It Conquered the World (1954)

It Conquered the World (1954) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 09/24/2017

It Conquered the World (spoiler: It didn’t)

Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World is really a half-decent 1950’s sci-fi alien invasion picture. It’s undermined (or alternatively enhanced), however, by a classically comical schlock monster that is almost impossible to take seriously.

In the 1950’s it’s always about Communism, isn’t it?

The film starts with a nice opening shot following cool, low budget title sequence. More than anything, it features a cast of folks who perform well and would go on to bigger, better things. Lee Van Cleef, Beverly Garland, and Peter Graves perform nobly.

It features some quintessential 50’s sexism, what with women not understanding stuff like science and whatnot, though also winds up having the wife take on the monster with a shotgun towards the end. So, feminism?

“The world is full of fat heads, full to overflowing.”

Charming.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 03/10/2017

Poe-Corman-Price.

The Tomb of Ligeia is Roger Corman possibly sparing less expense than normal. The result is a very aesthetically pleasing film, nicely shot by cinematographer Arthur Grant, and using the English locations of Castle Acre Priory as well as Stonehenge and others to maximum advantage. Even the studio-based scenes are good-looking.

Vincent Price plays Verden Fell, a man hung up on his dead wife Ligeia so much that he really believes she could still be alive. When he falls for Rowena (a lovely and game Elizabeth Shepherd) who is also Ligeia as well, obsession, hypnotism, madness, and necrophilia are teased out.

For all that going for it, it’s not as compelling as some other Poe-Corman-Price pictures.

I was also struck by how many times that poor cat was obviously tossed at someone.

Last Woman on Earth (1960)

Last Woman on Earth (1960) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 03/28/2016

Anyone ever tell you, “I wouldn’t go out with you if you were the last woman on earth!”?  Or for that matter “The Last Man on Earth” (1964)?

Such a hypothetical was good for consideration in the Cold War era nuclear apocalypse dreams of science fiction writers.  And here we have Roger Corman going for it, with Robert Towne not only writing his first screenplay, but starring as one of the last 2 men on earth (the other being Antony Carbone), left to fight it out over the last lady (Betsy Jones-Moreland).

Shot in color in Puerto Rico back-to-back with Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) and Battle of Blood Island (1960), this falls into Corman’s more earnest film efforts, making something less exploitative and meant to be a bit more thought-provoking and intellectual.  Not so say that Corman didn’t occasionally find that sweet spot of intelligent and high-minded, but here it’s a bit more of a wash, less to offer in real interest, but not utterly uninteresting either.

The Wasp Woman (1959)

The Wasp Woman (1959) movie poster

director Roger Corman, Jack Hill
viewed: 01/24/2016

Roger Corman might have been a visionary (of a variety of aspects of filmmaking) but early in his career, his failure to establish copyrights was a real lack of perspective on how his work would be seen in its perpetuity.  His 1959 horror thriller The Wasp Woman is a prime example, part of Corman’s unintentional donation to the trove of the public domain.

A couple truisms about Roger Corman’s 1950’s-early 1960’s films: the posters were often the best thing about them, often designed by Albert Kallis (not sure who designed The Wasp Woman poster), and the poster could be as misleading and far-out as you needed to get the people into the theater.  The films themselves are varying degrees of care and utter lack of care, usually determined by Corman’s budget-mindedness.  But Corman himself came to start appreciating movies after a while and would be known to put a little more in on a film if it was his own or something he cared about, most notably in his Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe series.

The Wasp Woman is an interesting riff on the cult of youth in feminine beauty, about a make-up mogul, Susan Cabot, whose empire is on the wane as she, not only the president but the face of her company, is giving in to the mild ravages of age.  She takes an intravenous hit of a wasp-derived youth serum and starts to look younger, but then turns into a killer Wasp Woman.  Those side effects will get you.

The social critique isn’t heavy, but has merit.  The film’s other qualities include some nice scenes with the gabby secretaries and some glaring points of not caring an iota for reality on Corman’s part: Los Angeles stand-in for New York City in a canvassing scene or a rat standing in for a baby guinea pig (frankly, if you injected a ratty guinea pig with something that turned it into a rat, you’ve really got something strange in your syringe.)

It is quite funny how little the film’s wasp woman has in common with her poster’s presentation.  I really wonder what a 1959 audience for this picture thought when they saw this.

