The universe of the genre film is filled with many strange and wonderful things: heroes; demons, attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion (oh, Roy Batty, we miss you). But nothing is so strange or, at times, wonderful as the sight of movies that, by accident or design, have fallen out of copyright and are now subject to the random winds of distribution. They’re copied and recopied, cut and redubbed, posted in versions of varying quality on YouTube, all quite legally and for absolutely no money.
In other words: You ever wonder from whence came those films on that 1000 SCI-FI CLASSICS! DVD set that you bought on Amazon for $2.99 in order to bring your $22.01 order up to the $25 needed for free shipping? Now you know.
So, in the absence of a new theatrical release this week, we here at the Cinefantastique Spotlight are debuting our first “Public Domain Pandemonium,” where each of us offers for discussion a movie readily available on the web and elsewhere. Steve Biodrowski gives us his take on giddily nude horror film LADY FRANKENSTEIN; Lawrence French talks about Roger Corman’s let’s-burn-off-Karloff’s-contract-and-these-two-remaining-days-we-have-on-the-castle-set “classic,” THE TERROR; and Dan Persons talks about the unusual, Creative Commons animated musical-fantasy, SITA SINGS THE BLUES. A trio of fun films, all available by clicking the links above. And all for free! Ya cheapskate.
Abandon all propriety, ye who enter here. Once again, under the direction of Guy Ritchie and as embodied by Robert Downey Jr, the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes shakes off his tweedy cobwebs and gets down, dirty, and flat-out physical in SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS. Centered around the inevitable confrontation between Holmes and the formidable criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) — with world-wide stakes — the film takes the consulting detective and his steadfast friend Dr. Watson (Jude Law), plus Noomi Rapace as a self-reliant gypsy, on an epic tale of murder, conspiracy, and life-or-death chess games.
Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they weigh the merits and demerits of this further retooling of a literary classic. Also: Dan delivers his opinion on the new documentary, CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL. Plus: What’s coming in theaters.
You never forget your first Roger Corman film. Mine was THE TERROR, which I admittedly was drawn to out of a combined curiosity over a film that was shot in two days on leftover sets, and that featured a young Jack Nicholson before he became THE Jack Nicholson. But whether it was the cheap-ass drive-in fare with unforgettable titles like ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS or the surprisingly trenchant horror-comedy cheapies like LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS or the lush Poe adaptations that essentially defined Vincent Price for the balance of his career, or the first shots he gave to directors like Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich (TARGETS, yeah!) and Joe Dante, or BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, the STAR WARS knock-off that was more entertaining than any of the official prequels, the man has placed his indelible stamp in the minds of countless genre film fans.
Corman was at the con to sign autographs and promote the new, career-spanning documentary, CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL, and took a few minutes to talk with us.
“X” THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES / TALES OF TERROR “MORELLA”: LIMITED EDITION LLLCD 1174
Music by Les Baxter Limited Edition of 1200 Units STARTS SHIPPING JUNE 7th
SPECIAL SALE PRICE: $14.98 (reg. $19.98)
ORDER “X” THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES / TALES OF TERROR “MORELLA”: LIMITED EDITION” starting JUNE 7th at www.lalalandrecords.com at a special sale price of $14.98) Sale price good thru 6/20/11.
Presenting the world premiere release of selections from acclaimed composer Les Baxter’s (THE DUNWICH HORROR, PANIC IN YEAR ZERO, HELL’S BELLES, BEACH BLANKET BINGO) original scores to Roger Corman’s 1963 classic shocker “X” THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES and the “MORELLA” chapter of Corman’s 1962 Edgar Allan Poe-themed anthology feature TALES OF TERROR. After an exhaustive search, only the final two-thirds of X-RAY’s score was recovered, but contained within those ¼ inch elements was the partial score to the Vincent Price-starring “Morella” segment of TALES OF TERROR. Both are presented here and feature the immortal Baxter at his jazzed-infused gothic best.
Produced by Ford A. Thaxton and painstakingly mastered by James Nelson from MGM vault elements, this release features in-depth liner notes from film music writer Randall D. Larson. A must-have for film music enthusiasts, especially those Baxter and Corman fans! This is a limited edition of 1200 units.
