Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review: Roger Corman's Cult Classics

Review by Dread Sockett  
Release Date: 1/18/2011

Those of you eagerly awaiting the end of times, please rejoice. The release of these films on DVD surely must mean we've come to the end of all things. Why else would the rights holders wait this frakking long to put these damned things out?

I mean geez, we're already into a new video format so this is almost like putting stuff out on VHS. Of course, let me be first to admit, if they did put these out on VHS, well, ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS at least, I'd be hustling my silly butt down to the local thrift store to look for some old machine on which to play the stupid thing. Life is like that for the hardcore fanboy. Talk shit... collect shit while acting indignant and shit... talk more shit after getting shit... make popcorn... eat that shit... sit yer ass down and watch this shit... then write some crazy-assed shit.

It's a very simple life.

So here we have SHOUT FACTORY's awesome Oldschool release of not one but three hard-to-find films: ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (1957), NOT OF THIS EARTH (1958) and WAR OF THE SATELLITES (1958). It's a crackass combo, but after crap bootlegs, this is like the SCI-FI boxsets that came out a few years ago. You just say thank the nerd gods and shut up. The main reason for many to pick this up is AOTCM followed closely by NOTE. I suppose the truly hardcore would put WOTS above these. If there is such a person I'd like to meet him/her though because s/he is an even bigger masochist than myself and bitches like us need to know our peers.

ATTACK: I almost had an aneurysm when I found out that not only does SHOUT present the film in Anamorphic widescreen, but there's even a fun commentary track to boot (and I'm not usually one who usually gives a damn about commentaries). I watched this fabulously awesome mess of a film twice in a row to soak in all aspects of its radioactive juices. The commentary features TOM WEAVER and the BRUNAS brothers (all authors of books that matter on old horror for those who can afford them suckers) and is full of probably more information than this film deserves.

Honestly, it's packed with so much insight you'd think they were discussing BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (read: they don't talk shit about the material but are quite aware that they aren't talking about a film like BOF at the same time. It’s a fine line to walk). This type of commentary was what I expected when I sat down to watch THE GIANT BEHEMOTH's DVD and was horrified at the disrespect that FX maestros PHIL TIPPETT and DENNIS MUREN displayed, but I digress. ATTACK's presentation was truly perfect in all regards. The print is beautiful. I'd waited for this for years and can now ditch that awful full-screen ALLIED bootleg I've had all this time. As a side note, I never bothered to check all these years since many of this film's contemporaries were full screen, but for some reason I had no idea this was widescreen – and I call myself a fan of AOTCM. I'd watched the bootleg, assuming that was how it always looked. This should tell you why I was (nearly-ish) as nuts about this coming out as say, when the Japanese language version of GOJIRA/GODZILLA was released stateside.

ATTACK concerns scientists who come to a Pacific atoll in search of some missing colleagues. The atoll and its inhabitants were affected by nearby atomic testing. The atmosphere of surrealism sells this pic, even with its obvious shortcomings. It's all clearly cheap, but the atmosphere pervades and viewers need to just settle into the movie's crackass logic and roll with it. From the minute their boat lands and Corman gives us a half-baked money shot (one of the telepathic mutant crabs has a partial reveal as it decapitates someone), you know this isn't quite like the rest of the 50's flicks. No, you're not going to be watching the likes of DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL or even THEM! but you are miles above the Syfy-esque equivalents of the day like SHE DEMONS and MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL. This is quality 50's schlock and believe me there is a difference for those of our younger Peeps who think all B/W films look alike.

So after the scientists get settled, they all start getting picked off one by one. It becomes apparent the mutant crab monsters (who really don't do all that much attacking) assimilate the minds of their victims. This in turn leads to some interesting telepathic exchanges where they communicate with the remaining scientists through everything but the kitchen sink (really, I'm not kidding). Eventually, the usual showdown happens and we get to see the monsters in all their glory. The crabs are big and who knows how they went from normal crabs to the giant Japanese monster look. They even have "faces" which reminds me of THE BLACK SCORPION monsters' close-ups.

