The man who gave us movies about humanoids from the deep, crab monsters and wasp women is at it again. The release of Dinoshark on DVD brings legendary producer Roger Corman full circle, right back to the creature feature movies that made him famous in the 1950s.
“There have been creature features since the inception of films,” said the 85-year-old Corman in a recent phone interview. “What we’re doing now with Dinoshark and Shartopus is we’re going father and farther and it intrigues the audience. I don’t want to use the word outlandish but certainly they are the farthest out type of creature we’ve seen.”
The films—Dinoshark and Sharktopus—were made for the SyFy Channel in the US, and feature all of Corman’s trademarks—a little bit of star power (Eric Roberts stars in Sharktopus), a sense of humor and, of course, a wild hybrid creature.
“The creature comes first, then we try and figure out why the creature exists. That’s why the first picture we made of this group, was Dinocroc, which I made independently and sold to the SyFy Channel and it got a very big rating. So I then wet for Supergator and Dinoshark and the SyFy Channel called me and said, ‘Roger, you’ve come up with all the title, now we have a title, Sharktopus. Do you want to make it?’
“I said no and gave them my theory, which I still believe in, now with some modification, which is that you can go up to a certain level of insanity with these titles and the audience is with you because they want to see it. But if you go over a level, what I call the acceptable level of insanity, and the audience will say, ‘Oh you’ve got to be kidding,’ and they’ll turn against you.”
So far audiences haven’t turned against Corman and his outrageous creatures. His next feature for SyFy is Piranhaconda, a movie he says, doesn’t “up the level of insanity, but it maintains it.”
Corman, however, is a realist. He’s been in Hollywood since Eisenhower was president, so to say he understands the ups and down of the film business is an understatement akin to saying Sharktopus gets a little bitey sometimes.
“I think [the business] is cyclical. You make a certain type of picture, it’s successful, other people make them too, you may remake or continue with that cycle, then the audience gets saturated with them. They grow tired and the cycle turns down. It never goes quite away. Then after a few years someone will make a good one with a slightly different point of view and the cycle will start all over again. I think we’re near the peak of that cycle now. My theory is that we can run another year or so but then the cycle will start to turn back down.”
But when the creature cycle burns out, will he stop producing movies and take a well deserved break? After all, he has produced almost 400 films.
“I simply love the process of making films,” he says. “It is creative, interesting, fascinating and occasionally lucrative. I like the combination of all those. I never intend to retire.”
Welcome to the House of Crouse. Roger Corman has had 90 birthdays. In that time he’s directed 55 movies and produced almost 400. He gave a start to many young film directors, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron to name a few, and is known as the The Pope of Pop Cinema. As a belated birthday present this week the House of Crouse pays tribute to the man who bragged he made a hundred movies in Hollywood and never lost a dime.
Since the release of the first Hunger Games novel in 2008, literary sleuths have picked it apart, searching for connections to other books and films.
The scrutiny increased when the first film in the tetralogy set records for the biggest opening weekend for a non-sequel in 2012, and continues unabated with the release of this weekend’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1.
Based on Suzanne Collins’s mega-successful series, the movies are set in a dystopian world ruled by a fascist-style president (Donald Sutherland) who presides over The Hunger Games, a televised battle-to-the-death between 24 young players, two from each of the country’s districts, including Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).
The series draws on things we’ve seen before, in everything from the human sacrifices of Greek mythology or Survivor-style television shows to news stories of government corruption to create a world with its own rules, style and customs.
The most often-cited influence is Battle Royale, a 2000 Japanese movie based on a book by Koushun Takami. Like The Hunger Games, it’s a story of school kids in a televised government-sanctioned death match.
Battle Royale’s DVD box set even included a quote from a critic suggesting there’d be no Hunger Games without the Japanese film. “This is the movie that started it all,” it reads.
