Judge Daryl Loomis isn't much of a swimmer.
Our review of Screamers, published February 28th, 2008, is also available.
They're men turned inside out! And worse…they're still alive!
Well, technically, they aren't actually men turned inside out, but it sounds good, doesn't it? It was one of many nifty ways that exploitation legend Roger Corman had to entice audiences to go to his often quite crappy movies. In this case, it was a bit of schlock that director Sergio Martino (Torso) put together called Island of the Frogmen. Corman picked it up, added a bookend story with some b-level talent and renamed it Something Waits in the Dark. After a poor initial screening, Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall) was brought in to cut a new trailer under its new title, Screamers, and including that lie of a tagline. Audiences, enticed by the image of the inside out man in the trailer, flocked to see it, only to find nothing of the kind. After a near riot, that footage was then inserted awkwardly, apparently, and went on to moderate success. While that is not the version that exists on Scorpion's release of Screamers, that story is a lot more interesting than the movie itself.
The survivors of a wrecked prison ship wash up a shore on a jungle island, where they are approached by Amanda (Barbara Bach, The Spy Who Loved Me), a beautiful woman on a horse, who demands they leave. Instead, they follow her to her mansion, where they are met by an army of natives and their leader, the sniveling, moustache-twirling Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson, The Great Alligator). He knows the secret of the treasure of Atlantis and, with the help of the vile experiments of Amanda's father, Professor Ernest Marvin (Joseph Cotton, Shadow of a Doubt), who is turning men into…frogmen!
Before all this, though, we have an utterly unconnected opening directed (mostly) by Miller Drake. This bit features both Mel Ferrer (The Visitor) and Cameron Mitchell (Blood and Black Lace), so that's pretty sweet, even if the scene doesn't really make any sense. It does add in a little gore (which was directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins), and adds the few extra minutes required for a proper US release, but little else.
Aside from the length, Screamers doesn't really need the help, because it's the kind of ridiculous fun you look forward to with Italian schlock. The frogmen look just silly, looking a little 50s-inspired, though Martino wouldn't do some homage; he's just cheap. That's really a feature, though, as is the insane combination of The Island of Dr. Moreau and solving, then stealing, the mysteries of Atlantis.
This is all explained in hilarious fashion by Richard Johnson, who is a choice villain for the role. Joseph Cotten is pretty fun as well as the hapless scientist. He's not so much a villain as a crazy old man who believes that frogging up the population is the key to the survival of the human race. I mean, sure, it makes perfect sense, but nobody would ever go for it. Barbara Bach looks great, but isn't much more than a damsel in distress, while her counterpart, the ship's medical officer Claudio Cassinelli (Mountain of the Cannibal God), who is as bland a hero as you'll find. He doesn't matter; Screamers is the kind of movie to show friends and have fun with, not study the acting; it's really just a blessing that all the other legendary performers were able to show up for something so ridiculous, but we all need money sometime.
The disc we received a screener for review, and I would guess that Scorpion's Blu-ray release of Screamers will fare a little better than it does here. That's not to say that it's bad, but the 2.35:1 image here is imperfect. Black levels are a little murky, though better in the opening scene because of the use of better film stock. There, colors are much brighter, with gore that pops pretty well, while the bulk of the movie looks a little soft. The sound has trouble, as well, with a constant low hiss and a few pops. Dialog and music are all pretty clear, though.
Extras are a decent slate. It's all interviews, along with the trailer that allows you to see the inside out man footage, but it's a great group for Corman fans. First, the man himself, who spends a few minutes discussing his memories of the film's release. Next, Joe Dante, who shot the gore in the bookend, chimes in with his own memories, while Jim Wynorski appears with a different take on how the release came together. Director Miller Drake and the former head of post-production at New World, Clark Henderson, close out the disc. It's nearly forty minutes of footage, so it's nice added value.
It's super hokey and pretty dumb, but Screamers is really fun in only the way that a mish-mash of Corman-style and Italian exploitation could possibly be. Silly and fairly tame, it could almost serve as cheesy family entertainment, which says something considering Martino's regular gore-laced work, but Dante's footage makes it a little much for that. In any case, with frogmen, Atlantis, and a ridiculous Dr. Moreau knockoff villain, Screamers gets an easy recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scorpion Releasing
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