Horror on the Lens: Not of this Earth (dir by Roger Corman)


Today’s horror on the lens is the 1957 Roger Corman-directed, sci-fi “epic,” Not of this Earth.

Paul Johnson (Paul Birch) may seems like a strange character, with his stilted way of speaking and his sunglasses and his overdramatic reaction to any and all loud noises.  Paul could us be an eccentric.  Or, he could be …. NOT OF THIS EARTH!  Actually, his habit of draining people of their blood and sending weird, umbrella-like creatures out to attack his enemies would seem to suggest that the latter is probably true.

Listen, it’s not easy being a blood-sucking alien.  I mean, sure, there’s always seems to be people stupid enough to show up at your mansion so that you can drain their bodies.  Paul is lucky that he doesn’t exactly seem to be surrounded by brain surgeons.  But sometimes, things happen.  For instance, someone might show up from your home planet and demand an immediate transfusion!  What is an alien to do?

Watch this low-budget but undeniably entertaining film to find out!  And be sure to especially keep an eye out for the great Dick Miller, who reportedly improvised his role as a vacuum cleaner salesman.  (Before going into acting, Miller actually did sell vacuum cleaners door-to-door.)

Enjoy!

Who Watches The Watchmen: Unlawful Entry (1992, directed by Jonathan Kaplan)


The upscale and complacent life of Michael and Karen Carr (Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe) is interrupted one night when a burglar breaks into their home via their skylight.  The intruder briefly holds a knife to Karen’s throat before taking off.  Shaken by the encounter, the Carrs are very happy when a seemingly friendly cop, Officer Pete Davis (Ray Liotta). offers to help them cut through all the red tape and get a security system installed in their house.

At first glance, Pete seems like the perfect cop but actually, he’s a mentally unstable fascist who quickly becomes obsessed with Karen.  When Pete offers Michael his nightstick so that Michael can use it on the man who earlier broke into his house, Michael refuses.  That’s all that Pete needs to see to decide that Michael’s not a real man and that Karen would be better off with him.  Even after Michael orders Pete to stay away from his home, Pete continues to drop by so that he can spy on the couple.  When Michael complains, Pete frames him by planting cocaine at his house.  When Michael says that he’s innocent, no one believes him.  Why would they?  Pete’s a decorated cop who is keeping the streets safe.  Michael is just a homeowner.  While Michael sits in jail, the increasingly violent and unhinged Pete makes plans to make Karen his own.

“Who watches the watchmen?” as the old saying goes.  Unlawful Entry is an efficient and no-nonsense thriller that was ahead of its time as far as its portrayal of a policeman abusing his authority is concerned.  Jonathan Kaplan was trained in the Roger Corman school of filmmaking so he doesn’t waste any time getting to the story and he even finds a role for Dick Miller.  Ray Liotta, fresh off of his performance in Goodfellas, is perfectly cast as the manipulative and misogynistic Pete while Kurt Russell is once again the ideal everyman.  Madeleine Stowe, who was one of the best actresses of the 90s, does not get to do much beyond be menaced but she does it well.  Whatever happened to Madeleine Stowe?  Kurt Russell’s career is still going strong and Ray Liotta still appears regularly in gangster movies and Chantix commercials.  Isn’t it about time for a Madeleine Stowe comeback?

Horror on the Lens: The Terror (dir by Roger Corman)


Have you ever woken up and thought to yourself, “I’d love to see a movie where a youngish Jack Nicholson played a French soldier who, while searching for a mysterious woman, comes across a castle that’s inhabited by both Dick Miller and Boris Karloff?”

Of course you have!  Who hasn’t?

Well, fortunately, it’s YouTube to the rescue.  In Roger Corman’s 1963 film The Terror, Jack Nicholson is the least believable 19th century French soldier ever.  However, it’s still interesting to watch him before he became a cinematic icon.  (Judging from his performance here and in Cry Baby Killer, Jack was not a natural-born actor.)  Boris Karloff is, as usual, great and familiar Corman actor Dick Miller gets a much larger role than usual.  Pay attention to the actress playing the mysterious woman.  That’s Sandra Knight who, at the time of filming, was married to Jack Nicholson.

