For this installment of Roger Corman’s Cult Classics, Shout! Factory goes back, way back, to the 1950s for a trio of classic sci-fi monster pictures (each running a little over an hour long) that the King of the B’s produced and directed for Allied Artists, together in one very desirable two-disc package with the expected plethora of extras.
Disc One’s ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS is one of a handful titles Corman did for AA when he wasn't churning 'em out for Nicholson and Arkoff over at AIP. It also happens to be one of his most beloved 1950s monster efforts, corny as it is. Frequent collaborator Charles Griffith concocted the script and strays from the abundant humor present in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, playing it straight this time (that is if you can accept a giant talking crab as serious). Griffith also appears in the film (he gets decapitated early on) and directed some underwater scenes.
A group of scientists find themselves marooned on a nuclear-affected atoll in the Pacific where they have come searching for members of a previous expedition. After doing some research, they learn that the other scientists were eaten by giant mutated land crabs, and that these creatures have also absorbed their minds. The menacing crustaceans begin to snack on this new set of guests, using telepathy (articulating with the voices of the person they just devoured) in order to summon their next victim.
Like all of the early Corman films, this was made on shoestring but was reportedly his highest grosser up until that time. It's a tight 60+ minute effort with very little time for chat, and the giant crabs don't look too bad at all in comparison with some of the other 1950s sleaze creatures. The film boasts a classic Corman stock ensemble: Richard Garland (PANIC IN YEAR ZERO) and Pamela Duncan (THE UNDEAD) are the heroic love interests, the vastly underrated Russell Johnson (still years away from "Gilligan's Island") is a life-saving technician, Mel Welles (as a French botanist) and Leslie Bradley are scientists with accents (you haven't lived until you've heard a giant crab speak with Welles' unmistakable intonation), and Beach Dickerson and Ed Nelson are in there as well. Nelson also operated the crab and legend has it that Jack Nicholson did as well!
Also on Disc One is the film that was paired on the original double bill with CRAB MONSTERS: NOT OF THIS EARTH. A mysterious man in a business suit and dark-rimmed glasses, Paul Johnson (Paul Birch) is actually an alien here on Earth to acquire blood for the beings of his planet (Davanna). As all aliens are wealthy, Johnson lives in a roomy Californian abode and overpays his jailbird chauffer (Jonathan Haze, THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) and brainwashes a physician into giving his pretty nurse (Beverly Garland, THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE) over to be his live-in caregiver, supplying the constant blood transfusions he needs to survive. When Johnson isn’t busy receiving blood through introvenus, he’s out on the prowl for the fresh kind, with his victims including pretty young teeny boppers, a door-to-door salesman, a trio of winos and a defenseless Chinaman. He also unknowingly gives canine blood to a fellow female from his world, with the expected disastrous results. The nurse’s tough guy motorcycle cop boyfriend (Morgan Jones) is able to put two and two together and ultimately saves our planet from the blood-sucking “philanthropist”.
With another smart script by Charles Griffith (co-written with Mark Hanna), NOT OF THIS EARTH has minimal sets and effects, but the tale of an intergalactic plain-clothes vampiric menace is one of Corman’s most entertaining of his early fantasy cheapies. Paul Birch (who played well-intentioned fathers in both THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED and THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES) is great as the white-eyed visitor, speaking in a suspicious monotone (of which he also communicates telepathically), possessing mind control powers and weakening whenever he hears a loud noise (especially car horns). The beaming device which is used to converse with his home planet (which is stored in a living room closet) looks like a converted hotel luggage carrier. Beverly Garland gets to prove why she was one of the most endearing 1950s scream queens, Jonathan Haze has some of the best dialog and Dick Miller has a great cameo as a pushy vacuum cleaner salesman who becomes alien nourishment and is stuffed in an incinerator. A "monster" does show up in the final reel: an unforgettable flying (via very visible wires) bat/umbrella creature which devours a human head (it was created by none other than Paul Blaisdell). Like with CRAB MONSTERS, the great “creature future” music score is supplied by Ronald Stein.
The third feature, WAR OF THE SATELLITES, is found on Disc 2. As Corman confirms in an interview found on this collection, the film was quickly concocted in the wake of the first Russian sputnik going up. There’s cause for alarm when several United Nations’ rockets meet a violent end in outer space. A message falls to earth (retrieved by two smitten teenagers) and warns that Earth’s space program must be terminated immediately, as failure to comply will result in the planet’s destruction. Our brave scientists evade the warning, but scientist Dr. Van Ponder (Richard Devon), dies in a car crash. After his death is reported at a U.N. meeting, he quickly makes a surprising entry, but he’s now a harmful alien who took on his human form. A manned satellite with a significant crew is launched, but the mission is headed by the enemy guised as Ponder.
