Editor’s Note: The links within all point back to the original sources. Perhaps one day I will fix them but more than likely I will keep them as is to honor the past (and because it is so much easier). Links to the AVC are likely off due to the Kinja switchover.
10/18/2016 – AIP: Day the World Ended (1955)
Directed by Roger Corman
Unlike my last look at a studio (Universal), no one is going to be looking to American International Pictures (AIP) for classic films. Starting as American Releasing Corporation by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Arkoff targeted teens (publicly stating they would target a 19-year old male to reach the widest possible market) through the technique of creative posters and titles first, quality of movie a distant third. Arkoff also had his own ARKOFF formula (Action, Revolution, Killing, Oratory, Fantasy, Fornication) but the most important attribute was cheap. The films were made on shoestring budgets with plenty of recycling scripts, props, and “talent” and it sure showed. With the possible exception of poorly dubbed foreign titles, nothing supplied MST3K with films more than AIP.
AIP’s history is a series of attempts to capitalize on trends. They started with the juvenile delinquent genre (Daddy-O, Runaway Daughters) and sci-fi horror films (It Conquered the World, The Amazing Colossal Man) before moving onto Poe adaptations (starting in 1960 with House of Usher), beach films (starting in 1963 with Beach Party), motorcycle films (starting in 1966 with The Wild Angels) and psychedelic films (starting in 1967 with The Trip) while distributing low budget foreign titles (most notably the Godzilla and Gamera films. They tried to recapture the magic in the 70’s by switching to kung-fu, Blaxploitation (such as Foxy Brown), and even into larger budgeted films (such as The Amityville Horror but in the end the studio couldn’t stay financially viable and went out with the decade. That’s not to say they didn’t produce some good to great films though especially as time went on. They were behind the Corman-Poe cycle, Panic in Year Zero, The Last Man on Earth, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Sugar Hill, Sisters, Cooley High and Force 10 From Navarone among other films.
Roger Corman is inarguably their greatest and most notable success. Serving as director and producer, many (though far from all) of his films were done with AIP including the aforementioned Poe films and X: the Man with X-Ray Eyes. Much has been made of the directors and stars he gave a start to and AIP (before he left to found New World Pictures) was involved with quite a few including George Armitage (later of Grosse Pointe Blank), Peter Bogdanovich (Targets, The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon), Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, 8 Mile), Nicolas Roeg (Walkabout, Don’t Look Now), and of course Martin Scorsese (Kundun, Vinyl). He’s also is largely responsible for Timur Bekmambetov, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, Monte Hellman, Ron Howard, Gale Anne Hurd, Jonathan Kaplan, John Sayles, and Robert Towne behind the camera along with Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Charles Bronson, Dennis Hopper, Talia Shire, Sandra Bullock, Robert De Niro, and David Carradine in front of the camera. His methods of producing films quick and cheap proving far more influential than the films he was behind himself since a large part of filmmaking (one critics and film fans like to skim over) is making the most of your budget and having your film actually make money. This is also the second Corman film of the month with him having produced Piranha which gave Dante and Sayles their breaks.
The story concerns a group of survivors holed up in a cabin which is largely protected from radioactivity due to its favorable location. It’s a decent setup that leads to a fairly generic movie. The survivors are threatened by a quartet of threats; the encroaching radiation that will be the end of them if it rains, a goofy looking monster skulking in the woods consuming animals affected by radiation and SPOILERS afraid of and killed by water END OF SPOILERS, a mobster who is fairly openly waiting to turn on them (yet they regularly seem to forget this or stop caring) as he seeks to prolong only his life and possibly the life of his girl of choice (which he makes clear early and the movie regularly tries to portray as some twist), and another group who seems to have survived the radiation. The movie barely finishes saying that they shouldn’t spend too much time outside before more people than ever start hanging out outside.