Reportedly, The Terror was one of those films that Corman made because he still had the sets from his much more acclaimed film version of The Raven.  The script was never finished, the story was made up as filming moved alone, and no less than five directors shot different parts of this 81 minute movie.  Among the directors: Roger Corman, Jack Hill, Monte Hellman, Francis Ford Coppola, and even Jack Nicholson himself!  Perhaps not surprisingly, the final film is a total mess but it does have some historical value.

(In typical Corman fashion, scenes from The Terror were later used in the 1968 film, Targets.)

Check out The Terror below!

Film Review: Not Of This Earth (dir by Roger Corman)


Originally released in 1957, Roger Corman’s Not Of This Earth is about a man named Mr. Johnson (played, in a nicely creepy performance, by Paul Birch).

At first glance, Mr. Johnson may look like your typical dark-suited, 1950s businessman but, on closer examination, there’s definitely something off about him.  Why does he always wear those dark sunglasses?  Why is he so sensitive to loud noise?  Why does he move stiffly, as if he’s still getting used to his ody?  And when he speaks, why is his tone always so formal and correct?  Never trust anyone who doesn’t use a contraction or two.  Why is it that Mr. Johnson seems to spend all of his time in his mansion, only venturing outside so that he can visit the local blood banks?

Could it be that Mr. Johnson is …. not of this earth!?

Well, yes, of coursem he’s an alien.  I mean, it says so right in the title of the movie!  It turns out that Mr. Johnson comes from a planet called Davanna.  The inhabitants of Davanna are dying of a mysterious blood disease so he’s been sent to Earth so that he can run tests on human blood.  Needless to say, Mr. Johnson is under constant pressure from his bosses back home.  They expect Johnson to find a cure but there’s only one problem.  Human blood is sometimes hard to come by.

Oh sure.  Johnson can always go to the local doctor (William Roerick) and get a transfusion.  But, unfortunately, Johnson is often forced to deal with his need for blood by murdering anyone who happens to be near the house, whether it be a teenager or a vacuum cleaner salesman.  Like a vampire, Johnson drains them of their blood before retreating to the safety of his mansion.

Paul Birch gives a wonderfully odd performance in the role of Mr. Johnson, playing him in such a way that suggests that Mr. Johnson is still not quite comfortable with his human disguise.  When he starts speaking with his stilted and awkward syntax, he’s like a man who has just learned how to speak another language.  On the one hand, it’s tempting to feel sorry for Mr. Johnson because he’s desperately trying to save his people.  On the other hand, he does end up killing a lot of people.

Beverly Garland and Morgan Jones play Nadine and Harry, a nurse and a policeman who stumble across the truth of Mr. Johnson’s origins.  Beverly Garland was one of those confident, no-one-is-going-to-conquer-my-planet actresses who could elevate any film by her presence alone and, as this film shows, if you’re trying to stop the aliens from stealing all of Earth’s blood, Beverly Garland was someone who you would want on your side.

With the exception of a scene featuring Dick Miller as a slick salesman, director Roger Corman plays the material straight and the end result is a quickly paced and, at times, genuinely creepy little sci-fi/horror hybrid.  Corman makes good use of his low-budget and even the film’s cheap look ultimately works to its advantage.  The stark black-and-white cinematography perfectly captures the harshness of Mr. Johnson’s mission.  This an effective and enjoyable B-movie.

Finally, since this is a Roger Corman production, be sure to look for all of the usual suspects.  As mentioned above, Dick Miller plays a salesman.  (Before becoming an actor, Miller actually did work as a door-to-door salesman and he ad libbed the majority of his dialogue.)  Jonathan Haze appears as one of Mr. Johnson’s servants.  And, of course, the film was written by Corman’s longtime collaborator, Charles B. Griffith.  Three years after making Not Of This Earth, Corman, Haze, Miller, and Griffith would collaborate on the somewhat more light-hearted Little Shop of Horrors.

