Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Cold War Creatures: Four 1950’s sci-fi horror treats from Sam Katzman

Arrow Video unleashes a quartet of 1950s monochrome terrors on Blu-ray that revisits the golden age of B-movie monsters! Welcome to the world of Sam Katzman and his Cold War creature features.

Katzman (July 7, 1901 – August 4, 1973) was one of Hollywood’s most prolific film producers and directors whose long career included serials, musicals, teen pictures, action movies and sex comedies, from the 1930s to the early 1970s. In the 1950s, Katzman navigated the zeitgeist of the Cold War era with a host of successful horror Columbia Pictures’ features aimed squarely at the teen market. This collection handpicks four that have left an indelible mark on contemporary culture and the bonus extras in this four-disc box-set include interviews and visual essays from an array of film historians that explain why. What Katzman, who only ever saw his pictures in terms of box-office receipts, would make of the in-depth analysis will make for great discussion when you break out this fabulous box-set.

Producer Sam Katzman on-set with Little Richard in Don’t Knock the Rock

In 1955’s Creature with the Atom Brain, a mob boss uses an ex-Nazi scientist’s atomic radiation reanimation machine to seek revenge on his enemies. An auto-accident survivor turns gnarly when he’s injected with an irradiated wolf serum in The Werewolf (1956). Treasure hunters battle the zombified crew members of a sunken ship while seeking a cache of diamonds in Zombies of Mora Tau (1957). And in The Giant Claw – one of the most infamous sci-fi’s of the decade – an extraterrestrial turkey creates worldwide havoc.

The Arrow Video box-set includes high definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of all four films (which were originally released together in a DVD box-set in 2008), with original uncompressed mono audio, optional English subtitles, an illustrated 60-page collector’s book and an 80-page collector’s art book. Plus, there are two double-sided posters by Matt Griffin, and reversible sleeves featuring original and new artwork by Matt Griffin. The bonus features on each disc are listed below.

DISC 1 – CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN
Written by Curt Siodmak (who also penned Donovan’s Brain and The Wolfman), this taut thriller about mind-controlled reanimated corpses successfully fuses sci-fi and crime noir and paved the way for Katzman’s subsequent creature features. Richard Denning (of Creature from the Black Lagoon fame) plays the all-American square-jawed devoted husband/dad/scientist who ultimately saves the day. Director Edward L Cahn also helmed genre faves The She Creature (1956) and Voodoo Woman (1957).

● Introduction by Kim Newman
● Audio commentary by Russell Dyball
Sam Katzman: Before and Beyond the Cold War Creatures, feature-length presentation on the life, career and films of Sam Katzman by Stephen R Bissette
● Condensed Super 8mm version of Creature with the Atom Brain
● Theatrical Trailer & Image Gallery

DISC 2 – THE WEREWOLF

This one has the distinction of being the first ‘werewolf’ film of the 1950s and went out on a double bill in the US in 1956 with Earth vs. Flying Saucers and Creature with the Atom Brain in the UK. Is it any good though? Well, it does make good use of the Big Bear Lake location in California’s San Bernardino National Forest, and the transformation scenes are also pretty OK. There’s also a couple of good turns from character actors Saul John Launer (best known as Perry Mason), Larry J Blake (who set up the first Motion Picture AA group in Hollywood) and Don Megowan (who played the on-land Gill-man in The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).

● Introduction by critic Kim Newman
● Audio commentary by Lee Gambin
Beyond Window Dressing, visual essay exploring the role of women in the films of Sam Katzman by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
● Condensed Super 8mm version of The Werewolf
● Theatrical Trailer & Image Gallery

DISC 3 – ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU
Creature with the Atom Brain director Edward L Cahn returns with this contemporary-set zombie thriller whose story is said to be the inspiration for John Carpenter’s The Fog. Watch out for Allison Hayes, who is best known for her lead role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, and check out those zombies (any slower and they’d be walking backwards). Bizarrely, the film is supposed to be set in Africa – but it looks more like the same swampy Louisanna backlot used in Universal’s The Mummy’s Curse (1944). The underwater diving sequences are the film’s hilarious highlight.

● Introduction by Kim Newman
● Audio commentary by critic Kat Ellinger
Atomic Terror: Genre in Transformation, a visual essay exploring the intersection of mythical horror creatures and the rational world of science in the films of Sam Katzman by Josh Hurtado.
● Theatrical Trailer & Image Gallery

DISC 4 – THE GIANT CLAW
Love it or hate it! This ludicrous sci-fi is one of a kind. Katzman had wanted Ray Harryhausen to devise the special effects (as he had co-produced Earth vs. Flying Saucers with Charles Schneer in 1956), but when that didn’t pan out he still went ahead. The result, a right ugly turkey puppet on very visible wires. The best part about his schlock-fest is that everyone plays it dead straight, which just makes it all the more hilarious to watch. Jeff Morrow, best known for This Island Earth (1955) and Kronos (1957), was so embarrassed at the film’s premiere, he went home and got drunk. I wonder if he did the same when he saw 1971’s Octaman (in which he had a cameo)? Playing the film’s brainy heroine is Mara Corday, who was married to House on Haunted Hill and Nanny and the Professor actor Richard Long. She was also a buddy of Clint Eastwood who gave her some notable cameos in The Gauntlet (1977) and Sudden Impact (1983).

