Roger Corman

Lords of the Deep (1989, Mary Ann Fisher)

Lords of the Deep exists for reasons. Some of them seem interesting enough I’m disappointed the trivia section on IMDb doesn’t offer any explanations. But just going on what it’s like watching the film and what it’s good for? You hate top-billed Bradford Dillman and want to simultaneously be reminded why you don’t like him and watch him humiliate himself in scene after scene. He’s godawful, impossible to take seriously as authoritative—he’s the boss—partly because the script’s so bad, like how he uses “because I say so” for shutting down autopsies, but also because Dillman’s so absurd when acting opposite anyone else. He kind of struts. You want to know if he was nice to his coworkers on set. Like, it’s something to be curious about. And just like everything else to be curious about involving Lords, none of it has to do with the film’s story.

For example, co-writer and third-billed Daryl Haney. He’s terrible—as an actor, but clearly new at it; Dillman’s terrible but experienced at it. So why did they cast Haney; some of the other supporting parts are sort of okay (Eb Lottimer, Richard Young, and Stephen Davies are downright professionally respectable with their terribly written parts), so they could’ve gotten someone better for the part. Did Haney want the part? Was it a condition of the deal? If so, couldn’t producer Roger Corman have just gotten someone else to write it. It’s not like Lords of the Deep’s script has much distinct about its badness. Unless you count the telepathic communication—sadly uncredited—between space aliens living on the ocean floor (but it came out before The Abyss, months before The Abyss, actually) and sympathetic scientist Priscilla Barnes. Barnes is also dating Haney.

Why is she dating Haney? Who signed first. Is there some story about Barnes being Haney’s favorite “Three’s Company” blonde? It’d be so much more interesting than the movie. So much more interesting.

Barnes is terrible but not unlikable. Lords of the Deep is cheap. Cheap enough you feel bad for the actors. So even though she’s never good, Barnes isn’t unlikable. Not like Dillman. You get sick of seeing Dillman. Similarly second-in-command Gregory Sobeck. He’s a fine weasel. But you get sick of him. Barnes you don’t. And not just because it’s hilarious watching her to try act off Haney. Also when Barnes makes scientific discoveries she gets this “far out, man” expression on her face and it’s at least amusing to watch. Lords of the Deep would probably have been a lot better if everyone were dropping acid or at least incredibly stoned.

Mel Ryane is the only woman besides Barnes. Crap part, but Ryane’s okay considering. She’s not annoying. Even people who aren’t bad in Lords tend to get annoying sooner or later; the script’s against them scene after scene. Ryane not so much; she’s an actual asset.

Some of the special effects are all right. Lots aren’t, but every once in a while they’ll be solid. Director Fisher is enthusiastic but bad. She doesn’t seem to be directing the actors, which doesn’t do the film any favors. There’s also something weird about Nina M. Gilberti’s editing. It seems like it’s sometimes unintentionally effective. Like Gilberti’s cuts kind of save some of the bad composition, some of the time. Most of the time not though.

Jim Berenholtz’s music… isn’t bad. Not great, but consistently decent plus.

It’s a bad movie and there’s probably not any good reason to watch it. Unless, like I said, you really want to hate watch an awful Bradford Dillman performance.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mary Ann Fisher; written by Howard R. Cohen and Daryl Haney; director of photography, Austin McKinney; edited by Nina M. Gilberti; music by Jim Berenholtz; production designer, Kathleen B. Cooper; produced by Roger Corman; released by Concorde Pictures.

Starring Bradford Dillman (Dobler), Priscilla Barnes (McDowell), Daryl Haney (O’Neill), Mel Ryane (Stottelmyre), Eb Lottimer (Seaver), Gregory Sobeck (Engel), Richard Young (Chadwick), and Stephen Davies (Fernandez).


The Terror (1963, Roger Corman)

It might be too easy just to call The Terror terrible or to go into the various puns one could make with “terrible” and the title. It’s not a surprisingly bad film at all. It’s an expectedly bad film, given it opens with a pointless scare attempt. Boris Karloff shows up in the first scene-walking through his spooky castle-and then disappears for about twenty minutes. Corman apparently just wanted to get the horror “name” in the first scene.

