Tag Archives: roger corman

Avalanche (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sliding snow destroys resort.

David Selby (Rock Hudson) is a driven businessman determined to build a ski resort in an area that’s vulnerable to avalanches and despite the many warnings is able to get the building constructed and even have it host a ski tournament to kick-off its grand opening, but as the festivities get under way the snowfall continues. Eventually the weight of the snow on the nearby mountaintop becomes too much causing a massive avalanche forcing the guests at the resort into a fight for survival.

The film starts out with a lot of boring, poorly written soap opera-like drama that will put most viewers to sleep before the avalanche ever even takes place. The storyline concerning Mia Farrow’s and Rock Hudson’s marriage and his desperate attempts to ‘rekindle the old magic’ between them is particularly contrived as the vast age difference between the two, a whole 18 years, makes it look like the type of union that would have no chance of it working right from the start, so why even bother making it a part of the plot? The first 40 minutes are so draggy that you start hoping for the avalanche to happen and wipe out all the cardboard characters simply to provide some excitement.

The glossy cast if filled with some well known faces, but their parts offer them little to work with and in the case of Robert Forster, who acts as this environmentalist warning of the avalanche danger, is completely wasted. Only Cathey Paine, a lesser known actress, offers some diversion as a possessive girlfriend who becomes unhinged when she catches her boyfriend (Rick Moses) in bed with another woman and watching her try to kill herself by swallowing a bottle of pills only to be crushed by the snow a few seconds later is darkly funny. I also got a kick out of Jeannette Nolan sporting white hair, which you can tell is a wig because you can see her brown hair underneath it along the edges, and I felt this should’ve been shown falling off her head when the avalanches occurs, but of course it doesn’t.

The special effects, which would be the only reason to watch this thing anyways, gets highly compromised mainly because producer Roger Corman, in his patented stingy way, cut the budget in half just before production began and it definitely shows. The avalanche looks like nothing more than having the actors shot on a screen and then having styrofoam made snow blown in front of it. I also found the howling wind noise, which permeates every outdoor scene, to be irritating and unnecessary especially when all the trees in the background are completely still.

The third act, which deals with rescue efforts, offers some minor tension and is an improvement from the rest of the movie, which made me think they should’ve started it with this and then shown scenes of the avalanche happening, and some of the background ‘drama’, intermittently via flashback. The setting, which was filmed on-location at the Lodge of Tamarron in Durango, Colorado, is quite scenic. I even liked the snowmobile race, which has a Death Race 2000 feel to it especially the ugly wipe-outs.

Spoiler Alert!

Unfortunately everything else falls predictably flat, which includes the dopey ending where Hudson humbly admits that he allowed his greed to get in the way  and that the resort should never have been built, but this isn’t satisfying enough. He should’ve been handcuffed and thrown into prison, which is not shown nor any confirmation if this ever ultimately happened.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Corey Allen

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Jackson County Jail (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Deputy rapes his prisoner.

Nothing seems to be going right in Dinah’s (Yvette Mimieux) life. She quits her job as an advertising executive only to come home to find that her husband (Howard Hesseman) has been cheating on her. She decides to travel across the country and back to her old digs in New York. Along the way she picks up two hitch-hikers (Robert Carradine, Nancy Lee Noble) who end up robbing her at gunpoint and driving off with her car and money. When she walks to the nearest town she finds that no one is willing to help her since, without any identification, she can’t prove who she is. The sheriff (Severn Darden) throws her in jail temporarily until her identity can be confirmed. While there she gets raped by one of the deputies (Fredric Cook) and then goes on the run with Coley (Tommy Lee Jones)  a small-time crook and drifter.

This is yet another Roger Corman produced cheapie made to capitalize on the exploitative low budget drive-in fervor that was so popular during the early to mid 70’s. This one fares better than most as it manages to retain its gritty tone throughout without ever resorting to campiness. The car chase doesn’t have any of the cartoonish or humorous stunts as most others did during that time period, but instead like in Cannonball! shows more of the potential ugly side to them by having several of the vehicles crash and blow-up in flames and killing those that were inside them, which helps accentuate the realism.

