Posts Tagged ‘roger corman’


What is it with Roger Corman and fishing villages, anyway? I swear to God he just loves to fuck with these places in his productions. Okay, yeah, for Humanoids From The Deep the setting made sense, given that it was a flick about horny killer sea creatures and all that, but for a movie about giant bloodthirsty mutant cockroaches — I dunno, wouldn’t New York or someplace have made more sense?

Still, sending a film crew out to New York or some other major metropolis known for its large and aggressive roach population would cost money, I suppose, and money is something our guy Roger would rather make than spend, so when it came time to roll the cameras for the film under our metaphorical microscope today, 1988’s The Nest, he packed up all the folks and equipment he’d need to do the job from his Venice, California lumberyard-turned-studio/offices, sent them upstate under the watchful eye of firs-time director (and co-screenwriter of The Howling, along with John Sayles) Terence H. Winkless, and told ’em all to come back with something he could do one of his typical late-’80s “yeah, we’ll release it to a few theaters right here in the neighborhood but home video is where most of the action for this one is gonna be found” numbers on.

To his credit, Winkless put together a pretty solid cast for this one — Franc Luz stars as local sheriff Richard Tarbell, who’s in charge of putting the mutant roach infestation plaguing his sleepy seaside community down ; Lisa Langlois plays Elizabeth Johnson, his former (and perhaps future) love interest , who comes back to town at the worst possible time;  Robert Lansing turns up as her possibly-corrupt father, who just so happens to be the mayor; Terri Treas is tasked with the role of Dr. Morgan Hubbard, a mad scientist working for the dastardly (or at least amoral) INTEC corporation who has overseen the creation of these flesh-eating monstrosities herself; and Stephen Davies is on hand as poor, hapless Homer, the hard-working local pest exterminator who discovers the problem first but who, of course, no one else listens to until it’s far too late.


The real stars here, though, are the special effects guys (and possibly gals) — especially once the roaches take on the ability to mimic the characteristics of whatever they eat (via means of some DNA transference process that’s never suitably explained but doesn’t really matter, anyway). The final 30-or-so-minutes of The Nest are an absolute make-up and prosthetics tour de force, and a case study in why “real” effects work — even of the low-budget variety — will always trump CGI (not that they had much of that back in ’88, but whatever). The human/roach hybrid creatures are absolutely, gruesomely spectacular — even if they never actually mount any nubile young bra-and-panty-clad women as shown in the poster (although there is a decent amount of nudity and near-nudity on hand here, so you can relax on that score).


So yeah — the creature effects are definitely the “cake” as far as things go here, but there’s some pretty decent “icing,” too,  in the form of some — believe it or not — genuinely involving character drama, nicely-shot exteriors and interiors that give the proceedings a real sense of place, and even a pleasingly fair amount of actual suspense thrown in for good measure. All in all, this is a much better film not only than you’d think going in, but probably than we’ve got any right to expect given the people, and the budget, behind it.


The Nest is available from Shout! Factory’s horror-centric Scream Factory imprint as  a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack that is, curiously enough, not labeled as part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line for whatever reason. Both discs feature a crisp and clean anamorphic widescreen picture with mono sound (with the Blu-Ray in this case both looking and sounding considerably better) and a feature-length commentary track from director Winkless. There are no other extras to speak of, which is kind of a bummer, but doesn’t detract too terribly much from a movie that any fan of the kind of shit we usually talk about around these parts will be proud to have on their shelves. Sit back with a  full can of Raid handy and enjoy.


Some movies just have a — well, a reputation, you know? Sometimes those reputations are well-deserved, sometimes they’re not. And then there are flicks like Roger Corman’s 1980 production Humanoids From The Deep, released in a (very) slightly longer cut in certain overseas markets under the admittedly more lackluster title of Monster. This is one of those films that actually seems to have more than one reputation — depending on who you ask, it’s either a deeply misogynistic, mean-spirited little piece of business that positively oozes a perverse anti-female resentment from start to finish, or it’s a bit of stupid, harmless, campy fun. If you want my opinion (I assume that’s why you’re reading this), I think , strange as it may sound, that both views are correct. I’ll get back to this in a moment.


For now, though, let’s focus on what’s absolutely not debatable here  — the plot’s “scientific” underpinning makes about as much sense as you’ve come to expect from anything with the Roger Corman name attached to it. Consider : a sleepy northern California (I think, at any rate) fishing town is considering adding a cannery to boost the moribund local economy. In fact, the cannery company’s already set up preliminary operations in the area, but of course  there’s a potentially lethal secret they’re not letting the good-hearted townsfolk in on : cannery boss Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow, just a couple years away from dying for his art courtesy of Steven Spielberg) has hired a fetching young geneticist named Dr. Susan Drake (Ann Turkel) to play Frankenstein with the local salmon population in order to get them to reproduce in even greater numbers. Seems like a good plan to insure a steady stream of profits, right? The problem is, some unnamed “predator fish” that feeds on the salmon has begun to mutate after getting a taste of their newly-gene-spliced prey. They’ve grown arms, legs, learned to walk upright, and they’re headed upstream — and even on shore — to spawn.

So yeah — as with any flick of this nature, more or less complete and total suspension of disbelief is required from the outset here. “What if we made the Creature From The Black Lagoon horny?” seems to be the operative idea at the heart of this project, the script was just pieced together to facilitate the central plot contrivance. I kind of admire that, but then I would because if movies like that didn’t exist I wouldn’t have much to write about around here.

In any case, local semi-tough-guy Jim Hill (Doug McClure) takes it upon himself to get to the heart of the matter when a steady stream of his  little oceanside community’s youthful perhaps-virgins starts getting raped by these muck-monsters from the depths (well, three muck-monsters from the depths, to be precise — only one of which actually fully functioned, the other two rubber-suit contraptions being of limited mobility at best), but Jim’s a lone voice in Idiotsville, and the town fathers decide to go ahead and hold their annual Salmon Festival anyway. And that, dear readers, is when the shit really hits the fan (insert obligatory “of course” at this point).


If one solitary monster-rape scene in Corman’s Galaxy Of Terror just wasn’t enough for ya, rest assured — Humanoids From The Deep has you covered (in slime and seaweed, no less). This really is a movie that positively revels in baring barely-legal female flesh and then sullying it at every turn. Our guy Roger employed one of his favorite criticism-deflecting tricks here, namely hiring a woman more or less right outta film school (Barbara Peeters) to direct the thing, but she took a pass on shooting several of the script’s more lurid scenes and has maintained a healthy distance from the finished product ever since, despite her name being on it.

