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01 August, 2009

Junkyard Films Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month: WAR OF THE SATELLITES




The fledgling US space program has irritated some "unknown force" from another planet and, in an attempt to stop this "infection" of humans, it has surrounded Earth with an invisible and impenetrable force field. Dr. Pol VanPonder (Richard Devon), head of the space program, is a determined scientist who shoots satellite after satellite into this force field...all resulting in the destruction of the satellites and its crews. Frustrated, he fights with the UN in an attempt to get funding for yet another assault on the force field.

Meanwhile, two horny teens, which appeared to be in their late 20's, are making out when a capsule falls from the skies. This capsule is delivered to the space program's headquarters where the message, written in Latin, is deciphered by the lovely love-interest Sybil (Susan Cabot). It warns Earth people that they must stop all future space exploration or face certain doom. This warning serves only to aggravate the space program and they immediately begin to build three more space probes.

Dr. VanPonder is driving home when his car is taken control of by some "unknown force" and the Caddy he's driving goes over a cliff, turns into a Studebaker, crashes and burns. Word of this reaches astronaut Dave Boyer (Dick Miller) who informs the UN. Just then, Dr. VanPonder strolls into the UN chambers. But, is it really the Doctor? Or has some "unknown force" replicated him? He sets out to deep-six further space probes. But, an impassioned speech by Dave sets the UN straight and they give their approval.

Dr. VanPonder's strange behavior soon has space central buzzing with questions. He, while examining some transformers, burns his hand badly without noticing which is observed and reported by another scientist (Jay Sayer). However, when the doctor comes to examine VanPonder, then his hand is fine. In another scene, we see Dr. VanPonder asexually reproduce to form his own twin, causing Dave to wonder how he can be in two places at the same time.

Still, the work goes on and, finally, the manned space probes are ready for take off. Dr. VanPonder decides it's best to allow the probes to take off and allow them to be destroyed by the force field. With this in mind, he chooses as his crew Sybil, Dave and Jay. Inside the extremely roomy space probe, tensions grow between the Doctor and Jay until the Doctor, using mind power or something, stops Jay's heart. Dave, suspecting murder, approaches the ship's doctor with evidence that VanPonder is an alien being and asks the doctor to examine him, making sure to check for a heartbeat. However, VanPonder, suspecting the doctor of snooping, somehow manages to fake a heartbeat. However, now that he has a heart, he notices the lovely Sybil and, menacingly approaches her. She rebuffs his advances, causing him to lose it and have Dave arrested. Meanwhile, the Doctor chases Sybil into the solar room and makes sexual advances on her while Dave fights off the guards sent to arrest him. The Doctor has ordered the space probe to fly into the force field, which will result in certain death for the entire crew. Dave starts fighting the evil twin of the Doctor while Sybil struggles to keep the other Doctor twin off her. She, in true 50's sci-fi fashion, faints. Dave shoots and kills the evil twin Doctor, which causes the other twin Doctor to die and disappear, too.

Dave informs the deck to ignore the Doctor's previous orders and turn the space probe around while he runs up and down the numerous corridors of the space probe searching for Sybil. Alas, it's too late! The satellite is shot into the force field! Dave finds Sybil and carries her to the command center. All Earth holds it breath! Will the satellite have its desired effects, destroy the force field, and allow for further space exploration? It's the 50's...you figure it out!

In October 1957, the Soviets shot into space the first satellite, named "Sputnik,” causing great panic in America. This world's first made headlines daily for weeks. Roger Corman knew he could get funding for a movie that had the hot-topic word "satellite" in the title. Calling together his trusty stable of low-budget actors and actresses, he shot this space adventure in a record four days, a bare eight weeks after the launch of Sputnik! If you ignore the junk science, cheap props and the cheaper special effects, this movie is well-acted and taut and, at a little over an hour's running time, it's a great popcorn epic! Watch the trailer:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x31y2g_film-trailer-war-of-the-satellites_shortfilms

MSTjunkie

Enjoy! Or not!


When Science Attacks—The Sci-Fi Horror of the 1950’s


Every decade has its defining horror themes. In the early days of the genre, it was the German expressionists who dominated the imagery of horror, with films by directors such as Wiene, Murnau, and Lang setting the tone, and providing influences that would last well into the ‘40’s.

The ‘60’s were defined at the very beginning, by an oedipal peeping-tom in an out of the way motel, and a murder in a shower unlike anything Hollywood had put to film before. The movie was, of course, PSYCHO, and Hitchcock’s masterpiece began a movement towards a new realism in horror. This was marked by a willingness to explore heretofore taboo subjects in Horror Films, with graphic depictions of blood, gore, nudity, and of course, sex, driving these explorations. The decade that began with PSYCHO ended with films such as ROSEMARY’S BABY, TARGETS, and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and along the way, horror grew up.

And what, you may ask, defined Horror during the decade of the 1950’s? Simple… Science defined horror during the ‘50’s. Science was the threat, and science was the savior.

Perhaps this was a natural reaction, considering that we were barely five years removed from World War II when the 1950’s began, a war that was the first in which science and technology played an overwhelming role in securing victory. From Radar, to Jet engines, to the Atomic bombs that ended the war, never had there been such technological growth in so short a span of time. The war that began with Polish Lancers making cavalry charges gave way to ballistic missiles falling on London.

These memories were still fresh in the minds of movie going audiences as the decade began, and though science had undoubtedly contributed to the Allied victory, the other side, in the form of Stalin’s Soviet Union, had much the same technology. In 1949, the Soviets detonated their first Atomic weapon, and the Cold War began in earnest. This provided filmmakers with the pervasive subtext of the decade, Us versus Them.

Whether the threat was an invading alien, a mutated insect, or an evil scientist, the threat struck at the American way of life, embodied in a variety of forms. The location might be in an arctic research station, the New Mexico desert, or a Coney Island amusement park, but it was Americana under attack, and the indomitable American spirit was always equal to the challenge.

The first great movie of the decade was the Howard Hawk / Christian Nyby film THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. The prototype of the Alien Invasion genre, THE THING… is a claustrophobic film, with nearly all the action contained within the station itself. This aids in building the feeling of the Threat from outside, so common to the films of the ‘50’s.

In addition, the pacing is very rapid, grabbing hold of the viewer and dragging him along to the fantastic conclusion, which sees the invader destroyed by good, old-fashioned American courage and ingenuity. This combination of factors pulls the viewer into the film, heightening the sense of “Us vs. Them”.

Another film that even more dramatically illustrated that theme was 1956’s INVASION OF THE BODY-SNATCHERS, directed by Don Siegel. Produced at the height of the McCarthy hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee, it reflected perfectly the fears and suspicions of the time. Here, the horror was more subtle, but far more pronounced. The enemy wasn’t simply an invader from another world; it was us, and all we had to do to lose the fight was to fall asleep. The thought of falling asleep as an individual, thinking, feeling human being, and awakening as something else, a robotic, emotionless member of a collective, was anathema to the American spirit, and was directly analogous to life under Communism.

But most films of the period weren’t quite that direct, nor was the Communist “Red Menace” the only threat facing movie-going Americans. Another great Alien Invasion film found the entire world involved in a war against our nearest neighbor, Mars. The movie was, of course, George Pal’s WAR OF THE WORLDS, one of the first of the big-budget Special Effects blockbusters.

Based on H. G. Wells’ novel but without the political angst that tinged the book, this same story caused a nationwide panic in October 1938, as Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater staged a dramatic radio play, set in Grover’s Mills, New Jersey. Despite repeated disclaimers that this was a fictional account, thousands of listeners were convinced that Martians were invading New Jersey… as if they’d want it. The movie, released in 1953, was equally effective, if not as panic-inducing, as the radio program of fifteen years previously. The vision of Martian war machines hovering over the battlefield, impervious even to the biggest stick in the scientist’s arsenal, the atomic bomb, is one of the best images of the decade.

In addition, The “Bomb”, the device that won the war against Japan, and maintained the delicate balance of peace between East and West, was itself a threat. If not directly, when dropped from Soviet bombers, then certainly in its by-product—Radiation.

Radiation was responsible for a host of terrors visited upon fictional populaces in the 1950’s. From giant ants, to shrinking men, to fire-breathing prehistoric beasts, radiation ran rampant, churning out mutants by the score.

