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Thursday, September 05, 2019

Round Two For Jim-Sam

Popular Local DJ's Often Appeared in Support of AIP Shows

AIP Time For Whatever Turned a Dime ---Part Two

Big $ Poster, More So Than the Movie It Sold
Here was criteria for a “good” AIP picture: How many theatres could you get it into, in advance of making it? Aesthetics entered into none of this. To advance the notion was silly. Here was product pre-fab in a truest sense. Others designed posters based on finished product. Jim and Sam based product on finished posters, which was work well done because the art was spectacular and young people were research-confirmed to respond to buggy graphics, not content good or bad. So what if they blundered into Invasion Of The Saucer Men or Invasion Of The Body Snatchers? There wasn’t reward for trying harder, not when a Macabre could/did outgross Horror of Dracula. It came to how much attention youth paid to films unspooling before them. Precious little in theatres, agreed most, virtually none at drive-ins, confirmed all. Jim and Sam grooved with that and so seldom tried at anything better until Roger Corman conceived House of Usher, an uptick and in color/Cinemascope, proof upon promise this director had shown with sleepers like A Bucket Of Blood, plus all-round speed and competence. Again, the posters. We actually remember them better than movies gone to pasture. No shame in scoring a Saucer Men three-sheet, a point of pride in fact, if you pay a right price (most recent hammer: $5,520), but watching the film? Well, best you do that with shades drawn, lest neighbors think you soft in the head, or overdue to a nursing home.

Local Ad Art By a North Carolina Showman
Jim and Sam knew nationwide theatre management on a first-name basis. They’d pop champagne when a circuit head agreed to put their Colossal Man or Teenage Whatever on fifty mid-west screens, or a hundred Detroit parking lots facing screens. Estimate (Jim’s) said drive-ins were 60-65% of where AIP nested. Giving these or hard-up hardtops a double dose of teen trauma, rock-roll, or monster loose, saved effort of booking a co-feature from elsewhere, and still clearing the house after two and a half hours, few AIP’s going past 75 minutes, many lots less. I watched Blood of Dracula this week and was over and out in 69 minutes, even if it seemed like two and a half hours. Myths prevail that AIP only played cow pastures, while fact is, a program of theirs could, did, saturate key cities, not once, but as of 1958 and after, nearly always. Had exhibitors played Jim and Sam fair, the producing pair would have dug swimming pools far sooner. Fact is, however, they were done out of millions, said Sam, by “pals” in the trade who looked after Number One first, distributers last. Too ingrained, and not to be overcome by short-term friendship, was instinctive distrust between these wings of the industry, combatants having been taught from short pants never to trust men dedicated to pick of your pocket, or keeping your hand out of theirs. Pity these factions never made peace, that the case to this day.

Indies Who Would Be AIP Try Their Hand at Exploitation

The AIP formula wasn’t difficult to mimic, and some got good at it, United Artists’ supply line maintained by independents like Howard Koch, Arthur Gardner, Jules Levy. Their chillers did well, play effectively still. Combos came from left field of set-ups formed to do a quick pair, then fold with whatever profit they could raise, for instance two I lately saw: Date Bait and High School Caesar, not-at-all-bad for what they were, Caesar a John Ashley vehicle, he of a group that knew rules of exploitation and how to make it pay. Ashley coulda/shoulda clicked, for he’s as good a Caesar as any overaged teen in 1960 (26), and went on besides to produce after Jim/Sam example. AIP wasn’t gifted at star creation, the hamster cage spun too fast to linger on personalities. Still, they could crow about faces that acquired fame elsewhere, and after AI-employ. Much was made of “Kookie” Byrnes having done Reform School Girl, Fay Spain a Dragstrip Girl prior to mainstream God’s Little Acre. L.A. saturation for AIP pics also saw “Autograph Parties” where presumed fans could meet “Hollywood’s Newest Stars In Person.”

Cleveland Venues, Indoor and Out, Saturated with AIP's Latest Combo

AIP got grandiose by 1960 and after million $ rentals earned by the Italo-imports and a first Poe (House of Usher). Hint of gravy to flow was 59’s Horrors of The Black Museum, gorier-than-usual, but dressed in scope and color, its reward $756K in domestic rentals, the best any AI pic had done to that point. You’d forgive Jim/Sam getting a little drunk on these and announcing epics to come: Biblical spectacles, films culled from “Greek mythology,” a roadshow release based on the Queen of Sheba, predictions not unlike youth of the time wanting to be astronauts. Big ambition now and then led to outcome, never what trades were promised, but game effort and product a market could use, Master Of The World for instance grabbing $654K in domestic rentals, maybe not what others were rewarded for Jules Verne adapts, but enough to make it worth the doing. Meanwhile the early AIP’s played non-stop and often in groups of four, combinations based on shared theme. This was a concept born in 1961, when it seemed the pics were otherwise wrung out. Maybe as singles or pairs they were, but all night at a drive-in? Ideal. Greenbriar canvassed these marathons before, so no need to belabor here, except to say that Jim/Sam made an absolute most of backlog they had. Even if you’re renting at $15 or $20 per feature, those morsels add up, 60’s newspapers filled to brim with AI-oldies you’d have thought were spent by then.