“X” THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES
1. End Title (Extended) (3:38)
2. Penthouse (1:50)
3. Fast Twist (2:07)
4. Nude Twist (1:55)
5. Casino Lounge (2:31)
6. Posh (2:29)
7. Desert Chase/Helicopter Pursuit/
8. Pluck It Out/End Credits
(Film Version) (3:20) TALES OF TERROR: “MORELLA”
9. The Corpse and The Ghost (1:29)
10. Lenora / Morella /Fire & Smoke / Eerie House (4:53)
11. End Credits (2:45)
Bonus Material From
X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES
12. X Main Title (with sound effects) (1:51)
13. Las Vegas Lights (with sound effects) (1:02)
14. Organ Interlude (3:53)
15. Outtake Suite (2:44)
Total Time: 42:37
NEW RELEASE SPECIALS! To celebrate our new Les Baxter release, we’re offering his PANIC IN YEAR ZERO, HELL’S BELLES and BEACH BLANKET BINGO limited editions at a special sale price of only $9.98 each.
And to salute Green Lantern’s new upcoming big screen epic, grab Rob Kral’s uber-cool GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT score for a special sale price of only $4.98. Get ’em now! These special prices are good thru JUNE 20th. Only at www.lalalandrecords.com
Actor William Campbell, perhaps best known for his roles on the original STAR TREK, passed away April 28th, 2011. He was 87.
Essentially a character actor, Campbell did play leads from time to time. One of his most notable parts was the starring role in the 1955 Columbia film CELL 2455 DEATH ROW. In it, Campbell won praise for his performance as death row prisoner Whit Whittier. a character based on the real-life Caryl Wittier Chessman, the alleged “Red Light Bandit” who became an author and cause celebre’ by insistently proclaiming his innocence and repeatedly appealing his case, as his own legal representative. Eventually, he was executed by the state of California. Instead of being boosted to stardom, the film seemed to subject William Campbell to a kind of typecasting that limited him to supporting roles. often as a street-smart tough guy.
He was featured in LOVE ME TENDER as one of the train-robbing post Civil War Reno brothers, singing onscreen with first-timer Elvis Presley.
Playing a race car driver in Roger Corman’s THE YOUNG RACERS (1963) led to a role in Francis Ford Coppola’s DEMENTIA 13.
(Interestingly, THE YOUNG RACERS was written by Robert Campbell, William Campbell’s brother and CELL 2455 co-star.)
Also filmed in `63 was an art heist film named OPERATION TITIAN (aka Operacija Ticijan), shot in Yugoslavia, the beginning of a strange filmic saga. Unreleased in its original form, it made it to television in heavily re-edited form as PORTRAIT OF TERROR.
But this was not the end of it, as Roger Corman had new sequences filmed over the next three years in Venice, California by director Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY) and Stephanie Rothman (THE VELVET VAMPIRE). This became TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE (aka BLOOD BATH, 1966), in which Campbell’s tormented artist character transforms by night into another actor for his vampiric escapades.
What most genre fans remember William Campbell for are his roles on STAR TREK, In the first season (1966) he portrayed the juvenile but powerful Trelane in STAR TREK’s The Squire of Gothos. It took some persuading to cast the “tough guy” actor as the alien who has chosen the role of a foppish 18th Century gentleman, but Campbell proved more than equal to the task.
In the second season “comic” episode The Trouble with Tribbles, he played the clever and supercilious Klingon Captain Koloth. The producers, including creator Gene Roddenberry. enjoyed his performance, and reportedly the character might have recurred in the third season, if Roddenberry had remained the active producer.
The character of Koloth appeared on the animated `70’s STAR TREK series, but Campbell did not perform the voice. The Mego “Klingon” action figure was based on the cartoon’s Koloth, so in a way William Campbell became the standard public imaga of a Klingon, until the advent of STAR TREK: THE MONTION PICTURE, and subsequent films and series. In 1994, Campbell finally reprised the role of Koloth in the DEEP SPACE NINE episode Blood Oath, which allowed the aged Klingon warrior to go out in one final battle.