The first, and the best, (though not my personal favorite…) of the Giant Bug sub-genre of movies was the superb 1954 film THEM! The story of giant ants loose, first in New Mexico, then in Los Angeles, was connected directly to the earliest Atomic tests in Alamogordo. Nor were ants the only insects affected by radiation. TARANTULA was the result of a radioactive growth serum, and the giant grasshoppers in BEGINNING OF THE END owed their physiques to irradiated vegetables.

Higher orders of life weren’t safe from being horribly mutated, either… including man himself. Being caught in a nuclear blast caused Col. Glen Manning to grow into the Amazing Colossal Man, and another radioactive cloud shrinks Scott Carey down to the size of a microbe. Prehistoric creatures of all types found themselves reanimated, including the King of the Monsters himself, Godzilla.

Originally released in Japan in 1954 as GOJIRA, Godzilla was by far the greatest of the Monsters created in the 1950’s, and is still one of the most recognized. In it’s original form, it’s much more of an indictment of nuclear weapons and the destruction they bring; not totally unexpected from the only nation to suffer nuclear attack, but unlikely to play well to 1950’s U.S. audiences. The original’s a tremendously powerful and effective film, but even watered down for release here as GODZILLA—KING OF THE MONSTERS, it retains enough of that power to have remained a fan favorite for fifty years.

And let’s not forget the ‘classic’ monsters, the vampires, werewolves, and the like, who weren’t immune to the predations of the mad scientist, either. While the first two-thirds of the decade were essentially devoid of the traditional monsters so popular in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s, by 1956 Hollywood was once more interested in them, albeit with a science-based twist. In films such as THE WEREWOLF, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, BLOOD OF DRACULA, and MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS, supernatural origins were cast aside in favor of scientific manipulation. Whether by a serum made from wolf hormones, chemically altered theatrical make-up, or microscopic organisms from a coelacanth’s bite, science was responsible for visiting these horrors on an unsuspecting populace.

Then there is the most iconic of American Monster-movies of the decade, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. In a direct confrontation between science and nature, Man invades the peaceful sheltered habitat of the Gill-Man, irrevocably changing his existence in the effort to capture him for scientific study. The Gill-Man, Universal’s most sympathetic monster, was also the most victimized creature of the ‘50’s. Scientists hunted him in the first CREATURE film; caught him and transported him to a foreign land in the second; and surgically altered his very physiology in the final installment of the series. Where’s the ASPCA when you need them?

However, as the decade of the ‘50’s neared its close, traditional horror, ‘Classic’ horror, began to reassert itself in the genre. Thanks to a small, low-budget studio in Great Britain, which had been noted primarily for its crime pictures, great franchises such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy were resurrected to tremendous success. That studio was, of course, Hammer Films, and starting with 1957’s CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, they single-handedly made Classic Horror popular again.

The rise of Hammer didn’t end Science’s role as the primary Protagonist / Antagonist of genre films, but it did mark the beginning of the shift to that “new realism” of which I spoke earlier. As standards eased and filmmakers explored expanded boundaries, films such as NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, PSYCHO, and CAPE FEAR became the driving force of the genre.

These literate, innovative, genuinely frightening films spawned hordes of imitators, most of which relied on increasing amounts of blood, gore, and nudity to make up for the lack of quality writing, directing or acting. By the midpoint of the ‘60’s, the heyday of the Mad Scientist had come to an end, and with it the horror cinema’s age of innocence.

Though I love all eras of the Horror Film, especially the Golden age of the ‘30’s through the mid-‘40’s, the years between 1950 and 1960 are perhaps the most fun. Yes, the movies are cheesy, the plots are simplistic, and the dialogue is straight from Leave It to Beaver; at least, in most cases.

But they also remind me of a time when it was ok to root for the good guy, and, more importantly, root against the bad; a time when things were simpler, even if only on the surface. They remind me of a time when “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” was something the public believed in, and something that Hollywood espoused… even if their collective fingers were crossed behind them.




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DVD Review: Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection

Title: Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collections, Vols. 1&2

Year of Release—Film: Various

Year of Release—DVD: 2006, 2007

DVD Label: Universal Studios Home Entertainment / BestBuy Exculsive


THE MOVIES

Following in the wake of their excellent Legacy releases in 2004, Universal has continued the excavation of their film vault, first with the Bela Lugosi Franchise Collection and Hammer Classic Collection in 2005, and continuing into 2006 with several notable releases. These include the Karloff Franchise Collection, the 75th Anniversary editions of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, and the long-awaited complete INNER SANCTUM Collection.

