Book Review: The American International Pictures Video Guide by Gary A. Smith

Shame on any film fan who doesn’t have a warm spot in their soul for AIP. American International Pictures was, if not consistently good, at least consistently inventive. From 1954 through the late 70s, the studio cranked out eccentric and sometimes brilliant B-movies, employing the likes of Roger Corman, Vincent Price, and Michael Landon, as well as then- youngsters Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd. This motley crew, under the vision of producers James Nicholson and Samuel Arkoff, were responsible for some of AIP’s most famous genre movies, notably Edgar Allan Poe-related horror flicks, biker movies, and beach party extravaganzas. Its mix of camp and outrage has given us classics like I Was A Teenage Werewolf, The House on Haunted Hill, Satan’s Sadists, The Trip, The Pit & The Pendulum, The Amazing Colossal Man, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, among other well known titles. No idea was ever really thrown out, especially if it could make a few bucks before the public actually saw the product. AIP was the first studio to tap into the growing teen market and to realize that pandering to the baser instincts of the public was always a sure thing.

Gary A. Smith’s breezy overview (from McFarland Press) is perfect for the topic. His entries on the films are a mix of loving care and snarky honesty. Smith’s love for these films is palpable, but he gives each a fair examination. When a film is so bad it’s bad, he is not afraid to say so. (The god-awful Screaming Skull, for instance). Though this guide does feature ancillary information like lists of the Double Feature campaigns AIP ran to a section of lobby cards and advertising, other books have explored the chronology of the studio in more detail. This frees up Smith to focus solely on the films themselves, though he does go into detail often on the promotion for the films, which many times was as important as the feature itself. Cataloged alphabetically and by decade, the selected films are not comprehensive, though representative and covering most of the goodies. The reader gets more than enough of the flavor of the studio’s output.

Also included are a brief discussion of the AIP’s disastrous attempt at television, and a list of unfilmed projects that is fun and leaves you hoping someone swipes these nutty but irresistible ideas. A lot of AIP films are available on DVD, and you can still find some VHS copies in bargain bins.

Oddly enough, the biggest moneymaker the studio had was 1980’s The Amityville Horror, a humorless, obvious bore-fest that in many ways can serve as the anti-AIP film. Shortly thereafter, what was left of AIP was sold to Filmways. The legend and influence of AIP is present still, though, in the hearts of every underground filmmaker and Madison Avenue huckster. The American International Pictures Video Guide is a great treat for B-movie and trash film fans, and should kindle a spark in lesser versed readers.

The American International Pictures Video Guide is available from McFarland Press.
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