Roger describes how the title of his 1955 flick was adapted by the multibillion dollar franchise.
Directed by Alex Stapleton, this documentary celebrates the career and legacy of Roger Corman. It features clips from various Corman films, interviews with major Hollywood players whose careers he launched, and interviews with Corman and his associates. The documentary is now available for purchase on Blue Ray and DVD and for rental on Netflix.
Roger Corman’s film career was astoundingly productive. Credited for producing 385 films, Corman began his film career working as a story analyst for 20th Century Fox. He left when Fox used some of his ideas without crediting him and began producing films on his own, creating his first film Monster from the Ocean Floor in 1954. He then joined Nicholson and Arkoff of American International Pictures, where he continued to direct and produce films. Having never gone to film school, Corman learned the art of film-making through direct experience.
In the 1960′s, Corman produced and directed his critically acclaimed Poe Movies, a series of 6 films based on Edgar Allen Poe’s horror stories. Having successfully diverged from his more lighthearted films, Corman experimented with daring social commentary in his film The Intruder, which deals with integration in the South. Though a great artistic achievement, The Intruder was a commercial failure whose polarizing portrayal of racism alienated many movie goers.
Corman’s experience with The Intruder reinforced his intuition that “the public really is the ultimate arbiter of your film.” He learned to choose topics with commercial appeal, and went on to make a series of hugely successful films that featured popular topics while dealing with deeper social issues in the subtext.
Corman developed a distinctive style that was action-packed, rebellious, and humorous, all within the constraints of the low budget film. Indeed, he embraced the limitations of working on a low budget, which allowed for the spontaneity and camp his audiences have grown to love and expect.
With the release of higher budget films like Jaws and Star Wars that borrowed from Corman’s style, the public began to expect a different kind of movie, one that cost up to $40 million to produce. As the heyday of the low budget drive-in film drew to a close, Corman changed with the times, producing films directly for television or purchase.
This documentary poignantly chronicles the dwindling of Corman’s place in Hollywood while celebrating his continued impact not only through his current productions but through the careers of his proteges and his enduring influence on Hollywood’s cinematic style. Stapleton features interviews from several of the writers, directors, and actors Corman mentored, most notably Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard, and Jack Nicholson. In a particularly touching scene, Jack Nicholson tearfully expresses his gratitude for the instrumental role Roger Corman played in launching his career.
The film closes with footage of Roger Corman accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 Oscar Governor’s Awards. He ends his acceptance speech with an encapsulation of the secret behind his cinematic success: “Keep gambling. Keep taking chances.”
The Dunwich Horror, based on H.P. Lovecrafts’ eponymous short story, centers around the enigmatic character of Wilbur Whateley, who tries to summon ancient gods known as “The Old Ones” by performing a pagan ritual from the Necronomicon, an Arabic book on the occult.
The film introduces to the story a female lead, Nancy Wagner (played by Sandra Dee), a co-ed who finds herself entranced by Wilbur. She first sees him while she is returning the Necronomicon to the Miskatonic University Library for Dr. Armitage, a professor who had just finished giving a lecture on the book. She agrees to let him peruse the Necronomicon even though it is a rare and valuable artifact and the library is closing and drives him to his home in Dunwich where he drugs her. Drugged and under the influence of Wilbur’s preternatural charm, Nancy agrees to spend the weekend at the Whateley house, unaware of the dark ritual Wilbur has planned for her.
Dean Stockwell as Wilbur Whateley
Stockwell steals the show with his exageratedly creepy portrayal of Wilbur Whateley. From the intense expression in his eyes to his monotone, awkwardly halting speech, every that Wilbur does is unnerving. Stockwell’s over the top creepiness, along with his afro and mustache, lighten the mood of the film with a campy, seventies vibe.
After his performance in The Dunwich Horror, Dean Stockwell, a former child actor, went on to star as John Cavil in the 2006 remake of “Battlestar Galactica”, Mark Whiting in the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, Colonel Grat in the 2002 TV series “Star Trek: Enterprise” (2002). He has gone on to receive an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1988 film Married to the Mob and 4 Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his role in the 1989 “Quantum Leap”.