With a script by Lawrence Louis Goldman, adequate inner spacecraft sets (art direction by Daniel Haller) and laughable outer space effects with unconvincing miniatures and wires in check, WAR OF THE SATELLITES is passable entertainment, but fairly dull and talky, even with a brisk running time of 66 minutes. The film does have some OK scenes, including Devon’s character in alien form able to divide himself, and at one point he’s seen healing his charcoal burned hand with some simple self massaging. Dick Miller has a good part as the leading man hero, one of the first to suspect that there’s an alien onboard the satellite, but leading lady Susan Cabot (also in Corman’s THE WASP WOMAN and MACHINE GUN KELLY) has very little to do. The familiar cast also includes rotund Bruno Ve Sota (THE GIANT LEECHES), Robert Shayne (THE NEANDERTHAL MAN), Beech Dickerson and Corman himself can be seen as space station controller (he has dialog too!).
ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS had been previously released on DVD by a company which called itself Allied Artists Classics in a dark and dingy full frame television transfer. Shout! Factory’s edition cancels that one out completely with this new handsome edition, presenting the film anamorphic in a fitting 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The black and white transfer is very sharp with excellent detail, and except for some scattered speckling, the print source is in great shape. Likewise, NOT OF THIS EARTH is also presented 1.78:1 and anamorphic and is on the same level of quality, and this, the first official release of the film, is a pleasure to add to the collection. Audio on both titles is clear, with the expected pops and hiss in spots (nothing the least bit irritating). Like with CRAB MONSTERS, Disc 2’s WAR OF THE SATELLITES is taken from a British distribution print source. It’s presented full frame, open matte, and is the weakest of the three in tems of quality: despite specking in the print source, it’s still quite sharp with nice detail. Mono audio has some pops and scratchiness, but it still plays out fine.
Disc 1 features a brief but solid video interview with Corman, focusing on the three films in question. Corman mentions doing CRAB MONSTERS and EARTH as a pre-set double feature, each with a ten day schedule, and how he would come up with the original ideas and then hand them over to the screenwriters (Corman admits he always had a great affection for sci-fi). On SATELLITES, Corman talks about quickly filming it on a $70,000 budget, and that the sets were built before the script was completed. Dick Miller also makes a brief appearance here at the very end, discussing his role in the film. Disc 1 also features the original TV Syndication Prologues for both CRAB MONSTERS and EARTH: these are re-edited versions of the title sequence created to pad out the running time for television airinga during the 1960s and 1970s. A scene from the film is shown before the opening credits, and a text scroll follows them before the action starts. Both prologues were taken from inferior video sources, but their inclusion here is well appreciated, especially for those who grew up watching these during the glory days of the boob tube.
Disc 2 features commentaries on both CRAB MONSTERS and EARTH with film historians Tom Weaver, John Brunas and Mike Brunas (who collectively penned the essential hardcover, Universal Horrors). The commentaries are informative and entertaining, as these guys really know and love classic creature features. Interviews with the films' participants are referred to, and Weaver makes mention more than a few times on how the finished films strayed from their original scripts as written. “A Salute to Roger Corman” has interviews with the likes of Peter Fonda, Joe Dante, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Hill, Dick Miller, Harry Dean Stanton and many others. Rounding out the extras are a number of trailers for nearly every film Corman directed (most of them licensed from MGM and Fox) including ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS/NOT OF THIS EARTH (double bill), SHE GODS OF SHARK REEF, TEENAGE DOLL, THE UNDEAD, WAR OF THE SATELLITES, THE WASP WOMAN, THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, BUCKET OF BLOOD, CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, THE INTRUDER, THE PREMATURE BURIAL, TALES OF TERROR, THE RAVEN, X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, THE HAUNTED PALACE, THE SECRET INVASION, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE WILD ANGELS, THE ST. VALENTINES DAY MASSACRE, THE TRIP, BLOODY MAMA, GAS-S-S-S, VON RICTHOFEN AND BROWN and FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND.
It’s interesting to note that the booklet inside the set's packaging promotes “other” Corman classics (for most of the films represented in the mentioned trailers) released on DVD by Fox and MGM. Listed as “available now”, the covers shown include the OOP THE RAVEN/COMEDY OF TERRORS disc, but the real oddity is an original, never-before-seen cover for an MGM DVD release of BLOODY MAMA: the film is only available (at least at the present) as part of “The Roger Corman Collection” released by Fox/MGM in 2007, shortly before they took a long nap in terms of cult-friendly DVD productivity. (George R. Reis)
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