Category Archives: DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-Ray Review: Return Of The Ape Man (1944).

Directed by Phil Rosen
Produced by Sam Katzman & Jack Dietz
Story & Screenplay by Robert Charles
Cinematography: Marcel Le Picard

Cast: Bela Lugosi (Professor Dexter), John Carradine (Professor John Gilmore), George Zucco (Ape Man – credits only), Frank Moran (Ape Man), Teala Loring (Anne Gilmore), Tod Andrews (Steve Rogers), Mary Currier (Mrs. Hilda Gilmore), Ernie Adams (Willie The Weasel)

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The Monogram Nine, a handful of low-budget pictures Bela Lugosi made for Sam Katzman and Monogram Pictures in the mid-40s, are nobody’s idea of quality cinema, but they’re certainly entertaining. Some say Return Of The Ape Man (1944) is one of the worst of the bunch, but so what — it’s a blast.

Bela Lugosi is Professor Dexter, a noted scientist messing around with freezing people. He and his assistant, Professor John Gilmore (John Carradine), thaw out a bum they’ve had frozen in the basement for four months. To prove that people can be kept frozen for extended periods of time, then thawed out safely, Dexter and Gilmore travel to the Arctic in search of a frozen prehistoric man to defrost. They finally find one and bring it back to Lugosi’s basement/laboratory.

They’re able to revive him — after Lugosi thaws him out with a blowtorch, but soon realize he’s an “unmanageable brute” (I’m lifting a Lugosi line from Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein). Lugosi’s solution is to transplant a certain portion of a modern man’s brain into the Ape Man’s skull. From here, Lugosi’s plans go completely off the rails and lead to the kind of supreme mayhem the Poverty Row studios were so good at cooking up.

I love Return Of The Ape Man. It’s so ridiculous, so cheap and so short — what’s not to like? Lugosi’s terrific. He always had a way of making the non-logic of these things almost work. Almost. Once John Carradine questions Lugosi’s methods, we just know he’s a goner — but he’s great at doing his John Carradine thing in the meantime. John Moran is a hoot as the Ape Man — bending bars, breaking stuff, choking people, etc. George Zucco was originally given the part, but he got ill and Moran took over. Why Zucco still gets third billing is anybody’s guess. Some say he’s actually in a shot or two (on the table when the Ape Man is first thawed out). Others say it was in his contract. My theory is having three low-budget horror stars in one movie was too good a thing to pass up. Wonder if Zucco was paid for his name on the poster? Philip Rosen’s direction is clunky, for lack of a better word, at least party due to the tight schedule and budget.

I’ve never seen Return Of The Ape Man looking good. And while this Olive Blu-Ray leaves plenty to be desired, this is far and away the nicest version I’ve come across. The contrast and grain are inconsistent, there’s some damage here and there, and it’s a bit soft in places — 16mm, maybe? — but that’s all part of the experience. A movie like this is supposed to look a little ragged, in my opinion, and I’m so glad Olive Films didn’t hold out for better material. It might’ve never happened, and that would be a real shame. This way, every magnificent flaw is preserved in high-definition, which is the way I like it.

Recommended, along with the rest of the Monogram Nine. By this way, this is not a sequel to the previous Lugosi/Monogram picture, The Ape Man (1943).

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Filed under Bela Lugosi, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, George Zucco, John Carradine, Monogram 9, Monogram/Allied Artists, Olive Films, Sam Katzman

Blu-Ray Review: The Green Slime (1968).

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Written by William Finger, Tom Rowe, Charles Sinclair

Cast: Robert Horton (Commander Jack Rankin), Richard Jaeckel (Commander Vince Elliott), Luciana Paluzzi (Dr. Lisa Benson), Bud Widom (Gen. Jonathan B. Thompson)

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A group of intrepid astronauts, lead by Robert Horton and Richard Jaeckel, visit an asteroid (and destroy it before it collides with Earth). One of them returns to space station Gamma 3 with some kinda green goo on his spacesuit. The goo soon transforms into dozens of nasty-looking green monsters with tentacles and a single red eye.

Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton): “Wait a minute — are you telling me that this thing reproduced itself inside the decontamination chamber? And, as we stepped up the current, it just… it just grew?”

The men and women (including Luciana Paluzzi of Thunderball and Muscle Beach Party) stationed on Gamma 3 soon find themselves in a battle to the death with these wretched things — all in Panavision and Metrocolor. (It’s a little embarrassing to admit that, as a kid, I was genuinely frightened by the scenes on the asteroid, as the titular green slime attached itself to the astronauts and their equipment.)

Filmed in Japan, with a Japanese crew and American cast, The Green Slime is slightly related to the four sci-fi pictures from Italian director Antonio Margheriti about space station Gamma 1 — Wild, Wild PlanetWar Of The Planets, War Between The Planets (all 1966) and Snow Devils (1967). Those films, which share some of the same screenwriters as The Green Slime, were produced by MGM as TV movies but sent to theaters instead. Margheriti made all four in just three months! (Maybe it’s time to cover the entire Gamma 1 saga. Three of the four are available from Warner Archive.)

Thanks to 2001: a space odyssey (1968), The Green Slime oozed into theaters woefully behind in the special effects race. That’s not a complaint, as I’m a big fan of spotty practical effects, rubber monsters and cheesy miniatures. Fact is, everything in this movie is absolutely perfect for what it is. Writing, acting, sets, effects, music — they all suit each other. I love that the lighting rig is clearly reflected in the space helmets as our heroes explore the surface of the asteroid. I would’ve been disappointed if a wire wasn’t visible on a spaceship somewhere along the way. If the monsters were something other than Japanese guys in rubber suits, well, that would’ve ruined it for me. And the terrific theme song — from Richard Delvy of the surf band The Challengers — is the cherry on top of the whole gooey mess.

The green slime doesn’t show up green in this faded old 35mm publicity slide.

Believe it or not, I was a little concerned that the improved detail, contrast, color, etc. of the Warner Archive Blu-Ray would take away from the cheesy enjoyment packed into every frame of The Green Slime. But I was wrong. The silver-painted plywood grain of the space station is clearer than ever. The wires on the space ships are easier to spot. And the colors really pop, though I think the tint was a little truer on the old DVD. The audio’s clean and crisp — and there’s an original trailer to marvel at.

The movie’s a gas, and the Blu-Ray’s a real beauty. Essential to those who dig this kinda stuff.

One last thing. Given the perils of Gamma 3 and considering the giant slug hiding in the asteroid in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), there’s an important lesson to be learned: stay the hell away from asteroids.

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Filed under 1968, Antonio Margheriti, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, MGM, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: The Stranger (1946).

Directed by Orson Welles
Produced by Sam Spiegel (S.P. Eagle)
Screenplay by Victor Trivas, Decla Dunning, Anthony Veiller, Orson Welles (uncredited), John Huston (uncredited)
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Film Editor: Ernest J. Nims
Music by Bronislau Kaper

Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Wilson), Loretta Young (Mary Longstreet Rankin), Orson Welles (Charles Rankin/Franz Kindler), Richard Long (Noah Longstreet), Philip Merivale (Judge Longstreet)

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Folks have a tendency to shrug off The Stranger (1946) as a lesser Orson Welles picture. After all, he took it on in an attempt to show he could make a movie according to the Hollywood rules — with the idea that it would put him back on the studios’ collective good side. There are two things wrong with all this. One, while the movie came in a day early and under budget and was indeed a box-office success, it didn’t boost Welles’ employability. And two, to blow off The Stranger deprives you of a really good movie.

Welles is a teacher at a New England prep school, with the supreme good fortune of being married to Loretta Young. He’s also a notorious Nazi war criminal who fled to the States, somehow managing to remove any evidence that might identify him — except for his unusual hobby/obsession: clocks.

Then one day, Nazi hunter Mr. Wilson (Edgar G. Robinson) arrives in Harper, Connecticut — and learns of a school teacher who’s been working on the old church clock in the town square.

Charles Rankin/Franz Kindler (Orson Welles): “Who would think to look for the notorious Franz Kindler in the sacred precincts of the Harper School, surrounded by the sons of America’s first families? And I’ll stay hidden… till the day when we strike again.”

As much as I appreciate Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), I really love the way Welles handled more lurid material like Touch Of Evil (1958), The Lady From Shanghai (1947) and this one. The trappings here are certainly more upscale than the border town in Touch Of Evil, but the deep shadows, striking camera angles and long takes create a similar sinister mood. (Both films were shot by Russell Metty.) Don’t be misled — this is very much an Orson Welles movie.

The Stranger went into the public domain in the 70s, and fans of the movie have been subjected to all sorts of nasty-looking VHS tapes and DVD over the years. To see Welles and Metty’s incredible visuals run through the video thrashing machine is a heinous thing indeed. I’m happy to report that the Blu-Ray from Olive Films looks fine. It’s not gonna be the thing you throw on when you want to show the neighbors how nice your TV is, but it lets you appreciate the rich contrast and deep focus that make the movie as effective as it is. There are other Blu-Rays of the picture out there, and while this one’s a tiny bit softer than some of the others, it’s a bit darker, too — which seems more in line with how the film should look. The grain’s there, as it should be. The audio is sharp and clear. Extras include an audio commentary by Nora Fiore and the original trailer.

This is a nice package — and a really terrific movie (that made a huge impact on me as a kid). Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Olive Films, Orson Welles

Blu-ray Review: Giant Monster Gamera (1965), Or Gammera The Invincible (1966), Or Gamera The Giant Monster.

Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Starring Eiji Funakoshi, Harumi Kiritachi, Junichiro Yamashita
American version stars Albert Dekker, Brian Donlevy

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Mill Creek’s Blu-ray Gamera sets, Gamera: Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 and 2, have gotten some lukewarm reviews. They don’t look all that good. The detail’s fine, but things are a bit flat. Same goes for the audio: flat. But what I think folks are forgetting is that this is right in line with the way we’ve always seen these Japanese Daiei monster movies in the States. Growing up in the 70s, I saw them on TV — pan-and-scan and perforated by used car commercials. Later, when they started showing up on videotape, they looked just as bad, only you could stop them to go to the bathroom.

What I’m taking forever to get around to is this: in my mind, these kinds of movies aren’t supposed to look all that good. An iffy transfer? If you insist. Scratches? Yes, please. Splices? A few, just for authenticity. And grain? It’s a must. When these start looking too good, they lose some of their appeal. (Grindhouse didn’t look like that just to be obnoxious.)

And, be honest, did you buy a set of Gamera pictures to demonstrate your swanky TV next time your brother-in-law comes over?

A Brief History Of Giant Flying Turtle Movies, Part One.

Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965) was produced by Japan’s Daiei Motion Picture Company, clearly inspired by the callossal worldwide success of Toho’s Godzilla films.

Gamera is a giant prehistoric fire-breathing flying turtle with tusks, who’s released from the North Pole or someplace by a nuclear explosion. Gamera makes his way to Japan, where all hell breaks loose. The first attempt to get rid of him fails (explosives underneath him simply flip him onto his back), and he’s lured into a rocket and sent to Mars.

It’s clearly a Godzilla knock-off, with its meager budget evident in almost every frame. It’s black and white and Scope, which is always a good look, regardless of the picture’s budget (Lippert’s black and white Regalscope pictures were notoriously cheap).

A special version was prepared for the United States, called Gammera The Invincible (note the extra M), with sequences added featuring Albert Dekker and Brian Donlevy. This version played theaters in 1966 and was a constant on TV throughout the 70s.

The first volume in the Mill Creek Blu-Ray set includes the original foreign version, in Japanese with English subtitles. It looks nice and sharp — it’s terrific to see it widescreen, and the original Japanese audio tracks give the picture a slightly more sophisticated feel. (Very slightly — remember, this is a movie about a giant flying turtle.)

Personally, I would’ve preferred the Dekker/Donlevy American version I saw countless times on TV as a kid. It adds an extra layer of cheese, and for me, has added nostalgia value. Some of the dubbed voices are cats you’d recognize from Speed Racer and Ultraman.

By the way, there was a theme song, “Gammera The Invincible” by The Moons, released as a single in 1966 (that’s the sleeve to the right). It’s suspiciously similar to Neil Hefti’s Batman TV theme.

The picture was a success in Japan, particularly with kids, and a series was quickly launched, with Gamera taking on one crazy monster after another. The followups were all in color — and in the States, they all went straight to TV. Only Gammera The Invincible played US theaters.

Gamera: The Giant Monster was followed by six additional Gamera films, released between 1966 and 1971 —
Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966; AIP-TV title: War Of The Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Gyaos (1967; AIP-TV title: Return Of The Giant Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Viras (1968; AIP-TV title: Destroy All Planets)
Gamera Vs. Guiron (1969; AIP-TV title: Attack Of The Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Jiger (1970; AIP-TV title: Gamera Vs. Monster X)
Gamera Vs. Zigra (1971)

Daiei ran into money trouble and went into bankruptcy, leaving an eighth Gamera picture unmade. But just like Gamera busting out of the ice after that long repose, the series was back in theaters in 1980 with Gamera: Super Monster from New Daiei. It includes footage from the seven previous movies. The fiery flying turtle was revived again in 1995 for series of films I have absolutely no interest in.

Mill Creek’s Gamera: Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 and 2 give these eight Gamera movies in hi-def, looking pretty splendid (as I see em). All are in the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio, are all in color but the first one, and all feature what seems to be a solid job of subtitling. And, to top it all off, the pricing is terrific.

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Filed under 1965, 1966, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Kaiju Movies, Mill Creek

Blu-Ray Review: Night Moves (1975).

Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by Alan Sharp
Director Of Photography: Bruce Surtees
Film Editor: Dede Allen
Music by Michael Small

Cast: Gene Hackman (Harry Moseby), Jennifer Warren (Paula), Edward Binns (Joey Ziegler), Harris Yulin (Marty Heller), Kenneth Mars (Nick), Janet Ward (Arlene Iverson), James Woods (Quentin), Anthony Costello (Marv Ellman), John Crawford (Tom Iverson), Melanie Griffith (Delly Grastner), Susan Clark (Ellen Moseby)

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The Seventies were an interesting time for film noir and private eye movies. Surprisingly, there were plenty of them — pictures like Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), Stuart Rosenberg’s The Drowning Pool (1975) and Arthur Penn’s Night Moves (1975). They all seemed to drag the genres into a decade they seemed very much at odds with. By this time, both noir and PI movies had seen their conventions spoofed time and time again — and each director headed in a different direction.

But with the 70s a decade marked by cynicism, doesn’t it make sense that noir would emerge from the shadows?

In Penn’s case, with Night Moves, it looks like he decided to make his football-player-turned-detective (with a gorgeous 1967 Mustang), Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman), every bit as messed up as the dysfunctional family he’s hired to help sort out. He turns out to be just as lost as the young girl (Melanie Griffith) he’s trying to track down. And that’s what sets this one apart — Moseby’s investigation and introspection get all twisted together before it’s over with. Alan Sharp’s wonderful script juggles this effortlessly.

Hackman’s really terrific in this. His Moseby is a burned out guy you somehow can’t help but care about, even as you question a number of the choices he makes along the way. This is one of Hackman’s better performances, and he isn’t lacking for great performances.

You hear a lot about this being Melanie Griffith’s first movie (and that she’s naked quite a bit), but it’s Jennifer Warren that stands out to me. Paula’s a long way from the femme fatale we’re used to, but just as dangerous. Warren also played Paul Newman’s wife Francine in Slap Shot (1977). She didn’t have a tremendous amount of screen time in that one, but she was really good.

In a lot of PI movies, the plot sort of meanders along, often a bit incoherently, towards a conclusion that tries to wrap up (almost) everything. Night Moves weaves its lost girl/murder plot and character study together seamlessly, waiting for just the right moment to do so. Arthur Penn really amazes me sometimes. This is one of those times.

Night Moves didn’t do well upon its original release. Something called Jaws opened about the same time. Maybe it was too downbeat, maybe it was just too good, to be successful. Feel good hit of the year it ain’t.

But there’s plenty to feel good about with the new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. It’s splendid. Seventies movies have a look all their own, and that’s preserved here flawlessly. This one has the added benefit of having been photographed by the great Bruce Surtees (who shot a number of my favorite films, from Dirty Harry to The Shootist). The disc includes a trailer and a production short from back in the day.

It’s easy to recommend Night Moves. And for fans of the movie, I can’t imagine you not springing for this Blu-Ray.

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Filed under 1975, Arthur Penn, Bruce Surtees, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Gene Hackman, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray Review: Money From Home (1953).

Directed by George Marshall
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay by Hal Kanter
Adapted by James Allardice and Hal Kanter
From a story by Damon Runyon
Director Of Photography: Daniel L. Fapp

Cast: Dean Martin (Honey Talk Nelson), Jerry Lewis (Virgil Yokum), Marjie Millar (Phyllis Leigh), Pat Crowley (Autumn Claypool), Richard Haydn (Bertie Searles), Robert Strauss (Seldom Seen Kid), Gerald Mohr (Marshall Preston), Sheldon Leonard (Jumbo Schneider), Jack Kruschen (Short Boy)

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From a technical standpoint, Money From Home (1953) was a real landmark for Martin and Lewis. It was their first picture in color — and in some theaters it played in 3-D (and stereo), too. It was one of only two (if memory servces) films shot in both three-strip Technicolor and 3-D, which meant six (!) strips of negative were going through the camera at once.

This was the first Martin and Lewis picture I ever saw, catching it on TV as a kid. I loved it. So while I think the pair made better films (Artists And Models gets my vote for their best), I have a real soft spot for this one.

It’s the 20s. Dean’s a gambler named Honey Talk Nelson who owes a small fortune to bookmaker Jumbo Schneider (Sheldon Leonard). Jumbo will forgive Honey Talk’s stack of IOUs if Dean can keep a certain horse from winning a certain race — with the alternative being a pair of cement boots. So Honey Talk drafts his animal-loving, vet tech cousin Virgil (Lewis) and off they go. This paves the way for the typical crooning and romancing from Martin — of course, he falls for the owner of the horse he’s trying to fix (Marjie Millar), along with the prerequisite stupidity from Lewis — doing the dance of the seven veils, impersonating an English jockey, letting his ant farm loose at a cocktail party, etc. There’s a lot of funny stuff in here, most of it dependent on your personal preference and/or tolerance for Jerry Lewis.

Paramount surrounded Martin and Lewis with some great character actors in this one. Richard Haydn is funny as the drunk jockey Bertie Searles), and Robert Strauss, Sheldon Leonard and Jack Kruschen are great as the mobsters. Oh, and be sure to look for Mara Corday as a waitress.

Dean in front of the Dynoptic camera rig, Jerry with his (16mm?) home movie camera.

Olive Films has gives us a nice, if bare-bones, Blu-Ray of Money From Home. There’s been a lot of squawking about why they didn’t go all out with 3-D, which overlooks just how nice this Blu-Ray really is. (And besides, this isn’t the kinda movie that needs 3-D to work.) It’s sharp as a tack, with near-perfect contrast and color — allowing for some of the inconsistencies you see in a lot of old Technicolor material. That isn’t a complaint at all — it looks every bit like what it is, a polished Paramount studio picture from the early 50s. The audio is nice and clean — it’s a shame the stereo tracks have been lost.

Money From Home is a funny picture, and Olive Films has it looking seriously splendid. It’s easy to recommend this.

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Filed under 1953, 3-D, Dean Martin, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, George Marshall, Jerry Lewis, Mara Corday, Olive Films, Paramount

Blu-Ray Review: From Hell It Came (1957).

Directed by Dan Milner
Cinematography: Brydon Baker
Film Editor: Jack Milner
Original Music: Darrell Calker
Written by Richard Bernstein and Dan Milner
Produced by Jack Milner

Cast: Tod Andrews (Dr. William Arnold), Tina Carver (Dr. Terry Mason), John McNamara (Professor Clark), Linda Watkins (Mae Kilgore), Gregg Palmer (Kimo), Grace Mathews (Orchid), Chester Haynes (Tabonga)

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When it comes to 50s sci-fi movies, I find that Quality and Entertainment have an often inverse correlation. (I’m tossing the concept of inverse correlation in here to prove I actually paid attention in those economics classes decades ago.) In other words, the more production values you pack in there, the bigger the budget, the less fun they seem to be. With that in mind, I’m happy to report that the super-cheap From Hell It Came (1957) is largely quality-free.

On some South Seas island, a prince is (unjustly) convicted of murder, and he’s executed with a knife in the heart — all orchestrated by the witch doctor. They bury the prince upright in an old tree trunk. Turns out the place is lousy with nuclear fallout, which reanimates the prince as a walking tree with the ceremonial dagger still sticking out of its chest. Called Tabonga, it quickly sprouts and starts killing people.

Some American scientists are on the island studying radiation levels or something. They get to the bottom of it all after spouting page after page of B-movie scientific nonsense — and putting away an awful lot of booze. And if all that isn’t enough, there’s some quicksand in the Big Finish.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this thing is great. It’s a whacked-out mix of the usual 50s science fiction monster trappings, the goofy pseudo-Polynesian aesthetic of the period, and concern about the perils of the Atom Age.

If it all sounds ridiculous, and it does, imagine seeing it on screen — somebody shuffling around in a cheap rubber tree costume. The Tabonga is the work of the great Paul Blaisdell, AIP’s favorite (cheap) monster maker, but constructed by Don Post Studios: “I designed the Tabonga the way I thought it should look in terms of the script, and the people that built it did a damn good job of reproducing a prop that was a nice concept and certainly an original one, but one that was very awkward. My hat goes off to the guy who had to act the part of the walking tree (Chester Haynes). I think he did a helluva good job under the circumstances.”

What’s interesting about From Hell It Came is that in some ways, it looks and plays like a fairly-decent movie. The acting is passable, most of the time. The cinematography, from Brydon Baker, certainly seems professional. The editing’s not bad. It’s the premise itself — a revengeful, walking tree — and the godawful dialogue that sink this one, and make it the hoot that it is.

Back in ’57, From Hell It Came played twin bills with The Disembodied. It’s not any good, either, but it features the always-wonderful Allison Hayes as a “killer-witch of the jungle.”

Quicksand is a terrific cheesy movie thing, and I love it. (Do you know someone who perished by sinking into quicksand? Or someone who’s even seen quicksand?) As a kid, I was always on the lookout for it — after all, South Georgia isn’t all that far from Louisiana, where Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr.) had reposed in quicksand in The Mummy’s Curse (1944). Later, Christopher Lee’s Hammer The Mummy (1959) took the Scroll Of Life with him into the quicksand. Movies with a quicksand scene get extra credit from me.

Speaking of extra credit, Warner Archive gets high marks from bringing something like From Hell It Came to Blu-Ray period. Then factor in that it’s a stellar presentation, with its incredible clarity and perfect contrast giving us a chance to really study the rubbery goodness of that Tabonga outfit. You also get a trailer. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1957, Allison Hayes, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Lon Chaney Jr., Monogram/Allied Artists, Paul Blaisdell, Warner Archive