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Category Archives: Movie Reviews 1958

From the DVD case: When a monster makeup artist is fired by the studio, he uses his creations to exact his revenge. (1958,b&w)

Mark says: Scripted by Aben Kandel (here as “Kenneth Langtry”) and producer Herman Cohen, this follow up to I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, follows a tried formula: An unbalanced adult manipulates a teenage youth (or, in this case, youths) to do his nefarious bidding (see Blood of Dracula for a female version of this theme).

In the case of How to Make a Monster, the dominating adult is disgruntled make-up man, Pete Dumond, played by Robert H. Harris. Pete finds himself out of work after 25 years as the studio’s head monster creator. Harris comes off as slightly eccentric at the outset of the story.  However, as the movie advances, Pete’s eccentricity gives way to creepiness, until he gradually flakes out completely by the film’s conclusion. Pete’s teenage patsies are Gary Clarke (Missle to the Moon) in the role of Larry Drake, and Gary Conway (who I will always fondly remember as Capt. Steve Burton in TV’s Land of the Giants) as Tony Mantell.

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From the DVD case: When Dracula (Francis Lederer) pulls up stakes from his native Europe and flees across the Atlantic, he tries to fit in by posing as the cousin of an unsuspecting American family. But when he starts sinking his teeth into every red-blooded thing California has to offer, he soon turns the Golden State into a Ghoulish state! (1958,b&w)

Mark saysThe Return of Dracula is one of four horror/science fiction films produced by Gramercy Pictures in the latter 1950s. Each picture (The Monster that Challenged the World, The Vampire, The Flame Barrier, and The Return of Dracula) is scripted by Pat Fielder and all, with the exception of The Flame Barrier, rank at least a notch above the standard fare that was being offered at the time.

The theme of an old, family relative arriving to bring evil to a small American town draws inevitable comparisons to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943).  The relationship between naïve and trusting Rachel, played by Norma Eberhardt (Problem Girls) and the worldly Dracula (posing as Cousin Bellac), played by Francis Lederer (Pandora’s Box), invites further comparison to the Hitchcock classic. Pat Fielder, in an interview with film historian Tom Weaver, noted some of her influences:

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From the DVD case:Dr. James Moran (George Coulouris) returns from the Amazon jungles with a sacred tribal tree that can produce a sap which will reportedly restore life to the dead. Unfortunately, the tree can only live and grow by devouring beautiful young women! (1958, b&w)

Mark says:Womaneater (aka The Woman Eater) is a British film that drips with a 1950’s sexuality that just borders on full exploitation.Beautiful women with heaving breasts, always adorned in dresses that leave one shoulder bare, are sadistically fed to a “miracle-working juju” plant.The plant (which resembles a hairy tree with tentacles) devours the women as men stand by with looks of pure orgasmic joy on their faces.But don’t get too excited, this is 1958 after all, and the luridness is much more implied than shown.

Bill Warren, author and genre critic, writes in his book, Keep Watching the Skies:

Charles Saunders’ ponderous direction makes a slow story painfully halting, in a point-by-point plodding technique of showing all actions. It makes Womaneater one of the dullest science fiction-horror thrillers ever made, almost unbearable to sit through. It isn’t even campy.

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It the Terror from Beyond Space, 1958

From the DVD case: When his crew is brutally murdered on a Mars expedition, Commander Carruthers becomes the prime suspect. Taken into custody and facing a court-martial back on Earth, he discovers that the real killer – a grotesque, slithering monster – has stowed aboard the earthbound ship. But the indestructible creature has already begun a harrowing in-flight rampage, knocking off the members of the crew one by one. Now, as the spaceship heads home toward a panic-stricken Earth, the remaining crew must find some way to stop the unstoppable “It.” (1958, b&w)

Mark says: You may have heard this film hailed as the inspiration for 1979’s Alien, but you will be disappointed if you go into this movie expecting a prototype for the Ridley Scott classic. It! the Terror from Beyond Space more closely resembles 1951’s The Thing from Another World (Writer Jerome Bixby admits that The Thing was a key inspiration for his story). Unfortunately, the reality is that It! The Terror from Beyond Space is notably inferior to both productions.

It! has a simple but interesting premise. A seemingly indestructible beast stows aboard a spacecraft and kills crew members one at a time. The crew, completely isolated in space, have nothing to rely on but their own wits. With each attempt to kill the beast, they find themselves more desperate and increasingly cornered. By the film’s finale, the surviving crew are trapped at the very top compartment of the rocket as the monster crashes through the final barrier.

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The Blob, image 1

From the DVD case: One of the great cult classics, The Blob melds ’50s schlock sci-fi and teen delinquency pics even as it transcends these genres with strong performances and ingenious special effects. Made outside of Hollywood by a maverick film distributor, a crew experienced in religious and educational shorts, and a collection of theatrical talent from Philadelphia and New York, The Blob helped launch the careers of superstud Steve McQueen and composer Burt Bacharach. (1958, color)

Mark says: There’s something about the simplicity of The Blob that endeared this movie to me as a child. A meteor falls from space, breaks open, and a gray gooey substance emerges. The goo, once attached to a human, ingests the flesh, blood, and bone (turning red in the process) and grows a little bigger. The more people it ingests the larger it gets. Simple.

