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03 April, 2010

Junkyardfilms.com’s Moldy Oldie Essay of the Month!: AIP Goes to the Drive-In

Title: AIP Goes to the Drive-In

It's the late 40's and, with the World War 2 behind it, the nation experienced a new-found prosperity. Returning servicemen and women wanted a new suburban home with a new car in the driveway and 2.7 kids in residence. And, as these children grew into teenagers in the 50's, a new type of entertainment was called for. They were tired of their parents movies. They wanted movies to which they could relate. Then, one day in 1954, the planets aligned and Hollywood lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff met James H. Nicholson, sales manager of RealArt Production Company. The two joined forces and formed American Releasing Corporation (ARC), later renamed in 1956 as American International Pictures (AIP). The two men were the first to recognize the potential buying power of the teen audience and for the next thirty years, they bombarded teens with action, adventure, exploitation, sci-fi, horror and comedy films.

Teens were big business in these post-War years of prosperity. So, AIP made movies for teens. The AIP publicity department went by The Peter Pan Syndrome:
1. A younger child will watch anything an older child will watch
2. An older child will not watch anything a younger child will
3. A girl will watch anything a boy will watch
4. A boy will not watch anything a girl will.

Therefore, to catch your greatest audience you zero in on the 19-year old male.

And, what did these teenage boys want? For one, fast cars and juvenile delinquency movies and AIP readily provided them. Titles such as DADDY-O (1958), HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS (1958), REFORM SCHOOL GIRL (1957) and GIRLS IN PRISON (1956) shared double-billing with HOT ROD GANG (1958), DRAG STRIP GIRLS (1957) and THE COOL AND THE CRAZY (1958). In 1966, AIP launched the biker-craze with THE WILD ANGELS, directed by Roger Corman, who would leave AIP a year later to form his own production and distribution company, New World Pictures.
Rock 'n roll was also very popular with teens and AIP obliged them with SHAKE, RATTLE AND ROCK (1956) and ROCK ALL NIGHT (1957). Titles such as BLOOD OF DRACULA (1957), HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959) and I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (1957) guaranteed your date would cling to your arm in fright! Easily their most lucrative horror film to date was I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957), shot for $82,000, which grossed over $2,000,000—this in a time when the average ticket price was just 68¢.

However, if your young and adventurous audience wanted more, there were always the science-fiction movies. IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956), TERROR FROM THE YEAR 5000 (1958), AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957) and TEENAGE CAVEMAN (1958) flooded silver screens across the nation. Big bugs on small budgets made EARTH vs. THE SPIDER (1958) and ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES (1959) big business.
Roger Corman's Poe series took AIP in a very different direction. The first of these was HOUSE OF USHER (1960), staring Vincent Price in the title role of Roderick Usher. Shot for $270,000, it's lavish looks belied AIP's former black and white double-features and quickly became AIP's calling card. It was well-received and seven more movies based loosely on Poe's works were released from 1960-64. These were THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), THE PREMATURE BURIAL (1962), TALES OF TERROR (1962), THE RAVEN (1963), THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963), THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964) and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964).

Another lucrative money-maker for AIP was the Beach Party movies, starring perpetual teen heart-throbs, Frankie Avalon and post-Mickey Mouse clubster, Annette Funicello. The first, BEACH PARTY, was released in 1963. Shot on a budget of only $350,000, it grossed over $4,000,000 (to date) and six more Beach Party movies were released in the next three years, ending with FIREBALL 500 (1966), a film that featured the more grown-up and wilder side of these former beach-ballers.

James H. Nicholson died in 1971 but AIP kept going strong, providing horror movies such as THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972), THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971) and BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB (1971). Blaxploitation movies were in vogue and AIP distributed BLACK CAESAR (1973), COFFY (1973), HELL UP IN HARLEM (1973), SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIP-OFF (1973) and FOXY BROWN (1974) to name a few. Blaxploitation blended with horror to bring eager audiences BLACULA (1972) and SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM (1973). Women in prison movies were still popular so AIP obliged with PRISON GIRLS (1972), BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA (1973), HOUSE OF WHIPCORD (1974) and SAVAGE SISTERS (1974). Also, during the late 1960's, AIP began importing foreign movies. Previously unheard of directors like Franco, Bava and Fulci flooded the American markets with foreign imports that had decidedly more lax censorship rules.

By the late 1970's AIP had greater financial freedom and began eschewing it's cheaper productions for big-budget films. THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, CHOMPS, MAD MAX and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, which personally netted the studio over $86 million dollars, all made money but over-spending spelled the end for AIP. In 1979, AIP merged with Filmways (later purchased by Orion Pictures) and Samuel Arkoff formed Arkoff International Pictures. However, the former glory days were gone and, with only a dozen more pictures under his belt, Samuel Z. Arkoff died in 2001.

Fans of AIP pictures owe a debt of gratitude to Nicholson and Arkoff for making fun genre films and their genius will be remembered whenever one of those film's air. Thanks for the good times, guys!


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