Film Review: Teenage Caveman (1958)

Also known as: I Was a Teenage Caveman, Prehistoric World, Out of the Darkness
Release Date: July, 1958
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: R. Wright Campbell
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Robert Vaughn, Darah Marshall

Malibu Productions, American International Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“In a wonderful and strange world, before women knew shame.” – marketing tagline

Being that I am a big Roger Corman fan, I’ve seen most of his ’50s and ’60s stuff multiple times over. This film, however, I have only seen in the form of it’s riffed version, courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000,

I probably should buy this for my Corman collection and actually give it a watch without the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots.

But anyway, I just revisited this, as I’m trying to work through all the MST3K featured films for review purposes.

The only real highlight is the terrible dinosaur battles that is comprised of stock footage of lizards fighting. And they’re scenes you’ve probably seen in similar films already, as Corman tends to recycle stuff that doesn’t cost money or is very cheap to obtain.

I guess the fact that Robert Vaughn is in this is also a highlight. He’s fairly charming but this is a production that his presence can’t save.

Now while I love a lot of these bad Corman cheapies, this one lacks the magic of some of the others and it isn’t as endearing in its weirdness.

Still, it’s not terrible and if you have the right kind of mind and stomach for Corman cheese, it’s worth a glance.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman sci-fi movies of the later 1950s.

Film Review: The Raven (1963)

Release Date: January 25th, 1963
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess, Jack Nicholson

American International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“You’ll need something to protect you from the cold. [Dr. Bedlo reaches for a glass of wine] No, I meant clothes!” – Dr. Craven

Following the success of a couple Edgar Allan Poe adaptations between producer/director Roger Corman and his star Vincent Price, the men re-teamed again but this time, they made a comedy.

They also added more star power to this film with legends Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. Add in future legend Jack Nicholson and Hammer Horror scream queen Hazel Court and you’ve got one hell of a cast.

I’m not sure what audiences in the ’60s felt about this film going into it, as the other Poe films by this team were very dark and brooding. This one certainly has the same sort of visual tone but the lighthearted camp of the material definitely tones down the dread.

To be frank, I love this movie but I love all of these Poe films made by Corman and Price. But this one is in the upper echelon for me.

The Raven hits the right notes and the chemistry between Price and Lorre was absolute perfection. They would also bring their solid camaraderie to the film The Comedy of Terrors, a year later. But this also wasn’t their first outing together, as they stared in “The Black Cat” segment of Tales of Terror. That short tale in the larger anthology was also pretty funny.

The film also benefits from having great chemistry between Lorre and Nicholson, who played his son. Karloff also meshed well with the cast.

The highlight of this film is the wizard battle at the end. It is over the top and hokey but it’s the sort of fun cheese that I love. Limited by a scant budget and the special effects of the era, the battle between the two powerful magicians has a sort of charm to it. It’s hard not to smile and enjoy the proceedings. Vincent Price also looked like he was enjoying himself immensely in this scene.

Unlike other Poe films by Corman, this one ends on a happy note and surprisingly, none of the key players die.

This is a really unique film that works for both the horror and comedy genres of its time. It looks good when seen alongside the other Poe films and it also pairs greatly with The Comedy of Terrors, which shares a lot of the same actors and adds in Basil Rathbone.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Roger Corman directed Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures, as well as The Comedy of Terrors for its tone and cast.

Film Review: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

Release Date: August 10th, 1980 (Venice, CA premiere)
Directed by: Jimmy T. Murakami, Roger Corman (uncredited)
Written by: John Sayles, Anne Dyer
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon, Sybil Danning, Darlanne Fluegel

New World Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Nanelia, the Akira believe that no form ends until all the lives that it has touched are ended, until all the good that it has done is gone.” – Shad

For a very low budget film that is obviously one of many ripoffs of Star WarsBattle Beyond the Stars is actually… kind of good.

Now you can’t go into this expecting Star Wars quality, this is, in fact, produced by Roger Corman “The King of B-Movies”. But this still works for what it is and doesn’t have a bad look for the time, it just feels more like Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century than A New Hope.

However, it is better than those two iconic shows, as it has the special effects of James Cameron and a score by James Horner. Corman was able to attract these two men and squeezed some magic out of them just before they would go on to have bigger and better careers, a few years later. Cameron would make The Terminator and Aliens not too long after this and Horner did the iconic score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

It’s that early James Cameron magic that actually turns chicken salad into chicken shit here. Reason being, his ship designs were great and each has its own unique and cool look. Plus, the visual effects, primarily the outer space stuff, is better than what was the standard for the time. We were still a few years away from good 3D animation, as would be seen in 1984’s The Last Starfighter.

Corman also pulled together a decent cast with veterans Robert Vaughn, George Peppard and John Saxon. We also got Sybil Danning, who surprisingly, kept her shirt on the whole movie. Well, she was showing off her tantalizing bits, as much as she could without making this an R-rated film.

The only real downside was seeing Richard Thomas as the film’s young hero. Not to knock Thomas but it’s just hard seeing John Boy from The Waltons being some sort of space faring badass. But I guess Luke Skywalker was a rural farm kid so why not try to use John Boy in the same sort of role?

