Film Review: She Gods of Shark Reef (1958)

Also known as: Shark Reef (alternate)
Release Date: August, 1958
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Robert Hill, Victor Stoloff
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Bill Cord, Don Durant, Lisa Montell, Jeanne Gerson

Ludwig H. Gerber Productions, American International Pictures, 63 Minutes

Review:

“Chris, Lee your brother, but he not like you.” – Mahia

This is one of two films that Roger Corman filmed over a few weeks period in Hawaii. The other movie being Thunder Over Hawaii. At least he got a free vacation out of it.

I threw this on thinking it would be some sort of awesome Tiki horror picture but there really was no horror in it. It starts as a crime thriller and turns into a Tiki adventure movie.

We have two criminals on the run that end up on a Polynesian island paradise full of hot island girls and a cranky old island lady. For some stupid reason, the young fellas want to get off the island. I mean, really? You end up in a tropical paradise with a dozen hot girls for both dudes and they can basically live with them free of charge as long as they help build a hut or a raft every once in awhile. Seems like a dream scenario to me but these criminal doofuses would rather go back to a reality where they are wanted men and the only action they’ll get is from Bruno in cell block two.

This is a bad movie, even for Roger Corman standards. I love the setting and the vibe of the picture but I’m a sucker for Tiki culture. Other than that, it has no charm and is a real dud. There isn’t even a cheesy Corman monster to make up for the quality of this movie. Some sort of actual Tiki monster would have made this infinitely more amazing.

She Gods of Shark Reef isn’t something I can recommend to anyone, even Corman fans.

All that being said, it does deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer. So what we have here is a “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Film Review: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Also known as: Attack of the Blood Leeches (working title)
Release Date: October, 1959
Directed by: Bernard L. Kowalski
Written by: Leo Gordon
Music by: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Ken Clark, Yvette Vickers, Jan Shepard

Balboa Productions, American International Pictures, 62 Minutes

Review:

“Who do you think your talking too? Don’t touch me? You’re my wife, I’ll touch you anytime I feel like it. Where you going? Where you going?” – Dave Walker

Here we go, another one of those late 50s classics by the Brothers Corman. Roger did not direct this and Gene did not write it but they did produce this for American International. Like a lot of their work from this era, The Giant Leeches was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This film features giant leeches, just as the title implies. However, they are more like dudes wearing rubber octopus suits because Roger Corman doesn’t care much for that logic stuff. Realism… what’s that? Corman is all about making cool cheap creatures that clobber human beings with their might. But at least they always have a hokey charm and in this film, they vampire the crap out of people with their big sucker faces.

Ultimately, this is a poor ripoff of The Creature From the Black Lagoon. This was just one of a few of those Creature ripoffs that Corman attempted. This one feels the closest, however, due to the outdoor locations, the creatures having a cave where they take their victims, most notable the damsel at the end of the film. Also, the two heroes in diving gear are very familiar looking when comparing this film’s climax to the one in The Creature From the Black Lagoon.

Truthfully, I like these goofy Corman pictures and this one is no different. The creatures work for what this film is and at least they are more fantastical and exciting than what a giant leech would actually look like. However, if these things are supposed to be leeches, couldn’t the heroes just throw salt at them?

Film Review: Tales of Terror (1962)

Release Date: July 4th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: MorellaThe Black CatThe Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson

American International Pictures, 89 Minutes 

Review:

“Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction.” – Montresor Herringbone

Director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price collaborated on several motion pictures for American International in the 1960s. Most of their movies were adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work. They also dabbled in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne but it was the poems and stories of Poe that drove most of their collaborations.

This film, is a rare one, as it is an anthology piece that covers three Poe inspired tales. Traditionally, Corman picked a Poe title and turned it into one solid feature. Tales of Terror was a bit more experimental and was able to showcase famous Poe stories that wouldn’t have worked as a 90 minute feature, The Cask of Amontillado for instance, which was mixed into this film’s second story, The Black Cat.

Vincent Price is the only actor to star in all three stories. However, Peter Lorre really steals the show as Montresor Herringbone. He is only in The Black Cat, the middle and longest of the three stories, but it is one of the greatest comedic performances in Lorre’s career. Then again, every time Lorre played the comic relief opposite of Price, the results were always fantastic.

Price also works with Basil Rathbone, another horror legend. We also get to see Debra Paget and Joyce Jameson, two women who would work with Price and Corman again.

Tales of Terror is a solid outing by Corman and Price and it has the same tone and vibe as their other Poe adaptations. The anthology format makes it the most unique and different of these pictures. Plus, it has two really good stories, out of the three. The first one, my least favorite, is still entertaining though, and it is also the shortest.

This is definitely a picture worth checking out if you like Price, Corman or Poe. It is one of the best in their series of these pictures.

