J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

DWF ’12: Attack of the Bat Monsters


Technically, there is only one bat monster in Francis Gordon’s latest B-movie, but it would hardly be the first time the zero-budget mogul delivered slightly less than promised.  It will certainly attack though, rest assured.  By hook or by crook, his cast and crew will pound out his next drive-in programmer in Attack of the Bats (trailer here), Graham Kelly Greene’s affectionate love letter to campy late 1950’s and early 1960’s monster movie-making, an alumni selection returning to officially open the 2012 Dances with Films this Thursday.

Attack is not about Roger Corman per se, but it would not have been made without his example.  Gordon is definitely a grindhouse showman in the Corman mold.  He is convinced he can fix anything in the editing room as long as they follow his cardinal rule: “when the monster’s dead, the movie is over.”  Paralleling the genesis of Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, Gordon wrapped production on his latest film early, but he still has three paid-up days in the southern California rock quarry he does not intend to waste. 

Suddenly, AD Chuck Grayson is rushing about lining up a screenwriter (the least important part), a pseudo-star, and a new monster (that would be the biggie).  The beatnik poet Bobby Barnstone and his Barnstone method of Benzedrine-fueled stream-of-consciousness screenwriting looks like the best bet for generating fast pages.  They don’t have to be good after all.  Larry “The Cat Creature” Meeker, Jr. seems to have fallen on hard enough times he would consider a Francis Gordon movie and a former creature making colleague has just been fired by a major studio.  However, he still harbors bad feelings over The Snake Woman, a Gordon production so notorious, the mere mention of the title sucks the air out of rooms.

All the Corman motifs are present and accounted for, including spaced-out beatniks, a jazzy soundtrack, and a ridiculously cheesy monster.  What sets Attack apart from thematically similar B-movie pastiches is Greene’s confidence in the behind-the-scenes story.  There will be no real life monsters or aliens invading their set, just the union goon extras from a studio gladiator movie sent to run the crew out of the quarry ahead of schedule.

Attack had its world premiere at DWF back in 2000.  Frankly, the fact that the film has yet to develop its own cult following is downright mystifying, because it really delivers the goods.  Greene knows the Corman lore inside-out and his cast of not exactly household names is way funnier than you would expect.  There is also a real edge to his dialogue, as when Gordon indignantly defends his honor by declaring he always pays his taxes and pays-off his unions.  Indeed, what more could one ask of a good Hollywood citizen?

There are some hilarious supporting assists here, particularly Robert Bassetti as Barnstone and Douglas Taylor as Meeker, Jr.  Fred Ballard is also pitch-perfect as the prickly Gordon, while Michael Dalmon gamely holds the madness together as the put-upon Grayson.

Without question, Attack is generously stocked with goofy humor, but it can also be quite sly.  Yet, there is a real heart beneath the bedlam that cares about its characters, precisely because on some level they also care about the B-movies they are churning out, despite being fully aware of their schlockiness.  A completely satisfying, all-around good show, Attack of the Bat Monsters is ripe for re/discovery when it opens this year’s Dances with Films this coming Thursday night (5/31) in Hollywood, USA.

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