Other genre roles include THE WILD, WILD WEST (1966), SHAZAM! (1976), THE NEXT STEP BEYOND (1978), THE RETURN OF THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN AND THE BIONIC WOMAN (1987) and KUNG FU: The Legend Continues (1996)
Original movies airing on the SyFy Channel (formerly The Sci-Fi Channel) have gained a reputation for being the equivalent of the Roger Corman exploitation movies of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, only with better special effects thanks to the wonders of CGI. SyFy’s seemingly endless parade of killer critters and mega monsters perhaps reached its pinnacle recently with SHARKTOPUS, the sensitive saga of a genetically combined hybrid of octopus and great white shark, which made its debut last September 25th.
Cheerfully embracing its scientific illogic, SHARKTOPUS swamp, scuttled, and tentacle-walked across the seas and shores of sunny Mexico consuming swimmers, sun-bathers, boaters, bungee-jumpers and various other species of eye candy, ruthlessly shedding its origin as a military weapon to munch on the local populace like so much popcorn chicken. Meanwhile, name star Eric Roberts chews up similar amounts of scenery as the hybrid monster’s creator, who harbors his own hidden agenda even while trying to recapture his escaped aquatic Frankenstein. Directed by SyFy Channel alumni Declan O’Brien (ROCK MONSTER, MONSTER ARK, CYCLOPS), the film flaunts the sheer audacity of its titular monster, which was clearly intended to out mega any MegaShark and out size any Giant Octopus previously seen in the cable channel’s oeuvre. Enthusiastically promoted, SHARKTOPUS became the talk of the ‘net for months before the movie actually premiered.
It was somehow poetic that SHARKTOPUS was produced by Roger Corman – the latest of several that he has provided for SyFy. The film revels in its absurdity even while lampooning its own formulaic inconsistency to achieve the sense of undemanding fun Corman is best known for. One aspect of Corman’s films as producer, from 1954’s MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR to 2010’s DINOCROC VS. SUPERGATOR and the hundreds in between, have been supportive and effective musical scores that often made up for their film’s lack of story excitement and believable special effect. In many cases, the music provided that extra dynamic that helped audiences forgive discrepancies in the internal logic of their scripts, in deficiencies of performance by their casts, and in the insufficiencies of set design or special effect – all while providing a layer of inexpensive yet effectual musical support that gave these films their needed dimension of emotive expression and excitement.
Quite so, SHARKTOPUS. Like those musical maestros of Corman’s AIP years, Les Baxter and Ronald Stein, who could work wonders with the barest of orchestral and electronic essentials, SHARKTOPUS features a powerful score that gives the film a wonderful sense of gravitas and energizes its drama while adding a good deal of coherency to the story. The main and end titles surge with a splendid rock tune written by New York rock band The Cheetah Whores, but it’s the dramatic underscore by composer Tom Hiel that really gave this torrid tale of teeth and tentacles its expressive ebb and flow.
Tom Hiel is an award-winning composer best known for his work on the television show, THE PRACTICE (2000-04). He began his career working as an assistant for composers such as Mark Mothersbaugh and Michael Giacchino, while also finding some movies to score on his own. One of the first scores to gain Hiel some notoriety was SWIMMING WITH SHARKS (1994), starring Kevin Spacey (a perhaps ironic counterpoint to his experience sixteen years later when swimming with Sharktopus).
Hiel’s first science fiction score was Erik Fleming’s CYBER BANDITS (1995), although his next foray into the genre came a dozen years later with the made-for-video movie DOOMED (2007), a futuristic story about death row inmates given a chance for freedom by becoming contestants on a SURVIVOR-style reality show on an island full of zombies. “That was just straight ahead pseudo-orchestral music,” Hiel recalled recently. “There were a lot of percussive loops and various atonal figurations you can use to accentuate the horror. Nothing deeper than that.”
As with most of the SyFy Channel film scores, budgets do not accommodate actual orchestras, requiring composers like Hiel to rely on synthesizers and sampled symphonic wave files in order to closely if not perfectly replicate a live orchestral performance on his keyboard. This approach gives films like SHARKTOPUS the dynamic of a full-blown symphonic score without the expense, and also takes advantage of the synthesizer’s ability to create unnerving and unusual musical sounds.
Original reports from SyFy back in February, 2010, suggested that Roger Corman would both direct and produce SHARKTOPUS, but the film went before the cameras with Declan O’Brien at the helm, Corman serving only as producer, along with his wife Julie.
