Videophiled: Two by Roger Corman with Ray Milland

PrematureB
Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Vincent Price starred in all of Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations but one. Ray Milland took the lead in The Premature Burial (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD), playing Guy Carrell, an aristocrat with crippling fear that he will be buried alive due to a family history of catalepsy. Corman brings the fear home in the opening scene: an exhumation of an ancestor who shows every sign of having awoken in his casket. The obsession overtakes his life until the rather elderly newlywed moves into the family crypt, which he outfits as a Batcave of escape hatches, much to the horror of his neglected bride (Hazel Court), who observes that he has already “buried himself alive” and makes him chose the crypt or life with her.

Like most of Corman’s Poe films, the script (this one by Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell) borrows little more than the central idea and the title from Poe. This one owes as debt to Gaslight and Diabolique, and of course leans on the art direction of Daniel Haller (who created a sense of grandeur on a budget) and the widescreen color cinematography of the great Floyd Crosby, who photographed Tabu (1931) and High Noon (1952) and here gives Corman his atmosphere. While Hammer was reviving the classic movies monsters as gothic horrors with lurid edges and color, Corman was creating his own Gothic horror revival with ideas influenced by Freud and Jung. Corman creates his world completely in the studio, including the grounds outside the manor, a veritable haunted forest of dead trees, ever-present mist hugging the boggy ground, and a pair of creepy gravediggers (John Dierkes and Dick Miller) constantly lurking and whistling the folk song “Molly Malone” as a dirge-like threat.

Though Carrell is supposed to be older than his lovely young wife, Milland is aged beyond the role, though he quite valiantly attempts to appear younger while also playing the haunted, sequestered, tortured soul. His bearing and deep, authoritative voice holds the center of every, whether he’s the romantic husband swept up in the promise of a happily ever after or the tormented obsessive spiraling into the madness of obsession. Alan Napier, best known in genre circles for playing Alfred in the sixties TV Batman, has a small but delicious role as the arrogant father of the bride, a medical doctor with little affection and even less sentimentality for his son-in-law.

The colors are good if not quite as strong as some of the previous Corman Poe Blu-rays. Joe Dante discusses the film in the new 9-minute featurette “Buried Alive!” and a video interview with Corman from the 2002 DVD release (where he explains how Milland ended up in the role rather than Price) is included, along with the “Trailers From Hell” presentation with Corman’s commentary.

XManXray
Kino Lorber Studio Classics

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD) reunites Corman and Milland for a science fiction thriller by way of a Greek tragedy. Milland is Dr. James Xavier, who experiments with a formula that will the human eye to see beyond the wavelength of visible light. “Only the Gods see everything,” cautions a fellow scientist. “I am closing in on the Gods,” responds Xavier with the hubris that is doomed to destroy his over-reaching ambition. Peeping through the clothes of comely women is all good adolescent fun until the gift becomes a nightmare as his sight rages out of control.

Charles Beaumont once again scripts this twist on the tale of a scientist who risks everything to explore the unknown and is finally driven mad by, literally, seeing too much. The possibilities suggested in the hints of addiction and inconsistent bouts of megalomania remain tantalizingly unexplored in the unfocussed script and Corman’s cut-rate special effects are often more hokey than haunting (the “city dissolved in an acid of light” he poetically describes becomes fuzzy photography through a series of color filters). But there is an edge to the B-movie machinations. Don Rickles offers a venal turn as a scheming carnival barker turned blackmailing con man and Diane Van Der Vlis is understanding as a sympathetic scientist who tries to rescue Xavier from his spiral into tortured madness, but in the tradition of Greek tragedy he is doomed to be destroyed by the very gifts he desires.

This release features two commentary tracks—filmmaker Roger Corman’s commentary from the original 2002 DVD release and new commentary by film historian Tim Lucas—plus “Terror Vision!,” an interview featurette with Joe Dante and the “Trailers From Hell” take on the film with Mick Garris providing the commentary.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Videophiled: ‘The Wild Angels’ and ‘Psych-Out’

WildAngels
Olive

Before Easy Rider there was The Wild Angels (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), directed by Roger Corman and starring Peter Fonda as Heavenly Blues, the leader of a California chapter of Hell’s Angles. This is a gang of disaffected drop-outs and scruffy road rats who live to ride in packs and parade their colors (black leather, mostly, adorned with swastikas and Iron Crosses) as a show of defiance to the establishment.