The Dunwich Horror remodels the Lovecraftian sense of the supernatural and the unimaginable, portraying it visually and musically as late sixties psychedelia. The atmospheric soundtrack and avante garde cinematography–which includes indirect camera angles, layered scenes, flashing colored lights, and Vaseline-smeared camera lenses–create the impression of an acid trip gone eerily wrong.
This feeling of psychedelic horror reaches the first of several climaxes in the scene where Elizabeth unwittingly releases Wilbur Whateley’s monstrous twin.
In addition to putting a psychedelic spin on Lovecraftian horror, the film adds a female lead and makes the sexual undertones in the story (which Lovecraft merely hints at) explicit. A brief romance occurs between Wilbur and Nancy, who is mysteriously drawn to him despite warnings from her friend Elizabeth and Dr. Armitage. Also, in the film, Whateley attempts to summon the Old Ones by having their leader, Yog Sothoth, impregnate a scantily clad Nancy while in the original story he tries to summon them by simply reciting verses of the Necronomicon.
Release and Legacy
The Dunwich Horror was released on January 14, 1970. Though the final scene of the film, which shows Nancy pregnant with Yog Sothoth’s supernatural seed, seems to set up a sequel, no sequel was ever made. In 2009, however, another film verson of “The Dunwich Horror” premiered on SyFy. Though not a remake or sequel, it also stars Dean Stockwell, this time ironically in the role of Dr. Armitage, Wilbur Whateley’s nemesis.
If there’s one thing Roger Corman is known for, it’s probably Little Shop of Horrors, but if there’s one other thing, it’s giving a lot of famous filmmakers their first big break. Such illustrious names as James Cameron, John Landis, Dennis Hopper and Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese are among the alumni of the “Roger Corman Film School” and to this day, Roger is still taking chances on promising young directors.
One such director is G.J. Echternkamp, who’s helming the latest Roger Corman production, Virtually Heroes. Echternkamp had cut his teeth on documentaries and short films, but this was his first full-length narrative feature.
Virtually Heroes is the story of a video game character that grows tired of running the same missions over and over again, and begins to wonder if there’s more to life than being a tough-guy soldier in a simulation of the iu I caught up with the young director and asked him about Virtually Heroes, working with Roger, and how a Roger Corman production differs from any other.
Where did you get the idea for Virtually Heroes?
Roger wanted to make a Vietnam film and the tricky part was how to make it relevant today. So the writer, Matt Yamashida, and I brainstormed a whole lot of ideas on how to make Vietnam relevant to today.
Make it about the Ultimate Fighting Championships, and hire a couple of UFC guys to star in it. Another was to make Osama Bin Laden, and how he actually got started in the Vietnam
Osama: the early years?
Yeah, and you didn’t know he was in Vietnam, but he was there. Our other idea was to make it about a video game. We actually thought that one might be too modern for Roger, but it was the one he liked. So then Matt and I sat down and tried to figure out exactly how to make it about a Vietnam videogame.
How did you first encounter Roger Corman?
Through my mom, actually, she got a job working for him years ago. She’d been working at a school, and she was looking for something in the entertainment industry. She was bored at her old job. She didn’t know Roger Corman. So she tells me she’s working for this Corman guy and I was like: “Holy s***! You’re working for Roger Corman?”
What are the major differences between shooting a documentary and shooting a narrative film?
The shooting process is completely different. At the end of the day you still have to tell a story but with a documentary you just film and film and don’t know what you’re going to end up with. Shooting from a script is different. It’s definitely more stressful. You know what you’re going to end up with, but you gotta get everything on the page onto the screen. To do that you have to work fast, and sometimes make compromises.
What kind of compromises?
Well, you run out of time and you run out of money. There were lots of times I would have wanted explosions, rocket launchers, things blowing up, but there’s only a number of times that we could do that. Of course it was great that we could do that at all. Sometimes we’d have to cut a shot, or a line of dialogue. Of course everyone has to do that, even big movies have to do it.
What was it like working on a Corman production?
Fun and stressful, really kind of a “fly by the seat of your pants” experience. There were a lot of problems to solve, and you have a limited number of resources, and you’re constantly solving a crisis every five minutes. Luckily we had a great group of people to help work through the crises.
And how is a Roger Corman production different from any other?
I’ve directed shorts and music videos and been on sets, and it’s very different. When you have a lot of money you can take your time. I was actually in the movie Almost Famous. I was in a short classroom scene. It was a short scene, but we probably shot about a hundred takes, from all different angles and in all sorts of different ways. Of course, when you’re on a tight schedule you can’t do that. You have to trust your actors, and you don’t have a lot of leeway. You have to get people that you trust to get it right in just two or maybe three times. I’ve also worked in commercials, and there you have a whole day just to shoot thirty seconds. We had to shoot about ten minutes in a day, or more.
So now that you’ve shot, where are you in the process of finishing Virtually Heroes?
I’m editing right now. Once it’s edited, we’re gonna do color correction and visual effects and a final audio mix. We still have a long way to go, but editing is a big part of that. And I’m editing it myself, actually.
And when can we expect to see Virtually Heroes?
Hopefully it should be done around March.
Any closing remarks?
I’m excited. I think it’ll be really be neat, one of the most original Roger Corman productions to come out in a really long time.
Not long before LSD was illegalized in the United States, Roger Corman produced a film that allowed viewers to come to their own conclusions about the drug. The Trip tells the story of Paul, a straight-edged commercial director who decides to try out the drug after his wife leaves him. The beginning of the film allows the audience to get adjusted to the LSD culture as colorful sets and hippie characters are introduced, together presenting a strong sense of the free spirit lifestyle. However, the film quickly takes a psychedelic turn after Paul swallows the LSD. Special camera lenses create kaleidoscopic imagery and vivid colors paint through the film, creating a magical visual experience. In the end, reality is mixed with hallucinations as Paul embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
See the trailer here:
The diverse settings and imagery that comprise of Paul’s trip are quite memorable. The first part of Paul’s trip is contained and monitored by his friend John. Much of his hallucinations are set in medieval times and show him running away from hooded Death along the coast. These sequences are intermixed with vibrant hallucinations of intimacy between Paul and his ex-wife, Sally. Special lights flash over their bodies creating the effect on screen that their intertwined bodies are consumed in this free spirit culture. However, Paul eventually escapes from John’s watch and ends up walking along the lit up Strip. However, while it is clear that Paul feels great during his trip, Corman did not believe that he should create a pro-LSD film. As a result, Corman pulled the horror imagery from his Edgar Allan Poe series to represent the come down of LSD. A dark, isolated mansion strikes through Paul’s hallucinations and the terror of this image leaves a strong counter message.
Yet, the original intent of the film was to leave the message regarding LSD open-ended. However the film that was released begins with a long warning about the negative consequences of LSD and ends with a shattered image of Paul. These edits, added on after Corman handed over the film to AIP, suggest that the drug has destroyed Paul’s life. In fact the original ending of the film was supposed to follow Paul as he walks from the bed to the deck and from there show him looking out on to the Santa Monica Bay. This had all been taken in one very intricate shot and was meant to leave the impression that Paul had been reborn. Whether his trip was a positive or negative experience was not answered. Ultimately AIP edited the ending in a conservative manner without Corman’s knowledge…an act most likely due to the widespread controversy surrounding the drug at the time.
However, putting LSD aside, this film is made up of a groovy cast of characters that deserves mention. The screenplay was written by the well-known Corman film school graduate, Jack Nicholson, who first started his career with Corman when he starred in Cry Baby Killer in 1958. Additionally, Peter Fonda was cast to play Paul, the lead of the film. Serving as the guide through Paul’s trip is his best friend John, played by Bruce Dern. The supplier of the LSD, Max, is none other than the late Dennis Hopper. And finally, Susan Strasberg played the heartbreaker, Sally, who divorces Paul, leading him to take this trip. With such a talented cast and production crew working on this film, it is no surprise that this movie is still enjoyed by so many.