“I never knew about Roger directing it,” Hiel said. “Declan told me there was another guy who was directing or maybe co-directing with Roger, and he quit. That’s when Declan got called in because he had worked with Roger on the CYCLOPS movie; Roger loves that movie and thinks it’s one of his better efforts.” Hiel had scored both of O’Brien’s previous original movies for the SyFy Channel, ROCK MONSTER and CYCLOPS (both 2008), so they already had a successful working relationship that allowed Hiel to launch right into the music for SHARKTOPUS.
Hiel produced a well-crafted fantasy-horror score that gave the CGI-enlivened carcharodon-cephalopod a vivid sense of reality. When the sharktopus first escapes its captivity, the music builds to a rising tide with its central motif, surrounded by tentacular eddies of swirling accentuations.
“SHARKTOPUS is a little more of a straight drama except for the horrific elements when it attacks,” said Hiel. “There are also some straight ahead dramatic themes coming into play as they’re looking for the creature. In a way it’s a low-budget JAWS. I don’t necessarily think the music’s reflecting that; I think there is a throwback to straight-ahead orchestral scoring in this one. Due to the budget, of course, it was all done with electronics.”
Hiel’s SHARKTOPUS score is rooted in a recurring 4-note, rising motif that is heard each time the Sharktopus is threatening or about to attack.
“Many times I was able to build that motif for a while as the attacks became imminent. When the Sharktopus did attack, I tended to use rising chromatic stabs over brass chords (alternating from lower brass to horns and trumpets) and heavy percussion loops. Also I used glissando effects and sampled sounds (a garden rake across metal) to accentuate the horrific elements of the attacks. After the attacks or when the action was slow, but where I wanted the audience to think Sharktopus might be around, I used this electronic pulsing loop that really adds another sonic dimension of creepiness for me.”
That pulsing synth loop in SHARKTOPUS becomes Hiel’s JAWS ostinato, a recurring measure that adds a strident undercurrent of menace as the story plays out. That loop was actually created for a demo score Hiel had written in 2002 when he was being considered for the TV series, WITHOUT A TRACE. The studio wound up going with a different composer, so Hiel held onto his demo music until he found a suitable project for it, parts of which gave SHARKTOPUS much of its powerful propellant.
Hiel also provided a vivid action melody in the horns, punctuated by a string and wind ostinato on top, along with a driving percussion beat to push the action when Eric Roberts’ and his crew try to recapture the creature. For Roberts’ character himself, Hiel used a repetitive motif in the lower strings and brass along with another percussive loop which emphasized his own relentless pursuit of his own ends – inevitably Roberts’ theme and that for the Sharktopus merge, enhanced by electric guitars, as the two have their final encounter at a yacht harbor.
All of these elements come together nicely and give SHARKTOPUS a rich musical backdrop, not to mention an added production value for its otherwise simplistic story and scope. In addition, SHARKTOPUS’ vigorous orchestral sound belies the fact that its score is wholly electronic. Nowadays, virtual music libraries, which can be licensed or purchased, give composers the sonic sensibilities of renowned symphony orchestras at their fingertips and, though not conveying the true fidelity of acoustic performance, nevertheless provide a fairly persuasive approximation of symphonic sound. With SHARKTOPUS, Hiel took advantage of his experience in helping Mark Mothersbaugh and Marco Beltrami compile temporary mock-ups of their scores for director approval.
“These mock-ups have to sound very realistic, and I learned how to do that when I worked for them,” said Hiel. For SHARKTOPUS, he used a combination of sound elements from the East West Platinum sample library, the Vienna Symphonic Library, some music he’d inherited from Beltrami associate Buck Sanders, and original electronic material he’d created himself to give the score a sense of originality.
“For the melodic strings I used an old Roland string sample,” said Hiel. “It was made for the Roland 760 and I still use it for the long string sections.”
The process of composing a movie score for computerized music files – versus having an orchestra full of real players performing at a recording session – creates a different kind of challenge for composers like Hiel.
“You have to be more inclusive in your composing,” Hiel said. “When you know you’re going out to an orchestra and you know you’re going to orchestrate it yourself or you have an orchestrator do it for you, a lot of times when you’re in the writing process you can just say, ‘Oh, make sure to double the cello lines with bassoons’ or ‘double this with whatever,’ but when you’re actually doing this type of thing with samples you have to go back over and synth-orchestrate as you go, as it were – adding to the cello lines some French horns or bassoon, just things you do when you’re orchestrating to make it sound as thick as possible. You really have to be more in tune with that. I also add electronics – for SHARKTOPUS I was given free reign, thankfully, and so some of those pulsing electronic pads come in and they add so much.”