The police aren’t quite as inept either although I did find it curious that the cops in the helicopter once they found where Mimieux and Jones’s hideout was didn’t continue to chase the two via the air as they tried to escape down the road in their pick-up. The part where the cop shoots at Jones who collides on foot into a marching band is absurd too as no policeman with half-a-brain would fire into an open crowd as it’s too dangerous and would almost assure innocent victims getting hit.

Mimieux is adequate and the funky 70’s style compact car she drives in with its roundish flying saucer body and oversized steering wheel is a laughable relic. However, for someone whose lived in L.A. she didn’t seem savvy especially when she decides to pick-up two hitch-hikers, which is just asking for trouble, or naively unaware that the obviously drunken, leering cafe owner (Britt Leach) is only being ‘helpful’ so he can have a chance to pounce on her.

Jones is excellent in support, but I found it odd that despite being considered a ‘good guy’ he makes no effort to stop her rape, which he witnesses by being in the adjoining cell, but then when she kills the rapist by beating him over the head with a stool he reaches through the bars and stops her.

The film’s most interesting performance is Fredric Cook’s who plays the rapist. His film career never really took off and he spent most of his life working as an acting teacher, but here in his film debut he really shines. I liked the way his character starts out as a redneck dope who seems put in for comic relief and then quietly becomes menacing as he serves Mimieux her food, explodes into a sudden massive rage, and then after the act is committed becomes guilt ridden and even ashamed, which creates a very interesting portal into the mindset of most male attackers.

The second half unfortunately slows up creating boring segments when the pace and tension should instead be revved up. The wide-open ending offers no conclusion to Mimieux’s ultimate fate and the film’s message is vague and transparent.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 2, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Miller

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She suffers from schizophrenia.

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Joanne Greenberg, which was written under the pen name of Hannah Green, the story focuses on Deborah (Kathleen Quinlan) a 16 year-old who is put into a mental institution during the 1950’s by her parents (Ben Piazza, Lorraine Gary). A pretend secret kingdom that used to be a childhood fantasy has now completely taken over her life and she is unable to deal with reality. At the institution she works with a sympathetic therapist named Dr. Fried (Bibi Andersson) who tries to get Deborah out of her fantasy world an back into the real one.

The film was produced by Roger Corman better known for his cheap, sleazy drive-in fare, so seeing him try to take the helm by producing a serious picture is a concern since exploitation always seemed to be his foray, but with the then recent success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest he felt stories with a mental institution theme was a potential money-maker. The production values though right from the start look pretty cheap especially when compared to the Milos Foreman film making this a very weak cousin to the 1975 classic.

The producers made many changes from its source novel much to the consternation of the book’s author who was never consulted during the making of it and who ended up disliking this film version immensely. One of the biggest difference is that the film completely omits the antisemitism, which the filmmakers felt was too much of a ‘hot button topic’, that the main character in the book had to deal with and instead blames her mental health problems solely on her bout with cancer.

For me though the biggest issue centers more on the recreation of Deborah’s make-believe, mystical world which she calls The Kingdom of Yr. In the book the kingdom starts out as a beautiful magical place that slowly turns ugly and threatening while in the movie it’s portrayed as scary from the very beginning, which is confusing as there’s no explanation for how the whole thing started. The sound of the whispering voices going on inside Deborah’s head is creepy, but sight of the characters inside the kingdom, which was played by members of Oingo Boingo looks cheesy and like the singers from the Village People, which gives the film an unintended camp feeling. Instead the characters should’ve been captured from a distance where they were seen as ominous shadowy figures whose faces were never shown.

