American International Pictures: Three Translated Reviews

by Jaime Grijalba.

As some of you might’ve noticed, I have some movies on my sidebar, these are movies that I plan to see and review whenever I get the chance to see them, and the first bunch are movies that were produced (but not those it only distributed) by American International Pictures, the production company that would produce some and release most of Corman’s output between the 50’s and 70’s. Below are three reviews I wrote in Spanish about different films from this company, I put them here because I think it denotes an evolution of my writing style (somewhat) as well as I want to have every film that I link to, link to a review written in English, either here or in another site, but it has to be readable in this language that I’ve adopted. So, I hope you enjoy.

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

To speak of plot in this movie is difficult, since it’s one of those movies that doesn’t have a need for much of it. It starts in a canteen near a swamp, where a bunch of rednecks get together to drink and not do too much. I wonder somtimes how it would be to do really nothing… to be a redneck for a year must be the most fucked up thing you could ever do, but let’s continue. The owner of the place has a wife that is extremely young and attractive, even though he is an old bald fat man, which gives in for a lot of jokes regarding horns and things like that. To know what happens afterwards is hard to say, the movie is confuse when it comes to establish its protagonist and how he gets to know this splendorous girl, but we do realize something is going on when people start disappearing when they go near the swamp.

The movie has many flaws, in terms of script (risible), as well as in structure and just common sense (it’s difficult to know what’s going without having someone else reminding you what’s happening every second), the wife of the owner of the canteen is obviously attracted to one of his friends, and she ends up laying down with him in the grass, where we know they’re going to be found by the fat man. Here comes the biggest failure and the source of most of the laughs: when he’s threatening to shoot them with his shotgun so they jump into the swamp, behind of him appear a bunch of things that look like cut-up squid tentacles with life of their own, when they are supposedly giant leeches: these are guys closed in a giant stocking with suckers put on and with white paint, it’s one of the most badly constructed things I’ve had the chance to see… after the Giant Claw that is.

The movie has every failure that would make it a bad movie that is made for the group viewing, for the laughs: long dialogues where not much is said, scenes without any emotion, suspense or even dialogue, general confusion, questions without answer, everything that you need to have fun. But, of course, the film itself is reaaaaaaally bad. The only bearable way to watch it is in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 edition.


Sisters (1973)

Three years after this movie, the director Brian de Palma, would make a horror masterpiece and one of the greatest movies of cinema and also among the best adaptations of the books of Stephen King. I clearly speak about ‘Carrie’ (1976), a movie that I just can’t avoid every time that it plays on TCM and feel the trance, as if I was seeing something straight out of hell, sculpted by the demons of telekinesis, and at the same time I’m seeing one of the best female acting performances, Sissy Spacek in a role that moves and turns the movie into a portrait of the passing between infancy and adulthood, and how that process could be truncated by a mother that is maybe in love with her daughter because it reminds her of the pleasure she felt when she had sex with her husband, but her religious vision makes her think is wrong. Now, everything that I highlight about this movie was already announced in this 1973 film that he realized for the American International Pictures, but even in a progressive way, shaky in terms of the directing style that would take with his mundane scenes but already completely expert in the scenes of absolute terror.

The movie starts with a television show, and those moments are certainly the most conventional and naif that the movie has, in which a woman acts blind while another man spies her while she undresses. It’s some kind of contest, where they both win when he stops spying her and she doesn’t stop undressing, but later they both go out dining together, and even if she has a sour encounter with her ex-husband, they feel an automatic connection so they end up having sex. Next morning, this man wakes up and listens to her speaking in french with who seems is her twin sister, and thus he also notices that it’s their birthday. He buys them a cake and when he comes back and gives her a knife, she takes it and STABS HIM IN THE CHEST and the mouth and the stomach. It’s brutal. The man can’t do much other than crawl and get to the window and write “help” with his own blood. This is seen from another apartment, a journalist, who calls the police, and thus the whole intrigue unfolds.

