Film Review: The Wild Angels (1966)

Also known as: All the Fallen Angels, The Fallen Angels (working titles)
Release Date: July 20th, 1966
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Peter Bogdanovich (uncredited)
Music by: Mike Curb
Cast: Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Buck Taylor, Norman Alden, Michael J. Pollard, Frank Maxwell, Dick Miller, Peter Bogdanovich

American International Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“We don’t want nobody telling us what to do. We don’t want nobody pushing us around.” – Heavenly Blues

While people mostly remember Easy Rider as the counterculture biker picture of its time, The Wild Angels predates it by three years, features the same star and was actually the film that kicked off a whole slew of biker and drug movies.

Directed by Roger Corman and starring two of his regulars, Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern, this picture also inspired some other counterculture films by Corman, most notably The Trip.

Overall, this is a pretty dark picture but it has some charm to it, mainly because the main players are so good. Despite the fact that they’re mostly despicable pieces of shit, there is that part of you that wants them to find the freedom and fantastical utopia they are looking for.

At it’s core, this is just a cool movie with cool stars and the film really does a superb job at manufacturing a pretty genuine feeling story about outlaw bikers and their flimsy philosophies. I think that’s the main reason as to why this picture sparked a cinematic trend that saw more films like this getting made for several years.

I wouldn’t place this among Corman’s best films but it is certainly a good one that stands on its own and showcases the director’s talent in spite of his rapid shooting style and microbudget economics.

I also wouldn’t call this the best of the counterculture pictures of its day but it is most definitely a great example of this sort of cinematic social commentary done well.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman films from the ’60s, as well as other counterculture and drug pictures of the time. Especially those starring Peter Fonda or Bruce Dern.

Film Review: Cannonball! (1976)

Also known as: Carquake! (UK)
Release Date: July 6th, 1976
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Paul Bartel, Donald C. Simpson
Music by: David A. Axelrod
Cast: David Carradine, Bill McKinney, Veronica Hamel, Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Belinda Balaski, Mary Woronov, James Keach, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman, Don Simpson, Martin Scorsese (uncredited), Sylvester Stallone (uncredited)

Cross Country Productions, Harbor Productions, New World Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I thought this car could beat anything on the road.” – Linda Maxwell, “This car’s a winner.” – Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman

A year after Paul Bartel directed the cult classic Death Race 2000, he made a very similar film with a lot of the same core cast members, as well as producer and B-movie legend, Roger Corman.

In this film, take the Death Race 2000 concept and strip away the futuristic sci-fi setting, the slapstick uber violence and the plot to assassinate a corrupt president and you’ve essentially got the same film.

Granted, Cannonball! isn’t as good and I kind of blame that on stripping away the things that made Death Race 2000 so unique. This is still really enjoyable, though, and fans of that more beloved flick will probably dig this one too.

The race car driving hero is still David Carradine and he’s re-joined in the cast by Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel (the director), Sylvester Stallone in an uncredited cameo, as well as some of the other bit players.

Like Death Race, the film follows a cross-country auto race, all the wacky characters involved and all the crazy shenanigans of racers trying to sabotage and outperform one another.

I like a lot of the new additions to the cast like the always great Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Bill McKinney, Belinda Balaski and the inclusion of Dick Miller, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman (the producer), Don Simpson and Martin Scorsese, who is also uncredited for his appearance here.

The action is good, the comedy still works and this film has that unique Paul Bartel charm.

In the end, this isn’t quite a classic but it did help pave the way for all the other movies like it that followed for years to come.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000, as well as other cross-country racing movies of the ’70s and ’80s like the Cannonball Run films, The Gumball Rally and Speed Zone.

Film Review: The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984)

Also known as: The Warrior (Germany)
Release Date: September 7th, 1984
Directed by: John C. Broderick
Written by: John C. Broderick
Based on: a story by John C. Broderick, William Stout
Music by: Louis Saunders
Cast: David Carradine, Luke Askew, Maria Socas, Anthony De Longis, Harry Townes

Aries Cinematográfica Argentina, New Horizons Picture, 81 Minutes

Review:

Just when the world thought that there were enough re-imaginings (or ripoffs) of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Roger Corman’s New Horizons made a sword and sorcery version of the tale.

