Alpha Video // 2008 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // January 23rd, 2009
The Arkoff Formula: Action, Revolutionary Ideas, Killing, Oratory, Fantasy, Fornication
When Samuel Z. Arkoff saw the declining fortunes of the downtown movie houses due to television and the exodus to the suburbs after World War II, he said to himself, "This is the time to get in and make pictures."
Arkoff, the co-founder of American International Pictures, saw markets in neighborhood theaters, drive-ins, and eventually television. Since he was a father, he also saw a market in teenagers -- although you'll notice his movies featured a lot of old hands like Morey Amsterdam, Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, Ray Milland, and Buster Keaton.
In today's multicasting and niche environment, his ideas seem obvious, but they were unusual back in the Fifties when AIP and predecessor ARC first came onto the movie scene.
Arkoff discussed his work during a convention in Arlington, Virginia, in 2000. An interview with Arkoff, supplemented by interviews apparently done later, provides the backbone for FANEX Files: Samuel Z. Arkoff.
The production isn't big budget, but it augments what could have been a dry succession of talking heads with clips and trailers, adding photos and film that back up the discussion. Close-up shots give it more intimacy than you'd expect for a discussion at a convention. It looks like it's cheap video, but done with care, making it a good way to preserve Arkoff's legacy.
The result is mainly an overview of AIP's history that'll give you a sense of its gradually increasing importance to our culture, starting with the early pop-culture impact of I Was A Teenage Werewolf and continuing through the box-office success of The Amityville Horror. Stops along the way, illustrated with trailers, include Beach Party and its sequels with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, House of Usher and the other Poe movies starring Vincent Price, biker pictures like The Wild Angels with Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra, and Blaxploitation films like William Marshall's Blacula.
Arkoff's in good humor. He stays mainly on an outline of his work but has room for a few stories or impressions about people like Martin Scorcese, Roger Corman, or Vincent Price. He has some insights which could help an indie filmmaker today, but the Arkoff formula, while mentioned and briefly discussed in the documentary, is mainly demonstrated by example from those trailers.
Even if you don't get anything else from it, the sight of a horror movie host, in this case Count Gore De Vol, looking more like Mister Rogers when he's out of character could provide some mild amusement.
This modest documentary is surprisingly entertaining. Even if you don't learn anything about low-budget moviemaking, you'll get a kick out of all the trailers, full of ominous narration and promises that viewers knew wouldn't be kept.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Alpha Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated