Agon: Atomic Dragon

a.k.a. Maboroshi no Daikaiju Agon /
Giant Phantom Monster Agon
directed by
 Norio Mine & Fuminori Ohashi
1964 | Fuji TV | 24′ (4 episodes) 

Agon is a series consisting of four twenty-five minute episodes that make up two storylines that are distinctive enough in tone and substance to not treat the short series as a traditional four part mini series, but rather as an aborted attempt at a kaiju show.

In the series’ first half, atom bomb explosions awaken and mutate a prehistoric monster and hobby Godzilla impersonator soon to be dubbed Agon (that’s a Japanese English short form for “Atomic Dragon”). Agon has the munchies, so it soon attacks an important nuclear research facility that comes complete with its own nuclear reactor to get at all that tasty, tasty uranium. While its at it, Agon also causes a nuclear explosion, but thanks to this being the 60s, there are no repercussions to that at all.

Anyhoo, Professor of SCIENCE(!) Ukyo (Nobuhiko Shima), shaving-impaired cop Yamato (Asao Matsumoto), roving reporter Goro (Shinji Hirota) and professional professorial assistant Satsuki (Akemi Sawa) are taking on the case of the hungry kaiju. Well, actually, after an unsuccessful fight between Agon and library footage of the JDF, they just lure Agon back into the sea with more tasty morsels of uranium. The End.

Of course, Agon returns in the second storyline to walk into a plotline about two yakuza and a suitcase full of drugs that soon finds the still hungry monster walking around with a small fishing boat and a little boy in its mouth, while vaguely stomping on a small industrial town. Fortunately, our heroes contrive to poison Agon with the suitcase full of drugs, a fantastic plan that at least drives the monster back into the sea. The End again.


Agon surely is not one of the high points of kaiju film making, but at least the show has an interesting story behind it. I have to admit to certain doubts about that official story that explains why the Fuji TV series was only broadcast in 1968, four years after it was made. Officially, Toho complained that the film’s monster was resembling their very own Godzilla too closely, seemingly not knowing that the monster was designed by an apprentice of their very own Godzilla-creator Eiji Tsuburaya and the much superior first two episodes were written by the frequent Toho kaiju writer Shinichi Sekizawa. Supposedly, when Toho learned of that fact four years later, they suddenly had a change of heart and allowed Fuji TV to go ahead with the broadcasting.

I can’t say that story makes much sense to me, especially when we have the much easier explanation of the utter crapness of its last two episodes for Agon‘s absence from the screen. The Sekizawa episodes, both directed by Norio Mine (says Wikipedia), are actually pretty decent stuff as far as ultra-generic kaiju romps go. There’s nothing about it anyone hadn’t seen in the genre by 1968, but it’s decently enough paced, and rather cleverly written around the problems of a TV budget.

It also helps the series’ beginning’s case that Mine does some quite decent work, too, using clever editing and well-chosen camera angles to let the few extras he has look as much as panicking crowds as possible, and using shots of modernist buildings and models of modernist buildings to get the proper pop art city-smashing mood going even though he doesn’t actually have a city for his monster to smash. The slightly pop art-y mood is further enhanced by the strange sepia-toned black and white stock the series is shot on, which, I assume, is the best way to colour-code things when you can’t afford to actually colour-code your sets. Then there’s Wataru Saito’s strange little score that consists of some jazzy beats and a lot of weird synthesizer warbling that suggest a Japanese version of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop and really help to pull the first two episodes into the realm of the cheap yet formally interesting.


The special effects themselves are all over the place; there are some very fine model shots, but there are also horrible moments like the one where a very bad Agon doll just stands in a pool of water standing in for the monster appearing out of the sea: The Agon suit itself does look good enough from a certain angle, but there’s a lack of detail in its face and an immobility about its whole head – especially the eyes – that’s never convincing, but is survivable as long as Mine shoots around it.

