Many actors and others in the
film business, hoping to try their hand at directing
or producing, have turned to science fiction when starting
out. Fantasy films, usually centering around costly
special effects, may seem an unlikely choice for filmmakers
strapped for funds, and often the results are dubious.
We salute 10 who forged ahead, budget notwithstanding.
Ashley once ruled the drive-in roost as the top
teen idol in B movies with titles like Hot Rod Gang
and High School Caesar to his credit. He later
emigrated to the Philippines where he teamed with exploitation
director Eddie Romero. Twilight People, produced
by Ashley, is the duo's take on the venerable Island
of Dr. Moreau, featuring blaxploitation queen Pam
Grier as the Panther Woman.
Dungeon of Harrow
Few filmmakers could have created so much from so little.
The garish, atmospheric color schemes and literate script
help to mask the production's amateurish aspects. And
filling the mouths of inexperienced actors with florid
gothic dialogue is nothing if not audacious. All in
all, not bad for a guy who only stopped working on the
script long enough to build the sets.
Director, cinematographer and sometime producer Dick
Cunha scrambled to crank out a fistful of the 50s' more
memorable sleazy shockers. Once more, enthusiastic pretension
played a part. If guys like Cunha hadn't the guts to
dish up offbeat scenarios involving gigantic conquistadors,
ambulatory rock men and sarong-wrapped mutants, the
late show of our youth might have been a wasteland.
She Demons, especially, is a melting pot
of time-tested, B movie conventions: a desert island,
a busty pin-up, mutilation, monsters, Nazis and a raving
mad scientist! All this and Sen Yung, too!
The Killer Shrews, The Giant Gila
Curtis is recognized today, of course, as Gunsmoke's
wily Festus Haggen. But prior to his television success,
his career was impressively diverse. Appearing in a
number of John Ford westerns -- most notably The
Searchers -- he'd also lent his sonorous singing
voice to the Sons of the Pioneers, and popped up in
Orson Welles' starkly haunting film version of Macbeth.
Like any smart businessman, he recognized the quick-buck
potential of drive-in horror fare and rapidly scraped
together these classic quickies. Shrews in particular
possesses a ragged charm with yapping dogs in false
teeth and cast-off toupees portraying the famished titular
The Beach Girls and the Monster
Hall was a popular matinee idol in the 1940s, co-starring
with Maria Montez in a series of South Sea sarong-fests.
Hoping to exploit the burgeoning 1960s surf movie craze,
he fashioned this crudely conceived drive-in classic.
Reams of surf footage and bouncing, bikini-clad sun
bunnies add precious little spice to the proceedings.
DAVID L. HEWITT
Wizard of Mars
As was his way, Dave Hewitt (The Mighty Gorga)
cast budgetary caution to the wind when he recast The
Wizard of Oz as an epic sci fi allegory starring
John Carradine. Employing meager yet ambitious effects
to arguable advantage, this threadbare offering turned
out to be perhaps Hewitt's best-known film.
The Slime People
Hutton was an up-and-coming, second-string lead with
a showy role in Sam Fuller's classic war film The
Steel Helmet (1951). By the end of the decade, he'd
embraced sci fi, popping up in cheapies such as Man
Without A Body, Invisible Invaders and others. In
1962, Hutton took the helm, directing The Slime People,
the torpid, talky story of froggy invaders who spring
from the earth's bowels. Billowing fog enshrouds the
sets in an attempt to disguise the conspicuous lack
The Brain Eaters
Another Corman alum takes charge! Ed Nelson, who'd
appeared in Corman's Teenage Caveman, Night of the
Blood Beast and others, took advantage of the opportunities
drive-in films provided for honing one's professional
skills. Teaming with buddy Bruno Ve Sota, who directed,
Nelson produced and starred in this cheap but grittily
BRUNO VE SOTA
Invasion of the Star Creatures
Possibly the most prolific of Corman's erstwhile troupe,
Ve Sota assumed the director's seat with mixed results.
Female Jungle featured a fascinating cast --
Lawrence Tierney, John Carradine and Jayne Mansfield
in her screen debut -- but Star Creatures, scripted
by Corman crony Jonathan Haze, is the late night mainstay
many remember best. This dismal enterprise features
the forgettable comic team of Bob Ball and Frankie Ray
defending the earth from a pair of voluptuous babes
and a gang of giant carrots.
Welles was another member in good standing of Roger
Corman's durable stock company and is perhaps remembered
best as store owner Gravis Mushnick in the classic Little
Shop of Horrors. The early 70s found Welles in Italy
directing this exploitative curiosity. Joseph Cotten
is on board for a good part of the ride as Doc Frankenstein,
as is strong man Mickey Hargitay, once the husband of