Forget Friday the 13th. Just when you think you’re safe…the real fun starts. In the horror spoof, Saturday the 14th, a family moves into a new house filled with secrets. The adventure begins when little Billy comes across The Book of Evil. He soon finds that the monsters pictured in the book have disappeared from the pages and are now freely roaming around the house, spooking the family members, doing the dishes, trashing the kitchen, but most importantly, looking to find the book that brought them to life. Meanwhile, a vampire couple is staking out the house, also desperately attempting to get their hands on the book. However, the stakes rise when the family meets Van Helsing and he reveals that many creatures have been in search of this book for ages because it’s no ordinary book. In fact, whoever controls the book controls the world! Unfortunately, the book is nowhere to be found, and with a big family dinner planned for Saturday the 14th, everyone is in for a few surprises.
Take a look at the trailer to preview some of these surprises:
While today most are familiar with films that parody the horror genre, Saturday the 14th is in a category of its own. This film, produced by Julie Corman in 1981, avoids spoofing familiar storylines and villains from horror films and instead creates its own fantastical world with hilarious characters and creatures. Howard Cohen, the writer and director of the film, first developed his offbeat sense of humor during his time at Second City in Chicago and channeled this creativity into creating this fictional world.
One of the more memorable fictional monsters from the film has his moment of stardom when he surprises Debbie, the daughter of the family, in her bathtub. At first the viewer is tricked into thinking that some sort of shark is swimming in her bathtub since only a tiny fin appears above the water. However, once she is fully submerged in the water, the monster slowly reveals himself as a full grown, green-scaled, bathtub monster (how did he fit under the water??) that chases the young girl through the house.
Yet, the most interesting of the monsters and characters that appear in the film would have to be Waldemar, the vampire who has staked out the house and stops at nothing to find The Book of Evil. Jeffrey Tambor, known best now for his Emmy-nominated role in Arrested Development, made his second film appearance playing Waldemar in Saturday the 14th. His quirky sense of humor is present in this film and his facial expressions are priceless.
Yet Jeffrey Tambor isn’t the only big name in the film. The husband and wife in the film were played by real life married couple Dick Benjamin and Paula Prentiss. Great actors separately and together, they both have a deep understanding for what is necessary in comedy and they both shine in this film. In fact, Paula Prentiss, who turns into a vampire towards the beginning of the film, refused to wear the vampire teeth she was supposed to wear for the part because she knew she could give a strong performance without needing the teeth…and she was correct. Perhaps the funniest moment in the film occurs when she falls out of the bed trying to bite her husband’s neck.
But not every part of production on this film ran so smoothly. With a 3-4 week production schedule, chaos is inevitable. When shooting the last shot of the film, the actor who played Billy was unable to be on set, forcing the crew to find a boy on the spot that could pass off as Billy. Although the boy they found was six inches taller than the real Billy, tricks of the camera were able to make the switch is unnoticeable in the film.
Seven years after the release of Saturday the 14th, the sequel, Saturday the 14th Strikes Back was released (1988). The sequel stays true to the tone of the original, but takes viewers on a brand new adventure.
Check out the trailer here:
The house of the “insane” must be fascinating to the relatively sane. After all, an asylum is a world alien to the average Joe, who must obtain any form of information or understanding of a psychiatric hospital and its inmates primarily through mainstream media. However, the practice of institutionalization has suffered a significant decline since the midpoint of the 20th century when the first wave of deinstitutionalization movements came to the fore. In the late 1960s, the contemporary reactions to mental illness had generally fallen between two polarized attitudes: a romanticism of the subject as an altered state of consciousness that was teeming with artistic and creative inspiration, and a misunderstood and feared condemnation of mental illness as a fatal flaw in the sufferer. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden seems to address both attitudes, suggesting that the road to recovery is unglamorous and laced with doubt and fear. However, perhaps the most important relationship lies between patient and doctor, Deborah Blake and Dr. Fried. The latter’s strategy is sincere empathy, which requires emotional sensitivity and intuition on top of all the clinical training. A strong relationship depends on the acknowledgment of the inexplicable or illusory facets of the illness as a stepping stone for recovery; in fact, Dr. Fried values Deborah’s imaginary kingdom of Yr as an interpretive map that can guide her to recovery. The logic, or lack thereof, in Yr serves as a stark contrast to the confusing and irrational laws of reality, from which Deborah initially recoiled. The legacy that the film leaves us with essentially rests in the importance of empathy, respect, sympathy toward patients of mental illness. Certainly the criticisms of public hospitals, government funding, and antiquated public opinion about mental illnesses are resonant in I Never Promised You a Rose a Garden, paving the way towards greater deinstitutionalization and more humane alternatives.