Unfortunately, Fuminori Ohashi, the director of the final two episodes does not keep up with these minor aesthetic achievements at all. The director instead opts for a bland point and shoot style that seems ready-made to show off all the worst sides of the series’ effects work, with Agon walking around with a boat model crammed into its mouth for about twenty minutes being one of the most embarrassing – though of course really pretty funny – things I’ve ever seen in a kaiju picture; and I’ve watched all of the original Gamera movies by now. For some reason, Saito’s music isn’t put to any decent use at all anymore, either, warbling around ineffectively and utterly divorced from what’s going on on screen. It’s difficult to watch these final two episodes and not think nobody involved in the production actually gave a damn about what they were doing.

Apart from Agon’s boating trip, the so crap it’s funny part of the later episodes also includes long shots of the monster standing around not moving a muscle (one suspects the suit actor was on holiday), and one of the more undignified methods of getting rid of a kaiju I’ve ever had the dubious luck to witness. Don’t do drugs, giant monsters, okay?

The rapid decrease in quality is a bit sad, really, for while the script of the show’s first storyline doesn’t have an original bone in its body, its execution speaks of enthusiasm and creativity behind the camera, and it’s not difficult to imagine the show the first two episodes promise to be a lot of fun to watch.

The Horror!? is a regular cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.

Gamera, the Giant Monster

a.k.a. Daikaiju Gamera
Daiei Motion Picture Co.
year: 1965
runtime: 78′
country: Japan
director: Noriaki Yuasa
cast: Eiji Funakoshi, Harumi Kiritachi,
Junichiro Yamashiko, Yoshiro Ichida,
Michiko Sugata, Yoshiro Kitahara,
Jun Hamamura, Kenji Oyama,
Munehiko Takada, Yoshio Yoshida
writer: Nisan Takahashi
cinematography: Nobuo Munekawa
music: Tadashi Yamauchi
disc rating:
disc company: Shout! Factory
release date: May 18, 2010
retail price: $19.99
disc details: Region 1 / NTSC / dual layer
video: 16:9 anamorphic / 2.26:1 / progressive
audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic (Japanese)
subtitles: English
special features: Audio commentary with
August Ragone, Retrospective documentary,
image galleries, original theatrical trailer
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Reviewed from a screener provided by Shout! Factory, LLC

1965 was a banner year for kaiju eiga. Toho’s Godzilla series was becoming a full-fledged franchise after the double whammy success of Mothra vs. Godzilla and Ghidrah the Three Headed Monster the previous year, and was utterly unchallenged in the Japanese market except, perhaps, by Toho’s own deluge of effects productions.  But Daiei Motion Picture Co. and executive producer Masaichi Nagata were about to change all of that forever, and unleash their own iconic monster hero upon an unsuspecting public.

From humble beginnings (according to anecdote, Nagata had a vision of a tortoise sailing through the clouds while traveling by plane and returned to Daiei, ordering his staff to turn that vision into a film) Gamera, the giant flying turtle and unlikely savior of children far and wide, would rise, spawning a profitable franchise that still boasts legions of fans both in Japan and abroad today.  The first of eight, Gamera, the Giant Monster was an experiment for Nagata, taking his first giant leap into Toho-style monster mayhem (he would go on to produce the Daimajin and Yokai trilogies along with 7 Gamera sequels).  Filmed in black and white, directed by the then inexperienced Noriaka Yuasa and plagued with the production troubles from start to finish, Gamera paid off big time for Daiei, and proved for the first time that others could hold their own against Toho’s seemingly unstoppable special effects juggernaut.

Godzilla‘s warning against nuclear proliferation had obviously fallen on deaf ears by the time of Gamera’s production, and the possibility of our world being reduced to a few irradiated ruins seemed very, very real.  Not surprisingly it’s a skirmish between the Russians and the Americans, not the irresponsible testing of nuclear weaponry, that awakens Gamera from his slumbering, fissuring the Arctic ice and spewing him forth amidst fountains of slush and steam.  Hungry for fuel stuffs, the monster makes short work of a scientific research vessel before diving into the sea and making an inevitable bee-line for the busy streets of Tokyo.

