Category Archives: Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #235: The Leech Woman (1960).

Directed by Ed Dein
Starring Coleen Gray, Grant Williams, Gloria Talbott, Phillip Terry

I’ve been digging Scream Factory’s Cadillac treatment of later-50s Universal horror pictures like The Mole People (1956) and The Deadly Mantis (1957) — and their Tarantula! (1955) is downright perfect. These are movies I love dearly, and revisiting them in this kind of shape has been wonderful. It’s odd, but while I’m looking a little frayed around the edges, these old movies from my childhood are looking better than ever. Which sort of leads us to their next release, The Leech Woman (1960).

leech-woman_3It’s the usual bathe-in-blood-to-stay-youthful thing, trading the pineal gland for blood. It was directed by Ed Dein, who gave us a couple gems, Shack Out On 101 (1955) and Curse Of The Undead (1959). And it originally played in a twin bill with Hammer’s Brides Of Dracula (1960).

Of course, The Leech Woman is never gonna knock Bride Of Frankenstein (1935) or something out of the Universal Horror Hall Of Fame, but it’s a real hoot. It’s coming in August, and I highly recommend it.

3 Comments

Filed under 1960, Coleen Gray, DVD/Blu-ray News, Ed Dein, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray Review: The Deadly Mantis (1957).

Directed by Nathan Juran
Produced by William Alland
Screenplay by Martin Berkeley
Director Of Photography: Ellis W. Carter
Film Editor: Chester W. Schaeffer

Cast: Craig Stevens (Col. Joe Parkman), William Hopper (Dr. Nedrick Jackson), Alix Talton (Marge Blaine), Donald Randolph (Maj. Gen. Mark Ford), Pat Conway (Sgt. Pete Allen) and Florenz Ames (Prof. Anton Gunther)

__________

The 50s Big Bug movies are all terrific. Some are better than others, of course, but there’s something about them I love. They’re just so damn entertaining! The Deadly Mantis (1957) is one of the later ones, and while it’s certainly no Them! (1954), it’s got plenty going for it.

A volcano eruption sets off a chain reaction — an iceberg melts, releasing a giant praying mantis that’s been frozen for eons. It attacks polar military outposts, an airplane and an eskimo village, all through the liberal use of stock footage (this film might have the most stock of any movie I’ve ever seen). It’s up to a scientist (William Hopper), an Air Force CO (Craig Stevens) and a reporter (Alix Talton) to sort it all out.

While it has the mandatory pseudo-science and military propaganda, what sets The Deadly Mantis apart are the monster scenes. There are the usual teases — a claw here, a shadow there, some buzzing from time to time — before the big reveal, and it’s all handled well. The bug models are pretty well done — especially in the final scenes in the Manhattan Tunnel. (They’re a bit like the final scene in Them! deep in LA’s drain system, but still very cool.)

Real bug, fake monument.

Then there’s the Washington Monument. They took a real praying mantis and let it do a slow, graceful, creepy crawl up a (very) miniature monument. It might be the best single shot in the movie.

The mantis stuck in traffic is effective, too. These are images forever seared into my brain as a kid — who cares how good the rest of the movie is? The strength of these images might be attributed to director Nathan Juran. Before trying his hand at directing, he was an art director — one of the geniuses behind the Oscar-winning designs for John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941). Juran directed a handful of pictures, including several Audie Murphy movies, before The Deadly Mantis. This was his first horror/sci-fi/fantasy movie, and he’d go on to do stuff like 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957), The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad (1958), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957) and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958). Those last two he did under the name Nathan Hertz. His Western Good Day For A Hanging (1958) is really good. (Shout Factory has announced a Blu-Ray release of Juran’s Law And Order from 1953.)

Another Reynold Brown masterpiece.

Scream Factory has brought The Deadly Mantis to Blu-Ray in grand fashion. It looks terrific — the contrast is near-perfect and all the dust and scratches you see are from the original stock footage. The audio is quite strong and there are so nice extras — commentary, trailer and the episode of MST3000 that pokes fun at the picture. (They were wise to keep Reynold Brown’s original poster art for their packaging.)

I have a soft spot for this movie bigger than the deadly mantis itself, and I’m so stoked to see this type of thing get this level of TLC. Highly recommended.

1 Comment

Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Nathan Juran, Reynold Brown, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Night Creatures (1962, AKA Captain Clegg).

Directed by Peter Graham Scott
Screenplay by John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
Based on Russell Thorndike’s Dr. Syn character
Music by Don Banks
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Eric Boyd-Perkins

Cast: Peter Cushing (Parson Blyss/Captain Clegg), Yvonne Romain (Imogene), Patrick Allen (Captain Collier), Oliver Reed (Harry), Michael Ripper (Mipps), David Lodge (Bosun), Derek Francis (Squire), Jack MacGowran

__________

What if Heaven was a place where you’ve got a stack of old movies starring, or made by, all your favorites — that you’ve never seen? Like maybe another couple Scott-Boetticher Westerns, a second George Lazenby Bond movie — or a Peter Cushing Hammer picture you somehow missed while here on Earth. Well, that last little slice of Heaven materialized here in Raleigh, North Carolina, over the weekend. I finally got around to checking out Night Creatures (1962, UK title Captain Clegg).

There’s an interesting bit of history to this one. Hammer Films planned to remake Dr. Syn (1937), which starred George Arliss as the mysterious smuggler Reverend Doctor Christopher Syn — based on the novels by Russell Thorndike.

But it turned out that Disney also had their eye on Dr. Syn, for their Wonderful World Of Disney TV show, and had acquired the rights to the novels themselves — versus Hammer’s remake rights to the old movie. Disney’s eventual three-part TV program starred Patrick McGoohan and William Sylvester. (In the mid-70s, it was re-cut and played US theaters as Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow. I thought it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.)

Anyway, back to Hammer. To avoid any legal hassle from the Disney people, Hammer changed the character’s name to Captain Clegg and made a few other modifications. There’s still a scarecrow, there’s still plenty of brandy to be smuggled and taxes to be avoided. But we now get the creepy Marsh Phantoms. Stills of the Phantoms that turned up in my monster movie books and magazines had me wanting to see this movie to a ridiculous degree.

Somehow, it took me more than 40 years to catch up with Night Creatures. But it was worth the wait.

Turns out, it’s not really a horror movie at all, it’s a dark, moody pirate/adventure story. Hammer was pretty good at pirate movies. Their The Pirates Of Blood River, from the same year as Night Creatures and with some of the same cast, is a hoot — and they’d follow it with The Devil-Ship Pirates in 1964. Both star Christopher Lee.

I’m not gonna spoil things by giving you a synopsis. It’s too good a movie for me to screw it up for you.

Night Creatures is Peter Cushing’s movie all the way, in spite of some strong work from Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper (who’s got a bigger part than usual) and the lovely Yvonne Romain. Cushing gets to do plenty of action stuff, which he’s always very good at. It’s shame he’s known these days primarily for standing around and being mean in Star Wars (1977). Cushing is so versatile, and he really gets to show his range in this one, going back and forth from ruthless pirate to compassionate preacher numerous times over the course of the picture’s 82 minutes. Over the last year or so, I’ve developed a real love of Cushing. He’s a joy to watch.

Patrick Allen is appropriately hateful as the government man sent to track down the band of smugglers and clashing with the Marsh Phantoms along the way. The Phantoms’ scenes deliver the goods I’d be waiting decades for — though I’d love to have seen what Jack Asher, Hammer’s other DP, would’ve done with those scenes on the moors. His stylized color effects always knock me out. There isn’t a thing in this movie that isn’t cool.

Peter Graham Scott directs Yvonne Romain.

I finally came across Night Creatures in the Hammer Horror 8-Film Collection Blu-Ray set from Universal. It looks great, as do all the other pictures. I saw Hammer’s Phantom Of The Opera (1962) on film repeatedly as a kid, and the spot-on transfer looks exactly as I remember it. Night Creatures gets my highest recommendation. It’s become a new favorite around my house.

9 Comments

Filed under 1962, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Michael Ripper, Peter Cushing, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #227: This Island Earth (1955).

Directed by Joseph M. Newman
Starring Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason, Lance Fuller, Russell Johnson, Douglas Spencer, Richard Deacon

Here’s the one we’ve all been waiting for. This Island Earth (1955) on Blu-Ray. And since it’s coming from Scream Factory, we can rest assured it’ll look great and be a thorough, well-stacked package. Coming in June.

Also on the way are two minor, but still terrific, Universal-International pictures — The Monolith Monsters (1957) and Jack Arnold’s Monster On The Campus (1958). They’ll also come around in June.

1 Comment

Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray News, Faith Domergue, Jack Arnold, Russell Johnson, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #224: The Vanishing Shadow (1934).

Directed by Lew Landers
Starring Onslow Stevens, Ada Ince, William Desmond, Walter Miller, James Durkin, Lee J. Cobb

Universal’s 12-chapter serial The Vanishing Shadow (1934) is making its way to Blu-Ray from our friends at VCI. It’s a science fiction revenge story, containing maybe the first use of a ray gun. It also feature a terrific robot.

What’s incredible about this release is that at one point, The Vanishing Shadow was thought to be a lost film. This June, it’ll be available in high-definition from original 35mm fine grain material. How cool is that? I’m really stoked to be doing a first-chapter commentary for it.

5 Comments

Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Lew Landers, Universal (-International), VCI

Blu-Ray News #214: The Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi Collection.

The Titans Of Terror relax on the set of The Black Cat (1934)

Scream Factory has really done it this time. Their upcoming The Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi Collection brings some of the weirdest, sickest and best-est horror films of the 30s to Blu-Ray. All four were Universal pictures.

The Black Cat (1934)
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Lucille Lund, John Carradine

Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) might be the granddaddy of all Pre-Code Horror films. It spends so much time hinting around at all kinds of awful stuff, it hardly makes any sense. But it’s so creepy, so twisted, so wonderful, who cares?

The Raven (1935)
Directed by Lew Landers
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Irene Ware

How could you ever approach the supreme weirdness of The Black Cat? With The Raven (1935), Karloff, Lugosi and Lew Landers gave it the old college try.

The Invisible Ray (1936)
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Frances Drake

Lambert Hillyer turns Boris and Bela loose on leftover Flash Gordon sets. The results are every bit as cool as you’re imagining right now. This one will be a real treat in high definition.

Black Friday (1940)
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Anne Nagle, Paul Fix

Lugosi’s role is pretty small in this one, and he and Karloff don’t have any scenes together. Curt Siodmak’s script plays around with ideas he’d use again in Donovan’s Brain — his 1943 novel and 1953 film.

This is essential stuff, folks. And it’s coming in April.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray News, Edgar G. Ulmer, John Carradine, Lambert Hillyer, Lew Landers, Pre-Code, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #206: The Deadly Mantis (1957).

Directed by Nathan Juran
Starring Craig Stevens, Alix Talton, William Hopper, Florenz Ames

Just this morning, a co-worker told me a great holiday story. A few years ago, her family bought a locally-grown Christmas tree (we’re in North Carolina), got it home, decorated it and sat their infant son in front of it for a first-Christmas photo. Then, suddenly, hundreds of tiny praying mantises began cascading out of the tree.

So, why am I telling you this? Well, first, it’s a cool story. And second, Scream Factory has just announced the upcoming Blu-Ray release of Universal’s big-bug classic The Deadly Mantis (1957). It’s not the masterpiece Them! (1954) is, and it’s not quite as cool as Tarantula (1955). But scenes near the end of the picture with the (deadly) mantis atop the Washington Monument and stuck in the Manhattan Tunnel have been seared in my brain since I was about eight. One complaint: where’s Nestor Paiva?

The Deadly Mantis won’t hatch until March 2019. I can’t wait.

6 Comments

Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray News, Nathan Juran, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)