AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES

 

American International Pictures was created in 1954 as American Releasing Corporation by James H. Nicholson, sales manager of the RealArt Production Company, and Hollywood lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff. The two were the first to realize the potential ticket buying power of the teenage audience and over the next 30 years bombarded them with action, comedy and horror films.

In 1956 ARC was renamed American International Pictures, but its teenage marketing target remained the same, most notably with the special-effects horror films of Bert I. Gordon. The 1960s saw several very lucrative series from AIP, first and foremost being Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price.  In marketing films to teenagers, AIP also began rediscovering former genre stars like Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre. AIP was also a training ground for new actors and directors. Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich all got their starts from Corman and Arkoff.

With “The Wild Angles” in 1966, AIP launched the biker-film genre and reflected a radical new spirit in AIP's youth-oriented fare. In 1969 Roger Corman made his last films for AIP: the violent gangster film “Bloody Mama” with Shelley Winters and the doomsday satire “Gas-s-s-s!” Corman then started his own distribution and production company, New World Pictures.

James H. Nicholson died in 1971, but AIP kept going strong throughout the early 1970s and horror still paid the bills. “Count Yorga, Vampire,” “The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant,” the “Phibes” films, “Scream, Blacula, Scream!,” and “The Food Of The Gods” are just a handful of the dozens of horror films AIP released in the 1970s.

With greater financial freedom, AIP began expanding its product by purchasing foreign sci-fi and horror films and financing more mainstream films. By the late 1970s, big-budget films had surprisingly become more important to AIP than the cheap, two-week shoot pictures of the past. “The Island Of Dr. Moreau,” “Love At First Bite” and “The Amityville Horror” all made money but the overspending led to the ultimate downfall of AIP. Massive spending hurt the company, and 1979, AIP merged with Filmways (Orion Pictures later bought Filmways).  In 1980, Sam formed Arkoff International Pictures, which has been sadly silent.  We owe a great debt of gratitude to Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson for making the world safe for fun, hip pictures of all genres, but especially horror and science fiction. --Drive in Nate          
                                                                                                                   

 

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Mysteriously, numerous doctors along the English countryside are dropping like flies. The bizarre circumstances of their deaths attracts the attention of  Scotland Yard's Detective Trout (Peter Trout) who is looking for any of connection. It is only when a brass amulet left behind at the murder scene of Dr. Longstreet's (Terry Thomas) that he finally has his first real clue.

Later, when it is determined that the amulet has a Hebrew symbol engraved on it, Trout is forced to turn to a local rabbi for help. There he finds out that the figure represents one of the 10 biblical  plagues (boils, bats, frogs, blood, hail, rats, beasts, locusts, death of the first-born, and darkness) unleashed on ancient Egypt.  Not coincidently, each victim had been killed in a strange fashion that mimics one of the plagues.

The plot thickens when all roads lead to one, Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotten) and with his help, they are able to conclude that the recently deceased all worked together on one single case, that of Victoria Phibes, who died on the operating table.  Her husband, Dr Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) is quickly ruled out as a suspect, because he reportedly died in a fiery car crash while racing back to be by her side. It is only after Trout and his partner find Phibes' grave empty  that the truth is revealed.  The chase is on to stop the good doctor from seeking his final revenge. 
 

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

1971

 

 "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" served as one of those films that helped to transition the genre away from the Poeisan driven gothic horror of the 60's towards a more ghoulish campy scene in the 70's. This is truly a wonderful film on so many levels and one that I only recently have had a chance to view.  It also helped to relaunch the career of Vincent Price as he again put his stamp firmly on the world of horror.  Directed by Robert Fuest, most notably of the 60's British TV series "The Avengers", the film is a tongue-in-cheek rip-roaring ride into the dark mind of Dr. Phibes and his mad obsession.   The music, the sets (very cool art deco by Brian Eatwell) and the macabre ways  of Phibes killing all lead to a very rousing 90 minutes of pure fun.



Blacula

The film opens in 1780, as African Prince Mamuwalde (Marshall) and his lovely wife, Luva (Vonette McGee) are touring Europe in hopes of garnering support to end the slave trade. While visiting Count Dracula, the ever racist vampire, the Prince notices that the Count has his eye on his lovely Princess.  As a struggle ensues between the two, Dracula brings down his curse, forever damning the Prince.... "BLACULA".

Fast forward to 70's America, where the bell-bottoms and afros are large. Two interior decorator have score a load of antiques from Castle Dracula's castle, one in particular that has served as Blacula's prison for almost 200 year. Bet you can guess what happens next? No, Pam Grier doesn't show up to save the day (she actually appears in the sequel Scream, Blacula, Scream), but rather Blacula rising from the grave to wreak his vengeance. Very cheesy in a good way!!!!

   

As brothers begin to drop like flies, Dr. Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) seems to think that something isn't right in the ghetto.  Blacula has seen the spitting images of his lost Princess Luva reincarnated as Tina (Vonette McGee) and  he will do whatever it takes to seduce her, but Dr. Thomas and five-O aren't going to let that happen.  As the funk flies, Blacula is a smooth operator when he lays his undead groovy on the line. The ending offers a pretty ingenious twist.

It is blaxploitation, baby!!! Sure they gave us Shaft and Foxy Brown, but Blacula was one bad dude with a thirst for blood. William Marshall, a trained Shakespearean actor, provides us with an interpretation of Dracula (aka Blacula) that exhibited all the dignity, strength, and charm of Lee and Lugosi.  This vampire  is a little more human and less of a monster than his white counterpart. A classic film!!!! Make sure to check out the equally cool sequel starring the goddess, Pam Grier.



Dr. Phibes Rides Again

Three years after his disappearance and with the planets in proper alignment, Dr. Phibes rises from his dark tomb.  Along with his lovely assistant Vulnavia (Valli Kemp), he plans to travel to Egypt obsessed  with securing eternal life for him and his deceased bride, Victoria. One problem, the ancient scrolls that hold the secrets of  life have been stolen by archeologist, Dr. Biederbeck  (Robert Quarry).

Easily recovering the scroll in Phibistic fashion, the race is on to find the "river of life".  As the strange death count mounts, Detective Trout and his superior waverely (John Carter) get a sneaking suspicion that their old friend has returned and head out on his trail.  Along the way, Bierderdeck chases closely behind, driven by his own secrets. 

The final destination is reached in the deserts of North Afica, as Phibes and Vulnavia prepares for Victoria's return. Unmerciful death falls on any and all adventurers who tries to interferes with the good doctor's work. Trout and waverly arrive late on the scene to provide little more than comedy relief as Phibes and Bierderdeck lock in a battle for eternal life.
 

Doctor Phibes Rises Again

1972

 

 More than an ample sequel to the brilliant "The Abominable Dr. Phibes", "Doctor Phibes Rises Again" continues in it's exploration of the tortured soul of this madman.  Reprising his role, Price is exquisite as Dr. Phibes providing  strength to a film that may be a little short on plot.  Director Fuest returns behind the camera along with Brian Eatwell, who resurrects his flair for art deco by bringing it to ancient Egypt.  For years there was talk of a third film, possibly "Doctor Phibes in the Holy Land", but AIP and Samuel Arkoff squashed that when they saw blaxploitaton as their future. It is really too bad, because I think a trilogy would have been an excellent way to round out this series. Watch both films and enjoy the magic that is Vincent Price!!!!!!

 

 

Sugar Hill

The night air is filled with rhythmic beating drums, snakes, chickens, and a dancer's whose bodies seem possessed, convulsing out of control.  When the lights come and the last funk note of "Supernatural Voodoo Women" fades softly in the distance, we find ourselves asking "is this voodoo??"  No, it is  just the nightly entertainment at the highly successful Club Haiti.  As the scene shifts smoothly to the bar, we are introduced to the sexy  Dianne “Sugar” Hill (Marki Bey), fiancée of the club's owner, Langston (Larry B. Johnson). While these two star-crossed lovers are exchanging their nightly pleasantries in struts Fabulous (Charles Robinson), decked out in the worst Huggy Bear pimp clothes known to any self-respecting  Mack Daddy, along with his crew of dime-store thugs. It seems the local crime lord  wants to buy the club, but Langston ain’t interested. That night as he is leaving for some business, Langston is beating to death in the parking lot.