I won’t lie. I’ll say that when I was seeing the movie, I had the sensation that the walls and every other place in which the movie took place sweat, as if we were inside the uterus where these twin sisters first shared a common space, who end up being Siamese. The movie, though impressive visually and with incredible split screens (classic De Palma), and with the exaggeratedly red blood, it moves in psychological terrain that is expected to dwell once we notice that the sister we know has a conversation with her twin sister, but we never see the sister on screen ever. And in that sense it can become kinda lazy, specially with its final scenes, where we are hit by really confusing explanations and they can take you to an erroneous interpretation. But, we have an incredible acting job from every performer, besides a color/b&w cinematography that is truly impressive for such a novice director like was De Palma.

Far from being a debut for De Palma, this film manages to show his aptitudes in horror cinema, and in that regards, it delivers.


The Evictors (1979)

The movie starts in a promising and at the same time disappointing way. We see a historical piece, something straight out of the 20’s-30’s, a group of cops and a victim go to a house faraway from town, surrounded by trees and swamps, where two criminals hide who, according to their own words, have already killed three people. A shooting happens and it’s impressive, but the problem here is one that repeats through the whole film, where everything seems to be a middling effort, as if there wasn’t a vision of shooting enough footage, if the script was really that lazy, or what do I know, the main problem is that it doesn’t feel like a stylistic choice, but laziness or incompetence.

First we have the fact that this first sequence has the worst sepia effect ever, an uncolored mess that you can’t notice the contrast between the elements and at the same time is a cliche of how to represent the past, which could’ve been more aesthetically pleasant in terms of art than the used effect of the shadowing of the colors. Second, the shooting ends abruptly and without a precise conclusion, we simply jump to the present, where a new couple comes to occupy the same house where the shooting took place at the beginning of the film. Gee, I wonder if anything bad is going to happen.

Without evidence of any supernatural object, any hex or even the death of the two criminals in the earlier scene it makes us think that the couple can’t possibly be under any danger, or at least the happy soundtrack tells us that in the first fifteen minutes, nothing can go wrong and we already are feeling bored with the movie. Nonetheless, there’s another element that fills us with hope and that finally with shame because of the lack of vision of the director: the presence of Jessica Harper in the protagonist role, as the wife of the new couple that now occupies the house. After her stupendous performance as the tormented dancer Suzy Bannon in ‘Suspiria’ (1977), this performance two years later already feels old and not in a good way, while in the Dario Argento film she interpreted an amazing scared teenager, and here she plays a married woman well in her 30s. She plays it in a tired way, with no will, completely bored and deprived of any strength that makes her go forward or that makes interesting her character, and there isn’t even a conflict that makes us care, none.

You know what’s worse? I didn’t notice until I started reading about this movie that it’s a period piece, it’s in the 40s. Here’s a great failure of the director and his technicians, that are simply impelled to make an epoch as interesting as the 40s live through the lens. This perplexes me even more when it comes to the physical nature of the memories/flashbacks, filmed in that awful sepie tone  that I already talked about, and that repeats as the protagonist notices the horrible events that occurred in the house in all those years. I think that the the sepia is a bad choice because it gives the idea that the events happened many many years ago, and while it doesn’t have the sensation that it’s an old film, it was the intention, and it doesn0t work no matter how much they try.

Of course, now that I think about it, I always wondered where were the TVs and why everyone used old cars, or why the woman spent all the day alone in her house, but again, there’s no much difference between the memory and the “present” in which the story of this new couple happens, which kills even more the purpose of the flashbacks in any other color or coloration.

Slowly, very slowly, the old crimes of the house start to be revealed and how the death of previous owners isn’t what it seems, and everything that we can expect in a movie with twists so impossible that they could become a twister. Even if I do recognize that there are certain memorable scenes, like the shooting, or acting that stands out, everything seems middle of the road, when the movie could’ve been something a very interesting piece, if you put a true interest to finish everything that was done poorly. There are not important set pieces, the soundtrack half of the time is meaningless (and the other half is just telling us what we already are seeing), and it’s one of those movies that just deserve the half.


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