Co-founded in the 1950s by Samuel Z. Arkoff, American International Pictures used a simple acronym, the ARKOFF formula, to help guarantee the success of the independent production company’s films: Action, Revolution, Killing, Oratory, Fantasy, and Fornication.
While, as Vanity Fair put it, the youth-oriented company during its 26-year run was known for churning out “disposable B movies you could make out to,” some of those same kitschy, low-budget, teen-focused films went on to change the course of American cinema: launching the careers of Roger Corman and protege Martin Scorsese, birthing franchises like “The Fast and the Furious” and “Mad Max” and inspiring the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.
Now, 40 years after releasing its last movie, AIP is back: MGM announced Wednesday that it is reviving the label. Its first acquisition is Tate Taylor’s “Breaking News in Yuba County,” which will be released by MGM’s United Artists Releasing January 29. While MGM reps were mum on the company’s vision for the AIP rebirth, a stacked ensemble cast that includes Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, Regina Hall, Awkwafina, Wanda Sykes, and Juliette Lewis, a script that made the 2017 Black List, and a hilariously dark premise, “Yuba” is a promising film that could give AIP a strong start.
The label’s relaunch comes as Blumhouse in the 21st century has proven that giving directors a small budget and creative freedom leads to culturally relevant and profitable genre films. That means the new AIP could look to encroach on Blumhouse’s territory. In fact, Corman, who produced over 40 films for AIP, said in 2016 that Jason Blum’s production company “is the closest to what I was doing.”
Here’s the official synopsis of “Yuba”: When an overlooked pencil pusher (Janney) catches her husband in bed with another woman, the shock causes him to die of a heart attack so she buries his body and takes advantage of the growing celebrity status that comes from having a missing husband. But she quickly finds herself in over her head, dodging cops and criminals, all while trying to keep the truth from her half-sister (Kunis), a local news anchor who’s desperate for a story, and a relentless local policewoman (Hall).
While he’s best known for directing “The Help” — the Oscar-winning racial drama whose cultural legacy has recently been the subject of reexamination — “Yuba” sounds more along the lines of Taylor’s 2019 Blumhouse entry “Ma,” the campy horror film starring Octavia Spencer that inspired a slew of memes that featured Spencer’s face over highbrow movie posters featuring new titles: “Call Ma By Your Name,” “RoMa,” etc.
Where Tarantino and Rodriguez’ shared love of AIP’s “Rock All Night”/”Dragstrip Girl” double feature inspired their own B-movie twin bill “Grindhouse,” the “Ma” memes show how pastiche now belongs to the masses, where anyone with a computer can remix, spoof, and honor the latest films in an instant. This is now what it means to be a cult film.
And in many ways, “Ma” producer Blumhouse is the closest thing we have to the original AIP. Not only does it churn out cheap, profitable, and culturally relevant crowdpleasers (“Ma” grossed $61.1 million on a $5 million budget), it also has launched the careers of a new generation of auteurs in Damien Chazelle and Jordan Peele.
When Flavorwire in 2015 asked Corman who he sees as following in his footsteps, the director said this: “The first name that comes to mind is Jason Blum. Jason has had solid success with these low-budget exploitation films … Jason is the closest to what I was doing. He really does do what I said — he makes them better than the other guys.”
“Breaking News in Yuba County” seems like a follow-up with meme potential of its own, and an opportunity for AIP to make a bold splash into waters now largely held by Blum’s production company. With Blumhouse in the midst of a 10-year deal with Universal, MGM’s reborn AIP could serve as a formidable competitor and help boost the once-mighty MGM as it enters its second century.