Sunday, February 17, 2008

8th February 2008: Roger Corman's The Quick And The Cheap!

Attack Of The Crab Monsters

USA 1957 b&w

Director Roger Corman Writer Charles B. Griffith

Cast Richard Garland (Dale Drewer), Pamela Duncan (Dr. Martha 'Marti' Hunter), Russell Johnson (Hank Chapman), Leslie Bradley (Dr. Karl Weigand), Mel Welles (Jules Deveroux)

Here at Schlock Treatment we’ve attempted to a write an intro in less time than it takes to make a Roger Corman quickie. After three days toiling away on the keyboard, it appears we’ve beaten the master… but only just…

First for Corman tonight is a creature feature from the Golden Age of Cold War Terrors: the 1957 Attack Of The Crab Monsters. A group of scientists and two navy schmoes land on a seemingly barren Pacific island to check the effects of radiation from recent atom bomb blast. The first group disappeared without trace, but strangely enough their voices can still be heard in the labyrinth of tunnels white-anting the island. There’s no animals left on the island other than gulls, crabs (cough) and traces of mutant earthworms. And then there’s the 50 foot pits that are ANYthing but worm holes…

It’s all there in the title, and yet the literate script from Corman’s regular scribe Charles Griffith keeps the crackpot revelations till near the very end. For a formulaic Fifties creature feature it’s neatly compact and certainly doesn’t waste any time plunging the audience into its post-nuclear landscape of despair; its vaguely apocalyptic feel is augmented by quoting suitably grim passages from the Bible, and existential angst from the French scientist-cum-philosopher Dr Jules Deveroux, played with garlic-scented aplomb by veteran character actor and Corman alumni Mel Welles. The surprise in the cast is Russell Johnson aka The Professor from Gilligan’s Island, who no doubt is doing his scientific training on a deserted island learning how to make a radio out of coconuts AND how to keep his bunk mates crab-free.

It’s a turbulent 70 minute ride, as cracked as a crab shell in a New England restaurant. B-monster fans rejoice as we lower ourselves into the tank for Roger Corman’s Attack Of The Crab Monsters.

The Terror

USA 1963 colour

Director Roger Corman Writers Leo Gordon, Jack Hill

Cast Boris Karloff (Baron Von Leppe), Jack Nicholson (Lt. Andre Duvalier), Sandra Knight (Helene), “Richard”/Dick Miller (Stefan), Dorothy Neumann (Katrina), Jonathan Haze (Gustaf)

Our second Corman quickie tonight is the most threadbare Corman production of all, the 1963 horror film The Terror starring Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson. Of all of Corman’s cheapies this one takes the crown: one in which he cut every possible corner to finish the shoot in less than four days.

The Terror comes from a prolific period for Corman in which his Edgar Allen Poe series was in full swing. House Of Usher, The Pit And The Pendulum, Tales Of Terror… he was grinding them out one after the other for American International Pictures. At the end of his shoot for The Raven, Corman decided he could shoot a second picture using the same set and its two leads, horror heavyweight Boris Karloff and a young and relatively green Jack Nicholson. Corman was more than just a B auteur at this point; after nearly ten years writing, directing, producing and distributing his own films, he was a virtual one-man studio. And to grease the wheels, he surrounded himself with a stunning support team of young, hungry cineastes – Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill - all of whom would later emerge as idiosyncratic auteurs in their own right.

And so Corman started at breakneck speed to film Karloff without a script on the rag-ends of the Raven, with Coppola, Hellman, Hill and even Jack Nicholson doing second unit direction some time later. Nicholson plays a French soldier estranged from his platoon during the Napoleonic Wars, rescued from the furious Baltic seas by the mysterious figure of Helene (Sandra Knight) who may also be dragging him to his doom. She disappears almost as quickly as she appears, leading the confused and bedraggled Nicholson to the crumbling castle of Baron Von Leppe (Karloff). A broken figure tormented by his past misdeeds, he believes he is haunted by the spirit of his dead wife Ilsa, whose portrait looms over his sitting room, and whose features resemble the elusive Helene.

And so begins a tale of madness, possession, tragedy and retribution, in a film that feels more like an abstract student exercise in montage than a regulation AIP shocker. Corman’s regular dogsbodies Dick Miller (Bucket Of Blood) and Jonathan Haze (Seymour in Little Shop Of Horrors) round out the threadbare cast dominated by Karloff who, with little more than three pages of dialogue to motivate him, plays the elder statesman of horror to the hilt, while Jack Nicholson is a suitably downbeat foil. Nicholson would spend the next few years acting and writing for Monte Hellman, while Coppola would finish his three year tenure with Corman and graduated to larger studio projects. Only Jack Hill was destined to remain with Corman on and off for the next twenty years as a B-film director, albeit a GREAT B-film director.

The fact that The Terror can stand on its own legs as a gothic horror companion to the Poe series is testament to the talent in front of and behind the camera. An almost seamless patchwork of disparate footage, including shots from Corman’s Poe films (Von Leppe’s castle is stolen from The Pit And The Pendulum), its legend in exploitation circles is as strong as Karloff’s formidable presence. We are proud to present Corman at his cheapest AND quickest with the 1963 The Terror.

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