Saturday, June 1, 2024

Junesploitation 2024 Day 1: Roger Corman Tribute!




    Even with a memorably hammy lead performance by Vincent Price (is there any other kind?), "Pit and the Pendulum" isn't a star vehicle despite the man chewing a castle's worth of scenery. It's that rare Corman-produced ensemble piece with talented filmmakers (cinematographer Floyd Crosby, composer Les Baxter, production/art designer Daniel Haller, etc.) invested in a production with actors (John Kerr, Barbara Steele, Anthony Carbone, etc.) overcoming limited resources. It helps that Edgar Allan Poe's story provides Richard Matheson's screenplay with a solid foundation (familial trauma from being the offspring of a notorious Spanish inquisitor torturer), and that despite not being graphically violent the dialogue and implied torture set pieces are pretty messed-up for '61. Alas, like virtually every Corman movie I've seen, I didn't remember any of this flick despite seeing it many years ago. "It's okay." 3 BLUE-TINTED CHILDHOOD TRAUMA FLASHBACKS (out of 5).

    Shot on leftover sets from another movie in five days with a new cast (a Corman specialty), "Bucket of Blood" has aged well as a silly time capsule of arthouse pretentiousness in the Los Angeles beatnik scene of the late 50's. Dick Miller, in a rare leading man role, shines as a "Marty"-type mousy waiter that goes from pushed-around nobody to serial killing artiste sculptor whose work attracts the attention of the girl (Barboura Morris' Carla) he's obsesed with. Despite a crap transfer on Prime (pulsating VHS rez!) "Bucket of Blood" turned out to be way more silly fun and enjoyable than "Pendulum." ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 3.5 ANNOYING BUSYBODY LANDLADIES (out of 5).

    CARNOSAUR (1993)/CARNOSAUR 2 (1995), both on YOUTUBE.

    Riding the pre-release hype of Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" (and beating its summer '93 theatrical release by a couple of weeks), "Carnosaur" somehow rises above its under-$1 million budget limitations to be an entertaining jumble of dino-mutations-from-chickens, women-birthing-dino-eggs mayhem nonsense. Diane Ladd (Laura Dern's mother) excels as a Jeffrey Combs-type mad scientist that wants humans to not only give birth to baby dinos, but to be wiped out as a species in the process. Heady stuff... or it would be if the story didn't also involve echo terrorism, close-ups of Clint Howard eating (grosser than his eventual dino beheading!), corporate greed, government corruption, military tactics, etc. Yawn.

    At least John Carl Buechler's cheap rubber puppet effects can be appreciated more now (with a Junesplitation! friendly mindset) than back when Stan Winston's animatronics and ILM CG were the hotness. Shame that Raphael Sbarge's 'Doc' and Jennifer Runyon's 'Thrash' (her final movie role) make such a weak-sauce leading couple. Alas, even they (or Harrison Page's underused Sheriff Fowler) didn't deserve the nihilistic ending that gives "Carnosaur" a sour final taste. As Corman textbook formula of how to do a rip-off from a superior source while carving out its own personality, though, "Carnosaur" excels. 4 ALFRED E. NEUMAN BURNING PORTRAITS IN EUINICE CORP. TRAILERS (out of 5).

    Alas, "Carnosaur 2" (released DTV two years later) tries to be "Aliens" to its own prequel's "Alien" and falls spectacularly short. Set almost entirely in an abandoned nuclear mine with generic military characters, it even recycles the dinosaur-versus-forklift ending of "Carnosaur," which fits better in the sequel since it's such an unabashed rip-off of James Cameron's '86 vision. Not even John Savage's scowl and Cliff De Young's screams can save it. Still better than Spielberg's "The Lost World," though. :-P 1.5 'SPLODING TOY HELICOPTERS (out of 5).

    And Junesploitation! is up and running! See you over the next 30 days, you filthy maggots! :-D

    1. A Bucket of Blood, like Little Shop of Horrors, is one of those low-budget productions that has risen above its humble origins to become a respected film.

  2. Beginning Junesploitation 2024 with a double feature of Roger Corman’s 1950s films, probably the quickest double feature of the month. The longest one is barely over an hour. Though there are so many productions Corman was involved with, I wanted to go with films he directed.

