The B movie doesn’t really exist anymore; probably its closest equivalent today is the direct-to-video film. In its heyday, the B movie had its own pantheon of film directors, some good and some pretty awful. Among the top of the B directors (and producers) would have to be Roger Corman. Corman’s creative peak came with his series of Poe movies, all loosely based on stories by Poe. The best featured Vincent Price and the writing of Richard Matheson (among others) and included The Masque of the Red Death (my favorite), The Pit and the Pendulum and The Raven, among others.
Corman had an eye for talent as well. Among the big names who owe their success, at least in part, to Corman, are Jack Nicholson, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme and Ron Howard. But early in Corman’s career, his movies were not as ambitious and though fun, not that high quality. A couple days ago, I got to watch a pair of his early movies: Attack of the Crab Monsters and Not of this Earth.
Attack of the Crab Monsters is one of those giant radioactive monster movies, in this case giant crabs. These are no ordinary giant crabs, however: they absorb the mental powers of any person they consume. A group of scientists go to a remote island to check out the effects of radioactivity on the local flora and fauna. They are the second group to do so, the first having disappeared months earlier. Of course, it’s the crab monsters that are responsible and they want to get another helping. Since they aren’t all that quick, they start to wear away the island, giving the people less and less space to run around in.
This isn’t really a very good movie; the effects in particular are unimpressive and the writing leaves a bit to be desired. There’s really only one actor of note, a pre-Gilligan’s Island Russell Johnson, playing a Professor-like character who can fix almost anything. It does, however, weigh in at just over an hour, so it suffices as a pleasant diversion. Quality: 3/10, Fun: 5/10.
Not of this Earth, on the other hand, is a good movie (it would actually be remade twice, although I’m not positive this is an indicator of quality). A human-looking alien comes to Earth, seeking to use humanity’s blood to save his nuclear-war-ravaged race. He does have telepathic abilities and a literally killer gaze. His plot involves a lot of blood transfusions, and he gets the assistance of Beverly Garland to do the blood work. With less of an emphasis on special effects (though there is one cheesy monster), the focus shifts to writing and characters and it pays off. Quality: 6/10, Fun: 7/10.
Along with this pair of Corman movies, I watched a triple-feature on a Something Weird Video DVD that showed that Corman was indeed one of the better B movie directors. This triple-feature began with The Atomic Brain (also parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000). This is the tale of an old lady who finances a mad scientist to perfect brain transplants. Now all she needs is a new body, and she intends to get it by hiring some maids from overseas, the idea being that they could be easily disposed of without alerting the authorities. This doesn’t quite work as planned, of course. It really isn’t that bad of a movie (though it ain’t good either), but it suffers from too much narration and an utterly formulaic story. On the other hand, it is notable for not having a male hero who has to save the female lead. In fact, no one really saves the day; the heroine survives only because the villains turn on each other. Quality: 3/10. Fun: 4/10.
Love After Death, the second feature, makes the first movie seem better in comparison. It is a poorly dubbed foreign film about a wealthy man who is buried alive (he was actually in a cataleptic state), allowing his wife and his doctor to be together. After rising from the grave, the man seeks revenge, but first he tries having sex with various women. This leads to a lot of gratuitous nudity and some actual sex, but I think there’s too much plot for this to be a true porn film. Whatever the true genre, this film is a bore to watch, even if all you’re looking for is naked women. Quality: 2/10, Fun: 2/10.
Love After Death may be a bore, but The Incredible Petrified World is an utter bore. John Carradine plays a scientist who recruits three scientists and a reporter (two men, two women, of course) to go underwater in a diving bell. An accident strands them underwater, but soon they find a vast cave system with air and fresh water. What else is in this cave? Well, we do see a komodo dragon briefly, but if this a bad effects version of dinosaur or just a lizard, we can’t tell: it never appears again. In fact, the cave is pretty much as lifeless as the movie itself. There is a caveman of sorts who has amorous intent towards one of the women. And there is a volcano that has been dormant for a long time but will conveniently go off just as the heroes arrive. Did I mention this film is boring? It’s only an hour long, but even then, you can see all the padding, with long establishing shots that just drag the story down further. After these last two films, The Atomic Brain is almost Citizen Kane. Quality: 3/10, Fun: 1/10.