Roger Corman’s Horror Classics Vol. 1 (Film Chest, NR)

 

Roger-Corman 75The most interesting of the three films is A Bucket of Blood because it preserves on film a theatrical version of beatnik life.

Roger-Corman 500

Roger Corman is a legendary figure in the film industry, primarily as a producer who gave many Hollywood notables — among them Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Robert Towne, and Joe Dante — their start, or at least an early boost, in the business. But Corman was also a director whose best films are notable for their efficient storytelling as well as their economical production process — The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967) is a good example of his directorial style.

Corman the director and Corman the producer are both on display in the first volume of Roger Corman’s Horror Classics: he directed and produced A Bucket of Blood (1959), produced Dementia 13 (1963), and co-directed and produced The Terror (1963).

The most interesting of the three films is A Bucket of Blood because it preserves on film a theatrical version of beatnik life — not the real thing, but something close to how many Americans outside that culture perceived it. It’s a black-and-white horror comedy (and despite the title, not all that bloody) set in a beatnik café called The Yellow Door, where Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) waits tables and dreams of achieving recognition as an artist — not so much because he has anything to say artistically but because he wants to win the respect of the café’s clientele, who currently treat him like pond scum.

Walter takes the same road to artistic recognition that Vincent Price did in House of Wax — using actual corpses as the literal foundation for his work. It all starts when he accidentally kills his landlady’s cat, and everyone loves the result once it’s encased in clay (complete with protruding knife). Of course, he has to keep on producing “masterpieces,” egged on by his boss Leonard (Antony Carbone), who gets 50 percent of all his sales, and the area population declines somewhat as a result. Corman’s unfussy direction keeps the story moving, and even if beatnik culture is a thing of the past, it’s easy to relate to this film because the cliques and fads and pretentious nonsense characterizing the denizens of The Yellow Door remain present in many venues today, from academia to corporate life.

Dementia 13 is notable as Francis Ford Coppola’s first non-nudie feature and highlight’s his flair for capturing remarkable images and making good use of the location (an Irish castle). Unfortunately, the story is a complete mess, which is not surprising since Coppola wrote the draft in one night and the script in three days, and the end result may not have been helped by Corman’s insistence on adding several scenes shot by a different director after Coppola had finished his work. The story combines several standard horror elements — a scheming heiress, a dead child and grieving mother, and an axe murderer — but it never really makes any sense, nor is there any effort to make you care about any of the characters. For all that, Coppola’s ability to capture striking images on film (the best is an underwater sequence involving an almost-nude woman affixing children’s toys to the bottom of a pond) makes this one worth seeing.

The Terror is most notable for its dramatic use of saturated colors and for the appearance of a young Jack Nicholson and a not-so-young Boris Karloff. Appropriately enough for Corman’s economical approach, it was filmed on sets previously used for other AIP (American International Pictures) productions; after watching it, you may well feel that the entire film, including the script, was also made out of bits and pieces of other films. Nicholson plays a Napoleanic-era soldier who loses his way, is rescued by a beautiful but mysterious woman (Sandra Knight), and thus happens into the acquaintance of a creepy peasant woman (Dorothy Neumann) and a baron (Boris Karloff) whose castle hides many secrets. Of the three films in this collection, this one has the least to recommend it, but if you are going to see it, the digital restoration is the way to go — without those colors popping, there’s really no reason at all to watch.

Roger Corman Horror Classics vol. 1 is distributed on DVD by Film Chest, a company specializing in the acquisition, restoration, and distribution of media content. All three films in this DVD set are in the public domain, so the selling point is that they have been digitally restored from the 35mm film versions, and hence look much better than the versions that have been previously released or that you can watch for free on the Internet Archive (archive.org). The only extras included are several trailers and before-and-after demonstrations of the digital restoration process (the examples in these demonstrations are not all that convincing, but a comparison with the free versions of these films available on the Internet gives you a clearer idea of how much better the restored versions look). | Sarah Boslaugh

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