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Warner DVD may have solved the problem with releasing less-than-stellar studio movies coveted by vocal fans: Group them in smart disc sets just big enough to be both affordable and profitable. The new branded line Cult Camp Classics shows every indication of being a raging success, mainly because it gives the die-hard film fans what they want: quality transfers of fun titles with an extra or two to sweeten the pot. Seeing a title like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman on a store shelf might make one's girlfriend roll her eyes, but packaging it with The Giant Behemoth and Queen of Outer Space sounds like an instant party. This Volume 1 Sci-Fi set is the first of four interesting groupings in simultaneous release: Women in Peril, Terrorized Travelers and Historical Epics.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is remembered as a hopeless groaner, a late fifties schlock epic from the wonder men who brought you The Brain from Planet Arous and Teenage Monster. The creative Nathan Juran directs, working under the name Nathan Hertz: he apparently did that as a way of working non-Union, as well as avoiding future association with the picture. The special effects are pitiful sub- Bert I. Gordon mattes and superimpositions, with the actors frequently talking about unseen 'incredible' things happening off-screen, but Juran's direction is a model of no-budget elegance (yep!) and the actors keep the silly drama cooking no matter how ludicrous the dialogue: "Now you pulled a boner tonight and you know it." "What do you want me to do, put salt on her tail?"
'Statuesque' Allison Hayes (The Unearthly) is Nancy Archer, a spoiled heiress living in a desert palace furnished with cheap junk and ratty carpets. Contact with a bald giant wearing a tunic off the 'Medieval' rack at Western Costume turns her into the colossal babe promised by the title, seen on the sexy poster (used on Warner's cover) and memorialized in a song by The Tubes: "All she did / To get her kicks / Was step on all the men." What we see most of the time is a floppy, pasty-white giant hand prop; Allison finally appears in a queen-sized canvas bikini, crudely matted into scenes or tearing balsa-wood rafters off of buildings.
An overheated love triangle brings the picture to life. Worthless hubby Harry (William Hudson) shacks up with toothy gold digger Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers) and gets his comeuppance when wifey Nancy comes to town. A baffled sheriff and goofy deputy keep the 'clueless lawmen' scenes interesting, and the movie is short and sweet. Revival screenings usually generate enough laughter to bring the house down. Marquette, Juran and writer Mark Hanna surely engineered the film as an intentionally funny, tongue-in-cheek background diversion for make-out sessions at the drive-in. 3
With Attack of the 50 Foot Woman Warners breaks into the fertile fringe of the Allied Artists library, which should in theory have many attractive titles to offer, even with the erosion of independent titles back to careless rights holders and Public-Domain limbo. The B&W transfer is attractive and happily formatted enhanced widescreen, flattering Juran's clean compositions. Friendly Tom Weaver interviews actress Yvette Vickers on a feature-length commentary. Vickers has become one of the fave 50s fantasy girls for the cult monster movie set.
The Giant Behemoth is an English co-production that started as something akin to a Quatermass picture, about an invisible radioactive blob or the like. When the producer demanded a garden variety monster, director Eugene Lourie apparently instructed writers Robert Abel and Alan Adler to repackage his original The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, copying whole scenes and situations. The structure and script are almost a verbatim clone, right down to the dotty paleontologist (this time amusing actor Jack MacGowran of The Fearless Vampire Killers) excited to be chasing down a living paleosaurus. Sam Fuller's "Sgt. Rock" Gene Evans joins forces with the unflappable Quatermass TV actor (among 101 other impressive roles) Andre Morell to head a low-key scientific pursuit of a radioactive monster that's killing fish and roasting unlucky fishermen with its radioactivity.
A great many indifferent effects including a mismatched, static monster hand puppet, 1 finally give way to a couple of good minutes of animation by Pete Peterson, directed by the great Willis O'Brien. Camera tilts and clever foreground props make the Behemoth look appropriately Giant, and expressive night lighting helps to hide the fact that the model dino isn't particularly dynamic. When the Behemoth 'projects' radioactivity, Jack Rabin superimposes optical effects used the previous year on Kronos to represent the waves of deadly energy.
The Giant Behemoth may be a fairly generic monster movie but in its time we sought it out for these stop-motion animation sequences. We'd see what time the show came on and tune in about 70 minutes later to catch "the good stuff." I'm glad that it's included in this first set. The transfer is fine, even though it shows every flub and flaw in the original elements, including the many shots repeated or optically repositioned.
The commentary is by effects masters Dennis Muren and Phil Tippet, and it's not very much fun. They offer enthusiastic observations about the stop-motion monster: "Look, there are unwanted glass reflections all over this shot." One of them (Muren?) also recounts how he came into personal possession of the animation models for the film. Otherwise, their comments are annoyingly condescending. They're aggressively ignorant about every aspect other than the few animated scenes. They can't be bothered with any of the film's good actors, dissing the great Jack MacGowran as a hammy jerk. They harp on the film's measured pace and often admired documentary style as incompetent. One would never think that films like The Giant Behemoth were what inspired them to enter the movie business.