After the opening titles, which are deceptively classy-Ronald Stein’s music starts off strong before going bad as Corman uses it all the time-Jack Nicholson takes over as protagonist. Nicholson’s a French soldier in Germany or someplace, trying to get back to the rest of his regiment. Oh, I forgot, it’s a period piece-mid-1790s, I think. A period piece set in Germany, filmed on the California coast, starring Nicholson who doesn’t even try to hide his disinterest.

The Terror is a great example of when low budget filmmaking doesn’t have any inventiveness. The script is unnecessarily talky. Leo Gordon and Jack Hill’s dialogue goes on and on, probably to pad things out. Then there’s all the excess scenes. The Terror, at seventy minutes, should be lean. Instead, it’s bulky.

Karloff can do this kind of garbage with his eyes closed, but Nicholson isn’t able to fake it. Without a compelling lead, there’s just nothing to this one. It’s a dreadful film.

Very pretty scenery at times though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Roger Corman; written by Leo Gordon and Jack Hill; director of photography, John M. Nickolaus Jr.; edited by Stuart O’Brien; music by Ronald Stein; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Boris Karloff (Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe), Jack Nicholson (Lt. Andre Duvalier), Sandra Knight (Helene), Dick Miller (Stefan), Dorothy Neumann (Katrina) and Jonathan Haze (Gustaf).


Dementia 13 (1963, Francis Ford Coppola)

The first half of Dementia 13 is surprisingly good. From the first scene–pre-titles even–Coppola establishes some great angles to his composition. He keeps it up throughout with close-ups jump cutting to different close-ups; excellent photography from Charles Hannawalt makes it all work.

During that first half, the film is basically an old dark house picture, with conniving daughter-in-law Luana Anders trying to worm her way into her husband’s family fortune. Even though Anders is technically a villain, she’s the viewer’s way into the house–and Coppola is always up front with her. Everyone else is a suspect, not her.

Sadly, the second half refocuses on Patrick Magee as the annoying family doctor who decides to solve the mystery. Why is he solving the mystery? It’s unclear, maybe because Coppola just needed someone not staying in the scary castle to do it.

Magee’s awful too. Anders is great, however. Also quite good is Eithne Dunne as the family matriarch who Anders has to con. Eventually Dunne falls away too, with Coppola sharing Magee’s spotlight a little with Mary Mitchel as another daughter-in-law to be. Mitchel’s okay, but her character is thin.

I’ve forgotten there’s an axe murderer on the loose too. Coppola doesn’t do well with those scenes. He does all right with the tense, suspense sequences, but the violence? It doesn’t work.

Good music from Ronald Stein helps too.

Dementia 13 doesn’t deliver on Coppola’s promise; Magee’s too weak a protagonist.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola; director of photography, Charles Hannawalt; edited by Stuart O’Brien and Morton Tubor; music by Ronald Stein; produced by Roger Corman; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Luana Anders (Louise Haloran), William Campbell (Richard Haloran), Patrick Magee (Justin Caleb), Mary Mitchel (Kane), Eithne Dunne (Lady Haloran), Bart Patton (Billy Haloran), Peter Read (John Haloran), Karl Schanzer (Simon), Ron Perry (Arthur), Derry O’Donavan (Lillian) and Barbara Dowling (Kathleen).


A Bucket of Blood (1959, Roger Corman)

Until the unfortunate deus ex machina finish, A Bucket of Blood is a small wonder. Even with the finish, the film manages to succeed; the performances are just too strong.

Dick Miller plays a simple, well-meaning bus boy–who also takes drink orders, apparently for no tips–at an art café. The beatnik patrons condescend to him, his boss is a jerk, the only one nice to him is his female coworker.

Every performance–boss, beatnik, girl–is fantastic. Miller’s great in the lead too, with Corman and writer Charles B. Griffith giving him the time to show how his character becomes a spree killer. It’s okay because he’s turning the bodies into art, after all. While Griffith and Corman have a lot of fun at the beatnik culture’s expense, they don’t shortchange Miller. His transformation is serious… even when the results are funny.

