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Four Roger Corman Films from Disney

Big Bad Mama (January 18/06)

With its emphasis on sex and violence, Big Bad Mama can't help but feel like a prototypical Roger Corman flick. The story follows Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson) and her two promiscuous daughters as they find themselves embroiled in a series of illegal activities, including bootlegging, bank robbing, and kidnapping. Also along for the ride are an inept criminal (Tom Skerritt) and a smarmy gambler (William Shatner), both of whom are fighting for Wilma's affections. While nobody is ever going to mistake Big Bad Mama for high art, the film is fairly effective as a tongue-in-cheek caper - although, admittedly, it's not nearly as much fun as one imagines it's supposed to be. Dickinson delivers an appropriately brazen performance, while Skerritt and Shatner seem to be having a grand ol' time as her cohorts. The repetitive nature of William Norton and Frances Doel's screenplay eventually transforms Big Bad Mama into a somewhat tedious piece of work, though it's not difficult to see why the film's achieved cult status over the years.

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Death Race 2000 (January 18/06)

Featuring early appearances by Sylvester Stallone, David Carradine, and Martin Cove (he played the evil sensei in The Karate Kid), Death Race 2000 is an expectedly silly yet occasionally entertaining Corman flick revolving around a deadly cross-country race. The year is 2000, and the United States (now referred to as the United Provinces of America) has been defeated in some kind of a world war by France. The President - a fascist dictator - has evidently decided that the best way to keep the citizens entertained is by holding an annual race, wherein competitors receive bonus points for running over random bystanders (ie teenagers are 40 points, while anyone over the age of 75 is worth 100 points). With its absurd premise and macabre sense of humor, Death Race 2000 comes off as a mindlessly entertaining, thoroughly campy piece of work that's ultimately undone by a distinct lack of plot. Director Paul Bartel attempts to compensate by throwing in various oddball characters and inexplicable moments of comedy, but the frequent lulls in the narrative become more and more problematic as the film progresses. Yet it's not difficult to see why the movie has endured over the years, particularly given its unabashedly violent tendencies and genuinely thrilling racing sequences (that Stallone plays a character that, at one point, wields a tommy gun certainly doesn't hurt).

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Dinocroc (January 18/06)

That Dinocroc essentially sucks doesn't come as much of a surprise, as what are the odds a film called Dinocroc is actually going to be good? True to the title, the story features a giant half-dinosaur/half-crocodile on the rampage following its escape from a secretive and expectedly ominous research facility. This leaves a ragtag group - consisting of a grizzled hunter (Costas Mandylor, sporting a ridiculous Australian accent), a pragmatic scientist (Bruce Weitz), and two friends-turned-lovers (played by Matt Borlenghi and Jane Longenecker) - with little choice but to track down the beast and kill it before it does any further damage. Dinocroc plays out like a typically cheesy straight-to-video monster flick, complete with stock characters and some seriously subpar special effects. And while director Kevin O'Neill (making his debut) does show some promise, he's consistently undermined by the cliched screenplay, weirdly operatic score, and lackluster performances (only Longenecker, trapped within the confines of the "panicky girl" role, is able to make any kind of positive impact). Having said that, one can't help but admire the filmmakers' decision to kill off the requisite plucky, overly inquisitive kid (played by former Lizzie McGuire star Jake Thomas, no less!)

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Rock 'N' Roll High School (January 20/06)

Rock 'N' Roll High School is a fun but ultimately tiresome musical revolving around the hijinks at Vince Lombardi High, where tight-fisted principal Miss Togar (played by Mary Woronov) has made it her mission to put an end to the students' wanton behavior. This doesn't sit well with Riff Randell (P.J. Soles), a rebellious student who decides to take matters into her own hands and stop Miss Togar's reign of terror. It seems fairly obvious that Rock 'N' Roll High School's kooky sensibility - coupled with an admittedly effective score that features, among others, Devo, Alice Cooper, and lots and lots of the Ramones - has transformed it into a cult classic, though the overwhelming vibe of silliness eventually becomes exhausting. Having said that, the infectious nature of both the music and Soles' energetic performance go a long way towards keeping the movie from becoming a total bust (though it's clear that fans of the Ramones will probably get a lot more out of this than everyone else).

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About the DVD: With the exception of Dinocroc, Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents each of these titles as full-fledged special editions - complete with commentary tracks, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and much more.
© David Nusair