Roger Corman rose to fame directing low-budget, B-movie features that combined rising talent with material that could often be sculpted into something more than the picture's minor roots would otherwise be capable of. The films quickly gained a following that continued even when Corman quit directing and kept producing (since he started with the original "Fast and the Furious", Corman has produced over 350 films since 1954.) While Corman will remain legendary for some of his own cinematic creations, he'll also always be known for the talent that worked with him in their early years, an astonishing group that included: Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, John Sayles, Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, cinematographer Tak Fujimoto ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off", "Signs") and many others. The profits from Corman's B-movies allowed Corman's New World production company to bring over a series of important foreign features.
This month, Disney starts re-releasing Corman's films on DVD, beginning with a group that includes: "Death Race 2000", "Big Bad Mama", "Dinocroc" and "Rock N' Roll High School". "Death Race 2000" is Corman's 1975 production, which is set in the year 2000, where races take place around the country that focus on hitting pedestrians for points. The picture stars David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone (Stallone remaining insanely over-the-top) as competing racers. Done on a low budget (yet looking pretty decent, thanks to enjoyable cinematography from Tak Fujimoto), the picture offers memorable performances and remains ridiculous (and a tad silly), yet watchable.
The much-beloved "Rock N'Roll High School" is the classic tale of the students rebelling against the admistration, the latter lead by strict new principal Evylyn Togar (Mary Woronov). However, the students have a weapon against the new board: the Ramones. Featuring a terrific script (Joe Dante and director Alan Arkush get story credit) and hilarious performances from Clint Howard, P.J. Soles, Dey Young and others, "Rock N' Roll High School" remains a great deal of silly, energetic fun nearly 20 years later.
Also hitting shelves is "Big Bad Mama", the tale of bootleger Wilma (Angie Dickinson), who takes up robbing banks along with her two daughters, Billy Jean (Susan Sennett) and Polly (Robbie Lee). The film also stars Tom Skeritt and William Shatner. Finally, the most recent of the bunch is "Dinocroc", which stars Costas Mandylor as a specialist brought in to catch a huge mutant croc that's escaped from a lab and has started attacking locals. A decent B-movie if you're in the mood for a cheesy creature feature.
Other Corman productions coming to DVD include:
Releasing December 26th:
A Girl, 3 Guys And A Gun
Attack Of The 60ft Centerfold
Big Doll House
Fire On The Amazon (* one of Sandra Bullock's first films)
I Never Promised You A Rose Garden
Jackson County Jail
Loose Screws Love 101
Love Thy Neighbor
My Brother's War
School Spirit Stalled
Welcome To Planet Earth
Coming to DVD February 7, 2006
A Very Unlucky Leprechaun
Andy Colby's Incredibly Awesome Adventure!
No Dessert Dad, 'Til You Mow The Lawn
Rage & Discipline
Revenge Of The Red Baron
Second To Die
When Eagles Strike
VIDEO: Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, "Death Race 2000" looks surprisingly good. While sharpness and detail are not consistent, the picture looks quite well-defined at best and only slightly fuzzy at worst. The film appeared to be in fine condition, with a few minor specks and marks seen on occasion. No edge enhancement, pixelation or shimmering were seen, and the majority of the film looked better-than-expected, given its age.
"Rock N' Roll High School" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, but the film does look a bit aged at this point. Sharpness and detail are just adequate, as the picture was visibly on the soft side throughout the majority of the feature. Some minor specks and marks are visible early on and then only occasionally throughout the remainder. No edge enhancement, pixelation or other concerns are spotted. Colors look satisfactory, with no smearing or other faults.
"Big Bad Mama"'s 1.33:1 full-frame presentation doesn't look too bad, but it did certainly show some instances of wear and tear, as a few jumpy frames were visible, as were moments of specks, marks and some slight dirt. While not too bad considering the age of the movie, there were still some noticable issues. Sharpness and detail remained average, and colors looked nicely saturated and bright.
SOUND: "Dinocroc" is presented in stereo, while the other films are offered in mono. Audio quality for the older films is flawed, but respectable, with clear dialogue and effects. They certainly sound a bit dated, but not bad considering the material. "Dinocroc" doesn't fare too well for a newer film, with flat, somewhat murky sounding dialogue and effects.
EXTRAS: "Death Race 2000" offers a "look back" featurette, audio commentary with Mary Woronov and Roger Corman and trailers; "Rock N' Roll High School" offers audio commentary from Roger Corman and Dey Young; original audio commentary from director Alan Arkush, screenwriter Richard Whitley and producer Michael Finnell; Ramones audio outtakes, original radio ads, trailer and retrospective featurette. "Big Bad Mama" offers a retrospective featurette, the trailer and audio commentary from Corman and Angie Dickinson. Finally, "Dinocroc" doesn't offer any bonus features.
Final Thoughts: Although "Dinocroc" seemed somewhat weak as a B-movie, the other three Corman films are classic low-budget flicks and are presented well here by Disney, with plenty of extra features and fine audio/video quality. Recommended, although "Dinocroc" would be a better rental than purchase for those intersted that have not seen it.