Janice Starlin sees that the sales of her cosmetics company are slumping as her customers see that she appears to be (shock horror) getting older (!) Dr Eric Zinthrop, a scientist, finds that he has been able to extract chemicals from royal jelly that can reverse the ageing process. Starlin agrees to become a human subject regarding this but when progress is too slow for her liking she takes additional doses of the chemical. This has disastrous results as she starts to transform into a half-woman, half-wasp type hybrid.
This 1959 film is a fantastic piece of Roger Corman goodness. It’s also a film that I had seen the poster for many many times but had never actually seen. Until now.
I’m pleased to say that it was worth the wait. Not only is it a fantastic piece of 50’s horror that must have truly shocked and astounded audiences when it was released but it also has some perceptive things to say about the role of beauty, youth and cosmetics, particularly regarding women who are held up to more stringent standards regarding these issues than men.
The film’s commentary reminded me of Georges Franju’s masterpiece Les Yeux San Visage and also the episode of the TV show Tales of the Unexpected and the episode called Royal Jelly.
A brilliant time capsule of 1950’s drive-in Americana that tackles wider issues that are more than still relevant today.
This week’s Poster of the Week is for the double bill of Enter The Dragon and Death Race 2000.
Double bills were very popular at cinemas in the UK in the 70’s and 80’s and seemingly the more lurid films the better with horror, kung-fu and cult films being selected for these billings which were traditionally shown at midnight on a Saturday night. It was like the cult film ethos that permeated 42nd Street in New York was proving so popular that it even influenced the cinema programmers of Britain.
It was rightly assumed that the kind of audiences who would go to see a Bruce Lee film would also want to see a Roger Corman movie, especially as one of it’s stars (Sylvester Stallone) had since become famous for his role as the eponymous hero of the movie Rocky (check out the cheeky reference to this in the billing for Death Race 2000 on this poster).
Both of these films were also resurrected from years gone by for this double bill and so this gave cult film fans the opportunity to see both on the big screen again. These were also the days before home video and so cinemas were the primary source for seeing such fare.
Double bills fell out of favour in the 90’s and onwards but thankfully there are now special cinema screenings of films that have just been restored for Blu ray. I’ve noticed a lot of older films receiving cinema showings to commemorate an anniversary of a film’s release also. Inception and Back to the Future are two such films showing on the big screen again recently because of this. And this is a great thing. To see a film on the big screen with a great sound system are the optimal conditions for experiencing a film.
A movie directed by a young Francis (Ford) Coppola and produced by Roger Corman.
A genius plot-
One night, while out rowing in the middle of a lake, John Haloran, and his young wife Louise, argue about his rich mother’s will. Louise is upset that everything is currently designated to go to charity in the name of a mysterious “Kathleen.” John tells Louise that, if he dies before his mother, Louise will be entitled to none of the inheritance. He promptly drops dead from a massive heart attack. Thinking quickly, the scheming Louise throws his fresh corpse over the side of the boat, where he comes to rest at the bottom of the lake. Her plan is to pretend that he is still alive to ingratiate her way into the will. She types up a letter to Lady Haloran, inviting herself to the family’s Irish castle while her husband is “away on business.”
But then after this something happens that changes the course of the whole film (I’m not going to ruin the film for potential viewers). This was a brave move a la Psycho and Night of the Living Dead.
And it works brilliantly. In fact, everything about this film works amazingly. It’s a great film with a great premise, gorgeous cinematography, uniformedly good performances from a cast of unknowns and direction that deftly straddles both drive-in cinema and the Nouvelle Vague. This is part Homicidal (this was made to cash-in on it’s success) and part Carnival of Souls but whilst retaining it’s own identity. Theres a strong Giallo feel to proceedings- the gloved killer with an ax, the sinister doll symbolism.
The location used deserves a mention. A spawling castle in Ireland with a scene that takes place in a Dublin bar make this film even more special. It feels like part film, part time capsule. The costume design of the film is also something to behold- classic men’s suits (think Sean Connery as Bond and Michael Caine in The Italian Job), chic women’s miniskirts and the best bleached blonde 60’s haircuts seen in any film of the period.
One sign that you’ve made a horror classic- your film spawns a slew of imitators.
Sometimes one or two of these imitators are witty, knowing and innovative.
Thats what happened here. Jaws made such a splash (pun intended) that there were plenty of rip-offs. Piranha was one such film but was great on its own terms rather than being a pale imitation.
Director Joe Dante said the original screenplay for this Corman produced film was dire. He worked on it with John Sayles and made Piranha into the hoot it is today. Quirky characters, great scenarios and references to other works such as The Creature From The Black Lagoon abound. One lead character plays a Jaws arcade machine at the start of the film. The movie knows exactly what it is and isn’t afraid to shout it out.
Another great facet of the story- its the heroes of the piece who actually cause the near disaster they have to deal with.
The leads are amazing (Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies) as are the supporting cast that features Kevin McCarthy, Corman regulars Paul Bartel and Dick Miller and Euro scream queen Barbara Steele.