Friday, June 21, 2024

Junesploitation 2024 Day 21: AIP!


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  2. The Phantom Planet (1961, dir. William Marshall)

    In the distant future of 1980, an American astronaut flying his spaceship from a base on the Moon is pulled by an unseen force towards an asteroid. There he is shrunk to only six inches tall and discovers a civilization of similarly lilliputian but human-like aliens living there.

    It came out in 1961, but it's a 50's sci-fi movie through and through. Meaning the sets are cheap, the effects cheaper, and it mostly consists of people talking. I've said this before but these old, cheap sci-fi movies with their janky sets, clumsy acting and theremin soundtracks are like a comfortable warm blanket to me.

    Sisters (1972, dir. Brian De Palma)

    A reporter witnesses a murder next door to her apartment, but when the cops find no evidence, she decides to investigate herself. What she uncovers is a twisted tale of Canadian twins, creepy hypnotherapists and more Hitchcock homages than you can shake a stick at.

    Brian De Palma is not a subtle filmmaker. He wears his Hitchcock influences on his sleeve and isn't afraid of turning up the melodrama and shock value to 11. I assume his instructions to composer Bernard Herrmann were "like every Hitchcock score at once, but more so". Margot Kidder's French-Canadian accent is kinda bizarre (though I'm no expert), Jennifer Salt is great as the reporter, William Finley is appropriately creepy, and Charles Durning is fun in a small supporting role.

  3. Golden Needles (1974)

    Director Robert Clouse followed up one of the greatest martial arts movies of all time, Enter the Dragon staring Bruce Lee, with this martial arts film staring another master of the craft....Joe Don Baker??? I picked this because im a huge fan of Jim Kelly who, regrettably, is only in it as a bit of a cameo. The film centers around a statue with acupuncture needles that is supposed to be a cross between the fountain of youth and a jumbo sized viagra. Joe Don brings all his classic "innapropriate-drunk-uncle-at-a-family-wedding" energy but in the end the films problem is that its BORING. the entire plot is just people walking around looking for the statue with occasional fights. Thats it.

  4. I am appreciating the motivation this month is providing to watch some of the more obscure titles put out by AIP. With nearly seven decades gone by since these particular films were made, they have become artifacts at risk of being forgotten.

    REFORM SCHOOL GIRL (1957, dir. Edward Bernds)

    Due to a series of events outside of her control, teenager Donna Price ends up in a juvenile facility. Once there, she encounters a psychologist who tries to help her with her life issues and legal troubles. She also has to deal with the violence of other inmates who believe she has squealed to the authorities. Reform School Girl is a solid exploitation drama that surprises in the subjects that it hints at; the time period prevented the film from being more frank about them. The cast, though sometimes noticeably older than their roles, bring a lot of energy to the film and add some class to the trashier side of the story. The empathy for Donna's plight is very strong.

    TEENAGE CAVEMAN (1958, dir. Roger Corman)

    AIP was known for doing market research to determine titles that had an appeal to the teenage demographic, the main audience of the company’s films. It was not uncommon for the advertising campaign to be created before a script was even written. Considering the disconnect between the finished film and what the poster promises, it is clear that this was the case with Teenage Caveman. There are no fights between dinosaurs and cavemen in it. What is in the film is a young man, played by Robert Vaughn, who challenges the beliefs of his clan by daring to venture out into the wider world. Though there is some action, the general theme of the plot is a society confronting change. The ending is reminiscent of another film that came out a decade later. As far as the filmmaking goes, this is a cheapie from Roger Corman. It is similar in quality to his other productions from this period.

    Looking at the Turner Classic Movies schedule for July, I saw that Roger Corman is one the featured themes for the month. It is very appropriate. Back in 2016 he was the guest host on the channel for a month devoted to the films of American International Pictures. Remembering the stories he told about the world of low-budget cinema and working for AIP makes me sad that he is not around tell them anymore, but everything becomes history at some point.

  5. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

    I've been circling this for some time, always been intrigued by the great title and amazing poster.

