American International Pictures: A Comprehensive Filmography
Published by McFarland, 2019. 451 pages.
By Rob Craig
I was a little apprehensive on tackling this book for review, mainly because I had already reviewed two previous volumes of Craig’s work and found them written a little above the subject. By that I mean he seemed to find a lot of subtext in some low budget features that I personally don’t think were ever there. But that is just a difference of opinion, and I hoped with his latest book on AIP films, it would be a little different. And it was. For the most part.
If you are a fan of American International Pictures, then simply put, this book is a must. It covers over 800 feature films, television series, and TV specials that were from AIP or under one of their many partners. It is an A to Z filmography, covering titles that are very familiar to ones that you might never of heard of. One of the things I really liked about this volume is that each film has a brief synopsis, usually taken from a pressbook, and that’s it when it comes to the plot. This leaves the story left open for the viewer to really discover instead of the author laying it out play-by-play style when that can lead the reader not even to bother with it! The beauty lies in everything the author writes about after the synopsis, with plenty of little informational tidbits and trivia.
Before we even get to the filmography section, Craig gives us a great history of the AIP, its affiliates, and a great history of the American International Television as well. It’s a great read, like a trip back in time, hearing about all these different features that were sold to TV in the ’60, making their way to the late-night screenings. He leaves all the speculations as to what happened at the end with AIP, as well as any personal history of Arkoff and Nicholson to other biographers, focusing on the films themselves. While there are times that Craig seems to go a bit overboard on his take on some of these films, which I’ll mention in a bit, it is his passion that I respect and enjoyed. In his introduction he wrote about how important AIP films to him, that they “not only thrilled and entertained us, but changed us – in some ways even defined us.” This is spoken by a true film fan and any one of us reading this that are probably the same, completely understand what he’s talking about. When he mentions that some might consider all the hours we spent watching these kind of films as a “life misspent”, he states proudly that he feels that it was not, but in fact an “impassioned journey of an unrepentant film nut.” And with that, I 100% agree with him.
Now, where he loses me, are some of his opinions. Yes, we all have them, and his are no more invalid than mine. It’s easy to see when he doesn’t like something, like making more than a few comments about the “dreadful Hammer ‘Dracula’ films”, or trashing William Girdler as a filmmaker, such as with Abby (1974). But then goes on and on applauding Larry Buchanan as a filmmaker! Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Buchanan and his work, but I would never qualify them as high quality productions. When he writes about Buchanan’s 1965 made-for-TV movie, Curse of the Swamp Creature, Craig calls it a “surprisingly mature melodrama, touching on several significant themes, including the overthrow of totalitarian leadership, the use of cold science as a replacement for failed human relationships, and the emergence of female emancipation and black empowerment as leading social movements of the day.” Sorry guys, I love that film but it is not a well made film, and I seriously doubt anybody thought of any of those elements he touched upon are in there.
But it isn’t just Buchanan that Craig sees deeply into titles that most would consider exploitation trash. This is what he has to say about The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971):
“The clever scenario creates a twisted faux-suburban setting using the three main characters: “Daddy” is a secretive mad scientist, “Mother” is a depressed recluse, and Danny, their “Child” is a dependent, guileless man-baby. The horrible secrets hidden in the locked corners of the domestic homestead fuel a plot-line which depicts a symbolic destruction of the nuclear family. The main lesion here is that Science is a demonic world from which women are entirely excluded, while men work feverishly in conspiracy to create monsters.”
Wow. I will give him credit for being able to see that far beyond the face value, and that I guess will never be smart enough to see and agree with. Again, film criticism is all at a personable level and I applaud him for coming up with something that I found almost as entertaining as watching the movie itself. So whether or not you agree with him on statements like that, or when he calls Star Wars (1977) a “humorless love poem to the Military Industrial Complex”, it’s just an opinion and remember to take it as that. Have your laugh and move on.
Besides the few moments of psycho-babble in here, this volume really is essential to any fans of that area of films, from horror and sci-fi, to the action and exploitation titles, AIP had their fingers all over the place and produced and/or released some of our favorites from our childhood. It is a bit pricy with a retail of $75, but I know this will be a highly used reference title that I will be going to anytime I’m working on something that AIP was involved with.
You can order this directly from McFarland’s website at McFarlandBooks.com.