(I’m A) King “B”: RIP Dick Miller


cracked rear viewer

Dick Miller in ‘Rock All Night’

If you’re a Roger Corman fan, you know Dick Miller . If you enjoy the films of Joe Dante, you know Dick Miller. Hell, if you’ve watched movies for the past sixty years, you know Dick Miller, maybe not by name, but certainly by sight. Dick Miller, who passed away yesterday at the age of 90, was one of those character actors who elevated everything he did, even the schlockiest of schlock. He’s in some of my favorite films, never a big star but always a welcome presence, and the ultimate Familiar Face.

Miller was born in the Bronx on Christmas Day 1928 and caught the show biz bug early. By age 8 he was working as a “boy singer” in the Catskills, and as a teen he worked in various stock companies, doing everything from acting to painting scenery. After a hitch in…

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In Memory of Dick Miller


Dick Miller in Rock All Night

Dick Miller, the legendary character actor who appeared in everything from Apache Woman to Gremlins to The Terminator, has died.  He was 90 years old.

Dick Miller started his career in the 1950s and he was still working in 2018.  If you’ve watched more than a dozen of movies over the course of your life, chances are that you’ve seen Dick Miller.  Maybe you saw him as the friendly flower eater in the original Little Shop of Horrors or perhaps you’ve come across Bucket of Blood, in which he played the homicidal artist, Walter Paisley.  If you’re a fan of Martin Scorsese’s, you may have seen Miller in either After Hours or New York, New York.  Director Joe Dante loved Dick Miller and found a role for him in almost all of his films.  In The Howling, he explained how to kill werewolves.  In Gremlins, he provided comic relief.  In Piranha, he refused to surrender to a bunch of carnivorous fish.

Dick Miller in The Terminator

But that’s not all.  According to the imdb, Dick Miller had 182 acting credits.  He played mobsters and he played cops.  He played gamblers.  He played bartenders and prohibitionists.  In his debut film, Apache Woman, he played both an Indian and a cowboy.  In Executive Action, he shot JFK.  In honor of his first starring role, he played a lot of different characters named Walter Paisley.  In Chopping Mall, he was killed by security robots.  In The Terminator, he was shot by Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Quentin Tarantino claimed that his performances in Grindhouse were meant to be a tribute to Dick Miller.  One wonders how Miller would have reacted to that as he wasn’t reportedly wasn’t particularly happy when Tarantino left performance in Pulp Fiction on the cutting room floor.

(Miller discussed his feeling about Pulp Fiction and Tarantino in an interview he did with the AV Club.)

Gremlins

Dick Miller had one of those faces that you couldn’t forget.  It was a face that worked just as well for comedy as it did for drama.  Miller was originally from the Bronx and some of his best performances epitomized the type of tough, no bullshit, blue-collar worldview that we tend to associate with New York City.  One look at Miller and it was easy to imagine him driving a cab and complaining about the Yankees.  At the same time, Miller was just as believable when cast as a Nevada sheriff in Far From Home or as a Pennsylvania high school teacher in All The Right Moves.  Dick Miller just had it, whatever it may be.  When he appeared onscreen, you believed in him.  No matter who he was playing, he was real.  He was just one of those actors.

After Hours

There was always something comforting about seeing Dick Miller in a movie.  Miller appeared in his share of bad movies but he was always good.  More importantly, you always knew he was going to be good.  As soon as he appeared onscreen, you know that he was either going to elevate a bad film or make a good one even better.

From what I’ve read and heard, Dick Miller was a genuinely humble man who appreciated his fans and whose talent went hand-in-hand with his generosity of spirit.  The world of film is going to be a little bit sadder without his presence.  The Academy damn well better remember him at this year’s Oscars.  Dick Miller’s long career represented everything that there is to love about the movies.

