Not of this Earth. Not Now, Not Ever.

One of my favorite recurring themes in Roger Corman’s career as a producer is his self-cannibalization. Never one to waste a dime, Corman would often pilfer his own back-catalog of hundreds of B-pictures to help the next cheap-o production across the finish line. Sets, footage, dialogue, premises, talent: nothing was sacred from Corman’s shrewdly frugal tactics of recycling his own work. If shooting wrapped early on a production in an interesting enough locale, an entire new film would be staged there over the course of a weekend. If a major Hollywood studio took direct influence from his work (Jaws, Jurassic Park, Gremlins), he would shrug it off by making his own mockbuster version of that big budget knockoff (Piranha, Carnosaur, Munchies). Of course, Corman also liked to borrow Hollywood’s own favorite form of self-cannibalization as well: the needless remake. There have been multiple television series over the years specifically created so that Roger Corman The Producer could pilfer Roger Corman The Director’s back-catalog for remake fodder, squeezing new money & new audiences out of old work. Usually, these remakes would be of minor throwaway titles that never made a splash to begin with, such as the 1990s Rebel Highway TV series that reimagined his 1950s road-to-ruin teen pictures with an updated soap opera sheen. Corman has been much more careful with his unimpeachable classics – especially in his reluctance to remake titles from his much-beloved Poe Cycle in fear of zapping them of their Vincent Price magic. That reluctance makes me wonder if Corman really knew how special his 1957 space-invasion cheapie Not of This Earth truly was, as it’s been inferiorly remade twice under the Corman production umbrella despite quietly premiering one of his best directorial works.

The original Not of This Earth falls squarely in the microbudget end of Corman’s career, one of the earliest sci-fi pictures in his gloriously imperfect oeuvre. At only 67 minutes in length, the film was sold as the bottom half of a 1957 double bill with Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters, which has a far more enduring legacy thanks to its memorable creature design. The central villain of Not of This Earth has a killer hook as a bloodthirsty vampire from outer space, but everything about his design is squarely milquetoast – intentionally so. Dressed like a G-Man (or a Blues Brother) in a fedora & sunglasses business-suit combo, the space-vampire of Not of This Earth speaks in emotionless monotone. Robbing the traditional vampire myth of its sexuality, he drains his victims of their blood via a briefcase device instead of sucking their necks. The flashiest onscreen threat arrives in a brief sequence where the space-vamp deploys a flying umbrella-shaped alien face-sucker to dispose of a victim, the only bizarre-o creature effect on display. Everything else onscreen is a lowkey creepout that borders on ineffective kitsch: whiteout eye contacts, voiceover hypnotism, and a menacing briefcase lined with blood. What’s most impressive about Not of This Earth is how entertaining it still manages to be as a B-picture without relying on a rubber monster costume or prurient sexuality (not that those can’t be fun for their own sake). Corman’s better respected as a producer than a director in most circles, but it really is remarkable how much he was able to squeeze out of this limited budget & shooting schedule. Not of This Earth is little more than a thinly veiled Communist Invasion allegory (the space-vampire’s G-Man appearance & description as “some kind of foreigner” make that metaphor as blatant as possible) made to feel larger in scale thanks to sci-fi babble about alien planets & evaporated blood, yet it’s a solid B-picture through & through. If its not one of Corman’s best directorial efforts, it’s at least an early telegraph of the excellent work that was to come (especially X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes).

