73 - The Unholy Rollers (1972)
Roger Corman never intended on being known for quality productions, he was notorious for producing films quick, cheap, and for niche audiences. Turning a quick profit and moving on to the next production was his main goal. Whether the movie was any good or not was secondary to screening it wherever he could and selling tickets.
The Unholy Rollers, much like Tentacles and Orca, is a cash-in film that was intended to emulate a much more popular Hollywood movie and get audiences to see it while the interest was still there. In this case it was 1972's Kansas City Bomber - which stared Raquel Welch. It was a drama based around the world of Roller Derby.
Corman, being the opportunist he was, decided to make a movie that would capitalize on the popularity of Kansas City Bomber and release it only a few months after that movie hit the theaters. He cobbled together a script, hired a director, and filmed something that would resemble a movie once he had his associate editor (a young Martin Scorsese) finish with it.
The result is a movie that feels like it was made in a week. The story is almost non-existent (you could argue that this movie doesn't even really have an ending), the derby scenes were clearly filmed on the same day at the same location, and the acting was simply a one-take type affair. Yet somehow this movie has survived and gained somewhat of a cult following; but why?
Always keep in mind that when you are dealing with Roger Corman (whether it's a movie he personally made, or simply produced) he is an opportunist first and a filmmaker second. Kansas City Bomber starred Raquel Welch - by 1972 a bonafide movie star but known originally for her modeling. Corman would never pay for someone of Welch's prominence, so instead he called up Playboy playmate of the year Claudia Jennings - who had recently started an acting career. If you can't hire Raquel Welch anymore, make a new Raquel Welch.
Jennings had a relatively short career as she suffered an untimely death in 1979 at the age of 29. During her acting career between 1971-79 she had made a number of B-movies for Corman and other producers and was on her way to becoming a breakout star. She proved to be a bankable asset for drive-in fair and would sell tickets despite the low-quality of many of the films.
Which brings us to The Unholy Rollers. The type of quick cash-grab that's made on the cheap and takes the money of any sucker looking for a certain experience, it's the type of movie that feeds a craving and is destined to be forgotten after its brief theatrical run and occasional play on cable television.
Unholy Rollers has persisted however, a movie that won't go away because of the mystique of its star and the circumstances surrounding her untimely death. It’s ten pages of a script stretched out to 90 minutes. A movie without an actual protagonist and a story without a three act structure. You could compare it to Mean Streets in that sense, a Scorsese picture that is merely a one-act descent into darkness for one character in which no lessons are learned and only tragedy ensues.
What’s ironic is that the events in the film are strangely similar to Claudia Jenning’s life. Maybe that’s why a movie that delivers very little in terms of social relevance or interesting characters has persisted for all this time.