Four Beloved Sci-Fi/Horror Flicks from the 1950s Make Their DVD Debut for Halloween on October 16


Sam Katzman, the amazingly prolific and successful, if sometimes derided, producer who churned out over 200 B-movies and serials over a four-decade-plus career, finally gets a little respect via The Sam Katzman Collection, the latest entry in Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s “Icons of Horror” DVD series. The two-disc set will be released Oct. 16th at SRP $24.95. The four features in the set are all making their DVD debut, and two have never been released in any video format. The highlight may be THE GIANT CLAW, the infamous 1957 sci-fi thriller about a giant bird from outer space that chows down on people and planes; it stars genre veterans Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday and Morris Ankrum and is directed by Fred F. Sears. Another fan favorite is the self-explanatory ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957), also directed by Sears. It stars the 50’ Woman herself, Allison Hayes, and was written by blacklisted screenwriter Bernard Gordon (whose name has been restored for the packaging) under the name Raymond T. Marcus. The new-to-video titles include CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955), written by the legendary horror/sci-fi writer Curt Siodmak and directed by Edward L. Cahn. It stars Richard Denning in a fast-paced gangsters-meet-reanimated-corpses tale. Cahn also directed THE WEREWOLF (1956), an Atomic Age chiller about a man (Steven Ritch) who becomes the victim of a worthy scientific experiment gone horribly wrong.

Sony Pictures consultant Michael Schlesinger, who is supervising the collection, notes, “People like to make fun of Katzman’s films, but they’re generally quite well made, given their budgets and schedules, and remain entertaining today. THE WEREWOLF, in particular, generates real poignancy in Ritch’s plight; it’s not at all a standard wolfman movie. And the only thing wrong with GIANT CLAW is the hokey bird itself; had Ray Harryhausen done the effects, it would be considered a minor classic today. That Sam had the sense to hire great writers like Siodmak and Gordon proves he took these things very seriously, no matter how far-fetched their premises may be. And that goes for directors as well—Sears used a bubble machine to simulate an underwater oxygen tank in ZOMBIES; that shows a level of ingenuity many quickie filmmakers lack.” The set also includes the original trailers for all four features, plus bonus trailers, as well as Chapter 2 of Katzman’s 1951 serial version of “Mysterious Island”, directed by the renowned Spencer Gordon Bennet. Rounding out the package are a pair of “scary” shorts: a 1959 Mr. Magoo cartoon, “Terror Faces Magoo”, and an extremely rare two-reel comedy from 1936, “Midnight Blunders”, starring Tom Kennedy and Monte Collins as a pair of bumbling detectives who cross paths with a Frankenstein-ish monster.

Why Chapter 2 and not 1? Explains Schlesinger: “The first chapter is all exposition and frankly not very exciting. I thought it would be better to get right to the action. And in any event, it opens with a recap, plus everyone already knows the story from the 1961 Harryhausen version or the Jules Verne novel.” Born in New York City on July 7th, 1901, Katzman entered the movies in 1914 as a prop boy, and slowly worked his way up the ladder to production manager by 1933. The following year, he became a producer, a position he enjoyed until his death in 1973. (He also directed a few films in 1937). Though his pictures were almost always low-budget, he did sometimes land stars as big as Elvis Presley, Lucille Ball, Bela Lugosi, Gene Barry and Dana Andrews, as well as such music icons as Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash, Little Richard and Roy Orbison. And while this is the first SPHE release to bear his name, four of his early rock-‘n’-roll time capsules debuted on Sony DVDs earlier this year: ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK AND DON’T KNOCK THE ROCK, and their 1960s remakes, TWIST AROUND THE CLOCK and DON’T KNOCK THE TWIST.

THE GIANT CLAW (1957): The movie that’s literally a turkey! In an act of cosmic irony, an enormous bird from outer space descends upon the Earth and begins chowing down on people. As usual, scientists and the military must team up to save our planet. This hysterically feathered fable stars sci-fi icons Jeff Morrow (THIS ISLAND EARTH), Mara Corday (TARANTULA!), Morris Ankrum (IVADERS FROM MARS) and Robert Shayne (TV’s “The Adventures of Superman”), and is directed by Fred F. Sears (EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS).

CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955): From the pen of the legendary Curt Siodmak (THE WOLF MAN, DONOVAN’S BRAIN) and director Edward L. Cahn (IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE) comes this smash-bang thriller starring Richard Denning (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) as a police doctor hot on the trail of a mob boss who’s hired an ex-Nazi scientist to re-animate his dead thugs to do more dirty work! If it seems like a condensed serial, it shouldn’t be a surprise: the cast is packed with such vets as Gregory Gaye, Tristam Coffin, Harry Lauter, Pierre Watkin, Lane Chandler, Don Harvey and Charles Horvath.

ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957): Director Edward L. Cahn teams with another great writer, Bernard Gordon (using his blacklist nom de plume Raymond T. Marcus) for this delightfully loopy adventure about a sunken ship whose cargo of diamonds is guarded by its zombified crew members. And wouldn’t ya know it, there’s a bunch of foolhardy scavengers who aren’t scared of The Swimming Dead. The 50 Foot Woman herself, Allison Hayes, stars along with Gregg Palmer (FROM HELL IT CAME), Morris Ankrum (EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS), Gene Roth (ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES) and B-western star Ray “Crash” Corrigan.

THE WEREWOLF (1956): Updating a horror staple to the Atomic Age, this moody chiller stars Steven Ritch as an auto-accident survivor who’s used by two scientists as a subject for their experiments to create a vaccine for nuclear fall-out. Unfortunately, it has a rather hairy side effect. Another solid effort from director Fred F. Sears, with Don Megowan (THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US), Joyce Holden (TERROR FROM THE YEAR 5000) and Harry Lauter (IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA), as well as some beautiful locations at Big Bear Lake.

The Sam Katzman Collection carries a list price of $24.95. All four features are presented in glorious black-and-white and their original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The films are unrated, but are all suitable for family viewing.