Unlike Roger Corman, Judge Mike Rubino can't even make a sandwich without losing money, let alone eight movies.
"Crazed hooligans! Red-hot babes! High-speed thrills! Debauchery!"
Roger Corman is defined by his 1998 autobiography: How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. Like Robert Rodriguez today, Corman put together fairly amazing movies on a shoestring budget. He was more of a businessman than an auteur, knowing just what audiences wanted and pumping out movies faster than Lifetime. Sure they might not always have been good, but Corman's influence in Hollywood can't be denied.
MGM has boxed together eight Corman-directed movies in The Roger Corman Collection, which shows off his ability to direct almost any genre and still make it work—for the most part.
Facts of the Case
While my hopes of someday getting a box set of every movie Roger Corman ever directed continues to go unfufilled, The Roger Corman Collection does its best to sate me. MGM has packaged together eight of Corman's films in a box set similar to their Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collection (which I also reviewed). Here are the films:
Gas-s-s-s! (1970): A strange gas kills off everyone over the age of 25, and America becomes a lawless land filled with hippies and football players.
The Trip (1967): Written by Jack Nicholson and starring Peter Fonda (Easy Rider), this movie is about a young man on a wild LSD adventure. Hello kaleidoscope-cam!
The Young Racers (1963): A legendary Grand Prix racer lives life to the extreme. But when he's challenged by an ex-racer-turned-writer, can he survive "the big race?"
The Wild Angels (1966): Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra star in this over-the-top look at the Hells Angels biker gang. They live life to the extreme and wear a lot of swastikas on their clothes!
Bloody Mama (1970): Shelley Winters (The Diary of Anne Frank) stars as Kate "Ma" Barker in this true story about a family of criminals terrorizing country folk in the Ozarks. Her children are a mad gang of rapists, thieves, and drug addicts…and there's a young Robert DeNiro.
A Bucket of Blood (1959): A no-talent bus boy wants to make it big in the hipster-beatnik art world of the late 50's. After accidentally killing his cat and turning it into a work of art, he suddenly becomes famous…and deadly!
The Premature Burial (1962): Based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe, this film follows much in the tradition of Corman's other Poe films (The Pit and the Pendulum, Twice Told Tales). Here Ray Milland (Dial M for Murder) stars as a man who's so afraid of being buried alive that he creates the ultimate escapable tomb.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963): Ray Milland stars as a surgeon obsessed with discovering the secret to x-ray vision. But when things go terribly wrong, he becomes a man on the run…and he meets Don Rickles.
Roger Corman has worked hard to cement his reputation as one of the most successful movie producers in Hollywood history. He claims to have never lost money on a picture, and if you've seen his movies you surely understand why. Corman makes the sort of low-budget B-flicks that really add some class to the cult scene (which isn't necessarily saying much). The man isn't limited by genre or concept, and had a hand in creating some true classics (Death Race 2000 being one of them).
While he may have been a legendary producer, Corman was also a very good director. Corman sometimes directed four films a year, and prided himself in pumping out movies as fast as possible—he supposedly filmed The Little Shop of Horrors in two days. This box set collects eight movies spanning two decades of filmmaking, and shows that Corman can be fairly consistent and talented in his directorial style. But just because Corman knew how to stretch a dollar, doesn't necessarily mean these movies are gold.
GAS-S-S-S (which carries the subtitle "or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It") is the first movie in the set, and it's definitely a strange one to start with. Half Woodstock road trip and half Mad Max, GAS-S-S-S is a social satire about what would happen if hippies ruled the land. The movie follows a good pace, and doesn't waste a lot of time on the issue of two-thirds of the world dying. Instead, we follow a group of kids as they travel across the country running into various concerts, gangs, cowboys, and fascist football players. The movie has some inspired and hilarious bits of comedy, but most of the time I just sat there wondering why this was all happening. The acting is extremely campy, and while I understand it was trying to be funny, it all just felt dated.
The Trip is Corman's other hippie film in the set, and it's only fitting that it's packaged with GAS-S-S-S. The Trip is generally thought of as a great piece of psychedelic cinema, and it's easy to understand why. There's not much of a story here, even though what is there was written by Jack Nicholson. Peter Fonda takes some LSD, and invites us along for the ride. I thought of this movie as something akin to a Stan Brakhage film (like Dog Star Man); Corman uses a lot of new and interesting film processing techniques to create some striking, if headache-inducing, drug sequences. I wouldn't watch this movie more than once, but maybe that's because I don't do LSD.
The Young Racers promised to be a movie about a pair of ambitious and reckless drivers who would do anything to win. I was expecting Speed Racer, but Corman served up something more akin to Days of Our Lives. The grand prix races look great—because Corman can film cars!—and the European scenery is beautiful, but those scenes are few and far between. The bulk of the movie is merely watching characters with thick accents writhe in anguish. The Young Racers is extremely slow, and I really didn't care at all about the plight of the superstar driver. The poster promises explosions and "A little death each day, a lot of love every night"—apparently that movie was knocked out and locked in a broom closet by the drowsing Young Racers.
The Wild Angels is another Peter Fonda movie, only this time he's not some hippie on drugs, he's the leader of a Hells Angels biker gang. The movie is a predecessor to Fonda's Easy Rider opus a few years later, and while it's not nearly as good, The Wild Angels provides a great dose of entertainment. The acting here is top-notch, thanks to Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, and a gang of real-life Angels. Corman makes the gang look cold, vicious, and frightening as they party hard, rape each other, and beat up anyone that looks at them weird. At times, it all feels very disturbing, but in the end you just have to feel bad for them. Corman frames the motorcycle cruises and chases wonderfully; unfortunately, he doesn't fare as well with the copious party sequences.