Included in that shipment of sweetness from Universal’s vaults was a set that I’d personally waited years for: The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection. This five-movie set, including TARANTULA; THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN; THE MOLE PEOPLE; THE MONOLITH MONSTERS; and MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS, features almost all of the best of Universal’s hits from the heyday of the Drive-In B-movies, when Science became far more than something you took in 3rd period. But “almost” could’ve been so much better.

In what must be a glaring oversight, the movie I consider to be Universal’s best ‘50’s Giant Bug B-Pic, 1957’s THE DEADLY MANTIS, has been left off. I can think of no valid reason for Universal’s continuing lack of respect for this classic, which still has not been released on DVD, and can only hope it gets it’s fair due sooner rather than later.

TARANTULA—(1955)

One of the best Giant Bug movies of the era, TARANTULA was Universal’s answer to WB’s THEM, released the previous year. Though not as technically well done, relying on occasionally flawed photographic effects rather than physical props, the plot was good and the acting, led by John Agar as Dr. Matt Hastings and Mara Corday as the ridiculously-named Steve Clayton, was far better than the average B-Pic.

But if the photographic effects weren’t quite up to snuff, Bud Westmore’s make-up work easily makes you forget it, with some of Universal’s best creature designs of the ‘50’s. Leo G. Carroll, who would be immortalized twenty years later in the lyrics of “Science-Fiction Double-Feature”, the opening theme to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (“I knew Leo G. Carroll/ Was over a barrel/ When Tarantula took to the hills…”) was heavily made-up as a victim of the same growth serum which created the giant spider, and looked impressively disgusting.

Though the ending is weak and anticlimactic, the picture holds up well overall, and its inclusion in this set was a no-brainer; it is easily the best of the set.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN—(1957)

Never a personal favorite of mine, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN has nevertheless been long regarded as one of the best Sci-Fi films of the decade; indeed, some consider it one of the best ever.

Directed by the prolific Jack Arnold, and starring Grant Williams and Randy Stuart, the plot concerns Scott and Louise Carey, a young couple out for a pleasant day of boating. A strange glowing cloud washes over the boat while the Scott is alone on deck. Months later, a routine physical discovers that the man is steadily shrinking, and it’s accelerating. Soon, he finds himself doing battle with enormous felines and huge spiders.

As I stated, this is not one of my favorite movies of the period. Though it certainly was well-scripted, well-directed, and well-acted, it was also slow, predictable, and Williams’ Carey was completely unlikable. While it conveyed the horror of what was happening to Carey well enough, I just found it impossible to care.

Still, this is regarded as one of the great films of the 1950’s Sci-Fi genre, and it certainly belongs in this set.

THE MOLE PEOPLE—(1956)

Perhaps the weakest of the five films on this set, it nonetheless has long been a personal favorite of mine. Directed by Virgil Vogel, and starring John Agar, Hugh Beaumont, Alan Napier, and Cynthia Patrick, THE MOLE PEOPLE is a curious mix of a standard Man-in-a-Rubber-Suit creature feature and “Lost World” adventure film, similar in theme to AT THE WORLD’S CORE or JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.

Though the plot of the film is weak, and the ending is horribly contrived, the movie moves along at a rapid clip, and the production is beautifully designed, a hallmark of Universal’s Horrors from the earliest times. Bud Westmore’s Creature designs are good, but the effect that impressed me so much when I first watched this one was the scene following the sacrifice of the young maidens, as their shrouded bodies were carried out of the death chamber, a burned and blackened arm fell from underneath the sheet… very gruesome for 1956, and very memorable for the young Unimonster.

THE MONOLITH MONSTERS—(1957)

My personal favorite of the five movies on this set, this was one of my favorite movies as a child, one for which I hunted for several years. [The quest for this film was the subject of a previous column of mine, “Childhood Terrors Recaptured”] Though produced using what must be considered Universal’s “C-List” of actors and director, that doesn’t keep it from being one of their better efforts in the fifties.