Sadly, this is terribly boring and like many of David Carradine’s lower tier schlock flicks, he doesn’t even really seem to care too much about performance in this one.

While that is a knock against Carradine, the guy was truly great when he wanted to be. But maybe he’s one of those guys that needs good motivation from the director.

I don’t think that Carradine got that direction here and all of the other actors just sort of seem to be dialing it in. This feels more like a community theater rehearsal than a legit motion picture. That could be due to the inexperience of the director or simply because the script and story are uninspiring and overly derivative.

Additionally, the special effects are subpar, even for a foreign made Conan ripoff. Although, I did enjoy some of the sets. But to be fair about that, it really isn’t hard creating a sword and sorcery world. I have an ex-girlfriend whose house looks like half the sets in this film because she’s a witch and never cleans up after herself or her pets.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it is simply boring. Yes, I already pointed that out but it can’t be stated enough. I can look past some of the faults I already listed if I can be engaged or energized by something. This film, to its extreme detriment, just drained my battery dry.

If you are a big fan of cheap-o sword and sorcery flicks, you’ll probably still want to pass on this one. That is, unless you’re a David Carradine completist. If that’s the case, I don’t envy you, as he’s starred in some really dreadful shit.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other cheap sword and sorcery movies of the early ’80s.

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: The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

Also known as: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tomb of Ligeia (complete title), House at the End of the World (working title), Tomb of the Cat (Yugoslavia)
Release Date: November, 1964 (London premiere)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Robert Towne
Based on: Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Kenneth V. Jones
Cast: Vincent Price, Elizabeth Shepherd, John Westbrook, Oliver Johnston

Alta Vista Productions, Warner-Pathe, Anglo Amalgamated, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Christopher, not ten minutes ago I… I tried to kill a stray cat with a cabbage, and all but made love to the Lady Rowena. I succeeded is squashing the cabbage and badly frightening the lady. If only I could lay open my own brain as easily as I did that vegetable, what rot would be freed from its grey leaves?” – Verden Fell

While this is my least favorite of the Roger Corman and Vincent Price adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s work, it is still a movie that I quite enjoy, as Price is as good as always and this had some great sets and location shooting.

It feels like it is the driest and the slowest of the Poe adaptations but I wouldn’t call it boring, as the plot is pretty interesting and not as predictable as you might think, at first.

This also features one of my favorite Price performances. After having done a half dozen or so movies with Corman and in this style, he really hits it out of the park. He’s really likable and tragic and while that fits most of his characters from the Poe adaptations, there is just another layer to it here. He just feels so human and strangely relatable. Granted, I also lost the love of my life at a point and I guess it may speak to me in a way it might not to those who haven’t experienced that sort of loss.

Overall, this feels like a really refined version of the Price-Corman-Poe formula. My only issue is that it feels slower and that it’s too formulaic. Despite Price’s stellar performance, this does feel as if the creatives are sort of just running through the motions.

Still, it deserves its place alongside the other films in this series of pictures.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Edgar Allan Poe adaptation done by collaborators Roger Corman and Vincent Price.

Film Review: Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans (1987)

Also known as: Deathstalker II (original title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1987 (Japan)
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Neil Ruttenberg, Jim Wynorski
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: John Terlesky, Monique Gabrielle, John LaZar, Toni Naples, Maria Socas

Aries Films International, New Horizons Pictures, Concorde Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You have to get up pretty early in the morning to catch the prince of thieves.” – Deathstalker, “It is early in the morning!” – Princess Evie

I’ve already reviewed the first and third Deathstalker movies because watching these in order doesn’t really matter. Each film seems to have its own tone, a totally different actor in the lead role and they’re mostly total crap.

However, this one is actually kind of enjoyable.

I think that this chapter is the most palatable because it is actually a lighthearted comedy mixed with sword and sorcery and glorious boobs. It has a charm that the other movies don’t and frankly, the two leads in this are more charismatic than the leads in any of the other films.

That could also be due to the fact that I’ve been crushing hard on Monique Gabrielle ever since I saw her in The Return of Swamp Thing, as a kid. Finding out later that she was a Penthouse Pet was a pretty stellar discovery in my teen years.