Hot on Gamera’s trail is Dr. Hidaka (Eiji Funakoshi, Fires on the Plain), a survivor of the research expedition violently interrupted by the monster’s arrival, assistant Kyoko (Harumi Kiritachi) and reporter Aoyagi (Junichiro Yamashiko) who, with the help of kindly old Professor Murase (Jun Hamamura, Prophecies of Nostradamus: Catastrophe 1999), look for ways to end the creature’s destructive rampage while trying to uncover the truth behind an old Eskimo tablet graced with Gamera’s image.

Complicating things is young Toshio Sakurai (Yoshiro Uchida, re-christened Kenny in the infamous Sandy Frank dub), the motherless son of a lighthouse operator who hasn’t a friend in the world save for a beloved pet turtle.  Papa Sakurai (Yoshiro Kitahara) is none to fond of the critter, and demands that his son set it free – a sentiment echoed by Toshio’s older sister Nobuyo (Michiko Sugata).  No sooner has Toshio fulfilled the wishes of his family than Gamera appears at their proverbial doorstep, simultaneously destroying their lighthouse and rescuing Toshio from certain doom.  Convinced that Gamera is a good-hearted turtle, Toshio goes on a one-boy quest to sway public opinion and save his new best friend from the utterly ineffectual schemings of the JSDF.

The story for Gamera, the Giant Monster is too convoluted for its own good, a byproduct of writer Nisan Takahashi trying to please too many audience demographics at once while realizing Nagata’s absurd vision of a gigantic flying tortoise, and much of it is just plain dull.  The pseudo-documentary scientific angle that comprises a third of the picture fares particularly poorly.  Such scientific exposition was reduced considerably in subsequent efforts, always taking a back seat to the more usual human drama, but the necessity of explaining Gamera‘s presence pushes it blandly to the forefront here.  The worst of it is a tepid romantic subplot between reporter Aoyagi and Hidaka’s assistant Kyoko,  in which the former’s stalkerly advances come across as far more creepy than sweet.

Takahashi must have realized the considerable limitations of that aspect of Gamera‘s dramatics and, seeking to keep the younger audience members tuned-in, added an identifiable child character to the mix.  Toshio is granted a suitably sympathetic backstory – his mother died just after he was born, and the nomadic lighthouse life of his father keeps him moving from school to school.  It’s a great starting place for a character.  After all, what child can’t relate to that feeling of not fitting in?  Unfortunately, Toshio’s affinity for turtles large and small compels him to leap headlong into increasingly dangerous situations, even putting other human life at risk for the sake of his obsession.  He climbs crumbling lighthouse steps, hitches a ride on a line of oil tankers and even smuggles himself into a military operation, all to be closer to his beloved Gamera.  Future series sidekicks would be cut from saner cloth, but Gamera, the Giant Monster makes a sound argument for keeping its kiddie protagonist under lock and key.

For all the faults of the human element, the monster is certainly interesting – Toho never thought of anything so bizarre as a jet-propelled turtle with a soft-spot for prepubescents.  The original Gamera presents the monster as a far more ambivalent entity than its sequels would suggest.  Viewed by adults as an unstoppable menace and by Toshio as a cuddly, good-hearted creature, the truth of this Gamera lies somewhere in the middle.  Hungry after his millions of years on ice and just too big to keep from getting into trouble, Gamera is less malicious than a few eons out of place, not above crushing a few hundred fleeing civilians while on the hunt for his next fix but not so unconscionable as to let an innocent child fall to his death.  In spite of his city-stomping inclinations, Gamera proves just too lovable (er, unstoppable) for authorities to destroy, leading to one of the most humane monster movie resolutions outside of 1960′s Gorgo – the top secret Plan Z, which puts the invincible creature on a one-way flight to distant Mars.

In spite of limitations in both budget and experience (none of Daiei’s more accomplished staff would lead the project after the collapse of the earlier effects vehicle A Swarm of Beasts Nezulla), Gamera, the Giant Monster boasts an accomplished effects production that easily bests that of other contemporary Toho derivations.  A lengthy attack on a geothermal plant and the climactic destruction of Tokyo are both expansive miniature setups, and Gamera’s emergence from the irradiated and bomb-shattered Arctic ice is perhaps the most impressive visual of the series.  A reputation for crudity, largely the product of poor quality pan-and-scanned video editions, is mostly undeserved.  Full scope presentations reveal intricately constructed miniatures, detailed mattes and fine process photography.  Those on the lookout for supposed gaffs will find easy pickings in visible wires and the like, but those willing to check their modern expectations will have a great time enjoying the production for what it is.