Directed by John Sherwood and starring Lola Albright, Grant Williams, and Les Tremayne, this movie had one of the most intelligent, well-conceived plots in ‘50’s B-Movies. A geologist discovers a strange new mineral is associated with a string of unexplained deaths in the small desert town of San Angelo. Dave Miller, the geologist (played ably by Williams) eventually discovers that the rock fragments are part of a meteor that landed in the desert outside the town. When exposed to water, not only do these rocks have the ability to kill by draining the body of silica, but they are also capable of growth and reproduction. Just as this discovery is made, a peal of thunder is heard, and rain begins to pour down onto the desert floor.

The special effects in this movie are incredible, especially the scenes of the monoliths rising and crashing onto the desert, only to have a new monolith rise from every broken shard. The performances, considering the name-recognition level of the cast, far exceed expectations, and the script, by Norman Jolley and Robert Fresco, from a story by CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON director Jack Arnold, is one of the best examples of ‘50’s Sci-Fi. Personally, I think it’s great that it’s one of the decade’s best, and I’m pleased that it’s finally getting some long-overdue attention from Universal.

MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS—(1958)

Of all the Sci-Fi Horrors Universal released in the 1950’s, this was perhaps the closest to the traditional “Horror Film” that they were so well known for a mere decade before. Directed by Universal’s best B-movie director of the post-war years, Jack Arnold, and written by David Duncan, (who penned such Sci-Fi and Horror classics as THE BLACK SCORPION, THE TIME MACHINE, and FANTASTIC VOYAGE) MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS was a average plot for the time, elevated by above average performances (most notably by lead Arthur Franz…), decent special effects, and Bud Westmore’s excellent make-up work. The cast, led by Franz, and featuring Joanna Moore, Judson Pratt, and a young Troy Donahue, does a very credible job with a script that was, admittedly, weaker than most in this collection.

As I intimated before, this is not the best movie in this collection, but it certainly isn’t the worst, either. MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS is a standard, entertaining B-picture, typical for it’s time, but still worthy of inclusion in the set.

This is an attractively packaged set, as you would expect from Universal. The five films are contained on three single-sided discs, and subtitles are included for all films. The movies themselves appear to be the best prints extant, though it’s obvious that no money was invested in archival restoration of these aging films.

Overall, the set is what we’ve come to expect from Universal: Clean, well-done, handsomely packaged, but with a minimum of restoration work.

There are no special features included in this collection; a situation that, frankly speaking, is unforgivable. When compared to Warner Home Video’s excellent offerings of films from this decade, the lack of even a stills gallery is damning. Universal, ever parsimonious, unwilling to spend a dime unless guaranteed a dollar in return, betrays its own stinginess with the failure to give this set the treatment it, and its fans, deserve.

Though this set has long been desired by fans of 1950’s B-Movies, as

well as fans of Universal’s Horrors, it is telling that what distinguishes it the most is what is left off, rather than what is included. The lack of Special Features, as well as the failure to include THE DEADLY MANTIS, means that I can’t give it as strong a recommendation as I would like to, but I can honestly say it’s well worth the $30 list price.

Could it be better? Yes, and it should’ve been. But when it comes to

Universal, I know to take what I can get.


Vol. 2

THE MOVIE(s)

It’s no secret that I love the cheesy, B-Grade sci-fi horrors of the 1950’s. In fact, next to the classic Universal Monsters of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s, there’s no type of genre film I enjoy more. This is the second collection of Sci-Fi gems Universal and Best Buy® have collaborated on, and I hope they keep them coming!

When I reviewed the first Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection last year, I said that the only faults I had with the set were the lack of special features, and the failure to include my favorite Giant Bug movie, THE DEADLY MANTIS. I am overjoyed to say that at least one of those faults has been corrected.


DR. CYCLOPS—(1940)

Though it seems an odd title for inclusion in this set, as it was originally produced by Paramount, and released in 1940, DR. CYCLOPS is certainly an entertaining film that has long deserved proper respect, and it definitely gets it here.

While the Special Effects are good, especially considering the age of the film, the story is a bit of a weak point. The characters are poorly drawn and badly acted, offering the viewer scant reason to care about their eventual fates. And though the plot would become overused in the following decade, here it was still sufficiently fresh that it helps, rather than hinders the film. It is an interesting concept, though it does tend to wander from point to point, but as I mentioned it does what it was intended to do.