  6. Black Mama, White Mama (1973, dir. Eddie Romero)

    Loose remake of The Defiant Ones with female leads (Pam Grier [GOAT] and Margaret Markov) as escaped prisoners chained together who have to cooperate to survive. Way too much of this movie is away from our leads focusing on the boring details of a generic political revolution which is the backdrop of this movie. The titular Mamas basically become side-characters in their own film. Sid Haig totally steals the show as a evil cowboy villain. There are many better Pam Grier movies out there, but you could also do worse.

    1. I need to watch this. I also vote that we have an Eddie Romero day for Junesploitation 2025!

    Strangers are trapped together in a house following the nuclear apocalypse, with a mutant hunting them outside. Roger Corman does a great job of keeping the monster hidden but threatening until the big reveal, building suspense throughout. The claustrophobia of everyone locked in the house reminded me a lot of the original Night of the Living Dead. I love NOTLD, but did Corman get there first?

    A gang of hot-rodding teens horse around for a while before moving into the local haunted house. Cue the shenanigans! This is screwball comedy, parodying both horror and car race movies. Folks online call this a precursor to the Frankie and Annette beach movies, but it looked to me more like a precursor to Scooby Doo. The finale gets very meta, with specific references to other movies these filmmakers have worked on. How did all this deep-cut trivia work in the pre-internet age?

    Bonus Universal Monster-sploitation: HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)
    It’s mash-up time as Karloff’s Dr. Neimann gathers all the monsters for his evil brain-switching plot. Except the monsters don’t interact much, and Dracula’s not one of the gang, but he's off on a side story. Like a big comic book crossover, it’s fun but it’s not the characters at their best.

    1. I have not seen the The Day The World Ended, but a definite precursor to NOTLD is The Last Man on Earth, which starred Vincent Price. AIP distributed the film. It is based on the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend.

  8. Abby (1974)

    William Girdler's blacksploitation take on The Exorcist was deemed so derivative, AIP had to pull all copies of the film from theaters after getting sued by Warner Brothers. There's rumors that Warners confiscated the film, so there's no high quality prints of it available. Fortunately for we Juneploitation junkies, a DVD transfer from a crappy 16mm print is up in its entirety on YouTube.

    The demon Eshu (uh, gesundheit) takes over preacher's wife Abby, and she lets the profanities fly like she's 2 Live Crew. She's voiced by Bob Holt, TV's Grape Ape, and man, when she growls, "I'm gonna get your ass" and comments on penis sizes, you buy it! William Marshall swoops in as the exorcist and does his Shakespearean best to elevate the B-movie mess. He doesn't really succeed, but does add some legitimacy to the proceedings, and hearing this dude's mellifluous voice is always a treat. I also enjoyed the shots of Louisville nightlife circa 1974, and the film's spiritual orientation, which explores African religion as opposed to Catholicism.

    Bottom line: More fun than The Exorcist II.

  9. The Raven (1963)

    I've read the the movie being about magicians totally threw me. Loved the aestetics!

  10. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

    I kinda doubt malpractice insurance covers Phibes-ing. What a delightfully weird movie. The left-handed thread gag is exceptional.


    THE UNDEAD (1957, DVD)

    I reviewed "The Undead" during the first Junesploitation! on Roger Corman Day!
    , so click on the link for my thoughts on that flick. But did I tell ever tell you that I met and briefly talked to Roger Corman in person about "The Undead"? Back in the mid-2000's there was an in-person autograph session with Roger in the basement of J&R Music World, a mecca for home video/electronics in NYC that long ago closed and disappeared. I don't even remember what I bought or had Corman sign for me, but I just wanted an excuse to shake hands with the man. When my turn came Roger was all smiles as I told him that I liked "The Undead" the best of his movies I'd seen up to then, that it was an entertaining and creative time-travel flick that had a hell of a creative hook with the hypnosis subplot. He thanked me and said it and "A Bucket of Blood" were his favorites of the movies he did in a hurry on recycled sets from other movies. Then I told him I was also a big fan of "MST3K" and that both his movies and the riffing the show did on them introduced me to most of his work. Corman's face turned stone cold and frowny, and he never said another word. He signed whatever it was I bought to get in line, pushed it back and never made eye contact with me again.