Despite these drawbacks I still found myself caught-up in much of the drama especially the cruelty that Deborah and her fellow patients received at the hands of an abusive orderly played by Reni Santoni. Unfortunately some of the scenes showing Deborah interacting with the other mentally-ill people in the hospital gets watered-down by having a lighthearted melody played during it, which gives off the idea that this is ‘lightly comical’ instead of the gritty no-holds-barred drama that it should be.

Quinlan gives a great performance, possibly the best of her career and I particularly enjoyed the way she uses her expressive blue eyes to convey her inner madness and turmoil. You also see her as a relatable human being who you want to see get well as opposed to being some sort of ‘freak’. Susan Tyrrell is great in support as one of the patients as well as Martine Bartlett who plays another troubled patient and who starred just a year earlier as the cruel mother in Sybil, which was a TV-movie with a similar theme. Casting Bibi Andersson though as the psychiatrist was for me a distraction since she also played one in Persona, which was her signature role and therefore I couldn’t separate her from that one.

In 2004 the novel was turned into a play under the full cooperation of Greenberg who acted as a consultant. The antisemitism from the book was incorporated into the play as well as several other things that had been omitted making me believe that a remake based on the play should be given a much needed green-light as this film unfortunately is adequate, but not great.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Anthony Page

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Raven (1963)

raven 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The search for Lenore.

Dr. Craven (Vincent Price) is a former sorcerer who one night is visited by a talking raven. The raven is actually Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre) who has been turned into a bird by the evil Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff). Craven manages to concoct a potion that allows Bedlo to turn back into his human form and in appreciation he tells Craven that he has seen Lenore (Hazel Court), who Craven was once married to and was thought to be dead, living with Scarabus in his castle. Craven decides to pay Scarabus a visit to see if this is true and brings along his daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess) as well as Bedlo and Bedlo’s son Rexford (Jack Nicholson). When they arrive they are greeted by the conniving wizard who at first denies any wrongdoing, but it soon becomes clear that he is jealous of Craven’s powers and wants to attain them for himself, which leads to a climactic cosmic duel between the two sorcerers.

This film marked the fourth collaboration between writer Richard Matheson and director Roger Corman and for the most part it is an entertaining success. The two apparently had so much fun creating the comic story of ‘The Black Cat’ in Tales of Terror trilogy that they decided to do a feature length horror/comedy that is very loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe poem. Despite being shot in only 15 days the film isn’t as limited by Corman’s usual low budget constraints and I was genuinely surprised how imaginative the special effects where and the overall impressive background sets.

The film’s biggest boost is clearly the three lead actors who are all at their absolute peak. I especially enjoyed Lorre who brazenly steals every scene he is in and ad-libbed many of his funny lines much to the consternation of his co-stars. In fact if Lorre wasn’t in this it wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable. A young Nicholson as his son is equally entertaining and the frosty relationship that the two characters have was apparently a carry-over from how they felt about each other from behind-the-scenes.

Some of the effects are clearly animated, which looks tacky and as the group arrive at Scarabus’ castle one can see that the place is merely a painting matted on the screen. The story also does have its share of lulls, but all of this gets forgiven by the climactic sorcerer’s duel, which is the film’s highlight.

raven

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 25, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Roger Corman

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Trip (1967)

the trip

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He tries some acid.

Jack Nicholson wrote the screenplay to this film which is based loosely experiences he had while taking LSD as well as the break-up of his marriage to actress Sandra Knight. The story centers on Paul (Peter Fonda) a director of TV commercials whose marriage to Sally (Susan Strasberg) is on the rocks. He has a need to ‘find himself’ and seeks help from his friend John (Bruce Dern) who is a self-styled acid guru. John gives Paul some acid while promising that he will stay with him during his drug induced trip. The rest of the film then deals with Paul’s experiences both in his mind and in his dealings with the outside world while he is hallucinating.