Film Review: Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

Also known as: Creature From Galaxy 27 (working title)
Release Date: August, 1958
Directed by: Bernard L. Kowalski
Written by: Martin Varno, Gene Corman
Music by: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Michael Emmet, Angela Greene, John Baer, Ed Nelson

American International Pictures, 62 Minutes

Review:

“A wounded animal that large isn’t good!” – Dr. Alex Wyman

Night of the Blood Beast was not directed by Roger Corman but he produced it along with his brother Gene, who also co-authored the script.

It fits in with the substance and style of those other late 1950s Corman pictures. It has a big cheesy monster, bad acting, bad dialogue and a fairly scant run time. Also, this Corman flick was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This film was released on a double bill with She Gods of Shark Reef. Like typical Corman productions, it was made quickly and cheaply. The script was completed in six weeks by 21 year-old Martin Varno. It was then shot in just seven days at the Charlie Chaplin studios, as well as some location shooting at Bronson Canyon. The alien suit was actually used previously by Corman on his film Teenage Caveman.

By modern standards, people will find the film to be slow and boring, even at 62 minutes. However, the plot isn’t that bad. It sees an astronaut crash back down to Earth, dead. However, in his body, alien seeds are gestating. There is a slow build until we finally get to the big monster reveal. And sure, the monster isn’t anything exceptional but it has the right sort of hokey charm that one can expect from a sci-fi creature from a Corman picture of this era.

The picture is better than most pictures like it. It isn’t so straightforward in its derivative narrative of “Here comes the evil alien creature, kill it before it kills us!” There are some layers to it. The layers and plot flourishes aren’t amazing or anything but at least more thought went into this than most sci-fi horror cheapies of the era.

This is far from the worst of Corman’s productions but it also isn’t the best. It fits somewhere in the middle but leans into the positive end of the spectrum.

Documentary Review: Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s the Fantastic Four (2015)

Release Date: July 10th, 2015 (Comic-Con International: San Diego – premiere)
Directed by: Marty Langford
Music by: Davis Horgan

Uncork’d Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

The Fantastic Four franchise has never really produced anything great from a cinematic standpoint. The mid 00s films were mediocre and the recent 2015 attempt was one of the worst comic book movies ever made. But there was also an attempt that predates all of those films: the 1994 Roger Corman produced Fantastic Four film.

The reason why most people don’t know about this film is because it was never officially released. In fact, the movie was made on a tiny budget and rushed, just so that the studio who owned the rights could still hold onto those rights. It was made cheaply and quickly and those behind it, felt they were horribly duped and that their efforts were wasted.

Since that time, the film has circulated in a bootleg form at comic book conventions and on the Internet. Many people have seen it now but it is still a strange enigma and despite its limitations, is considered to be the most accurate portrayal of the Fantastic Four comics.

This documentary tells the story about the film from the perspective of the filmmakers and actors involved. It is a pretty good film and the interviews are all satisfying and engaging. Everyone involved seemed to really love making the picture even if they had some reservations about certain aspects of it. Ultimately, they were all trying to do their best and saw the picture as a turning point in their careers. Unfortunately, the public never got to see it theatrically and it didn’t become the launching pad that many of the people involved in its development had hoped.

I’ve never seen the film but it has been on my radar for a long time and I’ll probably check it out now, much sooner than later. I actually like some of the people in the cast due to their work in other projects.

If you are one of the rare fans of this film, then the documentary will probably make you happy. It’s nice seeing most of these people still feeling a sense of accomplishment and showing enthusiasm, even if they were conned into a dead project that was never to be released.

Film Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

Release Date: August 24th, 1979
Directed by: Allan Arkush
Written by: Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch, Joseph McBride, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante
Music by: The Ramones
Cast: P.J. Soles, Dey Young, Vince Van Patten, Clint Howard, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Don Steele, The Ramones

New World Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Those Ramones are peculiar.” – Miss Togar

Roger Corman always liked to capitalize on whatever pop culture trends came along. Initially, he wanted to make a film called Disco High School. However, with the end of the film being capped off by the high school exploding behind dancing students, one of his collaborators said that the ending would fit much better with rock and roll. Corman agreed and after being pointed in the direction of punk rock legends The Ramones by Paul Bartel, a regular Corman collaborator, the rest is history.

Rock & Roll High School isn’t a good film but it is a ridiculous and fun motion picture that features the great tunes of The Ramones and the insane and infectious enthusiasm of its star, P.J. Soles.

The film also stars the always great Mary Woronov as the villainous principal and Paul Bartel as a music teacher that converts to a fan of The Ramones after getting doped up at a concert. We also get a good cameo by Dick Miller and get to enjoy a few scenes with the enigmatic and entertaining Don Steele. A young Clint Howard is also in this.

