Archive for Roger Corman

X The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)

Posted in Sci-Fi with tags , , , on April 11, 2013 by MONSTERMINIONS


X (1963) might be my favorite Roger Corman film.  It works on so many levels both as a well-written sci-fi (the story is reminiscent of something Richard Matheson would write) and as a horrific tragedy.

Along with the disturbing The Inturder (1962), where Bill Shatner play a racist agitator, X is probably Corman’s most unorthodox film.  That’s saying a lot considering a man whose works included Bucket of Blood (1959), about a smuck who kills people and sells their clay-covered bodies as art, and The Little Shop of Horror (1960), which defies description.

I agree with several observers and Roger Corman that The Mask of the Red Death (1964) is his most Ingmar Bergman-like film (see Steve Biodrowski’s Cinefantastique Restrospective). Mask is probably his finest horror film and X his best science-fiction. I first saw X as a child and the ending shocked me.

Today, after all these years I’m still a bit surprized it was even shown on television.  Bless you “Son of” Sven.


Ok… The films opens up with an eyeball.  Not just an eyeball but a bloody eyeball.  If that was shown on TV it definitely got my attention as a kid. All that is missing is the optic nerve.  Then a few moments later we see an eyeball attached to an optic nerve boiling in a beaker resting on a Bunsen (the man who discovered Caesium) burner.  Then BAM: Hypnotic rotating titles…


Roger Corman had mezmerized me.  I was hooked and got pulled into the strange tale of Dr. James Xavier (Ray Milland), who is perplexed by the limitations that man can only see the visible fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum.  He develops a serum that allows him to see beyond the visible range.  Dr. X is sorta like the proto-type for Helmsman Geordi La Forge of the Starship Enterprise. Except Dr. X uses no visor. He has very special eyedrops.

X_Dr. Xavier Eyedrops

Corman doesn’t bother us with trivial details about what plant the tincture came from or how he got as far in his research as he has. This is incidental and has nothing to do with the story. Corman jumps right into the action around the premise that we now have a man with X-Ray vision.  He can see through walls.  He can see through clothing and he can see through human tissue.  He is assisted by lovely Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis).

X_Diane Van Der VLIS

Dr. X takes another but larger dose and passes out.  His underwriting medical research friends, including Dr. Willard Benson (played by the incomparable John Hoyt), decide the formula is too risky and label Xavier a nut job.  Meanwhile, Xavier explores his new superabilities (I wonder if Stan Lee was inspired by this film to create Professor Xavier / X-Men in 1963? -Anyone know?).


Later, Xavier discovers a tumor residing in the abdominal cavity of a patient who is undergoing surgery performed by Dr. Benson. Xavier objects and cuts Benson with a scalpel.  Xavier performs the surgery and saves the patient’s life.  However, in doing so Dr. Benson threatens malpractice to Xavier for his unethical approach.  Xavier’s behavior changes.  His associate and friend Dr. Sam Brant (Harold J. Stone) is convinced that the drug is affecting Xavier’s brain by way of his eyes and attempts to sedate Xavier.

Dr. X pushes Brandt out of a window who falls to his death.  Xavier flees and ends up hiding as the mind-reader “Mentalo” at a carnival, where he has an uneasy partnership with Crane (Don Rickles).

X_All Seeing Eye

Here he his heckled by Corman regular Dick Miller, who in turn is put in place my the amazing Dr. X.  Crane catches on to Xavier’s act and realizes the guy is a healer and capable of making a lot of money.  Crane exploits Xavier.

X_Rickles and Milland

Dr. Fairfax finds Xavier and rescues him from Crane and they head to Vegas. Xavier cleans house, although I have to wonder how he got in the casinos wearing the shades he’s wearing.  The X-Ray imagery or SPECTARAMA of Vegas by consultant John Howard and cinematographer Floyd Crosby (The Old Man and the Sea, 1958; High Noon, 1953; Pit and the Pendulum, 1961) is fantastic, and along with the jazzy and eerie waterphone warbler effects contributes immensely to the film.


