Roger Corman is a man without shame – and that’s in no way intended as an insult. He simply utilises any resource to the best of its ability, as is shown by the three versions he’s made of Not of This Earth, in 1956, 1988 and 1995. Black Scorpion similarly showcases his ability to take a thin storyline, basically little more than a Batman clone, and parlay it into two movies made for Showtime and a TV series. Even if the results proved steadily more lacklustre, such industry can only be admired. Present in the movies, but absent in the show, is former model Joan Severance, veteran of The Red Shoe Diaries, and she certainly cuts a striking figure – like most Roger Corman films, the film sells itself as much on the sleeve as plot, characters or talent. It’s your basic costumed vigilante, driven to operate outside the law following the death of a loved one, possessing cool gadgets and a neat car with which to fight crime.
The main problem with this film is an inability to decide whether to take itself seriously; there’s no consistency in tone, not least between hero and villain. Darcy (Severance) plays it all dead straight in her role as a suspended cop, but the villain is a Darth Vader clone called The Breathtaker who, with his army of “wheezing warriors”, wants to make everyone in Gotha…er, the City of Angels breathe like him. Now, in Batman, Adam West also took it seriously, but with such an air of scenery-chewing to his deadpan, that it enhanced the whole effect. Here, the opposites cancel out, leaving something whose tone is decidedly herky-jerky. There are decent moments, however, a lot of them coming from Saturday Night Live original member Garrett Morris, who gets his performance just right as Darcy’s mechanic. He comes up with toys such as a computer that requires all commands to be prefaced with “Yo!” – more of this wit would have been welcome. We also liked the villain’s wrestling henchwomen who insisted on being tagged-in before they can fight.
However, the movie stumbles badly out of the blocks, a lengthy prologue making for sluggish viewing. All the set-up would perhaps have been better off placed as flashbacks throughout, rather than in one lump at the start. We could then have got to the meat – Scorpion kicking butt – from the get-go, rather than having to wait 35 minutes for the titular heroine to appear. The action scenes are nothing special, save for the amusing way Scorpion’s high heels suddenly become flat whenever she is required to do more than stand still. Presumably her boots possess the same technology as her car, which mutates from a Corvette into a Porsche at the touch of a “Yo!” – they also, somehow, give her the ability to clear tall buildings with a single bound, proving that Corman’s collection of DC comics is broad indeed.
Of course, the one area where Corman can actually surpass the Dark Knight is sex. Hence, two scenes in a strip-club (set on different days, but conveniently for the budget, with the same stripper on stage!) and the fanboy-service sequence of Black Scorpion, in costume, seducing her cop partner. Word is, it was actually performed by a body double, which seems odd given Severance’s previous history. While mostly plodding, the overall result is not totally dreadful, passing 92 tolerable minutes – though we were anaesthetising ourselves with plenty of rum-soaked pineapple throughout. However, there’s very little here to justify a sequel, or explain the need for a spin-off TV series; that we ended up with both, is proof of Corman’s talents in the field.
Dir: Jonathan Winfrey
Star: Joan Severance, Bruce Abbott, Rick Rossovic, Garrett Morris