Monday, May 22, 2006

Roger Corman Rules!

As in, Roger Corman Rule # 3: Movies must contain at least four sequences of the actors/actresses walking hurriedly from one point to another. When included in the final editing of the film, these can account for up to 10 valuable minutes of run time.

I almost titled this post, “My Admiration for Roger Corman is Unbounded!” I thought that might be just a bit over the top, so I compromised. Actually, I rather enjoy Corman’s body of work, even though most of the films he and his family (e.g., his brother) are associated with are pretty awful. However, what I find interesting is that the awfulness of his films are different in flavor from the works of, say, Ed Wood.

Now, no one will seriously debate the point that Wood’s films are not awful. In fact, they take awfulness to a new level. When viewed from a distance, I would say the awfulness of some of Corman’s films like “It Conquered The World” rival the awfulness of Wood’s films like “Plan 9”, other than Corman had better actors involved in his films. What I find different is that Corman is and never has been under any delusions about his films. He knows that a lot of them are really bad. Wood, on the other hand, I think really believed that he was making movie magic. In an angora sweater…. (Never one to pull my punches just because it might constitute a cheap shot, especially when the recipient is deceased.) All Corman was doing was making as many films as possible with the expressed purpose of making money on each and every one of them. Sir Roger likes to brag that, sure his movies are bad, but he never lost money on any one of them.

I recently watched one of Corman’s finest efforts, “Attack of the Crab Monsters”. Boy. Awful does not begin to describe it. Scientists land on some remote, uninhabited atoll in the South Pacific. They immediately establish their residence in what looks very much like a Motel 6, complete with Starving Artist paintings above the bed. But the idea behind this plot is what is so fascinating. The “monsters” of this film are mutated giant crabs, who are super-intelligent but go around roaring like an alpha lion getting his tail twisted. They apparently eat the humans they catch, and then can telepathically project their victims voices to the really gullible survivors. Oh, and these crabs have stolen a bunch of dynamite and are systematically blowing up the island into little bits, such that at the end of the film, there is only a little rocky ledge remaining. Russell Johnson (a.k.a., The Professor) electrocutes the remaining monster (off-screen, as it would have been, no doubt, a prohibitively expensive process shot that would have put the entire picture over budget) by pulling down a radio transmitter antenna on the beast. Where the power came from for this monster electrocution, I don’t know, since as mentioned previously, the rest of the island is under water.

So, who comes up with a plot like this? Three people sitting around on Roger’s veranda, after four pitchers of martinis, go, “Wait, wait a schec! I got a better one! The crabs can read minds! Yeah! Tha’s just brilliant!” Insane. Yet, he apparently made money off of this effort, and that is all he was ever intending to do. You can’t fault him on that.

One indication I have about what he thinks of his films, and other films of the genre, (besides the interviews he has given) is when he hosted AMC’s MonsterFest a few years back. They put together an hour long little spoof of the genre called “Roger Corman’s The Phantom Eye” that was actually extremely funny, with Corman himself cast as the villain of the piece, appropriately named “Dr. Gorman”.

But I do really like a number of his films, and two in particular. Both are very tongue-in-cheek. The first is the well known “Little Shop of Horrors”, with Jack Nicholson just getting his start. The other is a lesser known work called “Creature from the Haunted Sea”. I find this one absolutely hysterical, and would highly recommend it. As one commenter in the Internet Movie Database said of this film, “It makes ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ look like a major studio release.”

Renzo Capetto aka Capo Rosetto aka Ratto Pazetti, aka Zeppo Staccato, aka Shirley Lamour: [narrating] “It was dusk. I could tell 'cause the sun was going down.”

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