Viva Las Vegas!

X_Black Jack

In Vegas Xavier loses his shades and then things get fun.  I won’t spoil the ending of this timeless classic that dwells upons man’s existence in the universe.  Bravo Professor Corman.

X_Ray Milland as Dr. Xavier

And that’s John Dierkes (The Thing from Another World, 1951) as the preacher at the end.

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Posted in Bad Films I Love, Cult Movies with tags , on March 13, 2013 by MONSTERMINIONS

Attack of the Giant Leeches_Titles

To me, as far as b-films go it doesn’t get much better than Roger Corman’s notorious Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959). I remember watching this film via the wonders of UHF broadcasting and rabbit-eared television, as a kid, and being totally mesmerized.  Leeches was special because 1) I knew I was getting away with something by checking out Yvette Vicker’s gams and other features, and 2) the film scared the shit out of me.  I think more than anything it was the sound that the leeches made that left an impact on my psyche.  It was a wobbly gurgly noise with intersperses of a large feline cry:

Some monsters just have a definitive sound.  The killer plants from The Day of the Triffids (1962), the giant ants from THEM! (1954), the Rhedosaurus from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Gojira (1954) and the title blood-suckers from Attack of the Giant Leeches all have effective and creepy sounds.  The sound of a lightsaber is probably more recognizable than the actual device.

Remember the flying apes from “The Wizard of Oz?  I think the sounds scared me more than the visuals.  The same goes for this Roger Corman gem.

Attack of the Giant Leeches_Lobby

However, in Leeches, we get the kitchen sink including one amazing set of lobby cards, smut, sex, exploitation, monsters, hillbillies with shotguns, hillbillies in dugout canoes, hillbillies taking a swig of shine from a jug, a subaqueous cave, blood-letting, dead people, floating dead people, and explosions.

On this one Corman closed the deal and delivered the goods. At the center of the story is the incredibly sexy Yvette Vickers…

Attack of the Giant Leeches_Vickers

This is the first time I have watched Leeches since Vicker’s unfortunate and gruesome passing in 2010 (the press handled this disrespectively and in poor taste).  The woman was talented and was at her sleezy best as the lecherous Liz “Baby” Walker in Leeches. Her symetrical 36-24-36 Playboy Bunny attributes wrapped up in a 5’3″ 105 pound frame  certainly helped solidify an unfortunate stereotype.  I think she could have easily played comedy as well as Jayne Mansfield (maybe) and was certainly more reliable than Marilyn Monroe.  I wonder what Billy Wilder would’ve done with her cast as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in Some Like it Hot (1959)?  Vickers got leeches and Monroe got fame.

Attack of the Giant Leeches_Lovers

Leeches has a perfect cast.  Ken Clark is good as the game warden Steve Benton.  He reminds me a bit of Peter Graves and I wish he had made more monster flicks.  After this film he made several TV appearances and a few Italian sword-and-sandal flicks.  Gene Roth (Sheriff Kovis) made a zillion of these movies.  He’s immediately recognizable to western and monster b-movie film fans from roles ranging from Have Gun – Will Travel (1957-1960), opposite Richard Boone as Paladin, to Earth vs. The Spider (1958) to Captain Video (1951) and The Lemon Drop Kid (1951).  He was a veteran of over 250 film and TV appearances.

I also like greaseball heavy Bruno VeSota (Dementia, 1955) as Liz’s porky husband Dave.  I still wonder why that guy was with Liz, but that’s the whole point —you just know Liz Baby is gonna screw around on Dave and the big bad leeches are gonna levy some serious whoopass down on the lovers.  Corman gives us exploitation, but there is morality here at work.