Classy Compulsion with Down-Market Companions

Choice of Old or New at Competing Drive-Ins
Jim had long forsworn a TV release for AIP’s library. Never! said he when the topic came up at exhibitor cons. That was then, however, as in the late 50’s before post-48’s from elsewhere began grazing on broadcasters and delighting stockholders industry-wide. Anyone with inventory would be cracked not to sell, programmers panting as they were for fresh fiends to fill Shock slots. Jim and Sam gave in to tune of 69 features, not all horror/sci-fi, but a boon to local stations. All well and good except for oldies still making theatre rounds, often in direct opposition to titles playing freevee a same day. Did anyone notice or care? Exhibitors charging small fry for something they could have stayed home to watch was bad cricket in anyone's language. For those of us too young to have caught AIP first-run, late shows were a handy catch-up. Trouble was Universal classics ceding to likes of The Giant Gila Monster, merely because latter was new to tubes, old-time monsters on repeat cycle since 1957-58, and getting tired. Difference was, AIP got stale faster, as who of us sought repeat viewing of The Brain Eaters? This package went radioactive in a hurry. Our Channel 12 in Winston-Salem ran the bunch in support of 1971’s hot auto line, the “Dodge Demon,” defined by one old car site as “a souped-up Dodge Dart with a stronger engine.” The Friday night series began at one am, safely out of primetime’s reach, the movies dotted with ads shot on the dealer’s lot, open throughout the night in case anyone wanted to leave The Amazing Colossal Man and test-drive a Demon. More demonic for Channel 12 viewers was having to sit up till 2:30 to get through AIP chillers. For me, the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze, a couple samples enough to sate curiosity. And I never got a Dodge Demon either.

Hometown Girl Gloria Castillo Livens a Drive-In Bill
What of elder AIP’s at present? Like CineSavant said, they are largely missing. The Colossal Man and Beast are split, one with Nicholson heirs, the sequel housed by Arkoff spawn. It is hinted that titles are withheld because owners got greedy, fans warning that once we die off, so will value of the films. The horror/sci-fi’s have been transferred to High-Def, per broadcasts years ago at gone and lamented broadcaster Monsters HD. Ones I watched lately are scattered among DVD labels, a matter of taking-what-you-can-get. What I miss as much as the horrors is rock and roll features AIP made, several on You Tube in not bad quality. I’ve a feeling these are as much as we’ll ever see. Some justify them for reflecting the era, which is enough reason to watch if you need one, plus being indicators of what drew youth to ticket windows. Was it to be thrilled? Doubtful, as most knew AIP never delivered on lush promise of posters. Being with friends, at least kindred patronage, could explain it. Jim and Sam understood, instinctively, if not in terms they’d intellectualize (Sam hated pretension), though in fact, both defined appeal of AIP in speeches and interviews, accurately if we take into account decades of success their company enjoyed. It’s no more reasonable to expect embrace of these by younger generations than for B-westerns or serials to re-grab a fan base, but as antiquity goes, the AIP’s of 50’s vintage will compel, maybe entertain, good as any, better in fact than many.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

That double bill of Republic's CATMAN OF PARIS and VALLEY OF THE ZOMBIES must have disappointed anyone expecting AIP fare.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

The AIP monsters on movie posters were truly lecherous. The movie poster monsters/aliens never seemed to scoop up overweight middle aged women.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

COMPULSION was probably to demanding a film to be seen on a triple bill with junk food. It demands we pay attention. Still, as long as the theater/drive in collected the money it really didn't matter.

I'm tempted to try it.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Jerry Kovar said...

And 20th Century Fox got in the act with THE FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST (COMING in the Grand theatre ad). A western version of KISS OF DEATH but the poster suckered me and friends into thinking it was a horror flic.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I love that "DAUGHTERS OF SATAN" ad. I always look for ways to tie things together. Neat. Plus the taglines borrowed from HORROR OF DRACULA (The blood in their veins). It's hard to believe Castle's MACABRE did more box office than HORROR. Gotta give Castle credit. He knew how to sell which is rare and getting rarer.

6:27 AM  
Blogger brickadoodle said...

Poster art was the lifeblood of these potboiler productions from “Jim-Sam”, that drew us suckers like flies into those popcorn palaces. I vividly remember seeing posters for TALES OF TERROR, A COMEDY OF TERRORS, MACABRE, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, THE MASQUE OF RED DEATH, THE HAUNTED PALACE... and the list goes on and on. I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast (and I eat the same thing every day), but these fifty-year-old images are stuck in my brain forever.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Lee R said...

All these movies you mentioned are favorites of mine (except for the racing car movies) but those monster pics are all classics in my world. I have most all of them now on DVD transferred from my tapes in some cases. I will never forget watching those Colossal Man movies as a kid or Invasion of The Saucer Men, now those movies scared me as a kid. Now I love 'em because they're pretty funny too, which I never got as a little kid watching them on TV. I so young (born in late '50's) so I never saw any of them in the theater but these were Chiller Theater regulars in the '60's.

Thanks for a different look at these movies from a behind the scenes business side of the movie biz. I'm glad I was totally unaware of these juicy and slimy business details when originally watching them. They were just great movie to me. Sometimes knowing too much isn't so great. Ignorance can be bliss when it comes to the slimy underbelly of how these things were made.

10:00 PM  

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