In fairness to Peeters. I can’t say as I blame her given that this is a work that, if taken seriously, could set back the cause of female self-actualization and empowerment by decades at a minimum, but the key phrase there is, as you’d expect, if taken seriously. Fortunately for Humanoids From The Deep, it doesn’t go out of its own way to ever encourage us to do so. Sure, there are some actually surprisingly effective, even eerie, shots interspersed here and there, but at the end of the day we’re still talking about a flick where the “Salmon Queen” gets her top ripped off by a guy in a rubber sea-monster suit. You can give this work a political reading if you so wish — me, I have a soft spot for any story that portrays big out-of-town corporations as being soulless, evil bastards because, well, they are —but honestly this isn’t out to spread a message or reinforce and/or change any particular attitudes vis a vis the fairer sex. And that, perhaps somewhat perversely (apropos considering this movie positively reeks of perversion), might just be the most genuinely disturbing thing about it — this is a film that’s determined to present rape and misogyny as being all in good fun. Needless to say, they don’t make ’em like this anymore! Whether that’s a good or bad thing I leave entirely up to you to decide.


The creatures themselves, obvious (and aforementioned) flaws aside, really aren’t too bad, and it’s pretty easy to see why Rob Bottin’s design and effects work here got him noticed (he went on to receive a few Oscar nominations for work that actually had a budget). In addition, composer James Horner, who became James Cameron’s regular soundtrack guy, contributes a surprisingly effective, at times even haunting, score. As with any Corman production, part of the fun is in spotting now-familiar names in the credits and feasting your eyes (and, in this case, ears) on their early work. All in all, the whole enterprise radiates a bit more professionalism than we might realistically expect — but it still is what it is.


And that’s the tricky part, isn’t it? Determining what this thing is, exactly. On the whole I think my initial summation holds up pretty well — it’s a dark, misogynistic, downright anti-women film that doesn’t take itself too damn seriously. That might sound like a hopelessly incongruous mess, and I suppose it is, but ya know, somehow it all works — even if it shouldn’t. Or doesn’t deserve to.


Humanoids From The Deep is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Shout! Factory as part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series. The widescreen high-def transfer of the uncut international Monster version of the film looks incredible, the remastered mono sound is generally pretty effective, and there are extras aplenty including a selection of never-before-seen deleted scenes;  the requisite theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots; an on-camera interview with Corman hosted by Leonard Maltin; a smattering of trailers for other titles in the series; and a genuinely quite interesting “making-of” featurette that doesn’t shy away from the controversy surrounding this film in the least. A commentary would have been nice, I suppose, but given that Peeters won’t go near this thing with a ten-foot pole I can certainly understand why there isn’t one included. As with pretty much any and every title in this line, it’s a very impressive package all told.

If you want to be offended, this is a movie that certainly gives you every reason to be — and if you don’t want to be offended, it just might do it to ya anyway. But whether you walk away from Humanoids From The Deep incensed, flabbergasted, or just plain bewildered, there’s no doubt that this is a movie that absolutely lives up to its reputation.

Both of its reputations, in fact.


It’s easy enough to forget about now, but the runaway success of Conan The Barbarian actually did something beneficial for the American public as a whole — and no, by that I don’t mean launching the movie career of Ah-nuld that he would eventually parlay into getting himself ensconced in California’s governor’s mansion once he “repented” from his well-documented racist, sexist, sexually-harassing past. Of course, nobody knew about the love child at the time —

No, the altruistic act  Conan unwittingly performed that I’m referring to here is, of course, the fact that it gave (admittedly brief) rise to a bunch of low-budget, generally poorly-executed, often flat-out incomprehensible imitators — most of which were, in the scheme of things, pretty stupid fun. Yes, folks, swords and sandals were back in a big way on the silver screen for a minute or two there, as quick cash-in efforts like The BeastmasterThe Sword And The SorcererKrull, and Yor:The Hunter From The Future all competed for the attention, and dollars, of the less-than-discerning box office customer.

Needless to say, nobody was more determined to wring a few bucks out of this trend than the ever-enterprising Roger Corman, who inundated cinemas (and later video store shelves) with such titles as The Warrior And The SorceressBarbarian QueenBarbarian Queen II, and the four installments of his most successful S n’ S franchise, the venerable Deathstalker series.

In retrospect, it’s fair to say that flicks of this nature are probably well-nigh impossible for a guy like Corman to resist — they could be filmed in foreign locales cheaply, or even in his former-lumber-yard studio; they certainly didn’t require high-priced talent either in front of or behind the camera; the scripts pretty much wrote  themselves; and they’re tailor-made for the short-attention-span crowd he always catered to : make sure you’ve got  a different set of naked boobs to look at every, say, four or five minutes, a fight scene every two or three minutes, and maybe some kinda monster (or vaguely monster-ish) thing maybe every 15 or 20 minutes, and everybody leaves happy.


In the first Deathstalker film, shot in Argentina by director James Sbardellati in 1983 and released theatrically in February of 1984, Rick Hill (or, as he billed himself at the time, Richard Hill) is the guy at the center of most of the fight scenes, being that he’s been tasked by some blind old witch-lady to reunite the so-called “three powers of creation” — an amulet, a chalice, and a sword that he’s already got, which I guess is why she chose him for the job in the first place. That, and with a name like “Deathstalker” (he’s never referred to by any other handle) she probably figures he can hold his own in any sort of scrape. Time’s running short, though, because if the evil Lord Munkar (Bernard Erhard) gets his hands on all three relics, the whole kingdom’s pretty well fucked. Munkar’s got himself a solid head start on things given that he’s already taken over the castle and imprisoned the realm’s rightful princess, Cordille (former Playboy playmate Barbi Benton) in its dungeon, but he’s also planted the seeds of his own undoing (of course) by hosting a “contest of champions”-type thing for all the warriors in the kingdom, the winner of which will be declared heir to the throne he’s stolen, being that he doesn’t have any kids himself (just a weird giant-worm-with-teeth thing he keeps in a box as a pet).

As for the naked boobs, they’re provided by Benton (as you’d expect),  the late Lana Clarkson, and a bevy of extras willing to bare their assets on camera for a few seconds for probably less than US minimum wage. Clarkson (and, okay, her tits) gets the most screen time as a female warrioress named Kaira who, along with a few other standard-sidekick-types (the cowardly one, the traitor/Judas, etc.) has joined Deathstalker on his quest. She (and, again, they) makes a pretty good impression in this film no doubt, and Corman’s decision to cast her as his tit(pun definitely intended)ular Barbarian Queen a year or so later was an absolute no-brainer, it’s just a crying shame that her acting career sorta stalled out after that, because if she’d been able to find more steady work in her chosen field she’d never have needed to take a bartending gig ,  never would have met a guy named Phil Spector,  and would still be with us today.


Things more or less  follow the standard pattern of events we’re all used to once Deathstalker and his cohorts arrive at the castle — hell, they were following the standard pattern of events we’re all used to before they even got there — but what the hell, we’re not in this for any surprises, are we? There’s swordfights, nudity aplenty, some half-assed “magical” mutant creatures here and there — like all of these flicks, the actual product is never as cool as the Boris Vallejo poster art, but Deathstalker generally gets the job done provided your expectations are realistically in line with the type of picture you’re seeing in the first place.

On the downside, though, there’s really nothing particularly memorable on offer here, either. It’s probably a better, more coherent movie than, say, The Warrior And The Sorceress, but that had David Carradine at his most stand-offish and unsympathetic and it also had that four-breasted dancing girl. Deathstalker, by contrast, gives us Rick Hill, who’s about as  un-charismatic a leading man as you can possibly imagine, and,  nice as Lana Clarkson’s breasts are, she’s still only got two of ’em.


What the hell, though, right? There must have been something about this movie that compelled Corman to go ahead and make three sequels to it (each with a different Deathstalker until Hill came back and reclaimed the role in 1991’s fourth — and to date final — installment). The budgets got lower each time, and the last two went straight to video, but the Deathstalker series, like its title character (if not the actors portraying him), was a true survivor for awhile there. In an odd way, the series’ trajectory mirrors that of the average non-unionized (just as these productions were) American worker — maybe never the greatest at its job, but good enough to keep plugging along; nonchalantly accepting of various management and personnel changes; even willing to put up with pay cuts and demotions just to stay employed — until the CEO shuts down the factory for good once it’s not profitable enough .


Deathstalker is available on DVD from Shout! Factory in the two-disc “Sword And Sorcery” set, part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series. It’s bundled up alongside its immediate successor, Deathstalker II, as well as Barbarian Queen and The Warrior And The Sorceress. The widescreen transfer has been remastered really nicely and the 2.0 stereo sound is unspectacular but certainly sufficient.Extras include the theatrical trailer, a poster and still gallery, and a pretty interesting commentary track featuring producer/director Sbardellati, supporting player Richard Brooker, and special makeup effects legend John Carl Buechler, who cut his teeth on this one before his name became almost as well-known as that of  Tom Savini or Rick Baker. Like a lot of the discs in this series, it’s a pretty impressive package for, let’s be honest, a fairly mediocre film. It’s at least the fun kind of mediocre, though, and let’s be honest — sometimes that’s all any of us are asking for. Or is that just me?


There are certain actors that do the same thing so consistently — and so well — that you figure that’s just gotta be what they’re like in real life, right? I mean, guys like Clint Eastwood and Robert Mitchum must be tough as nails because you really can’t picture them as being otherwise. And Linnea Quigley absolutely, positively screams at the top of her lungs at, say, her own shadow, or a mouse running across her kitchen floor, right?

Anyway, the list of Hollywood stars and starlets who have pretty much made a career out of essentially playing the same part over and over again to the point where you figure said repeating character’s mindset and mannerisms have become woven into their very DNA as people is flat-out endless, is it not? My point here being — to the extent that I have one — that Ben Murphy, best known for his starring turn on TV’s Alias Smith And Jones, has always struck me as being  more than a bit of a dickhead.

That’s probably tremendously unfair to Mr. Murphy, who for all I know could be the nicest guy in the world. Maybe he volunteers down at the local soup kitchen and is kind to animals. But somehow I kinda doubt it. He just radiates a little too much smugness and self-satisfaction. He seems like one of those guys who’s convinced he’s just that much cooler and more together than everybody else. If I needed help, he’s not somebody that I’d call. Not that I have his phone number, anyway (you can rest easy, Mr. Murphy, on the very off-chance that you’re reading this).

And nowhere is Murphy’s casual arrogance more magnificently displayed than in 1982’s Time Walker, where he plays a professor at something called the California Institute Of The Sciences — which is, as we’re assured by the school president’s right-hand lackey, an accredited academic institution — named Doug McCadden who is, well — more than a bit of a dickhead.

Seriously. You wanna punch this schmuck in the jaw right outta the gate. Or right outta the tomb, as the case may be, since the flick begins in Egypt, in the tomb of King Tut himself, where McCadden has made the archaeological find of a lifetime — a burial sarcophagus containing a mummy that he promptly flies to southern California.


The problems start right away, as you’d expect. One of Professor Doug’s over-eager students accidentally X-Rays the mummy with 10,000 times the normal level of radiation. There’s a weird green fungus covering the mummy’s bandages that turns out to still be alive — and deadly. The mummy’s buried with some weird unknown gemstones that have a habit of glowing every now and again. And then the mummy itself disappears right when McCadden is about to unveil it to an assembled throng of fourth-estaters.

Yeah, of course all these things are connected — the mummy shambled out of his casket on his own after all that radiation woke him up, he’s really a visitor from outer space, the fungus is from his home planet, and the gemstones all fit into some kinda magic homing beacon that he intends to use to get back to Alpha Centauri or wherever.

time walker

Look, I won’t kid you — as far as mummy flicks go, this one’s pretty much a snoozer. Big, slow, and bandaged runs around semi-terrorizing the college kids for a bit, and there are some effectively atmospheric shots (the one with the mummy staring up at a full moon that I reproduce below is pretty solid, for instance), but on the whole it’s just way too fucking obvious how all this is gonna play out, even though director Tom Kennedy thinks he’s laying out quite a multi-layered, mysterious little new age-y puzzle  for our edification. Like Murphy’s pompous and aloof professor (oh yeah — yawn — he’ sleeping with one of his students/research assistants, played by Nina Axelrod, as well), there’s an overall sense here that this movie thinks it’s somehow above what it really is — just another “monster  on campus” flick. Roger Corman picked this one up for distribution via one of his many short-lived outlets, and you’d think he’d have had the sense to market it in the traditional exploitation manner that he was undoubtedly as master of, but instead the film’s promo posters and trailer emphasized the faux-intellectual/even-more-faux “mystery from beyond time and space” bits, and on the whole it really doesn’t work. If Corman had chosen to  hustle this off in a more direct, “mummy-chases-co-eds” manner, not only would it have have felt more genuine, who knows?  I might have even have enjoyed the whole thing more.

Mummy phone home

The key word there, of course, being might have — the story’s still as slow and plodding as its titular “time walker” , and even an appealingly lurid promo campaign probably couldn’t have saved this flick from itself. The acting’s pretty risible, on the whole, as well, with the only notable exceptions being Kevin Brophy as a “frat rat” kid who’s something of a con-artist/two-bit huckster and Shari Belafonte-Harper (this is actually  her first film) as the campus radio station DJ/school newspaper photographer — and I’m probably giving her a bit of a break because of her looks.

In all honesty, though, a lot of it, at least from my perspective, really does come back to Murphy — a “hero” character that you actively want to see get killed, slowly and painfully, by the mummy just isn’t a great guy to choose to revolve your monster movie around. This is something you’d think you’d pick up on right away in basic filmmaking 101 — but evidently that’s not a course they offer at the California Institute Of The Sciences.