Yvette in a swamp

Leeches follows a standard drive-in theater process flow:

Show monster > redneck dies > show slutty girl > slutty girl cheats on husband > monster kills lovers > sheriff or specialist tries to figure out deaths > monster kills more rednecks > community gets involved > more monsters appear > the hero kills the monster…

What sets Leeches apart from the run of the mill is of course the title creepies, which look and sound like nothing ever fabricated in the holy canon of b-movie horror films. They don’t look like segmented annelid worms —leeches, but are more akin in appearance to cephalopod molluscs with tentacles and suckers. I always thought the giant leeches looked a bit like garbage bags. The attack scenes in the water cave are truly horrific —even by todays standards. These claustrophobic moments, with blood-drained victims crying in agony remind me alot of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

Giant Leech Party

Check out this image…

Attack of the Giant Leeches_Victim

The bodies lofting out of the cave and ascending through the water column also give me the creeps. These are effective horror sequences.

Attack of the Giant Leeches_Floater


One of the more interesting aspects of the film is the story.  I think Leeches was sharply written and it holds your interest.  The casting certainly helps and I’m not convinced that Corman didn’t get behind the camera.  The writer was Leo Gordon, better known as a reliable cowboy heavy in countless TV shows and movies.   How he dreamt up this tale of giant leeches terrorizing hillbillies and fornicators is anyones guess.  The film just works.

Attack of the Giant Leeches_Blow em Up!

Seductive Yvette Vickers showing off

Yvette Vickers

B-Movie Heavy and “Leeches Writer” Leo Gordon

The Deadly Ones_Leo Gordon

Little Hercules

Posted in Model Kits, Sci-Fi with tags , , on November 5, 2012 by MONSTERMINIONS

The Wasp Woman (1959)

Posted in Bad Films I Love, Horror with tags , on April 30, 2012 by MONSTERMINIONS

This Roger Corman quickie is one of the most enduring low-budget horror films of the late 1950’s.  The plot is pure zaniness with research chemist Eric Zinthrop (Michael Mark) approaching aging cosmetics giant Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot) with an anti-aging serum derived from queen wasp royal jelly.

Only there are obvious side effects.

This film gets my vote for a restoration.  Along with It Conquered the World, Attack of the Crab Monsters and Not of This Earth (the later two were finally restored and released on DVD), it’s perhaps my favorite low-budget Corman film.  What a legacy Corman has left and he’s still active.

Corman’s films run the gamut of surreality, with everything from talking man-eating plants in coffee cans (Audrey 2), telepathic giant crustaceans (crab monsters) to hybrids of cartilaginous fishes and cephalopods (Sharktopus).  The Wasp Woman also delivers with youth-obsessed Janice Starlin changing into the title character.  It’s Corman’s play on Jekyll and Hyde.  There’s also a gentle nod of enthusiasm to horror film junkies —I love how one of Starlin’s secretaries comments about her boyfriend watching Dr. Cyclops on Channel 9.  Corman understood his audience.

The film opens with “non-conventional” chemist Zinthrop getting fired for attracting wasps at an apiary.  He talks to wasps and feeds them caterpillars. Zinthrop has discovered an anti-aging serum derived from wasp enzymes.  He moves on to the struggling cosmetics company Janice Starlin Enterprises.  The company is struggling due to poor advertising and the declining appearance of the once beautiful model/CEO Janice Starlin. Zinthrop provides tangible evidence that his serum works and the human experimentation begins.  Janice takes her first injection…

Later, Zinthrop makes a frightening discovery. One of the test animal turns violently aggressive and attacks Zinthrop.  He wanders away in shock. Later, Zinthrop is found in a hospital and slowly remembers what happened.  He exclaims, “Miss Starlin is not a human being any longer”.

Janice takes more injections of the wasp serum.  She has progressively worse headaches.  She periodically changes into the Wasp Woman.

Subordinate Mary Dennison (Barboura Morris) and co-worker Bill Lane (Fred Eisley) discover Zinthrop’s notebook and the secret of the serum. Worried, Mary approaches Janice.

And the Wasp Woman appears! (I won’t spoil the ending).

The Wasp Woman was shot in 5 days. Critics hated the film calling it “terrible” and “Roger’s worst” (Pitts, 2011).  I love the flick, but what a wacky score! Susan Cabot is actually quite good and the supporting cast is game.  Unfortunately this was Cabot’s last film.  And look quick there’s Roger Corman as the Doctor wearing a stethoscope!