Dick Miller, RIP

The Howling

Lisa Reviews A Film That Was Not Nominated For Any Oscars: Mr. Billion (dir by Jonathan Kaplan)


The 1977 film Mr. Billion tells the story of Gudio Falcone (played by Terence Hill, whose real name is Mario Girotti).  Guido has got a pretty good life going in Italy.  Everyone in his village loves him.  He works as an auto mechanic.  When we first see him, he speeding around in a red sportscar.  When he returns to the garage, he smiles and says, in Italian, “Just like Steve McQueen.”  Guido may not be rich but he’s happy.

But that’s all about change!

Well, not the happy part.  Guido is pretty much always happy.  But he’s about to get rich.  It turns out that Guido is the last surviving relative of Antonio Falcone.  Years ago, Antonio immigrated to America and founded Falcon Motors.  The company eventually made Antonio one of the richest men in the world.  Unfortunately, the big Falcon Motors sign eventually fell off the company’s headquarters and it landed right on top of Antonio.

Everyone’s upset about Antonio’s death.  Well, everyone but the company’s vice president, John Cutler (Jackie Gleason).  John was naturally expecting that he would be named Antonio’s successor and that he would also inherit all of Antonio’s money.  Instead, Antonio’s will leaves everything to Guido!

Why?

Because, apparently, Guido never asked Antonio for anything more than a “pair of American cowboy boots.”

Cutler and his sleazy attorney (William Redfield) are soon on the next flight to Italy.  When they find Guido, they make sure to compliment him on his cowboy boots.  They explain to Guido that he has twenty days to go San Francisco and sign the proper papers.  If he’s any later than 20 days he’ll lose the money.  Of course, that shouldn’t be a problem since Guido can fly over anytime that he wants…

Except Guido refuses to fly!  No, he says that if he’s going to go to America, he’s going to arrive there the same way that Antonio did.  He is going to take a boat to New York City and then ride a train all the way to California.

Did you guess that the very next scene would be Guido standing on the dock of a cruise ship, staring at the Statue of Liberty?  And did you also also guess that, upon disembarking, he would immediately find himself besieged by reporters, one of whom declares him to now be the world’s most eligible bachelor?  If so, good work.

But here’s the big question.  Did you also predict that John Cutler would attempt to sabotage Guido’s trip to California and that the sabotage would involve hiring a private detective (Valerie Perrine)?  Even more importantly, did you predict that the detective would eventually end up falling in love with simple but honest Guido?

Because that’s totally what happens!

At the time that Mr. Billion was made, Terence Hill was a huge star in Europe but was barely known in the United States.  He was best known for appearing in a series of comedic Spaghetti Westerns with Bud Spencer, the majority of which featured Hill as a lazy but likable ne’er do well.  In Mr. Billion, Hill is cast as the exact opposite, as an earnest man-of-the-people who is so nice that it’s almost painful.  Add to that some major tone problems (the film cannot make up its mind if it wants to be a comedy, an action film, or a romance) and you have a pretty forgettable movie.

And that’s kind of a shame because Terence Hill showed some legitimate charm in the lead role.  The role may have been underwritten but all Hill had to do is flash that winning smile and it didn’t matter.  It’s unfortunate that Hill didn’t get a more appropriate vehicle for his American debut.

6 Trailer For October 8th, a Special Roger Corman edition!


Welcome to the latest edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers!

Since today’s edition from 4 Shots From 4 Films was dedicated to Roger Corman, I figured why not do the same with this post.  The trailers below may be a varied bunch but they have at least one thing in common!  They’re all trailers for Corman films!

Enjoy!

  1. Bucket of Blood (1959)

In Bucket of Blood, Dick Miller plays, for the first time, a character named Walter Paisley.  Walter is an artist who discovers that the dead make the best models!

2. Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Dick Miller returned to play a supporting role in Little Shop of Horrors, where his co-stars included a young Jack Nicholson.

3. The Terror (1963)

Both Jack Nicholson and Dick Miller returned for The Terror and they were joined by Boris Karloff.

