Directors: W. Lee Wilder, Bernard Knowles

Retromedia unleashes a double feature Blu-ray of two black and white science fiction flicks; one from the 1950s and one from the 1960s. While the titles presented here are known to be in the public domain and already out on a number of budget DVD labels, they’re not nearly as overexposed as other genre films that fit the category, and together make for a decent afternoon of oldfangled thrills (especially since the both run under an hour and 20 minutes).

In PHANTOM FROM SPACE an Unidentified Flying Object traveling at thousands of miles per hour enters the Earth’s atmosphere and is tracked from Alaska to the coast of California where it ends up landing. Soon there is a blackout in and around Santa Monica, and a number of people are found dead, including a beachgoer (which the police first suspect as the work of a jealous lover) and a night watchman at an oil field set on fire. On the case is Lt. Bowers (Harry Landers, CHARRO!) along with military man Major Andrews (James Seay, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET), scientist Dr. Wyatt (Rudolph Anders, SHE DEMONS) and his assistant Barbara Randall (Noreen Nash, GIANT). They find themselves on the trace of a tall being wearing some kind of rigged-up diver’s helmet; when he sheds his suit (which proves to be indestructible) and turns invisible, it’s naturally speculated that this is a humanoid being from another world. The invisible invader finds that the Earth’s atmosphere is suffocating him to death, so he’s useless without his helmet (which is back at the observatory where a lot of the film takes place), and as he’s deprived of a speaking voice, banging out some kind of code to frightened Barbara doesn’t do much good for whatever message he’s trying to get across.

Released by United Artists in 1953, PHANTOM FROM SPACE is one of a handful of cheapie sci-fi programmers (the others being KILLERS FROM SPACE and THE SNOW CREATURE) directed by W. Lee Wilder, the older brother of Billy Wilder. Independently produced for Wilder’s Planet Filmplays production company, this little piece of cinema is one of the earliest of the 1950s alien invader movies, and obviously takes inspiration from THE MAN FROM PLANET X and THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. When the “phantom” is finally exposed during the climax, he does somewhat resemble James Arness in THING, albeit a buff naked beach boy type in the form of actor Dick Sands (DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS). The film is padded with stock footage and contains Ed Wood-type narration, but for all its talkiness, it still has some fun scenes and definitely plays with the invisibility aspect to good measure (the special effects are notably ambitious, except when you clearly see wires on a pair of scissors). PHANTOM FROM SPACE was co-written by director Wilder’s son Myles (along with William Raynor) and has a cameo by Universal horror actor Michael Mark (FRANKENSTEIN, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY’S HAND) as well as a score by the late William Lava (DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN).

In 1964’s FROZEN ALIVE, visiting American Dr. Frank Overton (Mark Stevens, THE SNAKE PIT) and Dr. Helen Wieland (Marianne Koch, THE MONSTER OF LONDON CITY) are two scientists working in suspended animation research. Receiving accolades from their peers (as well as a $25,000 bonus each), they so far have only experimented on monkeys, with Frank desperately wanting to change that; the next step would be to find a human volunteer for the same deep freeze treatment to prove that the medical world could benefit from the process. Overton's fashion journalist wife Joan (Delphi Lawrence, THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH) is terribly jealous that her husband spends all of his time at the lab with Helen (who is very much in love with Frank) so she is having an affair with Tony (Joachim Hansen, THE EAGLE HAS LANDED) and has a great fondness for the bottle. One night in a drunken display of stupidity, Joan accidentally shoots herself in her boyfriend’s pad and makes her husband a widower. In the meantime, Frank sacrifices himself in the name of science, willingly volunteering for his own experiment.

A co-production between West Germany and the U.K., FROZEN ALIVE was shot in English and is more of melodrama about a love triangle than an outright science fiction movie. In fact, the sci-fi aspects are kept to a bare minimum (despite the U.S. advertising campaign) and even though it’s fairly well acted, it's mostly a dull and talky affair. It is a treat though to see all the German actors from various “krimi” films including Wolfgang Lukschy (DEAD EYES OF LONDON), Albert Bessler (THE STRANGLER OF BLACKMOOR CASTLE), Sigurd Lohde (DR. MABUSE VS. SCOTLAND YARD) and especially Walter Rilla (THE FORGER OF LONDON). Manchester-born director Bernard Knowles worked mostly on British TV, and his last feature was The Beatles’ failed telepic THE MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR in 1967.

As both PHANTOM FROM SPACE and FROZEN ALIVE have both been transferred from film print sources, we’re not going to scrutinize every aspect of their appearance here. It’s certain the quality is being complained about on some geeky horror message board right now, but they’re actually not too bad, especially when you come to the realization that blowing $16.99 on Amazon for this pairing is not some important life decision and won't ruin your life. Both black and white films are presented in 1080p HD in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio (questionable as both are believed to be 1.37:1 affairs) with the framing never looking too compromised. Grain is healthy on both films, resulting in decent levels of detail and density, while black levels remain deep (and too dark in the nighttime scenes for PHANTOM). Grayscale is acceptable (perhaps a bit too “gray” on FROZEN ALIVE). Both prints display a good amount of nicks and other blemishes (character), but no major splices and no missing dialogue. Dolby Digital 2.0 English tracks are offered for both films, with no detectable problems (such as scratchiness); dialogue is pretty clear throughout, and music never sounds distorted. No subtitle options are included. The sole extra is a full frame trailer for PHANTOM FROM SPACE. (George R. Reis)