As our tale begins, a man so rich he has a bust of himself on the mantel sits down with some weird tarot cards. As the clock strikes 10 for the bitching hour, his wife starts walking up the stairs. But wait, his wife can also be seen reflected in the window behind him, and she is running through a graveyard screaming for help! In his rush to save her, he forgets that he is a million stories up above a cliff in his palatial home, and crashes through the window to his death. Oops.
Sometime later, the widow, Rachel from the title, is not taking her husband’s “accident” too well. She knows the circumstances are mysterious: she saw him do it, and then the phone rang, and a mysterious voice read out the tarot cards on the desk. She doesn’t believe in ESP, but she needs to rule it out before she admits to herself that she’s headed for the macadamia ranch. Rachel’s regular doctor brings her to a college professor and former surgeon named Dr. Rhodes, a psychic researcher who hypnotizes Rachel, but as she’s telling him what she remembers about her husband’s death, Rhodes also sees Rachel in the window behind him, calling for help. He almost runs through the window to his death as well, but fortunately there are other people in the room to stop him. Now he’s good and curious about what is going on. Of course, it is obvious immediately to Rhodes (because he is both psychic and a researcher of psychics) and his pet blind psychic that another psychic is using “telepathic hypnosis” to try to kill people. But why?
Naturally, now that Rachel is fabulously wealthy, some poor relations show up on her doorstep to try to help her through this difficult time. Rachel is losing it, so she lets them stay. Her cousin is jealous because she was in love with Rachel’s husband, her uncle just wants to boss the servants around when he’s not saying creepy shit to his daughter, and Rachel’s aunt Lillian, who claims to be able to talk to the dead, well she just wants to annoy Rachel (and me) to death. But soon she ends up dead too, and Rachel takes the blame. Have I spoiled the entire movie?
No, I have not. Someone is using “telepathic hypnosis,” but it’s not who you think. And although this film is a little slow, and extremely silly, there are some genuinely creepy moments involving induced hallucinations. The scene in which the ghost of Aunt Lillian drives a car through a tunnel, causes an accident, and then gets out of the car to berate Dr. Rhodes is not to be missed. You will love to hate the visiting family members, but the aunt goes from irritating to pure nightmare fuel once she’s a ghost. But mostly Sweet, Sweet Rachel is entertainingly batshit. At one point the blind psychic gets hypnotized so he can telepathically hypnotize someone else. Stefanie Powers in the title role REALLY hams it up, with cheese; I was laughing at first, and my son said, “Mommy, at least she’s trying.” But then once her character goes nuts the overacting works.
Best of all, there are several shots of Rachel’s husband positioned with a winged statue behind him so that it looks like his head has wings. I don’t know why I like shots like that so much, and I wish I knew what such a shot was called, but I do know there is a similar shot in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where a reporter is in front of a mounted deer head so that he appears to have antlers; also, more than one character in The Blues Brothers is shot so that they appear to be wearing the animated neon cowboy hat at Bob’s Country Bunker. Wouldn’t you like to be me, so you could spend your life noticing shit like that? I don’t sleep much, but I’m never, ever bored!
Sweet, Sweet Rachel is, as usual, a pilot for a series, but for once the pilot got picked up, and was turned into the supernatural show The Sixth Sense. Various famous people guest starred including Joan Crawford, and in every episode the psychic researcher character helped them solve a mystery. Played by Alex Dreier here in the pilot, he was for some reason played by Gary Collins in the series. I have not watched the series, but there are many episodes up on YouTube, and based on the entertainment value of this pilot I’d say it’s worth a look.
I will close by saying that I was also very amused by a plaque on the college campus where the psychic research was done; it featured a quote from Sigmund Freud saying, “If I had my life to live over, I should devote myself to psychic research rather than psychoanalysis.” I think everyone and his mother wishes you had done just that, Siggy!