The 1966 film branded Fonda as a counterculture icon, but his lanky aloofness and arrogant disdain for the establishment masks an alienated, empty soul flailing at every authority figure just to provoke some sort of sensation. Nancy Sinatra’s thigh-boots were made for straddling a chopper and she is all hipster attitude as Blues’ chick, Mike. Sinatra is a wooden actress but there’s a nervousness and fear of abandonment behind her vague expression which puts Fonda’s cool posturing into perspective.

They are truly rebels without a cause but Corman takes their outlaw culture into nervy, nihilistic territory. They’re not a club, they’re a tribe and they devolve into primitive savagery after the death of their beloved brother, the Loser (Bruce Dern in a swaggering performance of breezy disobedience). It’s not malevolence that makes them dangerous, but apathy and amorality. They just don’t care who gets hurt in their search for the next thrill. “We wanna be free!,” demands Blues in a rambling eulogy turned incoherent (anti-)statement of purpose. “We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man! And we wanna get loaded!”

The empty eulogy becomes an epigraph for a defiant anti-establishment rebellion fallen into decadence and anarchy and Heavenly Blues proceeds to preside over the desecration of a church and the systematic trampling of every boundary of decency that Corman could push past censors in 1966. The Wild Angels became a portrait of emptiness and hostility, a social revolution spiraling into narcissism and self-destruction. The film was released before the ratings system was in effect but later given an R-rating for drug use and the HD master looks very good, especially considering its production history. Corman shot quick and dirty when necessary and a few shots stick out as soft or out-of-focus, quite likely a matter Corman making due and moving on to the next set-up.

PsychOut
Olive

Psych-Out (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) from 1968 belongs to another genre of youth exploitation cinema, one that put hippies and flower-power and counterculture imagery on the screen with a cautionary warning about the dangers of drugs and the hedonistic rock and roll lifestyle. This one, however, came from music mogul Dick Clark, and for all the drug culture stereotypes and free love displays, it’s at least more open to the positive aspects of San Francisco hippie culture than most counterculture portraits. Part of that is surely due to director Richard Rush, who explored counterculture protest movement with greater insight and intelligence in the underrated Getting Straight and direct the Oscar-nominated The Stunt Man, as well as a cast of ambitious youth movie veterans, many of them on the cusp of becoming major stars.

Jenny Davis (Susan Strasberg) is a deaf girl who arrives in San Francisco from a straight suburban home in search of her brother (Bruce Dern), an artist who tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. Jack Nicholson is Stoney, the callous hippie leader of a jam band who helps her dodge the cops and invites her to stay in his communal home (where there’s always a party going on) and his bed, and Dean Stockwell is band drop-out turned self-styled guru Dave, who lends his connections to her search and his patience to her pain.

This is the Haight-Ashbury Flower Power scene of hippie communes, free love, bad trips (future filmmaker Henry Jaglom sees dead people), and rock happenings, and while it tends to confirm the clichés of the era it’s more critical of the mainstream culture that dismisses and even persecutes the hippies. I’m not really sure why there’s a blue collar gang of tough guys out to get Jenny’s blissed-out, freaked-out brother, who lives in the city dump and is known as “the Seeker”—is there some Jesus allegory that got lost in the rewrites?—but it sure paints the straights as an intolerant, bigoted bunch. And Rush appreciates the energy and the idealism of the culture at its best while acknowledging contradictions in the individuals within. Nicholson’s Stoney can be a groovy guy but he’s also a little self-absorbed and certainly ambitious, trying to get his band out of the one-night-stands and into big venues and a recording contract. There’s something calculating about his embrace of the culture and insincere in his relationship with Jenny, who is more of a curiosity than a commitment. When he’s bored of the novelty his attentions wander to the blond groupie turned band tambourine player (Linda Gaye Scott) and Jenny loses her moorings in the unfamiliar party scene.

Susan Strasberg and Jack Nicholson

The music from Nicholson’s band is shamelessly derivative (their signature tune is reversal of a familiar Hendrix riff) but the film also features The Strawberry Alarm Clock performing their hit “Incense and Peppermint” in front of the liquid lightshow and Sky Saxon (of The Seeds) leading a funky funeral march. Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs (who went on to shoot Easy Rider) brings a vivid, psychedelic look to the film that are nicely preserved on this disc. And watch for future TV producer and film director Garry Marshall as a plainclothes cop searching for Jenny in the first scene, sticking out of the coffeehouse scene like he’s Sgt. Joe Friday at a peace rally. Unfortunately this disc does not include the featurette from the DVD release.