Time Walker is available on DVD from Shout! Factory on a two-disc set called “Vampires, Mummies, & Monsters,” part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series. It’s presented in a pretty good-looking widescreen transfer, the soundtrack is a solid-enough 2.0 stereo remaster, and extras for the film include the original theatrical trailer and on-camera interviews with the aforementioned Kevin Brophy and producer Dimitri Villard. While none of the four films — the others being Lady FrankensteinThe Velvet Vampire, and Grotesque — are exactly “classics,” even by Corman standards, it’s pretty fair to say that this is the lousiest of the bunch. Which is a bit of a shame, really, as there’s some — I repeat, some — slight potential buried under all those dusty old bandage-wrappings.

But not a lot. Let’s be honest — monsters running around at colleges and/or high schools were pretty well played out by 1982, and trying to lay some 2001-style, “head trip” bullshit on top of a worn-thin premise isn’t likely to fool anybody. I’d have enjoyed Time Walker a lot more if Kennedy, Villard, and Corman had chosen to play up what it was rather than spending all their time and energy trying to dupe us into thinking it was something it wasn’t.


Back in the halcyon days of 1981, you’d have been hard-pressed to find two more popular slang terms in the English language than “Smokey” — a  catch-all euphemism for  any and all members of our nation’s law enforcement community  — and “bites the dust” — which meant, of course, to get killed. The first was popularized, at least on a mass scale, by Burt Reynolds, the second by Freddie Mercury. Both guys sported the kind of mustaches that would be considered pretty fucking cheesy by today’s standards but were thought to embody the hairy apex of machismo at the time, and  near as I can determine — unless you know some salacious details about Burt’s personal life that I’m not privy to — that’s where any similarities between the two end.

Leave it to Roger Corman to come up with the idea of mashing up these two then-current reigning champions of populist vernacular and figuring he could make a movie out of it somehow. The problem, however, with Smokey Bites The Dust is that, beyond the title itself, nobody bothered to put any thought into it at all.


The stills accompanying this review really tell you all you need to know about what’s going on here, but for those of you who absolutely must read a plot recap of some sort in any piece of — and I’m being generous with my own writing here, I admit — “critical analysis,” here’s the deal : backwoods Ozark knuckle-draggin’ hick Roscoe Wilton (Jimmy McNichol) has a thing for stealing cars and smashing ’em up cuz’ it shore is a durn good time. Just a good ol’ boy never meanin’ no harm, right? Unfortunately for him, the ball-busting Sheriff Tuner (Walter Barnes) is out to ruin his fun whenever and wherever possible. Fortunately for him, Turner is, of course, a complete idiot, a bungling nincompoop of a predator can never catch up with his prey. To further complicate matters — not that the word “complicated” really applies to this flick in any way, shape, or form — Roscoe’s got the hots for the sheriff’s daughter, Peggy Sue (Janet Julian), and he figgers it’d be  a real holler to kidnap her on homecoming day at the local high school. Again — all in good fun, innit?

Needless to say, slack-jawed yokel sheriff doesn’t take well to the idea of  the town hooligan making off with his precious lil’ angel, and soon — for reasons that make even less sense than those offered in the average Corman production — cops from not only all over the country, but apparently all over the world (watch for a couple of “comic relief” Arabs) are brought in to rescue darling Peggy Sue (who — shocker! — finds herself falling for the “charms” of her abductor) and drag Roscoe, kickin’ and screamin’, into the county lock-up once an’ fer all.


Really, though, this movie’s raison d’etre is to show a bunch of junked-out old cars getting smashed up and, when that gets too predictable (which takes all of about five minutes), exploding in flame. If that sounds like your idea of a good night in front of the tube, then I guess you’ll find Smokey Bites The Dust to be a reasonably amusing little time-waster, but honestly — you’d be much better off watching old demolition derby-type footage, and that would probably offer more by way of an involving plot, to boot.


Still, if there’s one thing — and I should stress here it’s one thing — I found rather charming about this idiotic mess of a film, it’s that director Charles B. Griffith takes the “idiot cop” stereotype so popular at the time to absurd, self-parodying heights, and God help me if that doesn’t fill this reviewer with a warm dose of nostalgia. Today, of course, the boys in blue are pretty much always portrayed as “heroes” in the popular media, and even the most flagrant excesses and abominations these guys commit on screen are shown in a sympathetic light — after all, these are the good guys, and sometimes you gotta go to extremes to protect “us” ( meaning God-fearin’ middle-class Christian white folks) from “them” (everybody else). If they gotta cut a few corners, bust a few heads, and wipe their asses with the US Constitution along the way, well — it may not be pretty, but  it’s all in a day’s work, and it’s all for our own good.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but fuck that. Ever since the days of the Keystone Kops, the most common representation of “the fuzz” in movies and TV was one of a bunch of bumbling morons who couldn’t even tie their shoelaces, much less catch the guys they were after. It was a comedic distillation of the all-American anti-authoritarian spirit in its purest form, and it really did reach its zenith with the “CB craze” films of the late ’70s such as Smokey And The Bandit and Convoy. So what happened? Well, it’s hard to put a finger on any one event in particular, but I would say that the hard turn to the right ushered in by the election of Ronald Reagan  effected a none-too-subtle transition in how not just how our popular media, but our national culture in general, viewed all forms of police officers. Sure, there were always guys like Dirty Harry, but there were a dozen movies that made fun of the cops for every one of those back in the day. By the mid-’80s, however, that ratio was completely reversed — and I would argue that we’re definitely worse off for the change. Still, I guess that’s another topic for another time — suffice to say, it makes for a fun trip down memory lane to see a movie in which the cops are openly targeted as figures worthy of ridicule and disdain.


Honestly, though, that really is all Smokey Bites The Dust (which is available on DVD from Shout! Factory, packaged together with Georgia Peaches and The Great Texas Dynamite Chase in something called the “Action Packed Collection,” part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series — no extras, but the remastered widescreen transfer and mono sound are both perfectly serviceable) has going for it. Not even an early appearance from William Forsythe and cameos from always-terrific Corman stalwarts Dick Miller and Mel Welles can save this jumbled mess of pointless, plotless garbage, so I’ll leave you with this thought to ponder over just for the sake of establishing myself as the first critic in history to ever extrapolate a philosophical question from this flick : Smokey Bites The Dust, translated into actual, Oxford Dictionary-approved English, literally means A Cop Gets Killed. To the extent that the American public even noticed this movie at all, they viewed it as being harmless, stupid, goofy fun — yet 15 years after it came out they crucified Ice-T (in his “dangerous,” pre-reality show incarnation) for saying exactly the same thing. Why the difference?

chopping mall1


Jim Wynorski is one of those guys whose continuing appeal as a supposed “cult auteur” has always mystified me. I mean, I like low-budget crap as much as anyone — obviously! — and he’s spent his entire career on the lower rungs of the independent exploitation/straight-to-video ladder, but for a variety of reasons, most of the B-movie fare he’s cranked out has just never appealed to me. For every rule, however, there is an exception, and in this case that exception is 1986’s Chopping Mall, a Roger Corman-produced quickie that Wynorski shot at the Sherman Oaks Galleria shopping center that’s certainly nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary, but is nevertheless a damn fun little way to while away a mere 77 minutes of your time on this planet.

