NEW YORK, June 27, -- When I asked Roger "King of the B's" Corman to come to the First Annual World Drive-in Movie Festival and Custom Car Rally at the Gemini Drive-In in Dallas in the 1980s, there had never been a comprehensive retrospective of his films and Corman was a little shocked that someone would want to screen all his old monster movies from the 1950s.
The word "popular culture" had only recently been coined, and the only people who kept track of old exploitation movies were a few Xeroxed fanzines --the first was "Sleazoid Express" -- and this here column.
Kelly Greene, a talented industrial filmmaker from Austin, Texas, home of all things strange and wonderful filmwise, did his graduate film-history thesis on science fiction films of the 1950s. And the result is "Attack of the Bat Monsters," a comic affectionate tribute to Corman and those like him who labored in the prehistoric era of independent filmmaking. (That would be the 1950s.)
Fred Ballard plays a Roger Corman type who decides to stop production on "Monster from the Mine Shaft" and fill in the missing scenes with footage he's bought from Russia. Instead, he tells the crew, he wants to use the remaining three days he's paid for at the rock quarry -- obviously modeled after Hollywood's Bronson Canyon -- to shoot ANOTHER monster movie, even though he has no script, no star, and no monster. (This is pretty close to the true story of how "Little Shop of Horrors" was made.)
Michael Dalmon is the earnest young assistant director who heads for the beatnik coffeehouse where Rob Bassetti plays a "way gone" pill-popping writer (modeled after Charles Griffith) who agrees to stay up all night writing 30 pages a day, turning them in at dawn. Ryan Wickerham is the grip/actor who finds a boozed-up horror-film actor, Larry "The Cat Creature: Meeker Jr., in a hilarious performance by Douglas Taylor. And Dalmon seeks out special effects monster-maker Bill Wise to do a quick-and-dirty bat monster, even though he's still seething at Ballard for the "Snake Woman" fiasco of two years before.
As the tiny crew tries to finish the film in three days, writing as they go, improvising as they go, talking love interest scream queen Casie Waller into a nude scene ("just for the European print"), and fighting off the unionized extras in Roman centurion costumes who want to shut them down, the film races along with some truly funny set pieces (like the tribal dancing girls using gaffer's tape to prop up their fur-bikini bosoms, only to end up with painfully ripped flesh) and a fairly accurate portrayal of what it was like to work cheap and fast in the anything-goes 1950s.
Some of the acting is a little amateurish, but especially fine performances are turned in by Casie Waller, who instructs the extras on the fine points of "ankle sprain fundamentals" and the three-note screaming method; Michael Dalmon as the assistant director who turns out to be the engine that keeps the picture alive; Glen Zoch as the veteran cameraman; Rob Bassetti as the beatnik sleep-deprived writer; and especially Robert Graham as the old Shakespearean actor Arthur Considine (hired to play "the scientist," of course).
The picture moves back and forth between black-and-white scenes of the movie-within-the-movie and color scenes of the making of the movie, and the effect works. This is a must-see for anyone interested in the period. I could complain about some anachronisms (the term "scream queen" hadn't been invented in 1959, for example), but on the whole it's pretty accurate.
Three dead bodies. Two breasts. Furry-monster hissy fit. Coke-snorting. Gaffer-tape breast carnage. Tribal bimbo dancing. Blood-spewing. One mutated bat monster, destroyed by carbonated-beverage-based acid. Gratuitous Method acting. Great jazz score. Three and a half stars. Joe Bob says check it out. To check out Joe Bob's voluminous guide to all the B movies ever made, go to joebob-briggs.com or email him at JoeBob@upi.commailto:JoeBob@upi.com. Snail-mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, TX 75221.