There’s a legitimately good On the Beach style movie hidden in here but the film seems to whiff on every front. The head of the homestead is reluctant to take everyone in and share his goods and instead of the film depicting him coming to grips with this, the transformation has taken place off-screen by practically the next scene. The film manages to portray a pretty cool effect of those suffering from radiation poisoning and a badly irradiated man but it botches that with some ill-defined psychic link or some nonsense with the monster and his health seems to vary from scene to scene. The encroaching tribe is kept off-screen and they play such a minimal role in the story. The monster, well once we see more than his arm and the spoiler above comes into play, is pretty laughable. Really all the threats seem forced as people go wandering out for ill-defined reasons and the character “development” is nonexistent. It’s a cut above the typical AIP fare (see below) but it’s a small cut.
If you are wondering why any of the AIP stuff below gets repetitive, it’s because I wrote the below as I watched them sometimes weeks ago and not just because of my writing ability.
Bonus Episode #24 – AIP: How to Make a Monster (1958)
Directed by Herbert L. Strock
How to Make a Monster is the first up of my look at AIP despite its status as a bonus episode and some corny comedy early gives way to more standard AIP fare. The film is about a makeup man who uses hypnosis (with help from the wonders of Novocain) to convince a young actor playing a werewolf to kill while wearing his costume as revenge for being fired. He later does the same with an actor dressed as Frankenstein’s monster despite it being quite possibly the dumbest looking one I’ve ever seen with it looking like Sloth from Goonies in a middle school stage adaptation. As it goes though, you can’t kill someone without having another person find out and what do you know, have to kill them too.
Something feels off about a studio making a monster movie about a studio (which actually is AIP in film) which has decided to stop making monster movies and says people want singing (in an almost villainous way) right after a lengthy musical sequence. The film is meta but in a disingenuous, confused tone where the writers aren’t sure if they want to condemn the monster genre, people saying it is over, or if they just don’t care. Let’s not kid ourselves here though, this film is not trying to make any grand statements and while the basic premise could set itself up for something smart and funny, in the hands of AIP, it’s just a lot of missed potential in a laughably bad package. Only they can make a 73-minute film feel overlong.
Bonus Episode #25 – AIP: Blood of Dracula (1957)
Directed by Herbert L. Strock
A sort of gender swapped redo of I Was a Teenage Werewolf because AIP is nothing if not environmentally conscious and love to recycle anything they can including a script and dialogue. And that’s about it. There’s nothing much to say for it outside of that its 68-minute runtime flies by. The plot is idiotic featuring a professor at the all-women school trying to convince the world she has created a more powerful weapon than they ever could, a woman who kills like one person a night. Nations certainly trembled beneath this amazing discovery. The acting is predictable bad and begging out for a MSTing but frankly nothing even stands out as especially bad. It’s just does its own stupid thing.
Bonus Episode #26 – AIP: Voodoo Woman (1957)
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
In an absolutely shocking development, we have another AIP film about a mad doctor this time surrounded by an embarrassingly stereotypical portrayal of a native African tribe practicing “voodoo”. The film tries to promise a sort of Island of Doctor Moreau set up of the doctor creating half woman/half beast superbeings, but in reality we just get a stupid looking monster which is actually a stripped down costume from The She Creature disappointingly hidden almost the entire time. Good lord is this film bad. It was a struggle to stay awake through a 75-minute film and the entire plot (not just a summary) could almost be told be told in log line form. It’s about 20 minutes of story stretched out and it feels like a waste of time to recount the plot (doctor experiments on women, wife of doctor basically just hangs out at home unable to escape or do anything, two people seek gold, guess which 3 die) since it’s the kind of script that I’m pretty sure AIP just recycled it (and everything else) repeatedly. I would say that it’s interesting that SPOILERS one of those three actually lives and the film ends with an embarrassingly lame SEQUEL HOOK complete with “The End?” title card. Finishing a film in the 50’s without all the villains defeated was rare but honestly I just didn’t care and was happy this garbage was over. END OF SPOILERS
Bonus Episode #27 – AIP: The Brain Eaters (1958)
Directed by Bruno VeSota
Needing a break from dull mad scientists, this time we get a dull Invasion of the Body Snatchers type plot with parasites taking over human brains. Not to be confused with The Flesh Eaters from earlier this month, the 60 minutes move much faster this time and there’s somehow more to the actual plot. We even get a villain motivation (a stock one in trying to make a utopia on Earth). That’s not to say the film isn’t terrible. Lazy narration throughout that seems ripped from a bad crime docudrama from the 40’s reiterates everything we see on screen as if they thing there audience are idiots. To be fair I guess they know their audience. We do get a small early role from Leonard Nimoy so that’s something but the film is just bad and not entertainingly so or even in a fun way to tear it to shreds.