One thing that cannot be faulted is the spectacular color photography, on a par with the best of the era. It is captured perfectly in the DVD transfer, and puts my ratty old VHS to shame.

While not my favorite film in this collection, this is an enjoyable one, and a nice addition to my DVD library.

CULT OF THE COBRA—(1955)

This is one that I had not seen before this collection, and I must admit that I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the movie. Though the premise is somewhat thin, and the film has often been derided, I found it to be very entertaining.

The cast is excellent, and would go on to comprise a who’s who of ‘60’s TV stars. Richard Long, Marshall Thompson, and David Janssen lead the way as GI’s who had witnessed a sacred ceremony while in Southwest Asia, calling down a curse upon their heads. Faith Domergue is the embodiment of that curse, (please someone, curse me with something like that!) as a priestess of the cult, a woman who can transform herself into a cobra… or a cobra that can change into a woman, whichever the case may be.

As I stated, the premise is thin… but no more so than most b-pictures of the ‘50’s. And like most of it’s peers, it holds up well enough when supported by competent acting and Francis Lyon’s workmanlike direction. The photography is Universal’s usually high quality effort, and what few special effects there are about average for the period.

On the whole, this is one of my favorite films in this set, and one that I’m glad to be able to check off my “Need” list.

THE LAND UNKNOWN—(1956)

This is another of those Universals that had escaped my efforts to add to the collection, and while I’m glad that I finally have it, I must admit that it fails to please as much as did the previous entry in this list. Though it’s not a bad film, the unusually feeble production values simply don’t serve the purpose here.

The cast, led by Jock Mahoney and Shawn Smith, does an adequate job, but they receive little in the way of support from anyone, including the screenwriters, special effects crew, or even the director, Virgil Vogel. The story is weak, the dialogue unrealistic, even by 1950’s standards, and the creature effects are even more so. In a production from AIP or Republic, you might accept a man in a rubber T-Rex suit… but not from Universal, which was producing state-of-the-art genre films in this period, films such as CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THIS ISLAND EARTH, and THE MONOLITH MONSTERS. Especially in comparison to the pioneering suit-mation being done at that time by Toho Studios in Japan, the cheapness of the Clifford Stine effects really stand out.

The plot of the film is a simple one, and would be revisited with varied success throughout the 1960’s and ‘70’s. A helicopter carrying a team of researchers finds a hidden valley in Antarctica, with a tropical jungle environment and thriving prehistoric life. The team becomes stranded, and must survive their harsh surroundings. The same premise was followed much more satisfyingly in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH several years later, and quite frankly, I’d rather watch that again.

Still, it is a Universal that I had not seen prior to this, and I am happy to include it in my collection.

THE DEADLY MANTIS—(1957)

This is my all-time favorite Giant Bug movie, and one that I have waited for years to see released to DVD. Though it generally is held in lower regard than 1954’s THEM, and while even I would have to admit that, objectively speaking, THEM is a much better story, I’ve always loved this film.

Once again the plot is familiar to fans of the B-Pictures of the 1950’s. An earthquake in the South Atlantic causes a reaction on the other side of the world, and a giant prehistoric mantis is released from its icy tomb. Resurrected, it begins hunting for food, and heading south for warmer climes. Along the way it runs afoul of a paleontologist, his photographer, and an Air Force officer (played well by William Hopper, Alix Talton, and Craig Stevens…). The supporting cast is good, as is Nathan Juran’s direction, helped immeasurably by a superb job of special effects from Clifford Stine.

Ok, so it’s not a great movie, and it does go a little overboard on it’s use of stock footage, but it’s still one of my favorite movies, and it’s inclusion in this set is a no-brainer.

THE LEECH WOMAN—(1960)

This is, in my opinion of course, the weakest film in the set, and one that I would’ve been happy to see put off in favor of a more deserving film from the Universal vaults, such as IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE.

The story concerns an elderly woman who learns a method of restoring her youth and beauty. The drawback is that the process requires a steady supply of fresh blood, and the effects wear off quickly.

The plot is convoluted and obtuse, and the dialogue is stiff at best… but seldom delivers its best. The acting is almost uniformly bad, and in every way, this resembles much more the type and quality of film coming from AIP or Allied Artists, not the great Universal.

