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.
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.
Forget the video game. Long before Grand Theft Auto gained notoriety as a crime filled game about stealing cars and street racing, the Roger Corman School of Film gave birth to the movie that brought the action of car stealing, racing and crashing to life. However, behind all of the special effects and high stakes that make this film so entertaining, a young actor was given his first professional opportunity to direct a full-length feature.
Ron Howard at the time was a well-known actor starring as Richie Cunningham in Happy Days. In 1976, he nabbed a sideline opportunity to star in Roger Corman’s film Eat My Dust, which was received with such popularity that the following year, Corman approached him about filming a sequel. Yet Ron Howard had a plan of his own. He offered to not only star in the sequel for the same pay, but also to do an additional film for free…with one catch…he would get to direct. Corman looked him in the eye and responded to his proposal by saying, “you always looked like a director to me.” In that moment, Ron Howard’s successful directing career began.
After a few discussions about what direction to take the film, Corman suggested to Howard to title the film Grand Theft Auto, a title that had been discussed when naming Eat My Dust, and to go forward from there. The result…a fast-paced adventure that follows a runaway couple heading to Vegas to get hitched, and the many different people, enticed by a 25 thousand dollar reward, that will stop at nothing to capture them.
Here is the trailer of the film that launched Ron Howard’s directing career.
The Roger Corman School of Film is notorious for giving young talent the opportunity to launch their careers. Besides Ron Howard, other well-known directors such as James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese also began their directing careers working for Corman. Additionally, many prominent actors such as Jack Nicholson, Toby McGuire, and Mila Kunis can be found making their acting debuts in a Corman film.
Before he was Captain Kirk, and long before he was T.J. Hooker, William Shatner starred in Roger Corman’s 1962 classic The Intruder. It was the young actor’s first starring role in a movie, despite extensive experience in theater and TV. The movie was also a first for Roger Corman: his first project to actually lose money. It’s obscure even for a Corman production, but it’s worth checking out because it’s one of his best.
Made when the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, The Intruder deals with racial tension in the south, particularly the effects of integration in schools. William Shatner is in top form as Adam Cramer, a racist lobbyist who comes to the small Southern town of Claxton on the eve of integration. Cramer intends to stop the schools in Claxton from being integrated, and to do so he intends to win the heart of the townsfolk with his own racist ideology.
While most Hollywood accounts of racial tension tend to sugarcoat the issue, The Intruder pulls no punches. The language is harsh, the violence is swift and brutal, and the whole production has an air of honesty about it that you’d never find in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
Racism Laid Bare
The racists in the intruder aren’t the typical Hollywood constructs, sub-human creatures consumed by hate. Instead we see little old ladies, upstanding fathers, and people who look like refugees from The Andy Griffith Show tossing around n-words and forming bloodthirsty mobs. When the pervasive racism of 1960s America is placed in context, rather than used as a negative trait restricted only to obvious villains, the enormity of the problem becomes clear.
In addition to its narrative power, The Intruder impresses on a technical level. In one of the films most memorable sequences, we zoom in on Cramer’s eyes as he watches a protest in the local schoolyard and then zoom back out to see him standing on the courthouse steps that night, delivering a rousing anti-black, anti-Jew, anti-Commie speech to an enthusiastic crowd.
From the beginning, the production of The Intruder was riddled with problems. The crew faced opposition from the small Southern town in which they shot. Chased from location to location by police, the climatic mob scene is actually a mish-mash of footage from three schoolyards and an establishing shot from a fourth. The crew even received death threats while they were shooting.
Release and Legacy
Despite winning accolades at the Venice and Los Alamos film festivals, The Intruder was pulled from Cannes due to its controversial content. For that same reason, the film had a hard time finding distribution. Especially in the South, where the kind of racism the film demonized was still prominent. Re-released under the titles Shame and I Hate Your Guts, The Intruder still struggled to make back its meager budget. Thanks to home video, the production is officially in the black after forty odd years.
Who knows? If The Intruder had been a hit, it’s possible that the Roger Corman filmography we know and love today could have been very, very different.
Below the surface of Humanoids from the Deep, there’s much more going on than a coastal town being menaced by fish monsters. The story plays out against a backdrop of racial unrest, with white fisherman and Native Americans clashing over the opening of a new cannery.