Like the other films, this one was made by Roger Corman’s studio but he didn’t direct it. Instead, he hired Jim Wynorski, who had just come off of directing the cult classic horror/sci-fi/comedy, Chopping Mall. I think that his style was beneficial to this picture and how it was presented as a more amusing movie than its predecessor.

The story is pretty cookie cutter stuff for cheap Conan knockoffs but it has some unique bits. For one, we are treated to an intergender wrestling match in an actual ring around the midpoint of the film. Also, it doesn’t try to emulate and ripoff Conan as much as the first film and works as its own thing in a similar setting.

The special effects are pretty cheap but everything still looks okay for what this is. It certainly looks better than the European sword and sorcery movies of the era. In fact, it feels similar in visual tone to the first Beastmaster. Sure, it lacks Beastmaster‘s hard edge but it utilizes the night in the same way, keeping things kind of small scale, production-wise, without exposing too many of its budgetary flaws.

All praise aside, this is still a cheap movie, as Roger Corman associated productions go. But out of the Deathstalker pictures, I’d say that it looks the best and uses its budget pretty well.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Deathstalker films and other very low budget barbarian movies.

Film Review: Swamp Diamonds (1956)

Also known as: Swamp Women (original title), Femmes Gangsters (France, Belgium), Cruel Swamp (reissue title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1956 (Coshocton, Ohio)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: David Stern
Music by: Willis Holman
Cast: Beverly Garland, Carole Mathews, Mike Connors, Marie Windsor, Jil Jarmyn, Susan Cummings

Bernard Woolner Productions, 84 Minutes

Review:

“[digging for diamonds] Ouch! I busted the only nail I had left!” – Billie

Out of all the Roger Corman films that I’ve seen, this might be my least favorite.

I actually think that it would have benefited more from being in black and white instead of color. Mainly, because ’50s Corman films have a certain look to them, which this film is missing, and because the color in this looks terrible. Maybe it looked better in the ’50s before age did its number on the surviving prints but there isn’t a version of this that I’ve checked out that looks good.

Out of the Corman flicks featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I really disliked The Gunslinger but this one is worse. Strangely, they both star Beverly Garland but that shouldn’t be a knock against her, as I typically like her in movies and television shows. Frankly, this is just a bad script with pretty bad acting and extremely bad dialogue.

Despite the poor writing, most of the bad acting falls on the director: Roger Corman.

This came out very early in Corman’s career, however, and I don’t feel as if he really found his footing as the man behind the camera. He was the master of filming movies at a rapid pace and putting out as many films as humanly possible. Swamp Diamonds is a clear example of the fact that he hadn’t quite mastered his tried and true formula yet.

While the acting in Corman movies was never great, excluding his movies with Vincent Price, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda, it would get better and work well within the style of his pictures.

I think that the idea for the plot was okay and this has some exploitation vibes to it, which I dig, but the execution was poor and everything seems off.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman movies of the era, as well as other schlock-y D-movie crime films of the ’50s.

Film Review: The Trip (1967)

Also known as: A Lovely Sort of Death (working title), LSD (Denmark), Os Hippies (Portugal)
Release Date: August 23rd, 1967
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Jack Nicholson
Music by: Mike Bloomfield, The Electric Flag
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasberg, Dick Miller, Luana Anders

American International Pictures, 82 Minutes, 79 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“It was a heavy trip. I slept for 36 hours, man. Blind. That was my last trip on Roybal, I’ll tell you that.” – Max

The Trip… is just that, maaan…

Written by the Jack Nicholson, directed by Roger Corman and starring regular Nicholson and Corman collaborators: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasberg, Dick Miller and Luana Anders, this movie about a man’s actual LSD trip is much better than I thought it would be.

It’s not that I expected this to be bad, by any means, but most movies about drug trips aren’t that well done and they just rely on unreliable narrators, weird visuals for the sake of weird visuals and nothing making a whole lot of sense and being left open for any sort of interpretation.

The Trip, on the other hand, is very clearly written and directed in a way that feels pretty authentic to the LSD experience. Knowing that Jack Nicholson had some experience with the drug, as well as stars Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern, this film is able to go places that similar films can’t. I’m not sure if Corman ever partook but he had enough people around him to help steer the ship.