Gamera, the Giant Monster has its problems to be sure, and both Gamera vs. Barugon and Gamera vs. Gaos would be marked improvements over in in their own ways.  Noriaki Yuasa and the rest of the Gamera production team would become more confident as the series progressed, leading to a few real gems even as Daiei’s mismanagement led to ever more severe budget cuts.  Gamera, the Giant Monster is where it all began and all of the iconic elements of the series to come, like turtle-loving kids and ludicrous anti-monster military operations, are there.  Imperfect as it is Gamera is still worth checking out, especially for fans of giant monster cinema.  Recommended!

Shout! Factory presents the original Japanese cut of Gamera, the Giant Monster on DVD in the USA for the first time, and boy is this release a beauty!  I don’t often commend a disc for its wrappings, but Shout! Factory deserves praise for their efforts at presenting Gamera in a quality package.  The interior of the disc insert reveals a anatomical illustration of everyone’s favorite giant flying turtle, easily visible through the clear Amaray-style case.  A 12-page liner booklet repeats the illustration, but also offers an essay by departed director Noriaki Yuasa, character bios, a reproduction of the awesome Japanese theatrical poster and full credits for the DVD production staff.  Tying everything together are the disc / front art and attractive menu designs, all based on production stills and rendered in appropriately icy blues.

The film itself is transferred from Kadokawa’s latest HD master and looks absolutely fantastic.  Progressive and anamorphic in the original aspect ratio of 2.26:1, Gamera, the Giant Monster looks better than ever before.  Detail is strong and contrast natural, with film grain visible throughout.  Damage is minimal, limited to speckles here and there and the occasional scratch.  Digital manipulation, if any, is slight, and this new transfer is free of the artificial sharpening that plagues the 2002 Daiei / Toshiba DVD releases.  The end result is a great looking DVD presentation that upconverts beautifully for those with high-def televisions or projection systems.  Audio is a clear Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic Japanese track augmented with an excellent optional English subtitle translation by August Ragone (the disc’s special features producer and author of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters), one of the best I’ve seen for a foreign genre release.

Many have already lamented the exclusion of the 1966 US theatrical cut, Gammera the Invincible, the only known 35mm print of which is stored at the UCLA Film and Television Archive (which was reportedly uncooperative, though I don’t know the details).  This was, honestly, not much of an issue for me.  Those interested in that cut should consider picking up Neptune Media’s long-OOP widescreen VHS (sourced from the same UCLA print), which is still readily available on and elsewhere.  Flat transfers from 16mm television prints are available everywhere, but are to be avoided.  No English language dub track is included with this release (I don’t recall a full-length track beyond Sandy Frank’s grossly inaccurate hack-job being available anyway).

Shout! Factory has made a healthy assortment of supplemental content available.  First up is an informative feature commentary track by August Ragone, which offers up extensive behind-the-scenes production details, biographical information on the cast and crew (including an obscure cast member credited only as ‘Brown’), and even some opinion on the film itself.  Next up is a retrospective documentary listed as A Look Back at Gamera.  The piece was originally produced for Daiei’s stacked laserdisc releases of the Gamera series and was later re-used for the 2002 Daiei / Toshiba DVD releases.  Featuring interviews with director Noriaki Yuasa and writer Nisan Takahashi, among others, the 23 minute retrospective offers up first-person accounts of the series’ production and a tantalizing but brief ‘what-if’ video reconstruction of the proposed but un-produced sequel Gamera vs. Garasharp. The retrospective is made available here with English subtitles for the first time, and is presented in flat and interlaced 4:3.  Still image galleries (featuring the international sales brochure, American pressbook and more) and the original Japanese theatrical trailer (which looks to be sourced from a newer HD master as well) round out the supplemental package.

