Today I walked a couple of miles from my house and bought a few things along the way. Not wanting to carry the bags all the way home, I decided to take the bus. After waiting for about five minutes, an extremely unpleasant older guy walked up, carrying a piece of toast slathered with peanut butter. He hadn't eaten any of it, but he held it out in a haphazard way, making me not want to stand too close for fear of bumping up against it. I wondered why the guy would be carrying around a piece of toast slathered in peanut butter in windy, sub-freezing weather. But soon the bus arrived and I took my seat further back on the bus, away from the creepy peanut butter guy. He sat in the handicapped area and began stuffing the nauseating protein/starch lump into his gullet. His head and neck looked like a dollop of pink rubber with stubble jutting from it. A tiny, gray knit cap was stretched over it, and the man began licking his fingers, now glistening with saliva. I worried that I might touch something that came within three feet of his fingers, at which point dysentery would set in and my internal organs might begin shutting down.
I mention this as a way of illustrating my reaction to watching Mickey Rooney's performance in The Manipulator. I can't say I've ever been a fan. To be honest, this guy has always gotten under my skin, whether he was sipping a soda with Judy Garland, caterwauling his way through execrable novelty records like Bouillabaisse, or shilling for Garden State Life Insurance Company. There was one Twilight Zone episode where he was okay, but only because he played an asshole. I just find him repulsive, like the kid who always scrapes his snot under his school desk, or the guy eating peanut butter on the bus.
The Manipulator doesn't just amplify that sentiment; it seizes it, takes delight in it, and rubs the repugnance of Rooney in my face with a drug addled glee akin to the dinner scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Since there literally is no plot, I'll just describe in no particular order some of the psychic abominations that occur. An actress is tied to a wheelchair in Rooney's torture dungeon. Don't ask how she got there. Director Yabo Yablonsky wanted to transcend linearity for art. If you have a problem with that, why don't you rent some Seinfeld videos? Keenan Wynn pops up out of nowhere, acts almost as creepy as Mickey Rooney, and is quickly murdered. Mickey Rooney puts on women's mascara, and treats us to an extended closeup of his sweaty, makeup encrusted face, spouting delusional nonsense. Mickey Rooney dresses up like Cyrano De Bergerac. On two occasions, he suddenly bursts into Chatanooga Choo Choo. I'm not kidding. Naked old people in clown makeup dance and laugh hysterically. On countless occasions, Rooney or Luana Anders (the actress in bondage) hallucinates, and there is an assault of cheap film gimmicks like strobe lights, color filters, slow motion and fast motion. One such hallucination is an extended hippie freakout scene which ultimately contributes nothing. And blaring during all of this is a soundtrack that will delight middle aged potheads, sort of a Stockhausen meets Soft Machine electronic stew.
Halfway through the film, Mickey Rooney has a heart attack, and cuts the straps holding Luana Anders in her wheelchair. For some reason, she decides it's a good idea to go fetch his medication for him. So the second half of the movie consists of him chasing her around, accompanied by the aforementioned blaring music and strobe lights. I can see why it was done this way, because if you just filmed this shit without the distraction of cheap effects, it would be on par with a Larry Storch/Joey Heatherton comedy sketch on the Dean Martin Variety Hour. But add flashing lights and electronic music, and it becomes art.
In the credits, I noticed that Larry Cohen did the set design. But to my relief, it turned out to be a different Larry Cohen. Oh, and Burt Sugarman (remember him from The Midnight Special?) was the executive producer.
If you love extremely weird shit and don't give a rat's ass about coherence or the dignity of the people involved, then I highly recommend this. For myself, I can't really say I'd ever want to endure this mess again.