Tag Archives: B-movies



Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 23 September 2013

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Jeff Lieberman

Writer: Jeff Lieberman

Cast: Don Scardino, Patricia Pearcy, R.A. Dow

USA 1976

93 mins

During a thunderstorm in 1970s’ rural America, a fallen pylon sends millions of volts into wet mud. Thousands of particularly gruesome fanged and multi-legged worms are charged with a desire to devour human flesh, coming out at night to attack the inhabitants of smalltown Fly Creek in Georgia. Not suprisingly, the electric storm coincides with the arrival of Mick (Don Scardino), who has come from New York to woo local belle Geri Sanders (Patricia Pearcy). Mick epitomises all tourists, associated with pollution and the nasty stuff they leave in the water, and causes frowns all around when he asks for his fancy ‘egg cream’ in the local caf. The two lovers, who did not factor in an attack of killer invertebrates during their romantic break, are the focus for Jeff Lieberman’s film. When people start to die in the town Mark and Geri set out to find out why, but are Mark’s quick-witted city ways a match for the wired worms?

Jeff Lieberman’s debut Squirm (1976) is well aware of its ludicrous premise, although as ‘ecological parable’ the film may have resonance for audiences in light of a new wave of climate-change horror. The release of the film certainly coincides with a turn to authenticity in current genre cinema. I’m thinking of recent homage films that show a reverence for celluloid over data, physical special effects and everything analogue, for example, Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) and Berberian Sound Studio (2012). The revenge of nature, or at least the physical, is now staged in the modes of production and materials used to make films.

One of the gems on Arrow’s Blu-ray release is the inclusion of the Q&A with Lieberman and Scardino from New York’s Anthology Archives (2012). Their stories about the pre-CGI production are as much a part of revisiting the film now as watching it. Highlights include how make-up artist Rick Baker produced some ground-breaking prosthetics for the shoot, as well as how the all-star wriggling cast of 250,000 worms were rounded up and made to wiggle on cue – animal lovers turn away at this point to avoid authenticity overload. Lieberman also reveals how sets and reverse printing were used in some scenes to create a particular creepy effect. Squirm is put together with visual eccentricities throughout, and part of this is the creation of some eerie, off-kilter shots.

My favourite is a story about the resurfacing of a sound effect that originally featured in Carrie, also made in 1976. When Lieberman was searching for a sound for the worms’ hideous screeching, Squirm sound editor Dan Sable, who had just been working on Carrie, played him a chilling recording of the scream of a pig being slaughtered (it’s enough here just to mention pig’s blood and prom dance). Lieberman thought this was the ideal sound for his rabid swarm, and ultimately it features heavily in the film. It’s interesting to hear that iconic sound effects enjoy this kind of covert resurrection.The resurfacing of the real is what gives the film its uncanny draw, and is as enjoyable now in its HiDef regalia as it was in its grindhouse, scratched up, celluloid form.

Nicola Woodham

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Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile

Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 19 August 2013

Distributor: Arrow Video

Directors: Alan Ormsby, Jeff Gillen

Writer: Alan Ormsby

Cast: Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee, Leslie Carlson

USA 1974

84 mins

Deep within America’s rural Midwest the dutiful and devoted Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom) looks after his elderly, overbearing and bed-ridden mother (Cosette Lee) in a secluded farmhouse. Fanatically religious and slightly insane, Ezra’s mother believes that the wages of sin are gonorrhoea, syphilis and death, and has instilled in Ezra a hatred for all women. Following her own death, Ezra sinks into deep despair, and as loneliness pushes him further towards madness, he decides to dig up her body and carry on as if nothing has changed.

In an attempt to restore his mother to her former self, Ezra begins to study taxidermy in the hope of creating a new skin for his deceased parent. At first he experiments with animal skins, and then resorts to stitching together the flesh scraped from recently deceased corpses. But when the results are less than perfect, Ezra’s morbid pursuit becomes homicidal when he decides that he needs younger, fresher material to work with.

Released the same year as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Alan Ormsby and Jeff Gillen’s cult horror Deranged also took its inspiration from the horrific exploits of legendary serial killer Ed Gein. Although not as well known and revered as Tobe Hooper’s seminal slasher, Deranged certainly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as its contemporary. It has also been noted that Deranged is far more faithful to the life of Ed Gein and his dreadful crimes.

Unforgettably foreboding and with a deep sense of the macabre, it’s also surprisingly well paced and directed. Much like Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead (1968), it’s a master class in pragmatic B-movie aesthetics and how to be as effective as possible within the constraints of an extremely limited budget, crew, cast and locations. The minimal sets, small clutch of characters, and the device of an omnipresent journalist who randomly appears to narrate the story and fill in the gaps add to the surreal atmosphere, rather than hindering the film. There are also some incredibly garish and grimy interiors that give the film that authentically 70s feel of opaque gloom.