It’s plain to see is that Humanoids from the Deep has more on its mind than your typical monster movie, not surprising, since the script was written by an award-winning novelist.
William Martin, who wrote Humanoids under the pseudonym Frederick James, is the acclaimed author of nine novels, including Back Bay, Harvard Yard, and his latest, City of Dreams.
“A real idea behind the whole thing,” Martin explains “is that when bad things happen that we cannot explain, we usually try to find a scapegoat to blame, which is what the community is doing with the Indians when the whole underpinning of humanoid attack is happening. It’s about community fear.”
Martin moved to LA and studied film at USC with the intent of becoming a screenwriter, but in his decades spanning career, he has written only one produced screenplay. So how does this successful novelist feel about his one and only foray into Hollywood monster movies?
“Working with Roger was educational.” The author said. “The Roger Corman College of Movie Knowledge, they used to call it.”
“At the time I was writing historical scripts, historical dramas and Westerns that nobody wanted to produce, and Roger gave me a shot with Humanoids. Some of the things I learned from Roger I didn’t learn at USC Film School.”
As an example, Martin related this anecdote: “I was working on the climax of the film, where Doug McClure pours a 500 gallon drum of Gasoline into the harbor and sets it off with a flair gun, Roger said to me ‘I like explosions, the audience likes explosions, remember this for the rest of your career: When in doubt, blow something up.’”
“In essence,” Martin explains, “introduce conflict. As long as somebody wants something in some way, the audience will stay with the story. Roger later told me the same thing in a different way, he quoted Raymond Chandler who said: When you run out of ideas, bring in a man with a gun.”
So how did writing Humanoids affect the way Martin wrote his novels? “I learned some more about what story telling is all about and how to lay one scene after another so the viewer knows what it’s all about, and that’s really what writing a novel is all about.”
When asked about the movie’s most infamous scene, where a seemingly supernatural ventriloquist dummy looks on as the humanoids claim another victim, Martin claims he had nothing to do with it. “In fact, I stood outside the theater and told people they couldn’t blame me for that one” he says with a laugh. “I think Roger added that later, to introduce some humor into the movie.”
True, not everyone who works with Roger Corman goes on to be successful in the movie business, but many go on be successful in other fields. Evidently the so-called College of Movie Knowledge teaches lessons with a high applicability.
Both the 1980 version of Humanoids from the Deep and its 1996 remake are available on DVD. The 1980 version is also available on Blu-Ray.
If you’re a Christian, you should know that today is Ash Wednesday and marks the first day of Lent–a sacrificial period meant to recognize Jesus’ death. So, let’s talk about Jesus. Actually, let’s talk about a movie about Jesus. What’s more, let’s talk about a movie about Jesus that was made through a collaboration of two astute Roger Corman Alum!
We assume that it’s common knowledge that Martin Scorsese directed his first Hollywood picture for Roger and American International Pictures (AIP) many, many years ago. The film: Boxcar Bertha. The year: 1972. The leading lady of the film was a then-unknown actress named Barbara Hershey.
After their collaboration on Bertha, Scorsese and Hershey would find both critical acclaim and public fame separately. Scorsese would go on direct films such as Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The King of Comedy, and Hershey would find herself opposite other great actors such as Peter O’Toole and Robert Redford as she landed roles in films such as The Stunt Man, The Right Stuff, and The Natural. However, it was in 1987 that Scorsese and Hershey would work together again.
Based on the novel of the same name, The Last Temptation of Christ caused great controversy, even before its theatrical release. Hershey had introduced Scorsese to the novel on the set of Bertha, and suggested that Scorsese adapt it into a film with her as Mary Magdalene. Scorsese, having spent some time at a seminary in his teens, felt a deep connection with the content and handed it over to Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader to develop into a screenplay. Originally intended to go into production and shot in Israel after The King of Comedy in 1983, Paramount backed out of the project due to protests from various religious groups (after all, the novel had already been banned by the Catholic Church!). Two years and two films later, production started again, and the film was shot in Morocco. As suggested fourteen years earlier, Hershey played the role of Mary Magdalene.