The Gamera series has been denied its due respect in the US home video marketplace for far too long and Shout! Factory has done much to right that here, exclusion of Gammera the Invincible be damned.  This is the original Gamera as creators Masaichi Nagata, Nisan Takahashi and Noriaki Yuasa originally intended it, and I’ve no complaints.  As far as Wtf-Film is concerned, Gamera, the Giant Monster is a must-buy.

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postera.k.a. Chorake
company: Chaiyo Productions
year: 1981
country: Thailand / USA
director: Sompote Sands
cast: Nat Puvanai, Tany Tim,
Angela Wells, Kirk Warren
producers: Robert Chan
and Dick Randall
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Plot: A doctor and his friend hunt down and kill a giant sea-dwelling crocodile after it devours the rest of their immediate family and goes on a rampage through the waterways of Thailand.

This has to be the best known (at least as far as the Western world is concerned) of all the films made by Sompote Sands’ defunct Chaiyo Productions, thanks largely to the participation of exploitation producer extraordinaire Dick Randall (The Pod People, Slaughter High, and For Y’ur Height Only to name a few).  Crocodile had the good fortune to be dubbed into English and given an international release throughout Europe and in the United States, where it earned the ire of the American Humane Association for its un-simulated animal violence.  It was even officially released to DVD here, albeit in poor quality, in 2002, having been previously made available in video rental shops on the EMI label.

A rip-off of Spielberg’s Jaws but with Sands own peculiar interpretation of Japan’s giant monster films to guide it, Crocodile is a strange bit of ’80s exploitation nonsense.  The majority of the crocodile effects appear to have originated with the Thai / South Korean co-production Agowa Gongpo from 1978, another film about a mammoth crocodile pestering Southeast Asia whose effects were handled by Chaiyo Productions.  The reasoning behind Crocodile‘s own giant monster is, naturally, atomic testing in the Pacific.  Just how big the beast may be is difficult to gage, as the full-scale props rarely match up with themselves, much less the footage of a live crocodile wandering aimlessly about miniature sets.

I’ve not seen Agowa Gongpo and can’t speak for how much rampaging giant crocodile footage was produced for it, though it obviously wasn’t enough for Sands to wrap a second film around.  Viewers will note that Crocodile‘s crocodile attacks the same riverside village twice, setting the same buildings afire and sending the same Western tourists scurrying to their deaths in the water.  Sands also lifts judisciously from his earlier non-monster disaster effort Pandin Wippayoke, crafting a montage out of the typhoon and earthquake based destruction effects found there to give Crocodile‘s opening more punch.

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To Chaiyo and Sands’ credit, most of the miniature effects work on display is quite good – at least comparable to that seen in the Shaw Brothers-produced The Mighty Peking Man a few years earlier.  The earthquake and typhoon effects from Pandin Wippayoke fare especially well, as does the crocodile’s attack on the reverside village.  There’s a nice mix of full-scale building collapses and miniature work there, as well as some neat shots of a crocodile-created maelstrom of blood, debris, and human bodies.  Footage featuring a real crocodile crisscrossing miniature village scapes doesn’t fare so well, with the shaky and out-of-focus photography indicating that the effects crew had no idea what direction the critter was going to head off in next.

There are a few genuinely fun moments to be had along the way.  One involves a group of scuba divers laying a giant underwater bear trap for the giant crocodile, a plan that backfires when said crocodile sends the trap sailing through the tree tops like an enormous saw blade.  The confusing non-excitement of the ending ocean battle is punctuated with ludicrous shots of the monster doing impossible Free Willy-esque jumps out of the ocean and over a boat.  The fun is tempered somewhat by the fact that none of these moments are likely to be original to Crocodile, but in the land of Sompote Sands one has to take his amusement where he can.

The drama that surrounds the piles of culled effects footage is of Sands’ typically abysmal standards.  Crocodile is nothing if not an exercise in economy, and much of the non-effects runtime is taken up by lengthy shots of ambulances carrying victims of the crocodile attacks from one location to another.  The primary dramatic impetus is provided by a sparsely written tale of revenge, in which two doctors resign their positions in a city hospital to hunt the crocodile after it eats their families while they’re vacationing.  Dialogue is so sporadic and unfocused that viewers will often have to wait until the scene after the one they’re watching to find out just what our characters were up to.

