A semi obscure psycho-thriller from the late sixties/early seventies, “Goodbye Gemini” is the kind of film for which the adjectives ‘quirky’ and ‘offbeat’ could almost have been invented as a fixed prefix, and which had their premium specifically at the precise moment of transition in which the drunk-on-youth ebullience of the wild party that had been the ‘swinging’ Sixties, began to disintegrate and give way to a realisation of the post-hangover headache which was to define the grim decade to come. It belongs with a brace of such low budget British horror-thriller movies from the period that all seem to exude an air of disillusionment and disenchantment, despite being clothed in the gaudy exotica of the Flower Power generation; films that include the likes of “The Corpse”, “Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly”, “Straight On, Till Morning” and “Die Screaming Marianne”.
Ostensibly aimed at a younger generation, these films nevertheless were steeped in a profound cynicism about the so-called Age of Aquarius and its trend-setting young representatives, with the ridiculous apotheosis of this brief sub-genre coming with Hammer Films’ mega-cheesy “Dracula A.D. 1972”, in which Christopher Lee’s count Dracula is resurrected by a bunch of hippy, occult-obsessed flower children descendents, led by a boyish Christopher Neame. Creepy, effeminate young blonde men with staring eyes seemed to be the visual shorthand for the psychotic darkness supposedly hidden at the heart of the Peace & Love Generation, at least according to these movies; Neame and Shane Briant were prominent exponents of this trend and, here, Martin Potter is the quintessential example of the breed. At this stage fresh from a high profile turn in "Fellini Satyricon”, his career would never quite scale the heights of success it once seemed destined for, and he wound up playing yet another example of the beautiful-people-gone-wrong syndrome in Norman Warren’s “Satan’s Slave”. Opposite him is a gamine young Judy Geeson, flush with box office success and an on-the-rise star profile due to recent roles in “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” and “To Sir, with Love”.
Alan Gibson is to be found directing; and, this early into his film-making career, was evidently still enthusiastically embracing a sophisticated arthouse style replete with “Repulsion”-like wide angle lenses and weird camera set-ups galore. It seems a million miles away from the professional, but relatively straight down the line approach of his later work for Hammer Films. Certainly “Goodbye Gemini” is a much more authentic representation of its era than “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” and “Dracula AD 1972”, conjuring a convincing and evocative early seventies milieu from the faded charm of its low-rent London addresses. The SW3 setting along the Chelsea embankment and the use of recognisable real-life locations rather than studio sets, encourages in the film a portrait of an era as vivid and as evocative as that found in some of Pete Walker’s work from the same period. Gibson even films on a real houseboat in one lengthy sequence, despite the cramped conditions which must have resulted from having a large film crew aboard.
Initially awash in a quirky, child-like comic ambience, the film’s strange intent becomes apparent when we witness twin protagonists Julian and Jackie (Potter and Geeson) arriving in the big smoke on a National Express bus after having been sent to stay at their father’s Georgian townhouse in Chelsea. The plush house is situated near the Thames embankment, down which they skip at the start of the film, hand-in-hand, dressed identically in garish bright-yellow jackets. With a diverse soundtrack by Christopher Gunning, made up of just about every jazz-rock and folky combination of popular progressive music from the period imaginable, the quirky tone is soon at odds with the perverse subject matter, as the child-like pair set about claiming their surroundings from the influence of the elderly housekeeper employed by their father to keep an eye on them, gleefully positioning Jackie’s favourite cuddly toy cat along an upper stair and engineering an ‘accident’ that removes their protector for good, leaving them in sole charge of the house.
This is initially another variant on the evil twins theme, then, with Geeson and Potter’s characters pitched as living-metaphors for the twisted, anarchic unruliness of the Aquarius generation. It transpires that Julian has an inappropriate fondness for his sister, and their symbiotic relationship (hermetically sealed and completely cut-off from the rest of the world) is perilously close to slipping into an incestuous union; not many brothers ogle they're sister as she slips naked from bed in the morning, for instance; and then creep up behind her and try to surreptitiously slip off her bra!