4. The Raven (1963)

At around the same time, Karloff and Nicholson were co-starring with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre in The Raven.

5. The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Price would return for The Masque of the Red Death.

6. The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

To my knowledge, this film was the final time Corman directed Vincent Price, though he produced a few more films that featured him.

What do you think about all the trailers, random director with a tommy gun?

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Far From Home (dir by Meiert Avis)


There are several lessons that can be learned from watching horror films.  One that is often overlooked is the importance of staying out of trailer parks.  Seriously, I have lost track of how many horror films have taken place within the confines of a trailer park.  Once you see someone surrounded by RVs and mobile homes, you know that they’re probably doomed.

Take 1989’s Far From Home, for instance.

Far From Home is set in perhaps the sleaziest trailer park in America.  This place sits in the middle of the Nevada desert and is run by chain-smoking Agnes Reed (Susan Tyrrell), who has a voice like a bullfrog, a daughter (Stephanie Walski) who is obsessed with watching TV and eating fishsticks, and a delinquent teenage son named Jimmy (Andras Jones).

The only law is provided by Sheriff Bill Childers (Dick Miller), who has a squad car but apparently no deputies.  Childers is gruff but not that bad of a guy once you get to know him.  However, he’s also played by Dick Miller and we all know better than to depend on Dick Miller to maintain the peace.

There’s a gas station nearby.  A mellow Vietnam vet named Duckett (Richard Masur) owns it.  Duckett is always willing to be helpful but he rarely has any gas.  This is one of those small towns where the gas truck apparently only rolls in every two months or so.  Still, Duckett’s a nice guy and he’s full of stories about how the government used to do atomic bomb tests in the surrounding desert.

(The scenes where Duckett drives around the desert feel somewhat out of place but they’re still enjoyable, due to Masur’s eccentric performance.)

Living in the trailer park, there’s a lot of odd people.  Some of them are permanent residents while some of them are just temporarily stranded.  14 year-old Pinky (Anthony Rapp, who would go on to appear in Dazed and Confused and Rent) lives with his mother and is a permanent resident.  His mother is rarely seen, though occasionally she can be glimpsed through a window, propped up in front of the TV.  Pinky says that, when he was a kid, he and Jimmy were best friends.  But now, Jimmy and Pinky are enemies.

And then there’s Amy (Jennifer Tilly) and Louise (Karen Austin), who are just waiting for enough gas to come in to be able to get Amy’s car to start running again.  Louise is intelligent and responsible.  Amy is flighty and undependable.  As soon as one of them accidentally pulls the handle off the driver’s side door, you just know one of them is going to end up getting trapped in that car at a bad moment.

When Far From Home opens, two newcomers have moved into the trailer park.  Writer, divorced father, and self-described “former angry young man” Charlie Cox (Matt Frewer) has just spent a month with his 13 year-old daughter, Joleen (Drew Barrymore, who was 14 when she made Far From Home).  It hasn’t exactly been a great vacation and it doesn’t get any better when Charlie’s car runs out of gas.  Joleen is about to turn fourteen and she doesn’t want to spend her birthday in a crummy trailer park with her incredibly dorky dad.

However, both Jimmy and Pinky are happy that Joleen will be spending at least a day or two at the trailer park.  At first, Joleen crushes on Jimmy and then, after Jimmy reveals himself to be aggressive and unstable, she crushes on Pinky, who protects her from Jimmy.  One of the two boys is so obsessed with Joleen that he is willing to commit murder to keep her from leaving the trailer park.  But which one?

(It’s actually pretty obvious but you probably already guessed that.)

Far From Home is a film about which I have mixed feelings.  On the one hand, the movie’s totally predictable.  Characters do dumb things for no real reason beyond needing to move the plot forward.  Charlie’s parenting abilities change drastically from scene to scene.  A traumatized character goes from catatonic to recovered to catatonic again with no real explanation.