This is still an enjoyable movie but you really have to be into ’80s sci-fi cheese of the highest caliber.

I’ve always sort of cherished this picture because I saw it at such a young age and it was on television a lot back in the day. It has not aged well but if I’m being honest, it already felt behind the times by the time 1985 rolled around, just half a decade later.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other low budget Star Wars “homages” of the late ’70s/early ’80s: StarcrashThe Black HoleThe Ice PiratesSpace Raiders, Star Odyssey, etc.

Film Review: The Fantastic Four (1994)

Release Date: Officially unreleased, once screened on May 31st, 1994
Directed by: Oley Sassone
Written by: Craig J. Nevius, Kevin Rock
Based on: Fantastic Four by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: David Wurst, Eric Wurst
Cast: Alex Hyde-White, Jay Underwood, Rebecca Staab, Michael Bailey Smith, Kat Green, Joseph Culp

Marvel, Constantin Film Production, New Horizons, 90 Minutes

Review:

“What kind of thing have I turned into?” – The Thing

I’ve seen clips of this for years, I enjoyed the documentary on it but never have I seen the movie in its entirety until now.

Man, is this bad. I mean, really f’n bad. Roger Corman, whose cheesiness and low budget mastery I have enjoyed for decades, really took things to an incredibly new low with this in 1994.

But then again, if you watch the documentary on this film, it was made to hold onto the trademark and wasn’t really intended for actual release.

This film was rushed. It was made half assed. But that was mainly due to the producers and not the actors and crew who weren’t clued in to the reality of this production and the intentions of the people pulling the strings.

On the positive side, this surprisingly feels closer to the spirit of the source material than the three big budget Fantastic Four movies that came after it. It takes a few liberties with the origin but isn’t as drastic of a change as the most modern reboot. And fuck, I loved Doctor Doom in this more than the other films because he literally looked like the comic book Doom I grew up with and was just as hammy but in a great way and not an unintentional, terrible way like the Julian McMahon and Toby Kebbell versions.

I also thought that the score was pretty decent for a no budget, mid-’90s superhero flick. If you remember the era, Marvel had nothing but a string of atrocious movies up to this point. Even their television shows before this were shit, excluding The Incredible Hulk, but that show wasn’t as close to the source material as it should have been, let’s be honest.

The thing is, had the producers cared, this could have been a better picture and maybe have done well on the VHS market. It certainly would’ve bombed in the theater but it had imagination and the story isn’t terrible.

Okay, the jewel thief midget character was terrible and I’m not sure why they didn’t just make him Mole Man, as there were a lot of similarities but this movie could have been fine tuned into something at least palatable. It’s like they just ran with the first draft of the script and maybe that’s exactly what they did, as they had to rush this the hell out.

This isn’t unwatchable, if you are a fan of terrible f’n movies or want to see something that is certainly worthy of being riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000 or RiffTrax. And honestly, I’d probably watch this again before touching any of the big budget Fantastic Four films.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: I guess 2005’s Fantastic Four and its sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and the second reboot, 2015’s Fantastic Four. However, all these movies are terrible.

Film Review: Death Race 2050 (2017)

Release Date: January 9th, 2017 (Turkey premiere)
Directed by: G. J. Echternkamp
Written by: G. J. Echternkamp, Matt Yamashita
Based on: Death Race 2000 by Robert Thom, Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Gunter Brown, Cindy Brown
Cast: Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Folake Olowofoyeku, Anessa Ramsey, Yancy Butler

Universal 1440 Entertainment, New Horizons Pictures, Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Europe, Asia, cancer; we kicked ’em all in the ass! The only thing that can kill an American is another American!” – The Chairman

There is a drastic difference of opinion on this film based off of critics and non-critics. The film has a 3.7 out of 10 on IMDb yet it has 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. According to Google, however, 55 percent of people have said they like this movie.

I think that the really low rating on IMDb is due to the fact that the average person doesn’t understand the context of this film and what it is supposed to be. Looking at it at face value with no knowledge of its lineage probably makes it too confusing, zany and bizarre to make a whole lot of sense. And I don’t think that this film should have to rely on knowledge of its source material to work, it should be able to stand on its own. But since I do know the source material very well, I see this much more positively than the average bear. I think that the professional critical consensus is high because the critics understand what this is.

The point is, this is supposed to be cheap looking, insane, shoddy and really f’n weird. It is both a remake and an homage to the 1975 film Death Race 2000. This was made to be a more accurate remake to the original film than that awful Jason Statham movie was, which itself birthed some awful sequels.

I was initially unsure of what this was because going into it, I didn’t know whether or not it was a sequel, a remake or what. But it is a remake that is updated to take in some things that reflect how technology has evolved since the 1975 original. There are now VR experiences, camera drones, a drone car and a bunch of other new stuff. Still, this is as true to the original as you can get.

But maybe it is too true and that sort of hurts this film. It takes some liberties here and there but it is generally the same film and since it isn’t anywhere near as good as the cult classic Death Race 2000, it almost makes this film’s existence kind of pointless. I think it would have been better to actually just go with a straight up sequel.