Things really begin to heat up when Sugar's ex-flame Valentine (Richard Lawson) is brought onto the case.  With vengeance burning deep in her soul , Sugar decides to returns to her childhood haunts and seek the aid of the voodoo priestess, Mama Maitresse (Zara  Cully).  When Mama is satisfied that Sugar's hatred, as well as, her faith  is strong enough, she leads her out to an abandon graveyard buried deep on the bayou.  There they call upon Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley), king of the graveyard, for assistance and as Sugar stands before the Lord of the Undead, she offers up her soul as payment.  Quickly, the Baron replies with a devilish grim on his face, "It's not your soul that I want".  When he realizes that she doesn't fear his power, he knows that she is worthy of his help and he calls on his army of the dead to rises.  Finally, the Baron request that Sugar "put them {zombies] to evil use, it's all they know or want". 

In no time, Sugar and her zombie hit men are dishing out their vengeance on the men responsible for Langston's death. One by one, Morgan's (Robert Quarry---"Count Yorga, Vampire")  band of thugs is being taken out in the bizarre of ways (fed to pigs, put in a coffin with snakes, self-mutilation, etc) with all roads pointing back to his soon-to-be demise. Unfortunately for Sugar, her henchman seem to have a knack for leaving behind clues (slave shackles, etc.) which leads Valentine to suspect that his fine foxy lady is participating in a voodoo ritual.  With both the good detective and Mr. Morgan hot on her trail, Sugar knows that time is running out on her own brand of undead justice. 
 

Sugar Hill

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1974

 

It was the 70's and many filmmakers were looking for an avenue to satisfy "the demands of the  inner-city audience for movies by and for black people."1 These films allowed filmmakers to pander to the theme of black struggle against the man (i.e. the Monster) while masking it behind the vile wrappings of a horror film. When you get a chance to watch a few of these exceptional black horror films this point will be driven home however sudden it may seem, because more often than not, the monsters (Blacula, Blackenstein, etc) are really the heroes of that films and are meant to be cheered for, which black audience did in droves at the time.  One example of this is Paul Maslansky's ("Police Academy) "Sugar Hill". Developed  from a highly accurate script (originally entitled "Black Voodoo") by Tim Kelly, "Sugar Hill" delivers a chilling tale of this ongoing struggle.  Although the look and feel of this film may be dated, the plot of revenge is well-paced and thoroughly entertaining.  The bad dialog (" That's one foxy lady", "I hope they're into white trash", etc.) along with the advert racism from both sides can be a little tedious at time, but offers comical relief others. The film is highlighted by two outstanding performances;  Colley (Baron Samedi) and Quarry (Mr. Morgan).  Finally, one other funny thing to watch for is how Sugar's hair changes throughout the film.  This was done because the filmmakers didn't think she looked black enough.  Overall, "Sugar Hill" is one of the finest examples of black horror and super cool zombie flick.

 

 

The Amityville Horror

A young man, Ronald DeFeo, ruthlessly murders his entire family with a shotgun one evening for no apparent reason. The detectives that arrive to try and make sense of the crime place the time of death at approximately 3:15 AM. Thus begins the Amityville Horror.

Suddenly it is a year later, and a newly married young couple, the Lutz's, are shown the house and instantly fall in love with it. They buy it and move in immediately with Kathy's three children, eager to begin their new life together. But no sooner have they started unpacking their boxes then strange things begin to happen. Things that soon can no longer be explained by natural causes.

   

Strange breezes and offensive odors occur, and then cease as suddenly as they began. A priest called in to bless the house hears inhuman voices ordering him to "GET OUT!" The father, George Lutz, becomes irritable and is plagued by a strange coldness that will not go away, though he sits by the fireplace day in and day out. The family receives frightening phone calls, and visitors to their front door that suddenly disappear. And their young daughter, Amy, begins to converse with an invisible friend whom she will only identify as "Jody", and who seems to be able to make bad things happen to anyone who makes Amy angry. These events build up to a conclusion so terrifying that it will, even after years of repeated viewing, still frighten any seasoned horror fan.

From the moment the story of George and Kathy Lutz surfaced, first in a terrifying novel by Jay Anson, then on film directed by Stuart Rosenburg, the very word "Amityville" has held the power to make people shudder with fear. And with good reason. It is, after all, the true story of a family under siege by demons obviously intent on destroying them, either physically or mentally, or both. --flynne sybylle throat.

 
 

 

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