More Blu-ray and DVD releases from Olive at Cinephiled

Videophiled: Twilight Time’s bloody ‘Valentine’

StValentines
Twilight Time

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) gave Roger Corman the biggest budget of his career to date. After more than 40 films, most of them for the budget-challenged AIP, he was hired by 20th Century Fox and given the resources of their studio, casting department, and backlot for his recreation of 1929 Chicago and the most famous gangland slaying in American history.

Jason Robards is somewhat miscast as the stocky Al Capone—he was originally cast as rival mob boss “Bugs” Moran but Corman’s first choice for Capone, Orson Welles, was nixed by the studio as being “too difficult” and Robards simply promoted to the leading role—but he certainly captures the savagery, the emotional explosiveness, and the media-savvy persona that Capone puts on when talking to reporters. His tit-for-tat battles with Northside gangster Moran (Ralph Meeker) turn into a full-scale war when Chicago’s Mafia Don (and Capone’s boss) is knocked off in a power play. Corman directs from a script by Howard Browne, who was a reporter in Chicago when the real event occurred, that takes in the big picture and charts the stories and trajectories of over a dozen characters tangled in the plot to kill Moran. George Segal gets the biggest role as Peter Gusenberg, a ruthless Moran gunman in a tempestuous affair with a showgirl (Jean Hale), and Clint Ritchie is Capone’s favored lieutenant Jack McGurn, a young, ambitious guy with matinee idol looks and an initiative that earns him the job of planning and executing the Moran hit. The whole thing is structured with documentary-like narration by Paul Frees (which also echoes the TV series The Untouchables) that identifies the players and keeps the timeline of the complicated plan straight.

Corman gets a good cast of venerable characters, among them Frank Silvera, Joseph Campanella, Richard Bakalyan, Harold J. Stone, Joe Turkel, John Agar, Reed Hadley, Alex Rocco, and Leo Gordon, and adds in a few of his favorites, including Bruce Dern in a sympathetic role as an earnest mechanic just trying to support his family and unbilled appearances by Dick Miller and Jack Nicholson. Corman is adept at creating human moments between the plot points, reminding us of the little guys caught up in the war and the human cost of the violence, while the narration provides the death dates of each character in their respective introductions. Nobody gets out of this life alive. Some just survive it a little longer.

It’s a superb-looking transfer of the CinemaScope production and shows Corman’s talent for repurposing standing sets and stretching resources to make a low-budget look far more expensive. The colors are bright and vibrant and the image is so sharp and detailed that you can just make out the tips of California palm trees behind the Chicago backlot set in one scene. The new interview featurette “Roger Corman Remembers” is brief, barely three minutes, but Corman is always a good interview and he packs in a lot of information (all of it also found in earlier interviews and Corman bios), and the archival Fox Movietone News section includes clips from three newsreel reports on Capone, including a raid on one of his distilleries.

More Twilight Time Blu-rays at Cinephiled

Videophiled Classic: Halloween Disc Pick – ‘The Vincent Price Collection II’

The Vincent Price Collection II (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) follows up last year’s collection with the debut of seven more Vincent Price horror films in a special edition set. Shout Factory (under its Scream Factory imprint) draws from its licensing relationships with 20th Century Fox and MGM to complete the run of Roger Corman Poe films begun last year and fills to the rest a couple of sequels and two titles too often relegated to public domain bargain discs.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), the final film in Corman’s cycle of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, is considered by many the best (partisans tend to split over this and The Masque of Red Death, 1963), and it is certainly the most sophisticated, with rich performances by Price, who is both haunted protagonist and Gothic romantic leading man (a first in the series) as widower Verden Fell, and British actress Elizabeth Shepherd, who brings a zest for life to the role of Rowena Trevanion, whose fascination with Verdan’s self-imposed exile turns to romance. Once she draws him out of the haunted manor and into the world for their honeymoon, that shadow of gloom is lifted and he can even discard the shaded glasses he wears in the bright light (“I live at night,” he explains early on), but once back in the abbey, the ghost of Lady Ligeia reasserts her control. Or so it seems after Verden offers a demonstration of hypnosis and Ligeia takes over Rowena for a chilling instant while she’s under the spell.

