House on Bare Mountain (1962)
By Peter Conheim
Reading time 5 Minutes
Pity the poor “nudie cutie” feature, at least from a film preservation standpoint. When the nudist camp movie craze took off, fly-by-night hucksters began cranking out mass quantities of “product” at the lowest possible cost (of course). They had to be in blazing color to really compete in a crowded marketplace – really, do you want all those conveniently-placed bushes in front of genitals to be a boring gray?
Only a Russ Meyer would be so daringly arty. But the mid-1950s to the late-1970s happened to coincide with the period of the worst, most unstable color film print stocks ever made. Within five to ten years of manufacture, the colors in these prints would begin to mysteriously change, eventually fading and dissolving away into a Pepto Bismol-like pink and white murk. It was only in 1982 that Kodak and other companies began using more stable inorganic dyes, and color film stock became more reliable for the long-term.
Productions such as “nudie cuties” were never printed in the far more expensive Technicolor process, or its handful of derivatives (which didn’t fade), and so, the films in this genre simply don’t exist with good color… unless, by some miracle, the original camera negative still exists (and which itself can be subject to a degree of color fading).
In their quest for the best deal, most producers used the smallest and cheapest film labs, most of which didn’t stay in business for the long haul, and tossed whatever negatives they had in-house in the dumpster when they closed. Or, more likely, the producer of the film just walked away, or switched over to real estate after his failed cinematic venture. In any event, “preservation of the original element” was likely not a priority for anyone at the time for most of these productions.
And so, we are truly lucky to have been able to work from the pristine 35mm camera negative for The House on Bare Mountain. It’s not entirely clear how its previous owners, the Something Weird archive, originally got ahold of it (co-owner Mike Vraney took many of his secrets to the grave), but it was most likely found at a closed film lab, as so many treasures are. And we lucked out again, because once the negative was scanned in, it was determined that very little, if any, color fading had occurred.
The Restorationists’ image expert, Ross Lipman, devised a color scheme for the preservation based in large part on how the Eastman film stock of the time would have looked when it was fresh from the lab – using his extensive knowledge of the differing print stocks used in 1962. But it was also agreed that we would endeavor to really make the colors “pop” – that we would take advantage of the digital medium to bring out as much subtlety and detail as possible.
Comparing the climactic “party scene,” with its candy-colored streamers and outrageous costumes, from the old video transfer to the new restoration provides a perfect example of our approach. After all, the whole film is kind of a perverted party, and we wanted it to feel that way – that you were peeping in on a kind of sicko Oz. We hope that we have succeeded.
Peter Conheim is a film curator and preservationist based in El Cerrito, California. He is also the co-founder of the performing group Wet Gate, which uses only “found footage” and 16mm film projectors to create a live cinema collage, sampling the sound from the film tracks in real time, as well as Mono Pause, a long-running “Situationist rock” group (and its Southeast Asian music spin-off, Neung Phak) and a member of “culture jamming” legends Negativland. His Cinema Preservation Alliance non-profit organization is dedicated to the long-term survival of endangered motion pictures of all stripes.