Packaged and sold as a slasher-type flick after it went nowhere under its original (and far more honest and accurate) title of Killbots, the “crazed psychos” in this movie have a lot more in common with ED-2000 from Robocop (which, to its credit, this film preceded in release by a year) than they do Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers because, well — they’re malfunctioning robotic security guards, not flesh-and-blood lunatics in masks. They’re just as tough to bring down as any of the superstars of slasherdom, though, with the extra added bonus of their near-indestructibility actually making a kind of logical sense being that they’re, ya know,  machines and all.



The basic premise, as you’d expect in a movie with a duration of under 80 minutes, is simple enough : mall hires robots as security guards, a group of kids who work at a carpet store in said mall decide to have an after-hours party complete with the usual drinkin’ an’ fuckin’ teen shenanigans, said robots go haywire when a bolt of lightning hits their central control antenna (or something), and soon it’s a horny high schoolers vs. killer mechanical sentries battle royale (with plenty of cheese).

A lot of the fun to be had with Chopping Mall comes in the form of playing “hey, look! isn’t that —?,” since soon-to-be-more-recognizable stars like Re-Animator‘s Barbara Crampton and Tony O’Dell from TV’s Head Of The Class are cast among the group of randy teens and Wynorski populates his merry troupe of supporting players with long-time cult favorites like Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Mel Welles and Angus Scrimm, all of whom are obviously having a good time picking up a check for a quick day’s work, but the film certainly has a little bit more going in its favor than that. The “killbots” are effectively designed and move around pretty nicely, the body count they rack up is fairly impressive, the various murders themselves are fun to watch (go ahead, phone my shrink now) and people don’t necessarily die in the order you expect them to even if the choice of final two survivors is pretty — okay, I’m being polite :entirely — predictable.



On the minus side, well — let’s be honest here, any horror movie set in a shopping mall is going to suffer in comparison with Dawn Of The Dead, even if the horror movie in question isn’t doing much of anything to invite such comparisons. There’s no commentary on rampant American consumerism and greed to be gleaned from Chopping Mall‘s subtext as there was in Romero’s masterwork because, well — this flick has no fucking subtext! What you see is what you get, and what you see is a competently-executed, fast-paced, absurd-on-its-face 80s teen horror with a fairly timeless fear-of-technology twist. It’s all in good fun, and Chopping Mall is both good and fun. Plus, nobody can overplay getting zapped with a couple thousand volts like Dick Miller. The man’s a legend for a reason.



Wynorski, to his credit, also knows when to cut and run with this one, a trait he doesn’t show with some of his other, more heavily-padded (even if the runtimes are always short anyway) work. Ten more minutes of this thing probably would have been too much, and it’s always nice to welcome a guest into your home who knows when it’s time to leave. At a lean and mean 77 minutes, Chopping Mall doesn’t hang around for one drink too many. It hits the road in plenty of time for you to get up rested and ready for work the next day and doesn’t bore you with one or two extra anecdotes from its life that you don’t care about anyway. Don’t you wish your friends and relatives were this considerate?

To my knowledge, this flick is available in a couple of different ways on DVD, both from Lionsgate — there’s a stand-alone release that includes a commentary from Wynorski and a “making-of” featurette, and it’s also included as part of a two-disc, 8-movie set bearing the less-than-inspired titled of “Horror Movie Collection,” where it shares space with other also-ran features like Slaughter HighWaxwork, and The Unholy, among others. Both feature the same decent-enough widescreen transfer and equally-decent-enough 2.0 stereo sound, and you can probably score either for less than ten bucks.



I don’t know about you, but I’m not always in the mood for a movie that’s out to expand my horizons, tax my mental capabilities, or even do anything remotely different or unorthodox. Just get me from point A to point B and keep me reasonably entertained along the way. Next time you’re in one of those moods, Chopping Mall would be a fine choice for your evening’s viewing.

Sharkey (future Comedian — as in, The Comedian — Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a Sunset Strip pimp who’s having a bad night.  One of his “bitchez” (is that still how they spell it? For that matter, was it ever?) has up and left him for another “player,” another is on the verge of doing the same, and yet another is holding out on him. He’s losing respect on the streets, man, and if you ain’t got respect, you ain’t got nothin’.

To be fair, a lot of Sharkey’s problems are his own damn fault. He hasn’t got a very cool street name, unlike his chief competitors Silk and Slash, he doesn’t seem to run a very tight ship in general, and to top it all off he’s got a psychotic temper that often clouds his judgment and is proving to be detrimental to what little business sensibility he actually does have.

Still, he’s got Mickie (Head Of The Class alum Leslie Bega). She’s cute and she’s loyal. When she fled her abusive home life back in wherever-the-fuck-she’s-from with her mentally challenged brother, Robby (Jason Oliver), Sharkey  rescued them from the streets and gave them a home, as long as she was willing to spread her legs for cash that she would promptly turn over to him. Problem is, Mickie’s doing such good business that some other pimps have taken notice and want her in their fold. She won’t budge, though, and they figure the only way to get her services back out on the open market again is to get Sharkey out of the picture, so they use Mickie to set him up. They tell her they just want to talk to her boss, she’s dumb enough to believe them, and she unwittingly lures him right into an ambush. Sharkey’s as resourceful as he is angry, though, and he manages to escape their clutches, whereupon he promptly vows revenge on Mickie for, as he sees it, setting him up, and now the chase is on as Mickie, slow-witted brother in tow, tries to escape the net being cast by her enraged apparently-now-former pimp.

If  this, the plot for Roger Corman’s 1991 production Angel In Red (also released on video under the name Uncaged, as you no doubt can tell from the cover photo reproduced above) sounds at all familiar, that’s because it’s basically a complete do-over of his earlier 1985 flick, Streetwalkin’, only with the “action” transposed from Times Square to Sunset (actually, it’s most likely Corman’s former-lumber-yard-turned-studio standing in for Sunset), and that was basically a watered-down rehash of Vice Squad, only without the cops or the sheer, visceral nastiness.

