Many years ago, I was home sick on a Sunday afternoon and, for whatever reason, lying wrapped up in a blanket on my parents' bed watching their TV seemed like a better idea than the couch. It was on this nauseously napping afternoon that I first discovered what would become one of my favorite films as well as one of my favorite film studios; the film was Scream Blacula, Scream and the studio was, of course, American International Pictures!
That opening studio logo completely set my expectations for the film I was about to see! And, little did I know then, AIP had a virtual vault of stuff that I'd dig!
AIP was cool because they did all kindsa pictures: Action, Blaxploitation, Comedies, Biker movies, Beach movies, Sci-Fi, and of course, Horror movies. In the 50s, they even had their hand in Teenage pictures like High School Hellcats and Female Jungle! While I can't say that I'm too well versed on their Biker and Beach movies (or the Teenage variety) so much, I can definitely kick my feet up with any of their Blaxploitation, Sci-Fi, or Horror titles though!
For me, I first encountered some of the their earlier Horror/Sci-Fi titles when I was 6 or 7yrs old...thank to Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, I first caught a glimpse of It Conquered The World and the titular Venusian monster (aka: Beulah) at the start of that film! Around the same time, as Tim Burton's Batman was blowing up the box office, I remember grabbing a copy of Model & Toy Collector magazine that had Batman & Robin on its cover; within its pages, I recall seeing a model kit of the titular monster from War of the Colossal Beast. Also worth noting, in that same issue of Model & Toy Collector, I came across a photo of a certain heavy metal guitar player holding up his own copy of Detective Comics #1 . . . Metallica's Kirk Hammett. Funny how there are always elements of the person you'll eventually become criss-crossing throughout life, eh?
AIP, the brainchild of James H. Nicholson and entertainment lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff, released its first picture The Fast & The Furious in 1955. The studio later teamed up with Roger Corman throughout the 1960s to mine a series films based on the works of Edgar Alan Poe! Over the course of eight films, this series cast Horror greats like Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre in lurid Poe adaptations! I'll admit, in my younger days, I kinda turned my nose to these films (and the others with Vincent Price), but I've grown to quite fond of them and learned to appreciate them . . . and their trailers were always awesome!
My main AIP love, though, goes to their work throughout the 1970s -- the early 70s to be exact -- with so many awesome, schlocky titles filling up my DVD shelves! Everything from Count Yorga: Vampire (and its awesome sequel) to The Vampire Lovers to the two Dr. Phibes films to "crap" like Frogs and Empire of the Ants -- I love it all! The two Count Yorga films being some of the earliest 70s entries in the AIP roster, have some genuinely creepy moments and both pack endings that are definite shockers! The Vincent Price-starring Dr. Phibes films are also all sorts of fun with their proto-Saw murder traps...plus, of course, their main star, who headlined a number of fantastic films for AIP. Hell, I could write an entire blog entry based on just Vincent Price's AIP films!
Straight up Horror-wise though, AIP did it all . . . they imported the Italian trio of Mario Bava titles: Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, and Baron Blood (again, those trailers!!!) . . . released their share of giant monster movies like Tentacles and, of course, Food of the Gods. They even had a hand in pseudo-Slasher films as well like the criminally underrated Blood & Lace (for my money, it predates both Black Christmas and Halloween while laying out the basics for the subgenre) and a personal favorite in Deranged -- a film, I've already covered here on Constriction Pictures!
Towards the end of the 1970s, AIP started to branch out from Horror (although, they still released drive-in fare like The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Squirm, The Incredible Melting Man, and even an early entry in the Italian Cannibal sub-genre like Lost Cannibal World), shifting their attention to more "mainstream" and serious releases such as the two sequels to Walking Tall, the excellent revenge thriller Rolling Thunder, and of course, Force 10 From Navarone (yet another AIP title I'd seen as a kid and didn't know it!). In fact, one of their last, notable Horror releases was The Amityville Horror in 1979.
Before the studio closed its doors in 1980 (after being bought up by Filmways, Inc. in '79 -- itself later renamed Orion Pictures Corporation in '82), it introduced US audiences to a little Australian film called Mad Max, which it picked up for distribution and redubbed with "American" accents. Personally, I think that's a great final note for a studio like AIP; they made their mark in decades of drive-in schlock, dabbled in other genres and then, with one last push, released a film that is still widely discussed today even by mainstream audiences -- no thanks to the Academy Award-winning Mad Max: Fury Road! Seriously, it's pretty impressive for a company that churned out with drive-in trash and schlocky camp material throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s!
One of the benefits of AIP being bought out and falling under the Orion Pictures banner was its eventual relationship with MGM. Today the AIP library (save for a few titles that remain unavailable due to copious amounts of legal red tape -- It Conquered The World, I Was A Teenage Werewolf, The Amazing Colossal Man, and War of the Colossal Beast in particular) is owned by Orion Pictures, which is a subsidiary of MGM. A good deal of the catalog was released in the late 90s/early 00s under MGM's Midnite Movies banner on VHS and DVD (both in single formats and even, cool double feature sets) . . . most of these titles are technically OOP, but they still pop up on the secondary market at affordable prices. Also, Kino Lorber and Shout! Factory (thanks for The Incredible Melting Man on Blu-ray, yo!) have been steadily releasing several of these titles to Blu-ray, which has worked in driving down the asking prices of some of the old Midnite Movie sets.
In the early 00s, man . . . it was a glorious time to be a Horror fan and one of the best reasons was because of MGM's Midnite Movies series! I remember anxiously waiting for annual "Halloween Movies" lists at the video store I worked at and immediately getting excited for impending Midnite Movies titles that would be listed usually for release either late Summer or early September. Naturally, a good deal of these titles were of the AIP library and fairly easy to track down, though I didn't grab 'em all if I wasn't familiar with the films themselves. Today, I keep a list in my phone of the entire collection (deleting ones I already have) just in case I come across any while I'm and about!