Thoughts from the ledge on American International Pictures


Welcome to my weekly series where I pay homage to those unsung heroes of the horror genre. The topic of discussion this week is American International Pictures.  Home to the King of B movie production, Roger Corman and ground zero for the Vincent Price-Edgar Allan Poe series of flicks from the 1960s.

So, let’s dim the lights, get comfortable, grab your favorite beverage or some popcorn and let’s talk!

Lights, Camera, Action!

American International Pictures was poised for success from the start. The brainchild of former Realart Pictures sales manager, James H. Nicholson and entertainment lawyer, Samuel Z. Arkoff, the production company’s mission was to create and release low budget films as double features.

They assembled quality talent such as producers Roger Corman and Alex Gordon. They also had a stable of writers including the versatile Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. From the 50s through the 80s, AIP was famous for churning out many horror classics. Since there are many titles to choose from, I thought it would be interesting to discuss some of their better-known works.

American International Pictures – I Was a Teenage Werewolf – Courtesy of American International Pictures

The Original Teen Wolf with Pa Ingalls

In 1957, AIP released this cult classic, I Was a Teenage Werewolf starring Michael Landon. For those of you that don’t recognize Landon’s name, during the 70s he was on the wildly popular, Little House on the Prairie.  I remember this film used to be a favorite on the Dr. Shock Show on WPHL in Philadelphia.

Landon plays Tony Rivers, a teen with anger issues. After having one too many scrapes with local law enforcement and with his peers, Rivers decides to seek counseling. The only problem is that his therapist administers a serum each time he is hypnotized. This serum causes Tony to regress until eventually he transforms into a werewolf who runs amok at night. Of course, in his primal state he murders several people.

This was your typical low budget horror of the times. It also became renowned for being the first creature feature to have a teenager turn into a monster.

American International Pictures -The Raven-Courtesy of American International Pictures

The Raven with Sir Vincent

Directed by the iconic emperor of the B movie scene, Roger Corman, this 1963 film was based on the classic Edgar Allan Poe poem and featured Vincent Price and a young Jack Nicholson. The cast also included veteran actors Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff.

A magician seeks help from Dr. Erasmus Craven, a sorcerer who is mourning his deceased wife. The magician, Dr. Adolphus Bedlo has been transformed into a raven by the evil Dr. Scarabus. The story is full of twists and turns plus action. As it turns out, the sorcerer’s wife, Lenore has actually been alive the entire time and shacked up with Scarabus!

This cast is like a horror hall of fame list. The movie turned out to be popular at the box office.  An interesting fact, the script called for Bedlo and his son Rexford to be at odds with one another. The duo was so convincing on screen because in real life, Peter Lorre and Jack Nicholson couldn’t stand one another.

American International Pictures-Mothra vs. Godzilla-Courtesy of American International Pictures

Dueling Monsters

In 1964, the two biggest monsters battled one another on the silver screen Mothra vs Godzilla! However, in the US it was known as Godzilla vs The Thing. It is the fourth film in the Ishiro Honda directed series.

This battle royale starts with an egg. It fascinates the local village. However, the appeal starts to wear off when Godzilla shows up to wreak havoc on the citizens. Enter the heroes in the form of a scientist, a news reporter and a photographer that try to assist with the situation.

In order to save the village, they summon the big gun, Mothra to aid them in their quest to destroy Godzilla and the rest is history!

American International Pictures – Oblong Box – Courtesy of American International Pictures

Buried on Memory Lane

This next film made a huge impact on me as a child. I remember my Mom suggesting I watch this with her because she figured I would like it. How right she was! That was how my love affair with the horror genre began because of this Vincent Price, Christopher Lee classic, The Oblong Box.

Fear of confined spaces or claustrophobia is very real for some people. I would advise them not to view this particular little gem. Once again, it is based on an Edgar Allan Poe story.

Julian Markham has a horribly disfigured brother named Edward that he has imprisoned in a tower. However, undaunted by his captivity, Edward escapes and causes a ruckus around town. You see Edward became rather unattractive in a hurry because he angered some practitioners of voodoo. Bad idea!

Determined to escape his circumstances, Edward convinces the family doctor to aid him in his quest to go rogue. So, he fakes his death with the help of a special potion. Julian ends up burying him and instead of getting out of the coffin, well, he remains there for a couple of days.

Lucky for him, graverobbers hand him over to Dr. Newhartt who promptly rescues him. Edward repays him by blackmailing him into silence. That way he can still go on that important killing spree that he has been planning for months.

American International Pictures -Amityville-Horror- Courtesy of American International Pictures

Welcome to 112 Ocean Avenue

In 1979, the world was taken by storm with the story of George and Kathy Lutz and their haunted house. The Amityville Horror became one of the highest grossing indie films of all time. Based on the book by Jay Anson, this movie will keep you on the edge of your seats.

From horrible stenches to jade dogs that bite to unexpected red rooms in the basement, this was a house of terror. Perhaps all these events occurred because the structure was built on top of an Indian burial ground and a Satan worshipper used to live there. Good times.

Fade Out

Because the cost of making movies in the 70s was on the rise, Arkoff’s plan of making big budget quality fare was fading away. In 1979, AIP was sold to Filmways. Arkoff went on to form his own production company.

In the end, AIP is responsible for quite a bit of horror fare from the 50s all the way up until the 70s. The blueprint for all B movie filmmakers was created by this studio.

Next: Thoughts from the ledge on Richard Matheson: Creator of Dreams

Have you seen any of the movies mentioned in the article? Do you have any favorite American International Pictures films? Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. We want to hear from you!