As was the case with another Corman effort from 1991, Dead Space, which was a straight riff on his previous film Forbidden World, which was itself a low-budget rip-off of Alien, the law of diminishing returns certainly applies here. First-time director Lisa Hunt (working under the pseudonym of William Duprey, which probably clues you in on how proud she was of her work here) does a serviceable enough, if straightforward, job here, and none of the actors are too bad (Pamella D’Pella — I’m betting that’s not the name on her birth certificate — is especially fun as a foul-mouthed, big-haired fellow prostitute named Ros who tries her best (sort of) to protect the Mickie-n’-Robby duo), but still — you can only boil a roast down for so long before there’s no meat left on the bones, and we’ve just seen psycho-pimp-on-the-loose-and-out-for-revenge movies done so much better before. Let’s just say Morgan’s okay as Sharkey, but he’s no Wings Hauser and leave it at that, shall we?

Angel In Red is available paired with the far-superior Christina Applegate starring vehicle Streets as part of Shout! Factory’s “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” DVD series. The supposedly-remastered picture is widescreen but looks kinda grainy throughout, the stereo sound is a little iffy but not too bad, and the only extra provided is the theatrical trailer. Streets is an undeniably great flick and the disc is well worth owning for it alone, but when it comes to this second feature, you’re better off taking a pass on this particular Angel and heading down to the next street corner to see who else is working tonight.

Hard as it is to believe now, there was actually a time —say, for its first season or two — when Married — With Children was considered cutting-edge, maybe even semi-dangerous stuff. Critics said it “pushed the envelope,” that it was “irreverent,” that it “took risks,” etc. Frankly, even though I was only about 15 or 16 when the show first came out, I knew all that talk was bullshit and that it was formulaic, idiotic, lowest-common-denominator garbage that had one clever gimmick in its favor — it pretended to be “self-aware,” therefore it was okay for the show’s writers to openly admit  how stupid it was. The self-appointed guardians of public taste  figured out this shtick pretty quickly, and even though it sputtered along for something like another fucking decade, it ceased to be considered “daring,” “provocative” stuff relatively early its run.

But hey, ya know what? Even though I was never impressed with the show’s self-consciously lowbrow “humor,” I still watched it back in the day anyway, and you can probably guess why. Yup, I was a horny young kid and Christina Applegate was on it — more often than not wearing something pretty form-fitting. That was enough for me, and for quite a few other randy young fellas of approximately my own age (and plenty of older guys as well), to tune in every week. What we didn’t know, however (and truth be told didn’t care about) was the fact that the fetching young Ms. Applegate was also a pretty damn fine actress.

Honestly, yer honor, I ain’t lyin’. For proof, look no further than her first cinematic starring vehicle, 1990’s Roger Corman production Streets. If you haven’t seen the film, forget what you’re probably thinking — yes, it’s low-budget, and yes, it still has some solid, old-fashioned exploitation elements going for it (primary among them being its inclusion of a psychotic police officer — they were pretty big at the time in the wake of Maniac Cop), but this is another rare example (the other being Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia) of Corman realizing that he could hire a young female director (in this case Katt Shea Ruben, who would go on to helm the first Poison Ivy film, among other accomplishments) to tell a gritty, even realistic tale about a disenfranchised segment of the youth population and he wouldn’t need to spend any more money on it than he would on, say, yet another Alien knock-off. The results are surpsingly impressive indeed.

Streets tells the story of Dawn (Applegate), a 16-year-old homeless, illiterate, heroin-addicted (well, she says she’s not hooked, but she shoots the shit into her hand, which is something I’ve always been told only the hardest of hard-core junkies do) prostitute who plies her trade in and around the Venice Beach, California area (for a movie called Streets it’s worth pointing out that most of this flick takes place on the beach, but hey, I guess the title Beaches was already taken) and crashes in a storm drain-type thing she shares with other runaways, addicts, and general teenage societal cast-offs at night. One evening she makes the mistake of crossing paths with a bully in blue named Lumley (Eb Lottimer), who has his own unique method of cleaning the streets of those who would dare try their hand (well, okay, maybe it’s not their hand they’re working — although in Dawn’s case it is, more on that in a moment) at the world’s oldest profession — he rapes them and then kills them with a homemade, high-power, double-barrel gun with  a really thick fucking silencer.  Hey, give him points for inventiveness in his method of dispatch, at least, even if the idea of a cop killing “ladies of the evening” in his spare time isn’t exactly all that original.

In any case, Dawn manages to escape from Lumley’s clutches with the help of a passer-by of roughly her own age named Sy (David Mendenhall), who befriends our young heroine and takes it upon himself to keep a watchful eye on her since that crazy cop who tried to kill her got away and might be back. Over the course of the day, they get to know each other, she shows him the ins and outs of her life, and hey, maybe they even kinda-sorta fall in love a little bit. He learns her mother was a hooker, as well, who one day just up and left her own kid, that she’s never gone to school and consequently can’t read, that she’s “successfully” kicked her heroin habit about a half-dozen times, that she only gives blow-jobs and hand-jobs to her customers but doesn’t have intercourse with them —

Whoa. Hold on. Wait just a minute right there. We now interrupt this review for a good-old-fashioned rant from your host. What, pray tell, does it  say about our society’s attitudes toward  sex that we can have in this  movie a protagonist who has no home or family, no education, is hooked on drugs, and who works as an underage hooker (and props to Ruben and Applegate for choosing to make Dawn a strong, multi-faceted character and not some one-dimensional waif for whom we’re supposed to have nothing but either pity or contempt — they really do pull out all the stops in terms of portraying her as an actual, real, living, breathing, thinking person) — but the suggestion that she might actually be, you know, fucking is somehow considered a bridge too far? You wanna shoot smack into your hand? Fine. Can’t read? That’s cool with us. Jerk guys off and/or suck their cocks for a living? Hey, it’s your life, kiddo — but for heaven’s sake, whatever you do, keep your virginity intact or, ya know, you’ll be a real whore,  and evidently that’s the point at which our sympathy as an audience (hell, maybe even as a society) runs out. Okay, rant over. We now resume our regularly-scheduled review.As the film progresses, we learn that Lumley is, indeed, on the hunt for our lovely young damsel in distress, since he’s been offing hookers in the area left and right and it just wouldn’t do to have her around to ID him given that being a serial killer in your off-hours is, I’m told, a pretty good way to get yourself kicked off the police force (unless you’re that Dexter guy). As he goes about his chase, Lumley engages in a couple instances of genuinely shocking violence (he kills one of Dawn’s friends by ramming the double-barrel of his homemade “piece” up the guy’s ass and firing away, for instance), and Lottimer’s performance really does a damn fine job of communicating that this is a guy with literally oceans of barely-contained rage seething under his forced-calm exterior, but even though director Ruben does terrifically when it comes to ratcheting up the tension throughout, and the “cat-and-mouse” struggle between pursuer and pursued is in no way given short shrift, it’s quite clear that her real passion lies in documenting the hard-scrabble lifestyle of these “throwaway” kids  and that the ultimate goal of her film is to honestly and accurately convey the struggles of their daily existences (heck, she even shows them eating roadkill and does so without a hint of condescension or freak-show finger-pointing). It’s just that today those struggles  happen to include eluding an unhinged officer of the law with a giant zip-gun and one hell of a mean streak.

