Film Review: Alienator (1990)

Also known as: Aliennators 2 (Japanese English title)
Release Date: February 8th, 1990
Directed by: Fred Olen Ray
Written by: Paul Garson
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Jan-Michael Vincent, John Phillip Law, Ross Hagen, Dyana Ortelli, Teagan, P. J. Soles, Leo Gordon, Robert Quarry, Joseph Pilato

Amazing Movies, American Independent Productions, Majestic International Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

I never knew of this movie’s existence and my life was probably better not knowing. I only discovered it, as it was part of a box-set I bought on the cheap just to get a different movie. I figured that I’d check out everything in the box-set, though, as I’ll review anything for this site, even the worst films ever made.

Well, at least this isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen but it’s definitely way down at the bottom of the barrel.

The story is about an alien that escapes a prison ship in space. He makes his way to Earth but is then pursued by a cyborg alien hunter. The space dude comes across a group of young people vacationing in the woods and we essentially get a sci-fi slasher movie where instead of knives and gardening tools, the killer has a laser cannon arm.

The special effects in this are beyond deplorable and the acting isn’t much better, even with known faces in this like John Phillip Law, Leo Gordon, Robert Quarry, Jan-Michael Vincent and P. J. Soles.

The cyborg outfit looks like a bad wrestling costume from a small independent promotion in the ’80s. A costume that would need to be mostly removed before the actual match because it’d be too dangerous to wear and too limiting for actual movement in the ring.

This is a really forgettable movie and my brain will probably expunge all knowledge of it after I publish this review. 

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: other deplorable straight-to-video sci-fi action movies circa 1990.

Film Review: Tower of London (1962)

Release Date: October 24th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Leo Gordon, F. Amos Powell, Robert E. Kent
Music by: Michael Anderson
Cast: Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Robert Brown, Charles Macaulay, Joan Freeman, Morris Ankrum

Edward Small Productions, United Artists, 79 Minutes

Review:

“[as a ghost, showing the whip lashes on her bare back to Richard of Gloucester] Wouldn’t you rather look at my back? Is it not attractive as a woman’s back should be?” – Mistress Shore

Growing up a big fan of Vincent Price, Tower of London wasn’t really a favorite film of mine. Although, I have to say that I kind of enjoy it now.

Sure, it wasn’t as colorful and energetic as his other pictures with director, Roger Corman. However, it is well acted and showcases Vincent Price as a real bastard with a certain charisma. He takes this completely evil character and gives him life in a way that is unique, entertaining and chilling.

No, you never like Price’s Richard III but that doesn’t matter, as you’re not supposed to. He’s just a hell of a villain played by a hell of an actor and once he gets his just desserts, it’s damn satisfying.

Like all Corman pictures, this was made quickly and on the cheap. But also like many Corman pictures, the end results are much better than one should expect and that’s just a testament to the man’s skill and his brand of cinematic magic.

This is an often times unnerving story but it features ghosts, magic, murder, torture and a legitimate power hungry madman. What’s not to like?

I’m glad that I watched this for the first time in about twenty years, as my opinion on it has changed somewhat. 

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Vincent Price films of the ’50s and ’60s, especially those with director Roger Corman.

Film Review: The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987)

Release Date: August 22nd, 1987 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Rod Amateau
Written by: Rod Amateau, Melinda Palmer
Based on: Garbage Pail Kids by John Pound, Topps
Music by: Michael Lloyd
Cast: Anthony Newley, Mackenzie Astin, Katie Barberi, Phil Fondacaro, Debbie Lee Carrington, Leo Gordon

Topps Chewing Gum Company, Atlantic Entertainment Group, 100 Minutes

Review:

“You wanna see a dog wanking off into a garbage pail?” – Girl #2

While I know this film’s awful reputation, I did enjoy the hell out of it when I was a little kid. I haven’t seen it since way back then and I’ve always wanted to revisit it to see how bad it truly is. However, it never streams anywhere so I had to finally just track a DVD copy down. Luckily it was like four bucks.

So, yeah, this is a terrible movie in just about every regard. Although, I do like the practical effects, even if the Garbage Pail Kids characters look hokey, clunky and not at all real. I’m honestly fine with it considering the limitations of the time, this film’s small budget and because it’s definitely not the worst flaw this film has.

Plus, most of the costumed actors were good in these roles and the voice work was decent. I also liked most of the characters used for the film and they’re supposed to gross you out and they effectively do. So mission accomplished in that regard.