The Tomb of Ligeia is the only one of Corman’s Poe films to shoot location exteriors (Corman used studio sets entirely for previous films to create a rarified unreality, he says, as befitting his interest in psychology and the unconscious in relation to horror), and the ruins he uses for Fell’s abbey home are astoundingly beautiful, the bleached bone remains of a fallen castle behind his stone manor, the dead of the past haunting the living of the present. Fittingly, it is also the most psychologically rooted of his Poe adaptations, though the revelations of the finale do not fully explain the black cat who seems to act as Ligeia’s familiar in the abbey, or Rowena’s brief possession by Ligeia. Robert Towne’s intelligent script and Corman’s moody direction melds the explicable and the supernatural very nicely in a tale that is never simply one or the other.

As with the previous set, these editions are from HD masters provided to Shout Factory by the rights holder, in this case MGM. It’s a good looking transfer though it is not a restoration. You can see surface scratches and grit and in one spot a light vertical scratch running through the left side of the image, but it also has vivid color, good clarity, and a strong image, which is still the most important thing in a disc release.

Features commentary by Roger Corman carried over from the earlier DVD release plus new commentary recorded for this release by actress Elizabeth Shepherd, and an archival video introduction and afterward by Vincent Price, originally taped for a public TV horror series decades ago, plus a gallery of stills and a trailer.

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Netflix Fest: Roger Corman in the Sixties

Roger Corman

How timely: in the wake of the DVD and Blu-ray release of the documentary Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel a couple of months back and a long overdue Oscar, a veritable festival of films directed by Roger Corman have been made available this month on Netflix, bumping their library up to a dozen or so of his best films.

His cycle of Edgar Allan Poe films were the first to really be taken seriously: stories of madness and melancholia set in gloomy, crumbling mansions and shot in rich, bleeding color and CinemaScope, most of them starring Vincent Price, whose theatrical flourish gives his brooding heroes a sense of tragedy. The success of “The House of Usher” (1960), the first of the cycle, paved the way for the more ambitious “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1961), highlighted by Barbara Steele’s savage eyes and feral smile, Price’s cackling transformation into a sadistic ghost, and the grandiose bladed pendulum set piece. Ray Milland takes over for Price in “Premature Burial” (1962) as the doomed, brooding aristocrat gripped by a paralyzing fear of being buried alive, and Price is back for “The Raven” (1963), a comic take on Poe co-starring Peter Lorre and Jack Nicholson, and “The Tomb of Ligeia” (1964).

Corman’s crowning achievement in the cycle is “The Masque of the Red  Death” (1964), a deliriously colorful gothic horror (vividly shot by future director Nicolas Roeg) of a demented, debauched Prince whose castle is the sole sanctuary during the plague, but the price to enter is to become a plaything of the sadistic tormentor. Vincent Price is no longer the haunted gothic hero but the sadistic Prince Prospero, a sadist who wields the power of life and death with no pity: his subjects are toys and he revels in their humiliation and torture. This is Corman’s most daring character study and most stylistically impressive film.

Continue reading at Videodrone

For more releases, see Hot Tips and Top Picks: DVDs, Blu-rays and streaming video for May 15

Cult Watch: ‘Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel’

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (Anchor Bay) profiles Roger Corman, the legendary director and producer who helped launch the careers of some of the greatest actors and filmmakers of the last five decades.

Alex Stapleton’s documentary is an entertaining, zippy tour through his career, framed with behind-the-scenes footage from the production of Dinoshark, one of his SyFy Channel original films, and an affectionate portrait of the most unlikely filmmaking rebel of his time (“I was probably the straightest guy in a pretty wild movement,” he says of his relationship to the counterculture). And if it doesn’t offer anything new to our understanding of Corman, as filmmaker, producer, or person, it nicely encapsulates his legacy and his philosophy and reminds us just how savvy and thoughtful a filmmaker he was and is. Even while making films like Dinoshark.

This is the second theatrical documentary feature about Corman—the first, Hollywood’s Wild Angel,was made almost 35 years ago (which alone gives an idea of the scope of his career)—and it appears to borrow some archival interviews from that film to mix in with new interviews from the likes of Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Pam Grier, Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, Peter Bogdanovich, and a lot of other folks. William Shatner talks about making “The Intruder” (the only Corman film to ever lose money?). Polly Platt tells us that Corman offered her a chance to direct if she wanted to. And Nicholson tears up recalling just how many opportunities that Corman gave him in his formative years.