My earlier quibble about its unrealistic-at-best, offensive-at-worst sexual puritanism aside, Streets, which is now available for you all to see on DVD from Shout! Factory as part of its “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series (it’s double-billed with Angel In Red, and while there are no extras to speak of apart from the theatrical trailer, the widescreen remastered picture and stereo sound are damn-near pristine — just be forewarned that a lot of this flick takes place around sunset hours and it’s filmed on location so much of it has an orange-ish hue to it) is, in my own humble opinion, a mostly-unheralded classic. It uses its genre and exploitation trappings to tell a very human-scale story about a compelling protagonist and the world she inhabits, features superb acting, especially from Applegate, and even tugs at the heart-strings a bit without ever being Lifetime-movie-of-the-week- syrupy about it. This is a film that both respects its characters and its audience and gives us a sometimes-harrowing, always- realistic look inside a world that, fortunately, most of us have never had to experience first-hand.

Oh, and since you were wondering anyway — no, Christina Applegate doesn’t get naked in it. But she comes pretty darn close.


Let me know if the following setup sounds at all familiar to you —

Somewhere in deep space, Commander (of what we’re not exactly sure) Steve Krieger (the always-trying-too-hard-but-still-never-quite-understanding-that-he’s-just-not-leading-man-material Beastmaster himself, Marc Singer) is involved in a pointless shoot-out with a couple of other ships that won’t have anything to do with the rest of the story and is cribbed together from footage borrowed/swiped from an earlier production (in this case Battle Beyond The Stars). He and his robot buddy, Tinpan, survive the “ordeal,” but their craft is damaged in the process, so when they make an emergency landing in response to a distress signal issued from a top-secret scientific research lab on the isolated and remote planet of Phaebon, they’re pretty much gonna be stuck there until they can get the parts or whatever to get up and running and go “command” outer space again.

Once they’ve arrived at the lab, they find the assembled brainpower there is seeking a cure for the deadly Delta 5 virus that’s currently the scourge of the galaxy/universe (take your pick), but the eggheads start playing coy and insisting that everything’s under control and gosh they just didn’t really mean to send that distress signal after all. It’s not like they’re doing anything that could be potentially dangerous here, no sir — they just figured that they’d combat the virus by genetically engineering an even more destructive counter-virus (is that what they’re called? I honestly have no idea) and then maybe these two super-viruses can, I dunno, battle it out for viral supremacy or something. Basic logic might dictate to the average viewer at this point that any virus strong enough to kill another virus that’s already in the business of decimating the galactic (or, again, maybe it’s universal) population might pose not just a threat, but an even greater threat to us pesky humans than  the original Delta-5 bug itself, but hey, you’re thinking a little too hard there, friend.

In any case, that’s not really the problem here at all — the problem is that the new virus has mutated into an honest-to-goodness alien life form (hey, shit happens),and it’s escaped (rather forcefully, I might add) from one of the dumb suckers —- err, test subjects — it was implanted into, and now it’s changing its shape, growing in size, and stalking the humans at the base as its prey from its new home in the ventilation ducts.

Oh, and a few of the scientists are women who seem to have the hots for Krieger to one degree or another, and one is a youthful Bryan Cranston, who would of course go on to huge television success with Breaking Bad.

I’m not sure what we’re supposed to call a rip-off of a rip-off, folks, but this (admittedly snarky) synposis for first-time director Fred Gallo’s 1991 straight-to-video , Roger Corman-produced (okay, executive-produced — and to be perfectly fair, calling this film an SOV job isn’t technically accurate, as Corman still pulled together nominal theatrical runs (think one theater for one week in six or eight cities) for most of his Concorde releases, including this one, at this point — but he knew that home video was where the action was gonna be, so to speak, for this type of project, and put the whole thing together with an eye toward that market) shot-on- one-set, super-low-budgeter, Dead Space (no relation to the apparently-quite-popular video game or anime thing or whatever it is that came about quite a bit later) sure sounds a lot like another, admittedly much better, Corman production, namely Forbidden World, doesn’t it? And Forbidden World was pretty much just a straight cash-in attempt on the success of Alien. So what we’ve got here is, to put it kindly, pretty damn derivative in the extreme.

Of course, around these parts being derivative — hell, even being doubly-derivative — is hardly a cinematic crime. Some of my favorite films are obvious rip-off jobs. But let’s be honest — when you take Forbidden World and remove about 75% of the gore, 99% of the nudity, replace the hot women in the base with average-looking middle-aged ladies (no offense to any who may be reading this, I’m an average-looking middle-aged guy, after all), swap out Jesse Vint for Marc fucking Singer fer chrissakes!, and take the talented-and-inventive-on-a-budget Allan Holzman out from behind the camera and insert a kid right out of film school who you’re paying $7,000 (by Gallo’s own recollection, according to the commentary track on the DVD that we’ll get to in a second here — he also didn’t get to see the script until the morning they started shooting!) who’s just going with a strict “point-and-shoot” approach, the results are going to be both a)short (let’s not forget that Forbidden World itself was only 77 minutes long — this flick clocks in at a merciful 71) and b)anemic, because you’re taking out pretty much all the cool shit. The fact that the monster itself isn’t all that terrifically impressive doesn’t help matters much, either, given that this is supposed to be, ya know, a monster movie.

These days, with this production far in the past, Corman and company aren’t at all shy about admitting where this whole project originated from, although I still think the terminology they use is letting themselves off the hook a bit too easily — the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” DVD from Shout! Factory that I caught this on (told you I’d get back to it in a second — it’s double-billed with another early-90s Corman DTV feature, the somewhat better The Terror Within, features the above-mentioned commentary with director Gallo that’s actually pretty interesting and some other Corman trailers as extras, and is presented full-frame with 2.0 stereo sound for serviceable if unspectacular visual and audio quality) even says right on the back-cover blurb that it’s “a loose remake of Forbidden World,” and I’ve seen it referenced on IMDB and elsewhere as “an uncredited remake of Forbidden World.”

Well, piss on that. I know it’s hardly the most rigidly-definable line to draw, but I’m sorry — there’s a big difference (although, frankly, I’m not entirely sure what the difference is — I just know it when I see it) between a “loose remake,” or even an “uncredited remake,” and Roger Corman saying “look, I’ve got this old script laying around, we can just tinker with it at the margins, re-shoot it with a different cast, put it out right on video under another title, and presto, we’ve got ourselves a whole new movie that won’t even cost us $100,000.”  I think calling it a “remake” of any sort is frankly being a little too generous — it’s more a recycling.

