From the video case: This menacing insect kills everything in it’s path while scientist work feverishly to stop it. Craig Stevenson stars as as the commander in charge of of putting an end to this beastly insect with William Hopper (The Bad Seed, 20 Million Miles to Earth) as the paleontologist and Alix Talton (The Man Who Knew Too Much) as his assistant, a photojournalist, assigned to help in this battle between man and mantis! (1957, b&w)
Mark says: This movie is an educational experience. First, we are treated to a basic law of physics: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This is used to explain how the mantis is released from his Arctic sleep. Apparently, volcanic activity near the Antarctic Circle causes ice caps to melt at the North Pole where our giant mantis has been frozen since prehistoric times. This is one of the few giant bug movies that does not use nuclear testing/radiation as its explanation for gigantism.
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From the video case: A giant meteor crashes to Earth near the small town of San Angelo, and local geologist Ben Gilbert (Phil Harvey) brings a fragment back for testing. Shortly afterwards, fellow geologist Dave Miller (Grant Williams) shows up and finds the lab filled with rocks and Ben cold and dead, his body turned completely to stone.
Meanwhile, Dave’s girlfriend, Cathy Barrett (Lola Albright), takes her students on a desert field trip and young Ginny Simpson (Linda Scheley) takes one of the strange rocks home. Soon, like the lab, the Simpson farm is in ruins, Ginny’s parents are dead, and she herself is half petrified, but still alive.
Now, in a desperate race against time and nature, Dave and Professor Arthur Flanders (Trevor Bardette) must unlock the secret of the deadly rocks from outer space before they blanket the world and destroy mankind in an unstoppable wave of stone cold terror. (1957, b&w)
Mark says: The Monolith Monsters is one of my favorite lesser-known Universal films. It’s an intriguing, and somewhat unusual story, with an array of colorful characters. The acting isn’t great, mind you, but there is something about these folks that make you like them.
San Angelo is sort of Mayberry with a Twilight Zone twist. Somehow, this movie gets you caught up in its little adventure.
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From the DVD case: Lt. John Twillinger thinks he’s seen it all until an earthquake under the Salton Sea unearths a horrifying nest of prehistoric killer crustaceans. Giant, terrifying, and with a hunger for human flesh, the beasts begin feeding on the locals, unleashing a shocking reign of murderous mollusk mayhem. Can Twillinger do anything to stop their spread? Or will the human race be forever left in the snails’ slimy wake? (1957, b&w)
Mark says: This movie focuses more on the human interest angle than most monster films do. There is a lot of drama, but the central focus is between Lt. Twillinger and a young secretary, Gail MacKenzie.
Lt. John “Twill” Twillinger (Tim Holt, primarily known for his western roles) is a naval officer who is “strictly by the book.” However, as the story unfolds, we get to know a more tender side. More on this later.
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From the video case: Scientists at a “Top Secret” Atomic Research Laboratory are taken over by strange fantastic control devices launched from an orbiting space ship inhabited by a hostile super-intelligence from beyond the stars.
Simultaneously, a gigantic flying saucer crashes in the Gulf of Mexico and Kronos, a giant metallic monolith monster emerges. Unstoppable, it it slashes across the countryside, draining the earth of all its electrical energy and beaming it into space. Kronos, a weapon so perfect in design it absorbs a direct hit by a Hydrogen bomb and becomes that much more powerful! (1957, b&w)
Mark says: Kronos is a giant metallic energy vampire (see image above) that drains Earth of its energy supplies to transport it back to its own voltage-starved planet. Though on the cheesy side, Kronos is definitely ahead of its time in terms of its message regarding energy conservation.
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From the video box: When a civilian plane goes down over an Army testing range during a top-secret experiment, Colonel Glenn Manning (Glen Langan) risks his life to rescue the pilot. But Manning is too late, and his heroism earns him a nightmarish future of plutonium-blast proportions as The Amazing Colossal Man. (1957, b&w)
Mark says: You have to feel for Col. Glenn Manning. He risks his neck to save a stranger and finds himself exposed to a plutonium blast that causes him to grow ten feet a day. And if that isn’t bad enough, the explosion occurs on the same day he is to wed his girlfriend, Carol.
This bit of bad luck gives The Amazing Colossal Man a deeper dimension than most Bert I. Gordon movies. After all, who can’t sympathize with a hero who suffers for a good deed? But don’t be fooled, this film features all of the great schlock fun you’ve come to expect from a Bert I. Gordon production.