From Life to Literature to Cinema
Upon the astonishing success of Milo Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975, Roger Corman achieved funding for a film adaptation of Joanne Greenberg’s semi-autobiographical novel. Both are fictionalized accounts of the author’s three-year battle with schizophrenia, which at the time was a trashcan diagnosis that could have covered any mental illness from anxiety to depression. In fact, a 1981 New York Times article cites two psychiatrists who examined her self-description of the schizophrenic symptoms and concluded that she rather suffered from extreme depression and somatization disorder. Nevertheless, the film succeeds in exploring not only the life of mental illness, but also the conditions of a psychiatric ward, with gritty realism. The stale air and the dimmed lighting only augment the harsh ruthlessness of Greenberg’s experiences, and undermine the mere flickers of hope that seem to infrequently penetrate the desperation of recovery.
The Famous Few
Certainly a significant advantage in the film’s positive reception comes from the studded cast. The Swedish actress Bibi Andersson, who was already well-known for her important work with Ingmar Bergman in films like Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal, plays the empathic Dr. Fried and serves as the crucial point in Deborah Blake’s recovery. Deborah’s parents, Jay and Ester Blake, are played respectively by Ben Piazza and Lorraine Gary, the latter of which became most famous as Ellen Brody in the Jaws series.
Nevertheless, the most acclaimed performance came from a then-unknown actress named Kathleen Quinlan. It was an early role for Quinlan who, like many of the alumni in the Corman School of Film, earned an immense leap in her career. She achieved her film debut in George Lucas’s American Graffiti in 1973 at the age of 19, and subsequently appeared in various supporting roles, mostly in television. However, her portrayal of Deborah Blake in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden placed her name on the Hollywood map especially after earning a Golden Globe nomination. In fact, the film garnered additional nominations for “Best Motion Picture – Drama” at the Golden Globes, “Best Adapted Screenplay” at the Oscars, and “Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium” at the Writer’s Guild Awards. Indeed, Quinlan’s embodiment of a schizophrenic with multiple personalities trained her for the variegated roles that she would come to portray. Arguably her best-known work includes Marilyn Lovell in Ron Howard’s (another Corman alum) Apollo 13, for which she received both Golden Globe and Oscar nominations; Jim Morrison’s Celtic Pagan lover Patricia Kennealy in Oliver Stone’s The Doors; and Amy Taylor in Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown. Since then, she has guest-starred in numerous television roles, including one as the psychiatrist Dr. Shane in an episode of Glee. The accomplishments of her portrayal of Deborah Blake certainly wowed enough critics and audiences to set her on a path to stardom which continues today.
The 1960’s cult classic, Little Shop of Horrors, is one of Roger Corman’s most well known features, however, the film gave Hollywood much more than just an entertaining movie to enjoy. The film follows the story of a clumsy botanist, Seymour, who gets sucked into a whirlwind adventure after creating and becoming invested in a carnivorous plant that only feeds on human blood. Many know the film for being a favorite at midnight shows on college campuses, revival cinemas, and videocassette outlets in addition to inspiring the musical remake in 1986 and a theatrical version, which is most likely performed at least once in every high school, but Little Shop of Horrors can also be credited for beginning a new genre of film, helping launch Jack Nicholson’s acting career, and serving as an example for how to successfully produce a low (LOW) budget film.