    SORORITY GIRL (1957) – A dramatic film more than exploitation, but that is not always a bad thing. Susan Cabot, who starred in several of Roger Corman’s early films, plays a vicious sorority member who bullies her fellow sorority sisters. Cabot and the cast give strong performances. Given the small budgets and short shooting schedules of this period of his career, Sorority Girl has a surprising level of polish. Produced by AIP.

    SWAMP WOMEN (1956) – A swamp adventure featuring a group of escaped female convicts wearing tight clothing trying to find a cache of stolen diamonds. Now this is exploitation! The ladies bicker and fight even before they find any loot. The swamp locations are used very well, but there is also a lot of stock footage. The duration of the film would not even have reached an hour without the latter. Even watched on a lousy VHS transfer (on TUBI) that amplifies the cheapness of the production, Swamp Women is an entertaining film. It has just the right amount of ridiculousness for this exploitation fan.

  3. The Premature Burial (1962, dir. Roger Corman)

    A Victorian aristocrat is consumed by an overwhelming phobia of being buried alive, so much so that he rigs the family tomb with various ways to escape the coffin.

    As with Corman's other Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, he takes the premise of the original story and fleshes it out with twists, plots and betrayals, departing from Poe's psychological horror into more melodrama. It's a Corman production so it's pretty cheaply made, but he knew how to get bang for his buck with good actors, solid camerawork, a fog machine, and music that builds the mood well. Ray Milland is good as the lead, but I do miss Vincent Price.

    The Trip (1967, dir. Roger Corman)

    Peter Fonda plays a director of TV commercials who's depressed about his recent divorce and is given LSD for the first time in his life. That premise is set up in the first five minutes, then the rest of the movie is his trip, in which he has visions ranging from pleasant daydreams to haunting nightmares. And a lot of kaleidoscopic images of bright lights.

    I'm definitely not the target audience for this, being a total square who's never dabbled in drugs, but I still managed to have a good time. Corman keeps throwing something new on screen at such a pace that it's hard to get bored, and Fonda is great as a guy who's utterly fascinated at one moment and horrified the next. Fun fact: the screenplay was written by Jack Nicholson, a frequent Corman collaborator in the 60's.

  4. CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA (1961): Not the best. Starts as a Naked Gun-esque spy parody but loses interest in that as it goes. Partially redeemed by a charming monster costume.

  5. Starting strong (I hope) with The Trip, which is the movie I'm most excited for out of my whole list. I'll probably return to this prompt for more Corman as the month goes on.

    1. The Trip was groovy enough to keep me going. Finally removed The Terror from my To Be Watched pile after buying it almost 20 years ago, then went to Tubi and checked out She Gods of Shark Reef and Rock All Night. Not exactly gems, but they proved that Corman could do pretty much anything.

  6. and so it begins. woot! A PERFECT place to start as we lost a hero, an ambassador, a creator, a mentor, a true master of the craft of cinema...RIP Roger. Your legacy, works, and influence will live on forever.

    Piranha (1978)

    Corman, Dante, Jawsploitation, horror, Kevin McCarthy, and one of the best choices of all time for villainous creature in the genre "if you f@#$ with mother nature..she bites back". We've got a Junesploitation BINGO!

    1. This is my pick for the day, too! Unbelievable that I haven't seen it.

    2. well done! its a classical sploitationy goodness!

    3. I am thinking about Piranha for sharksploitation day. It is one of the most famous Jaws rip-offs, after all.

    4. @ Casual: Yes! Even the poster is a Jaws rip-off!

  7. Rock All Night (1957)

    Dick Miller AND The Platters? Can’t go wrong, ya dig baby?

  8. Frankenstein Unbound (1990, dir. Roger Corman)

    First time watch on YouTube.

    A scientist (John Hurt) goes back in time and runs into Lord Byron (Raul Julia) and Mary Shelley (Bridget Fonda) as she's writing Frankenstein... turns out it's based on true events! I never knew I needed to see Mary Shelley driving around the countryside in a futurecar. The monster is cool and has the best contact lenses I've ever seen in a movie. There are little stitches in the eyeballs! So cool. I had a lot of fun with this one.

