If I had the money, I guess I’d buy an old abandoned cinema somewhere downtown or maybe one of those big ole drive-ins that’s been long left for dead some place out in the desert. I’d refurbish it then screen double-feature monster movies each and every day. Double-bill after double-bill on continuous performance. Choice picks from the whole back catalog of Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, dear old Peter Cushing, and “King of the Bs” Roger Corman. Yeah, I know, I would probably go bust within six months—but hell, it would have been worth it just to see these classic horror movies and glorious science-fiction films on the big screen where they belong and not on flickering cathode-ray tube of childhood memory.
Brown has probably impacted on everyone’s memory one way or another as he produced a phenomenal array of movie posters. Brown supplied artwork for B-movie features like Creature from the Black Lagoon and Attack of the 50ft. Woman, mainstream movies like Spartacus and Mutiny on the Bounty, to those classic Corman horror films House of Usher and The Masque of Red Death. I know I can hang large parts of my childhood and teenage years by just one look at a Reynold Brown poster. Straight away I can tell you when and where I saw the movie and give a very good idea of what I thought and felt at that time. Now that’s the very thing many a great artist tries to make an aduience feel when they look at a work of art. While artists can spend a lifetime trying to achieve this, Reynold Brown was doing it as his day job.
Albert Kallis was working as a graphic artist with Saul Bass when the twentysomething B-movie director Roger Corman met him at a poster exhibition sometime during the mid-1950s. Corman liked the high-end artwork Kallis was putting out for the big Hollywood studios like Paramount and 20th Century-Fox. He wanted to know what it would take to have Kallis come and work for him? Kallis said he’d be only interested if after any “general conversations about the approach to the picture” all decisions on the poster’s artwork and style was left entirely up to him. Corman agreed. And that’s how he bagged the talents of one of the greatest movie poster artists of the 1950s and 1960s.
Corman made B-movies. Exploitation. Cheap thrills. Schlock horror. He knew he could make a ton of money if only he could get the teenagers to come and see his films. This was the time of the drive-in when movies came into town for a week and then were gone. When the film houses would only take on a movie if they could guarantee a hefty profit. What Corman needed was someone to sell his pictures with a poster that made the audience say “I gotta see that!” Kallis fully understood this. He produced artwork that made even the trashiest z-list feature look like it was the Citizen Kane of cheap thrills.
Kallis spent some seventeen years working as art director for Corman and then at American International Pictures—-going on to share responsibility (with Milt Moritz) as head of advertising and publicity. Kallis’s artwork exemplifies the best of movie poster technique and composition, taking key elements from a film to draw in the viewer and excite them enough so that they create their own mini-narrative. One look at these beauties and it’s more than apparent no movie could ever live up to the thrills of Kallis’s artwork.
“Cheepnis,” from Roxy & Elsewhere, is probably the most upful rock number in Frank Zappa’s catalog, celebrating two of the maestro’s favorite pleasures: eating hot dogs and watching monster movies. The song begins with a short monologue about Roger Corman’s 1956 no-budget classic, It Conquered the World:
Let me tell you something, do you like monster movies? Anybody? I love monster movies. I simply adore monster movies, and the cheaper they are, the better they are. And cheapness, in the case of a monster movie, hsa nothing to do with the budget of the film—although it helps—but true cheapness is exemplified by visible nylon strings attached to the jaw of a giant spider. I’ll tell you a good one that I saw one time, I think the name of the film was IT CONQUERED THE WORLD. Did you ever see that one? The monster looks sort of like an inverted ice cream cone with teeth around the bottom. It looks like a teepee or sort of a rounded-off pup-tent affair, and it’s got fangs on the base of it, I don’t know why, but it’s a very threatening sight. And he’s got a frown, and, y’know, ugly mouth and everything, and there’s this one scene where the monster is coming out of a cave, see? There’s always a scene where they come out of the cave, at least once. And the rest of the cast—it must have been made around the 1950s—the lapels are about like that wide, the ties are about that wide, and they’re about this short, and they always have a little revolver that they’re gonna shoot the monster with, and there’s always a girl who falls down and twists her ankle. [Laughs] Of course there is! You know how they are. The weaker sex and everything, twisting their ankle on behalf of the little ice-cream cone. Well, in this particular scene—in this scene, folks, they didn’t want to retake it because it must have been so good, they wanted to keep it—but when the monster came out of the cave, just over on the left-hand side of the screen, you can see about this much two-by-four attached to the bottom of the thing as the guy is pushing it out. And then, obviously, off-camera somebody’s going “No, get it back!” and they drag it back just a little bit as the guy’s going [gunshots]. Now that’s cheapness. And this is “Cheepnis” here.