It’s understandable, then, why fellow schlockteur Jim Wynorski might be tempted to repeat that early-career success while working under Corman’s tutelage in the 1980s. Wynorski himself is known for directing over a hundred films as cheaply & quickly as humanly possible, so it’s no surprise that he got his start under the Corman brand. Wynorski happened to watch a print of Not of This Earth while working for Corman, which delighted him enough to inspire a bet among friends: that he cold remake the same film on the same schedule & budget – two weeks and $100,000. He satisfied that bet admirably in that he did direct a Not of This Earth remake under the original’s same constraints, but by doing so he delivered a far inferior product. Wynorski was exactly the wrong man for the job. Something of a softcore pornographer, he robs Not of This Earth of its barebones, asexual alien invasion thrills by recreating the earlier film’s exact plot & dialogue but padding out its runtime with basic cable boobies-ogling. The 1988 Not of This Earth is the exact same film as the 1950s version except in color, bloated with unsexy softcore titilation, and sorely missing the flying umbrella monster. Whereas Corman’s film proudly worked within its means to entertain on a B-picture budget, Wynorski’s remake continually apologizes for its own blatant cheapness. Not only does it needlessly pad its runtime with Skinemax-level strip-teases, it also self-cannibalizes Corman’s back-catalog in the most egregious manner possible: showing a highlight reel of better-funded movies with amazing creature effects in its opening credits so that the audience is duped into expecting a much more substantial picture than what ultimately arrives. I’ve seen that kind of false advertising on posters & VHS covers before but doing it in the actual movie itself feels like some next-level hucksterism. The only truly brilliant decision Wynorski made was hiring Traci Lords for her first mainstream role after leaving porn to study method acting at The Lee Strasberg Institute. Unfortunately, Lords provides the film’s only entertaining performance and, since her presence made for good press, boosted the remake’s notoriety above the superior original’s – which is a total shame.

Shockingly, the made-for-Showtime remake of Not of This Earth wasn’t half-bad, at least by comparison. This time the decision to remake the film came from Corman himself. Desperate for titles to fill out the slate for the Showtime series Roger Corman Presents (a horror anthology comprised of standalone features), Corman decided to throw in a few remakes of his lesser-known works, careful not to tarnish the classics. Roger Corman Presents started filming in January of 1992 and wrapped production of 13 feature films by June of that same year, so there wasn’t much room for mind-blowing quality or ingenuity on the slate. Still, the series’ Not of This Earth remake at least indicates that it’s one of the better examples of its ilk – surpassing similar series like Rebel Highway, Masters of Horror, Fear Itself, etc. Director Terence H. Winkless (best known for the gross-out creature feature The Nest and the original Americanized run of The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers) takes a much more interesting approach in his remake than Wynorski – keeping the dialogue overlap much looser in its exactness and padding out the runtime with practical monster effects instead of basic cable stripteases. I don’t know that 1992’s Not of This Earth is a great movie, at least not when compared to the original, but it at least leans into its strengths as an alien invasion cheapie. Winkless’s interpretation of the film is less akin to classic Corman than it is a dime store knockoff of Cronenberg or an even cheaper version of Brian Yuzna’s aesthetic. Pulsating alien brains throb & light up in coital moans; sensual tentacles creep through the walls to suck on victims’ necks; the lead space-vamp writhes orgasmically while masturbating his own intestinal protrusions. It’s a gross-out horror cheapie in just the right way. It may mistakenly believe that the only reason the Corman original didn’t rely on over-the-top creature designs & nightmarish sexuality was budgetary, but at least its hideous monsters and even more hideous sex are more compelling than Wynorski’s eyeroll-worthy attempts at nudie-cutie titillation. Neither remake was necessary or revelatory, but this one delivers the genre goods.

I hope I’m not coming off as a prude here in my suggestion that the Not of This Earth remakes ruined the original’s entertainment value by flooding it with sex & gore. I wouldn’t watch dirt-cheap genre films like this in the first place if I were averse to sex & gore. I just find it illustrative of Corman’s creative talents when working under the mania of a tight schedule & budget that he can deliver something so memorable without relying on that prurience & bloodlust for cheap thrills. Both of the Not of This Earth remakes feel compelled to include throwaway touchstones from the original that have nothing to do with the plot: a side-character alien vampire becoming infected with rabies, a door-to-door vacuum salesman victim (who was so obviously written for Dick Miller that anyone else in the role can’t help but disappoint), a rambling monologue within which the space-vamp pontificates the cure for cancer as a casual musing, etc. Those throwaway gags would not have been echoed in both remakes if Corman weren’t onto something and I felt like we too often undervalue that creative voice while praising him for funding & supporting “better” directors. The original Not of This Earth is an excellent example of Corman at his most efficient & compelling in the 1950 drive-in era, but it isn’t until you see how much less satisfying that film’s modern-update remakes became that you truly understand how special he is. Few schlockteurs on his budget level could make such an entertaining horror cheapie out of a mysterious G-man carrying a briefcase around an unsuspecting town; the two directors who followed in those exact footsteps in these remakes didn’t even try – instead relying on monster effects & naked breasts for cheap-thrills convenience.