As we witness one man’s bizarre descent into psychopathic madness, the film effortlessly progresses from pitch-black gallows humour to something far more harrowing and nightmarish. Along with the deadpan dialogue, the scenes involving Ezra driving his mother back from the graveyard and a bizarre date with a sex-craved clairvoyant are the most overtly humorous. But it’s Ezra’s rotting dinner guests, his banal, workmanlike attitude towards his actions, and his cold-blooded and predatory hunt for his final victim that linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled.

The previously censored brain-scooping scene (created by the legendary Tom Savini) may be the film’s most notorious aspect, but its most unsettling and effective element has to be Roberts Blossom’s perfectly judged performance as the unhinged Ezra, turning Deranged into one of the few 70s exploitation horror films that actually lives up to its title.

Robert Makin

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Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

Corman's World poster

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 26 March 2012

Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Director: Alex Stapleton

USA 2011

95 mins

Some years ago, I was invited to write a piece on a cinematic cult hero. I chose Roger Corman without hesitation. This was doubly fortuitous as I had just been lucky enough to have interviewed the misnamed ‘King of the B’s’. He was gracious, savvy, witty, charming, informed and possessed amazing recall of many of the characters who had graduated from the so-called Corman School. This was all the more noteworthy as he was already 81 and still had seven or so film projects on the go. Corman proved to be a gentleman and an inspiration, and so it is only fair to paraphrase - in this season of Shakespeare - the following line: ‘I come to praise Corman, not to bury him’. That is my caveat to readers of this review of Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, a long-overdue documentary on this unique (now 86-year-old) maverick producer/director now released on DVD, as this is a film for savouring, leaving all critical baggage in the hallway.

This documentary’s tone is by turns witty and irreverent while keeping a proper historical and biographical eye on things. It is as controlled a piece of presentation as one could desire given the breadth - not always depth - of the Corman oeuvre. Director Alex Stapleton has come up with an exemplary documentary that respects and plays with conventions and tropes of Corman’s style - and cheesiness - in a fascinating piece of ‘other’ Hollywood history. And what a history! You want to give a first chance to young directors? How about the following list, whose sophomore efforts were overseen by Corman: Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, Robert Altman, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Robert Towne, John Sayles, Monte Hellman, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Anderson, Paul Bartel and Richard Rush - to name a few. Young actors to play the parts? Pam Grier, William Shatner, Jack Nicholson (who breaks down and cries with his reflections), Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, David Carradine, Barbara Hershey, Talia Shire, Sandra Bullock and Robert De Niro - not a bad list. Many of the above still hold Corman in great esteem and offer fine insights into the man during the course of the documentary.

As part of the legendary American International Pictures, Corman directed and/or produced the terrific Edgar Allan Poe cycle and dozens of low-budget drive-in ‘classics’ with titles like The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Caged Heat, A Bucket of Blood and The Little Shop of Horrors. When he struck out on his own with New World Pictures he not only continued to make delicious drive-in fodder but commenced distribution of foreign language films that no one else would touch. It was due to Corman’s work in this field that American audiences were introduced to, among other films, Fellini’s Amarcord, Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum and Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. Corman seemed to move seamlessly from drive-in classic to art-house classic with an unerring sense of both. Who else can compare? Corman is a one-off, and although Hollywood ignored him - though studios were happy to poach his subject matter - they eventually saw the light and honoured him (thankfully not posthumously) with an Honorary Academy Award, which is the touching ‘money shot’ of the film.

Almost worth the price of admission alone though, are the end credits that have a high-octane, spirit-raising rendition of ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ by the Ramones from Rock and Roll High School while clips from various films and decades - he made hundreds: 10 films in 1957 alone - literally explode onto the screen. Clips which highlight the maestro’s instinctive understanding of the cultural zeitgeist and the genres he developed for a growing baby boom audience: monster movies, sci-fi, horror (especially his apogee with the Poe cycle), beach party frolics, bikers, rock n’ roll sagas, speeding car spectaculars, gritty blacksploitation flicks, counter-culture tales - you name your sub-culture and Roger Corman was there, well before Time magazine could do a cover story on it. And all on miniscule budgets and legendary production miserliness - as he himself observes: ‘You can make Lawrence of Arabia for half a million dollars - you just don’t leave the tent’.

Thankfully there has been no ‘Premature Burial’ of either Corman or his cinematic products - as his co-producer wife of many years states when commenting on Corman’s attitude to on-set or professional set-backs, ‘the dogs bark but the caravan moves on’. My only real disappointment with this DVD is that it only lasts for a mere 95 minutes (which rush by) and not for at least 180!

James B. Evans