The controversy surrounding the film—including a now infamous incident in Paris when a group of religious fanatics attacked a theater playing the movie with molotov cocktails—forced a small release, and Temptation only played in 123 theaters nationwide. However, the film would receive great artistic notoriety, earning Scorsese an Academy Award© Nomination for Best Director and Hershey a Golden Globe© Nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1997, Scorsese received the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. Hershey was there to speak of their collaboration and Scorsese’s dedication, a fine and eloquent tribute that you can view here. Today, both are fresh off of award season; Scorsese having released Shutter Island and Boardwalk Empire , and Hershey having acted as an obsessive mother in Black Swan.
For their wonderful collaboration, for their intellectual and spiritual capacity, and for their persistence and diligence in artistic creation, Roger and New Horizons congratulate both Martin Scorsese and Barbara Hershey on all of their success.
It’s been a truism throughout Hollywood history that many celebrities’ children enter the show business. However, very few of them grow in both the talent and stature necessary to develop into the stuff that stars are made of. My Brother’s War (2002), a feature produced by Roger while his company Concorde was based in Ireland, paired a lesser known Hollywood father-son duo; James and Josh Brolin.
James Brolin was already a well-established star by the time he helmed My Brother’s War as director; he played in a supporting role on the hit television series, Marcus Webley, M.D. (1969-1976, for which James received an Emmy and two Golden Globe awards), starred in the blockbuster horror film The Amityville Horror (1979), and he even had a role in Steven Sordorberg’s Academy Award® winning Traffic (2000) only a year before he began work on Brother’s. Josh, however, had not yet gained public notoriety when he took his role in this film.
Josh Brolin began his film career as a gooney; literally having played the older brother in the 1985 cult kid’s film The Goonies. Josh would spend the next two decades playing strong supporting characters in big budget Hollywood films such as Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic (1997) and Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man (2000). In 2002, Josh was cast in My Brother’s War:
Five years after his role in Brother’s, Josh’s became true star, receiving both critical and public acclaim for his portrayal as Llewellyn Moss in the Coen Brother’s Academy Award® Best Picture winner, No Country for Old Men. Since then, Josh has worked with directors Ridley Scott, Oliver Stone, Gus Van Sant, and Woody Allen, playing roles as diverse as a corrupt detective in American Gangster (2007), as President George Bush in W. (2008), and even as a neurotic writer-wannabe going through a mid-life crisis in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. In 2009, Josh received his first—and hopefully not his last—Academy Award® Nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance as Dan White in the Harvey Milk biopic, Milk. Most recently, Josh teamed up with the Coen’s a second time to play Tom Chaney in a modern adaptation of True Grit, a roll that had been previously portrayed by Robert Duvalle in 1969. True Grit has earned 10 Academy Award® Nominations, including Best Motion Picture of the Year.
Over the last few years, we at New Horizons have watched as Josh has risen up on the Hollywood A-list, and we’re delighted to see that he’s finally filling the roles that he is meant to play and earning the recognition that he deserves. For a talent so tremendous, for having the dedication and fortitude needed to pursue his career, and for a series of performances so resonant that they rattle audiences to the bone, Roger and New Horizons congratulate Josh on all of his success, and we look forward to seeing his work to come!
Don’t forget to watch the 83rd Annual Academy Awards® this Sunday, February 27th at 5pm/8pmET on ABC and help celebrate our Corman Alum, Josh Brolin and Mila Kunis!
There are a few names on the Roger Corman list of alumni that seem a bit too obvious to write about, as their success is evident through the fact that their names have become household items; Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and James Cameron to name a few. These are filmmakers whose works have gained them personal artistic notoriety and have also influenced, and will continue to influence, both cineastes and general movie-goers alike. And yet, at the same time, there are a few Corman alumni whose works have had a major impact on modern filmmakers and film history but have had to wait some time to gain the attention necessary to put them in the public spotlight. And by ‘some time’ we mean 50 years…
Monte Hellman began working for Roger Corman in the late 1950’s. After graduating from Stanford University—also Roger’s alma mater—he studied film at UCLA and soon thereafter joined classmates Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Hill as an employee of Roger. Monte directed his first feature, Beast from Haunted Cave, for Roger in 1959.