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #80 of The Swampflix Podcast: The Best of Matt Farley & Not of this Earth (1988)

Welcome to Episode #80 of The Swampflix Podcast. For our eightieth episode, Brandon & Britnee review the holy trinity of Matt Farley’s backyard movies under the Motern Media brand: Local Legends (2013), Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! (2012), and Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas (2009).  Also, Britnee makes Brandon watch Traci Lords’s mainstream debut, the 1988 Jim Wynorski remake of Roger Corman’s Not of this Earth. Enjoy!

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloud, Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

-Britnee Lombas & Brandon Ledet

Serial Mom (1994)

Mention Serial Mom to a suitably knowledgeable crowd, and you’ll hear a lot of, “Oh yeah, that was his [Waters’s] last…” and then some trailing off. His last great film? His last successful film? Depending upon whom you ask, both are true, or neither. Whatever your thoughts on it, although it’s part of his post-Hairspray mainstream canon, it’s pure John Waters, even if it does sacrifice a great deal of his notable filth (and maybe picks up some cohesion along the way).

Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) is the perfect wife and mother in a squeaky-clean Cleaver-esque family, as noted in the text itself. Her dentist husband Eugene (Sam Waterston), son Chip (Matthew Lillard), and daughter Misty (Rikki Lake) all dote on her and are doted upon in turn. Everything is a picture of idealized domesticity, except that Beverly is severely mentally ill and holds intense grudges against those she perceives as having slighted her. She acts out relatively harmlessly at first, making obscene phone calls to her neighbor Dottie Hinkle (Mink Stole, acting against type), but quickly escalating to murder when Chip’s teacher claims at a parent-teacher meeting that he thinks the boy’s interest in horror film is affecting his academic work. Once she crosses that line, she falls down the slippery slope at a rapid pace, snowballing into murdering of Misty’s crush Carl (Lonnie Horsey) for rejecting Misty and bringing another girl (our old friend Traci Lords) to a local swap meet, as well as a various others who are impolite or rude. This leads up to a trial of great spectacle, in which Beverly represents herself and discredits various witnesses and earns the sympathy of the jury, including Patty Hearst (credited as Juror #8), although the films ends on an ambiguous note about the ultimate fate of Beverly (and her family).

As always with Waters, this film is hilarious, with touches of absolute comic genius. Undersung comedian Justin Whalin has a minor role (and a major scene) in the film, and Patricia Dunnock is consistently fantastic as Chip’s (girl?)friend Birdie. There’s a lot to recommend here, but I hesitate to go into more detail for fear of ruining the fun for those who have yet to experience the comic genius. If I had one note to give, it’s that I agree with Roger Ebert’s review of the film; Turner is phenomenal in this film (that “pussywillow” scene alone manages to be both pure art and pure comedy), but she does play Beverly with such an earnest sincerity that, at times, the sympathy for such an obviously unwell woman supersedes humor, but not always.

After all, isn’t Serial Mom the more palatable version of Female Trouble? Or, more accurately, doesn’t (Female Trouble + Polyester) – Desperate Living = Serial Mom? I’m pretty sure my math is right here. Like Dawn Davenport before her, Beverly Sutphin goes on a killing spree and ultimately stands trial for her crimes. But whereas Dawn got the chair, Beverly, lovable insane Beverly, gets away with her crimes (maybe). Dawn gives a pre-execution monologue like she’s getting an Oscar; Beverly’s story is transformed into a TV miniseries and victims of her crimes are willing to sign away their story rights. Both films are chasing a thesis about the celebrity of crime, but Serial Mom does it through the eye of someone who’s seen twenty years of growing media attention and the resultant dilution of public outrage into ironic (and perhaps unironic) antiheroism, not to mention someone who crossed the Rubicon into the mainstream (for better or worse). What I’m saying is this: you can get Kathleen Turner and America’s Darling (D.A.) Sam Waterston into a movie wherein a man gets stabbed in the back with a fire poker and his liver has to be removed from said implement comically, but not a film in which a chicken is crushed to death by fucking. John Waters couldn’t make Female Trouble or Pink Flamingos in 1994, and maybe that’s a good thing; it gave him the opportunity to tackle a similar concept in two different ways, and although the size of an audience isn’t the sole factor in determining success, it can’t be said that Serial Mom didn’t reach a larger audience. What (if anything) it lost along the way is worth the sacrifice to create a John Waters movie you can (almost) watch with your mom.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Shock ‘Em Dead (1991)

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Traci Lords has had one of the strangest careers in Hollywood. How often do you hear about a person transitioning from porn to an actual acting career? Sure, Ron Jeremy may be a household name (in certain households, anyway), but he never became a legitimate actor, and his appearances in films and on television are usually in cameos or roles that reference his fame as one of the most prodigious and well-endowed performers in the realm of “blue” movies. Recently, porn actor James Deen attempted to make the transition to mainstream(ish) cinema in director Paul Schrader’s The Canyons, a terrible erotic thriller penned by shoulda-known-better novelist Bret Easton Ellis, a movie that is only differentiated from poorly plotted direct-to-video softcore erotic thrillers of yesteryear by the presence of a nude Lindsay Lohan (and whose sole redeeming feature was three minutes of Nolan Gerard Funk in a glistening Speedo). But Traci Lords is something altogether different; after being one of the most sought-after porn actresses of the eighties, it was discovered that a great deal of her work had been made while she was underage, resulting in an infamous scandal that saw the adult film industry spending millions of dollars on recalls and withdrawals. Lords then enrolled to study legitimate method acting at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, before establishing herself as a legitimate actress by appearing in John Waters’ Cry-Baby in 1990, although I will always remember her as a late addition to millennial sci-fi series First Wave, having been born in 1987 and having no real frame of reference for her career before that.

That’s a bit of a long-winded introduction, but it does help explain how Traci Lords came to be in the schlocky 1991 love(?) letter to metal that is Shock ‘Em Dead (aka Rock ‘Em Dead), a horror comedy featuring some of the best examples of the worst sartorial mistakes in music history. I’m not here to pass judgement on Metal as a genre—after all, as far as devotees to a particular musical style are concerned, metalheads are some of the most aggressive, fanatical, defensive, and insular, and I’m not looking to get my head bashed in by a guy (and let’s be clear, it would be a guy) who has willingly and purposefully refused to listen to anything that came out after the demise of Vinnie Vincent Invasion. Metal fandom is a mostly misogynistic miasma of guttural throats, thrashing, and toxic masculinity, devoted to a musical subculture that was most successful during a decade where everyone was coked out of their fucking minds, but it’s also the genre that features some of the most amazing and mindboggling musical feats ever performed on guitar, and that fact is not lost on me. Still, even the most devoted headbanger has to admit that the metal of the 1980s was performed by talented dudes who all dressed like they had wandered away from the saddest gay pride parade in the history of Marion, Iowa—all jeweltone lycra and neon jungle prints. It was a time of great musicianship, but at what cost?

Shock comes to us from 1991 as the directorial effort of Mark Freed, cofounder of StarLicks, a video production company that released instructional musical videos in which notable musicians detailed their personal stylings, which amateurs and interested parties could learn to imitate or build upon. According to the cover of the VHS tape (and the cast list on Wikipedia), the film stars Traci Lords and only Traci Lords, but this is not the case; the main character is villain protagonist “Angel” Martin, a “hideous,” mouth-breathing “young” nerd turned guitar god played by handsome, almost-40 Stephen Quadros, and the protagonist of the movie is actually uberbabe Greg Austin (Tim Moffett), boyfriends of Lords’s Lindsay. Aldo Ray and Troy Donahue, both in the twilight of their careers, make appearances as well, unfortunately, and Michael Angelo Batio makes a brief appearance as the Lord of Darkness playing a double-headed guitar as well as acting as hand double whenever the script calls for Angel to do something stunning.