● Introduction by critic Kim Newman
● Audio commentary by critics Emma Westwood and Cerise Howard
Family Endangered!, visual essay on Cold War paranoia in Katzman’s monster movies, by Mike White
● Condensed Super 8mm version of The Giant Claw.
● Theatrical Trailer & Image Gallery

Dune | David Lynch’s flawed 1984 sci-fi gets a stellar 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release from Arrow

With director Denis Villeneuve’s epic new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 sci-fi novel getting a worldwide release in October, this is the perfect time to revisit David Lynch’s 1984 Dino De Laurentiis-produced space opera, which is now out on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray from Arrow. And I must say… this is a stellar release.

Making his screen debut, Kyle MacLachlan and his voluminous 1980s hair-do plays messiah-in-waiting Paul Atreides who incites an intergalactic war after his father Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow), the patriarch of House Atreides, and his loyal followers are murdered by the rival dynastic family, House Harkonnen, who seek control of the coveted spice melange – a space flight-enabling drug produced only on the desert planet of Arrakis.

Throughout the 1970s, various attempts were made to bring Herbert’s Duniverse to the big screen. Most famously was Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose aborted attempt became the subject of a must-see 2013 documentary. A director to watch following the critical success of 1980’s Elephant Man, Lynch was hired to helm De Laurentiis’ ‘Star Wars for grown-ups’ which, if successful, could have spawned a new sci-fi franchise. But the film bombed big time. Lynch called it ‘a failure and a great sadness’ and disowned the film due to lots of interference from the money men and not getting final cut privilege.

Having seen it again after all these years, I can understand why. The excising of an hour of the film’s original running time has reduced it down to a series of disjointed set pieces – thus cutting out the very heart of Lynch’s original vision. It’s a shame as it is gorgeous to look at, with an awesome production design that evokes Jules Verne steampunk with some Byzantine stylings.

It’s also got a knock-out cast who deliver some memorable performances – especially Kenneth McMillan as the obese Baron Harkonnen (he’s most disturbing in a John Wayne Gacy with a face of oozing sores kind of way) and a fit-looking Sting (and his blue loincloth) as the Baron’s sadistic nephew. But there’s also Freddie Jones, Siân Phillips, Patrick Stewart, Francesca Annis, Linda Hunt and many many more. They are all so good in each of their parts, I can almost forgive the film’s major faults. I do, however, find the whole surfing on giant sandworms rather silly.

Still, Lynch’s Dune remains a unique part of cinematic sci-fi history, and this 4K restoration is probably the best way to rediscover it (despite the fact there’s no input from Lynch). It also allows you to revisit Herbert’s seminal tale which, in its essence, is about colonial terrorism – something that still plays out across our own troubled world.

SPECIAL FEATURES

DISC ONE – FEATURE & EXTRAS (4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY)

• 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray™ presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
• Original uncompressed stereo audio and DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Audio commentaries by film historian Paul M Sammon and Mike White (The Projection Booth podcast)
Impressions of Dune: 2003 making-of documentary, featuring interviews with star Kyle MacLachlan, producer Raffaella de Laurentiis, cinematographer Freddie Francis, editor Antony Gibbs and many others
Designing Dune, Dune FX, Dune Models & Miniatures, Dune Costumes: 2005 featurettes
• Eleven deleted scenes from the film, with a 2005 introduction by Raffaella de Laurentiis
Destination Dune: 1983 promotional featurette
• Theatrical trailers and TV spots
• Image galleries

DISC TWO – BONUS DISC (BLU-RAY)

Beyond Imagination: Merchandising Dune: Collector Brian Sillman explores the bizarre toys and ephemera that was created to promote the film – and there was quite a lot.
• Prophecy Fulfilled: Scoring Dune, Toto’s Steve Lukather and Steve Porcaro, and film music historian Tim Greiving explore the film’s music score, and the importance of the state-of-the-art synthesisers used.
• Interviews with make-up effects artist Giannetto de Rossi (2020), production coordinator Golda Offenheim (2003), actor Paul Smith (2008) and make-up effects artist Christopher Tucker

4K ULTRA HD LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

• Brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative
• 60-page collector’s book featuring new writing on the film by Andrew Nette, Christian McCrea and Charlie Brigden, an American Cinematographer interview with sound designer Alan Splet from 1984, excerpts from an interview with the director from Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch and a Dune Terminology glossary from the original release
• Large fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dániel Taylor
• Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions
• Reversible sleeve packaging featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dániel Taylor

Godzilla: The Showa-era (1954-1975) | I’m roaring with excitement over Criterion’s beast of a Blu-ray box set

67-years-ago, Japan’s monster movie genre, kaiju-eiga, rose out of the sea in the guise of Godzilla. Over the following decades, Toho’s terrifying symbol of nuclear annihilation has transformed into a superhero in a series of films ranging from serious sci-fi to bubblegum pop. I’ve grown up with Godzilla and his many allies and adversaries, and count Mothra, Ghidora, Hedorah and Mechagodzilla among my favourites of the Shōwa-era (1957-1975).

With Godzilla vs Kong now streaming, I thought it would be the best time to share my thoughts about Criterion’s eight-disc box-set, which I have been watching whilst in lockdown. It features a bonanza of extra content as well as a monster-sized book featuring great artwork*** and new writing about each of the films. Let the roaring begin…

Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1954)
In June 1953, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms rampaged through New York where it unleashed a deadly prehistoric contagion before being burned alive in an inferno at Coney Island. Then, in October 1954, Japan faced another radioactive monster from the deep, Gojira.