D. Earl Worth, 1995. Sleaze Creatures: An Illustrated Guide to Obscure Hollywood Horror Films 1956-1959. Fantasma Books.

Michael R. Pitts, 2011. Allied Artists Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy Films. McFarland.

It Conquered the World (1956)

Posted in Sci-Fi with tags , , , on December 12, 2011 by MONSTERMINIONS

This low-budget gem from Roger Corman and AIP is one of my favorite sci-fi films of the 50’s which is to say it’s one of my favorite films of all-time. Everything clicks (including the alien), beginning with solid acting with Lee Van Cleef as wacko physicist Dr. Tom Anderson, who communicates with “It”, Peter Graves as logical Dr. Paul Nelson, and Sally Fraser and Beverly Garland as the love interests.   We also have Corman regulars Dick Miller and Jonathon Haze as barely competent soldiers who encounter the alien presence.  Dick Miller is always fun in this sort of role.

The story goes something like this:  U.S. launched satellites are blowing up in space.  Eccentric physicist Tom Anderson believes an alien presence is monitoring the U.S. space program. Anderson warns the government ilk not to launch anymore satellites, but they do anyway, and the satellite vanishes.  Tom reveals to his friend and space program leader Dr. Paul Nelson that he is monitoring signals from Venus using a home-made radio-telescope.  Paul and his girlfriend think Anderson is nuts.  Anderson converses over the radio with a Venusian, which sounds like an out-of tune Theremin.  The alien takes control of the lost satellite and uses it a as vehicle to invade Earth. The satellite blows up, but not before the alien intelligence  lands on Earth near Bronson Cave.  Resultant mayhem ensues.

The alien has telepathic powers and the ability to disrupt power transmissions.  It also sends out curious bat-like flying finger creatures that serve as surveillance drones.  The drones attack people and implant electronic control devices in the necks of it’s victims.  The mother alien controls these victims, which include various military, government and police types.  The alien controls these folks, including the Major and a General.

I love the flying finger creatures.  Check out the creature by the Texaco sign (above). They were designed and constructed by Paul Blaisdell.  A total of four “bats” were made out of latex and rubber. Blaisdell named them Manny, Moe, Mack and Sleepy.  Three of the bats were rigged for flying using monofilament wire described by Blaisdell as similar to operating a marionette (Palmer, 1997).  Sleepy was a stationary prop rigged to breath or pulsate by means of a bladder coupled to a regulator and CO2 tank.

Look ma no wires! The flying drone effects are effective and well staged. At times the flying fingers appear to me to be cartoon animated, but they’re suspended on wires.  Here’s one swooping down to attack Peter Graves. Where are the wires?  You don’t need CGI to hide wires.  Just hire Paul Blaisdell.

Peter Graves, Sally Faser, Beverly Garland and Lee Van Cleef appear to be having fun.

Of course the real star of It Conquered the World is the Venusian “Beulah” (nick-named by Blaisdell).  Paul Blaisdell went through a few different conceptual designs before settling on a squat conical beast with elongated crustacean claws.   Beulah was made out of a lattice-work of plywood mounted to a swivel base capable of 90º movement. The wooden skeletal frame was covered with panels of foam rubber and touched up with multiple layers of liquid latex to create the finished Venusian (Palmer, 1997). Beulah was painted with red lacquer paint and highlighted with black, but the finished film is black-and-white (year’s later FilmFax published some color photograph’s of Beulah).  The prop was eventually destroyed in 1969 during a devastating flood that occurred in Southern California.  In the film, Lee Van Cleef pulls out a trusty blow torch…

It Conquered the World still hasn’t received an official DVD or Blu-Ray release.  I only have a crappy VHS copy several year’s old.  This is one of the films that Susan Hart (widow of James Nicholson) refuses to sell for a reasonable cost for release.  It’s a shame.  Along with Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), It Conquered the World perhaps showcases Paul Blaisdell’s finest monster creations.

