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American International Pictures

Entry updated 21 June 2022. Tagged: Community, Film.

This entry covers the period 1954-1979 when American International Pictures was an independent American motion picture company that produced and distributed low-budget films. Formed by James H Nicholson and Samuel Z Arkoff in 1954 and initially called the American Releasing Corporation (ARC), it was renamed American International Pictures (AIP) in 1956. In 1964 it also formed American International Productions Television to produce made-for-tv movies. In 1979 ARC was bought by Filmways, Inc and is currently owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Initially supplying B pictures to movie theatres, AIP found it difficult to make a reasonable profit, as only the A picture received a cut of the box office receipts; B pictures were just paid a fixed fee. They responded by providing both halves of a double feature (essentially, two B movies), catering particularly for drive-ins. However, lacking stars and budgets, they needed to find a method to attract an audience. Deciding to focus on teenagers – adults were more inclined to watch television than go to a drive-in – and arguing that younger brothers wanted to watch what their elder brothers watched and teenaged girls would watch whatever the boys were watching (with the reverse not being true), they focused on males in their late teens ... and what they wanted was Horror, science fiction, fast cars (or motorcycles) and wanton women (see Sex). AIP would come up with a title first: Arkoff tells of Nicholson suggesting, "What do you think of the title I Was a Teenage Werewolf?" To which he replied, "My god, that's a million dollar title going on a one hundred thousand dollar picture." A garish poster would then be designed and focus groups set up to find out what an audience would want from such a film: only then would they get round to commissioning a script and quickly making a cheap movie. The titles and posters were memorable, but they often promised considerably more than the special effects budget, short deadlines and censorship rules (see Taboos) permitted.

This entry concentrates on those films with SF elements funded or co-funded by AIP, but sometimes discusses their other genre movies. Those SF films they only distributed are often mentioned – if they were the first world release, part of a double feature or where a foreign film had new material inserted for the US market. The latter practice is discussed in the Roger Corman entry; foreign language films would also be given an English dub, often none too faithful to the original. AIP made many non-genre films – for example, in the 1950s it was teen rebellion pictures such as Girls in Prison (1956), Hot Rod Girl (1956) and High School Hellcats (1958); in the early 1960s, beach movies – for example, Muscle Beach Party (1964) – then in the late 1960s, back to rebellion with biker and counter-culture movies, such as The Wild Angels (1966) and The Trip (1967); then, in the seventies, blaxploitation films like the influential Foxy Brown (1974) – some having supernatural horror elements, like Blacula (1972) (see Vampires). Horror or fantastical films without sf elements are usually not listed – but, by way of example, there was The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), a teens-in-a-haunted house-comedy (which is also classed as a "Beach Party" movie, despite being beach-free); or the many foreign films distributed by AIP, some of which had genre elements – such as the Anime Alakazam the Great (1960; original title Saiyūki) or a few of the Italian "Sword and Sandal" pictures, including Goliath and the Dragon (1960; original title La vendetta di Ercole), where the main character (Hercules in the Italian version) fights Monsters in the Underworld ... plus a dragon (see Supernatural Creatures), which was not in the original, but was added by AIP. Another, Roma contro Roma (1964), released in the UK as Rome Against Rome, was retitled War of the Zombies; to be fair, a Zombie army does appear.