Monte directed four more pictures for Roger, including The Terror (co-directed with Roger Corman, Jack Hill, and Francis Ford Coppola), Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting (both featuring Jack Nicholson), and Cockfighter. Monte earned his big break in 1971, directing Two-Lane Blacktop for Universal Pictures, but the film was ill-received by studio executive Lew Wasserman and was ultimately discarded and given little publicity with a limited release. Monte never made another studio-funded picture, but he continued to independently produce films for the next 30 years.
Today, Monte is a professor and teaches courses in directing at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). Since his time with Roger, Monte has made an indelible mark on cinema as his films have reached a cult status in their own right, amassing a large base of dedicated fans. Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting have become favorites of the acid western genre, and Two-Lane Blacktop was recently restored and released on DVD by the Criterion Collection (where you should also see Monte’s 10 Favorite Criterion Titles).
Monte’s following is due in large part to his keenness in creating independently produced projects. His do-it-yourself methods (as learned during his years as a protégé to Roger) have been an inspiration to aspiring filmmakers. Of Monte’s greatest fans is famed director Quentin Tarantino, whose first film Reservoir Dogs was executive produced by Monte in 1991. This past summer at the 67th Venice Film Festival, Quentin—who was head of the Jury—attended the premiere of Monte’s latest film, Road to Nowhere, and presented Monte with a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award.
This past weekend, to continue with his overdue and well-deserved accolades, the Palm Springs International Film Festival held ‘A Tribute to Monty Hellman.’ On Saturday, January 15th, Monte, Roger Corman, Scott Cooper (director of Crazy Heart), and Steve Gaydos (Exec. Editor of Variety) sat together in a panel to discuss Monte’s body of work and his humble cinematic beginnings with Roger. And after the discussion ended, and before a screening of Road to Nowhere, an act of poetry was had as Monte was presented the Maverick Award. And the presenter? Well, the only person qualified to give such an award to Monte, as their name and reputation as a maverick are notorious and synonymous with independent production; none other than Roger Corman.
For his commitment to being an independent in the truest sense, for his persistence in originality and vision, and for his exceptional influence on filmmakers-to-be, Roger Corman and New Horizons congratulate Monte Hellman on all of his success. We hope that you will seek out and appreciate Monte’s work as much as we do.
Jack Nicholson is one of the more well-known actors who got his start with Roger Corman back in the 50′s when films were still shot in black and white. Nicholson starred in a variety of Corman movies, and even wrote The Trip (1967) which was a successful period piece starring Peter Fonda and Susan Strasberg.
Nicholson’s debut screen role was in Cry Baby Killer (1958) in which he played a distraught teenager who thinks he’s committed murder and holds a group hostage. Since then he has won 3 Academy Awards and many other awards too numerous to list.
When asked about his experience with Jack Nicholson, Roger Corman immediately smiles. He might mention his little known film Little Shop of Horrors which he shot in 2 days and 1 night, or he might mention his consternation that it took so long for Hollywood to recognize Nicholson’s talent. Either way, those early years were formative for both men, and the movies they created together may no longer be in the spotlight, but they played an active role in shaping the careers of Corman and Nicholson.
Here is Jack Nicholson in Cry Baby Killer:
Roger Corman is known for discovering talent and helping launch the careers of many A-list Hollywood stars. A few have even been child actors like Jennifer Love-Hewitt in Munchie and Home for Christmas or Tobey Magquire in Revenge of the Red Baron. But today’s blog is about Mila Kunis who had a small role in the 1995 TV version of Piranha, a remake of Roger Corman’s original Piranha filmed in 1978, and most recently remade by director Alexandre Aja as Piranha 3D.
Mila has developed into a stunning actress. Her transition from small budget horror flicks to renowned television series and exquisite art films like Black Swan is a remarkable achievement.
Mila Kunis played the role of Susie Grogan who was terrified of swimming in the river.
Ironically, her stage mother assured her that there was nothing in the water except a few little fish.
Tension builds in little Mila’s eyes while the happy campers clutch their marshmallow sticks and listen to ghost stories.
But the child star manages to discard her fear of the river and save the day as the other little campers get munched on by a horde of starving piranhas.
Here is the original trailer for Piranha (1995)