The Black Comedy Horror Genre:
Perhaps channeling inspiration from his days working on the Stanford satirical magazine, The Chaparral, Corman ventured out into the cynical, darker and more wickedly funny depths of storytelling when creating Little Shop of Horrors. The film was the second of Corman’s black comedy trilogy following A Bucket of Blood and preceding Creature from the Haunted Sea. The trilogy combined certain elements of Corman’s style that came to define the new black comedy horror genre. Along with incorporating fast cutting, fluid camera movement, and in depth composition, the films were also all rooted in quirky plots built on somewhat gruesome premises. In Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour finds himself on a murder spree as the pressure to feed his talking, bloodthirsty plant makes him lose sight of right and wrong. Additionally, the genre requires well-sketched characters, which are prominent in Little Shop of Horrors. Seymour is timid, naïve and dimwitted, which together create a character that would allow such events to unfold. The flower shop owner, Mushnik, is Seymour’s loud, over-dramatic, demanding boss that speaks broken English with a heavy Eastern European accent. His obsession with success paves the way for many laughs in the film. Audrey is Seymour’s high-pitched, sweet but simple, melodramatic girlfriend that adds a hint of innocence to this dark tale. But most importantly, Audrey 2, the man-eating plant is a soulless, hungry, dictatorial villain that even has the gift of mind-control.
The trailer for the film highlights how these elements and characters work together to create the black comedy horror genre:
The Rise of Jack Nicholson:
Yet, if any character in the film is to stand out, Wilbur Force, the masochist played by Jack Nicholson, is definitely a top contender.
Having just made his screen debut two years earlier in Corman’s 1958 film, Cry Baby Killer, Nicholson asked Corman if he could read for the part of Wilbur Force. Originally, the character was intended to be played by a middle-aged man, but Corman decided he could not stop the young Nicholson from simply reading for the part. As fate would have it, Corman was blown away by Nicholson’s creepy but comical take on the character and he was immediately cast. These early appearances of Jack Nicholson on the big screen allowed him to show the world the talents that he harbored, which inevitably lead this Corman School of Film alum to the successful career that he has had.
The Joke that Became a Success:
Besides inventing a new genre and contributing to the rise of a star, Little Shop of Horrors also pushed the possibilities of low budget filmmaking to a new extreme. Having filmed A Bucket of Blood in just under a week, Corman initially conceived Little Shop of Horrors as a joke to see what his team could accomplish with just two days in a studio. The movie was shot in just two days and one night! The crew jumped from set to set, filming only one take and including whatever improvisational additions that made their way into the shot. Furthermore, since union workers were too expensive for this $50,000 budget film, real people on skid row were paid to be extras in the film. However, the success of the film proves just how much a small budget and two days on set can actually accomplish. While the film may have begun as a joke, the great influence the film has had in the realm of entertainment is by no means one.
It was the summer of 1993 and America had dinosaurs on the brain. That May, the Super Mario Bros. movie impressed viewers with an animatronic raptor, but audiences were holding out for the real thing. On June 11, Steven Spielberg unveiled his much hyped dinosaur epic Jurassic Park. But there was another dinosaur movie that summer, sadly overshadowed at the time, but successful even then. I am referring to the Roger Corman classic Carnosaur.
Diane Ladd as Dr. Tiptree
In the world of creature features, genetic research has long since overtaken radiation as the number one cause of monster outbreaks. It’s no surprise, then, that the mad atomic scientists of yesteryear have been phased out in favor of the mad geneticists of today. Diane Ladd’s Dr. Jane Tiptree is one such geneticist, perhaps the gold standard to which all others must aspire.
So revered is Jane Tiptree in the scientific community that when she disappears for several months, the government calls together a special committee just to find her. Dr. Tiptree’s specialty is extinction. She’s already destroyed a few species of insect, and the government is worried about what trouble she might be up to. One of the assembled captains of industry reveals that Tiptree is working for him at a rural poultry factory. He explains her disappearance was necessitated by her demand for complete and total secrecy while completing a mysterious pet project…nothing ominous there.