  9. Frankenstein Unbound (1990)

    Keeping in tradition with prior Junesploitation years, I’m aiming for mostly new-to-me first time watches. This was curiously his final jaunt as director, seemingly trying to setup his own alternative monsters pantheon (along with 1993’s ‘Dracula Rising’) against the wave of major studio produced revisionist monster flicks (a Dark Universe™ perhaps?). Despite knowing ‘Unbound’ was going to break free from the constraints of the original story, I had no fucking clue that it would involve time travel, lasers, cosmic storms, and a talking electric sports car that’s exactly as dumb as you’d imagine a Musk/DeLorean/K.I.T.T. crossover to be.

    A future scientist (John Hurt) who, as a result of his own scientific meddling, is transported backwards in time to early 19th century Switzerland. He conveniently encounters a brooding, arrogant Doctor (played by the ever excellent Raul Julia), a saucy young writer (Bridget Fonda) traveling abroad with her fiancΓ© and their poet lover (Jason Patric, seemingly dubbed?). There’s also a giant monster dude murdering locals who looks like a cross between Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sweetums.

    Thankfully the film doesn’t waste too much time with Hurt in “gee whillikers” mode, quickly moving into the ‘Back to the Future’ territory of butterfly effects, paradoxes, and characters getting horny for the future guy. Corman’s direction is serviceable and the movie functions perfectly for what it is. The film was surprisingly shot on location in Italy, which adds necessary production value that wouldn’t be achieved had it been filmed 5 miles east of Corman’s office like we’ve come to expect. Unfortunately the makeup and gore effects aren’t great, suffering from both design and execution. They try to convey the brute strength and ferocity of the monster, but it ultimately comes off looking like a D-tier ‘Star Trek’ villain punching the styrofoam head off a mannequin - and not in a charming kind of way. The performances are ultimately what makes this movie worth watching, specifically the scenes between Hurt and Julia dueling with their scientific egos. I was surprised enough by what this movie ended up being that I’m planning to watch Corman’s take on Dracula for New Horizons day, but I have a feeling that ‘Unbound’ will prove to be the superior of the two…

  10. Started the month off with Corman's Machine-Gun Kelly, a gangster picture with a young Charles Bronson and a tough talking Susan Cabot as the dame that gave Kelly his nickname and his reputation. Lots to like here, and a fun kickstart to Junesploitation!

  11. Happy Junesploitation, everyone!
    I happen to be travelling a lot this month, so I won't be able to keep up with the daily schedule, but I have my list ready (I always have a list), and I still want to participate any way I can, so I'll just be posting the titles I have planned for each day, with a solemn vow to catch up on every single one of them as soon as I'm safely back home.

    Anyway, today it's A Bucket of Blood (1959)

  12. THE TRIP (1967)
    A divorced filmmaker experiments with LSD, with mixed results. Amusingly, Roger Corman’s autobiography has an anecdote about him trying LSD for the first time while making this movie, with similar mixed results. Corman had made a few dozen movies by this point, so he comes to this one with a lot of confidence. This take on the subject matter might be hokey, but the dream sequences and overall vibe are indeed, for lack of a better word… trippy.

    It’s the legend of the Red Baron and the daring WWI flying ace who took him down – but without Snoopy this time. The aerial dogfights are the big draw, but Corman’s going for a deeper anti-war drama. People criticize this movie for the vintage airplanes looking like miniatures, but they looked good to me. The dramatic stakes are more intellectual/philosophical rather than personal or emotional, but it was nicely acted and shot throughout.

    Bonus Universal Monster-sploitation: DRACULA (1931)
    The great debate: Is this a horror masterpiece, or is it too talky and stage-y? I love the atmosphere and the cast, led by Bela of course, but I can also see why some would find this old-fashioned. I think if you give the movie your full concentration and take in all the details, it’ll be more rewarding. But you can’t watch it casually like you would, say, a rerun of Monk. Also, is the George Romero movie Martin named after the character Martin from Dracula?