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Battle Beyond the Stars on TCM

Space opera on a budget

When Star Wars became the smash hit of 1977 by turning B-movie adventure into big-budget spectacle, drive-in mogul Roger Corman saw the writing across the stars. The producer and former director had made his share of drive-in science fiction and space adventures, but they had all been cobbled out of spare parts and imaginative art direction, with simple miniatures and animation providing the space ships. Now Hollywood was moving in on his brand of genre filmmaking and action fantasies with budgets he couldn’t match and he needed to raise his game to meet them.

Battle Beyond the Stars was Corman’s answer to the new Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster. The script is from John Sayles, whose screenwriting apprenticeship came from such Corman productions as Piranha and The Lady in Red, with a story credit shared with Anne Dyer, but the concept was from Corman himself: “The Seven Samurai in Space,” with a few hints of Star Wars tossed in around the edges. Richard Thomas, fresh off six seasons of the folksy family TV drama The Waltons, plays the film’s innocent, idealistic hero Shad. He’s Luke Skywalker by way of John-Boy, a farmboy on a peaceful agrarian planet that looks like a counter-culture commune in ancient Greek garb. When the vicious warlord Sador (John Saxon) brings soldiers and his answer to the Death Star to their planet and gives them seven days to surrender, Shad sets out in a talking space ship (in the tradition of referring to vessels in the feminine, this one quite literally has a voluptuous pair of breasts protruding from the bow) to hire a fighting force of mercenaries to defend themselves from the invasion.

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“Fighting Mad”: Peter Fonda is Jonathan Demme’s eco-warrior

Action Packed Double Feature: Fighting Mad/Moving Violation (Shout! Factory)

Jonathan Demme wrote and directed Fighting Mad (1976), his third feature, for producer Roger Corman but it was actually produced for 20th Century Fox, which makes the film his studio debut. It’s not his best film by far but this mix of vigilante/revenge movie and eco-conscious stand against corruption makes for an inspired twist on a familiar genre. Peter Fonda is an easy-going Arkansas framer who stands up to the corporate criminal who has his thugs intimidate, harass and murder local landowners who refuse to sell out to his strip-mining concern. They kill his brother (Scott Glenn, gone way too soon from a film that could use his understated strength) and pregnant sister-in-law and murder an inconvenient state judge who gets in the way of their agenda and the drawling sheriff seems to be in the back pocket of the corporation as he backs their rights to plunder the land of local farmer.

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“Dementia 13” and “The Terror” – Classic Corman Cheapies on Blu-ray

Coppola's debut feature

Dementia 13 and The Terror (Film Chest)

Film Chest launched its line of Blu-ray editions of public domain titles a couple of months ago with versions of The Stranger and Kansas City Confidential. This duo would have been a better launch. Whereas there already existed superior MGM editions of the first two on DVD (they are still better than the Blu-ray editions), this release of Francis Coppola’s Dementia 13 and Roger Corman’s The Terror on Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack is a definite improvement over the best existing editions I’d seen on the market.

Francis Coppola (before adding the Ford) shot Dementia 13 (1963), his first “official” feature, for Roger Corman in Ireland on $20,000 seed money, using finagled locations and underpaid actors (William Campbell, Luana Anders, Bart Patton, Mary Mitchell) to flesh out a Psycho knock-off about a of an axe-murderer in an Irish castle (he reportedly wrote the script in three nights!). It’s a bit murky, to be sure, but in the best Corman tradition Coppola creates some stunning images from limited resources. He goes his mentor one better with a few shocking, startling moments of axe-wielding violence using jagged cuts and the darkness to suggest what he can’t show. Patrick Magee brings a little class to a couple of scenes, but the rest of the film (at least between the padding) is carried by shock and B-movie ingenuity.

The previous DVD edition from Roan, until now the best version out there, was fine but grainy and full screen. This widescreen edition, while a little soft  is cleaner, steadier and stronger overall, with more impressive B&W contrast. And the 16×9 image simply looks more accurate than the TV-print style of the previous full screen presentation.