Further Reading:

Mark Thomas McGee, 1984. Fast and Furious, The Story of American International Pictures, McFarland & Company, Inc.

Randy Palmer, 1997. Paul Blaisdell, Monster Maker, McFarland & Company, Inc.

Crab Monsters on Wires

Posted in CONS, Sci-Fi with tags , , on May 3, 2011 by MONSTERMINIONS

While flying out to Dallas to attend the Texas Frightmare convention and visit friends, I watched a copy of Attack of The Crab Monsters (1957). I think this is my favorite Roger Corman flick (although It Conquered the World (1956) is right up there too). Crab Monsters is really fun with a good cast on a mysterious Pacific atoll harboring outlandish, cave-dwelling, telepathic talking giant crabs. I love the dialogue: “Foolish Humans…” I caught a few trivial details. Early on in the film you’ll catch a scene showing a crab crawling around the edge of the shoreline. If you look closely you’ll spot a filament of line attached to the crab. It’s a tether to keep the crab from escaping into the water! The ever-frugal Roger Corman recycled the crab in other later scenes.

I love the design of the crabs. The Charles B. Griffith script originally called for crabs with eyes on stalks, but the final design renders caricatures with human-like faces with eyelids. How wild is that? “Foolish humans!”.

In the final confrontation with the boss crab, look for the guide wires used to manipulate the claws. Roger Corman was clever in shooting the scene around numerous tension wires used to keep the radio beacon upright. It’s difficult to spot the boom wires, but they’re there. Bill Warren notes that the claws were manned by actor Beech Dickerson, who is also in the film. I may be wrong about the use of the wires —they might just be there to be torn down from the beacon, which of course topples down on the crab.

There’s been some debate about the design and construction of the monster crabs. I always thought the crab had the earmarks of a Paul Blaisdell creation. However, Randy Palmer noted that Corman offered the job to Blaisdell, but he turned it down because he felt he couldn’t do the crab justice for the limited budget. Bill Warren suggested that Karl Brainard was the prop designer. Brainard was with Corman on several films of this era, including The She-Creature, Day the World Ended, Not of this Earth, plus other films like Invasion of the Saucer Men. J.J. Johnson notes that the crab consisted of an aluminum frame, covered with styrofoam and fiberglass resin, and was fabricated by a group of unknown effects artists calling themselves Dice, Inc. The crabs allegedly cost under $400 and housed actor Ed Nelson, who also appeared in the film.

This past weekend at the Texas Frightmare show I had my one and only chance to ask Roger Corman if Blaisdell worked on the crabs. And I did. Corman scratched his head and replied “I had to think a minute about this —Yes he did.” I prodded a bit more, “Did he design the crabs?” And Corman replied with a nod. He even signed a poster for me!

Palmer, R. 1997. Paul Blaisdell —Monster Maker. McFarland, Pg. 112.

Warren, B. 1982. Keep Watching the Skies! Vol. 1. McFarland.

Worth, D.E. 1995. Sleaze Creatures. Fantasma Books.

Johnson, J.J. 1996. Cheap Tricks and Class Acts. McFarland, Pg. 10.

Astro-Lounge Chairs

Posted in Sci-Fi with tags , , , , on February 25, 2011 by MONSTERMINIONS

Actor Dick Miller (not shown) liked the wacky reclining lounge chairs from Roger Corman’s War of the Satellites (1958)(Johnson, 1996). I like them too and went on an internet query to identify them. After a long search I identified the chair. For those interested, the props were authentic Relaxa Lounge Chairs, built in the 50’s and thought to be manufactured by the Original Products Corp, of Miami Florida. You can get one at Go  I would love to have one of those suckers and go on a Roger Corman film marathon.,1950s-reclining-chair,265694.html

John “J.J. Johnson, 1996.  Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties, in Part V. Fantastic Sets. McFarland.

Day The World Ended (1956)

Posted in Sci-Fi with tags , , , , on January 30, 2011 by MONSTERMINIONS

What you are about to see may never happen….but to this anxious age in which we live, it presents a fearsome warning…. Our Story begins with….

