Monday, June 25, 2018

Junesploitation 2018 Day 25: Roger Corman!

Inside every artist lurks a mad man!


  1. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (1955, 73 min.) on Amazon Prime for the first time.

    Roger Corman's first movie as producer for what would eventually become American International Pictures already has many of the hallmarks of his future projects: stock footage galore (particularly the climactic truck crash from Jules Dassin's "Thieves' Highway"), a recognizable actor willing to work for a chance to direct (John Ireland), a struggling star working for peanuts (Dorothy Malone), and a cool poster/catchy title combo that promises more than what the final product delivers. Frank Webster (Ireland), who broke out of the jail he was put in for a crime he says he didn't commit, kidnaps race driver Connie (Malone) and takes her white Jaguar sports car for an unscheduled road trip. Hiding among the participants of a racing event inside a national park, Frank and Connie fight and argue before inevitably falling in love before the race starts. With police closing in on them, Frank chooses a shot at Mexican freedom over the love of a woman he can't bring himself to trust. Aww... cue to [royalty free] romantic theremin music. ;-)

    "TFATF" is a harmless picture that's better during its car racing portions than the hamfisted hostage-falling-in-love-with-her-captor first half. At 73 minutes it doesn't outstay its welcome, but ends with Corman's typical convenient resolution cop-out. And what do you know, Roger's a better stunt car driver and producer than screenwriter. Some era-appropriate sexism (race organizers banning women from racing due to "dangerous curves" :-O) and baffling character choices (Connie setting the shack she's trapped inside of on fire so that someone will see it and come rescue her... WhAT?!?!) round up a formative picture that is best remembered today for the Vin Diesel franchise. A franchise that Corman profited from by selling Universal the right to use this pic's catchy title. Recommended with reservations.

    And holy crap, guys, I'm pretty sure that's Dick Miller as race mechanic Eddie. It doesn't appear on IMDB, but check out the scene at 52:50... that's Dick! :-)

  2. THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES (1955, dir. David Kramarsky)

    This movie has been on my DVR for two years. I recorded it from Turner Classic Movies during a retrospective on American International Pictures, and Roger Corman was in the television studio to introduce the films.

    Corman's statements about The Beast with a Million Eyes explain a lot about the finished film. He was the producer on it. The budget was around $30,000, which was exhausted before everything in the script was shoot. Somehow an intelligible film was cobbled together and released to the delight or horror of drive-in audiences.

    The backstory of The Beast... is more interesting than the actual film. The story of concerns an alien craft landing in the Californian desert near a date farm. The budget is very apparent from the appearance of the craft: teapot, bullet casings, and metal cans. The alien is able to exert mental control over animals, so soon birds, a dog, and a cow are attacking the actors in the cheapest way possible. There is a heavy reliance on editing in the animal attack scenes. The family on the date farm are able to resist the power of the alien and the craft departs Earth.

    Even at 75 minutes this was a tough film to get through. With the budget issues, the flow of the film is very disjointed and feels rushed at the conclusion. Voice-over is used to cover plot holes. The family drama that takes up a large portion of the film quickly becomes tiresome. As for the titular beast, it certainly did not have a million eyes. It was more editing tricks.

    I am glad to finally get to The Beast with a Million Eyes but doubt I will be seeing it again.

    The Fast And The Furious is much better early Corman.

  3. Boxcar Bertha (1972 - dir Martin Scorsese)

    Of course I snuck a Scorsese in Junesploitation somewhere. This was his second movie, and it came out the year before Mean Streets. Boxcar is very much a Corman movie for hire, based on a life story of Bertha Thompson and a vague sequel to Bloody Mama. A woman gangster movie set during the Depression. Essentially a kind of Bonnie and Clyde rip off, but with more trains.

    But Scorsese cannot but be Scorsese. Just the way he was framing shots even back then, the way he uses music. The way he uses the symblism of violence. I really liked this movie. The cast is fantasic, Barbra Hershey, David Carridine and (Dad) John Carridine and the wonderful Bernie Casey. The movie feels like a rambling smart hicksploitation with something on it's mind.

    Though my favourite thing about this movie is the opening credits. After the cold open, it has a very Corman block Title Card, bold to the point and says this is an exploitation movie. Then a few moments later, que the music and there is this gorgeous period approipate opening credits, which introduces all the players with a great 30s bluesy music. It gives you an idea of the pull and tug between the two personalities of the movie.

    I'm glad I finally caught up with this movie. Sorcsese is one of my favourite directors and it was good to see where he started to develop his theme and style. Plus it's a cool movie.

    1. Have you ever watched his debut feature WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? Even in his mid-20s the Scorsese style of dialogue is fully developed.