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From the video box: They’re big. They’re bad. They scuttle along in caverns miles beneath the Earth’s crust – until a devastating earthquake opens up pathways to the surface. Now, inflamed by the smells of human flesh, these monsters of the genus Arachnida are here to stay! (1957, b&w)
Mark says: Hoping to duplicate the success of Them!, Warner Brothers followed the same formula while producing The Black Scorpion. Unfortunately, the film fails on many levels.
Richard Denning (Twice-Told Tales, Target Earth) plays the hero, Dr. Hank Scott. Denning’s portrayal is adequate, but he is much more believable as a bad guy. Watch him in Creature from the Black Lagoon to see him in a more appropriately cast role. Hank is a geologist sent to Mexico to study the effects of an enormous volcanic eruption/earthquake in a remote village.
Hank’s assistant is Dr. Ramos, played by Carlos Rivas (The Beast of Hollow Mountain). Rivas seems uneasy with his part, and his acting comes off as stiff and unconvincing. Dr. Ramos is a geologist on the Mexican side of the border. On their journey, Hank and Dr. Ramos realize they have more to worry about than just an active volcano.
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From the video case: A remote Pacific atoll is besieged by a horde of giant land crabs that devour members of a scientific expedition. A good thriller that seemed better when you were a kid, but still a lot of fun. Roger Corman directed this low-budget movie. (1957, b&w)
Mark says: With a title like Attack of the Crab Monsters, and Roger Corman (The Wasp Woman, It Conquered the World) credited as producer and director, you have a good idea as what to expect from this film: low-budget schlock entertainment.
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From the DVD case: A vampire stalks a local university, preying on the student body. Where did this vampire come from? Who is behind the killings? (1957, b&w)
Mark says: If you come to this American International Picture expecting to see Dracula, or even some blood, you’re going to be disappointed.
Blood of Dracula was made to cash in on the success of I Was A Teenage Werewolf. In fact, I’m a little surprised AIP didn’t just stay with the theme and title this movie I Was A Teenage Vampire. Though it probably had something to do with I Was A Teenage Frankenstein being released the same month (November) of that year.
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From the video case: One of the best science fiction films of the 50s offers a fantastic story that ponders man’s tentative place in the universe. When an ordinary businessman encounters a mysterious radioactive mist during a boating trip, his life takes a bizarre and frightening twist. Soon his physical size begins to dwindle and in a couple of weeks he shrinks to a mere two inches. Now the most benign household objects and situations become threats to his life. Filled with wonderful special effects, including Grant Williams battling a “monstrous” house cat, and an intelligent screenplay, The Incredible Shrinking Man is now looked upon by film buffs and critics as a classic of the genre. (1957, b&w)
Mark says: Don’t let the title fool you, The Incredible Shrinking Man is one of the most unique and well done sci-fi/fantasy films of the 1950s. With great direction by Jack Arnold (It Came from Outer Space, Creature from the Black Lagoon) and a screenplay by Richard Matheson (based on his novel) this film could scarcely go wrong (even with a questionable producer like Albert Zugsmith).
The Incredible Shrinking Man is not only an enjoyable science fiction adventure, but it can be appreciated on a philosophical level, too. Various viewers have interpreted the film as a statement on man’s place in the universe, a tale of the ultimate male anxiety, or even an example of existential cinema.
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From the DVD case: On its way home from Venus, A US Army rocket ship crashes into the sea of Sicily leaving Colonel Calder (William Hopper of Rebel Without A Cause) the sole survivor, or so it seems. A sealed container is also recovered from the wreck, and when a zoologist (The Mark of Zorro‘s Frank Puglia) and his granddaughter (Joan Taylor) open it, the gelatinous mass inside escapes. Overnight, it grows into a horrific monster that has doubled in size. In desperation, Calder calls in the Army to help fight the monster, which has taken refuge atop the Coliseum in Rome. But it will take more than man’s weapons to fight the evil forces of the unknown and save the world from destruction. (1957, b&w)
Mark says: As to be expected, the DVD description is not entirely accurate. However, it is close enough to serve as a synopsis.
I’ve always thought 20 Million Miles to Earth an inappropriate title for this film. It leads you to believe that the focus will be on the voyage from Venus to Earth, when in actuality, the entire story unfolds exclusively on Earth. Of course, the voyage to and from Venus is discussed, but it is definitely not the core of the plot.
The focal point of our story is what is brought back from Venus: the Ymir. The term “Ymir” is never used in the film, but that is what stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, It Came from Beneath the Sea) dubbed the beast upon its creation (named after the fabulous giant from Norse mythology). The Ymir, by far, is the most interesting aspect of this film. As is often the case, Harryhausen’s fantastic animation is stuck in a rather mediocre movie (based on a story by Charlotte Knight).
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