A low-budget homage to the history of low-budget cinema, drawing mostly on anecdotes about Roger Corman but taking in elements from the lives, filmographies and failings of Paul Blaisdell, Bert I. Gordon, Lon Chaney Jr and Larry Buchanan. It’s distinct from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood just as AIP’s output – made within the conventional film industry, albeit removed from the majors – was distinct from Wood’s one-step-up-from-amateur freakshow. Though not strictly a spoof, it pays as much attention to the minutiae of 1950s low-budget science fiction (especially the acting styles) as Larry Blamire’s Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.
Producer-director Francis L. Gordon (Fred Ballard) wraps three days early on Monster From the Mineshaft, a quickie for an independent studio, and resolves to turn out a picture in three days which he will own outright … so he gets hopped-up beatnik screenwriter Bobby Barnstone (Rob Bassetti) to start typing Attack of the Bat Monsters, casts drunken monster star Larry ‘Cat Creature’ Meeker Jr (Douglas Taylor), Shakespeare-quoting ham Arthur Considine (Robert Graham) and chainsmoking starlet Beverly Carver (Casie Waller), hauls in disgraced monster maker Paul Birch (David Jones) — who recycles an outfit he made for a studio which owns it — and veteran cinematographer Floyd Thursby (Glenn Zoch) and gets a troupe of showgirls to play native dancers in the hope that one will go topless for ‘the European version’. The schedule is imperilled on the last day by the arrival of some grumpy Romans prepping for the major studio sword and sandal film that’s about to start filming, which leads to hassle between the non-union independents and the antiquated system.
The shades of Chuck Griffith, Lon Chaney, John Carradine, Beverly Garland, Paul Blaisdell and Floyd Crosby are plainly evoked. The powerhouse in the quarry where it’s shot is assistant Chuck Grayson (Michael Dalmon), who gets things done even when the cast and crew are on the point of rebellion – suggesting perhaps the resourceful movie brats who would go on from Corman films to become mainstream industry names like Bogdanovich, Coppola and Robert Towne. It’s generally good-natured, though there’s some bite to the depiction of harsh working conditions and the exploitation of personnel in the name of getting the thing finished. A monster performer suffers when sulphuric fumes fill the suit, but Birch proudly reveals that he’s lined it with asbestos to minimise the ill-effects. The titles especially have the Filmgroup look, and there are some interesting technical asides as Beverly demonstrates how to scream-pose to get on a lobby card or Thursby introduces gaffer tape to the American film industry. A sweet, witty, inventive, surprisingly educational low-budget movie about the low-budget moviemaking of the 1950s … Made in 2002, it’s taken a while to arrive – but was worth the wait.