Category Archives: The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: Giant From The Unknown (1958).

Directed by Richard E. Cunha
Produced by Marc Frederic & Arthur A. Jacobs
Written by Ralph Brooke
Frank Hart Taussig
Music by Albert Glasser
Cinematography: Richard E. Cunha

Cast: Ed Kemmer (Wayne Brooks), Sally Fraser (Janet Cleveland), Buddy Baer (Vargas the Giant), Bob Steele (Sheriff Parker), Morris Ankrum (Dr. Frederick Cleveland), Oliver Blake (Cafe Proprietor), Jolene Brand (Anne Brown), Billy Dix (Indian Joe), Gary Crutcher (Charlie Brown), Ned Davenport (Townsman), Ewing Miles Brown (Townsman)

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1957-58 was an interesting time for the Horror Film. For starters, Hammer kicked off their rethink (I hate the word “reboot”) of the classic monsters with Curse Of Frankenstein and Horror Of Dracula. Jacques Tourneur gave us the masterful Night Of The Demon. And William Castle launched his string of gimmick-y horror pictures with Macabre. But there was something else brewing, with a bunch of unknowns, independents and upstarts cooking up their own scrappy little monster movies. Pictures like Attack Of The Crab Monsters, Earth Vs. The Spider, Curse Of The Faceless Man — and Giant From The Unknown. And while they’re lacking in what we normally think of when it comes to Good Movies, they’ve been beloved by fans since they first played drive-ins and turned up on the late show.

Giant From The Unknown works from a pretty kooky premise. After 500 years in the dirt, a Spanish Conquistador, Vargas the “Diablo Giant” (Buddy Baer), is resurrected by lightning and goes on a killing spree. The sheriff (Bob Steele), a geologist (Edward Kemmer) and a group on citizens from Pine Ridge, California, eventually take him down.

Shot around Big Bear Lake for about $55,000 — and going from idea to answer print in just 60 days, Giant From The Unknown is a hoot. Director Richard E. Cunha and producer Arthur A. Jacobs were making commercials before this first feature. Cunha would make three more low-budget monster pictures in the late 50s: She Demons, Missile To The Moon and Frankenstein’s Daughter. On this one, he was a cinematographer and editor, too. 

The Giant’s makeup was done by none other than Jack Pierce, the genius behind all the Universal Monsters. And it boasts a couple of terrific character actors, Bob Steele and Morris Ankrum. Buddy Baer is, of course, the father of Jethro Bodine himself, Max Baer.

The Film Detective brings Giant From The Unknown to Blu-Ray in a “Deluxe Edition” using a 4K scan of the camera negative. It’s absolutely startling, especially of you remember how it looked on TV or VHS. It looks like it was made yesterday, unbelievably sharp and clean. It comes with a terrific stable of extras — a couple commentaries, interviews, the trailer and a nice booklet.

I’ve loved this movie for decades, and I love what The Film Detective has done with it. It’s wonderful to have movies like Giant From The Unknown get this kind of treatment. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1958, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Jack Pierce, Morris Ankrum, Richard E. Cunha, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #321: Giant From The Unknown (1958).

Directed by Richard E. Cunha
Starring Ed Kemmer, Sally Fraser, Buddy Baer, Bob Steele, Morris Ankrum

The Film Detective has announced an upcoming Blu-Ray release of Ricard E. Cunha’s Giant From The Unknown (1958), due in January 2021. As you can see from this trailer, the 4K scan of the camera negative is stunning.

The set will come with all kinds of goodies —
• Audio commentary with Tom Weaver and guests
• Audio commentary with co-star Gary Crutcher
You’re A B-Movie Star, Charlie Brown, interview with actor/screenwriter Gary Crutcher
• The Man With A Badge: Bob Steele In The 1950s
• Interview with author/film historian C. Courtney Joyner
• Original trailer
Booklet with still gallery and liner notes by Tom Weaver

Available before that release, in time for the holidays, is a Limited-Edition Giant Cult Film Box Set with “exclusive collectibles that will thrill any cult classic film fan, including a 13-month cult film calendar, bookmark, magnet, custom playing card deck and lapel pin inspired by Vargas the Giant himself. And that’s not all!  Each box set will also include a surprise, TFD Vault cult film, recently restored from the original camera negative in stunning 4K and a one-year subscription to The Film Detective app.” The pre-order date for that one is November 13. Act now!

Giant From The Unknown has a number of things to recommend it. The giant’s makeup was done by Jack Pierce, who did Karloff’s Frankenstein (1931) and other Universal classic monsters. It’s good to see Bob Steele in a more sizable part, and Morris Ankrum is always a treat. And there’s something about Richard E. Cunha’s low-budget, one-week pictures I like — he was the cinematographer on this one, too. It played in twin bills with his She Demons (1958) starring Irish McCalla.

Between my two blogs, I’ve said this about a million times — seeing cheap movies like this get such stellar treatment makes me feel good. And for fans of this kind of stuff, this one is easy to recommend.

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Filed under 1958, DVD/Blu-ray News, Morris Ankrum, Richard Cunha, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #117: The Vampire Bat (1933).

Directed by Frank Strayer
Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Dwight Frye

There’s some great stuff making its way to DVD and Blu-Ray these days. The Film Detective has announced the 1933 horror picture The Vampire Bat, from a UCLA restoration that even recreates the original hand-colored sequence!

Like White Zombie (1932), The Vampire Bat is one of those times when a Poverty Row studio went nuts and came up with something really special. Majestic Pictures signed Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray from Doctor X and Mystery Of The Wax Museum, took advantage of some standing sets on the major lots, and stirred in the great Dwight Frye. It’s a great example of how creepy and crazy a 30s horror movie can get. It’s coming in April, and it’s highly recommended.

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Filed under 30s Horror, DVD/Blu-ray News, Fay Wray, Poverty Row, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #89: The Film Detective’s Roger Corman Collection.

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The Film Detective has gathered up three Roger Corman pictures and repackaged them on Blu-Ray at a special price. Sounds like a good idea to me.

The Terror (1963)
Directed by Roger Corman (along with Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, Jack Nicholson)
Starring Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, Sandra Knight, Dick Miller

A crazy patchwork quilt of a movie. Boris Karloff’s scenes were shot as the wonderful sets for Corman’s The Raven (1963) were being torn down. The rest was made up, with a script by Leo Gordon and Jack Hill, and shot later by a revolving door of cast and crew. It all comes together much better than you’d think, and with repeat viewing almost starts to make some sense. Almost. The Film Detective has this one looking good — and in 1.85 (which AIP called Vistascope).

Dementia 13 (1963)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Starring William Campbell, Luana Anders, Patrick Magee

With just $40,000 and nine days, Francis Ford Coppola made one of the best Psycho ripoffs, even though you can feel the fact that it was written in a hurry. However, Coppola the director saves Coppola the writer.

bucket-of-blood-np

A Bucket Of Blood (1959)
Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone

A goofy/funny/scary little gem of a movie with a rare lead role for Dick Miiler. Of course, he’s terrific. The Film Detective offers it up 1.85, the way it oughta be.

It’s easy to recommend this set. I grew up on these things, and it’s great to see them treated with the respect some people (like me) feel they deserve.

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Filed under 1959, 1963, AIP, Dick Miller, DVD/Blu-ray News, Francis Ford Coppola, Leo Gordon, Monte Hellman, Roger Corman, The Film Detective