Hiel said his biggest challenge in scoring SHARKTOPUS was simply getting the right feel for each of the creature’s attacks.
“It’s easy to be heavy handed,” he said. “Each attack tended to be different enough where you couldn’t cut-and-paste the same motifs. Sometimes you needed a building progression – I would use that chromatic ostinato thing – it’s in the dive sequence, for example, where the strings would play in clusters, and that goes on for a while sometimes, where he’s dragging the body off. But that ended up being fairly challenging, just finding the right tone for each attack.”
Hiel’s scores have thus far remained in the low-budget realm – although, with the rise of computer graphic imagery and computerized music, low-budget movies look and sound a lot better these days.
“I think the stigma has come from low-budget music for low-budget films that has traditionally sounded hysterically bad,” said Hiel. “I think it’s come a long way from that now. Now, you can write music and record music even at a low-budget level that sounds pretty believable and big-budgeted. That’s the goal, anyway. It’s a little tricky to make it sound like the real thing. Half the battle is just to make the synthesizers sound the same as what you’re going to be doing orchestrally. We all have tricks of the trade that have been in play for awhile now.”
Putting those tricks to play when a film is clearly less than stellar provides its own challenge, although composers like Hiel give each assignment their best effort.
“I always score it straight and just try to pump it up,” said Hiel. “In SHARKTOPUS, for example, sometimes the monster was bigger than life, other times it looked more the size of a normal shark, so there were some size and spacial issues going on. But I didn’t score those scenes any differently – it’s just a big monster and he’s trying to attack. I just tried to make it as believable as possible. There’s a scene where Eric Roberts dies, and that whole scene takes forever. But I got a little chance to do my thing there, and I just scored it straight.”
Hiel recognizes the part that music can play in making even the lowest-budgeted movie expressive and involving, and especially in enhancing films of science fiction and fantasy.
“Music plays a huge role in helping the audience with their suspension of disbelief in these movies,” he said. “In ROCK MONSTER, it’s the big, fantastical music that really accentuates the whole storytelling aspect of the movie. There’s definitely more music in these films – I had something like seventy minutes of score in SHARKTOPUS; CYCLOPS was wall-to-wall. I think music plays a strong role in film in general, but it’s really going to accentuate science fiction and fantasy. It has to be carefully crafted, though. The wrong music, or cheap music, can lessen the whole experience.”
For more information on Tom Hiel, see: www.tomhiel.com
There are some movies so tragically stupid, I firmly believe watching them will make you dumber. There aren’t many of them, but SyFy Original Pictures’ Saturday night time-killer, SHARKTOPUS, certainly qualifies. My plan had been to write and post this review immediately following the film’s 9PM premiere on September 25, but it took me three days to recuperate from that one screening.
As with most of these SyFy monster mash-ups (MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS, DINOCROC VS. SUPER GATOR, etc), the plot is nominal and only serves to loosely tie together scenes of creature carnage. In this case, Blue Water Corporation head Dr. Nathan Sands (Eric Roberts) and his daughter, Nicole (Sara Malakul Lane), have bio-engineered a shark-squid hybrid (yes, even though they repeatedly say it’s half-octopus, the features are clearly those of a squid) for the US Navy to use in its ongoing fight against drug runners and pirates. After a brief test in Santa Monica for Navy liaison Commander Cox (Brent Huff) ends with the creature’s control harness damaged, the monster escapes and heads south to Mexico. Sands puts together a team to capture the beast, known as S-11, headed by former Blue Water diver Andy Flynn (Kerem Bursin).
Once S-11 hits the waters off Puerto Vallarta, it starts snacking on locals and tourists at random. Also on the creature’s trail are opportunistic TV reporter Stacy Everheart (Liv Boughn) and her cameraman, Bones (Héctor Jiménez). Even after Everheart broadcasts footage of the creature she dubs Sharktopus chowing down on chowder heads and beach blanket bimbos, most people think the whole thing’s a prank. After S-11 makes mincemeat of Flynn’s commandos, he and Nicole team up with Stacy and Bones to try to regain control over the monster, or somehow kill it.