The only really known actor in the movie is Mackenzie Astin and you probably only really know him if you’re a fan of the ’80s sitcom The Facts of Life and watched the last few seasons of it. I liked him on that show and in this. Seeing this now, though, he’s better than most kid actors and he did fine even though the movie and its script were very subpar.

There’s not a whole lot to say about this other than it fails in every way outside of the two positives I already mentioned.

The other actors are a mixed bag but most of the performances are pretty bad. The film looks like shit and it just comes off as incredibly cheap and slapped together. Hell, the sequence where the Garbage Pail Kids are basically in a prison for ugly people is so damn cheap and ridiculous.

Although, I really liked the idea of a prison for ugly people and thought that could’ve been a cool concept and a more solid gag had they explored it a bit more. Plus, Leo Gordon, a legendary character actor, pops up in this sequence as a prison guard.

All in all, yes, this is shit. It’s enjoyable shit if you’ve got the stomach for it and feel nostalgic for the source material but I wouldn’t force anyone to watch it.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other really bad, ’80s “kids” movies like Mac & MeMunchies, etc.

Film Review: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967)

Release Date: June 30th, 1967
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Howard Browne
Music by: Lionel Newman, Fred Steiner
Cast: Jason Robards, George Segal, Ralph Meeker, Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson (uncredited), Jean Hale, Jan Merlin, Clint Ritchie, David Canary, Harold J. Stone, Frank Silvera, Joseph Campanella, John Agar, Joseph Turkel, Alex Rocco, Leo Gordon, Dick Miller (uncredited), Jonathan Haze (uncredited), Paul Frees (narrator)

20th Century Fox, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Wanna know something Jack? I like a guy who can use his head for something beside a hatrack!” – Al Capone

This is definitely in the upper echelon of Roger Corman’s motion pictures. Since I hadn’t seen it until now, it was a pleasant surprise and it actually shows how good of a filmmaker he was in spite of his rapid paced productions while doing everything on the cheap.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is one of Corman’s more serious films. There are no monsters, ghosts or sci-fi shenanigans, this is just a gritty, hard-nosed gangster movie that features a damn good cast with Jason Robards at the forefront, as the world’s most famous real life gangster, Al Capone.

The cast also features several Corman regulars like Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Leo Gordon and Jonathan Haze. Beyond that, we also get a young Alex Rocco, as well as Frank Silvera, Joe Turkel and John Agar. This is a movie full of iconic character actors who benefit greatly from the type of characters this picture needed to make it something special and authentic.

At its core, this really feels like an exploitation picture due to the level of violence in it yet it plays like more serious cinematic art. Now I can’t quite put it on the same level as the first two Godfather films but I’d say that it is actually a lot better and more impressive than the standard gangster films that existed before it. It is also somewhat surprising that this was put out by a major studio, 20th Century Fox, as opposed to being released by Corman’s regular studio at the time, American International Pictures.

Man, I enjoyed this a lot. There are a lot of characters but they’re not hard to keep track of and this moves at such a brisk pace, it’s over before you know it. Also, 100 minutes for Corman is pretty much an epic, as he tends to like that 65-85 minute mark.

I feel as if this is a flick that has been somewhat forgotten and lost to time, as it came out well after the gangster genre peaked and a few years before it made a comeback. It’s weirdly sandwiched between the two greatest eras of the genre and despite it having a hard edge, it’s groundbreaking feats were quickly overshadowed and surpassed by films of the early ’70s like The Godfather and Chinatown.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other gangster and crime films of the ’60s and ’70s, as well as Roger Corman’s more dramatic work like The Intruder and The Trip.

Film Review: Hondo (1953)

Also known as: They Called Him Hondo
Release Date: November 24th, 1953 (Houston premiere)
Directed by: John Farrow, John Ford (uncredited, final scenes only)
Written by: James Edward Grant
Based on: Hondo by Louis L’Amour
Music by: Hugo W. Friedhofer, Emil Newman
Cast: John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, Michael Pate, James Arness, Leo Gordon

Batjac Productions, Wayne-Fellows Productions, Warner Bros., 84 Minutes

Review:

“Everybody gets dead. It was his turn.” – Hondo Lane

I haven’t watched a John Wayne movie in quite a while. Since I was working on a post about Louis L’Amour’s books, I felt like I should go back and revisit the film adaptation of Hondo, as it is my favorite L’Amour book and it stars the Duke himself, John Wayne.

I love that this movie starts out kind of small and confined but then ends with such a big, epic battle.