This movie is mostly a high school teen sex comedy with a heavy emphasis on The Ramones music. It isn’t quite a musical but it plays like one at times. The Ramones have a lengthy concert segment within the film but outside of that, we see P.J. Soles lead a group of girls singing in gym class, as well as the big finale which sees the students and The Ramones march through the school halls as they trash the place to the horror of the administration, their parents and the police outside.

Rock & Roll High School is highly entertaining but probably only for those who love the actors involved or who have a love for The Ramones. I’m not sure how it would resonate for others. It’s definitely a movie that is still well regarded by many because of its ties to punk music, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, P.J. Soles and because it has a massive nostalgia factor.

Film Review: The Haunted Palace (1963)

Release Date: August 28th, 1963 (Cincinnati)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont
Based on: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft, The Haunted Palace poem by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Lon Chaney Jr., Elisha Cook Jr.

American International Pictures, 87 Minutes 

Review:

“You do not know the extent of my appetite, Simon. I’ll not have my fill of revenge until this village is a graveyard. Until they have felt, as I did, the kiss of fire on their soft bare flesh. All of them. Have patience my friends. Surely, after all these years, I’m entitled to a few small amusements.” – Charles Dexter Ward

Out of all the Roger Corman and Vincent Price collaborations based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, my favorite is this film, The Haunted Palace. There are several reasons for this, as it may seem like an unorthodox choice. For one, despite the title being taken from an Edgar Allan Poe work, the story is actually based off of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Also, this was the first Vincent Price film I ever saw. Additionally, as much as I love the work of Poe, I am a bigger fan of H.P. Lovecraft, who gave us a rich and exciting mythos all his own along with a touch of insanity.

Roger Corman wanted to try something different after the success of his Poe films and he chose this H.P. Lovecraft tale. Against his wishes however, American International branded it with the name of a Poe poem in order to capitalize off of the success of the earlier films. They also ended the movie with Price narrating an excerpt from Poe.

The Lovecraft story gives this film a slightly different vibe than the other films in the massive Corman-Price-Poe series. Frankly, I think that the cinematography is the best in the series and the music is absolutely stellar. It relies less on some of Corman’s trippy effects, except for when a monster shows up in a pit, and it actually showcases Corman and his team’s talent in making the most out of their limited resources.

For one, the sets of the film, especially the village, were quite small. Corman shot a lot of these scenes using the trick of forced perspective but it comes across pretty flawlessly. Also, the matte paintings were fabulous and set the tone of the film. The haunted palace on the cliff in the background of the village was absolutely spectacular and emitted a feeling of cold dread.

The palace set seemed pretty grandiose. The scene where Debra Pagent and Frank Maxwell walk from the front door, through the hall and into the great living space of the old castle was a brilliantly done tracking shot that also used force perspective to make the set feel massive.

The painting of the sinister necromancer Joseph Curwen, which loomed above the large fireplace, was a beautiful and effective piece of artwork that was mesmerizing and helped to foreshadow his hold on the palace.

Vincent Price was at his very best. He played the evil Curwen and also his decedent, the nice and logical Charles Dexter Ward, a man who would become possessed by his ancestor. The speech that Price gives as Curwen, in the beginning before his first demise, was one of the greatest moments in Price’s storied career. The words, the execution, all of it was chilling and set the stage for what was to come.

Lon Chaney Jr. also appears in this and it is the only time he ever worked with Roger Corman. He had worked on a film with Price once before but the two did not share any scenes and Price only provided voiceover work. That film was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This film is the first and only time that horror legends Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Jr. got to share the screen. However, Chaney’s role was originally intended to be for Boris Karloff but he got sick while filming Black Sabbath for Mario Bava in Italy.

The Haunted Palace is perfectly paced and more interesting than the other Corman-Price-Poe films, in my opinion. It builds suspense and is well acted, even by the lesser-known actors who make up the villagers.

The only real weakness in the film is the Lovecraftian monster in the pit. It is literally a slimy looking statue of a beast under vibrant lighting and trippy LSD-like effects. Thankfully, the creature only appears very briefly and the real monster of the picture is Price’s Joseph Curwen.

The film is also full of several villagers with odd mutations. Only one of them is actually dangerous but they are used pretty effectively to frighten Price and Pagent as they walk through the quiet village at night.

The opening credits sequence features a spider spinning a web and catching a butterfly, only to eat it. It is scored by Ronald Stein and paints the perfect tone, as this film starts. The Haunted Palace features the best score of the Corman-Price-Poe pictures.

To me, The Haunted Palace is the perfect Vincent Price film. It employs some of his best acting moments, it showcases his great work with Roger Corman and it has a strong Victorian horror vibe that reflects the horror trends of its era.

While I know that this isn’t most people’s favorite of the Corman-Price-Poe film series but, for me, it just resonates in a way that the others don’t. I love all these pictures but it is The Haunted Palace that takes the cake for me. I only wish we could’ve gotten more Lovecraft movies with Price on screen and Corman behind the camera.