As the girl, Barboura Morris doesn’t get a lot to do until the end but then Griffith and Corman give her one amazing scene. It probably only lasts a couple minutes, but it seems so much longer thanks to Morris. One can just watch the thoughts on her face, in her measured reactions.

Antony Carbone is good as Miller’s boss, who sort of understands his responsibility in the situation. Julian Burton is awesome as the intellectual beatnik who takes Miller under his wing. John Brinkley and John Herman Shaner are hilarious as the stoned beatniks who offer uninvited commentary.

Blood is an excellent little picture.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Roger Corman; written by Charles B. Griffith; director of photography, Jacques R. Marquette; edited by Anthony Carras; music by Fred Katz; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Dick Miller (Walter Paisley), Barboura Morris (Carla), Antony Carbone (Leonard de Santis), Julian Burton (Maxwell H. Brock), Ed Nelson (Art Lacroix), John Brinkley (Will), John Herman Shaner (Oscar), Judy Bamber (Alice), Myrtle Vail (Mrs. Swickert), Bert Convy (Lou Raby), Jhean Burton (Naolia), Bruno VeSota (Art Collector) and Lynn Storey (Sylvia).


The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967, Roger Corman)

Director Corman and–probably more so–writer Howard Browne construct The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre as a docudrama. Paul Frees narrates the entire film, introducing characters, providing their backstories–Corman sometimes mutes the film’s dialogue (during boring parts) so Frees can explain a little about the person. Massacre might be mostly authentic in its portrayal of the titular event, but it doesn’t matter. Frees, Browne and Corman could sell anything.

The film’s layered. It opens after the massacre and quietly backs up to explain it. It uses flashbacks a couple more times, specifically to explain the hatred between gangsters Al Capone (Jason Robards) and Bugs Moran (Ralph Meeker). Corman doesn’t open with either of them. Instead he opens with George Segal as a sociopathic gangster working for Meeker. It’s good Segal and Robards never have a scene together because they would have–and gloriously so–ripped the sets apart with their teeth.

Robards’s performance has a couple weak spots, but he still transfixes. As written, the character ranges from sorrow to anger immediately and Robards plays it beautifully. Segal has almost no quite moments; watching him is waiting for him to erupt. But he always remains somehow likable, probably because no one in Massacre is particularly likable. Segal just has the charisma to weather it.

Other excellent performances include Clint Ritchie and Frank Silvera (though the film loses track of Silvera).

Corman’s got some great shots; Milton R. Krasner’s an able photographer. Perfect score from Lionel Newman.

Massacre is fantastic.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Roger Corman; written by Howard Browne; director of photography, Milton R. Krasner; edited by William B. Murphy; music by Lionel Newman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jason Robards (Al Capone), George Segal (Peter Gusenberg), Ralph Meeker (Bugs Moran), Jean Hale (Myrtle), Clint Ritchie (Jack McGurn), Frank Silvera (Nick Sorello), Joseph Campanella (Albert Wienshank), Richard Bakalyan (John Scalise), David Canary (Frank Gusenberg), Bruce Dern (Johnny May), Harold J. Stone (Frank Nitti), Kurt Kreuger (James Clark), Paul Richards (Charles Fischetti), Joe Turkel (Jake Guzik), Milton Frome (Adam Heyer), Mickey Deems (Reinhold Schwimmer), John Agar (Dion O’Bannion), Celia Lovsky (Josephine Schwimmer), Tom Reese (Ted Newberry), Jan Merlin (Willie Marks), Alexander D’Arcy (Joe Aiello), Reed Hadley (Hymie Weiss), Gus Trikonis (Rio), Charles Dierkop (Salvanti), Tom Signorelli (Bobo Borotto), Rico Cattani (Albert Anselmi), Alex Rocco (Diamond), Leo Gordon (Heitler), Jonathan Haze (Boris Chapman), Dick Miller (Adolph Muller) and Jack Nicholson (Gino); narrated by Paul Frees.