Hunger fans were quick to point out differences in the two films. The Japanese movie is about survival, they said, while Collins wrote about revolution. The author revealed her main influences were reality television and the Iraq war.
“I had never heard of that book or that author until my book was turned in,” she told the New York Times.
It’s worth noting that the idea of humans being preyed upon for the entertainment of the upper classes dates back at least as far as 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game. The story of a big-game hunter who tracks humans for sport on an isolated island is based on a Richard Connell short story that also loosely inspired episodes of everything from Gilligan’s Island to Lost in Space. Since then, Norman Jewison’s Rollerball, Roger Corman’s Deathrace 2000 (and its 2008 Jason Statham remake) and The Running Man have mined similar territory.
As for the author who wrote Battle Royale, he gave ABC News a very diplomatic answer when asked about the similarities between the two stories. “I think every novel has something to offer,” he said. “If readers find value in either book, that’s all an author can ask for.”
Big monsters are back. Movies like “The Host” and “Cloverfield” have reintroduced audiences to that rarest, but biggest of beasts, the giant out-of-control monster. Who needs vampires and zombies when you could have a ninety foot tall squid with a bad attitude and a Christmas bulb for a head?
The latest addition to the big monster genre is “Monsters,” an indie movie that reportedly only cost $15,000. Part road trip, part romance and all atmosphere, the story of Andrew (Scoot McNairy), an opportunistic photojournalist, who must escort his boss’s daughter, Sam (Whitney Able), back to the U.S. border through the treacherous quarantine area inhabited by… you guessed it, giant creatures left there when a NASA space craft carrying samples of extraterrestrial life crashed.
It’s a pure b-movie premise and for the first fifteen minutes or so promises to be little more than a Roger Corman film with better CGI. Then something happens. The movie becomes about the relationship between total opposites Andrew and Sam as they bond over their trip’s hardships and the strangeness of their surroundings. It’s a giant monster movie that focuses on the characters and despite some wild plot contrivances, it works.
The character study is a slow burn that leads up to the big reveal, the unveiling of the creatures. For most of the film they are seen and not heard but director Gareth Edwards paces the film carefully building up suspense through use of sound effects to climax with a wild mating dance between two of the Lovecraftian beasts. It’s a strangely beautiful and eerie sequence that brings the movie to a close.
“Monsters” isn’t as effective as “District 9” or “Cloverfield,” two other recent movies that introduced us to new creatures, but it is a complex film with timely messages about immigration (the US is protected by a giant fence to keep the monsters out) and our reactions in times of danger.
Once again, we’re hugely honoured to have Canadian film critic, television and radio personality and author Richard Crouse join us, this time as part of our Tainted Love February. Richard, whose great new book Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of The Devils is available from our good friends at ECW Press, chose to highlight the legendary Roger Corman’s film Bloody Mama. Take it away, Richard!
Despite the disclaimer “Any similarity to Kate Barker and her sons is intentional,” the screenplay of Roger Corman’s twisted crime epic Bloody Mama is steeped in violent underworld fantasy that was more inspired by the success of Bonnie and Clyde than any connection to Barker’s reality. Corman, hoping to cash in on the wave of popularity generated by the Warren Beatty / Faye Dunaway outing quickly slapped together an exploitation film to take advantage of the public’s newfound interest in depression era hoodlums.
Working with screenwriter Robert Thom, Corman crafted a story that took the basic facts — Barker was the matriarch of a family of criminal sons — and injected hot button topics like drug addiction, homosexuality, incest and sadism to add spice. The result won’t win any awards for accuracy but it makes for one crazy cinematic ride.
The story is fairly simple, mostly made up of a series of vicious vignettes. Corman sets the tone right off the top with a prologue that sees Kate Barker as a child being raped by her brothers. “Blood’s thicker than water,” says her hillbilly father.
Then things really take a depraved turn.