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“Dinoshark”: 150 Million Years Old and Very, Very Hungry

Dinoshark (Anchor Bay)

Corman does SyFy

Before Roger Corman pushed the SyFy Channel sea monster splicing sweepstakes into pure absurdity with Sharktopus and Dinocroc vs. Supergator, he produced this much more mundane breed of killer shark. Starring Eric Balfour (the star of Skyline – I’m sure which production that speaks less of) is the shaggy, free-spirit hero here, a scuba diver on hard times who moves into a friend’s boat on the coast of Mexico just as a prehistoric shark (preserved in arctic ice and set free by global warming) moves into the local waters to snack on vacationers. Balfour and co-star Iva Hasperger do have a decent rapport and the score is actually kind of fun, with Mexican guitar riffs worked into suspense themes and a few sly quotes of John Williams’ Jaws theme periodically snuck in. But the mayhem is never wildly inventive enough to distract from the dull script and general familiarity of it all. This is one film that could use a jolt of high camp.

Directed by visual effects veteran turned prehistoric monster movie specialist Kevin O’Neill (his other director credit is Dinocroc – see a pattern emerging?), it lacks the wit, weird twists and goofy stunt casting of Corman’s better SyFy originals. Dinoshark can leap through the air like a dolphin at a water park and grabs humans out of the air (even paragliding and flying in helicopters), but that’s about as outrageous as it gets. And the race to save a team of teenage water polo players, followed by the shark’s migration to the playground of Puerto Vallarta’s beaches, is cribbed right out of the original Piranha, a seventies Corman production. Give the man his Green credentials: he recycles everything.

On DVD and Blu-ray, with commentary by producers Roger and Julie Corman with director Kevin O’Neill.

Read about Mongolian Death Worm at MSN Videodrone

Sharktopus – The Face of Terror Just Grew Tentacles!

Half-shark. Half octopus. All killer. Total nonsense.

“You just unleashed an eight-legged, man-eating shark on the world!”
“A minor setback.”

Absurdly-titled, cheaply produced and executed with tongue firmly in cheek (because it’s just too hard to take it seriously), this made-for-cable film is another in the “Roger Corman Presents” line of B-movie creature features made for the SyFy Channel. Eric Roberts is the token name actor on hard times recruited to give the film a pose of legitimacy and he hams it up with a half smirk that at least suggests he’s having a good time.

“Sharktopus” opens on the title creature (tag line: “Half-shark. Half octopus. All killer.”) already sluicing through the waters off the California coast, a genetic hybrid designed for the Defense Department in a hush-hush program by modern mad scientist Nathan Sands (Roberts), head honcho of the knowingly-titled Bluewater. Trouble begins when it slips off its electronic collar and goes on a killing spree, thanks to a little genetic tinkering to up the aggressiveness of the ridiculous creature. While his brainy scientist daughter (Sara Malakul Lane, a sexy Thailand celebrity in a pair of librarian glasses) teams up with a frat-boy of a mercenary (Kerem Bursin) to subdue the creature (“But don’t kill it,” demands Nathan), a journalist rushes to scoop the rest of the media world with an exclusive and lots of bystanders get manhandled, torn asunder and bitten in half, all within the bounds of Saturday night TV boundaries. Roger Corman, the man known as the King of the Bs, has successfully remade himself into the most popular producer of PG-rated creature features for the SyFy Channel.

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The Gangster Mamas (and Other Lady Outlaws) of Big Bad Corman

Big Bad Mama / Big Bad Mama II Double Feature (Shout! Factory)
Crazy Mama / The Lady In Red Double Feature (Shout! Factory)

One of the less recognized genres that director/producer/indie-exploitation movie mogul Roger Corman adopted as a minor specialty was the depression-era gangster movie. As a director he turned out Machine Gun Kelly (1958), The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967) and (most importantly for the purposes of this piece) Bloody Mama (1970), his perversely Oedipal take on the Ma Barker story with Shelley Winters as the machine gun mama leading her sons through a bank-robbing spree and keeping them a little too close for comfort on their days off.

Angie Dickinson in the driver's seat of "Big Bad Mama"

Jump ahead a few years and Corman, now retired from directing to run his own independent studio, turns back to the period gangster thriller with a femme-centric twist (which proved so effective in Boxcar Bertha, the 1972 feature he produced for AIP and with an up-and-coming young filmmaker at the helm taking first shot at directing a real Hollywood film: Martin Scorsese). Bloody Mama and Boxcar Bertha are the two godmothers of the four films featured in a pair of double features from Shout! Factory, including three that carried on the legacy of Corman’s gangster Mamas: all previously available but newly remastered for posterity presented at good prices.

Continue reading “The Gangster Mamas (and Other Lady Outlaws) of Big Bad Corman”