The Little Shop of Horrors (1960, Roger Corman)

The filmmaking economy in The Little Shop of Horrors is astounding. Most of the film takes place in one set–the titular shop–and Charles B. Griffith’s script works hard to imply the world outside that set. My favorite bit in the script is probably when leading man Jonathan Haze is shocked to discover peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. His mother (Myrtle Vail in one of Shop‘s only mediocre performances) only cooks food with healing properties, which they have because she adds medicinal ingredients. Griffith’s a funny guy.

Corman’s direction is best with the exterior scenes. The masterful chase sequence through a tire factory is stunningly out of place in a horror comedy. There’s also a great sequence with Haze meeting a loose woman (Meri Welles), who keeps magically popping into shots. Both of these sequences come in the second half of the picture; the first half just has to rely on the great acting.

Haze is fine, so’s Jackie Joseph as his love interest, but Mel Welles carries the whole Shop as Haze’s boss. He should be a buffoon–no one in Shop is wholly sympathetic–but Welles’s sincere performance makes the character the film’s most human.

In the supporting cast, there are good performances from John Herman Shaner and Jack Nicholson. Dick Miller’s great in a too small role. Griffith’s script makes sure Leola Wendorff gets a couple decent moments too.

Fred Katz’s music is awesome.

Shop is quite impressive; Corman, Griffith and Welles all do excellent work.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Roger Corman; written by Charles B. Griffith; director of photography, Archie R. Dalzell; edited by Marshall Neilan Jr.; music by Fred Katz; released by The Filmgroup.

Starring Jonathan Haze (Seymour Krelboyne), Jackie Joseph (Audrey Fulquard), Mel Welles (Gravis Mushnick), Dick Miller (Burson Fouch), Myrtle Vail (Winifred Krelboyne), Karyn Kupcinet (Shirley), Toby Michaels (Shirley’s Friend), Leola Wendorff (Mrs. Siddie Shiva), Lynn Storey (Mrs. Hortense Fishtwanger – Society of Silent Flower Observers of Southern California), Wally Campo (Det. Sgt .Joe Fink), Jack Warford (Det. Frank Stoolie), Meri Welles (Leonora Clyde), John Herman Shaner (Dr. Phoebus Farb) and Jack Nicholson (Wilbur Force).


Ski Troop Attack (1960, Roger Corman)

The best thing in Ski Troop Attack is a forty or fifty second conversation between two characters about mortality. Writer Charles B. Griffith has a few other good observations in the dialogue, but they don’t resonate. Nothing in Ski resonates except that one conversation. And the acting isn’t even good. I guess Wally Campo isn’t terrible, but Richard Sinatra’s redneck is awful.

Corman and Griffith give Sinatra a lot to do; the joke is he’s smart but he’s a redneck. It’s not funny the first time–Sinatra’s terrible–and it’s not funny the thirtieth time either.

There’s not much else good about Ski. Some of the shots are good, but only because Corman’s shooting it on a snow covered mountain. There’s bound to be some good shots. Anthony Carras’s editing ruins most of the action scenes, though it’s probably not all his fault. The budget’s probably responsible for a lot.

Not the acting though. Michael Forest plays the lieutenant, Frank Wolff plays the sergeant. From the first or second scene, there’s bickering about who knows better, regular army or the officers. The resolution to that argument’s interesting if only because it comes as a complete surprise. Corman and Griffith don’t build to it at all.

Wolff’s not terrible. He can’t hold up the picture, but he’s not awful. Forest is awful. Not as bad as Sinatra, but bad.

Wait, I was wrong–there is something else good about Ski. Fred Katz’s music.

Otherwise, Ski’s a very long, very boring hour.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Roger Corman; written by Charles B. Griffith; director of photography, Andrew M. Costikyan; edited by Anthony Carras; music by Fred Katz; released by The Filmgroup.

Starring Michael Forest (Lt. Factor), Frank Wolff (Sgt. Potter), Wally Campo (Pvt. Ed Ciccola), Richard Sinatra (Pvt. Herman Grammelsbacher), Paul Rapp (Pvt. Roost) and Sheila Noonan (Frau Heinsdorf).


