Roger Corman's Cult Classics: The Terror Within / Dead Space Thierry Notz / Fred Gallo

Roger Corman's Cult Classics: The Terror Within / Dead Space Thierry Notz / Fred Gallo
Roger Corman has often spoken of Jaws as a turning point in his career. For years, he and his fellow independents produced lurid films in genres considered too lowbrow for the major studios to dignify, but with Jaws, Star Wars, Alien and other big-budget sci-fi/horror films, the studios targeted Corman's youth market with much greater resources. The tragedy of Corman's career is that this is also when he switched from trendsetter to fad-chaser. Sure, he pumped out his fair share of crap as producer and/or director at American Intentional Pictures in the '50s and '60s, and at his New World Pictures in the '70s, but he also directed films that tapped into the Vietnam-era youth culture (The Wild Angels, The Trip), defined a new type of American gothic horror cinema with his Poe cycle (The Pit and the Pendulum, House of Usher), made odd, offbeat black comedies (A Bucket of Blood), and took real financial and artistic risks with an early race-relations drama (The Intruder). The latest instalment of Shout! Factory's "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" line (which, as it ploughs through the Corman catalogue, is running low on titles that can be reasonably considered "cult classics"), features two Corman-produced Alien knock-offs from his long, depressing, endless tenure as head of New Horizons, a company devoted to cheap direct-to-video fodder modelled after whatever was popular at the time. The Terror Within (1989) takes place in a post-apocalyptic underground facility where a rapidly growing monster (first a puppet, then a man in a rubber suit) works its way through a select group of stock characters: the black guy, the goof, the old man (a slumming George Kennedy), the naive woman and our heroes, the hard-edged woman and square-jawed guy. These characters are stubbornly archetypal and it's hard to care much about them during all the drawn-out dialogue scenes. (However, the part where the alien pops out of a woman during a botched abortion does sort of top the parallel scene in Alien, at least in certain respects). Markedly worse ― and to be markedly worse than The Terror Within takes some doing ― is Dead Space (1991), a remake of Corman's earlier Alien rip-off, Forbidden World, and essentially the same movie as The Terror Within, but slower and cheaper. Set in outer space, in a poorly lit bunker suspiciously similar to the one in the previous film, much of this film's action has a tendency to take place just a few feet off camera, but it does have the modest delights of a robot sidekick (simply a guy in a jumpsuit and unconvincing mask) and an alien hand-puppet that must be seen to be believed. Corman's name on the box might suggest a schlocky good time, but these films are deeply, punishingly joyless. Corman has said that when he hired Jonathan Demme to direct a women-in-prison movie, Demme vowed to make the greatest women-in-prison movie of all time. The sad thing about these movies is that nobody, especially not Corman, appears to have any aspirations at all. This DVD has the option of viewing both films back-to-back (oh god no), with trailers, as "The Grindhouse Experience." Perhaps it's a little nitpicky to point out that these films were made long after the grindhouse era ended. The disc also includes commentary on Dead Space by director Fred Gallo, who is, shall we say, diplomatic about his experiences. Upon his hiring, he was told by Corman, "You'll start shooting in a week." Could he see the script? "It will be ready by the time you shoot." (Shout! Factory)