This superior and deadly serious atomic age sci-fi is an all-time classic and looks better than ever in HD. The human story is a blunt yet purposeful metaphor for Japan’s post-war nuclear holocaust fears, and Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects and miniature sets are and still look fantastic. But what I love most about this Japanese original is Akira Ifukube’s powerful, yet melancholy score. The US version, featuring Raymond Burr, is also included. 

Godzilla Raids Again (dir. Motoyoshi Oda, 1955)
Released in the US as Gigantis, the Fire Monster, this black and white sequel sees Godzilla going up against his first foe – an ankylosaurus called Anguirus. This time, Osaka’s ancient port city ends up in ruins after the two monsters do battle outside the historical caste. The human story involves a group of convicts whose escape plans go awry when the city’s subway is flooded (in one of the film’s best sequences). Meanwhile, two pilots (Hiroshi Koizumi and Minoru Chiaki) working for a tuna cannery company who end up the film’s unlikely heroes. Anguirus is no match for Godzilla, but the returning titan ends up buried in an avalanche of ice and rock.

King Kong vs Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, Thomas Montgomery, 1963)
After seven years in hibernation, Godzilla rampages once more – and this time in glorious colour. This Toho-Universal co-production (based on an original idea by Willis O’Brien) opens with one of the best sequences in the entire franchise – a giant octopus attacking an island village. Kong defeats the creature, then falls fast asleep after eating some irresistible berry juice. While resting, he’s transported to Japan by a pharmaceutical company who plan to put Kong on show. But with Godzilla on the warpath, it’s not before they engage in some rock-throwing and fire-breathing; with Tokyo once more facing destruction. The wrestling titans end up in an underwater battle after destroying Atami Castle, where the final battle score is 1:1.

Mothra vs Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1964)
In the second of 11 films and a 1990s trilogy featuring Toho’s second favourite kaiju character – another slimy entrepreneur plans to turn one of Mothra’s giant eggs into a sideshow attraction. At the same time, Godzilla emerges from his muddy to lay waste the city of Nagoya. A news reporter, a photographer and a professor then head to Infant Island to request the Shobijin (again played by The Peanuts, AKA twin sisters Emi and Yumi Itō) to send Mothra to defeat Godzilla. The duo clash, but Mothra is ultimately defeated. However, all is not lost when the egg hatches two larvae, which then spin a cocoon around Godzilla, and dump him in the sea.

I love this film, almost as much as 1961’s Mothra (check out the Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment). Yuji Koseki’s catchy Song of Mothra gets revamped by Akira Ifukube, whose The Sacred Springs, sung by The Peanuts, is the film’s standout track. In the US, American Internation Pictures released an edited version under the title Godzilla vs The Thing.

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1964)
Released eight months after Mothra Vs. Godzilla, this monster mash-up sees the franchise getting a bit of an overhaul, with Godzilla now taking on the role of Earth’s protector. This time around, the menace is the titular lightning-emitting space monster who would go on to become Godzilla’s arch-enemy in the Showa series and beyond.

In a nod to Roman Holiday, which did big business in Japan, the story sees a princess of a remote nation (future Bond girl Akiko Wakabayashi) saved from being assassinated by an alien intelligence and used as a prophet of doom. Action star Yosuke Natsuki is the detective tasked with protecting her. While assassins try to kill her, Mothra brokers a deal with Godzilla and the irradiated PteranodonRodan (one of my least favourite kaiju) to join forces to take Gihidorah down. The film’s highlight is Ghidorah’s fiery birth (overseen by an expedition wearing some fab colour-coordinated outfits), and check out the panto-worthy costumes worn by the princess’ royal courtiers.

Invasion of Astro-Monster (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1965)
In the series’ first space adventure, two astronauts – Nick Adams (a dead-ringer for Vladimir Putin) and Akira Takarada – investigate a mysterious new planet under attack from King Ghidorah (Monster Zero). The United Nations agrees to help, by lending them Godzilla and Rodan, but the evil controller of Planet X plans to invade the Earth using all three monsters under his control.

Esi Tsuburaya and his special effects team create some winning designs here (it’s all very Gerry Anderson), mostly the alien landscapes, futuristic weaponry and Planet’s X’s flying saucers (which I’d love to have as a model). And the aliens look cool in their body-hugging vinyl suits and wraparound sunglasses. The monster fight sequences are well-staged (although the wires are very noticeable on Rodan and Ghidorah). There are also some comic antics from Godzilla when he does his victory dance (inspired by Fujio Akatsuka’s manga Oso Matsu-kun, where the main character jumps up in a particular pose while shouting ‘Shie!’).

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1966)
In this South Seas island-set James Bondian adventure, a new team took charge of the film’s direction, score and special effects and it’s quite the colourful confection all to the strains of some jazzy guitar riffs. The story follows young Ryota (Toru Watanabe) as he goes in search for his missing brother on a stolen yacht with two companions and a stowaway (Akira Takarada). After being attacked by the titular Ebirah (a giant lobster), during a storm, they get shipwrecked on an island where The Red Bamboo (a secret army) are building atomic weapons for a planned attack on Japan. Discovering this, the foursome and a young native girl try to help the island’s captive workforce (from Mothra’s Infant Island) to escape. At the same time, Godzilla gets a rude awakening beneath the island. The film’s standout scene is an aerial attack on Godzilla, while Mothra makes a welcome return.

