkler.)
In addition to his stints as stage magician "Don Brandon" and horror host "Mad Daddy," director (Julius Gustavius) Patterson also worked on the fringes of the film industry, most notably toiling behind the scenes and playing bit parts in a number of films by Herschell Gordon Lewis. (Patterson is both the blind guy and the man in bandages who get beaten up in Just for the Hell of It.) Though The Electric Chair carries a 1975 copyright, it was probably filmed in 1972, and followed by Patterson's goofy "Frankentstein" film, Doctor Gore / The Body Shop in 1973, and the excellent Axe, which he only produced, in 1974. By all accounts, Patterson must've been quite a character. He's also his own worst actor and hams it up grandly in both The Electric Chair and Doctor Gore. His wife, NITA PATTERSON, plays the snotty Clair: "That two timin' son of a bitch!" Despite the film's faults -- actually, because of them -- we can only mourn that Patterson didn't churn out more cinematic nuggets before his death in 1974.
From a 35mm high-voltage print. Frank Henenlotter
Starring: Nita Patterson
Co-starring: Katherine Cortez
Other cast: Barry Bell, Don Cummins, Pat Patterson
Directed by: J.G. "Pat" Patterson