  13. The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
    Little Shop is a top-5 musical for me and finally watching the source material only really showed me to what degree Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were true visionaries. I will never understand how they saw this movie and went, “There’s something here…”

    The Intruder (1962)
    It must've taken a lot of guts to make this movie. Corman puts his own money on the line to make a film about integration - right in the middle of integration protests from both sides. Shatner gives a hell of a performance and whole-heartedly committing to a piece of shit character before any hint of fame can't be the right career move. If they made this movie now, I'd be blown away. Making it 60 years ago is unfathomable. Both guys, and all involved, find themselves on the right side of things.

    Corman's World (2011)
    When Nicholson gets choked up...damn...

    1. Damn, I forgot about Intruder! One of the best things about Junesploitation-- the friendly reminders of films I need to watch. Thanks, Patrick!

    First-time watch on Kino Lorber Blu-Ray, 7/10.

    This is kind of an odd war picture, with the special draw being all the aerial photography. As we know, this sort of thing is essentially extinct.

    I like to think Don Stroud is playing Snoopy.

  15. X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes (1963)

    If Letterboxd is correct this is only the second Corman directed (and credited) movie I've seen after "The Intruder". That blows my mind a little. "X" turns out to be a real banger in spite of the usual exposition-in-boring-looking-rooms early on. Reminiscent of "The Invisible Man" in that it explores the dark and psychological repercussions of the protagonist's self-experimentation. Excellent Les Baxter score, Dick Miller shows up on day one of Junesploitation and the Don Rickles performance goes well beyond extended cameo (all the performances are very good). This is a first day of the month winner.

  16. Trying to cover all my bases this year by posting here, Twitter, and on Bsky.

    Rock All Night (1957) and Carnival Rock (1957)

    I can only assume that when Corman signed on The Platters to do a movie, the reasonable next step was to make two movies. Both films are relatively short and heavily padded with musical performances. The Platters acquit themselves well. Another group, who I assume are The Blockbusters (who also appear in both movies) badly pantomime playing instruments which makes me wonder if the people on screen are actually a band.

    In Rock All Night the plot, such as it is, only really starts in the last half hour and involves Dick Miller subduing two criminals who hold the people in the bar he's drinking in hostage, armed mainly with the superpower of being able to irritate the hell out of people.

    In Carnival Rock, Dick Miller's boss/friend can't accept that his woman has left him for another man, and he takes a bit of a dark turn into gambling problems, taking job as the most depressing clown ever, and eventually spirals into attempted murder/suicide via arson. Featuring music by The Platters!

  17. THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE (1967, Dir. Roger Corman)

    Anatomy of a gangland slaying.

  18. Happy (very much needed) Junesploitation to you all!

    I started off with The Trip (1967), which I enjoyed a lot but I feel would benefit greatly from being experienced on the big screen (no lights, no phone, no cats begging for attention, no distraction whatsoever).

    Time for A Bucket of Blood (1959), which I've been meaning to see for ages (thank you Shudder)

  19. Targets (1968)

    With the litany of careers Corman launched into the atmosphere, what better way to start than his producer credit on Bogdanovich's debut? Had a good time with this (also my first Bogdanovich!), though the resolution of the finale is pretty goofy.

  20. TWO FOR ONE!
    1957 was a big year for Roger Corman. He directed Naked Paradise, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Not of This Earth, The Undead, Rock All Night, Teenage Doll, Carnival Rock and The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent. Playing with Edward L. Cahn’s Motorcycle Gang — a remake of Cahn’s earlier film Drag Strip Girl — this was distributed by those masters of teen drive-in films, American-International Pictures.

    Written by Leo Lieberman and Ed Waters for AIP — Corman didn’t like the script — it has Cabot as Sabra Tanner, a rich girl who feels like her mother doesn’t care about her. She can’t help herself as she hurts everyone around her, like trying to steal her friend Rita’s (Barboura Morris’) boyfriend Mort (Dick Miller) and forcing a heavier pledge named Ellie (Barbara Cowan) to do situps in order to be thin. When Tina doesn’t listen, she paddles her and yeah, this is exploitation so not only does Sabra love it, Tina just may as well. And when Mort won’t give in, she finds a pregnant waitress named Tine (June Kenney) to blackmail him.