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979) movie poster

director Allan Arkush
viewed: 12/12/2014

It was only earlier this year that I finally saw Rock ‘n’ Roll High School for the first time.  But since Roku and Netflix Streaming, which features this film available for watching at any given moment, I’ve been tempted to watch it with the kids.  So, now I did.  At least, with Felix.

My son is 13 and has started getting into music.  One of the first ventures was to borrow my Ramones CD’s to burn.

I don’t have a lot to add to the things I wrote about the film back in March.  I mean, it’s not “squeaky clean”.  But it’s almost squeaky clean.

Felix liked it.  He thought it was “weird”, which isn’t too uncommon a comment from him on things.  But he laughed a lot.  He liked Paul Bartel.

Forbidden World (1982)

Forbidden World (1982) movie poster

director Allan Holzman
viewed: 07/26/2014

I know Wikipedia is written by the masses, changeable, imperfect and all, but I love it.  I do most of my research by starting there and moving on if need be. In the case of Forbidden World, though, I feel it necessary to cite the Wikipedia introduction to the film because it says a lot pretty concisely:

It was generally panned by critics as a cheap, exploitive(sic) imitation of the movie Alien, with sex, nudity, uneven editing, cheap special effects, and an audio track that some found unpleasant. It has, however, attained a certain cult status among fans of grungy, cheap, sleazy science fiction. It is frequently paired with and compared to the previous year’s Corman-produced Alien rip-off Galaxy of Terror, with which Forbidden World shares some of the same sets (designed by James Cameron). The movie also makes use of footage recycled from the 1980 movie Battle Beyond the Stars, which was also produced by Corman. It is notable for its gruesome violence, oddball electronica music score…odd, choppy editing and a scene in which the two female leads take a shower together.

What’s not to love? Really, it is very much an Alien (1979) rip-off, sure.  Part of the reason it interested me was because it was an Alien rip-off.  It’s cheap-looking, certainly, by comparison.  For some reason, the Netflix streaming version of it was not eve letterboxed, which only added to its crappy look and feel.

The thing is, it’s not really that bad.  It’s actually kind of good.

It’s set on a research facility on an isolated planet in which scientists are trying to find a solution to sustainable food production.  When splicing their product with human DNA (for whatever reason), they develop a metamorph creature that likes to turn humans into its own sustainable puree.  It’s only when an idiosyncratic scientist who is suffering from cancer realizes that he can poison the thing with his own disease that the humans come out on top.

For all its cheese, and it is cheesy (the gratuitous nudity is truly gratuitous), there are some good gross-out effects and there is more integrity to this science fiction than your average cheap-o knock-off.

I’d rather have seen it in letterbox than pan-and-scan, but Netflix is taking it down in a day or two anyway.  Part of the reason I happened to watch it just now.

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 07/26/2014

Queue up the 2nd monthly Netflix streaming purge.  Apparently Netflix is making just as much marketing push on the titles that they are taking down at the end of a month as they are promoting new titles that they are adding.  I’m assuming that there is some rhyme or reason behind it all.  And despite the fact that I don’t like to have my movie choices dictated to me, I’ve decided to pick some off my list.

The first of which is a true Roger Corman movie, produced AND directed by Corman, one of his earlier films and is notable for the pretty cool cheap monsters.  Given Gojira (1954) and Them! (1954), giant irradiated somethings had been storming the movie houses for a few years already.  Why not giant land crabs?

For its cheapness and brevity, the film really isn’t poorly shot.  Sure, it might be one of those camp classic 1950’s sci-fi images, but it’s really not that badly done compared to the true lower rungs of the quality systems.

The film features some underwater sequences apparently shot at Marineland in San Diego.  It also features Russell Johnson, best known as “The Professor” from Gilligan’s Island, who just passed away earlier this year.  He’s actually pretty good.

Typical of Corman, the movie poster is pretty sweet too.

Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Galaxy of Terror (1981) movie poster

director Bruce D. Clark
viewed: 06/01/2014

First, I file this one under movie poster images that are so wonderfully lurid and fascinating that the movie could never in no way possibly live up to them.  I personally saw this image on VHS covers throughout the years and never failed to look at it with great curiosity and appreciation, but never actually watched the movie, didn’t even really get beyond the picture.  That is the movie I want to see!

