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Film / Psych-Out

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Psych-Out is a 1968 psychedelic film directed by Richard Rush.

Deaf, underage runaway Jenny Davis (Susan Strasberg) travels to San Francisco in search of her missing brother Steve (Bruce Dern), whom she hasn't seen since he ran away years ago. Her only lead is a postcard that says "Jess Saes: God is alive and well and living in a sugar cube." She befriends the band Mumblin' Jim, consisting of Stoney (Jack Nicholson), Ben (Adam Roarke), and Elwood (Max Julien). The band members hide Jenny from the police in their hippie commune, and—along with ex-member Dave (Dean Stockwell)—help her search for Steve.

Psych-Out contains examples of:

  • '60s Hair: From the long, flowing hair many of the male characters have, to Warren's massive sideburns, to the big afros seen on white men.
  • Abusive Parents: Jenny and Steve's mother was a cruel, hate-filled woman who delighted in coming up with creative punishments.
  • Attempted Rape: A group of thugs with a grudge against Steve try to rape Jenny to see if she really believes in free love. The band members fight them off.
  • Batter Up!: Elwood uses a baseball bat to fight the thugs.
  • Broken Treasure: Jenny could hear as a child, but one day her mother threw her box of her personal treasures into the furnace. This traumatized her so badly that she never heard again.
  • Bullet Time: Used during Dave's Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Costume-Test Montage: The band members take Jenny to a clothing drop — the Diggers Free Store — where she can get changed out of her "square" clothes. She tries on a succession of outfits, most of which are vetoed by the band, before settling on a short white dress.
  • Down in the Dumps: The protagonists' search leads them to a junkyard full of abandoned cars.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Strawberry Alarm Clock song that plays over some scenes is officially called "The Pretty Song from Psych-Out."
  • Forgot the Disability: The other characters often forget that Jenny is deaf.
    Ben (yelling from a car): Hey, Jenny!
    Stoney: Hey, it's not gonna do you any good to yell, you know.
    Ben: Oh yeah, that's right.
  • Freak Out: Warren (Henry Jaglom), who designs Mumblin' Jim's posters, has a bad trip that causes him to try to kill the band members with power tools, then cut his arm off.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: During her STP trip, Jenny stands in the middle of traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge. Dave pushes her to safety and gets hit by a car in the process, atoning for his mistake in giving her the drug in the first place.
  • Hippie Van: Mumblin' Jim drive a psychedelically painted van with an ankh made of flowers tied to the roof.
  • Looks Like Jesus: When Steve finally shows up, he has long, tangled brown hair, a short beard, and a wild expression, and wears white robes. The church father who comments on the hippies' idealism compares them to the early Christians.
  • Match Cut: From a furry yellow blanket to a field of wheat and back again.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Dean Stockwell as Dave is doing an amazing impression of Neil Young as he was at that time (the two were good friends). Dave's having quit the band over artistic integrity vs. commercial success reflects Neil's disagreements with his bandmates, especially in Buffalo Springfield, over same.
  • The Power of Love: The point of the theatrical group's pantomime is that death is merely a passage to eternal life, and that people should be sustained by love, mutual caring and a conscious decision to refrain from violence.
  • Reading Lips: How Jenny communicates. As usual in fiction, she's unrealistically good at it and never makes a mistake as long as she can see someone's mouth.
  • Signs of Disrepair: Jenny is baffled by Steve's postcard until she learns that he used to live near a sign that said "JESUS SAVES," where the U and the V had gone dark.
  • Single Malt Vision: A frequently used effect, especially when a character is on drugs, shows an image in the middle of the screen with smaller copies circling around it.
  • There Is Only One Bed: The only place for Jenny to sleep is Stoney's tiny room. Jenny finds sleeping next to him very uncomfortable, especially when he brings other women in. Although they have sex eventually.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness:
    • During Warren's bad trip, he sees other people as zombies, and his own arm as rotten and infested with maggots.
    • When Elwood fights off Jenny's attempted rapists, he sees himself as a swordsman fighting off knights and a dragon.
    • When Jenny takes STP, she sees everything around her burst into flame.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Jenny and Steve are played in a flashback by child actors Susan Bushman and William Gerrity.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Used while Jenny changes in Stoney's room.
  • We Need a Distraction: When the police arrive at the pad looking for Jenny, Ben distracts them by starting a brawl.
  • Western Zodiac: Warren hits on almost every woman he meets, including Jenny, by asking them if they're Geminis.
    Warren: I'm a Leo, baby! And we are in phase! I mean, that is if you really are a Gemini.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Was Steve the Seeker rescued from the fire or did he perish?