Look, the late 80s and early 90s probably weren’t the easiest time to be Roger Corman. The kind of stuff he cranked out was too cheap for then-contemporary theatrical audiences, but it was a little too expensive, for the most part, for the then-nascent straight-to-video market,  and Saturday night SyFy network movies were still well over a decade away. I’ll give the man credit for figuring out some angle, any angle, by which he could still survive financially in Hollywood. But when you’ve hit the point when you can’t even come up with a new idea for a blatant rip-off anymore and just start re-shooting scripts you’ve done previously and done better, then you’ve really hit rock bottom in the creativity department, not that creativity in anything apart from marketing was ever a Corman strong suit. In short, Roger should have to stuck to stealing other people’s ideas, rather than his own. Even if they weren’t his own to begin with. Does that make sense?

The second of Roger Corman’s Alien knock-offs, 1982’s Forbidden World (originally titled Mutant, a name that never made it into theaters but was resurrected for the film’s home video release in certain international markets) is more directly —- uhmmmm — inspired by, to be polite about it, Ridley Scott’s soon-to-be-sullied-by-a-completely-unnecessary-prequel “dark science fiction” masterpiece, although you’d never know it by the first few minutes of the film.

That’s because this sequence of garden-variety, none-too-carefully-explained “space chase” nonsense was put together over one weekend by director Allan Holzman to show Corman that he had the chops to tackle a Lawrence Of Arabia-in-space project that our guy Roger had long been cooking up in his head. Corman agreed that the de facto short film was pretty good stuff, hired Holzman to direct the full feature he had in mind, then decided the whole Lawrence Of Arabia thing was gonna be too expensive and said yes when Holzman suggested they just rip Alien off instead. Ever the budget-conscious B-mogul, though, Corman decided to go ahead and keep the five-or-so-minutes of footage Holzman had already shot as the eventual finished product’s pre-opening-credits sequence, even though it would end up having nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the flick apart from introducing the two main characters.

And that, my friends, is how legends (bear with me, it sounds dramatic and I’m in a dramatic mood) are born.

Okay, fair enough — to call Forbidden World a “legendary” movie is one hell of a stretch. But, like 1981’s Corman-produced Galaxy Of Terror, it’s a surprisingly none-too-shabby piece of admittedly throwaway entertainment that’s more concerned with delivering the goods on time and on (hell, let’s be honest, given Roger’s notorious penny-pinching ways under) budget than it is about setting the world on fire with the next great genre  “game-changer.” The audience will get it’s money’s worth, New World Pictures will get more than their money’s worth, and everybody walks away happy.

Once we do get into the story proper after all the opening nonsense, we find, none-too-shockingly of course, that the setup is simple enough — intergalactic bounty hunter Mike Colby (Jesse Vint) and his robot sidekick SAM-104 (Don Olivera) are called to the remote planet of Xarbia to help investigate (polite-speak, as we all know, for “come in here and do some killing”) why a genetically-engineered super-creature known as “Subject 20” has gone rogue and started killing when the elite scientific team that developed it were just trying, bless their hearts, to produce an organism that was going to be used to help alleviate a vaguely-alluded-to universal food shortage (go figure that one out). Once there, he discovers that the two main female scientists at the top-secret research lab (June Chadwick and Dawn Dunlap, respectively) are hot to trot and will drop their lab coats for him more or less instantly (when they’re not busy soaping each other up in the communal shower, of course), and that things are a hell of a lot worse than they had let on because the creature is changing its genetic structure constantly for reasons the researchers are loathe to admit (here’s a hint, though : the fact that it not only understands, but can communicate in, English via computer later in the film, largely seen as a laughable and absurd plot hole of the highest order, is actually a pretty clever hint as to the true nature of “Subject 20” — although it seems to have a radically different idea of what it means to “coexist” than its human counterparts do, as evidenced by its actions taken when asked if they can do just that , and I still don’t know how the hell it’s able to type — but I’ve said too much already).

In any case, if your idea of a good time in front of the home-viewing screen is ugly giant monsters going on tear-ass kill sprees interspersed with pretty-nice-looking women getting naked half the time they’re on screen, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Forbidden World. Holzman’s a pretty capable director who uses moody lighting and interesting camera perspectives to cover for the deficiencies in his (largely assembled from styrofoam McDonald’s containers (remember those?) and Carnation milk cartons — really) sets, the creature itself is very nicely realized in all its various permutations, and the story, while dry and straightfoward, delivers all the goods.

But hey — did I just say dry and straightforward? Please forgive me, because that only applies to the 77-minute , theatrically-released Forbidden World cut of the film. Allow me to explain —-

The friendly crew over at Shout! Factory have seen fit to release this flick in both its versions as part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” DVD and Blu-Ray series (it’s a double-disc set on DVD, but they jam it all onto one for the Blu-Ray) and the longer, original Mutant cut (preferred by director Holzman), while still only a lean and mean 82 minutes in length, actually has quite a bit of self-deprecating humor and shows that the folks behind the camera knew they were making not just a knock-off, but a send-up here. Unfortunately, Corman hated the humor (he even slapped a patron in the head at a preview showing for laughing at the film, and ended up getting a Coke dumped on him by another unruly customer apparently having too much fun later in the same screening) and had all of it excised from the film, along with redubbing SAM-104’s robotic voice with a more bog-standard human-sounding one.

Anyway,  onto the specs — the theatrical version on Shout! Factory’s release is presented in a stunning 1.85:1 high-definition widescreen transfer with full 5.1 surround sound (the Mutant cut is presented 4:3 full frame with mono sound and essentially no remastering done from what I can tell — guess Corman still isn’t too fond of it, but hey, it does include a commentary from Holzman — be warned, he stutters quite a bit, but is obviously a very bright and inisghtful guy and his memories of the production are sharp — and Mondo Digital webmaster/DVD Delirium author Nathaniel Thompson) and, as far as extras go, in addition to the parenthetically-mentioned commentary, we’ve got some great behind-the-scenes featurettes including one on the special effects and set work done on the film,  one on the genesis of the project with Corman and Holzman interviews, one on the actors featuring an interview with Jesse Vint, one on the movie’s remarkably atmospheric electronic music score with composer Susan Justin — you get the picture. All are playable as stand-alone segments or in one long interlocked documentary, as is the case on the Galaxy Of Terror disc. Rounding out the whole thing we have an extensive poster and still gallery, the original theatrical trailer for the film, and trailers for some of the other “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” titles. All in all, an exhaustively well-done package that makes for a fine addition to your home viewing library.

In short, then, any way you slice (or edit) it, this is a pretty decent little cash-in-on-a-cinematic-trend-that-was-hot-at-the-time. Forbidden World delivers the goods without much pretense or flair but with a refreshing dose of pride in its workmanship and an eye for quality (as well as on the bottom line, of course), while Mutant does the same with a bit of a twinkle in its eye and a knowing grin towards the audience. Hardly classic stuff, but definitely better than at least a couple of the actual Alien sequels — and probably a hell of a lot better than Prometheus is going to end up being.