Now even though most of the film does take place in wide expanses of Old West wilderness, it was still a small picture for the first two-thirds. A lot of the scenes were on the ranch and in the tight quarters of the ranch home. Other scenes, while outdoors, were usually in smaller secluded places like the creek where the boy likes to fish. I don’t know if this was intentional or budgetary but when the film gets to its climax, the expanse of the open desert and the final battle feel even bigger than it normally would.

And man, I love the final battle in this movie between the white people leaving the Apache land and the angry Apache trying to make their escape impossible. The story also serves to setup the oncoming battle that wiped out the Apache warriors soon after this film. But not without Wayne tipping his hat to the Apache and their way of life.

But that’s what I love about this movie and Louis L’Amour stories in general. Even though they are seen through the eyes of mostly white men in the Old West, there is still a respect for other cultures underneath the chaos and conflict. I feel that John Wayne felt the same way and that’s why he works so well as the protagonist in a L’Amour film adaptation. Well, John Wayne was also the king of westerns but I like how he fits within L’Amour’s literary style.

Hondo isn’t as remembered as some of John Wayne’s other westerns but it is one of his best, even if I think it’s way too short and could’ve been fleshed out a bit more.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: ChisumTrue Grit and The War Wagon.

Film Review: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

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

Balboa Productions, American International Pictures, 62 Minutes

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: The Haunted Palace (1963)

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

American International Pictures, 87 Minutes 

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: The Intruder (1962)

Also known as: I Hate Your Guts!, Shame, The Stranger (UK)
Release Date: May 14th, 1962 (New York City)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont
Based on: The Intruder by Charles Beaumont
Music by: Herman Stein
Cast: William Shatner, Frank Maxwell, Beverly Lunsford, Robert Emhardt, Leo Gordon, Charles Beaumont, Jeanne Cooper

Pathé-America Distrib.Co., 84 Minutes 

Review:

“I’ve been studying your pitch. It’s not bad… You’ve got technique. But do you know what’s wrong? You’re too clever, Adam. You’ve got no room in your head for intelligence. If you were intelligent, you would see you’ve started something you can’t control. You think you’re the boss now? Wake up, boy, that mob is the boss.” – Sam Griffin

Roger Corman considered The Intruder to be one of the most important films he ever made. It was a real passion project but unfortunately, it didn’t get the recognition it deserved at the time. Having now watched it, this may be the best picture Roger Corman ever directed out of his dozens of films.

Coming out during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the movie focuses on Adam Cramer, a young and fiery racist preacher type that comes to the Southern town of Caxton to incite the white folks into violent action against the new law that will desegregate the town’s school system. He preys on people’s insecurity over the cultural shift in their small town and ignites a fuse that sees most of the townsfolk become a violent angry mob. The town turns on their own people, the ones who try to stand against the agenda of Cramer. When a black student is falsely accused of an attempted rape, after Cramer blackmailed a white schoolgirl into crying wolf, the slow burning heat comes to a boil.

The racist Cramer is played by a very young William Shatner, four years before he would be immortalized as Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek. Despite his age and lack of acting experience, this is the greatest performance I have ever seen from Shatner and I am a hardcore Kirk fan, through and through. The fact that he is most known for being such a beloved character that spanned decades in a franchise about diversity, makes his role here, as Cramer, absolutely chilling.

Roger Corman chose to film the movie in Missouri, which was considered part of the South but not as hotheaded as states like Mississippi or Alabama. Despite this, he was still met with opposition and protests from the public who didn’t want this film and its message to get out. Roger Corman’s brother Gene, who was also involved in the project stated:

We put our hearts, our souls – and what few people do – our money into this picture. Everybody asked us “Why would you make this picture?” as if to say why try to do something you believe in when everything else is so profitable. Obviously we did it because we wanted to, and we think it’s a damn good job.

Unfortunately, the film wasn’t all that successful and to be honest, I am a lifelong Roger Corman and William Shatner fan and didn’t even know of its existence until a few years ago when reading a Corman biography and when seeing it mentioned in a book about exploitation cinema.

The Intruder is finely acted, superbly directed and very strongly and passionately written. Corman tapped the well of his regulars and you will see a lot of familiar faces here. Two prominent supporting actors from The Haunted Palace have roles here as men against Cramer’s agenda.

This is a film with a strong message that accomplishes a lot in its short running time. Unfortunately, that message still resonates today, as we may have come further in social equality but still have major race issues in this country.

For a director that is synonymous with cheapo horror and sci-fi films from the 1950s through 1970s, Roger Corman made a really important film that is also really damn good.

Rating: 8/10