Frankenstein Unbound (1990, Roger Corman)

Philosophically speaking, Frankenstein Unbound is utter nonsense. Corman’s inclusion of that element seems to be more for effect than anything else–primarily, it takes advantage of Nick Brimble’s fine performance as the Monster. But it also has to do with how Corman uses his protagonist, John Hurt.

Unbound is a time travel picture (it filmed before Back to the Future Part II came out, so the similarities are likely coincidental) and, in many ways, it’s a fun time travel picture. Before he realizes what’s going on around him (that Mary Shelley based Frankenstein on actual events), Hurt is just having a good time. He’s so exceptionally passive, it’s hard to take him seriously as a protagonist, but it’s also hard not to like him.

Hurt’s never concerned about negatively affecting the past–he’s already ruined the world, but he takes it in his stride–and it eventually gets him involved with Mary Shelley (still Mary Godwin), played by Bridget Fonda. Even though the age difference should make it creepy, Hurt and Fonda sell the relationship.

But the film’s great performance is from Raul Julia. His Frankenstein is insane, evil and selfish and Julia makes every scene he’s in a delight.

Corman’s approach is objective–neither Frankenstein nor the Monster are judged, which seems to be the point, as Hurt spends a lot of time watching the events unfold in front of him.

Excellent music from Carl Davis, lovely Italian locations and good special effects.

Even though it stumbles, it succeeds.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Corman; screenplay by Corman and F.X. Feeney, based on the novel by Brian Aldiss; directors of photography, Armando Nannuzzi and Michael Scott; edited by Mary Bauer and Jay Cassidy; music by Carl Davis; production designer, Enrico Tovaglieri; produced by Corman, Kobi Jaeger and Thom Mount; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring John Hurt (Dr. Joe Buchanan), Raul Julia (Dr. Victor Frankenstein), Nick Brimble (The Monster), Bridget Fonda (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin), Catherine Rabett (Elizabeth Levenza), Jason Patric (Lord George Gordon Byron), Michael Hutchence (Percy Byshee Shelley) and Catherine Corman (Justine Moritz).


RELATED

Humanoids from the Deep (1980, Barbara Peters)

Maybe it’s James Horner’s score–which is solid, if a little too Jaws inspired–but if you squint your eyes and turn off your brain, Humanoids from the Deep almost seems like a real movie. It’s not, of course, it’s a New World picture.

It’s got to be hard for a film to waste Doug McClure, but this one does. McClure’s phoning it in so much here, the scenes with him and the infant son are funny. Oddly, the scene where he and wife Cindy Weintraub go looking for their dog, holding hands, works rather well.

Vic Morrow’s the bad guy until the monsters show up and he’s fine. Anthony Pena is really good as Morrow’s nemesis (a well-meaning Native American). Ann Turkel’s hilariously bad as the scientist who has all the answers about the monsters.

The monsters themselves are almost well-designed (Rob Bottin designed them). At times, they almost look good, and then Peters gives them a full reveal (or maybe whoever shot all the gore and nudity gives them a full reveal) and it’s silly. The premise–monsters who mate with human females–is trashy, but the film’s pretty mellow.

It’s kind of slow, but not in a bad way–until the last couple scenes, it seems like it’s going to end better than it should. I think I may have seen it before, but maybe not–I would have remembered the carnival, which goes unmentioned until it’s clear the monsters are going to attack it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Barbara Peters; screenplay by William Martin, based on a story by Frank Arnold and Martin B. Cohen; director of photography, Daniel Lacambre; edited by Mark Goldblatt; music by James Horner; produced by Cohen and Roger Corman; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Doug McClure (Jim Hill), Ann Turkel (Dr. Susan Drake), Vic Morrow (Hank Slattery), Cindy Weintraub (Carol Hill), Anthony Pena (Johnny Eagle), Denise Galik (Linda Beale), Lynn Theel (Peggy Larson), Meegan King (Jerry Potter), Breck Costin (Tommy Hill), Hoke Howell (Deke Jensen), Don Maxwell (Dickie Moore), David Strassman (Billy), Greg Travis (Mike Michaels, Radio Announcer) and Linda Shayne (Sandy, Miss Salmon).


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