"What do you wanna watch tonight, Joe?", "How about that Mantis in Lace flick we read about on PopKrazy?", "Yeah, that sounded like a real stone gas, now where are those burgers? Did she just call 42? Joe, go see if she just called number 42...."
Only in the wild and woolly world of sixties American exploitation film could two men like William Rotsler and Harry Novak come together for the common purpose of making a buck, create pictures which rake the gutters for inspiration, and emerge with such oddly unforgettable guilty pleasures as Agony of Love (1966), The Girl With the Hungry Eyes (1967), The Godson (1971), and Street of a Thousand Pleasures (1972).
Later this month, Claudia Jennings would have turned 60 years old. Poor girl never even made it to 30.
After being named the Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1970, Jennings became one of the next decade's biggest drive-in movie queens, starring in a string of hits that included Unholy Rollers, Truck Stop Women, Gator Bait, Moonshine County Express, and The Great Texas Dynamite Chase. She was romantically linked to Bobby Hart, was up for one of the three leads in Charlie's Angels (she should've got it), and was the agent looking for a guy who "fit the suit" in the Johnny Bravo episode of The Brady Bunch. As the decade wore on, her parts got smaller and less frequent, and she fell deeper and deeper into the Hollywood drug scene. On October 3, 1979, she was killed in a head-on collision in Malibu, California. Her last film credit was in David Cronenberg's Fast Company, released earlier that year.
Jennings in Unholy Rollers (1972)
Last month, the Academy finally saw fit to give Roger Corman an honorary Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Well, it's about time. But Joe Bob Briggs gave Rog a Lifetime Achievement Award at the First (and only?) Annual World Drive-In Movie Festival and Custom Car Rally way back in 1982, and in my book, that's a lot more impressive.
Still, this is obviously a major milestone: recognition from an industry who looked down their noses at him for his entire career, yet had to marvel at his ability to always turn a profit. Corman and his partners at American International Pictures didn't invent ballyhoo or exploitation, but they perfected in a way few others have.
In recognition of this belated honor, I'm going to run down what I consider to be the ten best movies Roger Corman ever directed. When Corman is honored these days, it's usually as a producer who spotted a lot of great young talent, but between 1955 and 1971, he was furiously working behind the camera, churning out low-budget hit after hit--53 in all over those mere seventeen years!!
Of course not all of them were great, but even some of the mediocre ones had unforgettable titles. Check out 1957's The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent.
On second thought, don't check it out. Check these out instead:
Death Proof, a masterpiece of exploiting exploitation films as the second film in the Grindhouse experience