Still, it is well presented here, and if it does happen to be a film you enjoy, then you’ll be pleased with this release.

The three-disc set is well done, and beautifully packaged. As is standard with releases from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, the movies are subtitled, always a plus with me, and the transfers are absolutely perfect, especially the DR. CYCLOPS print.

As with the first Best Buy/Universal sets, there are no special features, save for an occasional trailer.

Speaking as someone hopelessly addicted to the cheesy B-Movies of the 1950’s, I dream about sets such as this. The inclusion of my favorite of the Giant Bug movies certainly doesn’t hurt. While the exclusive nature of the Universal/Best Buy releases draws much criticism for making the discs hard to acquire and inflating the price, I fail to understand how that truly works a hardship on someone who really wants the sets. Best Buys are not scarce, and it’s always possible to purchase the discs on-line.

Still, it’s not a set that I would wait too long to pick up, unless you want to pay the exorbitant prices that the first set is commanding on eBay… upwards of $125.00 in some cases. There’s little doubt that, once supplies of this set dry up, it will begin to appreciate considerably. And if you love these movies as much as I, and have as little free cash as I, then you don’t want that to happen!



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DVD Review: CORALINE Two-Disc Collector’s Edition


Title: CORALINE Two-Disc Collector’s Edition

Year of Release—Film: 2009

Year of Release—DVD: 2009

DVD Label: Universal Studios Home Entertainment


Neil Gaiman is one of the hottest names in Horror, a writer whose graphic novels such as Sandman and MirrorMask have established him as one of the top authors o

f Fantastic fiction. His work has also found its way to the big screen, with films such as MIRRORMASK, STARDUST, BEOWULF, and now CORALINE.

Henry Selick, the same man who brought Tim Burton’s NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS to life, directs CORALINE, based on Gaiman’s 2002 children’s fable. Coraline is a smart, rebellious pre-teen girl, whose parents have relocated the family from Pontiac, Michigan to rural Oregon. They move into the Pink Palace, an old house that has been converted into apartments. The other residents of the building are extremely eccentric, from the elderly actre

sses who share the basement apartment, to the Russian Circus performer in the attic. But there are no other children in the apartments, and Coraline is lonely and unhappy. Her only friend is Wyborn, an odd, nerdy boy, the grandson of the owner of the Pink Palace.

Wyborn gives her a gift, a doll he says he found in his Grandmother’s attic—a doll that bears an uncanny resemblance to Coraline. This opens the door—both literally and figuratively—on a series of bizarre occurrences that soon has Coraline fighting not only for her existence, but for that of others as well.

Dakota Fanning voices Coraline, and while her always annoying, smarter-than-all-the-adults-in-the-room routine wears very thin, she does an acceptable job here. Perhaps not having to see her on-screen lessens her ability to get on my nerves. Teri Hatcher provides the voice of both Coraline’s Mother, and the other-worldly “Other Mother,” the antagonist of the story. Her performance is good, not exceptional, but it does the job. The rest of the cast

is decent, though there are no standouts.

Visually, the movie is spectacular, though the 3-D version was not screened. I have never seen a 3-D film that seemed worth the effort it took to produce it, nor was it necessary to view it in order to review the film. The 2-D animation was so richly detailed and so well done that it would be hard to imagine that a 39¢ pair of red & green glasses would improve it.

The one flaw in the film, and indeed in the Gaiman book that inspired it, is that both are considered to be for children. Trust me on this—this is not a children’s tale. While I’ve never been one to believe that children should be isolated from every possible frightening image or concept like some emotional “bubble” boy or girl, I do feel that there are certai

n themes that they just don’t need to deal with until they are of an age to understand them [see Too Much Horror, 30 May 2009]. Children already have an innate fear of separation; this movie would directly attack those fears. To market it to children is, I believe, irresponsible.

CORALINE is a superb story, and this is a very good adaptation of it. It’s visually flawless, and that carries the occasionally weak performances along. Gaiman fans will, I believe, be pleased, and those unfamiliar with his work may find cause to become familiar with it. It’s not perfect, and I certainly wouldn’t let any child under the age of ten watch it—but I enjoyed it, and have no hesitation in recommending it to you.






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