Son of Godzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1967)
This second island adventure from Toho starts off a tad slow but pays off with some great monsters and comic turns from the lead players. A team of scientists are working on a weather control system on Sollgel Island when a mishap results in a radioactive storm, causing the island’s oversized mantises to grow to gigantic size. Godzilla then comes to the rescue when they unearth an egg that hatches a baby Godzilla. As Godzilla teaches his adopted charge, Minilla (AKA Minya), how to use its atomic ray (cue lots of humourous interplay), the scientists, reporters, and island native girls find themselves under attack by a giant spider. But guess who comes to the rescue? I loved the mantises’ design (Kamacuras – AKA Gimantis) and the spider (Kumonga AKA Spiga) here, and the jazzy music is a plus. The only downside for me was Minilla – but little kids loved him.

Destroy All Monsters (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1968)
Toho planned to end the Godzilla series with this monster mash-up and, wanting to out with a bang, reuniting the original 1954 creative team. It’s 1999, and the world’s monsters are now all housed on Monsterland island under the United Nations Science Committee’s watchful eye. But when an alien race called the Kilaaks (who wear a nice line in silver lamé) use mind control on the monsters, all hell breaks loose. Rodan attacks Moscow, Mothra Beijing, Manda London, Baragon Paris and Godzilla New York (beginning with the UN HQ). After the UNSC retaliate by destroying the Kilaaks lunar outpost, the aliens call in King Ghidorah to protect their secret base at Mount Fuji. Godzilla, Minilla, Mothra, Rodan, Gorosaurus, Anguirus, and Kumonga join forces to take down the fire-breathing serpent. But the Kilaaks have a new surprise: a Fire Dragon.

This was the first Godzilla film I saw (aged seven), and it made me a life-long fan. The action set pieces are well-orchestrated, while the primary coloured sets, costumes and special effects (courtesy of a returning Tsuburaya) are terrific, especially the Moonlight SY-3 spaceship and the Kilaaks saucers. Best scenes are the attack on Tokyo, the battle at Mount Fuji, and the climactic showdown. A massive hit in both Japan and the US (where American International Pictures distributed it), its success meant Godzilla would live to fight another day.

All Monsters Attack (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1969)
OK! This one is a bit of a dud in my book, as it uses footage from the previous films wrapped around the story of a little boy who some kids in his Kawasaki neighbourhood are bullying. At the same time, Godzilla’s annoying son Minilla has similar issues with an ogre-like creature called Gabara. Director Honda, who retired after making this film, regarded it as one of his favourites, as it directly spoke to children (its target audience). It went out under the title, Godzilla’s Revenge, in the US, initially on the same bill as the ‘underrated’ British sci-fi Night of the Big Heat starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Godzilla vs Hedorah (dir. Yoshimitsu Banno, 1971)
Yeah! One of my all-time favourites. Released internationally as Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, this 11th film in the series re-establishes Godzilla as an ecological hero as he comes up against a glowing red-eyed alien spawned from pollution. ‘Hedoro’ (which means polluted mud) is one of my favourite creature designs of the series, and quite similar to the one-eyed tentacle monsters in The Green Slime (1968). Although aimed at younger audiences, and again featuring a little boy at the centre of the action, this latest kaiju features some genuinely scary moments (all the better to highlight the very real problem of out of control pollution in Japan at the time). My fave is when a transformed flying Hedora’s toxic sludge and gas turns people into skeletons.

Set against a trippy hippie backdrop (the club scenes are ‘wild man!’, and check out the crazy paisley clobber and sealife masks!), it also features a kitschy catchy theme tune, Kaese! Taiyô wo (Return! The Sun), which was sung by Keiko Mari in the Japanese version and redone as Save The Earth, written and sung by Adryan Russ, on the US AIP edit (which is the version I first saw). Russ went on to score the Broadway hit Inside Out, and her music also features on TV shows Young Sheldon and WandaVision. It’s such a cool song; here are both versions to enjoy. It’s just a shame that the US edit isn’t included in this box set.

Godzilla vs Gigan (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1972)
Cockroach-like aliens, the Nebulans, take on human form and construct a theme park, World Children’s Land, to serve as their secret base. With their planet dying, they see a polluted Earth as the ideal place to colonise. To aid them in their plan to wipe out humanity, they electronically control two space monsters: King Ghidorah and a reptilian cyborg called Gigan. But a Manga artist stumbles on their plans and, with the help of his karate-kicking girlfriend and hippie sidekick; they alert the Japan Self Defense Forces. Meanwhile, planet protectors Godzilla and Anguirus ally to take down the space monsters and the aliens.

This 12th Godzilla film was a huge success, with returning director Jun Fukuda putting the franchise back on track after the disappointing box-office returns of Godzilla vs Hedora. Designed primarily as a marketing ploy for children’s toys, Gigan (who sports scythe-like claws, abdominal buzz-saw and pincer-like mandibles) is one of Godzilla’s most brutal adversaries, and also the first kaiju in the Toho series to make him bleed. Featuring lashings action and goofiness, and more bloodshed than any previous Godzilla film, this one also introduced a new trope to the series: monster tag teams facing off each other. It also marked Haruo Nakajima’s final performance as Godzilla, which he had played for 24 years.

Godzilla vs Megalon (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1973)
This film sees Godzilla turned into a fully-fledged monster-hero for kids, and with no female characters to speak of, it’s an entirely Boys’ Own adventure. The scenario sees Seatopia’s Emperor Antonio (The Green Slime’s Robert Dunham) retaliating against the surface dwellers nuclear testing by letting loose the underwater kingdom’s protector Megalon, a giant beetle with drillbit arms that spits napalm bombs and shoots death rays. He also calls on space monster Gigan (who looks way less sinister this time around due to the new suit) to join forces to create mass destruction.

Again, a little boy, Rokuro (Hiroyuki Kawase), is at the centre of the action along with his scientist brother Goro (Katsuhiko Sasaki) and his friend Hiroshi (Yutaka Hayashi). Meanwhile, Godzilla is shoved to the sidelines as the film-makers show off their equivalent to the many Ultraman heroes – Jet Jaguar, a flying super robot who gets his own theme tune (you can sing along with it below). Relying mostly on stock footage, it’s pretty unexciting on the SFX side, while the climactic tag-team looks like something out of a 1970s TV wrestling match. Oh, and look carefully during the big pyrotechnic scene as you can see the Godzilla suit catching fire.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1974)
This penultimate Showa-era kaiju finds Godzilla taking on his space titanium doppelganger. Created by the ape-like Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens, Mechagodzilla (with its head-spinning space beams and finger missiles) is one of my top fave Godzilla adversaries. The robotic menace proved a big hit when it made its debut and has continued to appear in films, comics and video games and is sure to garner a new generation of fans when it rises again in Godzilla vs Kong. Disguised as Godzilla, the giant robot attacks Tokyo but is soon confronted by the real Godzilla and forced to retreat to the alien’s crater base inside Mount Fuji. Much intrigue ensues involving an archaeologist, Interpol agents, and a mystical statue that awakens King Caesar – the ancient guardian of Okinawa’s royal Azumi family. Of course, Mechagodzilla is no match when King Caesar and Godzilla joins forces. 

Terror of Mechagodzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1975)
It’s the end of an era and what better way than to bring back the mighty Mechagodzilla. Again those simian aliens return to finish what they started – the conquest of the Earth. This time around, they rebuild their greatest weapon with living human brain cells and use a young woman, Katsura (Tomoko Ai) – who has been turned into a cyborg by her mad scientist dad – to control its circuitry. Again, Interpol is trying to stop the aliens while Godzilla battles with Mechagodzilla MK2 and one of the campest kaiju monsters of the Showa-era Titanosaurus, a pink-frilled aquatic dinosaur who uses its swishing tail to wreak destruction.

I have a soft spot for this final entry because the excellent production design (especially the alien’s base) reminded me of the early James Bond films and Thunderbirds. And as for Goro Mutsumi’s blue-shades wearing alien leader Akihiko Hirata’s crazed scientist – they are worthy of being in an Austin Powers movie. Great to see Honda back on board and Akira Ifukube composing another excellent score.

BONUS FEATURES
• HD digital transfers of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the 1956 US-release version of Godzilla; and the 1962 Japanese-release version of King Kong vs Godzilla (which is on disc 8)
• Audio commentaries from 2011 on Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters featuring film historian David Kalat
• International English-language dub tracks for Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs Megalon, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, and Terror of Mechagodzilla
• 1990 Directors Guild of Japan interview with director Ishiro Honda
• Featurettes on the creation of Godzilla’s special effects and unused effects sequences
• New interview with Alex Cox about his admiration for the Showa-era Godzilla films
• New and archival interviews with cast and crew members, including actors Bin Furuya, Tsugutoshi Komada, Haruo Nakajima, and Akira Takarada; composer Akira Ifukube; and effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai
• Interview with critic Tadao Sato from 2011
• Illustrated audio essay from 2011 about the real-life tragedy that inspired Godzilla
• New English subtitle translations
• Trailers

*** THE ILLUSTRATORS
Arthur Adams, Sophie Campbell, Becky Cloonan, Jorge Coelho, Geof Darrow, Simon Gane, Robert Goodin, Benjamin Marra, Monarobot, Takashi Okazaki, Angela Rizza, Yuko Shimizu, Bill Sienkiewicz, Katsuya Terada, Ronald Wimberly and Chris Wisnia

The Invisible Man Appears & The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly | A double-bill of Japanese sci-fi get the Arrow Blu-ray treatment

From Arrow Video come two fantastical Japanese riffs on HG Wells’ classic character on HD Blu-ray.

In 1949’s The Invisible Man Appears (Tômei ningen arawaru), Dr Nakazato (Chizuru Kitagawa) is on the verge of completing his invisibility serum, when he’s abducted by a masked gang, headed up by Nakazato’s lawyer, Kawabe (Shôsaku Sugiyama). At the same time, Nakazato’s assistant, Kurokawa (Kanji Koshiba), is duped into taking the serum, which will send him insane within three days. Believing there’s an antidote, Kurokawa agrees to steal a valuable diamond necklace – but he’s unaware that a trap is being set by the police to unmask Nakazato.

The Invisible Man Appears is regarded as the earliest example of Japanese sci-fi and boasts some excellent special effects from Eiji Tsuburaya, who would forever be associated with Toho’s Godzilla series. The film owes a huge debt to Universal’s successful series of ‘Invisible Man’ films, especially so the idea that the serum causes insanity (key themes in the first two Universal films in which Claude Rains and Vincent Price played the titular character).

Interestingly, the film came out the year after Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (in which Vincent Price had a cameo as the Invisible Man), while the sequel was released one year before The Fly (which propelled Price into becoming the Master of Menace).

The 1957 sequel, The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly (Tômei ningen to hae Kotoko) centres on Chief Inspector Wakabayashi (Yoshirô Kitahara) investigating some bizarre murders in which the only clue is a buzzing sound heard at the scene of the crime. With the help of a childhood pal working on an invisibility ray, Wakabayashi tracks down war criminal and former scientist, Kuroki (Fujio Harumoto), who is behind the attacks and out for revenge. Using a miniaturisation gas to escape, Kuroki becomes the terror of Tokyo as the Human Fly.

The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly is a crazy combination of sci-fi thrills and crime drama spills. While the first film pays homage to the popular American serials of the 1940s, the sequel takes its stylistic cues from gritty film noirs of the 1950s like Kiss Me Deadly (sex, murder, addiction all feature) and the comic book capers of TV’s The Adventures of Superman (just check out the cool retro-futuristic cosmic ray lab).

With its young, good-looking cast wearing chic dresses and sharp suits, the film is a time-capsule glimpse of a newly-Westernised Japan and a precursor to the modern yakuza films that would emerge at the end of the decade.

The Invisible Man Appears and The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly are out on Blu-ray from Arrow Video, and also available via the ARROW streaming platform.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
Transparent Terrors: Kim Newman on the history of the ‘Invisible Man’ in cinema
• Theatrical trailer for The Invisible Man Appears
• Image galleries for both films
• New and original artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Collectors’ booklet featuring new writing by Keith Allison, Hayley Scanlon and Tom Vincent

Pulse | ‘It traps you in your house…then pulls the plug’ – the 1980s sci-fi shocker on Blu-ray

Now, what would you do if you discovered a serial killer intelligence was moving from house to house in your neighbourhood via the electrical grid? Well, that’s the premise of this 1988 American sci-fi. And, you what, it’s not a bad little shocker.

Chid star/singer and future reality TV/game show celeb Joey Lawrence plays David, a Colorado kid forced to spend quality time in the Californian burbs with his divorced dad Bill (Cliff De Young) and step-mum (Roxanne Hart). Arriving the day after a neighbour seeming went into murder/suicide mode after wrecking his house, David becomes convinced that something in the wires was the real cause. He’s soon in ‘why don’t you believe me’ territory with his dad, who blames scary-eyed builder Holger (Charles Tyner) for filling his kid’s head with such nonsense. Of course, it takes a couple of bizarre accidents involving David and Ellen before Bill finally realises he must find a way to pull the plug before its too late.

I never caught this on its original release, but it holds up rather well after all these years. Sitting firmly in the kid-in-peril genre, it boasts a winning turn from Joey Lawrence (making his second feature). Excepting those scenes he shares with his real-life kid brother Matthew (whose little Stevie delights in describing the recent murder in gruesome detail), Joey Lawrence dominates the proceedings as the young boy pining for some fatherly affection. And his domestic drama plays out quite nicely alongside the sinister goings-on which starts out with the family’s lawn dying off and ends in a blaze of pyrotechnics as father and son join forces to take the pulse down (along with the family home).

The special effects of the pulse are quite effective, there are some great set pieces and the music is composed by Jay Ferguson (who went on to composed the theme song for the US version of The Office). But my favourite scene is the ending, which I suspect is a subtle dig at suburban American ideals.

Pulse is now out on Blu-ray in the UK from Eureka Entertainment.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
• LPCM 2.0 audio and optional English SDH
• Audio commentary by author and film historian Amanda Reyes
Tuning in to Tech Horror: video essay by writer and film historian Lee Gambin
• Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by author Craig Ian Mann

Mindwarp | Fangoria Films’ 1990’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi starring Bruce Campbell and Angus Scrimm on Blu-ray

Throughout the 1980s, Fangoria was my go-to fantasy, sci-fi and horror mag, remaining a subscriber for many years. Such was its success with genre fans, the company went on to host conventions and awards shows before trying its hand at producing its own films. Only three ended up being made before they switched tactics to become a film distributor. The first one produced by Fangoria Films was Mindwarp (AKA Brain Slasher), which is now being brought out of the vaults for a UK Blu-ray release from Eureka Entertainment.

Set in a post-apocalyptic 2037, it centres on Judy (Marta Alicia), an Inworlder who lives entirely plugged into a computer running virtual reality fantasies. When she gets the chance to be released by its System Operator, she ends up in radioactive wasteland populated by Crawlers, cannibalistic underground dwellers who mine garbage dumps for their overlord, the Seer (Angus Scrimm). But her troubles really start when she’s captured along with Stover (Bruce Campbell) one of the last human Outworlders.

With Evil Dead‘s Bruce Campbell and Phantasm‘s Tall Man Angus Scrimm on board, Fangoria had high hopes for some box-office gold. Strangely, it slipped under my radar when it was originally released in 1992, and having watched it now, I can see why. It’s a bit pants really, and what I call ‘a running film’ where not much happens except people run around – a lot.

It’s also ludicrously staged around the gore set-pieces – which are actually the film’s main highlight (aside from Campbell and Scrimm of course!). I sum it up as a bargain-bin Alice in Post-Apocalypse-Land.

But one reason you should consider adding this to your collection is for the 1990 convention footage included in the extras. Scrimm is terrific and does his ‘BOY!’ act to much acclaim (while also reciting some poetry), while Campbell really works the room once he turns the questions onto the audience about the difficulties involved in the independent film-making process.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
• LPCM 2.0 audio and optional English SDH
• Feature-length audio interview with Tony Timpone, former editor of Fangoria Magazine
• Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors 1990: Footage from the horror convention, with Bruce Campbell and Angus Scrimm
• Reversible sleeve artwork featuring original poster artwork for both the original US release and the international ‘Brain Slasher‘ artwork
• Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Craig Ian Mann; and a reprinted article from Gorezone

Possessor | ‘Pull me out!’ – Brandon Cronenberg’s body-hacking killing for profit sci-fi is a mind-bending original

After an eight-year break, writer-director Brandon Cronenberg returns with another searing sci-fi that landed him two awards, Best Director and Best Film, at Spain’s 53rd Sitges Film Festival in 2020. 

Possessor tracks corporate assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) who hacks into people’s bodies to execute high-level targets using brain-implant technology. Intelligent and extremely violent, it’s a mind-bending sci-fi puzzle with a very dark heart.  

Kicking off, all-guns-blazing, a young woman in a blue tracksuit viciously stabs to death a prominent lawyer during a corporate function. It’s just another day at the office for Vos, Trematon’s No.1 assassin. But something’s amiss, as the host was able to stop Vos from using the required retrieval method: suicide. 

Vos’ handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), worries that with each new host’s body she inhabits, Vos is becoming detached from her own identity. She believes that only by being free of all human attachments can she excel in her job and take her place at the top of the table. And that includes destroying any remnants of feeling she may have for her estranged husband, Micheal (Rossif Sutherland) and son, Ira.  

Her latest assignment puts her to the test. Vos agrees to take a hit on John Parse (Sean Bean), the CEO of a data-mining corporation that Trematon wants control of, and his daughter Ava (Tuppence Middleton), via Ava’s fiancé, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott).

Again the assignment goes awry as Colin damages the implant, which leaves Vos’ consciousness stuck and the now fugitive from justice Colin experiencing fragmented memories of her life. What follows is an internal battle of wills.

In drawing on his own struggles with identity, Cronenberg has created a scenario that is deeply personal and uses the sci-fi construct for some fascinating psychological explorations – ‘Is it possible to maintain a sense of self, and what is that?’; while the graphic violence on display could be read as the kind of cathartic release for Cronenberg (SPOILER: Sean Bean’s eye-gorging, teeth-spitting demise is especially squirm-worthy). 

When I first saw Possessor, my head hurt trying to work out what and who was who. But a second viewing (and viewing some of the extras) helped me to really appreciate Cronenberg’s vision. I also love his alternate reality world, part-retro, part-futuristic; highly-stylised, and minimal: it’s every inch his creation. And those yellow, blue and red filters just screamed Roger Corman, Mario Bava and Dario Argento. I’ll be watching this again!

Possessor is out on Digital via Amazon Prime on 1 February and Blu-ray and DVD on 8 February from Signature Pictures

Special Features

• Deleted Scenes

• A Heightened World: The Look of Possessor: Brandon Cronenburg, production designer Rupert Lazarus, cinematographer Karim Hussain, special effects designer Dan Martin and actors Christopher Abbott and Andrea Riseborough look at the visual approach in creating the film’s intricate alternate 2008 universe.

• Identity Crisis: Bringing Possessor to Life: Cronenberg and the cast look at how the director explores psychological themes through a science fiction narrative, and how Andrea and Christopher worked together on sharing the same role.

 The Joy of Practical: The Effects of Possessor: Look at the film’s mainly on-set special effects. This one contains spoilers, so don’t watch this before you have seen the movie. The best thing is seeing Sean Bean’s body lifecast. 

• Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You (dir. Brandon Cronenberg, 10min, 2019): An institutionalised woman with a brain implant describes her dreams to a psychiatrist. Using the same effects and filters used in Possessor, this heavily stylised short effectively turns wigs, sticky fruit cake and blemishes into the stuff of nightmares.

Tremors | The 1990 creature feature gets a monster 4K UHD Blu-ray release

1990’s Tremors was a hugely entertaining comedy horror that paid loving homage to the giant monster features of the 1950s. A hit with audiences and critics alike, it spawned a hugely successful franchise on the big and small screen. Now it’s breaking new ground with Arrow Video’s 4k-restored 2-disc special edition release.

In the tiny Nevada desert town of Perfection (population 14), Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward’s repairmen Val and Earl pick the wrong day to leave town for good when four giant earthworm creature start feasting on the local citizens. Trapped along with a group of survivors, Val and Earl unite to save the day – and the world!

Featuring a fantastic ensemble cast, including Family Ties‘ Michael Gross, who went on to appear in all of the sequels, great practical special effects, and lashings of action and humour, Tremors is a modern-day horror-comedy classic. I’ve lost counts the number of times I’ve seen it in various formats (cinema, TV, DVD) and while I don’t (yet) have a UHD player/screen, Arrow’s 4K UHD Blu-ray presentation really sparkled on my Blu-ray home cinema system.

But Arrow has really done themselves proud with the extras, and there are loads. The first disc features two new audio commentaries with director Ron Underwood, writers/producers Brent Maddock and SS Wilson, and Jonathan Melville, author of The Unofficial Guide to Tremors.

There’s also a new making-of documentary (which also revisits the film locations), alongside informative interviews with co-producer Nancy Roberts, DP Alexander Gruszynski, associate producer Ellen Collett, and composers Ernest Troost and Robert Folk.

Plus, TV overdubs, on-set camcorder footage about the making of the Graboids (the name that Victor Wong’s store owner Walter gives them), deleted scenes, trailers, TV and radio spots. And ported over from the Universal Blu-ray is the 1995 documentary.

But wait! There’s still more. The second disc has extended interviews from with Underwood, Maddock, Wilson, Roberts and creature designer Alec Gillis, outtakes, and three early short films, including Wilson’s 1975 stop motion short Recorded Live, all remastered in HD. And this monster of a release is packaged with a collector’s book, posters, lobby card repro art cards and new artwork by Matt Frank. Phenomenal!

The H-Man & Battle in Outer Space | A double-bill of 1950’s Japanese sci-fi from Ishirō Honda on Blu-ray

On Blu-ray for the first time in the UK comes Ishirō Honda’s 1950s sci-fi extravaganzas The H-Man and Battle in Outer Space, as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.

The H-Man (Bijo to Ekitai-ningen, 1958)
Tokyo police are baffled when a drug dealer and then his associate disappear, leaving just their clothes behind. A young scientist Dr Masada (Kenji Sahara) suspects that a radioactive liquid found on board a ghost ship is dissolving people into slimy, sentient blobs of destruction! The police are sceptical at first, but when one of their own is liquified by the H-Men, they soon realise the entire city could be wiped out.

Fusing gangster noir and body melting horror, The H-Man (or Bijo to Ekitai-ningen – which translates as Beauty and the Liquid People) is Japan’s answer to The Blob. It’s a colourful camp riot from beginning to end, with most of the action taking place in a kitsch nightclub – where the missing dealer’s girlfriend (Yuma Shirakawa) performs – before a fiery showdown in the sewers of Tokyo. Hugely entertaining, I’ll be revisiting this one very soon.

Battle in Outer Space (Uchū Daisensō, 1959)
A series of catastrophes sweep the globe, causing the world’s scientists to conclude that Earth is under attack by extraterrestrials, and every nation must now unite to defend itself in a battle in outer space!

Special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya and director Honda play out every youngster’s fantasy with this glorious love-letter to all things sci-fi. The designs of the spaceships, ray-runs, lunar surfaces are gorgeously retro; and the action scenes are bona fide Boy’s Own Adventure stuff. Makes for perfect viewing on a cold and rainy afternoon. Let the battle begin.


BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Includes both original Japanese and international English dubbed versions of each film on Blu-ray
  • Original mono audio presentations
  • English subtitles (for Japanese versions) and English SDH (for English versions)
  • Stills galleries
  • Booklet featuring some excellent essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp

Georges Méliès A Trip to the Moon | The pioneering 1902 sci-fi gets a deluxe release

Illustrator, magician, filmmaker and inventor – Georges Méliès (8 December 1861 – 21 January 1938) was one of the true pioneers of early cinema, and Le Voyage dans la Lune (AKA A Trip to the Moon) remains his most celebrated efforts. Inspired by Jules Verne’s classic writings, Méliès’ 1902 short (which runs for 13-minutes on this release) follows a group of scientists who blast off to the Moon where they are captured by the local inhabitants, the Selenites.

With Méliès taking a lead role, this is not only one of the earliest examples of sci-fi cinema but one of the most influential films in the entire history of cinema. The story itself might be slight, the set designs and simple special effects are a revelation.

Arrow Academy presents Méliès’ seminal classic in a limited edition, accompanied by a host of fantastic supplements. You get both the original black and white and the hand-painted colourised version (which also dates from 1902), plus there are a number of options over which soundtrack to listen to. They are a bit of a fiddle to get to (they’re located in the Special Features section) but worth checking out – particularly the prog-rock Dorian Pimpernel score for the colourised version. Also included is Georges Franju’s 1952 short Le Grand Méliès which is a something of a time capsule as it features both Melies’ second wife (aged 90) and his son, André (who plays his father).

A huge amount of effort has gone into the restoration of the hand-coloured version of Méliès’ masterwork and it’s all chronicled in the illuminating feature-length documentary that’s included here. Considering its age and the fact the original master negatives were destroyed, it looks pretty good. But I can only wonder what it would look like if it was given the same kind of remastering magic that Peter Jackson weaved on the archival World War One footage that transformed in his 2018 documentary They Shall Not Grow Old?

SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 surround audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Multiple scores: Black and White Version (Robert Israel score, Frederick Hodges piano accompaniment, Frederick Hodges piano and actors accompaniment); Colourised Version (Jeff Mills score, Dorian Pimpernel score, Serge Bromberg score, Serge Bromberg narration)
The Innovations of Georges Méliès: video essay by Jon Spira exploring the short and Méliès’ career
An Extraordinary Voyage: Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange’s 2011 documentary on the film featuring interviews with Costa Gavras, Michel Gondry, Michel Hazanavicius, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (80min)
Le Grand Méliès: The 1952 short film directed by Georges Franju about the life and work of Méliès
• 2020 re-release trailer
The Long-Lost Autobiography of Georges Méliès – Father of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Cinema: Available for the first time since 1961, previously unpublished in English, with annotations and supporting material

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