Roger Corman’s Cult Classics – Vampires, Mummies & Monsters (2011) – By Duane L. Martin

Another entry in the Roger Corman series that have been released by Shout Factory, this entry in the series is a 2-disc special edition that contains four films, which aside from the fact that they were produced by Roger Corman and feature some type of monster or deformed individual, don’t really have anything at all in common. So without further adieu, let’s get to the films.

Lady Frankenstein (1971) – Baron Frankenstein’s (Joseph Cotton) daughter Tania (Rosalba Neri) returns from medical school, obsessed with her father’s experiments and determined to help him see them through to a successful completion. Unfortunately, her father isn’t crazy about the idea of involving her, and continues to work with his assistant on the experiments, which unfortunately for him, they discovered right before the final procedure where they were to implant the brain and bring the creature to life, that part of the brain was damaged. Determined to move forward due to the fact that there was a lightning storm and lightning was needed to bring the creature to life, the Baron pushed on with his experiment and implanted the damaged brain in the creature. The experiment succeeded, but unfortunately resulted in his monster killing him. Now Lady Frankenstein uses her feminine wiles to convince his assitant Charles (Paul Muller), who’s been in love with her since she was a young girl, but who is nearly old enough to be her father, to marry her and allow her to swap his brain into the body of a brain damaged man in his early twenties who takes care of the animals at the castle and who is young, strong and virile. As her father’s creature wanders the streets and the countryside, an unstoppable, super strong killing machine, Lady Frankenstein and her now husband Charles, decide that the only way to stop it is for him to complete the brain swap and become super strong like the creature. Will they be able to stop it? Will anyone survive? What about the crazed villagers with the torches and pitchforks?

This film is far and away the best one in this release, and was actually done to way higher standards than I was expecting. The story was actually quite good, the acting was credible and believable and had some dimension to it, and the costuming and set design were just incredibly well done, wish special mention going to the lab set. My god, they really went all out on that one. There were Jacob’s ladders all over the place. I mean really, there were probably fifty of them going in there. Big ones, small ones…all over the place. For those that don’t know, a Jacob’s ladder is one of those things with two rods coming up that have an electrical spark running across them that climbs up the rods in a repeating pattern. The rest of the lab was equally as impressive. The whole look of the film was up to standards that frankly, I’m not used to seeing in this era of Corman’s films. My only real complaint, and it’s a small one at best, is that the monster didn’t look very good. They went to far in their efforts to make it look gruesome and took it over into the realm of becoming unrealistic looking. If they had kept it a little more simple and real looking, it would have worked a lot better, but all in all, this is a really good film, especially when you compare it to the others. This film comes in two flavors – the theatrical cut and the longer international version. The international version basically has footage from several different sources re-cut into the film. This is the version I watched, and there’s an incredible amount of footage that was lost from the theatrical version, some of it important, some of it not so much. The footage is from different sources, and as such is of varying quality, but none of it is as good as the theatrical version footage it’s edited into, and one of the sources was from tape that had a television station logo, or something like that in the upper corner. I can’t really say whether it was better to watch this version, or to stick with the theatrical version. I always like to see my films as complete as possible, and while not all of the extra footage is important, some of it actually is, so I would personally recommend the extended version just to get the most complete version of the story. It can be a bit distracting, as there are small pauses while the player jumps back and forth between the film and the added scenes, but it’s a minor issue at best and not bad at all to deal with.

The Velvet Vampire (1971) – A young man named Lee (Michael Blodgett) and his wife Susan (Sherry Miles) meet a rich and charming woman named Diane (Celeste Yarnall) at an art gallery event and she invites them out to her home in the desert for the weekend. On the way out, their car breaks down in the desert, but fortunately for them, their host happens to be out driving around in her dune buggy and picks them up. Susan wasn’t cool with the trip from the beginning, because she could sense some attraction between Lee and Diane, but as Diane’s intentions become more and more obvious, and her attraction to both of them creates more and more issues, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s something more sinister lurking in Diane’s background than her sexual appetites. Will the couple survive the weekend and manage to escape, or will the velvet vampire claim two more victims?

From the get go, this movie hits you as being somewhat cheap, cheesy and predictable. Susan is unbelievably moronic, whiny and annoying. I mean, this is the type of blone they write blonde jokes about. She’s that irritating. Fortunately, she’s pretty, so that makes up for it a little…but just a little. Her husband is the sharper of the two, but again…pretty brainless. I mean seriously, how much brains does it take to wander out of your room at night to have sex with your host on the living room floor, and even after noticing that your wife is watching, you just keep going with it. You just know you’re going to hear about that later, and boy did he. After that it was one constant bitch fest about how she wanted to get out of there, but then when it did come time to get out of there and they found out their car wasn’t ready and wouldn’t be ready for a couple more days, Diane starts hitting on Susan and suddenly she’s kinda ok with staying and Lee starts freaking about leaving because he has to get back to the city for a business meeting. Throw Diane’s weird servant guy into the mix, and the fact that she has a secret room she sits in at night to watch Lee and Susan have sex through a one way mirror, and you have a really just ok movie. There’s nothing special about it, but it’s so cheesy and bad that it ends up being somewhat entertaining, which is about the best way to describe all the movies in this release except for Lady Frankenstein, which was far superior to the other three. The performances in the film are rather lame at times, yet fairly decent as well, which really kind of helps make up for the ridiculousness of the story, and is largely responsible for salvaging the film. It’s definitely a bargain bin production, and the ending was pathetically ridiculous, but looking back on it, it really wasn’t all that bad. It’s worth seeing at least once anyway.

