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DVD SAVANT

Night OF THE
Blood Beast


Night of the Blood Beast
Retromedia
1958 / b&w / 1:37 / 65 min. / Street Date September 24, 2002 / $19.95
Starring John Baer, Angela Greene, Ed Nelson, Georgianna Carter, Michael Emmet, Tyler McVey, Ross Sturlin
Cinematography John M. Nickolaus Jr.
Art Direction Daniel Haller
Film Editor Jodie Copelan
Original Music Alexander Laszlo
Written by Martin Varno
Produced by Gene and Roger Corman
Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Night of the Blood Beast is a good example of the souring of the monster quickie in the late 1950s. Cheap productions kept being made after the novelty wore off, but something was missing. This particular programmer shows some good actors struggling to work with terrible material and coming up with a surprisingly uninteresting show. Adding salt to the wound, Retromedia's presentation is insultingly sub-par.

Synopsis:

An isolated research station recovers a space capsule but its occupant, Major John Corcoran (Michael Emmet) is dead. Back at the lab, his body's condition is revealed to be anything but normal, and shocks everyone when it spontaneously revives. One staff member is attacked by a mysterious monster, and Dr. Wyman (Tyler McVey) is found butchered. Corcoran's blood is overrun with amoebic parasites, and then it's determined that he's incubating a half-dozen embryos in his chest cavity for the 'father' alien. The actual intentions of the alien are unknown, but when John volunteers to lead his comrades to its cave lair, two of them rig molotov cocktails, just in case.

When Roger Corman made a cheap science fiction film, you could count on some lively ideas and a sense of humor to get one past the lack of production values. When he was involved in other directors' pictures, titles like Beast With a Million Eyes and this picture made by his brother, the results were never as good. Night of the Blood Beast has an awful script cribbed from The Quatermass Xperiment and other earlier successes. Unconvincing characters retrieve a dead astronaut only to undergo the typical 24 hours of terror. The corpse is re-animated by some alien organism. A man-sized globby monster (seen, with alterations, in the same year's Teenage Caveman) skulks about, and the magnetized space capsule knocks out phones and car distributors much like Klaatu did in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Thus isolated from the outside world, the rural space lab fight to survive, as in The Thing. Lifting an idea from the earlier Corman movie Attack of the Crab Monsters, the alien eats Dr. Wyman's brain, and thereafter can speak with his voice.

The 'dead' astronaut revives with only frightening, Quatermass 2-like gashes on his arm and upper back, but when he steps in front of a handy fluoroscope, a mass of seahorse-like animated cartoon alien babies are seen inside his body.  1 The kindly doctor played by Tyler McVey (the government agent from the begining of Day the Earth Stood Still) is found upside down, dripping blood with 'half his face gone' because the monster is using him to feed its young, again just as in The Thing. The revived astronaut, obviously now possessed, makes quisling speeches advocating the peaceful intentions of the murderous alien, just like Dr. Carrington from, now what movie was that?

The new concentration on gore doesn't make the movie any more entertaining and the awful speeches provided by screenwriter Martin Varno  2 just cover the exposition without giving the actors characters to play. For instance, the dead astronaut was the fiancée of one of the women but her reactions when he's a corpse, when he revives, etc., just don't add up to anything.  3

With all the borrowings from better films, Night of the Blood Beast basically has a bunch of actors running around Griffith Park (plenty of chain-link fences on which to hang 'security area' signs) and finally that most overused location, Bronson Caves. The pre-Alien idea of a man pregnant with the offspring of a monster from outer space goes nowhere. It's unusual that a naive 50s sci-fi monster romp is as completely charmless as this. Z pictures like King Dinosaur and Giant Gila Monster are much more entertaining.


Perhaps Retromedia's wretched DVD is the reason. Night of the Blood Beast in this presentation is a washed-out 16mm print with obtrusive multiple changeover marks (circle cues, round punchouts) every seven minutes or so, as if this 65-minute movie had been carved up to be shown in a two-hour time slot. It's hard to believe the commercials we used to put up with, but we did. Parts of shots are lost at these changeover points, leaving several scenes chopped off. The show looks too tight when matted on a 16:9 set, so it's likely that the optical framing on the 16mm original was adapted smaller than the 35mm original. The transfer, digitizing and compression are so blah, this could be a homemade disc, authored in an afternoon.

The okay packaging calls this 'A Classic from Roger Corman' and presents no credits to tell us he just helped his brother produce the picture. On the back are liner notes from one Thorn Sherman and a book that a web search couldn't locate, Last Gasps: Horrible Horrors from Horror Heroes. Apologies if the author and his book do exist, but the notes read like a contemptous sham, full of meaningless and garbled nerd-speak about the film. We learn that Night of the Blood Beast is one of the five greatest sci fi films of the 50s, indeed 'one of the greatest films of the 1950s' and 'remains the one missing cinematic footnote in American science fiction history.' The condescension and again, contempt, on the part of Retromedia for the loyal monster movie audience makes this disc twice as unpleasant. The last sentence says the show is 'in its complete, truncated form' - the writer sneering at the thought that his readers won't know what 'truncated' means.

Normally any Z monster movie is going to please its fans, but this DVD is definitely not recommended, just on principle.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Night of the Blood Beast rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Poor
Sound: Fair
Supplements: Partial trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 20, 2002


Footnotes:

1. These animation effects are as realistic as the graphics in an alka-seltzer commercial. The earlier spaceship animation and microscope views of growing amoebas are just as poor.
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2. Claimed to be a teenager himself when he wrote the script, in some reference books.
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3. ... played by Angela Greene, identified by the IMBB as an early Hollywood girlfriend of JFK - who wasn't?
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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