The reality behind the film is it’s a Roger Corman Alien (1979) knock-off, whose production values quite amusingly limit its reach.  The film stars include Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Robert Englund, and Sid Haig (a strange conglomeration of people as any you’ll find).  It stars Edward Albert, who is really pretty good.  Actually, for such a weird cast of people, the acting is one of the film’s strengths oddly enough.

While the whole thing is cheaper than cheap, it’s hard not to watch it and not only think of Alien but of Aliens (1986)…which is weird because Aliens is still five years away.  But when you find out that James Cameron was cutting his teeth here for Mr. Corman as Production Designer and Second Unit Director, you realize that those set designs for spaceship interiors and the lights on the space suits really are prototypes that he would take and redo with a little more financial backing, not in an Alien knock-off, but an Alien sequel.

After watching the Alien series, particularly the original film, I’d queued up a bunch of Alien knock-off films, the ones I could find.  But this actually has been the first one that I’ve managed to see.

It’s kinda bad, kinda not so bad, semi-great in a bad way, not as satisfying in any of those categories to really earn major notoriety.  But that poster.  That poster…

Tales of Terror (1962)

Tales of Terror (1962) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 05/18/2014

Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror may not be the highlight of his “Poe cycle” but it has its charms.  It’s got Vincent Price in every segment and Peter Lorre in the second and Basil Rathbone in the third.  The episodes are “Morella”,  a”The Black Cat” mash-up “The Cask of Amontillado”, and finally “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”.

The Peter Lorre one is amusing, played for comedy in contrast to the more serious and spooky other segments.  Lorre is quite good.  He is both the caricature of Lorre that showed up in cartoons and also much more than that, the real, talented actor that he was.  Quite the classic.

It has charms, certainly.  I think I recall finding it kind of dull as a kid.  And surely, that is understandable.  Nothing too exciting happens until the end, the last segment when Price comes back from the dead and then decomposes rapidly all over his tormentor Rathbone.

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

Humanoids from the Deep (1980) movie poster

director Barbara Peeters
viewed: 04/27/2014

In the realm of urban legends and the sorts of hype and rumors that one grew up with as a teen in my time, the notoriety of Humanoids from the Deep may have been something purely unique to me and a couple of friends.  I, myself, had never seen it, but in hearing the description of the story, about these monsters that come from the sea and rape women on the beach with lots of sex and gore…well, I thought it sounded astounding.  Hard to believe.  But was told it was true.

I don’t know how many of my friends told me about it.  Who knows, it could have been just one with a particularly lurid account of the film.  But it stuck with me and for nearly 30 years, I have had it rather dubiously on my list of movies that I wanted to finally see.  It’s funny how elusive some things can be.

The funny thing about the lurid details that I recall, three decades hence, but they really were not exaggerated exactly.  This is a movie with Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)- like monsters terrorizing a seaside town and, indeed, quite explicitly raping the women.  And pulling their clothes off and showing their breasts.  (Some of these things were a bit more of a pure draw at those more tender years.)

The raping thing is rather unusual though.

I’ve come to think about the slasher film that it is indeed rather odd that the killers only seek to kill and not to rape the nubile young beauties therein.  There is this whole trope of punishment for sexuality that runs through the genre, a sort of Puritanical revenge, if you will.  But the thing about slashers is that they are in a sense closer to a true life type of criminal, a random human killer, serial or spree.  And in life, those killers often are sex-driven as well as purely physically violent and murderous.  Why is it that in your average slasher/horror film that rape is not a motive, not an act?

I feel that there is something much more significant beneath the potential answers to this question.  And I’m sort of balking at going beyond raising the question at the moment.

But these Humanoids from the Deep very explicitly rape the female victims and are in the narrative even trying to expand their biology somehow in the process.  These monsters, designed by Rob Bottin, are some weird Creature from the Black Lagoon meets Alien (1979) meets low end Roger Corman.  They’re kind of cool and weird.

Apparently, Corman asked for more explicit sex to add to the violence and had the rape scenes added later to spice up the film without director Barbara Peeters’ or others’ knowledge or consent, so maybe it’s not such a random thing to glom onto.  It certainly adds a seediness to the affair.

The affair, the film rather, stars Doug McClure and Vic Morrow.  And it reels between real cheap and pretty decent throughout.  Some of the film is better produced and some of the sequences are shoddier.  It also has a mild Jaws (1975) element running through it, all with weird science gone wrong and blood and gore.

It’s quite good in its way.  And now some deep-seeded need within my movie-watching soul has been slaked.