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Psych out.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Rush
Produced by Dick Clark [1]
Norman T. Herman
Screenplay byE. Hunter Willett
Betty Ulius
Story byBetty Tusher
Starring Susan Strasberg
Dean Stockwell
Jack Nicholson
Bruce Dern
Max Julien
Music by Ronald Stein
Cinematography László Kovács
Edited byRenn Reynolds
Distributed by American International Pictures
Release date
  • March 6, 1968 (1968-03-06)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States

Psych-Out is a 1968 counterculture-era psychedelic film about hippies, psychedelic music and recreational drugs starring Susan Strasberg, Jack Nicholson (the film's leading man despite being billed under supporting player Dean Stockwell) and Bruce Dern. It was produced and released by American International Pictures. The cinematographer was László Kovács.



Jenny is a deaf runaway who arrives in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district searching for her brother Steve. She encounters Stoney and his hippie band Mumblin' Jim in a coffee shop. The boys are sympathetic, especially when they discover that she is deaf and uses lip reading. They hide her from the police and help her look for her brother. She has a postcard from her brother that reads "Jess Saes: God is alive and well and living in a sugar cube". Sugar cubes were often used as a method of creating individual doses of LSD. The band is approached by a promoter who arranges for them to perform at a place called the Ballroom.

Artist Warren, who designs the psychedelic posters advertising the band, freaks out badly in his gallery, apparently on STP. He sees everyone, including himself, as walking dead, and his own hand as festering, and he tries to cut it off with a circular saw. While helping him, Jenny notices a large sculpture resembling abstract flames in a corner and recognizes it as her brother's work. The gallery owner says the artist is known as "The Seeker", an itinerant preacher. Ex-band member Dave may know The Seeker's current whereabouts.

Dave left the band because he felt that they were too concerned with worldly success, rather than the music itself. His information leads the gang to a junkyard. Nearby is a sign reading "Jess Saes" -- "Jesus Saves", with some letters missing. The "sugar cube" slogan is painted on the side of a car that Jenny recognizes as her brother's. However, a group of thugs who frequent the junkyard accost the group. They dislike The Seeker's street preaching and his themes of love and peace. They threaten to rape Jenny. Violence ensues, and the group barely escape with their lives.

Jenny's friendship with Stoney has become sexual. She does not know his reputation for one-night stands and lack of commitment. She attends a mock funeral staged by a large group of hippies, with background music by the Seeds; the theme of their play is that death is not the end, and that love and a refusal to hurt others are what keep us alive. In Stoney's crowded home, everyday hippie life is less than ideal. The residents are all involved in contemplation, sex, sleeping, dancing or decorating, but little cleaning or maintenance. Jenny tries to wash the mountain of dishes in the kitchen and finds that the plumbing is broken, but everybody just continues dancing. Frustrated, she interrupts Stoney's band practice to inform him that she is going to take a walk. Stoney later goes to find her and ends up at the art gallery, where he hears breaking glass and slips inside.

The Seeker has returned to the art gallery to pick up his sculpture. Challenged by Stoney, he pleads that the work should not be touched; it is actually not art, but a shrine that he created on God's request. He is glad that Jenny is looking for him, but says he is on drugs and wants to be sober when they meet. Jenny's deafness is pathological; their mother was cruelly abusive and burned Jenny's beloved toys. Jenny was violently traumatized and apparently had a stroke; she was deaf from that moment.

The performance at the Ballroom is a success; Mumblin' Jim play, along with the Strawberry Alarm Clock. The Seeker shows up, hoping to see Jenny, but the junkyard thugs are also present and chase him back to his home. At an after-show party, Dave remonstrates Stoney over his ambition for commercial success, as well as his cavalier treatment of Jenny. Dave consoles Jenny and puts STP in some fruit juice. He offers himself to her, but Stoney charges in and angrily shouts at Jenny, calling her a "bitch". Heartbroken, Jenny accepts Dave's glass of fruit juice and drinks nearly all of it.

Jenny again explains her search for Steve, and Dave pulls a note from his pocket that reads "God is in the flame" and contains an address. Jenny runs out and takes a streetcar. Stoney rouses Dave, now tripping on STP, to help find her. Pursued by the junkyard thugs back to his home, Steve lights a fire inside his shrine. Soon the entire house is ablaze. Jenny arrives to find a crowd gathering near the house; she runs in just in time to see him standing in the middle of the flames, absorbed in prayer; he sees her, but merely smiles and waves.

In her grief and confusion, she runs up to the roof, hallucinating wildly. She apparently jumps into a reservoir. She then sees fire bombs heading towards her, barely missing her. She is standing at the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge, cars coming at her from both directions with horns blaring. She holds her hands over her ears, and Dave and Stoney find her. Dave shoves her out of the way of an oncoming car and is struck and killed. As he dies, he murmurs that he hopes this, too, will be a good trip. Sickened and angry, Jenny tries to leave, but Stoney embraces her. The film ends with the two holding each other and crying, while an image of the mock funeral reappears.



Dick Clark, who produced the film, wrote in his memoirs that he insisted that the film have an anti-drug message "... because I'd seen the kids in the hippie commune living in awful squalor." [2] He wrote in 1976, "... if you saw it [the film] today you'd say it was a reasonably accurate account of what was going on then." [2]

The film was originally titled The Love Children, but was changed at the request of distributors who worried that audiences might think it was "a film about bastards." Producer Samuel Z. Arkoff came up with the new title of Psych-Out based on a recent successful reissue of Psycho . [2]

The film's special effects were created by stunt coordinator Gary Kent. [3]

The majority of the songs in the film and on the original soundtrack album were performed by the Storybook, a San Fernando Valley garage band. [4] The version of "The Pretty Song from Psych-Out" that appears on the film's soundtrack album was recorded by the Storybook, but the version heard in the film was by Strawberry Alarm Clock.


Director Richard Rush's cut came in at 101 minutes and was edited to 82 minutes by the producers, a version that would be released on DVD by Fox Video in 2003. HBO Video's VHS release used a 98-minute version. On February 17, 2015, a 101-minute director's cut was released on DVD and Blu-ray.

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  1. "Dick Clark Haight Street Bandstand". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on November 17, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2012.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. 1 2 3 Clark, Dick (1976). Rock, roll & remember . Crowell. p.  261.
  3. Psych-Out Soundtrack Album Archived February 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine