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Sci-Fi Classics 2 Disc Set

01/06/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Sci-Fi Classics 2 Disc Set in the USA - or Buy Sci-Fi Classics 2 Disc Set in the UK

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Region 1 DVD: Shout Factory SF 11978. 2 DVDs 3 black and white films with extras. Price: about GBP 12.00 (UK) if you know where to look.

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Attack Of The Crab Monsters (1957)
62 minutes
stars: Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan and Russell Johnson

An island used to check for radioactivity fall-out after nuclear testing has its second team arrive by plane to discover why the first team had vanished. The second dingy bringing supplies ashore gets into trouble and one of the crew falls in the water his body surfaces decapitated. They put it down to an accident and as the plane leaves, it explodes. With a storm coming up they find it impossible to send a message to the navy. They also find the island susceptible to earthquakes with the landscape literally changing over night.

Exploring the island, they note different things like the absent of animal noises, the audio commentary points out that this should only have been insects, although underwater the marine life is okay. At night, various team members hear the voice of the late Dr. MacClaine enticing them away although they can’t see anything. As various team members are killed, their voices are carried on in a bizarre way. They only glimpse the creature but it attacks the cabin at one point and apart from stealing food, destroys their radio.

Based off the title, it would be difficult not to say that the creature is actually a monstrously-sized land crab but with human-like eyes that can blink who by digesting people’s brains gains their knowledge and able to mimic their voices. It has a weakness in being vulnerable to electricity but is also intelligent enough to avoid it a lot of the time. With only three people left and the island eroded, things look tough.

The basic plot is ‘ten little indians’ and the effectiveness of the monster is often best when you don’t see anything at all. The crab creature is not the most brilliantly made design but this is a Roger Corman production on a non-existent budget and that is to be expected. The story works better when less is more and the actors do a credible job of fleshing out their characters and with the last three the possibility of a triangle although that is never exploited. The underwater filming is very impressive and the joins between studio and outside filming are often hard to tell. This is still a pretty effective film.

It’s only when you listen to the audio commentary by Tom Weaver, John Brunas and Mike Brunas that you realise it’s regarded as being one of Roger Corman’s worse films. I think a lot of the time it depends on how much you let yourself accept the reality than looking for mistakes. It’s pretty obvious from what they say that Corman diluted the Charles Griffith script a lot, often for the better in some sub-plots according to the commentary. Actor Richard Devon declined a part in this film but they must have their dates muddled as it hardly stopped him appearing in ‘War Of The Satellites’ two years later. The potted histories of actors and crew and prop discussions, not to mention their own memories make all of this an interesting addition.

Not Of This Earth (1958)
67 minutes
stars: Paul Birch, Beverley Garland and Morgan Jones

Victims are being left around the Los Angeles area with puncture marks on the neck and no blood. This isn’t a vampire but an alien seeking out a cure for a blood aliment that his people have been inflicted with in a nuclear war on his home planet, Divanna. Johnson (actor John Birch) looks mostly human but his dark glasses conceal opaque eyes and the ability to discharge electricity powerful enough to kill a human. Apart from an odd vocal pattern, he is also telepathic and good with auto-suggestion and has intense pain from hearing high-pitches noises.

In the month that he’s been on Earth, Johnson has been taking blood from a variety of sources and teleporting it back to his home world for study but now has a need to be a guinea pig himself and needs blood transfusions. The doctor won’t give him any without knowing his blood type so he uses hypnosis to prevent him telling anyone else what he learnt and hires his nurse, Nadia (actress Beverley Garland), away from him so she will only tend to him. These are not nice aliens as his leader giving him his orders that when they find the cure, the lower humans are to be destroyed.
Nadia isn’t the only person hired by Johnson as he also has a chauffeur/dogsbody by way of Jeremy, an ex-thief. Just to round things up, Nadia’s boy-friend is a cop. Nadia and Jeremy are puzzled as to what Johnson eats as his meals are left uneaten but the sample of ‘black water’ that she has tested turns out to be full of nutrients.

An alien woman arrives on Earth and needing blood, Johnson gives her dog blood, not knowing that the animal had been rabid which kills her and is diagnosed by the same doctor. Realising he’s about to be discovered, Johnson kills Jeremy and Nadia flees, hoping her boy-friend will rescue her.

This is still an effective low-budget Science Fiction thriller getting away with using a small cast and a single-minded alien. I have vague memories of seeing the end of the film on TV a long time ago by remembering the ending. John Birch is extremely disconcerting as Johnson. His victims vary and he’s very opportunist and even takes out Dick Miller in one of his early roles.

