For my first post, I though it would be appropriate to cover one of my favorite figures in all of movie history, Roger Corman. With nearly 400 films to his credit, I had to narrow down the focus or I’d write a book. I noticed the Criterion Channel had a feature on the Women Director’s of New World Pictures, Roger Corman’s production company, which included The Student Nurses, The Velvet Vampire, Humanoids from the Deep, The Slumber Party Massacre, and Suburbia. While also reading Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses: Roger Corman: King of the B Movie by Chris Nashawaty, it became clear that Roger Corman would give anyone a directing job if he thought they were competent. During the time of the New Hollywood, which was completely dominated by male directors, Roger Corman was giving jobs to women at a rate unparalleled at the larger studios.
The Student Nurses was one of many films in a series about nurses that take their clothes of on camera every ten minutes, but also surprisingly had a progressive streak. Just in this film, there is an illegal abortion that does not demonize the woman getting it as well as a woman who helps a group of revolutionaries with their injuries from police. Despite requiring a certain amount of female nudity, Roger Corman and Stephanie Rothman deserve quite a bit of credit for pushing the envelope in terms of social issues dealt with in film.
Also coming from the mind of Stephanie Rothman was The Velvet Vampire. While slightly less interesting than The Student Nurses, Stephanie Rothman cements her status as a boundary pushing, feminist filmmaker with this film about a powerful female vampire manipulating everyone around her. The gorgeous desert setting also gives the film a unique look, but I felt the plot began to drag a bit after the halfway point.
Humanoids From the Deep (Barbara Peters, 1980) is more of a result of Roger Corman’s ruthless nature when it came to business. Unsatisfied with the nudity and gore in the film, he hired the second unit director to add in scenes where the humanoids rape women. Peters was never told of the changes that would be made to the film, so she requested that her name be removed, to which Roger Corman would not agree.
This is just one case of Roger Corman requesting changes to a film his production company funded. He was often known to suggest nudity and gore in places where he thought the films would begin to drag. Whether nudity being a requirement to sell movies is misogynistic is debatable, but Corman was always know for being savvy with money, and in the film business, that meant giving the people what they wanted.
Written by feminist writer, Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones, The Slumber Party Massacre was originally conceived as a parody of slasher movies. However, Amy Holden Jones decided to shoot it straight and let the comedy speak for itself. I was lucky enough to see this film at a theater about a year ago and rewatched it before writing this. With an audience, much of the intended parody was obvious, specifically the large shower scene early in the film where upwards of ten actresses lather themselves with soap in an overtly sexual way. Shower scenes are extremely common in sex comedies, where a group of horny young men find a way to peek into the women’s locker room. Most notably for me is the scene in Porky’s where a young man spies on women in the locker room before sticking his penis through the hole in the wall, only to have the teacher come across it and angrily try to pull him through. Later in the film, the killer begins to use a comically large drill that always seems to hang between his thighs like an extremely large penis. In my experience, both of these scenes are expected to be understood as comical to the audience. If this is true then they are obviously making a critique of the misogyny that is so prevalent in the slasher genre.
Released three years after The Decline of Western Civilization, Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia also deals with the effect of punk on adolescents. The film walks a thin line between being sympathetic to the struggles of the young people while also not shying away from the problems of racism and mysoginy in the punk community. Each member of the group of punks is given a back story and a reason they are at a low point, whether it be abuse or neglect. They become a family of sorts while living in an abandoned house and seem to genuinely care for one another. It is clear though that this is not a substitute for a genuinely loving family. The punks engage in some genuinely horrifying behavior as well. At a show early in the movie, a young woman’s clothes are ripped off by another audience member while she is left screaming and covering herself in the middle of the audience. Another young woman commits suicide, despite finding the group of punks after a life of abuse from her family.
While Roger Corman’s methods were not usually to give directors full control of their projects, he undoubtedly gave opportunities to whoever he saw had talent, including female directors that would likely never have gotten a chance at the larger studios. He is often remembered for giving famous male directors like Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola, their first jobs in Hollywood, but there were several talented women that were given their first chance as well. They went on to varying degrees of success, but each film mentioned here is at the very least entertaining and directed with skill.
The Student Nurses – 4/5
The Velvet Vampire – 3/5
Humanoids from the Deep – 4/5
The Slumber Party Massacre – 5/5
Suburbia – 4/5