    Morale of the story? None, I was a dumb thirty-something punk that deliberately provoked Corman for giving "MST3K" a hard time renewing contracts for the rights to use his movies for repeats and home video. As a more mature cinephile movie lover now I regret wasting my once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet a legend by antagonizing him. But at least I did get to tell him that I sincerely liked "The Undead." :-(

    "Motorcycle Gang" is one of the many biker flicks inspired by Brando's 1953 opus "The Wild One" that is mostly talk and rear-projected daytime racing footage, but still delivers some cheap driving/lingo thrills. Former biker Nick (John Ashley) tries to rejoin his old gang after 15 months in the joint, only to find it run by squares like Lieutenant Joe (Russ Bender) that have imposed rules/regulations. Nick competes for the attention of cute chick Terry (top-billed Anne Neyland) with handsome devil Randy (Steven Terrell) and romantic sparks would fly if any of these actors had any chemistry. Just your typical AIP poverty row flick with older people pretending to look and sound like teenagers. Shame this one didn't get the "MST3K" treatment during the Joel Hodgson era, it would have made a great double-bill with "The Hellcats" or "Daddy-O." 2.5 UNFUNNY ALFALFA MUGGING FACES (out of 5).

    An honest-to-goodness biker flick (from the director of "Mud" and "Take Shelter" no less) rolls into theaters during June and it's everything "Motorcycle Gang" is but done with top-tier Hollywood acting, production and filmmaking talent. Inspired by Danny Lyon's book of the same name (with Boyd Holbrook playing an on-screen version of the writer chronicling this 1965-73 tall tale), it's basically a love triangle between boring square Kathy (Jodie Comer) and charismatic working man Johnny (Tom Hardy, who literally watches "The Wild One" on TV to get pointers on how to be a Midwestern motorcycle club leader) for the man both covet, committed-to-his-biker-lifestyle Benny (Austin Butler). Kathy wants Benny to leave the gang and Johnny wants him to lead it when he eventually retires, especially as the Vandals gain popularity and start attracting undesirable new members with drug/discipline issues. Michael Shannon, Norman Reedus and a ton of character actors get to shine in small but memorable biker roles. Remember Al Pacino's last few on-screen moments in "Donnie Brasco"? "The Bikeriders" has a very similar vibe toward the end, and it's glorious. It's a winner. 5 AWKWARD FUNERALS (out of 5).

  12. What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)
    Then-novel idea of taking a straight action film and dubbing a new comedic soundtrack. Woody Allen’s hit to miss ratio here is pretty high. The studio later added two Lovin’ Spoonful numbers to pad the running time; Allen sued them.
    “Sarazin Dog! Turkish Taffy!”

  13. MACHINE-GUN KELLY (1958):

    Susan Cabot's a total babe in this. Chuck's good. Movie's kinda slow.

  14. Love at First Bite(1979 Dir Stan Dragoti)
    Earlier this month I talked about a movie(Zombie Town)and said even though I hate it I hope kids find it, love it and its one of their gateways into horror. Bites is one of those movies for me. This was one of my constants as a kid. Is it great? nope. Hell, nostalgia might be doing most the work keeping it in the good category. But it is funny and worth watching just for Arte Johnsons Renfield alone.

  15. Mad Mad (1979)

    My son and I went to see Furiosa (more about that on Cars! day), so I was in the mood to revisit this. It's always much more action packed than in my memory. Hugh Keays-Byrne is amazing as toe cutter.

    "Do you see me Toe Cutter? Do you see me", as said by the Nightrider is remarkably reminiscent of the "Witness me" we see in Fury Road. (Not my original idea. I heard it on a podcast, but I think of it every time now when watching).

    1. This was a great idea for a Junesploitation theme! AIP has a ton of appropriate movies. I kind of wish I had explored something new, but I really wanted to re-watch Mad Max. But I'm glad that I'm now aware of the existence of AIP. Oh, and I think I've already watched 2 AIP movies previously this month.