New Horizons Spotlight: Four Films From Producer Roger Corman

New Horizons Roger Corman

CAV Distributing recently inked a deal with Roger Corman’s New Horizon Company to exclusively distribute, or more accurately, re-distribute, a slew of his movies. I decided to pick four of them to revisit and grace with my two cents.

First up is…

SATURDAY THE 14TH (1981, Dir. Howard R. Cohen)

This is one of those movies I saw back in the day, right around the time our family first got cable. I remember watching this as many times as possible, tuning in every time it was repeated on television, but once adulthood finally began choking the kid out of me, it fell off my radar—until now! Saturday The 14th, if you haven’t guessed, is a horror/comedy. It stars Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss as a husband and wife who inherit a spooky house. What’s so spooky about it, you might ask? Well, nothing, really. I mean, it fits the bill perfectly upon first inspection, but once their son, Billy, finds the Book Of Evil, cracks it open and the monsters in the photos suddenly vanish, only to re-materialize in real-life inside the home, does the abode finally start to earn its reputation.

A vampire couple, half of whom is played by Jeffrey Tambor, stake out the house, eager to get their hands on this Book Of Evil. Van Helsing, played by Severn Darden, works for an extermination company as he also searches for the book. For some reason the vampires here walk around in the day, I don’t know how to explain that one, nor is there any given, but for a movie with near slapstick comedy, you don’t really question such breaks from the mythology.

The creature FX is pretty solid. Although I’m unsure if it was intentional, I dug the homage to Humanoids From The Deep, or could it be Creature From the Black Lagoon, when a “gillman” disrupts the daughter’s bath—incidentally, that daughter is played by Keri Michealsen, the same girl who played the daughter in Nell Carter’s 80s sitcom, Gimme A Break—and chases her, dressed only in a towel, around the house.

There are two other possible homages I recognized. One I am sure of was Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors “Feed me!” line. The vampire bat attack Prentiss endures in the attic reminded me of Nightwing (1979). This all leads to a very weird and hilarious supernatural confrontation between Van Helsing and the vampire couple.

Seeing this again after all these decades shot me back in time. I remember even having a crush on Michealson, from this movie and her stint on Gimme A Break. Weird, how you get crushes on people from TV when you’re a kid.

Now for the bad news.

The movie is presented in full frame only, and I could clearly tell by both the video and the audio that it could use a good remastering. The only extras included are biographies of Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss, Jeffrey Tambor, Julie Corman and Roger Corman, and trailers for Saturday The 14th, Saturday The 14th Strikes Back, Invisible Mom, and Mom Can I Keep Her?

Until we get a special edition, hopefully with commentary,. I recommend this version. Actually, it’s the only legit version on the market, so you don’t really have a choice.

 

THE NEST (1988, Dir. Terence H. Winkless)

I watched this one on cable as well, and was not very impressed by it. Well, here I am doing a re-evaluation and I can now say I’ve softened my stance on it. Also, I didn’t realize this movie is based on a novel written by Gregory A. Douglas.

As the story initially unfolds, this appears to be a nature run amok flick about mutant cockroaches attacking and devouring the pets and denizens of an island community. Normal sized roaches, I should stress, not giant ones. As the movie progresses, we learn the mayor, played by Robert Lansing (Empire Of The Ants), allowed a research firm called Intec to set up base on the island in hopes they would also invest in the area. The plan was simple, create a new breed of roach that eats other roaches, but as usual, something goes horribly wrong and these new roaches eat anything with a heartbeat.

Sheriff Richard Tarbell, played by Franc Luz (Ghost Town), and his on/off girlfriend Liz Johnson, played by Lisa Langlois (The Man Who Wasn’t There), try their damndest to save the remaining populace.

For me, the movie really doesn’t get interesting until the hour mark when the roaches suddenly mutate. Not quite sure what the logic behind the mutation is except that they become what they eat. For example, a cat that was eaten is “cocooned” by the bugs. When it hatches, this weird cat/roach thing is born and begins to attack. We get treated to two more Lovecraftian insectile menaces when the roaches invade the body of a human and out pops this “mansect.” A queen “mansect” makes an appearance, and I remember being creeped out by it. Still got the willies from it when I saw it again last night.

