ROGER CORMAN Roger Corman helped to define the drive-in movie at American International Pictures and was one of the most prolific directors of B movies during the drive-in's most popular era. Sci-fi/horror concoctions like The Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957) and Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) are signature examples from the genre that he directed. However, Corman never restricted himself to one genre - he made westerns (Gunslinger, 1956), teen dramas (Rock All Night, 1956), adventures (The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, 1957), mobster thrillers (Machine Gun Kelly, 1958) and even movies about the troubled lives of teenage cavemen (Teenage Caveman, 1958). He enjoyed a big hit with his 1959 satire on the pretensions of the bohemian art crowd, Bucket of Blood, starring a young hepcat named Dick Miller as Walter Paisley, a struggling artist who murders women and turns their corpses into critically acclaimed sculptures, and followed soon after with another outrageous horror satire, The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) featuring a then-unknown Jack Nicholson in a cameo appearance.
But it was in that same year of 1960 that Corman unleashed the first in what was to become a series of luridly vivid adaptations of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, or more accurately the adaptation of the titles of works by Edgar Allan Poe. The plots of the films themselves often had very little to do with their literary sources, but they were huge successes nonetheless and showed as often on indoor screens as they did at drive-ins. The Poe films, all shot and released in the span of four years, included The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Raven (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964) (cinematography by Nicolas Roeg) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). These films were all formally brilliant, sometimes claustrophobic, always stunning tributes to Corman's ability to wring as much atmosphere and emotion as possible out of the miniscule budget of every project. Corman also popularized the biker genre (The Wild Angels, 1966), the psychedelic drama (The Trip, 1967) and the post-Bonnie and Clyde gangster cheapie (Bloody Mama, 1970) before retiring from directing in 1971. He officially returned to the director's chair for 1990's Frankenstein Unbound, but by then his legacy of drive-in cinema, including the movies he produced under the aegis of his New World Pictures in the '70s and '80s, was already secured. Corman, often referred to as the King of the Bs, surely ranks as drive-in royalty as well. (Click here for more films produced and directed by Roger Corman.)
MICHAEL and ROBERTA FINDLAY This husband-and-wife team of exploitation filmmakers are known mainly for their effectively sleazy and notorious Flesh trilogy - The Touch of Her Flesh (1967), The Curse of Her Flesh (1968) and The Kiss of Her Flesh (1970). But even more notorious was The Slaughter, a low-budget horror cheapie shot in Argentina inspired by the Manson murders which, at the time of the film's shooting, were only about a year past. The Slaughter sat on the shelf for several years until it was purchased by producer Allan Shackelton, who tacked on a controversial new ending which showed one of the actresses allegedly being murdered on screen for real. The "new" movie was called Snuff and inspired a long-lasting debate over the supposed existence of actual snuff films in the pornographic underground. The Findlays have never been mistaken for artists, but their contribution to the drive-in culture of exploitation with these films is undeniable. Michael also directed the memorably trashy Yeti horror flick Shriek of the Mutilated (1974). (Click here and here for more films by Michael and Roberta Findlay.)
BERT I. GORDON Indefatigable and uninspired in equal measure, Bert I. Gordon is perhaps the quintessential giant-monster filmmaker of the drive-in era. (His initials, which allowed for the nickname Mr. BIG, suggest that he was born to this fate.) Gordon was another frequent contributor to the American International Pictures slate of drive-in classics, and though they do exist there is hardly a film in his oeuvre that does not feature an oversized creature of some sort: King Dinosaur (1955; giant dinosaurs); Beginning of the End (1957; giant grasshoppers); The Cyclops (1957; 25-foot cyclops); The Amazing Colossal Man (1957; 70-foot mutant man); War of the Colossal Beast (1958; return of the 70-foot mutant man); Earth vs. the Spider (1958; giant spider); and Village of the Giants (1965; giant teenaged punks). Giants, featuring one outlandish special effects sequence after another, is inarguably Gordon's best movie. (Beau Bridges is featured as one of the teenaged colossal beats, er, beasts.) After a break of over 10 years from the giant creature genre, Gordon stormed back with two in-name-only H.G. Wells adaptations, The Food of the Gods (1976; giant rats, chickens and assorted other barnyard mutations) and Empire of the Ants (1977; giant ants). Scholars have yet to adequately explain the thematic aberration of Gordon's career, Attack of the Puppet People (1958), in which the main characters are shrunken to the size of dolls. The only reasonable rationale is that by going the opposite way and minimizing his leads, Gordon could then perversely lavish special-effects attention on the now-giant dogs and household insects that occasionally provide the element of menace in the film. In this regard, Gordon's reputation as the Mr. BIG of drive-in cinema remains untarnished. (Click here for more of the cinema of Bert I. Gordon.)
H.B. HALICKI It is often said of some of the great innovators and artists and showmen of the movies that if, out of all their great contributions, they'd only just made movie "X" or movie "Y," that would have been enough to ensure their position in the pantheon. This seems certainly literally true for auto salvage magnate-turned-stuntman-filmmaker H.B. Halicki, whose sole contribution to the drive-in cinema of the '70s was his independently financed and distributed car-chase classic Gone in 60 Seconds (1974). The plot of the movie is mere window dressing for its main sequence, a wild, realistic chase around the Long Beach-South Bay area of Southern California that serves now, on top of the genuine thrills to be found in the action choreography, as a virtual time capsule of the city as it was nearly 35 years ago. The movie was successfully marketed as featuring the longest car chase ever filmed, and on that count it does not disappoint; it is action cinema purely unadorned by style, the demolition derby as primitive art. Halicki struggled to finance other pictures but produced only two other features, an action-comedy called The Junkman (1982) and Deadline Auto Theft (1983), featuring another near-hour-long car chase. Tragically, it was on the set of Gone in 60 Seconds 2 that Halicki suffered a fatal accident, crushed by a telephone pole during an elaborate stunt sequence. Gone in 60 Seconds was left in the dust by many superior car chase movies before and since that boasted good stories to go along with their great stunt work, but the exuberance and relentlessness of Halicki's masterful hour-long sequence of mayhem cannot be denied. It is rightfully recognized as a high-water mark of action choreography, the centerpiece of a movie that also pioneered a model of independent production and distribution that would soon become one of the rules of the game.
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