Atomic blast.  Theremin music. Nicholson and Arkoff present Day the World Ended

The U.S. government conducted an estimated 210 aboveground nuclear weapons tests in the contiguous 48 states and Pacific Ocean between July 1945 and November 1962. The Nevada Test Site (NTS), a 1350 square-mile area about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, accounted for 100 tests. Back in the day, atomic testing was shown on television and the threat of nuclear fallout permeated public consciousness. Like Them! (1954) and Gojira (1954), Day the World Ended was one of the early sci-fi films that presented the detrimental effects of nuclear fallout.  All three films feature atomic mutants –giant carpenter ants (Genus Camponotus), a huge prehistoric bi-pedal reptile, and Marty the Mutant (one of Paul Blaisdell’s most original creatures).  More on him later.

Day the World Ended was produced and directed by Roger Corman (his first sci-fi), on a budget estimated to be less than $100,000.  The original story and screenplay was written by Lou Rusoff (Sam Arkoff’s brother-in-law) who worked quite a bit with Corman (It Conquered the World, The She-Creature, The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues).  I like Ronald Stein’s eerie score, which made good use of  the Theremin electronic instrument. Day the World Ended is available on DVD and comes in a double package with The She-Creature from the Samuel Z. Arkoff Cult Classics collection. The print is crisp and preserves the film’s original Superscope anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

I remember the film from my childhood when “Son of Svengoolie” (WFLD, Chicago) played it often as Saturday afternoon monster matinee fodder.  I don’t know why, but I confused the movie as a kid with Phil Tucker’s Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960).  The films have nothing in common.  Day the World Ended stars Richard Denning, Lori Nelson, and Adele Jergens. Mike “Touch” Connors plays the villain. Paul Blaisdell got last billing and plays the mutant.

The story begins with a biblical prologue at TD day –Total Nuclear Destruction. “The world as we know it no longer exists”.  A mist moves over a western landscape and “hangs [as] the atomic haze of death… man has done his best to destroy himself…” God has spared a few, and we are introduced to seven central characters: Richard Denning plays an exploration geologist, Paul Birch (a Corman regular) is a tough survivalist rancher who lives with his daughter (Nelson),  Smarmy Touch Connors plays a con man who arrives with his floozy girlfriend (Jergens), a grizzled old prospector and his mule diablo, and Radek, a radiation-poisoned survivor who craves raw red meat.  There is also a telepathic mutant outside, designed and played by Blaisdell.

Day the World Ended predates George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Mist (2007), with an uneasy alliance of dissimilar personalities held up in a house (or grocery store), because of an outlying common threat.  We learn from the get-go the threat is radiation.  “47 Roentgens… It’s down another one… We might live…” Screenwriter Lou Rusoff appears to have done his research.  A Roentgen (R) is a unit for the exposure to ionizing radiation (e.g. x-rays).  In 1956, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) recognized that 25 R changes blood, a dose of 75 R causes nausea, 175 to 200 causes hair loss, and dosages over 450 R can cause death.  Victim Radek  is “lit up like an atomic fire” with 740 Roentgens!  And we learn that radiation causes mutation…

The real star of the film is the mutant, nicked-named “Marty” by Paul Blaisdell.  Marty the Mutant reportedly cost about $1,475 in materials (“special equipment” listed in the film production costs) and a little over 4-weeks to build.  The translucent spikes on the mutant’s head were the tails from cheaply-molded toy plastic lizards.  His claws were constructed of pine.  The body-suit was layered with pieces of foam crescents, attached by contact cement.  Day the World Ended is one of my favorite Corman films –it’s presented story-wise from end to beginning, has plenty of suspense, contains fairly interesting characters and has an awesome monster (I love how Marty/Blaisdell swats at bullets shot at him).

Vinyl Marty the Mutant, designed by X-Plus for AMC's Monsterfest.

Randy Palmer, 1997.  Paul Blaisdell: Monster Maker.  McFarland.  298 pg.

P.L. Fradkin, 1989. Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy. Publisher Unknown.