The company had been releasing science fiction and horror films since the ARC era, starting with The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955). The first double feature was The Day the World Ended (1955) and The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955). Of those that followed, the ones with SF elements were: It Conquered the World (1956); The She Creature (1956): The Undead (1957); Voodoo Woman (1957), which included a Mad Scientist using voodoo and biochemistry to create an indestructible Monster; I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957); and, with one of the most impressive of AIP's posters, Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957). The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) was paired with the UK horror film Cat Girl (1957). I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957) was accompanied by the UK film Blood of Dracula (1957; UK title Blood Is My Heritage): here a girl is sent to boarding school, only to have the chemistry teacher make her wear an ancient amulet that turns her into a vampire; apparently this is part of the teacher's plan to save the world from nuclear destruction (see Holocaust); a moralistic speech at the end says, "There is a power greater than science that rules the earth; those who twist and pervert knowledge for evil only work out their own destruction." The Astounding She-Monster (1957) was paired with the self-explanatory The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957). Terror from the Year 5000 (1958; vt Cage of Doom) has Scientists inventing a matter exchange device that swaps items between the future and the present (see Time Travel), but finds the former are radioactive; a woman from this post-nuclear war (see World War III) era then arrives searching for healthy male genes to save humanity from extinction (the film was based on Henry Slesar's story "Bottle Baby" [April 1957 Fantastic]); it is paired with a horror film, The Screaming Skull (1958), whose prologue comforts viewers with, "Its producers feel they must assure free burial service to anyone who dies of fright." Teenage Caveman (1958; vt Out of the Darkness) concerns a tribe of apparent cavemen (see Apes as Human) who discover they live in a Post-Holocaust world (see Conceptual Breakthrough), following a nuclear war; it was paired with How to Make a Monster (1958), about a vengeful make-up artist, who hypnotizes youngsters and dresses them as monsters. Attack of the Puppet People (1958) and War of the Colossal Beast (1958; vt Revenge of the Colossal Man; vt The Colossal Beast), the latter being a follow-up to The Amazing Colossal Man (1957). Night of the Blood Beast (1958) was paired with the non-genre She Gods of Shark Reef (1958). The Brain Eaters (1958) was paired with Earth vs the Spider (1958); Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959) was paired with the horror comedy A Bucket of Blood (1959).

The 1960s began with the pairing of The Amazing Transparent Man (1960) and Beyond the Time Barrier (1960). The Angry Red Planet (1960) was shown with the British horror movie Circus of Horrors (1960), about a disgraced plastic surgeon who takes over a circus and makes the performers beautiful but kills them if they try to leave. Master of the World (1961) was paired with Konga (1961) and The Phantom Planet (1961) with Assignment Outer Space (1961); the latter is an Italian film, original titled Space Men (1960). Battle Beyond the Sun (1963) was a radical reworking by Francis Ford Coppola (as Thomas Colchart) of the Russian film Nebo Zovyot (1959); it was paired with Night Tide (1961) about an apparent siren. Invasion of the Star Creatures (1962) was paired with The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962; vt The Head That Wouldn't Die; vt The Brain That Couldn't Die); the latter is about a surgeon (see Medicine) who wants to transplant his decapitated girlfriend's head on to the body of a woman he kidnaps. Panic in Year Zero! (1962) was paired with Tales of Terror (1962), a trilogy of Edgar Allan Poe story adaptations.

At this point double features became less frequent. Reptilicus (1962) was a Danish film radically reworked by AIP. The Haunted Palace (1963), though using an Edgar Allan Poe title, is actually based on H P Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (cut 1941 Weird Tales; restored in Beyond the Wall of Sleep, coll 1943; dated 1951 but 1952). X – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) was a double feature with the horror film Dementia 13 (1963). The Time Travelers (1964) was also a double feature, with the Japanese film Atragon (1963) (see Shunrō Oshikawa). Voyage to the End of the Universe (1964) was a version of the Czech film Ikarie XB-1 (1963), given a different ending. The Eye Creatures (1965; vt Attack of the Eye Creatures) was a made-for-tv remake of AIB's earlier Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957). Next came War-Gods of the Deep (1965). Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965) is a made-for-tv reworking of the Russian film Planeta Bur (1962), with new scenes filmed to replace some of the originals. Sergeant Deadhead (1965) has a soldier falling asleep in a Rocket just before it is launched with its intended passenger, a chimpanzee; however, going into space alters personalities (see Identity) – two mice previously sent up chased cats on their return – and back on Earth the chimp can speak while Deadhead, now a celebrity, has become obnoxious, so a double is found to take his place at media events (the film is another attempt to move on from Beach Movies, using the same cast). Planet of the Vampires (1965, vt Terrore Nello Spazio) was a double feature with the British film Die, Monster, Die! (1965; UK title Monster of Terror), which was based on H P Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space" (September 1927 Amazing); but here events take place in Arkham, England, not Arkham, Massachusetts. Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) has the titular Mad Scientist building sexy bikini-clad Robots to charm rich guys, then steal their valuables.

