Archive for the 'Roger Corman' Category

Fangoria #44 (May, 1985): Almi Pictures and 2019: After the Fall of New York

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Here’s an interesting article I found at Futuro Finale 2088 AD. Almi Pictures shut down American operations in 1986, only two years after Frank Moreno assumed the presidency. 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983) and Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery (1981) were as good as it got.

I thought it was hilarious that Roger Corman changed the name of Ingmar Bergman’s Whispers and Cries to Cries and Whispers (1972). If that’s not a dig, I don’t know what is. As for Moreno, he makes quite a few salient points. Exploitation films and art films faced essentially the same problems up front—raising capital and getting distribution. The difference is in how the films made money after release. The art film needs critical acclaim and word of mouth, while “sixty to seventy percent of an exploiter’s initial [business] lies in the title and the campaign,” Moreno says elsewhere. That’s why, back in the day, genre film posters and VHS boxes evolved into such a striking art form.

Moreno is also right about Gremlins and the MPAA. The PG-13 rating was instituted in June of 1984, as a direct result of complaints about violence in Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, both of which received PG ratings. (Children were weeping in the theaters! It was amazing.)

Richard McKenna reviews 2019: After the Fall of New York tomorrow.

Sega’s Killer Shark Cameo in Jaws

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There’s an excellent article by Keith Stuart at The Guardian about Spielberg’s early interest in video game and computer technology (his father was an electrical engineer) and how the shot of Killer Shark (1972) at the beginning of the film perfectly encapsulates the entire narrative: “It’s effectively Brody’s nightmare, and his objective, rolled into one flickering image on an ancient coin-op display for a few redolent seconds.” Stuart continues:

In a movie filled with legendary cinematic moments, this brief sequence is a minor one, but as with many other elements of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 picture, it was also prescient. The director, a keen games player and watcher of pop culture trends, foresaw an era in which Hollywood would be seduced by the popularity and the visual spectacle of the emerging video game arcade scene. He got the appeal of these new entertainment machines, but he also understood how computer graphics represented a new way to present narrative to audiences – even if, in Jaws, it was a few seconds of footage.

As Stuart notes, Killer Shark was actually Sega’s last mechanical game, not a video game, the shark animation a result of a projector inside the cabinet. You can also see Computer Space (1971), the very first commercial coin-op video game, in the background of the same shot.

In the Roger Corman-produced Piranha (1978), a brilliant Jaws and eco-horror parody written by John Sayles and directed by Joe Dante, there’s a shot (below) featuring Atari’s Shark Jaws (1975): sort of a parody within a parody within a parody.

(Images via Jaws Wikia, Pinterest, and The Electronic Playground)

Jaws Preview Ad, 1974

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The ad ran in the trades shortly after Benchley’s novel came out in February 1974—I’ve seen it for sale with “in preparation” written around the borders. Zanuck and Brown read the novel and bought the film rights before it was even published. Looks more like it’s going to be a Roger Corman picture, based on the exploitation concept and lurid art, a point Corman has always enjoyed making:

Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times: “What is ‘Jaws’ but a big-budget Roger Corman film?” What he didn’t say was it was not only bigger but better. I’m perfectly willing to admit that. When I saw “jaws,” I thought, I’ve made this picture. First picture I ever made was “Monster From the Ocean Floor.”

The book seen in the ad is the hardcover edition, with a cover illustrated by Paul Bacon. Roger Kastel redid the cover for the paperback, and it was his art that was used for the film. I have a very high opinion of both Spielberg’s film and Kastel’s poster, though the novel is awful.

Jaws turned 40 years old on June 20th.

(Image via Blu-ray.com)

What the Future Looked Like: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

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(Most images via The Lucid Nightmare and John Kenneth Muir)

Movie Theater Marquees: Escape from New York (1981)

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If this is Escape from New York playing in New York, that’s pretty cool. Even better if it’s Manhattan.

Sign me up for Firecracker, also from 1981: “She’ll mix seduction with destruction in the screen’s first erotic Kung Fu classic.”

(Photo via Daniel Aull/Flickr; video via Shout Factory)

James Cameron Painting a Matte for Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

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Above: Cameron paints the hero’s village—a beautiful, surreal design—from BBTS.

Below: Cameron painting the skyline for Escape from New York.

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And here’s a short magazine blurb on Galaxy of Terror. The man squatting next to the pyramid is Robert Skotak. The two also worked together on Battle Beyond the Stars and Escape from New York, and Cameron later hired Skotak as visual effects supervisor for Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Titanic.

Cameron remembers his friends, I’ll give him that, and Aliens is the greatest sci-fi action movie ever made.

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(Images via CHUD.com, Ain’t it Cool News, and Atomic Donkey)

Fantastic Films Collectors Edition #20 (December, 1980): Interview with Chuck Comisky

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Chuck Comisky was the special effects supervisor on Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), a fun, clever sci-fi adaptation of The Magnificent Seven. His interview defines what was great about B movies when the people who made them had the integrity and talent to turn serious time and money constraints into lasting artistic triumphs, many of the productions outdoing their big budget counterparts. Here’s Comiski summing it up:

And what we’re doing is we’re substituting ingenuity, hard work, and a little bit of common sense for a big budget. When you don’t have money and you don’t have a big budget, it forces you to think creatively. You have to say, “How the hell are we gonna’ get the shot and make it look good: We don’t have any money to do it with.” So then you find yourself manufacturing some of your models out of greeting card racks and terrariums and developing systems… to avoid matte problems.

Comiski has some curt words for the first art director on the film, who “never took the trouble to look at the [spaceship] models and try to match up the interiors to the ships.” Comiski and his crew had to sort all of that out in addition to doing all the effects. The first art director was fired before shooting started and Comiski hired a replacement: James Cameron*. It was Cameron’s big break, and he went on to do some really brilliant work for other notable B features, including Escape from New York and Galaxy of Terror (both from 1981).

Comiski has great things to say about the visual effects in Star Wars, but he pans The Black Hole and Star Trek: The Motion Picture for being bloated and unimaginative—for substituting money for “creative imagination.”  Fantastic Films asks him if he would have done more elaborate effects if the budget had been bigger. “No,” he says. “If I had more money, the one thing I would do is pay my people more money.”

Cameron, after Titanic made all that money and won all those Oscars, would return the favor and hire Comiski as visual effects supervisor for Ghosts of the Abyss (2003) and, later, as 3D specialist on Avatar (2009). The irony is almost painful: Avatar is the most bloated sci-fi production in history, a textbook case of throwing money at effects to gloss over a hackneyed script. I won’t say it doesn’t look like shiny candy, or that it didn’t make a gazillion dollars, but I’d much rather rewatch Battle Beyond the Stars. It’s a superior film with, yes, better special effects.

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*In The Directors: Take One, Volume One (Ed. Robert J. Emery), Cameron says: “I was actually hired by the head of visual effects on a movie called Battle Beyond the Stars… Then they fired the art director because he wasn’t prepared… So I said, `Oh, I’ll do that.’ So I became the art director on the film.”

The Wikipedia entry on Battle Beyond the Stars reads, in part: “after the original art director for the film had been fired, Cameron became responsible for the special effects in Battle Beyond the Stars, or, as Cameron later put it, `production design and art direction.'” This is incorrect. Comiski was in fact responsible for special effects, which are not the same thing as production design or art direction.

Charles Breen appears to be the art director who was fired. Breen was assistant art director on, go figure, Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

(The first installment of Fantastic Films #20 is here.)

Super Star Heroes #11 (January, 1980): Meteor and American International Pictures

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All I know about Super Star Heroes magazine right now is that there are at least 11 issues, and this one is pretty cool. According to my recently established formula, I’ve posted the front cover, inside front cover, table of contents, inside back cover, back cover, and a couple of full articles. (Click pages to enlarge.)

I have a strange fondness for Meteor (1979), a Cold War relic that tried to capitalize on the post-Star Wars sci-fi craze within the disaster picture formula. I find Connery and Wood charming, the script has some moments, and I love the eerie, bombastic music that plays every time the meteor is shown hurtling towards Earth. The special effects sequences by Glen Robinson (Logan’s Run) are abysmal, especially the destruction of Manhattan, but I do like the space nuke miniatures.

American International Pictures (AIP), my favorite studio of all time, produced and distributed the film, and studio head Sam Arkoff was determined to make “the most expensive, most sensational disaster picture of all time.” The budget was $17 million, $10 million more than the 1974 blockbuster Earthquake. Compare that to 1998’s un-dynamic duo, Deep Impact ($75 million) and Armageddon ($140 million).

The AIP article gives a short history of the studio, which at the time was an improbable recipient of a retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Quick Movie Reviews: Deathstalker (1983), Deathstalker II (1987), The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984), Barbarian Queen (1985)

In my ongoing quest to watch every single sword and sorcery movie from the ’80s, no matter how irredeemably sleazy, I present this quadruple-feature from the Roger Corman’s Cult Classics series.

In the opening scene of Deathstalker, our hero rescues a maiden from a gang of lusty cutthroats and then proceeds to get it on with said maiden. Before they can finish (don’t you hate when this happens?), an old man drags “Stalker” to a witch who needs his urgent assistance to unite a magic sword with some other magic doodads to stop the evil wizard and save the princess. The awesome looking ogre-thing in the poster isn’t in the movie, so don’t get excited. I’ve already said too much. Just watch this clip so we can move on.

Deathstalker II is fun. I don’t really remember what happens (more of the same), but everything is so poorly done, everyone knows it, and everyone seems to be having fun with it—and that’s really what makes a bad B movie good: it has what I call a “recess” flavor. In other words, it gleefully creates the kinds of spontaneous, silly action-dramas we made up during our recess/lunch periods at school. Here’s a taste of the awesome soundtrack and the terrible acting.

The best thing I can say about The Warrior and the Sorceress is that David Carradine is pretty slick as the hooded bad-ass, but it’s nothing he hadn’t already done, and done much better, by that point. The story revolves around two warring factions fighting over the only water source on a planet with two suns. In better hands, it might have been fun. No clip for you. Next.

Barbarian Queen (a.k.a. Queen of the Naked Steel) is a cult classic and my favorite in this lot. Lana Clarkson, who Phil Spector was convicted of murdering in 2009, is so tall and hot and charismatic that she pulls off a quasi-feminist barbarian hero despite the shoddy production and all the cheap, predictable rape scenes. The Queen’s man is taken prisoner by the evil Romans, and she and her band of women warriors are damn well going to get him back! The trailer is fantastic.


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