    None of it ends well, as must happen in so many teen movies. Sabra is a psychopath — as if the opening credits didn’t spoil this — and at the end, all she can do is walk into the ocean and drown. Today, she’d probably get over all this and be a CEO or something.

    There’s nothing I love more than a woman destroying people. I’ve had it done to me more than a few times. Now, I just watch it in movies.

    At 67 minutes, this movie was made to be shown with Attack of the Crab Monsters. Its stars Paul Birch as Mr. Johnson, a man quite literally not of this Earth because he’s an alien from Davanna with blank eyes that can burn right into your brain. If you start to like him, remember that he starts the movie by removing the blood of a teenage girl with some tubes that he keeps in his attache case.

    Davanna is dying from the end of a nuclear war which has turned everyone’s blood to dust. Now, as he waits in Los Angeles, Mr. Johnson is attempting to solve the issues with his peoples’ blood. He has a houseboy named Jeremy (Jonathan Haze) and hires away nurse Nadine Storey (Beverly Garland) from a man he has hypnotized, Dr. F.W. Rochelle (William Roerick).

    The police are wondering who the vampire killer is, but Mr. Johnson is just trying to stay alive. And look out anyone — like Dick Miller as a vacuum salesman — who comes to his home. Soon, another alien (Anna Lee Carroll) shows up but her blood becomes laced with rabies. She’s not the last as even though Johnson perishes in a car crash — a police siren is too much for his alien hearing — another alien that looks just like him shows up at his grave.

    Birch had no fun making this, as he had to wear the painful contacts all day as Corman wanted to shoot whenever with no prep. The actor was so upset he left before filming was done, so in some shots, that’s not him. Luckily, he has on a hat and sunglasses often, so he was easy to fake Shemp in this by Lyle Latell. Before he left the set, he said, “”I am an actor, and I don’t need this stuff… To hell with it all! Goodbye!”

    Longer reviews on my site!

  21. Death Race 2000 (1975)

    Hadn't seen this in 15-ish years. My memory was that it was really fun. I have a good memory.

    Forbidden World (1982)

    Is this the third best Alien movie?

    Some things Forbidden World taught me about the future:
    - In the future, treatment protocol for scars is to make them look as fake as possible.
    - In the future, Mike Shanahan is 7% wider.
    - In the future, flight and weapon controls on spaceships are entirely toggle switch-based.
    - In the future, yo-yos GO SIDEWAYS (and light up, of course).
    - In the future, the silver storm trooper is on the good guy team.
    - In the future, women LOVE taking off all their clothes. If forced to wear clothes, they prefer bathrobes.
    - In the future, it's customary for a spaceship's steam room to feature a skylight.
    - In the future, they don't call it a xenomorph anymore--it's a dingwhopper.
    - In the future, the final girl is not the one you'd think.

    1. I wanted to watch something new but I'm sick and so I went with a safe choice and rewatched DEATH RACE 2000, which is one of my favorite movies ever. It's still the best.

  22. The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1958). I watched with my son, and we had a lot of fun with it, but overall wasn't very good. Maybe not the best choice to introduce my son to black and white films lol. I think they knew it wasn't great and overcompensated with the title. However, it has a completely BADASS poster, and that title! I couldn't not watch it. I know it's going to be a great month even if it started with a bit of dud.

  23. Naked Paradise (1957) surprisingly entertaining early Corman film (in color!) about a dashing, scrupulous boat captain Duke Bradley (Richard Denning) and his rogue’s gallery of passengers (Beverly Garland, Leslie Bradley, Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze). The bad guy is a famous toy manufacturer who tries to rob a sugar cane plantation of its payroll. (I’m not making this up.) Horrible nautical violence ensues. Watching this 68 minute gem was so much fun, like a south seas travelogue with a film noir plot. Garland went on to own and manage my favorite boutique Hollywood hotel.

  24. Thunder Over Hawaii (1957) surprisingly entertaining early Corman film (in color!) about dashing, scrupulous boat captain Duke Bradley (Richard Denning) and his rogue’s gallery of passengers (Beverly Garland, Leslie Bradley, Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze). The bad guy is a lady-slapping blowhard who puts a firecracker inside a giraffe. (I’m not making this up.) Horrible nautical violence ensues. Watching this 68 minute gem was so much fun, like a south seas travelogue with a film noir plot. Garland went on to own and manage my favorite boutique Hollywood hotel.

    1. πŸ‘€ I see what you guys did there! πŸ˜‰πŸ˜

  25. Carnosaur (1993)

    Watched this with my kid thinking we’d have some fun riffing on it, but it only occasionally strays into “so bad it’s good” territory and is mostly just bad. It takes some wild swings story-wise, and I’ll give it some props for its surprisingly bleak ending, but for the most part it’s an incoherent mess. I’ll definitely look for some higher quality Corman later this month!

  26. Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda (2014)

    Real dumb, but watchable enough for late night. With movies like this, the editing is often filled with extra beats in the dialogue, and shots that seem to linger, and I wonder if the editing is bad, if they're trying to pad things out to clear an 80-minute runtime, or if they're just trying to bait the MST3K team into using the movie for an episode.

  27. Piranha (1978)

    Filled to the gills with grindhouse gifts! Children in peril, familiar genre faces like Dick Miller, Kevin McCarthy, Barbara Steele, Paul Bartel, and Belinda Belaski, a smidge of a stop-motion monster, and just the right balance between satire and scares. I also enjoyed Heather Menzies' plucky heroine and her chemistry with Bradford Dillman. A great way to get into the swing of Junesploitation!

  28. Targets (1968) dir. by Peter Bogdanovich

    I really like Karloff in this role, and the two storylines came together pretty well. Also it looked gorgeous on Criterion's stream; the colors and styles of the 60s featured nicely.

    Munchies (1987) dir. by Tina Hirsch

    I was primed to enjoy a silly bad movie... but this mostly fell flat. In addition to the obvious Gremlins mentions, there are maybe a record number of references to better movies that I'd rather be watching. Harvey Korman was the best part of the movie, and I had only a couple of small laughs in the rest of it. I prefer Critters or The Pit for this kind of thing.

  29. Teenage Doll(1957 Dir. Roger Corman)
    "You ain't a Juvenile delinquent you ain't got what it takes"

    When Barbara dates local hoodlum Eddie she does "one thing wrong. The worst thing anyone can do. She steps out of her class". When the movie open Barbera is on the run after she pushes another girl off a roof in self-defense. On the run from the police and a rival girl gang She eventually returns to Eddie for help leading to an all out brawl between rival girl gangs and rival guy gangs. Is it good? No. Its a short brisk watch though and entertaining.

    Five Guns West(1955 Dir: Roger Corman)

    Cormans first film is a western set at the end of the Civil War. A men on a mission movie about 5 outllaws pardoned by the South to capture a traitor who is defecting to the north along with $30,000 in cash. The outlaws stop at a house and hold a woman and her uncle hostage as they wait for the stagecoach carrying their target.
    For a debut film this was really good. Its not a classic by any means but
    is a solid little western. Although its about a group of criminals Corman does the smart thing by making two of them, two brothers both of whom suffer from short man complex and a severe lack of morals the major villains of the piece allowing us to root for and root against the group we would normally despise.

  30. Started Day 1 of Junesploitation at The Frida Cinema in the OC for a midnight screening of HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS (2022) dir. Mike Cheslik. My 12-year old Maggie laughed just about the entire time. It’s a truly crazy and inventive Looney Toons of an 1800s fur trapper nearly-silent comedy.

    After the sun was up I managed to see an actual Roger Corman directed new-to-me movie ROCK ALL NIGHT (1957) and Dick Miller was crazy good it. And I love that it was an inspiration to RR⚡️QT’s GRINDHOUSE.

    Ended Day 1 at QT’s Video Archive Cinema Club at midnight for a rewatch of A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959) which screened QT’s VHS copy of the movie from Video Archives. It was my first time there and I could only think how much Patrick would have enjoyed the 7pm screening of Deathrace 2000 on 16mm with one of the Daisy Domergue RC Cola cups they had at the Vista concession stand. Whenever I think it’s too much of a hassle to go out to a theater, I remind myself how lucky I am to live in the arthouse heaven that is Southern California at the moment.

    1. That 16mm screening sounds incredible, but then so does the BUCKET OF BLOOD screening you were at. You are so lucky!