Even in this so-called progressive era, a female mad scientist of any field is a rarity. In 1993 it was nearly unheard of. Carnosaur is a rare example of “tampering in God’s domain” as an equal opportunity business. It’s surprising then, that Dr. Tiptree’s ultimate goals are so overwhelmingly misogynistic. She plots to kill off every single woman on earth, including herself, with the use of a deadly virus that makes women fatally pregnant with dinosaurs. You did not misread the previous sentence. Women are infected, and hours later give birth to monstrous reptiles too large for the bodies to handle. The endgame of this scientific masterstroke is the destruction of the human race, and the return of planet Earth to its rightful owners: the dinosaurs.
What has science done?
Not content merely to provide the audience with dinosaurs, Carnosaur is science fiction at its most bizarre. It’s almost like a prehistoric take on Alien, only there the ‘birth’ imagery was mere subtext, here the metaphor is made explicit, and it is nasty. There are shades of Humanoids from the Deep, where a woman gave birth to a humanoid hybrid. Predictably, the government shows up to save the day. True to form, their idea of ‘saving the day’ involves a lot of unnecessary violence and may actually make things worse.
No, the government agents don’t get to be the hero in Carnosaur, that honor is reserved for Raphael Sbarge’s Doc Smith, a drunken med-school drop out. As fate would have it, Doc works as a night watchman at the same Poultry Factory where Dr. Tiptree is hatching her nefarious scheme.
When a few fully-grown dinosaurs escape the grounds and start killing teens, Doc takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of things. And though he does get to the bottom of several bottles along the way, he finally makes the connection with Dr. Tiptree, and confronts her about her mad scheme to destroy mankind. While it is hard to fully justify destroying humanity, Jane Tiptree gives it the old college try in a classic mad scientist tirade. Disillusioned bio-chem majors ought to watch and take notes.
Aside from the well-known Diane Ladd as Dr. Tiptree, Carnosaur features a few other familiar faces. Clint Howard, brother of Corman film school alum Ron Howard, shows up as a truck driver with an incredible fondness for fried chicken, appropriately named Friar. He’ll be instantly recognizable to any fan of Ron Howard movies, and like The Intruder’s William Shatner, he appeared on the original Star Trek.
And keep an eye out for a non-descript Senator’s aide played by Rodman Flender. Flender has gone on to become a successful director. His latest project is the documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, which follows the former Tonight Show host on his “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” Tour.
The early nineties signaled the oncoming of CGI in Hollywood, but Carnosaur was one of the last bastions of traditional effects. Special effects man John Carl Buechler had a tight 10-week schedule in which to bring the prehistoric monsters to life, and an even tighter budget with which to do it. Donald F. Glut, a paleontologist, was brought in as a consultant.
Buechler’s team came through with flying colors. They created a foot tall mechanical Deinonychus, as well as a three foot mechanical T. Rex. Buechler’s team also created costumes of both dinosaurs, and most impressive of all, a full-scale animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex, measuring 16 feet tall, 25 feet long, and weighing in at 450 pounds. That massive model didn’t end its showbiz career with Carnosaur. It went on to appear in Carnosaur II and III, and is still standing today.
Carnosaur went on to spawn two sequels, both of which hit home video before The Lost World was a twinkle in Steven Spielberg’s eye. Dr. Tiptree and her virus are unfortunately absent, but John Carl Buechler’s dinosaurs return in full force. The Deinonychus costumes saw more screen time in Carnosaur II than they ever did in the original.
The Carnosaur series even had a spin-off of sorts with Raptor in 2001. It shared many effects with the Carnosaur series, not surprising since its director is John Carl Buechler himself, the special effects man from the original Carnosaur. In some circles, Raptor is known as Carnosaur 4.
Perhaps most surprising of all, Carnosaur found a proponent among mainstream movie critics. Gene Siskel, of Siskel and Ebert, gave the movie “thumbs up.” Even Roger Ebert, who didn’t quite fall for Carnosaur’s charms, admits that he enjoyed Diane Ladd’s performance.