All the FX, gore and monster, are nicely rendered. This film has the most realistic dismembered hand I have ever seen in a movie. It hits the floor, all bloody and with just the right weight to make you think the filmmakers really hacked off someone’s arm to achieve the effect.

The transfer is full frame and doesn’t look as bad as Saturday The 14th. The audio is decent too. The only extras are bios of Roger Corman, Robert Lansing, Lisa Langlois, Franc Luz and Terri Treas, and trailers of Humanoids From The Deep (1981), The Unborn and The Terror Within, and a DVD catalog of Roger Corman movies.

 

PIRANHA (1995, Dir. Scott P. Levy)

I think people tend to forget that Corman produced a cable remake of Piranha that premiered on Showtime back in 1995. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a shot-for-shot remake, but it comes close; hitting all the same beats, replicating the same attack scenes and moving the plot along in similar fashion to the first one.

Hero and heroine Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies, from the orignal, are now William Katt and Alexandra Paul, with a pre-fame Mila Kunis (That 70s Show) stepping in to play Katt’s daughter. We also get a Keenan Wyn replicant whose character and demise are the same. Kevin McCarthy’s “mad scientist” has now become a woman in this version, and Barbara Steele’s character, along with the whole “army angle,” except where it concerns the origins of the fish, has been excised altogether.

Belinda Belaski’s character is played by Soleil Moon Fry, who also meets the very same demise as Balaski did. They even used the same underwater footage of Balaski sinking to the bottom of the lake with all the piranhas chomping on her.

All the piranha attack footage, except for the ending, where Katt duplicates Dillman’s heroism under the water by trying to open up the smelting plant’s pipes, are taken from the original flick. They beefed up the size of the fish for this version, putting them at a foot long now. It’s not as gory as the first one, which doesn’t surprise me since it was made in the 90s and we all know how neutered horror movies were back then. At least it isn’t as bad as Corman’s Humanoids From The Deep remake.

Despite all the similarities, I dug this film when I first saw it on Showtime and still dig it now. One of the reasons could be because I’m just a William Katt fan.

Of the movies I’ve reviewed so far, this one has the best looking transfer, with no audio or video problems. It looks as if it was just cranked out yesterday. Like the others, though, it suffers from being in full frame. The only extra it comes with is the trailer.

 

ALIEN TERMINATOR (1995, Dir. Dave Payne)

And finally, we have another Alien rip-off flick. That may sounds like a condemnation, but it isn’t. Some of my favorite flicks are Alien rip-offs: Forbidden World, the remake of that film, Dead Space, The Terror Within, and William Malone’s Creature to name a few. Generally, I’ve been a fan of the Alien rip-offs Corman has produced, but this one just didn’t work for me on any level. To be honest, when I requested this one to review, I thought it was different film known by the same title in the states. The movie I thought I was requesting is actually called Top Line (1988).

A group of people are trapped in an underground base with a mutant that was never intended to exist. The resident “mad scientist” of this movie was trying to create a biological weapon of what sounded like a rage virus, but he ended up creating a creature that gestates inside a human host and comes bursting out a la Alien. Except this one exits from the guy’s back.

Maria Ford, pre-breast implants, headlines the movie as blu-collar worker McKay. The only other face I recognized was the other actress, Lisa Boyle, who I’ve seen in many other low-budget movies. The mutant is kept off screen for almost the entire movie, and I could understand why. The FX to create it was pretty bad even for a 90s Corman film. Snippets are shown and when you do see the entire thing, briefly at the end, it looks like a fully body Halloween costume. Not sure I could recommend this movie to anyone but hardcore Corman fans who feel they need to see everything he has produced.

The transfer is full frame, but like the Piranha remake, the video and audio are without flaws. Extras include a trailer for the movie and trailers for Future Fear, Angel Of Destruction, and Showgirl Murders.

So, in all, I recommend the first three and recommend skipping the last one. I’m outta here.

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