Thursday, April 30, 2015

Book takes a critical look at the films of Larry Buchanan

By Steve D. Stones

Despite what film critics and historians may think of Texas filmmaker Larry Buchanan, he is not a terrible director who produces bottom of the barrel, trash entertainment. Like any Ed Wood film, Buchanan's films are laced with political and social commentary - if the viewer chooses to look hard enough.

Cult film writer Rob Craig has written an excellent book examining Buchanan's films and career. Craig makes a good case for the legitimacy and importance of Buchanan's work, and examines many of the recurring themes in his films. Themes such as the oppressive nature of patriarchy, the curse of fame, historial revision, the rebel outsider and government conspiracy are all addressed in many of Buchanan's films. Craig is detailed in pointing out how each of these themes are addressed in each Buchanan film.

Like any great low-budget, independent filmmaker, Buchanan worked in a number of genres in film - such as the western, exploitation, science-fiction, horror and the bio-pic. He created a series of TV movies for Azalea Pictures that were homages-remakes of 1950s horror and science fiction films.

The first in this homage-remake series for Azalea was The Eye Creatures (1965), which is based on Invasion of The Saucer Men (1957). Next up was Zontar, The Thing From Venus (1966) - based on Roger Corman's 1957 film - It Conquered The World. Another Corman remake Buchanan filmed was the 1967 film - In The Year 2889 - based on Corman's The Day The World Ended (1956). Creature of Destruction (1967) is Buchanan's remake of The She Creature (1957). Most of these films are direct scene-by-scene remakes of their original source with some changed dialog.

Buchanan addressed the media's obsession with fame and the curse that comes with it in a number of his films such as - The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald (1964), The Other Side of Bonnie & Clyde (1968), Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976), Hughes & Harlow: Angels In Hell (1977), Beyond The Doors (aka Down On Us - 1984) and Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn (1989).

The Trail of Lee Harvey Oswald is a film that takes the stand-point of what would have happened if Jack Ruby had not shot and killed Oswald in a Dallas parking garage in 1963, and instead his case went to court. Shot in Dallas shortly after the assassination of JFK, many critics felt it was too early at the time to release a film addressing the accused killer of the president.

Both Goodbye, Norma Jean and Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn are about Hollywood sex icon - Marilyn Monroe - although one addresses her orphaned life before fame, and the other at the time of her death.
Perhaps Buchanan's most famous and loved film is Mars Needs Women (1967). The film is Buchanan's treatise on the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Three male martians come to earth to seek out young women for breeding purposes. One of the martians, played by teen idol Tommy Kirk, falls in love with a sexy, brainy brunette scientist.

For further reading by Rob Craig, see his book about grindhouse director Andy Milligan - Gutter Auteur: The Films of Andy Milligan and his interesting book about Ed Wood - Mad Genius: A Critical Study of The Films. Happy reading. 

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