One of my main issues with the film is that there’s no real surprise about who the killer turns out to be.  Even worse, once the killer’s identity is revealed, the killer suddenly turns into one of those psychos who can come up with a dozen one-liners while trying to kill someone.  I mean, seriously, who does that?  Are movie psychos required to take a year’s worth of improv clubs and do an apprenticeship with the Upright Citizens Brigade before they’re allowed to pick up a knife?  If I was the type to commit murder (and I’m not but let’s just say that I was), I would be too busy trying to make sure everyone was dead to be witty.  I’d save the jokes until I was safely on a beach somewhere, drinking pink lemonade and keeping an eye out for Ben Gardner’s boat.  That’s just me, I guess.

And yet, there’s a part of me that really likes this stupid, stupid movie.  It’s a surprisingly well-directed film, full of artfully composed shots.  The trailer park really does take on a life of its own and the film also makes good use of a nearby abandoned apartment building.  It’s a great location and, occasionally, it lends the film a dash of surrealism.  (Of course, I guess you could legitimately ask who would build an apartment complex in the middle of the desert, especially one that’s still humming with radiation from the Atomic bomb tests, but let’s not.)  Richard Masur, Dick Miller, and Susan Tyrrell all give good performances.  For that matter, the same is true of Anthony Rapp and Andras Jones.  Neither Rapp nor Jones are to blame for the fact that they were let down by a weak script.

Though I doubt either one of them would describe Far From Home as being their proudest cinematic achievement, Matt Frewer and Drew Barrymore are totally believable as father and daughter.  In the end, that’s why I like this movie.  Whenever I’ve watched Far From Home, I’ve always been able to relate to Joleen.  When I was thirteen, I basically was Joleen.

Fortunately, though, I was never found myself stranded in a trailer park full of homicidal maniacs.

I guess I just got lucky that way.

A Movie A Day #64: Gunslinger (1956, directed by Roger Corman)


gunslinger_posterWelcome to Oracle, Texas.  It’s a dusty little town in the old west.  Marshal Scott Hood (William Schallert) may uphold the law but everyone knows that the town is actually run by Erica (Allison Hayes), the owner of the local saloon.  Erica knows that a railroad may be coming to town so she comes up with a plan to buy all the land around Oracle.  She sends her lackey, Jake (Jonathan Haze), to each landowner.  Jake buys the land then murders the landowner so that he can get the money back.

When Scott is gunned down by two outlaws, his widow, Rose (Beverly Garland), takes over as temporary marshal.  Rose has two weeks until the new marshal arrives but that is just enough time for nearly everyone in town to get killed.  It starts when Rose orders Erica to close her saloon at three in the morning.  Erica loses the epic catfight that follows so she hires her former lover, Cane Miro (John Ireland), to come to town and kill Rose.  Cane is more interested in killing the town’s mayor (Martin Kingsley), a former Confederate who abandoned Cane and his brothers to Union forces during the Civil War.  Even more complications arise when Cane and Rose fall in love.

Roger Corman has described Gunslinger as being his most miserable experience as a director.  He filmed it in six days and it rained for five of them, causing cameras and lights to sink into the mud.  Both Allison Hayes and Beverly Garland were injured during filming, with Hayes breaking her arm after falling off a horse and Garland spraining her ankle while running down the stairs of the saloon.  During the filming of an outdoor love scene, both Ireland and Garland were attacked by fire ants.

Gunslinger is usually savaged by reviewers and it was featured on an early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  But how can any film be that bad if it features an epic cat fight between Beverly Garland and Allison Hayes?  Gunslinger is proof that Beverly Garland and Allison Hayes were actress who could make something entertaining out of even the least inspiring material. Garland gives a serious, heartfelt performance while Hayes goes all out as evil Erica.  Years before he played Seymour in Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, Jonathan Haze is intensely weird as Jake. As with many Corman films, part of the fun is watching for members of the Corman stock company, like Dick Miller and Bruno VeSota, in small roles.   Gunslinger may not be a classic but I like it.

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