The inclusion of Queen of Outer Space makes this Sci-Fi set a full Allied Artists show. Color and CinemaScope distinguish the picture but it's strictly a Camp offering. Never really an out-and-out spoof and lacking both in wit and purpose, the picture recycles props and costumes from the rental racks and repeats the flat Formica and painted plastic look of AA's earlier World Without End. The subject matter scrapes the bottom of creativity for 50s junk Sci-Fi. A crew of American bachelors crash-lands on Venus, there to meet up with a race of Amazon lovelies.
As in the earlier Cat-Women of the Moon and Abbott and Costello Go To Mars, the girlie-girls struggle to maintain their poise while prancing about in high heels and mini-skirts; one Venusian (Lisa Davis) wears Altaira's costume from Forbidden Planet, the be-jeweled one Robby whips up for her. The script is just rubbish, with the space jocks making inane small talk about their voluptuous captors while the girls point ray guns at them and say things like "Botchino!" The Babe Factor was actually better in World Without End, which could boast Alberto Vargas- inspired sexy costumes.
Zsa Zsa Gabor is front and center wearing the picture's only really pretty gowns, posing and preening and sleepwalking through her role with an incongruous smile on her face. Reviewers have always made fun of Gabor's Hungarian accent but watching her stiff, untouchable manner is both amusing and stultifying. We can imagine John Huston trying his patience to get a decent performance from her in Moulin Rouge.
That's all there is to Queen of Outer Space; the story isn't worth an episode of Space Patrol and some of the sets are just pathetic. Zsa Zsa is the whole show, and the enjoyment factor is entirely dependent on having friends around to help jeer and make off-color remarks. It's from a story by Ben Hecht, probably something he dashed off in two hours. 2
Nevertheless, the hotly desired Queen of Outer Space is the definition of 'Camp' and a good choice to launch the Sci-Fi Cult box. The excellent transfer restores color not seen since the show was new, even if the full width of the CinemaScope screen doesn't add much to the film's luster. What does perk up the proceedings is an engaging commentary track with Tom Weaver, this time serving as host to Laurie Mitchell, the real 'Queen' in the plot. Zsa Zsa didn't have to worry about sharing the screen with a younger beauty, as Mitchell at all times wears a mask or performs under an ugly, disfigured makeup job. Ms. Mitchell (Some Like It Hot, Missile to the Moon) offers her comments and memories as Weaver goes over what is known about the making of the film. At one point he interrupts the proceedings to present his special guest with a new decorative 'Venusian' mask, to take with her to fan convention signings.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Cult Camp Classics Volume 1: Sci-Fi Thrillers rates:
1. I've heard that Mr. Kellison told the Cascade Studios gang of effects men that the hand puppet was built rigged with clever string-activated toggles that made the mouth open and close, etc. But the producer broke it while chasing his secretary around the office, and that's why it doesn't move. The story sounds fishy, but it's too cute not to repeat. Also, have no fear, The Giant Behemoth is full length and includes the Thames ferry scene accidentally omitted from an old VHS release.
Also, have no fear, The Giant Behemoth is full length and includes the Thames ferry scene accidentally omitted from an old VHS release.
2. Two notes on Queen of Outer Space: Back at UCLA, the brand-new film archive was presented with nine 35mm Color & CinemaScope prints of the title, I think by Ben Hecht's widow when she cleaned out her garage. Such a haul was considered useful to the archive because the extra copies could be traded with other archives. The only problem was that every print had faded to two tones of purplish-pink. UCLA serialized the film during student-film screenings week one quarter; even in ten-minute doses we all grew plenty sick of it, really fast.
Queen of Outer Space is also the source of one of Randy Cook's more printable jokes from back in the UCLA dorms: At one point Zsa Zsa shows her captives a pitiful boxy structure that she calls 'The Beta Disintegrator' or some-such thing. Randy offered that there should be two more similar devices, to allow Zsa to explain them as well. The second one could be another variety of Beta machine. The third controls the other two -- it's the Master Beta machine!
A related, welcome note from Bill Warren, 6.28.07::
Glenn, re: "... and the movie is short and sweet."
Indeed, so much so that when Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman used to be shown on NY TV's Chiller Theater they double printed every other frame to lengthen it! Also, they began the showing with a flash forward to the sequence of the cops checking out the alien spaceship, passing behind that enormous crystal, which we then got to sit through again later on. I love that you quoted The Tubes! -- Yours, Bob Gutowski
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