A group of local teenagers are the first to encounter The Blob (excluding the adults who have already been devoured by the thing), but because they are only teenagers, they have a difficult time convincing authorities of the threat. A great deal of the film involves the teens trying to persuade and warn the adult population of the growing menace. Unfortunately, the only menace the townsfolk will acknowledge are the teenagers.

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Fiend Without A Face, 1958

From the DVD case: A scientist’s thoughts materialize as an army of invisible brain-shaped monsters (complete with spinal-cord tails!) who terrorize an American military base in this nightmarish chiller, directed by Arthur Crabtree (Horrors of the Black Museum). This outstanding sci-fi/horror hybrid is a special effects bonanza, and a high-water mark in British genre filmmaking. (1958, b&w)

Mark says: Fiend Without A Face is an Amalgamated Production, geared to an American audience, but filmed almost entirely in England. A Canadian setting is used to serve two purposes: First, the action is near enough the US border to keep the attention of American film-goers, and second, it helps explain the odd accents. Marshall Thompson (First Man Into Space, It! The Terror from Beyond Space) was given the lead role to further enhance the American ambiance.

Thompson plays Maj. Jeff Cummings, second in command at an American airbase located in Canada. The neighboring community, consisting primarily of dairy farmers, is suspicious of the military’s radiation experiments and blame them for the sudden decrease in milk production.

Kim Parker (Fire Maidens from Outer Space) plays Barbara Griselle, sister to the first victim. Maj. Cummings is immediately attracted to Barbara, though it takes her awhile to warm to him. Barbara is featured in a shower sequence, obviously added to embellish the sexiness of the picture, but the scene comes off as rather tame and a bit awkward. I suppose for 1958 it was very hubba-hubba, though.

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Earth vs the Spider, 1958

From the DVD case: A giant spider goes on a rampage through a small town. Can anyone stop it before it takes over the world? (1958, b&w)

Mark says: If director Bert I. Gordon’s name (Beginning of the End, Empire of the Ants) doesn’t tip you off as to what type of movie this is, the misspelling of “starring” in the title credits should (they add an extra R: “starrring”).

Like a lot of Gordon’s films, Earth vs The Spider has a promising start. Jack Flynn (Merritt Stone) is driving home to surprise his daughter with a locket for her birthday. Jack suddenly sees something stretched across the highway, and before he can stop, he collides with a cable (it’s supposed to be the strand of a giant spiderweb) which slashes through his face in a rather gruesome and bloody manner. That’s where the excitement ends.

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Still from The Fly, 1958

From the video box: Vincent Price portrays the brother of a brilliant research scientist (Al Hedison) who discovers how to transport matter through space. But things take an astoundingly bizarre turn when Hedison’s atoms intermingle with those of a common housefly, leaving him with the head of an insect while his own head is attached to the fly’s body. A gruesome freak of nature, his desperate battle to return to normal becomes all the more difficult when he begins to lose his human will. (1958, color)

Mark says: I don’t think anyone who ever saw this movie as a kid ever forgot it. I know that I never have.

Al Hedison (who later changed his name to David Hedison) and Patricia Owens do a capable job portraying Andre and Helene Delambre, a very happily married couple with a young son, Philippe. You may recognize Philippe (Charles Herbert) as Buck Zorba from 13 Ghosts (1960), or from his minor role in The Monster that Challenged the World (he played one of the kids fighting for the sailor’s cap). Personally, I think he is less than convincing in any role, but his brief appearances in The Fly do not hamper the film, much.

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The Crawling Eye, 1958

From the DVD case: A science fiction terror thriller about a weird creature from outer space that survives in the rarefied atmosphere of the Swiss Alps and terrorizes scientists in a remote high altitude research station. This hideous monster hides in the fog-shrouded cloud of mist and kills its victims by decapitation.

As the mysterious cloud descends on the Swiss village of Trollenberg, United Nations science investigator Alan Brooks (Forrest Tucker), Professor Crevett (Warren Mitchell) and a young woman with psychic powers (Janet Munro) must find a way to stop the monster’s murderous rampage before it’s too late. (1958, b&w)

Mark says: How can you not love a movie called The Crawling Eye?

This film has a lot going for it: space aliens, decapitations, psychics, a pretty lead actress, a screenplay by Hammer Horror writer Jimmy Sangster, and even a zombie or two. Of course, it’s strongest asset is Forrest Tucker (The Abominable Snowman, The Cosmic Monster) in the role of Alan Brooks. Tucker plays his part solemnly, even while the most ridiculous events are going on around him. His somber portrayal gives at least some legitimacy to the plot.

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I Bury the Living, 1958

From the DVD case: The new manager of a cemetery (Richard Boone) begins to question reality when he places black pins instead of white in the cemetery map, seemingly causing the owners of the plots to die. (1958, b&w)

Mark says: This could have been a great film. It starts out like a really well-done Twilight Zone episode, but ends up like an episode of Scooby-Doo. I can’t recall another film that promises so much and then disappoints so thoroughly.

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