1966 included two made-for-tv movies: Zontar, the Thing from Venus (1966; vt Zontar: The Invader from Venus) and Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966) – the former a remake of It Conquered the World (1956), whilst the latter had many similarities to Voodoo Woman (1957). Queen of Blood (1966; vt Planet of Blood) is based on the Soviet film Mechte Navstrechu (1963), also using its special effects, as well some from Nebo Zovyot (1959) (see also Battle Beyond the Sun above); it was a double feature with Blood Bath (1966; vt Track of the Vampire), a horror film about an artist possessed by an ancestor who was also a painter (see Arts; Reincarnation) – unfortunately, the ancestor was a vampire too. Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966) has the doctor now working for the Chinese, creating exploding female Robots to kill NATO generals (he also tries to start a war between the USA and Russia). 1967 had three made-for-tv movies Mars Needs Women (1967); In the Year 2889 (1967), a remake of Day the World Ended (1955), and Creature of Destruction (1967), a remake of The She Creature (1956). Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968) is AIP's second reworking of Planeta Bur (1962): it had the same footage used in Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965), but also shot some new scenes. Wild in the Streets (1968) was followed by It's Alive! (1969) – not to be confused with It's Alive (1974) – which has an Ozark farmer feeding visitors to the Dinosaur he keeps in a cave.

The new decade began with Scream and Scream Again (1970). Then came The Dunwich Horror (1970), based on H P Lovecraft "The Dunwich Horror" (April 1929 Weird Tales). Next was Gas-s-s-s, Or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World ... (1970). The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971) has a scientist transplanting the head of a serial killer onto the body of another man, who is strong but has the mind of a child (see also The Manster [1959]). Next was Frogs (1972). In The Thing with Two Heads (1972) a racist doctor (see Race in SF) has devised a procedure to successfully transplant heads, and since he is dying he wants his head attached to a donor quickly; however that donor turns out to be a black man (volunteering as he had been sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit); as the doctor is unconscious at this point and about to die, the surgeons go ahead and perform the operation (again, see also The Manster). In The Bat People (1974) a honeymooning doctor, exploring a cave, is bitten by a bat; though it is not a vampire bat, he becomes a blood drinking were-bat and starts killing people; later his wife decides to get bitten, turning into a were-bat too, and the pair return to the cave. The Land that Time Forgot (1974) was followed by The Food of the Gods (1976). In Squirm (1976) a storm leads to a power line falling on to rain-soaked land into which a worm farmer's consignment of bloodworms and sandworms have escaped; electrified, they begin to attack humans; this film is also discussed in the entry for Blue Sunshine (1977) . The final run of sf films was At the Earth's Core (1976); Futureworld (1976); Empire of the Ants (1977); The People that Time Forgot (1977); The Island of Dr Moreau (1977); The Incredible Melting Man (1977); the financial disaster that was Meteor (1979); then, finally, C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979) (see Hanna-Barbera).

The most famous member of the AIP staff was producer and director Roger Corman, whose non-sf films based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe won him critical acclaim and are discussed in the Corman entry. Sf authors provided scripts for several films: Charles Beaumont for The Haunted Palace (1963) and The Masque of the Red Death (1964); Richard Matheson for The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Master of the World (1961), Tales of Terror (1962) and The Raven (1963); and Ray Russell for X – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963).

Many of AIP's films are considered classics of the exploitation genre; others have interesting elements or fall into the so-bad-it's-good-category; still others are just bad. But – like the covers, titles and blurbs of tawdry Pulp magazines and paperbacks – the joy is often not in the product itself but in the posters, titles and tagline that entice one to consume it. If watched at the right age or alcoholic state, many are fondly remembered. Some of AIP's genre films are genuinely good, such as House of Usher (1960), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), X – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) – with Wild in the Streets (1968) having its supporters. Frogs (1972) and Squirm (1976) are probably the best of the later films. [SP]


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