The audio commentary by Tom Weaver, John Brunas and Mike Brunas feeds various information about the film. One thing that they didn’t recognise but would explain John Birch walking off set far more than his alcoholism, which they stated was somewhat controlled, was those complete contact lenses not having pierced holes that allowed the eye some air. It’s interested being told where his replacement did the scenes, not to mention the order it was filmed in so they did outside first in case it rained. Amongst other things disclosed was a discussion about how these films were first broadcast and how they were often shown fourteen times a week on US television, not to mention adding a few minutes to make the time up.

War Of The Satellites (1958)
65 minutes
stars: Dick Miller, Susan Cabot and Richard Devon

In my tender years back in the 1960s, I saw ‘War Of The Satellites’ at the Saturday Morning Cinema Club and there was so many horrified squeals, myself included, at the scary alien masquerading as a human that I think the cinema owner pulled the film before the end. I had a strong memory of the squeal scenes but it wasn’t until many years later that someone was able to identify it as a Roger Corman film. It wasn’t until late last year that it finally got a release on DVD. Of the three Corman films in this box, it was also the first one I wanted to watch.

Most surprising, the censor certificate at the beginning of this film is British and general release from the 60s. This is important because it also means that it hasn’t been put through the MPAA cuts of the time. Roger Corman produced and directed this film in seven weeks and although it has a lot of studio sets, the few minutes of special effects aren’t that bad for the time period it was produced in and edited cuts made the best use of them.

There have been ten manned satellite attempts to break a barrier in Earth-space, all ending in failure and their deaths. A missile found by a courting couple produces a message read out at the UN Security Council from aliens forbidding humans from space travel, seeing Man as a disease that should be confined. Publicly, the USA thinks it’s a hoax, behind the scenes, they are less sure. The head of the Sigma Project, Doctor Pol Van Ponder (actor Richard Devon) thinks they should ignore the message and make another attempt and will captain the eleventh mission.

When Van Ponder is called to the UN, he has a car crash and despite the US representative announcing his death, he suddenly appears alive and unharmed. In private he tells the US representative that they should heed the aliens and not go. Later, however, one of his associates, Dave Boyer (actor Dick Miller), re-writes the speech and says that they should go. Guess what they do?

Boyer is surprised that Sybill Carrington (actor Susan Cabot) is still on the mission but Van Ponder is in charge. What he doesn’t see is when Van Ponder is seeing some work by John Coppel (actor Tony Miller or Jerry Barclay?), he gets his hand in the way of an arc welder. When Coppel rushes off for a doctor, Van Ponder restores his hand to normal and Coppel’s own competence is questioned. Guess which scene had us squealing in the 60s although the memory was more shocking the first time around.

Highly suspicious, Boyer checks Van Ponder’s car wreck at the junkyard and still can’t believe the doctor could have survived the fire but can’t do much about it before the three rockets with its eight crew have to go up. In orbit, they assemble the interiors into one satellite vessel to go towards the Sigma barrier. Coppel, having been given the all-clear, is on the mission but when he resists obeying Van Ponder, the alien kills him. He later does the same thing to Doctor Lazer (Eric Sinclair) after giving himself a heartbeat. A twist on becoming more human is Van Ponder gets the hots for Sybill, who has seen him dispose of Lazer’s body. As he pursues her, he gets other members of the crew to arrest Bowyer and...

Well, you can watch the DVD yourself to see what happens next. On some levels, there is some naivety with the space travel but the multi-stage rockets is something that was catching on with the nascent space programme developing at the time. Richard Devon is actually very good as the alien and Dick Miller likewise as the hero. In fact, the film ends up being a somewhat compelling viewing. With adult eyes, I wasn’t taken in so much by those two scary scenes I mentioned in the introduction but I was watching it in daylight not in a darkened cinema. I haven’t given all the surprises in the synopsis above so you’ll still have some shocks. Corman might do films on a budget but he does work out from strong plots that makes use of the cheapness. We see British films from that period do similar things, so we’re used to such things. Even if you’re not a Corman fan, you might want to give this one a look and realise once upon a time, there was a film that made me squeal, even if I was under ten years-old.

The extras include an interview with Roger Corman filling in all kinds of odd details like ‘War Of The Satellites’ was made in seven weeks from idea to finished film. Imagine that happening today!! Likewise and this is emphasised in the salute from all the people whom he gave their start in their own section, that you learnt more for working for Corman than any time spent at film school and the entire Hollywood backbone all went through his hands because he could pick young talent and give them their chance. Corman points out that if they were any good then they’d probably not work for him again. Joe Dante says the ones who looked down on such work but worked for him and didn’t work hard weren’t employed elsewhere afterwards. It’s a shame that there isn’t a young Corman in the wings ready to take on such a mantle again. The who’s who saluting Corman came from not only directors but special effects chaps, editors and actors.

Collectively, this DVD boxset makes for some interesting viewing and if you want a sample of some early Roger Corman films then this is the one to buy.

GF Willmetts

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