Tuesday, January 17, 2006

BIG BAD MAMA

From the Fifties to today, Roger Corman has been the driving force behind some of the best – and the most profitable – B-movies ever made. As a director, he has a strong visual sense and impeccable storytelling skills. As a producer, he's given professional breaks to half of the directors and stars of the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties. It's for this that he gets the most praise and recognition, but it shouldn't be forgotten that he also has a genuine talent for recognizing commercial concepts and trends, and quickly and efficiently exploiting them.

Up until recently, he'd been releasing select films from his vast exploitation library on his own New Horizons video label, but late last year he signed a deal with Buena Vista Entertainment (you may know them as "Disney") which gave them exclusive video rights to around 400 titles. Now, Buena Vista has released their first batch, which is comprised of some of the most popular drive-in movies ever.

Let's begin with the 1974 drive-in classic BIG BAD MAMA, starring the amazing Angie Dickinson, Tom Skerrit… and the one and only William Shatner.

Directed by Steve Carver (director of some of my favorite Chuck Norris movies, such as LONE WOLF MCQUADE and EYE FOR AN EYE), this Depression-era gangster romp chronicles the four-state crime spree of a fortysomething (but hot blooded and sexy as hell) Texas widow (Dickinson, of course) and her two lusty teenaged daughters (Susan Sennett of THE CANDY SNATCHERS and Robbie Lee, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS). Along the way, they add to their "gang" a Dillinger-like bank robber and a Kentucky con man (Skerritt and Shatner, a year or so before their co-starring roles in THE DEVIL'S RAIN).

For sheer entertainment, BIG BAD MAMA can't be beat. There's a simple but interesting story, plenty of action, sexual melodrama, and great character acting by the entire cast. Despite the low budget, director Carver successfully creates and maintains a convincing Thirties' atmosphere. Dickinson, who was also on the boob tube at the time in her hit television series POLICE WOMAN, smolders with mature sexuality and appears nude in several scenes. Skerritt, a then-rising star in films like MASH, seems to be having a great time surrounded by beautiful – and frequently naked – women. And the Shatner delivers a delightful, hammy performance as the Southern grifter and gets to have a passionate sex scene with Dickinson.

Simply put, B-movies don't get much better than this.

Buena Vista's disc presents the film in an un-matted, full-frame 1.33:1 transfer. Why it wasn't properly cropped and anamorphically enhanced, I don't know. But it looks fine, no picture information is lost (although there's too much on the top and bottom), with solid colors, a sharp image, and only minimal specks and dirt. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track is adequate. The disc includes a brief documentary on the making of the film, which includes on-screen interviews with Corman, Carver, Dickinson, Shatner and the screenwriters. While short, the participants relate some great anecdotes and seem to all have genuine affection for the film. There's also a fun if lightweight audio commentary by Corman and Dickinson, and the original theatrical trailer.

All the Buena Vista releases also have a few unrelated studio trailers at the beginning of the disc, a promo trailer for the Corman Collection, and that annoying anti-piracy spot that all the major labels are putting on their discs lately. Hey, the pirates are downloading from the 'net, you morons. All this spot is doing is pissing off the legit consumers who bought or rented their discs. Sigh. Oh yeah, the cover art sucks, too.

If you couldn't guess, despite the full-frame transfer, annoying trailers and crappy box design (why they didn't use the original, stylish poster art is another mystery), BIG BAD MAMA is highly recommended.

BUY: Big Bad Mama - Special Edition