The film takes yet another twist, though, when the two come under another malign outside influence. While scouting London bars frequented by ‘progressives’ and flowery fringe elements (i.e. transvestites and homosexuals) they meet mutton-chopped, sexually ambiguous Clive Landseer (Alexis Kanner) and his beatnik girlfriend Denise (Marion Diamond). Clive has designs on both Jackie and Julian, and so do many of his friends and camp associates: a life of colourful houseboat parties ensues in which the twins come into contact with the likes of middle-aged homosexual couple, Garfield & David (played by Terry Scully and an exceedingly Wildian and lilac-shirted Freddie Jones), and their party-loving, trend-setting bohemian hangers-on. Among the crowd is older TV presenter James Harrington-Smith (Michael Redgrave) who also takes an interest in the beautiful twins.
We seem to be heading into Pete Walker territory once again - where the older generation leech on the energies of the young. But as Julian gets ever-more psychotically jealous of Clive’s interest in his sister, he fails to notice that this ruthless social leech has designs on him also. A night of drunken debauchery in a seedy hotel bedroom, where the now ‘out of it’ Julian is tricked into a disturbing sexual encounter with some skinny Worholian trannies, leads to a blackmail threat when Clive, in debt to a violent gangster (Mike Pratt of “Randall and Hopkirk Deceased” fame) demands £4000 in exchange for buring the photographic evidence of his unfortunate same-sex tryst.
This unpredictable film then takes yet another turn, this time into out-and-out psycho chiller territory which includes a scene which seems to have provided raw inspiration for John Carpenter in the Michael Myers-with-a-sheet-over-his-head sequence in “Halloween”; and there is a quiet, ambiguous conclusion to the film that’s reminiscent of the ending of David Cronenberg’s “Dead Ringers”. Michael Regrave - who initially seems to be yet another older character who exists only to exploit the young - turns out to be a much more sympathetic, although still fundamentally damaged character when he takes a confused and distraught Jackie into his home after she has become separated from her brother. True, Redgrave is shown slipping into bed with a naked Geeson at one point, but he’s wearing stuffy pyjamas and clearly has more of a paternalistic relationship with the girl than a lustful one. We see him glancing at a framed photo of his family at one point, yet he appears to be living alone in his smart, all-mod-cons house (the art design in the film is also exemplary). It begins to become apparent that his liking for hanging around bohemian young people and the trendy set at those swinging houseboat parties has more to do with loneliness and isolation than other more disreputable motives.
It is subtle touches such as this which makes this into a much more sophisticated film than the suggestion of incest, buggery, murder, and an obsessive psychology at the heart of the plot would have led one to expect. Gibson provides a beautifully and inventively shot psychological thriller that’s always unpredictable and spoiled only by a strangely bungled ending which fails to make clear what exactly has happened to Judy Geeson’s character at one crucial point at the climax.
The UK DVD from Odean Entertainment highlights a somewhat inconsistent print of the film, with the colours sometimes beautifully vivid and sometimes rather faded, and image quality ranging from sharp to oddly blurry in the final scenes. But over all, this rarity fares pretty well on DVD, and I can’t say I was hugely disappointed by these variances. The disc features a so-so moderated commentary with Judy Geeson and producer Peter Snell (“The Wicker Man”). Geeson is extremely enthusiastic and seems to have had a nice time making the film. Snell’s memory lets him down though, leaving him unable to make that much of a contribution to the discussion. Much more informative is the second invaluable extra on this disc: 12 minutes of 16 mm film from behind the scenes of the film shoot, apparently taken for a World in Action report that was never broadcast! This provides us with some fascinating footage of Alan Gibson and the rest of the crew at work putting together scenes. An on-screen text commentary points out who everyone is and provides many interesting details on the production. This ends up being much more engaging and informative than the commentary track. A short photo gallery and a trailer that, as is usually the case, gives away too many key moments of the plot are both included; plus two trailers for future Odeon Entertainment releases, including the once thought lost Freddie Francis classic “Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly” - another highly anticipated release!
“Goodbye Gemini” is a interesting oddity with a few very obvious flaws; and if not exactly a lost classic, it is beautifully made and enormously evocative of its time, nonetheless. It is definitely well worth a look.