Marty (Quadros) is a nobody, a terrible person going nowhere in life. He lives in a trailer park, where his shitty and never-improving guitar practicing is the bane of his landlord (Yankee Sulivan)’s life. His boss at a nondescript pizza eatery, Tony (Ray), is a verbally abusive micromanager, but Marty is also lousy at his job, licking his fingers before spreading cheese and spying on his nude female co-worker through a locker room peephole. Across town, metal band Spastique Kolon, fronted by Johnny (Markus Grupa), is having trouble finding a decent guitar player at an audition. Johnny’s getting impatient, because there’s a “big showcase” in just two days, and they have to have a guitar player by then! And, as we all know, most bands form and sign up for showcases before they have a guitar player. The band’s manager is Lindsay Roberts (Lords), girlfriend of Greg Austin (Moffett); she thinks it might be time for him to hang up his bass and take a job working construction for her dad in some backwater. Greg’s understandably not thrilled about that potential future, but he goes on a douchey ramble about how he knows he’s going to be somebody and he has the talent and “believe in me, baby,” etc. Johnny asks some random guy who happens to be there (I can’t figure out the character or actor, as less than a third of the people in this movie have photos on their sparse IMDb pages) if he knows any guitarists, and he mentions that his dad is always complaining about a guy living in the trailer park that he manages.

After getting the phone call from Random Guy, Marty ditches work and is fired by Tony. He auditions, performs terribly, and is laughed out of the studio. When Tony refuses to take Marty back and the trailer park manager evicts him from the property, effective at sundown, Marty is approached by the neighborhood “Voodoo Woman” (Tyger Sodipe), who offers him his heart’s desire in exchange for his soul. He agrees, and wishes to be the most technically proficient and famous guitar player in the world. She does some magic with an athame and potion and stabs him in the chest, leading to a dream sequence featuring zombies and the King of Hell himself, and when he wakes up, he’s got an over-sprayed mane of jet black hair, cowhide bedding, a boringly suburban McMansion, and a closet full of black leather vests, pants, and strategically ripped cotton shirts. He’s also got a “family” of hot ladies to tend to his every whim, and they are by far the best thing about this movie. Every single one of them has more character and understandable motivation than Marty, and they also have some of the best lines.

All three also sold their souls for something, with a price (other than being Marty’s reward, that is). Michelle (Karen Russell) was born disfigured and Marilyn (Gina Parks) was scarred in a horrible fire; they see their mangled visages in every mirror, and others can see them when reflected in silver. Monique (Laurel Wiley) had cancer, and she went to the Voodoo Woman for a cure, but the Voodoo Woman took her life immediately and turned her into a ghoul (as she has done to Marty), forcing her to kill and feed upon the green life forces of victims to stay alive, as normal food is toxic. Marty auditions for the band again and, naturally, gets a spot, ultimately pushing Johnny out of the band and getting Spastique Kolon a record deal, all while murdering his former tormentors and innocent groupies alike to feast on their souls. He becomes obsessed with the idea of possessing Lindsay and making her a part of his harem, which involves a Voodoo baptism ritual, but her love for Greg and Greg’s possessiveness of love for her ultimately saves the day. So, yeah, metal music + misremembered elements of Dracula + wish fulfillment for proto-MRA dorks = Shock ‘Em Dead.

This is a fun little movie, although it could have been much funnier if there had been more focus on some of the likable (if evil) supporting characters and less on the rechristened Angel Martin, guitar superstar. Lords’s character, who exists almost entirely for no other reason than to be a living McGuffin for Martin and Greg to fight over, would seem like more of an afterthought than a character in a better movie, but she and the demon girlfriends are the most interesting characters here, with backstories and desires that make sense, especially when compared to Marty’s motivations. I can’t tell if that’s part of the joke or not, but I tend to lean towards “not,” if only because Marty is too much like a real metalhead, with delusions of sex and guitar godhood in spite of reality, and this seems to be more of a spoof than a satire of that mindset. The two major songs performed by Spastique Kolon in this movie are “I’m a Virgin Girl” and “I’m in Love with a Slut,” which is pretty much a textbook case of the Madonna/Whore Complex, and I just can’t force myself to conceptualize the creators of this movie as deserving credit for that level of self-awareness. At the end of the day, that subculture and that era were dominated by socially irresponsible sexism and misogyny, and that comes across more clearly and overtly in this movie than anything else, if for no other mitigating factor than the number of undulating breasts displayed throughout. Still, it got a decent number of laughs from me, and it’s definitely worth watching on a rainy afternoon.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond