Movies Till Dawn: #MonsterSquadGoals3

Mothra” (1961, Mill Creek Entertainment) First screen appearance of Toho Studios’ god-monster Mothra, which descends on Japan to rescue the tiny twins (Emi and Yumi Ito, a.k.a. pop duo The Peanuts) that serve as its ladies-in-waiting from greedy businessman Jerry Ito. Director Ishiro Honda‘s science fiction-adventure should be enormously satisfying for diehard kaiju fans and first-timers alike (especially kids), delivering both Toho’s signature city-wrecking action and a script by kaiju vet Shinichi Sekizawa that unspools in fairy-tale fashion, complete with exotic faraway lands, magical princesses, a hissable villain and a saintly monster heroine who, in adult form, is one of special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya‘s most awe-inspiring creations. Mill Creek’s Blu-ray arrives in a steelbook case appointed with the pulp artwork from the film’s American release and offers the subtitled Japanese and English-dubbed U.S. versions (the former looks better than the latter) as well as detailed commentary by two of the best Toho/Honda historians around, Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski.

Frankenstein Created Woman” (1967, Shout! Factory) Having done his best (or worst, depending on your perspective) to bring life to dead flesh, Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) focuses his energies on reanimation through the soul, and finds an unique test subject in recent suicide Susan Denberg, whom he revives by using the soul of her murdered lover (Robert Morris). Fourth entry in Hammer‘s Frankenstein series benefits from Cushing’s steely presence and its novel take on the doctor’s experiments; the script by producer Anthony Hinds (as John Elder) doesn’t expand on the latter beyond a vehicle for Denberg to carry out grisly revenge for Morris, but she’s icily effective in this regard. Shout’s Blu-ray – culled from a 2K scan of the original film elements is loaded with extras, including two commentaries – one with historian Morris, co-star Derek Fowlds and historian Jonathan Rigby, and the other with historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr – interviews with the crew, two episodes of the UK “World of Hammer” series and a brace of trailers, TV spots and promo art.

American Horror Project 2” (1970-1977, Arrow Video) Second set of regionally-made horror titles, all largely unknown but deserving wider attention. As with the previous set, the trio collected here varies in tone and intensity: “The Child” (1977) is a four-on-the-floor creepshow with supernatural kids and zombies, while “Dark August” (1976) flirts with folk horror elements in a story about rural magic and revenge, while “Dream No Evil” (1970), from cult favorite John Hayes, flits between reality and nightmare to depict a child abuse survivor’s descent into mental illness. All three films have their budgetary shortcomings, but surpass these limitations through inventiveness – impressive atmosphere and effects in “The Child,” jarring shifts in perspective to suggest Brooke Mills’ ebbing sanity in “Dream” – and guest turns by Kim Hunter in “August” and Edmond O’Brien, Michael Pataki and Arthur Franz in “Dream.” Home video and streaming have unearthed hundreds of genre obscurities like these, most of which are either ephemera or notable solely as junkfood, but the trio collected on Arrow’s three-disc set have enough substance to draw in viewers from outside the grindhouse/drive-in fanbase; here’s hoping for Volume 3 in the near future. Extras include interviews with many of the filmmakers and commentary on “The Child” and “Dream No Evil,” retrospectives on Hayes (who apparently based “Evil” on his own miserable childhood) and O’Brien, an audio interview with Rue McClanahan (!), who appeared in several of Hayes’ films and a roundup of horror titles filmed, like “Dark August,” in Vermont.

Death Warmed Up” (1984, Severin Films) Mad scientist Gary Day kidnaps a teenager and reprograms his brain to murder his parents; after years in an asylum, the now-grown teen (prolific actor-director Michael Hurst) heads to the doctor’s remote island lab/fortress to settle the score, but finds an army of surgically controlled zombies lying in wait. Completely out-to-lunch mix of pulp science fiction and splatter from New Zealand – which predates Peter Jackson’s “Bad Taste” by three years – delivers the gory goods (e.g., lots of brain surgery footage), but also stands outside of the ’80s cult/horror pack by virtue of director David Blyth‘s talent for frenetic action set pieces, as well as an icy New Wave aesthetic that flows through the production design, color-saturated lighitng and synth score. Severin’s Blu-ray is anchored by an HD remaster supervised by Blyth, who joins writer Michael Heath on commentary for the feature, an interview featurette and deleted scenes; the original 83-minute version of the film (which runs 79 mins on the disc) is also included, albeit from a NZ VHS release, as well as an interview with head zombie David Letch and a gargantuan gallery of production material.

Nightbeast” (1982, Vinegar Syndrome) A spaceship crashes near a rural Maryland town and disgorges its toothy, trigger-happy alien pilot, which proceeds to decimate the population with its disintegration ray until well-coiffured sheriff Tom Griffith intervenes. Baltimore’s second favorite son, writer/director Don Dohler, remakes his 1978 debut feature “The Alien Factor” with much of the same cast of locals and family friends (as well as John Waters repertory player George Stover) and adds gallons of gore, an impressive monster mask, and an electronic score composed in part by a teenage J.J. Abrams; the $14,000 budget puts a severe crimp in Dohler’s goal of generating a special effects-heavy creature feature, but what “Nightbeast” lacks in production value is more than made up for by his clear enthusiasm for producing an R-rated version of ’50s-era science fiction and the eccentric flourishes he employs to pad out the running time (chief among these is the unsettling romance between Griffith and his deputy). It’s threadbare and amateurish, but never boring, which is more than I can saw for most studio horror/science fiction efforts. Vinegar Syndrome’s DVD/Blu-ray set offers a new 2K scan and adds vintage commentary by Dohler (who died in 2006) and Stover, as well as amusing interviews with members of the cast and crew, outtakes, a visual FX gallery and the highly caffeinated trailer.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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