The story jumps ahead to the depression years. Barker (Shelley Winters) has dumped her spineless husband and set off on a brutal crime rampage with her kids — the sadistic Herman (Don Stroud), ex-con Fred (Robert Walden), hophead Lloyd (Robert De Niro) and wallflower Arthur (Clint Kimbrough). They terrorize the countryside, robbing banks, kidnapping millionaires, machine-gunning an alligator named Old Joe to death and even stealing a pig!
The machine gun–toting Ma’s thirst for villainy is eclipsed only by her taste for kinky sex. She beds her own sons and even seduces Fred’s gay jailhouse lover (Bruce Dern). Ma’s sexual and criminal spree continues until the bullet-ridden final showdown when the gang faces off with police in a bloody gun battle.
The folks on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo look downright erudite compared to this bunch. Corman shines a light on the deviant and desperate behavior of these people, foreshadowing the kind of raw filmmaking favored by a future wave of directors like Quentin Tarantino whose powerful depictions of the criminal underbelly delight in pushing the boundaries of good taste. Corman’s portrayal of incest and drug addiction was unflinching and for the time, extreme. “Ma Barker made The Wild Angels and The Trip look about as menacing as fairy tales,” he wrote in his book How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.
Corman shows a strong hand with his actors. Shelley Winters, the feisty method actor who once pulled out her two Best Supporting Actress Oscars from a bag during an audition and asked, “Do you still want me to read for this part?” brings her usual moxie to Ma, appearing to be on overdrive for the entire film. Her opening line at one of the bank robberies is a show stopper. “We’re going to play Simon Says, and this,” she says, holding up her Tommy gun, “is Simon.”
It’s entertaining stuff; she’s so over-the-top you fear that once she’s done chewing the scenery she might burst through the screen into the theater. Later in the film her manic reaction to the death of one of her sons — a churning vortex of jiggling flesh and shrieking — has to be seen to be believed. In his book Corman said that Winters was “certainly unlike any actor I had worked with before.”
The rest of the cast are mostly b-movie regulars — Dern, Stroud, Kimbrough and Scatman Crothers — who all hand in journeyman work, but two other actors — one on the way down, the other on the ascent — really shine. Fifties ingénue Diane Varsi (best known for her Oscar nominated role in Peyton Place) as Mona Gibson, the hardened hooker “who can do it better than Ma” takes a role that requires little more than taking her shirt off and gives it some real personality. Any actor who can survive the line, “You should try my pie crust, little boy. It would melt in your mouth,” with any sort of dignity deserves recognition.
Robert De Niro, then an unknown actor with just four credits on his resume, throws himself into the role of Lloyd, a miserable junkie who resorts to sniffing glue when he can’t score any heroin. “When you’re working on those model airplanes you get to acting awfully silly,” says Ma.
“He stopped eating and lost weight as his addiction progressed,” said Winters, who recommended the young actor for the part. “We roughly shot in sequence. He consumed vitamins, water, fruit juices and a little bit of nourishment. He lost close to thirty pounds and took on the haggard, sickly look of a junkie.”
The extreme weight loss is a bit of a trick, but there’s more to his work here than starvation. De Niro spent time with the Arkansas locals, studying the way they spoke and moved to create a well-rounded character and move Lloyd beyond the hillbilly cliché favored by the other actors. On top of the accent he created a sing songy voice, punctuated with a giggle that gives vocal cadence to Lloyd’s naïve innocence.
In Bloody Mama Corman shed the shackles of good taste and shamelessly plays to the baser elements of the story. It horrified American critics at the time (although was better received in Europe), most of whom still had deep-rooted connections to the safe studio movies and were hopelessly out of step with youth culture. Bloody Mama must have seemed like Corman was flipping the bird to them, but Corman didn’t make movies for critics, he made them for the people who actually pay to go to the theater. He knew audiences wanted him to push the envelope and once again he was spot-on. Bloody Mama is great trashy fun which will appeal to fans of genre and b-movies. “It’s still one of my favorite films,” says Corman.