Bloody Mama is Corman's cheaper version of a Bonnie and Clyde gangster movie. The acting in the film is top-notch, especially from the over-the-top Shelley Winters and the very young Robert DeNiro. The pacing of the story is a little disjointed, as Corman presents us with brief episodes of action and plot advancement without diving too deep into character development. It's certainly a bloody, disturbing mess with a really strong ending. It's oddly also the longest movie in the set—which isn't saying too much considering it comes in at 90 minutes.
A Bucket of Blood is probably my favorite movie in the set. It's a brief (60-plus minutes) macabre/satire about a socially-outcast busboy (Dick Miller) working in a beatnik coffee house. After he kills his obviously fake cat and covers it in clay, he becomes a sensation and the beatniks blindly take him in to their crew. The movie is so outlandish and unbelievable that you can't help but laugh, and the best part about it is that everyone acting in the movie realizes it too. Corman created a great little film, even if there really isn't enough blood to even fill a small pail.
The Premature Burial is a continuation of the American International Edgar Allen Poe films that Corman did with Vincent Price (Pit and the Pendulum). Because Price was busy with another project, Corman had to go with Ray Milland. The film is a slow, suspenseful tale about a man obsessing over the idea of being buried alive. Milland delivers a great performance as a grounded, believably insane artist/medical student. The lighting is especially noteworthy in this film, as shadows and colors are used to enhance the moods of various scenes. The Premature Burial fits nicely alongside the previous Price/Poe films, and is another fine effort by Corman.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is the final film in the set, and again pairs Corman up with Ray Milland. This time, Milland plays Dr. James Xavier, a surgeon experimenting with x-ray vision. The issues in Dr. X's life escalate so drastically in just a matter of a few days that you can't help but feel bad for the guy. He quickly becomes a fugitive from the law, even though the police don't seem too concerned about him most of the movie, and gets caught up in a number of different scenarios. Dr. X has this terrible habit of using his abilities for selfish ends, and then telling everyone he has x-ray vision. It's all goofy, B-movie fun, even during the out-of-place religious ending. Usually I can watch a Corman movie without thinking about how cheap it is, but this time I can't help but wonder how a bigger budget would have benefited the end product.
If the movies in these sets tell us anything about Roger Corman's ability as a director, it's that he can shoot driving sequences like no one's business. That's not to say he can only film cars and motorcycles; Corman is a director who can come up with creative solutions to problems, experiment with new special effects, and make a science-fiction epic for the cost of a Chrysler LeBaron. He isn't perfect, and sometimes his movies are more enjoyable because of their kitsch and cult status rather than their cinematic qualities. This set gives you a taste of both things.
The picture and video quality in these movies comes in different shades of terrible. Most of the movies have their fair share of grain and scratches, and a couple look just plain washed-out. While sound inconsistencies in these movies are a bit of a pain (usually the voices are muddled and low), the video issues didn't bother me. I am actually sort of glad that they didn't clean them up; Roger Corman movies like these need to retain that imperfect Midnight Movie feel to them. The scratches and coloration problems actually enhance the Corman-experience.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Sadly, this collection is hurting in the special features department. Since many of these films have been released separately, under MGM's "Midnight Movies" label, it doesn't appear that they put any more time into them. A few discs do have some extras though: The Trip has the most, with an excellent assortment of featurettes on the making the film, as well as a director's commentary. The Premature Burial has a nice little interview with Corman about making the movie. X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes has an audio commentary by Corman, a trailer, and a rather odd deleted "theatrical prologue" to the movie. I can't really wrap my head around the prologue, but it seems like some sort of grade-school filmstrip about the five senses.
Overall, these special features are just leftovers, too inconsistent to really be a selling point for the set. This boxed set could have definitely benefited from a bonus disc, just like the Vincent Price Collection I reviewed previously. The packaging is very nice, however, and captures the tattered movie poster look that the Grindhouse films made so popular.
This set is all over the board when it comes to quality. All of the movies included are worth watching once, because you're not likely to run into them during a routine trip to the movie store; however only about half are actually worth returning to. The Milland movies are both wonderful in their own ways, The Wild Angels is so outrageous that you'll want to organize parties just to watch it, and A Bucket of Blood is like a finely aged Twilight Zone episode.
You may find that you fancy the hippie movies more than I did, or perhaps there is one lonesome soul out there who can find something redeeming in The Young Racers. Either way, there's no doubt that Roger Corman movies are something to behold. They're cheap, they're edgy, and they're a heck of a good time.
Guilty of being filled with more debauchery and crazed hooligans than a MTV awards show.
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Scales of Justice, A Bucket Of Blood
Perp Profile, A Bucket Of Blood
Distinguishing Marks, A Bucket Of Blood
Scales of Justice, The Premature Burial
Perp Profile, The Premature Burial
Distinguishing Marks, The Premature Burial
• Roger Corman Interview
Scales of Justice, X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes
Perp Profile, X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes
Distinguishing Marks, X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes
Scales of Justice, The Young Racers
Perp Profile, The Young Racers
Distinguishing Marks, The Young Racers
Scales of Justice, The Wild Angels
Perp Profile, The Wild Angels
Distinguishing Marks, The Wild Angels
Scales of Justice, The Trip
Perp Profile, The Trip
Distinguishing Marks, The Trip
• Commentary by Roger Corman
Scales of Justice, Bloody Mama
Perp Profile, Bloody Mama
Distinguishing Marks, Bloody Mama
Scales of Justice, Gas-S-S-S!
Perp Profile, Gas-S-S-S!
Distinguishing Marks, Gas-S-S-S!
• IMDb for X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes
Review content copyright © 2007 Michael Rubino; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.