    2. No, not yet. But I would love to see it.

  4. Battle Beyond the Stars (1980, dir. Jimmy T. Murakami)

    I watched this one early in the morning, and I think that's really the perfect time to watch it since it's a big saturday morning cartoon come to life. And the fact that it's SUCH a Star Wars knock-off made it some major comfort food for me. I enjoyed the hell out of this one. It's actually really well made! The effects are absolutely terrific (designed by James Cameron, which makes sense) and there isn't a poor performance in the bunch. If I had one disappointment, it's that John Saxon's character doesn't pop more. He reminds me of a typical marvel villain, and that's a shame. Still, he's good enough and the film is a wonderful time!

  5. X aka X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963, dir. Roger Corman)

    A doctor (Ray Milland) invents eyedrops that give him x-ray vision. He has fun and profits from it for a while, until he realizes the effect is both cumulative and irreversible.

    It's great, if you're able to see past the illogical way his vision works. And the way he plays blackjack.

    I last saw this about 25 yers ago. I was around ten and this was shown on TV in some kind of "midnight horror special" or something (a rare occurrence on Finnish TV). I covertly taped and watched it, and subsequently had nightmares about the final scene for a long time. This and Tales from the Crypt (the 70's movie) were the main reasons I avoided horror movies for quite some time.

    Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011, dir. Alex Stapleton)

    A run-of-the-mill career retrospective, with clips from the set of 2011's Dinoshark spliced in. Corman is so pleasant and soft-spoken I could listen to him all day.

    1. X was one of my favorite first-time watches of 2017. Ray Milland gives a compelling performance. I can understand why it would frighten a kid.

      Corman's World is not without merit. The contrast between the man with the gentle voice in front of the camera and the hard-nosed producer who watched every cent spent is a little jarring, but every person has many sides.

  6. The Fantastic Four (1994)

    I have no problem with budget superhero movies and shows. Hell, my twitter avatar is Bill Bixby from the ‘70s Incredible Hulk, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who looks upon the Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man series or Cathy Lee Crosby Wonder Woman movie as fondly as I do. That being said, I just could not get into this movie, despite a life-long affection for the characters.

    Famously made on the (astoundingly) cheap just to hold on to the rights with no intention of release (rumor has it the cast didn’t know that part), it feels several steps below perfunctory. The effects are bargain-basement, Dr. Doom’s mask renders him mostly unintelligible, and I watched it about half an hour ago yet I already remember very little about it. It is better (and significantly less dour) than the 2015 version, at least, but I can’t imagine it’s a movie I’ll ever feel a need to revisit.

    1. The rumor that it was never meant to be released seem to be untrue. Marvel exec Avi Arad heard about the movie's existence and though a cheap movie like this would tarnish the Marvel brand, bought all the rights to it from Corman and Bernd Eichinger and ordered all copies destroyed without ever even watching it. Arad, Eichinger and Corman all say that's what happened.

    2. Can’t say I blame them, though I can’t imagine it would have been too much worse for the brand than the Captain America movie a few years prior (though I must admit a fondness for that one).

  7. Piranha (1978, dir. Joe Dante, First Time Viewing) It’s a shame it took so long to cross this one off my list, but it was worth the wait. As Jaws rip-offs go this is just so high quality. Loved the rustic setting, loved the humor (“They’re eating the guests”). The piranha attacks were surprisingly effective. Really had a blast with this one.

    1. I watched this for Beach day and was really surprised by its quality too.

    2. Saw this in 35mm at Alamo Drafthouse a few months ago, and it blew me the entire audience away. There is some cheese here and there, but when the piranhas attack and kill little children and women it's pretty horrific and hard to look at. You know, the complete opposite of "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom." :-)

  8. CARNOSAUR (1993)
    A genetically-engineered dinosaur runs amuck in a small desert town. I really liked all the TREMORS-style action with all the quirky characters in the town. When they cut to the parallel plot about the scientists who created the creature, I thought the movie lost steam. And yes, this is the movie with the super-gross scene where a woman gives birth to a dino-egg, and it is indeed super-gross.

    CARNOSAUR 2 (1995)
    The sequel is a full-on ALIENS ripoff, where tough-guy soldiers battle dinosaurs in an underground power plant. Predictable and by-the-numbers, but you could to a lot worse when it comes to low-budget creature features. The dinosaur puppet used in these movies is supposed to be terrifying, but it’s actually adorable.

    Another bunch of gun-toting tough guys ends up trapped in a building with the dino. If your budget is so small that you have to do the “film the entire movie in one warehouse” thing to save money, it’s probably better to have a sense of humor. Instead, this thing takes itself way too seriously, without any of the cheeseball fun of the first two.

  9. The Warrior and The Sorceress (1984)

    A remake of Yojimbo set in a sword and sorcery world. Starring David Carradine as Kane The Warrior, who arrive at a town with two warring gangs who fight over the well in the centre of the city. So much nudity, like they even have a nude dancer, who they gave to extra breast to. The action is a bit slow, however its extremely violent with arms cut off to the left and right.

    It’s not a bad movie. I’ve seen worse, the story is good, stolen from Kurasawa, so that makes sense. The acting is really wooden and the sets are obviously made out of cardboard. The Cover is pretty cool. I don’t think Carradine has been that ripped at any point in his career thou.

    Next year we should have a Sword and sorcery day or at least a fantasy day.
    Now im off watching Deathstalker 2 because why not. :-D

  10. Screwballs (1983, dir. Rafal Zielinski) and Loose Screws: Screwballs II (1985, dir. Rafal Zielinski)

    Killed two birds with one stone by rewatching these for Roger Corman day. They are fucking exhausting.

  11. Bucket of Blood (1959)

    I've been meaning to catch up with this one for a while now. Certainly since it was discussed during one of the Massacre shows. Dick Miller is quite convincing as busboy turned murderous "artist."

  12. The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

    Wow, I really liked this. Its ideal B movie fun. The acting isn't very impressive, but the characters are goofy enough that I loved them. I was really surprised with how funny this movie still is at almost 60 years old.

    Apparently the movie was shot in less than 3 days and it shows considering the run time is only about 70 minutes. Cool to see a very goofy appearance from Jack Nicholson long before he was a household name.

  13. Forbidden World (1982, dir. Allan Holzman)

    I'm pretty much always down for an Alien knock off. This one is a little dull, but I imagine it would work well with a crowd as a midnight movie. Much more so than in the afternoon at home, at least. The plot is not very interesting, and the characters are extremely weak. The men are manly working men who do their jobs and the women are hot and want to have sex. No one has much of a personality. It's also incredibly trashy, of course. There are two scenes of a particular female character undressing and neither have any point at all. It's actually hilarious. Still, the creature and gore effects are way over the top and are terrific. The production design is great too. It's no Galaxy of Terror, but it has some value.

  14. The Cry Baby Killer (1958, dir. Addiss)

    Eh, it was alright. Mostly got by on the strength of its premise, and was mostly let down by the little done with it.

  15. The Intruder (1962)

    Probably not the best movie to watch right, but I've had it since Pure Cinema discussed it on a recent episode and I saved it for today. It's excellent - well directed and acted (young, handsome Shatner!), but the subject matter remains too relevant unfortunately. It's hard to watch, but very good.

  16. Bucket of Blood (1959)

    Good fun with a runtime short enough to keep the movie from overstaying its welcome. It has a bit of a Tales from the Crypt feel to me which I like (there are at least two stories I can think of off the top of my head that are very similar).

    Assault on Paradise (1977) a.k.a. Maniac! ... a Killer and a number of other titles.

    Co-produced by Corman, and even that is listed as uncredited by IMDB, but I picked up the blu-ray earlier this month so I figured I'd fit it in here. Paul Koslo gets the honor of wearing the worst Native American costume I've seen since earlier in the month watching Shatner in White Comanche. Oliver Reed plays Nick McCormick, a man hired to stop the killer targeting rich people. He's ostensibly supposed to be the lead but didn't actually have any effect on the plot when I stopped to think about it. Maybe I need to watch the longer version on the disc but the story doesn't really come together in this. Watchable for a couple good action sequences but not much else to recommend it.

  17. THE UNHOLY ROLLERS (1972, dir. Vernon Zimmerman)

    Claudia Jennings plays Karen Walker, an arrogant and reckless young woman who finds her calling in the world of roller derby. The ferocity of her performance is not what I expected, elevating the film to a limited extent above its exploitation roots. Karen's ambition is initially endearing, but her ego completely takes over by the conclusion. The way down does not look pleasant for her.

    The Unholy Rollers is undoubtedly exploitation, with a little gratuitous nudity, catfights, and over-the-top characters. As an exploitation film, though, this might not have universal appeal because the pace does get slow in sections and there are lot of roller derby sequences. A large part of the charm of the film is the immersion into early 1970s southern California.

    1. Saw this one a couple of years ago in 35mm on the big screen. Not impressed then, doubt I'd even want to rewatch it again. I'd rather watch Drew Barrymore's "Whip It" instead.

  18. Galaxy of Terror (1981):

    Another check off the Pure Cinema list. Grace Zabriskie is a badass.

  19. Death Race 2000 (1975)

    I originally wanted to do this one for “Cars” day, but I also wanted a buffer movie that I’ve seen before than I could rewatch while unpacking our new house. This is one of those movies that’s not at all kid-friendly but my mom inexplicably showed me this when I was in middle school. Of course I thought it was the most rad shit I’ve ever seen, but it wasn’t until years later that all the subtext really clicked for me. The premise is bananas, the cars and drivers are ridiculous, and the overall tone is pitch perfect satire. Carradine is awesome in his weird gimp suit and Stallone is great as the side villain who literally has a giant combat knife ramrod on the front of his car. It still blows my mind that this movie was remade years ago, completely devoid of the satire that makes this movie actually work. Why bother?