Bonus Episode #28 – Comedy: The Cat and the Canary (1939)
Directed by Elliott Nugent
I’ll confess that seeing a comedy starring Bob Hope filled me with a bit of dread but I was pleasantly surprised by the result. Overall, he’s pretty fine here although he is largely the person responsible for the comedy part of this comedy-horror film. Otherwise this remake of The Cat and the Canary if a pretty straight horror movie with Hope dropped into lighten things up and provide meta humor with his knowledge of similar plays to the one they are essentially living. A group of relatives converge on a supposedly house in a bayou for the reading of their rich relative’s will. The winning relative has to stay sane for 30 days or else a second secret (well not so secret) relative gets all the inheritance. Along with the creepy housekeeper talking of ghosts, it’s a perfect horror setup as we wait to see which of these people will inevitably drive her crazy.
Shockingly however, pretty much everybody seems remarkably okay with losing out on the fortune and while it does happen, the film seems fairly unconcerned with the whodunit. It’s still there throughout the movie but mostly left to the background. Considering how obvious it is she is being gaslighted, the film is also thankfully unconcerned with trying to play up if she is crazy or not. That doesn’t seem like it leaves much, but the film still has a few cards to play in a maniac who’s supposedly loose in the woods, the murder of the lawyer, and the somewhat gothic setting. It’s genuinely fun to explore the house and surround bayou with these characters with all its secret passageways and hidden compartments. It’s just classic ‘30s horror with all the visuals that entails (and a bit of comedy to keep things fresh and I just eat this stuff up. I’m still not sure what the family relationship between Hope and Paulette Goddard’s character is but considering they were both related to the same guy, well their romance is a bit creepy. I probably just missed something, but still…
Bonus Episode #29 – Sci-Fi: The Creeping Flesh (1972)
Directed by Andrew Robertson
The Creeping Flesh is another of the 22 films featuring the awesome friends Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing who together defined Hammer Horror. This is not one of those Hammer titles but it’s got much of that feel with Cushing as a mad Victorian scientist and Lee as his half-brother who runs an asylum with quite questionable methods including conducting experiments on his patients. The Victorian era is perfect for mad scientist stuff because of all the strange research being conducted, the still limited understanding, and ability to exploit it for some pseudoscientific experiments. The fact that so many famous stories including Dracula are set in and or in the case of Frankenstein, slightly before this time certainly helps maintain its appeal.
Cushing believes he has isolated evil and the rest of the story is told in flashback to the events that led to this discovery years ago. I don’t know why this intro is needed and there’s no narrative reason for it, but Cushing at least handles it well. He’s given the clear starring role in this film and like so many a horror scientist before him, goes a bit mad believing he is the white God prophesied by natives and able to cleanse the world of evil. He attempts to develop a serum against evil which he SPOILERS ultimately uses on his daughter believing she is going mad (despite her merely reacting to finding out her mother has been alive for years and had merely been committed). This of course backfires as she actually goes mad and starts murdering.
Well I mentioned that there is no narrative reason for the intro, but that’s until the genuinely out of nowhere twist ending (though one I should have seen coming since I thought at the beginning that “my, this laboratory has some awfully blank walls, seems like they got really lazy on the design”) that he is telling the story to a visiting psychiatrist in the ward run by his half-brother and that it all may be a product of his imagination. It’s a pretty stock ending but it’s well handled here and genuinely felt like it earned either ending and built up to it. Neither answer would feel like a cheat (okay the all a dream is pretty damn cheap if confirmed but that’s unlikely true) and if it is all real, it’s a cruel twist where one of the bad guy wins and gets everything he wants. END OF SPOILERS The ending is the only thing separating it from the other films of the era but it’s enough. I still wouldn’t call it a great film, but it is quite the enjoyable one.