A clever concept with a “Scream” twist, “Roger Corman’s The Phantom Eye” invades American Movie Classics during the Halloween weekend. Divided into 35 parts that will be peppered throughout the cable net’s “Monsterfest ’99” marathon, this kitschy serial revisits the director’s signature pics and makes fun of some really bad acting. Corman admirers will probably get into this, especially since he does double duty as host, but it’s hard to sit in front of the TV for days, waiting patiently for three- to five-minute fragments.
Here’s the gimmick: The web’s late show, “The Phantom Eye,” is missing. So the mean Dr. Gorman (Corman) hires two eager interns — NYU students Joey Green (David Sean Robinson) and Catherine Winters (Sarah Aldrich) — to locate the lost reel and save the schedule.
As they trek, separately, through dingy storage rooms and secretive quarters, both of them become characters in different stories. Among their adventures, Catherine pops up in a take-off of “House of Usher” and Joey dives into “Little Shop of Horrors.”
In every brief episode, the enthusiastic pupils tap into their own film knowledge to figure out the best way to evade crafty evil-doers and move on to the next clue.
Communicating via voiceover, Dr. Gorman eventually tells them the catch: Death is near if they can’t escape each situation’s specific peril. And even if Catherine and Joey do avoid danger, they must find “The Phantom Eye” by midnight, or they won’t be able to return to reality.
Having had a hand in 300 titles over 50 years, Corman’s vast library of schlocky fright is a perfect collection to spoof, and director Gwenyth Gibbey keeps the pace brisk. Project also benefits from the resurgence of a genre that, thanks to “Blair Witch” mania and “The Sixth Sense,” has rekindled viewers’ fascination with fear.
“Eye” also succeeds as a creative tribute to an industry icon. From cheesy sci-fi to the silent era to the Hammer Dracula age, the many “looks” are right-on, complete with oversaturated colors, out-of-sync dubbing and grainy stock.
For schooled archivists or casual channel surfers, the visuals and the movie-within-a-movie plotline are worth the time investment.
But the real assessment will come after AMC studies the stunt’s ratings. While watching the special in a continuous loop provides some sense of cinema history, staying tuned in for snippets will prove to be a difficult task, even for the most devoted Corman fans. Sea creatures, bloodsuckers and midgets are always amusing, but not if they’re spread out over 48 hours.
The segments’ tech credits are top-notch, and some Corman regulars (Frank Gorshin, “Shop” star Jonathan Haze) stop by with cameos.