I’m sure executive producers Roger and Julie Corman made a nice chunk of change off this and previous SyFy sludge like DINOSHARK, and the ratings must surely be high enough to keep them pumping these things out; in fact, with 2.5 million viewers, it was SyFy’s highest-rated September original movie ever. But, seriously, it’s getting insulting! Scripter Mike MacLean and director Declan O’Brien come up with some of the cheesiest dialogue and horrifically poor performances from the cast (Eric Roberts looks like he just wants to take a long, hot shower to wash off the dirt throughout the film). It’s so bad you don’t even care who lives, dies, or just walks off-screen and is never seen again.
As usual with these direct-to-SyFy flicks, the special effects range from bad to why-didn’t-the-digital-effects-company-ask-to-have-their-name-removed-from-the-credits (just for the record, the company is called Dilated Pixels). Given that the draw for these flicks are the monsters, this one is probably the dumbest thing to come down the pike in decades. In the water, you can sort of accept this dumpy, tentacled, shark-mouthed oddball. Once it crawls out on land, it just looks like Humpty-Dumpty with a serious overbite, wearing a hulu skirt. Nobody expects these films to be on the level of METROPOLIS or 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, but this one’s not even up to the standards of THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD or Corman’s own HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP. Tragically, SyFy’s own slogan, “Imagine Greater,” seems to be turning into “Imagine Greater, Then Do the Opposite.”
Undoubtedly, a DVD/Blu-Ray release is in the offing, and I can’t imagine the audio commentary or other special features that will accompany it. Actually, a music video for the SHARKTOPUS Theme Song, a mindless-but-harmless little toe-tapper by the director’s nieces (the band’s called The Cheetah Whores), could be good for a giggle or two. Otherwise, they might as well just hire Michael J. Nelson and the Rifftrax crew and be done with it! Even then, watch at the risk of millions of your own brain cells going “Pfft!”
SHARKTOPUS (U.S. SyFy premiere: Sept. 25, 2010). Directed by: Declan O’Brien. Screenplay by: Mike MacLean. Starring: Eric Roberts – Dr. Nathan Sands, Kerem Bursin – Andy Flynn, Sara Malakul Lane – Nicole Sands, Brent Huff – Commander Cox, Liv Boughn – Stacy Everheart, Ralph Garman – Captain Jack, Héctor Jiménez – Bones.
Here’s a sneak peek look at Roger Corman’s SHARKTOPUS for SyFy, starring Eric Roberts.
The ‘SyFy Original’ is set to air Saturday, September 25th at 8:00 pm ET/PT.
See two more clips, including Roger Corman’s cameo at Blastr.com
Back in 1960, with the Cold War at its hottest, the end of the world seemed less like a vaguely disturbing distraction about a possible distant future than like a very real possibility – something that could happen tomorrow. That anxiety fuels THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH, an odd-ball effort from producer-director Roger Corman, about the last three people left alive after the rest of Earth’s population mysteriously disappears, leading to the ultimate love triangle as the two men vie for the affections of the sole remaining woman. Filmed on a shoe-string, the film offers a low-budget apocalypse, too slowly paced to qualify as a good cult film, let alone a classic, and yet a certain aura of existential dread infuses the situation, offering some small redeeming value.
THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH is an example of the cost-conscious Corman’s two-for-one economic strategy: on location in Puerto Rico to film BATTLE OF BLOOD ISLAND, Corman shot this film as well. Unfortunately, doubling down like this created some scheduling problems – namely the lack of a completed script. Unable to afford bringing the writer on location, Corman came up with a novel solution: hiring scripter Robert Towne (later an Oscar-winner for CHINATOWN) to play the film’s young lead, so that he could complete the screenplay at night when he wasn’t in front of the cameras. Town delivered the pages day by day, throughout the two-week shoot.