Time Walker (1982) – An American professor makes an expedition to King Tut’s tomb and brings back a sarcophagus containing a mummy they they come to find out, isn’t exactly human. Unfortunately, the student in charge of x-raying the mummy runs the x-rays with the power levels on full, and gives the mummy an overdose of radiation, brining the creature back to life, but not before the guy goes in alone that evening to re-take the x-rays, and discovers a secret compartment containing a bag of crystals and a triangular mounting device for them. Thinking the crystals valuable, he steals them, but the alien mummy wants them back, because that device is its only way home, and it’ll do whatever it has to in order to get those crystals back.

Oddly enough, even though this film has gotten some bad reviews and only has a 2.5 rating on IMDB, I actually ended up liking it quite a bit. The performances were quite solid for the time, the mummy was creppy and imposing, and in general, the story was well thought out and held together quite well all the way to the end of the film. The mummy in particular had this unique aspect to it that I’ve never seen used in any other mummy type story. The x-rays, in addition to reviving the alien mummy, also revived an alien mold that would grow incredibly fast whenever exposed to flesh or any other source of food it could consume, and if you came into contact with it, it was essentially a death sentence, though one sudent managed to to survive long enough to have his arm amputated before it could spread enough to kill him. X-rays would rapidly accellerate the growth of the organism as well, and one girl who could have potentially been saved, unfortunately got x-rayed in the hospital before the professor could get in touch with her doctors to warn them. So basically, you have a mummy, an alien, a killer mold, crystals that glow when the mummy is close, smart people, stupid people, and a story that pulls it all together to a bizarre conclusion. We’re promised a sequel, but unfortunately, that sequel never materialized, so we’re left wondering what happened to the alien and the professor. This was a pretty decent film in my opinion. Despite its bad reviews and ratings, I liked it.

Grotesque (1988) – Lisa (Linda Blair) and her best friend are headed to the mountains to meet up with her parents at their vacation cabin, but what should have been a nice relaxing weekend, turns into a weekend of horror, as a group of drugged out, insane punks, who heard that her father worked in film, figured he’d have a nice stash of stuff worth stealing at the cabin, so they head up there to pull of a home invasion robbery in which Lisa witnesses her parents and her best friend killed brutally. She manages to escape into the snow covered mountains, but there’s something else in the house that the punks didn’t count on, a certain, horrifically deformed and mentally challenged member of the family who witnesses the killings, and in a rage, takes revenge on the punks, hunting them down one by one. When the murders are discovered by Lisa’s uncle, the police begin a search, but is it too late for Lisa? Will they catch the punks? What about the deformed, adopted brother?

This film is far and away the lamest of the films in this collection. When I say lame, I mean seriously, unbelievably lame. I know it’s intended to be cheesy, but man, it was just painful. There was one particularly amusing thing in it though, and it was something my wife caught, and I had to back it up and play the part over to see it for myself. Sure enough, she was right. There’s a scene when Lisa and her friend are on their way up to the cabin where they stop at a Burger King drive thru to get some drinks. First off, they used an actual Burger King employee for the scene, which is painfully obvious because she’s smiling the whole time and looks right at the camera more than once. That’s not the funny part though. Here’s the funny part. The girl gives them the drinks, and all of a sudden my wife is all, "She didn’t give them any straws!" So I backed it up and looked, and sure enough…no straws. My wife is good at catching nonsense like that, and the fact that she noticed it made it even funnier than it otherwise would have been. In general though, this movie is just a big bucket of suck. The beginning is lame, the ending is probably the most utterly stupid ending I’ve ever seen in a film, and everything in between is either lame, boring or both. The main punk reminds me of Ozzy Osbourne in his younger days after snorting a dump truck full of coke. The only interesting part of this movie is that Robert Z’dar played one of the punks, but his role was so limited that it just didn’t matter. Basically, this film is a waste of time, but the other three are worth seeing, so one bad one in the release can certainly be forgiven. Plus, just because it sucks, doesn’t mean it should be hidden away forever. I’m all for getting these movies out there and archived, no matter how bad they are, because they’re a part of cinematic history and should be preserved.

The special features included in this release are as follows:

The Velvet Vampire: New anamorphic widescreen transfer – Audio commentary with Celeste Yarnall and the trailer for the film.

Lady Frankenstein: New anamorphic widescreen transfer – Two versions of the film including the theatrical cut and the longer, reassembled international version and trailers and TV spots.

Time Walker: New anamorphic widescreen transfer, an interview with Kevin Brophy and Producer Dimitri Villard and the trailer for the film.

This is a fun collection of Corman films, and like all the other Corman releases from Shout Factory, it’s one you’ll want to add to your collection.

If you’d like to find out more about this release or pick up a copy for yourself, you can check out its page on the Shout Factory website here, or you can head over to Amazon and pick yourself up a copy here.