To prepare for the film Nicholson, Fonda and Dennis Hopper, who appears in a minor supporting role, all took part in a group LSD trip and the various visions that they experienced are incorporated here. Director Roger Corman also tried LSD at a different time to prepare for the film. The only one not to try it was Dern who was staunchly opposed to recreational drug use and in fact even his character doesn’t take any as evidenced by a scene where everyone is taking a puff of some marijuana and when it gets passed to him he simply passes it to the next person without trying even though everyone else does.

The scenes recreating the acid trip are not all that interesting or imaginative. It’s all pretty much what you would expect with a barrage of artsy colorful designs popping up at the viewer in split second intervals that reminded me very much of looking through a kaleidoscope. The images aren’t coherent, nor meant to be, and become vapid in the process. The scene involving Paul sitting on a merry-go-round while trying to justify his existence to Hopper who is dressed in a devil-like costume gets quite tedious.

Things improve during the second half when John, who promised he would stay at Paul’s side during his trip, ends up leaving him momentarily to retrieve some apple juice. During this time Paul escapes from the home he is in and goes out onto the city streets. The editing and effects here are impressive and ahead of its time. Some of the visits he has with the people he meets prove interesting including an offbeat conversation that he has with a lady that he meets inside a Laundromat as well as one he has with a very young girl inside her house.

Although he starts out shaky I felt Fonda’s performance was pretty good and this may be one of the best roles of his career. Strasberg who receives second billing appears just briefly and has very few speaking lines. Dern is always fun when he is playing eccentric or intense characters, but here where he is playing a relatively normal one he is boring. His part was originally written for Nicholson to play and I think he would have done better.

I was expecting some sort of tragic or profound-like ending especially with the opening paragraph that starts the film and is read by a narrator with a very authoritative newsman-like voice describing the ‘horrors’ of drug use and how it is becoming a serious societal problem. However, nothing really happens. The movie just kind of stops and that is it. The weak conclusion hurts what is already a so-so film making it like the drug itself an interesting experiment, but nothing more.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Roger Corman

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Candy Stripe Nurses (1974)

candy stripe nurses

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: They specialize in sex.

The fifth edition of Roger Corman’s Nurses series has gone well past its expiration date and mercifully this was the final one. A creative animated opening and a funky, edgy soundtrack fail to camouflage the tired formula. Uneven balance of farcical humor and stilted drama doesn’t work and they should’ve just stuck with the comedy. The scenarios themselves are extremely trite and not worth describing.

Initially I liked the Maria Rojo character who is this punk, streetwise gal who is ambivalent to her school work and gets thrown in as a volunteer candy stripe nurse simply to give her some responsibility, but she remains apathetic to that as well. The story though shifts to her falling almost immediately in-love with one of the male patients (Roger Cruz) and then spending an excessive amount of screen-time going way out of her way to find a witness that can testify on his behalf to keep him out of jail. This segment flops mainly because I couldn’t buy into the fact that she would be so convinced of his innocence when she had just met him. Also, for a streetwise girl she ends up being too trusting and naïve. Her acting also gets worse the more the film progresses.

Candice Rialson comes off best. I’ve seen her in other drive-in films, but she seems to be having the most fun in this one particularly the scene where she works in a sex clinic and answers the phone from perverted callers. She also possesses (ahem) a really nice rack, which gets amply shown.

The sex is a little more erotic and impulsive here. The segment showing a breast in close-up amidst some shadowy lighting has some artistic flair and a nude scene involving now famous soap opera actress Robin Mattson is good. However, for the most part the sex and nudity is pretty sparse.

Famous television writer Stanley Ralph Ross hams it up as Dr. Kramer the head of the sex clinic. Dick Miller can also be seen briefly as a spectator at a basketball game. He has been in so many low budget films and many times in small and insignificant roles that it makes me wonder; is he desperate for money or just willing to do anything for it?

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 17Minutes

Rated R

Director: Allan Holeb

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD (The Nurses Collection)