NOT OF THIS EARTH was a pleasant surprise since I don't recall seeing this as a kid. I'd heard about it, but it's always been a pain to track down even as a bootleg. The pleasantness was compounded, after my usual cursory scan of the disc to see what I was getting into, which suggested a rather boring movie made up of some guy walking around in a dark suit and sunglasses with buggy white eyeballs. I couldn't have been more wrong and now am awaiting a chance to check out the commentary that's attached.

BEVERLY GARLAND stars here as nurse Nadine and for those who need the name-drop explained, she was truly one of the first ass-kicking women in Horror/Sci-fi. While her peeps were shoving their knuckles into their mouths and stuck making coffee, Bev was refining the art of being a bitch in heels. Okay, maybe a little knuckle shoving but it was done with some BETTE DAVIS bitchiness™. I LOVE BEVERLY GARLAND. Of course, it was odd that here she kinda worked my nerves for being kinda too independent when she clearly needed to STFU and listen to her cop boyfriend... but naaaaaaaaw. It was obvious though that in this role she was meant to be a little less spirited and more of a sensitive character compared to her other roles (like say her bitchy self in IT CONQUERED THE WORLD) so all is forgiven.

PAUL BIRCH stars as Paul Johnson, an alien agent who has come to earth in search for blood to help save his dying planet, Davana. Birch's alien speaks in this cold, stiff manner that at first is a little jarring, but is perfect for his alien. He really does sell the role of an alien being who's trying to fit into earth's society with all of the expected awkward deliveries and lacking emotion, not to mention a near total unawareness of stuff like parking laws and other customs like not killing people and tossing their remains into your furnace. Birch, for our apocalypse fans, also starred in CORMAN's DAY THE WORLD ENDED.

Johnson gets Nadine to become his personal nurse at his home so that she can give him blood transfusions. This keeps Johnson alive so that he can continue with his mission of sending specimens back to his superiors in Davana. Nadine meets Johnson's chauffeur Jeremy, who's a hustler who unknowingly gets charged with bringing back victims for Johnson. Mixed into this is Nadine's cop BF and her doc employer who's researching Johnson's blood condition while under his telepathic control. Throughout NOTE we get rabies injections, funky dimensional travel machines, mind control, lotsa deaths, and of a little bit of tolerable cheese to top it off.

NOTE could easily play with the likes of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.

WAR OF THE SATELLITES: For this reviewer, the less said about this little gem the better, though being featured with NOTE only underscores what a good film NOTES is and gives the uninitiated viewer of older Sci-Fi a good idea of what a bad 50's film looks like versus one that actually has some merits. In WOTS, the denizens of the galaxy don't like that us humans are starting to venture into space so they basically forbid us from space travel. Of course, what do we do? We travel into space first chance we get in our massive rocket ships outfitted with reclining lounge chairs which in turn doesn't make our body invading galaxy neighbors too happy (the travel, not lounge chairs). YAWN.

FEATURES: A pretty good Corman salute is included which contains some mostly enjoyable remembrances from those who went through the Corman school of film making. It does get a little smoochey-tedious after a bit, but good nonetheless. TRAILERS: I never thought trailers counted as a “feature” but whatever. The last time I got even remotely interested in trailers on a disc was when I think SIMITAR had a bunch of GODZILLA ones collected. Here, 25 CORMAN trailers surely will appeal to someone- Hell, I might even sit through them at some point. The commentaries are the features to zero in on though. I still haven't heard NOTE's but if AOTCM is an indication, it too will be an excellent listen.

FINIS: All in all, this is a kickass set of some sorely missing movies. SHOUT has kicked ass with their MST3K sets (despite being priced like some damned gold bricks... I'm still saving lunch money for my GYPSY figure before THAT goes outta print, mmmkay! Sheesh guys, GYPSY better vibrate and make me breakfast when all is done) (oops... nuther digresion). With this release, I am a bonofide fan of this company. This set was obviously put together by folks who knew what they had and gave a damn and it totally shows. This was like a CRITERION release of for us B-movie fans. Really. Usually I don't steer this far from Horror reviews, I mean this IS SCI-FI period, but this release just made me hafta do the fanboy dirty boogie babble.

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