Said Corman of the production, “A lot of people see these films today and ask me if I knew I was being existential. No. I was primarily aware that I was in trouble. I was shooting with hardly any money and less time.” *
Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the results are less than satisfying. Despite the 71-minute running time, the story develops slowly, and THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH often seems to be treading water. The script has a hood named Harold (Anthony Carbone) and his wife Evelyn (Betsy Jones-Moreland) hiding out in Puerto Rico, along with their lawyer Martin (Towne, under the pseudonym “Edward Wain”). After scuba diving, they surface to find the world mysteriously de-populated and guess that some kind of disaster temporarily destroyed the world’s oxygen supply, eradicating animal life from the planet’s surface. They survive by breathing through their SCUBA tanks until the local vegetion restores enough oxygen for them to breath normally. The struggle to survive is complicated when Evelyn and Martin fall for each other leading to a lethal confrontation…
Surprisingly, the low-key approach to the end of the world (no doubt dictated by the budget) is fairly effective, with the off-screen apocalypse offering an eerie mystery for the characters to solve. Shot in color and widescreen, THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH presents a decent depiction of a depopulated world, realized on location with streets full of empty cars abandoned in the middle of the road.
By focusing on a love triangle, the script scales world annihilation down to the size of a soap opera, but at least the situation is fraught with dramatic potential so obvious that it needs no explanation to the audience: you know the two surviving men will inevitably challenge each other over the titular Last Woman on Earth. To some extent, the older Harold and the younger Martin battle things out in terms of a conflict between the Conservative Establishment and Rebellious Youth; this tends to make us side with Martin, but he turns out to be too pessimistic and self-centered to effectively overthrow the existing authority: he may not like following Harold’s orders, but he has no vision of his own to offer as an alternative.
The conflict ultimately leads to an ending that manages to work up a little genuine feeling, refusing to cop out with a happy resolution as the loser meets his fate in a church. This is one of those happy instances when an apparent mis-step pays off in its own way: none of the characters would likely be anyone’s nomination as a worthy survivor, and the thought of the entire world left in their hands is a depressing one indeed, driving home a sense of despair that might have been muted by the presence of likable heroes.
THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH might have been a great half-hour episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or even a good one-hour television drama. As a feature film, it falls short. Fortunately, it does have a few good things going for it – at least enough so that curiosity seekers will not feel that their time has been totally wasted. THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH (1960). Produced and directed by Roger Corman. Written by Robert Towne. Cast: Betsy Jones-Moreland, Antony Carbone, Robert Towne (as Edward Wain) FOOTNOTE:
On August 3, Shout! Factory released PIRANHA in a new DVD edition, as well as a Blu-Ray disc (its debut in the latter format), to tie in with the theatrical release of the 3D remake. Both releases feature 1.85 anamorphic widescreen transfers and a bundle of special features from the previous DVD “Special Edition” of 1999.
New to this release is “The Making of PIRANHA” featurette. Interviews with many of the principle crew and some cast members (including Roger Corman, director Joe Dante, actors Dick Miller, Belinda Balaski, effects experts Chris Walas and Phil Tippett, and others) provide lots of fun facts, amusing stories, and some insights into late-‘70s low-budget filmmaking at its grittiest. For instance, you’ll never guess why the US swim team did so poorly at the 1978 Summer Olympics until you watch this featurette.
Also new to this release are Radio and TV Spots, which really are something of a time portal into how movies were promoted in the not too-distant past. The film’s theatrical trailer now has an optional commentary track with producer Jon Davison, thanks to Trailers from Hell.
Scenes added to the Network Television Version have been included separately, although the option to watch them as part of the feature would have been more interesting. Finally, a Behind-the-Scenes Stills Gallery has been added, with material taken from Phil Tippett’s personal collection. There are trailers for the other releases in Shout! Factory’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classics collection, too.
Holdovers from the previous DVD release include feature-length audio commentary by Dante and Davison, Behind-the-Scenes Footage (with audio commentary), Bloopers and Outtakes, and a Stills Gallery that features posters from the international releases of the film.
The packing features a 3D lenticular slipcase that’s actually quite entertaining. The DVD case features a reversible inner cover, and there’s a nice booklet with photos and info on the film (notes provided by Michael Felsher), as well as a brief introduction by Roger Corman. The widescreen transfer is crisp and clean, with great sound quality. Some of the bonus materials are a little shabby, and the network TV scenes could have been cleaned up better. Otherwise, a rather fancy presentation for a cheap knock-off that no one ever expected to still be around in any form over thirty years after its release – and we‘re so thankful it is.