It’s hard to believe Peter Graves was ever this young. He plays the wholesome scientist Dr. Paul Nelson, who plays by the rules and approves of the status quo, as against his best friend Dr. Tom Anderson (Lee Van Cleef), the movie’s Promethean/Satanic figure, who wants to improve humanity by subjecting it to the rule of a superintelligent Venusian he talks to on his ham radio. To that end, he helps the space creature land in a cave in the West Valley, which it prefers to the doctors’ neighborhood, Beachwood Canyon (superintelligent, huh?). From its subterranean lair in Agoura Hills, the monster gives birth to space bats that enslave the powerful by biting their necks, and suddenly everyone’s a pod person. See what happens when you try to improve humanity? When will we ever learn to accept things exactly as they are?
Incidentally, Beverly Garland’s character, who Zappa remembers as “the girl who falls down and twists her ankle,” is the only badass in the movie; she tells the space creature “I hate your living guts!” and “I’ll see you in hell!” before she makes it eat lead. Also featured: the most clueless impersonation of a Mexican person in the history of celluloid.
You may remember a post we did a while back on the all-Esperanto art house horror, Incubus, starring the immortal William Shatner. Although the film is beautiful in its ambition, fascinating in its inscrutability and kind of hilarious in its absolute weirdness, it is not my favorite Shatner deep cut. No, that great honor belongs to The Intruder, a weird little anti-racist morality play directed by Roger Corman, the brilliant mind behind the 1960 Little Shop of Horrors, and producer of such classics as Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Death Race 2000. Oh, and more recently, Sharktopus.
While The Intruder definitely exhibits Corman’s trademark outrageousness, itt does so in an earnest effort to engage the audience’s humanity. Shatner plays a sneaky white supremacist that rolls into a southern town with the covert mission of sowing racial unrest into the recently integrated community. At the time he was a young Canadian theater actor looking to break in to Hollywood, and the role was pretty juicy and subversive—Shatner later said “I’d have paid him to play that role.”
As far as drama and social analysis of bigotry goes, yeah—it’s pretty heavy-handed and ham-fisted to the modern eye (I mean it’s Roger Corman and William Shatner), but Shatner’s performance is uncharacteristically understated. He’s sleazy and sly and generally threatening as all hell. The picture follows him charming the previously peaceful citizens of Caxton into a a paranoid frenzy, even going so far as to seduce a teenage girl before pressuring her to frame a black man for rape.
The mob violence and virulent hatred is tidied up quite neatly by a level-headed salesman who eventually (basically) just gives Shatner’s character bus fare to leave town. It’s a pretty rosy Hollywood resolution to an obviously complicated and dire subject—racism is treated as an “intruder,” not a part of civic and political fabric. The movie fails to really indict the white citizens of Caxton for their own horrific crimes, nor does it really seek restitution for its black victims.
But you’re not watching The Intruder for critical race theory… you’re watching it for an evil Bill Shatner in a convertible with the KKK.
This past Friday night, Roger Corman was presented with a lifetime achievement award at Fantastic Fest and Dangerous Minds was there to film it.
After a screening of Machete Maidens Unleashed, Mark Hartley’s funny and informative documentary on exploitation films shot in the Philippines during the seventies, Corman took to the stage of Austin’s Paramount Theater to be honored for his unique cinematic legacy. Appropriately, Corman had produced many of the films featured in Machete Maidens. As a packed house enthusiastically applauded and cheered, film critic Elvis Mitchell (NY Times, At The Movies) presented Corman with his award: an impressive looking samurai sword. Standing with his wife and collaborator Julie at his side, Roger seemed to thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to talk about his extraordinary career.
In the following video, Roger discusses his past accomplishments and his latest project Sharktopus.
Watch the trailer for Machete Maidens Unleashed and Sharktopus after the jump…