I did like the cast for the most part. It is hard to replace the great cast of the original, which boasted the talents of David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Martin Kove and Mary Woronov. However, Manu Bennett played Frankenstein in this film and I loved him as Deathstroke on CW’s Arrow. Malcolm McDowell plays the Chairman, who is essentially the President. The rest of the cast is made up of virtual unknowns but Anessa Ramsey stole every scene she was in as Tammy the Terrorist. Additionally, I love, love, loved the character of Minerva, played by Folake Olowofoyeku.

Death Race 2050 was a good homage to Death Race 2000 and it was fun for fans of the original but without any knowledge of that 1975 film, I could see where this would just baffle and confuse people. It isn’t the type of film that works nowadays and the political and social commentary would just be over the heads of most.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000 and some of the modern grindhouse revival films: Turbo KidHobo with a ShotgunKung Fury, etc.

Film Review: Chopping Mall (1986)

Also known as: Killbots (Belgium/original US theatrical title), Robot Assassins (Spain), Shopping (France/West Germany), Supermarket Horror (Italy), Terror In Park Plaza (Portugal), R.O.B.O.T. (working title)
Release Date: March 21st, 1986
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Jim Wynorski, Steve Mitchell
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Suzee Slater, Nick Segal, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Dick Miller, Gerrit Graham

Concorde Pictures, 77 Minutes, 95 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Let’s send these fuckers a Rambo-gram.” – Rick

Chopping Mall is an unknown film that has grown a good cult following over the years. I saw it on VHS but not until the early ’90s. I’m not sure if it was readily available or distributed in the mid-’80s when it was originally released. It certainly didn’t play in a theater or drive-in near me because Southwest Florida in the ’80s was devoid of any real culture. Well, it still mostly is, thirty years later.

One cool thing about Chopping Mall is that its opening scene stars Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov as the Blands from Bartel’s 1982 movie Eating Raoul. It makes this a sort of crossover film. But then, Dick Miller also pops up as one of the many Walter Paisleys he’s played over the years. In any event, this had a lot of nods to the Roger Corman camp of talent but since his wife Julie was the producer, that makes sense.

The film also has a small role for Gerrit Graham, who popped up in horror movies a lot in the ’80s and ’90s. He even played the husband of Mary Woronov in TerrorVision. And then you also have Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator fame, as well as Kelli Maroney from Night of the Comet.

The premise of this film sees a bunch teens decide to camp out in the local mall overnight, as some of them work at the furniture store where there are beds. You know, so the teens can do that sex stuff that always sets off the monsters in an ’80s splatter picture. What the teens don’t know is that the mall has three robot security guards who have gone on the fritz. This is like Short Circuit if there were three Johnny 5s and they all had a thirst for teenage blood.

This is a really short film but it is full of action, solid practical effects, cheesy non-practical effects, bad acting, hokey ’80s dialogue and breasts. There is also a fantastic head explosion that is Scanners level awesome.

I love Chopping Mall and even though it has that cult following I mentioned, most people have no idea that this crazy gem of a movie even exists.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Night of the CometTerrorVisionThe StuffNight of the Creeps

Film Review: Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

Release Date: February 10th, 1957
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan, Russell Johnson

Allied Artists, 62 Minutes

Review:

“You are about to land in a lonely zone of terror… on an uncharted atoll in the Pacific! You are part of The Second Scientific Expedition dispatched to this mysterious bit of Coral reef and volcanic rock. The first group has disappeared without a trace! Your job is to find out why! There have been rumors about this strange atoll… frightening rumors about happenings way out beyond the laws of nature…” – opening crawl

Readers of Cinespiria know that I am a big fan of Roger Corman and his work. He made his mark in Hollywood in spite of the big studio system trying to strong arm independent filmmakers for years. He bucked that system, found a way to produce films quickly and cheaply and even if they aren’t of the quality of what are considered classic masterpieces, they are certainly a lot more fun than most of the Oscar winners of that era.

Attack of the Crab Monsters is a short, quickie shot for $70,000 with a script by regular Corman collaborator Charles B. Griffith. It was probably also shot in like a week or two because that was Corman’s modus operandi.

The film is a scant 62 minutes but it is action packed and loaded with suspense. The monster is exactly what the film’s title implies, crabs. Except these aren’t pubic lice or those little crustaceans that pinch your toes at the beach. No… these are giant, massive crabs that have superior intelligence! They also have the ability to speak telepathically using the voices of their victims. So this leads to some clever crab trickery in trapping some unsuspecting hero, trying to save a missing comrade. C’mon, how is this movie not friggin’ awesome?! How?!

Attack of the Crab Monsters is a stupid but fun movie. Sure, early bits are slow, like when people aren’t getting attacked by giant psychic crabs, but the good bits make up for the slower pace that exists before the monsters make their presence known.

This is a typical ’50s Corman picture. If you’ve seen enough of these, you know what that means. I’m actually surprised that this was never lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It would be a great film to feature on that show.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Giant Claws a.k.a. Island Claws, another giant crab movie.