Scream Factory Releasing ‘Escape From L.A.’ Collector’s Edition Blu-ray May 26

Scream Factory, the horror imprint of indie distributor Shout! Factory, will release a collector’s edition of director John Carpenter’s Escape From L.A. on Blu-ray May 26.

The film is a sequel to Carpenter’s 1981 film Escape From New York, which starred Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, the anti-hero tasked with rescuing the U.S. President from Manhattan, which in the future has been converted into a walled off prison.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

In 1996’s Escape From L.A., Russell returns as Plissken, who this time is forced to rescue the president’s daughter from Southern California, which in the future has been rendered an island wasteland by a massive earthquake.

The cast also includes Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Bruce Campbell, Peter Fonda, George Corraface, Peter Jason, Cliff Robertson and Pam Grier.

Follow us on Instagram!

The Blu-ray will offers the film with a new 4K scan from the original negative, and new interviews with Keach, Campbell, Jason, Corraface, special effects artist Jim McPherson and visual effects artist David Jones. Other extras include a still gallery, the theatrical trailer and TV spots.

A bare-bones Blu-ray edition of Escape From L.A. was previously released by Paramount in 2010. A Scream Factory Blu-ray of Escape From New York was released in 2015.

Scream Factory Releasing ‘The Fly’ Blu-ray Collection

Scream Factory, the horror imprint of indie distributor Shout! Factory, will release The Fly Collection on Blu-ray Dec. 10. The five-disc set includes the trilogy based on the 1958 original The Fly, plus the 1986 remake and its sequel.

The original film stars Vincent Price as the brother of a scientist whose experiments in creating a matter transporter accidentally swap his head with that of a fly. In 1959’s Return of the Fly (1959), the son of the first scientist continues his father’s work. In 1965’s The Curse of the Fly, a woman marrys into the family of scientists and learns about the horrible side effects of their experiments.

The 1986 remake directed by David Cronenberg stars Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle, the scientist whose experiments in teleportation merge his DNA with that of a fly, causing him to transform into a human-fly hybrid to the horror of the journalist (Geena Davis) chronicling his work. Its 1989 sequel, The Fly II, stars Eric Stoltz as Seth’s son, who continues his father’s efforts.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

With the exception of the 1986 version, this set represents of the first Blu-ray release of the films in North America.

The complete list of bonus features includes a bevy of new interviews and audio commentaries with cast and crew on each film, plus legacy bonus material.

Extras on the 1958 version of The Fly include:

  • A new audio commentary with author/film historian Steve Haberman and filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr;
  • Audio commentary with actor David Hedison and film historian David Del Valle;
  • “Biography: Vincent Price”;
  • “Fly Trap: Catching a Classic”;
  • Fox Movietone News;
  • Theatrical trailer.

 

Return of the Fly extras:

  • New audio commentary with actor David Frankham;
  • New audio commentary with author/film historian Tom Weaver;
  • New audio commentary with actor Brett Halsey and film historian David Del Valle;
  • Theatrical Trailer;
  • TV spot;
  • Still gallery.

 

The Curse of the Fly extras:

  • New audio commentary with author/film historian Steve Haberman and filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr;
  • New interview with actress Mary Manson;
  • New interview with continuity checker Renee Glynee;
  • Theatrical Trailer;
  • TV spot;
  • Still gallery.

 

Extras on the 1986 version include:

  • New audio commentary with author/film historian William Beard;
  • “The Meshuggener Scientist” — a new interview with executive producer Mel Brooks;
  • “Beauty and the Beast” — a new interview with producer Stuart Cornfeld;
  • “A Tragic Opera” — a new interview with composer Howard Shore;
  • “David’s Eyes” — a new interview with cinematographer Mark Irwin;
  • New interview with casting director Deirdre Bowen;
  • Audio commentary with director David Cronenberg
  • “Fear of the Flesh: The Making of The Fly” — covering all three stages of the production — Larva, Pupa and Metamorphosis;
  • “The Brundle Museum of Natural History” with Chris Walas and Bob Burns;
  • Deleted scenes with storyboard and script versions;
  • Extended scenes;
  • An alternate ending;
  • Test footage (main titles, lighting and makeup effects);
  • Vintage featurette/profile on David Cronenberg;
  • Still galleries (publicity, behind-the-scenes, concept art and visual effects);
  • Theatrical trailers;
  • TV spots;
  • George Langelaan’s short story;
  • Charles Edward Pouge’s original screenplay;
  • David Cronenberg’s screenplay rewrite;
  • Magazine articles with photos and video;
  • A trivia track;
  • Two Easter eggs.

 

The Fly II extras:

  • “Fly in the Ointment” — a new interview with producer Stuart Cornfeld;
  • “Original Visions” — a new interview with screenwriter Mick Garris;
  • “Version 2.0” — a new interview with screenwriter Ken Wheat;
  • “Big and Gothic” — a new interview with composer Christopher Young;
  • “Pretty Fly for A Fly Guy” — a new interview with special effects artist Tom Sullivan;
  • New interview with cinematographer Robin Vidgeon;
  • Interview with director Chris Walas;
  • Interview with producer Steven-Charles Jaffe;
  • Audio commentary with director Chris Walas and film historian Bob Burns;
  • “Transformations: Looking Back at The Fly II”;
  • “The Fly Papers: The Buzz on Hollywood’s Scariest Insect”;
  • Video Production Journal — a behind-the-scenes look at the special effects;
  • Composer’s Master Class: Christopher Young;
  • Storyboard-to-film comparisons with optional commentary by director Chris Walas;
  • Vintage featurette;
  • Extended press kit Interviews with Eric Stoltz, Daphne Zuniga and Chris Walas;
  • An alternate ending;
  • A deleted scene;
  • Teaser trailer;
  • Theatrical trailer;
  • Still gallery;
  • Storyboard gallery.

 

‘Big Trouble in Little China’ Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Coming Dec. 3 From Scream Factory

Indie home entertainment distributor Shout! Factory’s horror imprint, Scream Factory, is bringing director John Carpenter’s 1986 cult classic Big Trouble in Little China back to Blu-ray in a big way Dec. 3 with a new collector’s edition and a number of packaging options for fans.

Kurt Russell stars as tough-talking truck driver Jack Burton, who gets pulled into a supernatural adventure to rescue his best friend’s fiancée from a dangerous, magical world beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown. The cast also includes Kim Cattrall, James Hong and Dennis Dun.

Scream Factory’s two-disc Blu-ray set includes a trove of new bonus material.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The first disc will include the film with a new audio commentary by producer Larry Franco, a new commentary by special effects artist Steve Johnson moderated by filmmaker Anthony C. Ferrante, and the legacy commentary with Carpenter and Russell from previous home video releases. An isolated score track also will be available. The disc also includes previously released material such as deleted and extended scenes, an extended ending, a vintage audio interview with John Carpenter, electronic press kit interviews and profiles, theatrical trailers, TV spots, a gag reel, a music video and photo galleries.

The second disc will include a vintage featurette and an interview with visual effects artist Richard Edlund from previous disc releases; interviews with Carpenter, Russell, Franco, director of photography Dean Cundey and stuntman Jeff Imada; and hours of new interviews, including actors Dun, Hong, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong and Al Leong, writers W.D. Richter and Gary Goldman, associate producer/martial arts choreographer James Lew, The Coupe De Ville’s member Nick Castle, second unit director/The Coupe De Ville’s member Tommy Lee Wallace, and movie poster artist Drew Struzan.

The Shout! Factory store at ShoutFactory.com is offering fans five different special offers for preorders of the title.

One is the collector’s edition Blu-ray with an exclusive 18-inch x 24-inch rolled poster of the new cover art by Laz Marquez.

‘Big Trouble in Little China’ Steelbook

The second is the collector’s edition in limited-edition Steelbook packaging.

The third is the Steelbook with an exclusive 28.5-inch x 16.5-inch rolled lithograph of the new Steelbook artwork by Nat Marsh, and a 7-inch green vinyl record by Sacred Bones, featuring music composed by John Carpenter and recorded by him, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, with a slipcase with new art by frequent Carpenter collaborator Chris Bilheimer. Limited to 2,500 copies, the A-side includes the 2017 version of the main theme, “Porkchop Express (Big Trouble in Little China),” and the B-side contains a never-before-released recording of “The Alley War,” recorded in 2019.

The fourth bundle includes the Blu-ray with slipcover, rolled poster and green vinyl album.

The fifth option includes both the standard and Steelbook Blu-rays of the collector’s edition, the artwork posters for both editions, and the limited-edition record.

Preorders of the collector’s edition or Steelbook bundled with a purple vinyl variant of the 7-inch record are available from Sacredbonesrecords.com.

Frank Langella’s ‘Dracula’ Getting Scream Factory Blu-ray Treatment Nov. 26

Shout! Factory’s horror imprint, Scream Factory, will release a collector’s edition of the 1979 version of Dracula on Blu-ray Nov. 26.

Directed by John Badham and adapted from a play based on Bram Stoker’s classic tale, the film starred Frank Langella in the title role, reprising his role from the stage production. The cast includes Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing, Donald Pleasence as Dr. Jack Seward and Kate Nelligan as Lucy Seward. John Williams composed the musical score.

The Blu-ray will boast a new 4K scan of the original, best available film elements, and offers two presentations of the film, including the original 1979 color timing for the first time on home video. A version with desaturated color timing, originally created by Badham for Laserdisc in 1991 to mimic the feel of 1930s black-and-white gothic horror movies, also is included.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The desaturated version was previously released on Blu-ray by Universal Pictures in 2014 and reissued in February 2019.

The first disc of Scream Factory’s set will include the desaturated version, plus a new introduction by Badham, and new interviews with Badham, writer W.D. Richter, camera assistant Jim Alloway, editor John Bloom, makeup artist Peter Robb-King, hair stylist Colin Jamison, assistant director Anthony Waye and production manager Hugh Harlow. The disc also includes the previously released Badham commentary and the featurette “The Revamping of Dracula.”

The second disc will include the film in its 1979 presentation with a new 4K scan of the original film elements, a new introduction by Badham, a new audio commentary by film historian and filmmaker Constantine Nasr, plus the film’s theatrical trailer, radio spots and a still gallery.

Copies ordered through ShoutFactory.com will include an 18×24 rolled poster featuring brand new artwork, while supplies last.

Scream Factory Releasing John Carpenter’s ‘Vampires’ Collector’s Edition Blu-ray

Shout! Factory’s horror imprint, Scream Factory, will release a collector’s edition Blu-ray of John Carpenter’s 1998 film Vampires Sept. 24.

When Master Vampire Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) decimates an entire team of vampire hunters, its leader (James Woods) another survivor (Daniel Baldwin), set out in pursuit. Meanwhile, Valek nears the climax of his 600-year search an artifact that can grant him and all vampires the omnipotent power to walk the world in daylight.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

New bonus features include “Time to Kill Some Vampires,” an interview with composer/director John Carpenter, producer Sandy King Carpenter and cinematographer Garry B. Kibbe; “Jack the Slayer,” an interview with actor James Woods,” “The First Vampire,” an interview with actor Thomas Ian Griffith; “Raising the Stakes,” an interview with special effects artist Greg Nicotero; and “Padre,” an interview with actor Tim Guinee.

The Blu-ray will also include audio commentary by John Carpenter, an isolated score track, a vintage making-of featurette, a theatrical trailer, TV spots and a still gallery.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Klute’ and ‘The Leopard Man’

Klute

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Roy Scheider, Charles Cioffi.
1971. Released in relatively stealth fashion during a unforgettable movie summer, Alan J. Pakula’s Klute is a psychological drama wrapped in thriller/mystery trappings rather than a thriller/mystery per se — which possibly resulted in its being underrated at the time, though Jane Fonda did win a Best Actress Oscar for a performance that is among the significant ones of the modern screen era.
Extras: Blasting out of the gate with a new 4K remastering of Gordon Willis’s trademark anti-solar cinematography, Criterion’s new Klute release is one of the best-produced Blu-rays I’ve ever seen, and its combined package of nary-a-dud bonus extras now pounds it into me how unusual this film was. We get two remarkable Fonda interviews, conducted decades apart, that artfully operate in tandem here.
Read the Full Review

The Leopard Man

Shout! Factory, Horror, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Dennis O’Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks.
1943.
Directed by Jacques Tourneur shortly after he and producer Val Lewton turnedThe Cat People into one of the most profitable sleepers of the entire World War II movie era, The Leopard Manwas the third of nine creepy features Lewton made for RKO during his famously remarkable run from 1942 to 1946.
Extras: There are two bonus commentaries — one by The Exorcist director William Friedkin, the other a highly informative nuts-and-bolts one by film historian Constantine Nasr that gives a compelling back-dropper about the kind of miserable-sounding life that source author Cornell Woolrich seems to have led.
Read the Full Review

The Leopard Man

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory;
Horror;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Dennis O’Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks.

Directed by Jacques Tourneur shortly after he and producer Val Lewton turned The Cat People into one of the most profitable sleepers of the entire World War II movie era, 1943’s The Leopard Man was the third of nine creepy features Lewton made for RKO during his famously remarkable run from 1942 to 1946. It is also, for some, the most problematic due to its unusual story construction, and it didn’t help matters that when Warner Home Entertainment released an overall terrific Lewton box in 2005, The Leopard Man print was the one entry whose print didn’t look very good.

This second problem has been solved by this new Scream Factory release of a new 4K remastering off the original negative; seeing it at its best, one marvels (at least in its interiors and street scenes) how Lewton was able to create an acceptable New Mexico town on 59 cents and a lot of sets/costumes scavenged from past RKO films. Beyond this, was there ever a movie from that studio that didn’t benefit from its Roy Webb score? I only have to hear a few strains from any of them to be transported back to a TV set in the late ’50s and early ’60s, when the RKO catalog got played to death by local stations everywhere. Welcomely.

The structural oddity of this 66-minute feature (which was actually cut some for its re-issue before the footage was eventually restored) has to do with the lobbing of its most chilling salvo so early in the picture. A borrowed leopard from a traveling circus has escaped town and nocturnally kills a screaming young girl (after a late trip to the store and then a desperate chase to her front door). Mom’s inside, and she’s temporarily miffed at her daughter’s tardiness; as a result, she takes her time answering it until the screams and pounding get a little too insistent, by which time, it’s too late. One can easily see why The Exorcist director William Friedkin calls this one of the great horrific suspense scenes of all time, which it is.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Even though this set piece is powerful enough to carry a bottom-line interesting curio over its short running time, the movie does peak early — though it is interesting to see how the borrowed leopard escapes in the first place. An overeager press agent (Dennis O’Keefe) borrows the creature to upstage in real time the nightclub act of a rival to one of his clients; spooked, the animal escapes and runs out the entrance into the night. It’s really tough to see how the leopard could possibly be rattled; it’s only hit by nightclub lights, well-dressed patrons reveling at their tables and the fact that the rival performer (Margo) is insistently playing her castanets.

Margo, who should have had a better career, is really good as the woman who for a while is the central character — worried about what a local fortune teller’s “cards” might hold. Previously memorable in Lost Horizon and (if memory serves) her screen debut in the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur Crime Without Passion, she was apparently politically blacklisted in later years — though you’d think that just the fact that she was married to Eddie Albert (who reputedly rescued 70 Marines at Tarawa) would have gotten her over that hump. As far as I know, I hosted Margo’s last public appearance of note a little more than a year before her death — an impromptu affair when we pulled her out of the audience at the AFI Theater when I was interviewing Albert in stage during a weekend tribute that included a sell-out Green Acres afternoon. (Footnote: He was so happy to learn that he and Acres were in Gene Sculatti’s must-read Catalog of Cool — along with 3D View Masters and Louis Prima — that I gave him my copy.) But I digress.

O’Keefe was around in bit parts forever before kind of making it in the mid-’40s and early ’50s as a dependable ‘B’-movie regular. He wasn’t an actor of much depth, but he had a likable presence both in light comedies and crime melodramas (I was surprised by how easy he was to take playing an insurance investigator during my recent viewing of the 1949 ‘B’-pic Cover Up, which you wouldn’t really expect to be on Blu-ray but is). With a few exceptions, ‘B’-pictures are what he made, as with the first movie I ever saw him in (a theatrical first-run of 1955’s Chicago Syndicate, a passably time-killing glob of Sam Katzman/Fred Sears cheese whose ad copy could and should have screamed, “And with Xavier Cugat as Benny Chico”). The Leopard Man is one off the few O’Keefe movies whose title might spark recognition by the non-hard core that nonetheless knows a little something about the movies.

Instead of his character being arrested on some kind of charge after the first killing (yes, there are more) or having Nancy Grace put him on her hit list, we’ll note that this was a nowhere Southwestern town away from big-city forces, though you’d think that some of its young men would have been draft-eligible. (WWII is rarely, if ever, a force in Lewton horror, even those few taking place in time settings or milieus where it would apply.) Instead, O’Keefe and the performer he manages (Jean Brooks, a versatile actress who succumbed to alcohol) are allowed to sleuth the case — which becomes a case with each new homicide. The victims are always young women, which gets increasingly suspicious, leading some to wonder if the cat really is responsible. As in the first killing, Tourneur gets a lot out of his “is the creature nearby?” scenes, including a beaut where you can’t tell if a tiny speck of light at night is the cat’s eyes or a reflection of something.

There are two bonus commentaries — one by Friedkin, the other a highly informative nuts-and-bolts one by film historian Constantine Nasr that gives a compelling back-dropper about the kind of miserable-sounding life that source author Cornell Woolrich seems to have led. These voiceovers are complementary, with Friedkin mounting a vigorous defense of the picture while acknowledging certain shortcomings. Even though The Leopard Man tends to take up one story, drop it and go on to another with perhaps a haphazard sense of direction, Friedkin likes this structure and offers a brief that this was one of the first modern Hollywood movies of its type due to its unconventional, non-linear storytelling. As with Alfred Hitchcock pulling the rug out from Janet Leigh a third of the way into Psycho.

I can’t say I totally agree, though I do see his point, which had not occurred to me before. And besides, Lewton follow-up The Seventh Victim doesn’t cohere particularly well, and yet it’s probably my favorite of the series (out of four or five contenders) because I can think of few Hollywood films from the 1940s that so get under your skin. This is a great service that Shout/Scream Factory is performing, getting this milestone collection out in even better prints than I was able to get for the AFI Theater when I was programming. I would really salivate to see Victim and I Walked With a Zombie, in particular, get their Blu-ray day.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Klute’ and ‘The Leopard Man’

This Island Earth

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory;
Sci-fi;
$26.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason.

To borrow the parlance that my third-grade colleagues would have used at the time, This Island Earth is quite “neat” for its day yet remains wounded by the same cardboard dramatics that have always plagued it. But this said, Scream Factory’s unexpectedly lavish new Blu-ray is still the definitive presentation of a ’50s sci-fi biggie that entranced a lot of kids at the time — not only because it was in Technicolor but because it had a larger than expected budget all around, though probably not one as large as it needed.

Just as the replicated art ad still says on the Blu-ray box, Earth was “2 1/2 Years in the Making” after director Joseph M. Newman found the property himself — though I always figured that maybe a year-and-a-half of this went toward fitting and pasting on those distinctive skull caps that gave lead Jeff Morrow and his lackeys sky-high foreheads, to say nothing of those that adorn the movie’s villainous mutants whose corresponding skulls resemble exposed brains. No one who’s ever seen them has ever forgotten them, and this is one thing no one will ever be able to take away from a film that works at least fitfully in spite of itself.

In other words, the picture takes a long time to get rolling, and it’s not exactly an actor’s paradise — aside, perhaps, from the pathos Morrow brings to his role as a friendly alien caught between the hardline sentiments of rulers on his own planet (Metaluna) and the affection he feels for Earthlings, with whom he’s spent considerable time. Not so sure of this benevolence is a hunk-ish scientist/electronics whiz (Rex Reason), who can also pilot a jet — an authoritative guy all around who is always savvily asking the right questions. On one of the myriad bonus commentaries/interviews here (the sheer number of them dazzle), someone gives Reason’s performance a little credit; beyond having a great voice, he was handled a stiff role and pretty well filling this bill with the poor hand he was handed. Unfortunately, femme lead Faith Domergue doesn’t fare as well on this count (and ’55 was the actress’s big boomer-kid year, given that Cult of the Cobra and Ray Harryhausen’s irresistible cheese slice It Came from Beneath the Sea were two of the four other Domergue films that had recently preceded Earth in theaters).

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Though Metaluna eventually turns out to be in big trouble (which is why it needs Earth’s help due to an energy shortage), the alien planet wields the standard supernatural powers we came to expect in ’50s sci-fi cinema. It can take over the piloting of Reason’s jet to make an impression, which is why later — when it entices him to board a Metaluna craft to journey to God-knows-where — he lands and is picked up by Domergue in … a woodie station wagon. Turns out that after all this arduous and presumed major star trekking he’s ended up in Georgia with other recruited U.S. scientists that include one played by Russell Johnson (later The Professor on “Gilligan’s Island”). For suspicious reasons, they come off as mum and intimidated — so much so that Domergue denies that she and Reason had a brief relationship swimming in Vermont a few years earlier. Which, in ’50s censorship code, probably means they did it.

Putting aide the drearily obligatory “sidekick” comedy relief early in the picture, there’s all kinds of talk throughout at the expense of action. And yet, it’s also true that the backdrop to all this yakking is mighty easy on the eye because Earth got under the wire enough to have been shot in three-strip Technicolor during the format’s waning days (those hot lights turned the wearing of mutant makeup and costumes into something pretty close to a miracle diet). This wasn’t the first ’50s color sci-fi (Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide and The War of the Worlds were all Technicolor, while Invaders From Mars was in notably expressive “Supercinecolor”). But it was the first time Universal-International took the plunge, and for the intended demographic, this was a big deal.

One of the bonus highlights is what’s billed as an “extended” 47-minute documentary on the film’s production and reception where New Jersey-bred director Joe Dante (who would know) said his circle of buds knew Earth was a big picture because it played alone on a single bill. As for my town, Earth rated a downtown booking but in the least of its four first-run theaters — one that played a lot of Universals, a lot of Republics and a lot of Westerns. In this case, it did have a co-feature — United Artists’ Sabaka, with Boris Karloff and Victor Jory; no turnstile buster it — and this package lasted a week.

Reviews generally were unkind (1955 was a really strong and competitive movie year), though there was also probable prejudice against the genre when at least the art direction should have gotten mention. The payoff climactic scenes — whose volume of explosions make you wonder if someone trucked over to steal a caravan of munitions from the U-I lot where Audie Murphy’s To Hell and Back was shooting — look crude today but still remain imaginatively crude once all hell breaks loose on poor Metaluna. The general consensus among commentators here is that the studio’s sci-fi Main Man Jack Arnold did not shoot these or any other scenes, despite frequent reportage to the contrary.

Despite the ballyhooed length-of-production, Earth was kind of rushed into shooting, which means that it was photographed close enough to the dividing line between 1.37:1 and wider-screen renderings that two versions exist; both are included here, and the 1.85:1 version definitely the way to go. One of my favorite bonus features is a long printed history of Perspecta Stereophonic Sound, which offered something like stereo to exhibitors for less money and effort and which lasted from roughly 1954 through 1957. The history’s pages are fairly easy to read off a big screen, and I spent quite a long time with this extra, though the material is elaborate enough to eat up most of a day. A restored Perspecta soundtrack is one of two included on the disc, and uilizing it did a lot to keep me near-fully engaged despite the script’s dramatic shortcomings.

Still, it was really a miscalculated 1996 exercise for Universal to employ Earth as the target when it made Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie — though I grant that the studio had to have something close to an A-picture to lampoon because audiences weren’t going to shell out theatrical admission prices to see Eegah or its like taking lumps. Despite my love for “MST3K,” it really was a cheap shot, starting with the fact that the original movie ended up being butchered so badly that the entire ’96 release ran significantly shorter than the full-length Earth by itself — even with the all the additional screen time devoted to the barbs tossed its way by Mike Nelson & crew. Dante also points out that Earth’s color intensity got badly degraded as part of the techno process of superimposing the “MST3K” jesters over the bottom of the image.

There was always something about actor Morrow that registered positively with boomer male kids even when he played a heavy — as he did in both the Martin & Lewis Western Pardners and The Creature Walks Among Us, both of which I saw twice theatrically in their original ’56 releases. I, at least, always picked up on a possible twinkle-eyed hint that he knew how outlandish a lot of his big-screen situations were (one exception is his played-straight performance in Douglas Sirk’s Captain Lightfoot, a movie I really like).

With his impossible hair-forehead combo, Morrow plows his way through Earth fairly successfully in a manner that’s difficult not to acknowledge. But his dexterity ran out a couple years later with producer Sam Katzman’s impossibly and hilariously cheap (even for him) The Giant Claw, which was directed by the prolific Fred Sears (dead of a heart attack the same year at 44, and you have to wonder). As others have previously mentioned, it is Claw that would have been a foolproof “MST3K” target. Morrow’s account of the premiere is on IMDb.com, and it’s worth reading if you’re into mortification.

Mike’s Picks: ‘A Patch of Blue’ and ‘This Island Earth’

Mike’s Picks: ‘A Face in the Crowd’ and ‘Tarantula’

A Face in the Crowd

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, Lee Remick.
1957.
Elia Kazan’s warning shot about how broadcast mass media might be able to “package” political candidates the way Madison Avenue had done for antacid TV spots may be one of the most prescient of all American movies, and was Andy Griffith’s screen debut.
Extras: The Criterion bonus extras are illuminating, as they especially need to be on a movie like this. Interviewed historian Ron Briley strengthens the undeniable case that Kazan’s work got better and more committed after he named communists to HUAC, while an excellent 2005 featurette doc is carried over from the old Warner DVD release, which this 4K transfer puts very much in the shade. In addition to critic April Wolfe’s beauty of an essay, there’s a lengthy excerpt from Kazan’s introduction to the published Crowd screenplay from 1957, as well as the same year’s New York Times profile on Griffith.
Read the Full Review

Tarantula

Shout! Factory, Horror, $29.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll.
1955.
Compact; helped by a casting mix that works; and the visual advantage of watching the jumbo title “thing” stalking the wide-open desert makes this one of the more disturbing ’50s mutation movies.
Extras: Includes an often funny commentary by Tom Weaver, David Schecter and Robert J. Kiss.
Read the Full Review

 

Tarantula

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory;
Horror;
$29.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll.

My ex-wife says that 1955’s Tarantula is the ’50s mutation pic that most freaked her out as a child, and I suspect that my reaction would have been the same had I been able to catch it in in early ’56. That’s when it played my main neighborhood theater following a downtown run that had paired this desert chiller with the William Campbell-Mamie Van Doren-Keenan Wynn biker pic Running Wild, a double bill that appeals to me more than anything I’ve seen on my local multiplex marquee this year. (For one thing, I never miss any Keenan Wynn movie about hot wheels.) Unfortunately, my parents wanted me to do something comparably dull instead — I think it was something really unreasonable like eating Sunday dinner with the family — and the huge argument that ensued means that I didn’t catch one of the most essential creature features until college.

And more than a decade after its first release, Tarantula was still very good of its kind, as Parents magazine used to say in its monthly movie guide: compact (though even at 80 minutes, there’s a little too much yakking); helped by a casting mix that works; and the visual advantage of watching the jumbo title “thing” stalking the wide-open desert (I don’t think the clutter of a metropolitan setting would have worked as well). And, let’s face it: On a warm-and-fuzzy level, tarantulas may well have the “fuzzy” part covered — but in my experience, the only guys who have tarantulas as pets are pot dealers who also have 500 pet mice in their apartments when someone goes over to buy a lid. In other words, it’s not like 1957’s The Deadly Mantis, in which you can say: “everyone loves praying mantes — most of the time.” Conversely, nobody’s going to lobby against dead tarantulas, even though they’re generally harmless to humans unless agitated.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

But not this one. Baby boomer favorite Leo G. Carroll, who in ’55 had just completed his network run with the title role in TV’s “Topper” before years of syndication, plays a scientist who works in secrecy way out in Nowhere, Ariz. In a large isolated home that Universal-International recycled from 1948’s Tap Roots and other studio predecessors, caged creatures lounge around behind glass enclosures between injections of serum that Professor Carroll is guinea-pigging them with; it’s part of an experiment he hopes will cure world food shortages. As a result, these animals grow at an amazing rate, with the bunnies evolving on a dime from teensy little things into a casting call for Night of the Lepus. So you can imagine the terror that ensues (to say nothing of the amount of livestock remains on the ground) once a similarly affected tarantula skedaddles — the damned thing moves surprisingly fast — out of the lab.

This escape occurs due to an unfortunate side effect when the serum is injected into humans: acromegaly (which the script manages to call by a slightly different name) — a distorter of hands, feet and sometimes facial features. One of these victims — and as with a similarly afflicted and similarly dying colleague we see in the first scene, he’s now uuuuuuuggggg-ly — decides as a final gesture to attack Carroll in the lab and inject him with the same stuff, which results in a physical altercation that busts open cages and, well, you get the idea. I have to believe that for 1955 Baby Boomers, the continuing sight of Cosmo Topper with his face falling off (with each shot of him worse than the last) was as scary as the giant tarantula, which, make no mistake, is imposing.

Clint Eastwood had four big-screen bit parts in his ’55 debut year (including one in Lady Godiva, which my prurient 8-year-old side really wanted to see at the time, and not because Grant Withers was also in it). In this case, Clint’s face is obscured behind Air Force goggles once the nearly-beaten desert authorities have no other recourse other than to say, “Bring on the napalm.” But the main leads are (as a local doc) John Agar, whose earnestness I always found appealing — plus U-I contract babe and future lifelong Eastwood pal Mara Corday as another ’50s scientist’s assistant who could just as well be one of that decade’s Playboy Playmates, which, matter of fact, Corday was in real life. According to the bonus commentary by Tom Weaver, who wrote the sci-fi movie book (actually, he wrote many more than one), poor Agar signed with the studio in hopes of getting more substantial parts than playing opposite Cleo Moore in Bait over at Columbia for Hugo Haas. Whereupon, U-I put Agar in Revenge of the Creature (coincidentally Eastwood’s debut), then let him sit around for a year before putting him in Tarantula. (As for The Mole People, which followed later, I didn’t even like that one when I was a kid.)

The commentary, which can be funny and is shared with David Schecter and Robert J. Kiss, is a new one on me: actors are utilized to deliver quotes from Weaver’s many interviews of sci-fi movie principals, including some of the talents here. Schecter does a riff of 10 or 11 minutes on how Tarantula’s effective score here was largely patched together from previous pictures, while Weaver offers persuasive evidence that the movie’s cult director, Jack Arnold, was apparently one of those guys who claimed credit for everything (though if I’d been Jack, I’d have blamed Bob Hope’s A Global Affair on someone else).

The estimable Gary Tooze of DVD Beaver recently knocked this Blu-ray’s look on the website, and anyone hoping that the movie will look as sharp as the recent Val Lewton RKO’s from Scream Factory should forget it. My own view is that the 1.33:1 copy on Koch Media’s Reg. B import looks the best (but that means 1.33 for a December 1955 release) and that the 1.78 alternative on the same disc is too grainy for my eye. That leaves this new 1.85 Scream Factory version somewhere in the middle — a nice width-to-height rendering but otherwise only on the high side of just OK.

And speaking of Inside Baseball (or maybe Inside Insects), the movie’s title appears as Tarantula on the screen — sans exclamation point — but as Tarantula! nearly everywhere else these days, including on the package art and menu here. As one who assisted Leonard Maltin on his Movie Guide dating back to when The Osmonds were charting, I can tell you that Len spent half of his adult life trying to sort out this kind of twisted arcania, which more than once must have made him ask, “I went to NYU for this?” It’s the kind of thing that makes you wish you’d pursued a more reputable profession in life — like, say, mad scientist. Though truth to tell, Carroll’s character really isn’t mad here but one who simply fell in with the wrong crowd, as in once diminutive tarantulas who eventually necessitate the employment of bombing crews.

Mike’s Picks: ‘A Face in the Crowd’ and ‘Tarantula’