The film does greatly benefit from Corman’s experience on his horror films, especially his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations with Vincent Price. Reason being, those Poe movies usually had some sort of trippy sequence that saw their star, usually Price, go through some sort of haunted dream or hallucination. Corman, in those films, would experiment with trippy camera angles, lighting, lenses and all sorts of other tricks and special equipment that would give the viewer a sense of uncomfortable otherworldliness. He takes those skills that he developed in the few years before this and then applies them here and ups the ante quite a bit, making this his mindfuck magnum opus.

The Trip also benefits greatly from the acting of Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper. All three guys commit to the bit, take this all very seriously and make a compelling and thought provoking picture that with less capable actors would’ve probably just been a throwaway druggie movie for the middle class hippies of the day.

This isn’t Corman’s best picture or the best that Jack Nicholson has worked on creatively, but it is still a lot better than most of the films like it and I honestly enjoy it more than Easy Rider, which featured a lot of the same people behind and in front of the camera, as well as a hell of a lot more mainstream recognition.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman films from the ’60s, as well as other counterculture and drug pictures of the time.

Film Review: Gunslinger (1956)

Release Date: June 15th, 1956
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Mark Hanna
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Beverly Garland, John Ireland, Allison Hayes, Dick Miller

Roger Corman Productions, American Releasing Corporation, 78 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll make you a deal. I won’t try to make you a bad woman, if you stop trying to make me a good man.” – Cane Miro, “You’re not bad, you’re just no good.” – Marshal Rose Hood

This came out before Roger Corman really found his footing as a filmmaker. While I love how Corman could make so much with so little, his pictures typically survived on the charm he was able to put into them. Gunslinger, however, is just so drab and pedestrian that I have to put it as one of Corman’s worst.

That sucks because the film does have an interesting premise, especially for a mid-’50s movie. It sees the town sheriff get murdered by criminals and then his widow picks up his badge to take out the scum that killed her man. The story is the type of female empowerment stuff that I love. But unfortunately, it completely lacks any sort of badassness and feels more like a half-assed pilot to a ’50s western show that had no chance of getting picked up.

The film stars Beverly Garland, along with John Ireland and a small role for Corman favorite Dick Miller but it lacks any sort of energy or emotion.

Even though Roger Corman may have the record for most films riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I don’t feel like this one really fits the mold that well. It’s just dry and weak and even though MST3K features schlock, this film feels out of place among the other Corman flicks they lampooned.

In a time where I hadn’t seen this, if someone came up to me and asked, “Hey, have you ever seen that Corman picture where the dead sheriff’s wife picks up his badge to get revenge?” I’d have been like, “No! Fuck! We gotta go watch it!” But I would’ve been let down, severely.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: other western schlock from the time, as well as other ’50s Roger Corman pictures.

Documentary Review: Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen (2004)

Release Date: September 4th, 2004 (Germany)
Directed by: Michael Palm
Written by: Michael Palm
Cast: Edgar G. Ulmer (voice, archive footage), Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis, Ann Savage, John Saxon, William Schallert, Arianne Ulmer, Tom Weaver, Wim Wenders

Edgar G. Ulmer Preservation Corporation, Mischief Films, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), 77 Minutes

Review:

While I was perusing the offerings on the Criterion Channel, I came across this documentary about filmmaker, Edgar G. Ulmer.

This guy made magic in three of my favorite genres: horror, science fiction and film-noir. I believe that this documentary may actually be included on the Criterion Collection version of Detour.

What’s neat about it is that it features interviews and conversations with a lot of well known directors and actors that worked with or were influenced by Ulmer’s work behind the camera.

This also features his daughter who gives more intimate details on Ulmer, his life, her life as his daughter, as well as talking about her time in front of the camera with her father directing.

I really liked the conversation here between Joe Dante and John Landis. I also enjoyed the parts with John Saxon, Ann Savage, Roger Corman and Wim Wenders.

This was just a solid piece of work that really went through the man’s career with insight from some of the people who were there and others who had their own unique insight.

I couldn’t find a trailer for the documentary, so I put a trailer for Detour below, as it is my favorite Edgar G. Ulmer picture.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about horror, sci-fi and noir filmmakers.