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Side stories are few and, thankfully, brief.  The owner of the boat the doctors charter appears, initially, to be of some import – introducing himself by showing the tattoo of an eagle he has on his chest and repeating some crap family legend about a monster being killed by a bird.  He gets drunk, falls off the boat, and is devoured before any good can come of him.  A performer in a crocodile show and his manager are present for two scenes and for no reason other than to pad the running time, as neither do anything at all.  Especially odd in the dramatic department is the last-minute arrival of a news photographer, who pulls up to the doctors’ boat while they’re out to sea.  The annoying newsman turns out to be an unlikely hero, strapping lit dynamite to himself and jumping into the gaping maw of the crocodile at the film’s end.  Only one of the doctors appears to survive the ordeal, though Sands never lets us know for sure.  As far as he was concerned the film was over as soon as the crocodile went kaboom, story be damned.

Crocodile is seriously marred by a couple of Sands’ usual shock scenes.  A perfectly good sequence in which the crocodile molests a herd of water buffalo is punctuated with a shot of one of them urinating all over itself while clenched in the monster’s jaws (just in case you didn’t catch that it was dying).  The American Human Association seems to have been particularly peaved by a brief crocodile show sequence, in which a showman happily lifts one of the reptiles up for the audience to see before plunging a knife deep into its neck and eviscerating it as it squirms, still very much alive.  Sands may not gloat over the dying animal for so long as Lenzi or Deodato would in their cannibal efforts, but it’s a gruesome sight all the same.

I’ve not seen the VCI DVD of Crocodile from 2002, but online appraisals show it to be a pretty pathetic affair (fitting, really, for the film at hand).  The transfer is widescreen but non-anamorphic and apparently sourced from tape, and extras are minimal.  The out of print disc currently demands high prices (from $27 to over $100) at, so I’ve linked in to the less expensive VHS release above.  If you’re going to see this one you may as well see it cheap.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Crocodile turned out to be just another dull, stupid, poorly-conceived Sompote Sands film punctuated with amusing effects tidbits of highly variable quality.  I don’t know why I keep watching them, other than out of some kind of morbid car-wreck fascination – rest assured that I have more fine Chaiyo productions lined up for future coverage.  See Crocodile for the effects work if you must, but my best advice is to simply avoid it and give your well-worn tape of Alligator another spin instead.  Not recommended.


From Hell It Came

company: Allied Artists Pictures
year: 1957
runtime: 71′ / 73′ (T.V. version)
country: United States
director: Dan Milner

cast: Tod Andrews, Tina Carver,
Linda Watkins, John McNamar,
Gregg Palmer, Robert Swan,
Baynes Barron, Suzanne Ridgeway
writers: Richard Bernstein
and Jack Milner
cinematographer: Brydon Baker
music: Darrell Calker
Order this film, now officially
available on DVD from the
Warner Archive Collection

It’s interesting to look up the New York Times television listings from the late 60’s and early 70’s and see just what the snappy one-liner critics had to say about FROM HELL IT CAME. “Not quite” was the answer in 1965, but by 1973 that had evolved into the wittier “Back send it”. The Courier Tribune, my hometown paper, had nothing to say of it by the time I was scanning the entertainment section for hitherto unseen film delights – for me, the name was more than enough. That it was sandwiched between VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS and CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN did much to help its chances.

POSTERAnd so, following the end of THE GIANT CLAW [my favorite film even then], I set an 8 hour tape to rolling in the ever-reliable EP mode. The next day I spent spooling over the fruits of my labors – a host of films I’d never seen up to that point. IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE was on board, followed by THE INVISIBLE INVADERS and CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN. I was scared so witless by what had come before that FROM HELL IT CAME couldn’t help but provoke considerable feelings of unease within my little mind.

For weeks my head was filled with terrifying images of mean-faced creatures rising from smoldering pits, capturing helpless victims only to dump them into vast pools of quicksand. I was frightened, sure, but I loved every minute of it. Somewhere along the way my original tape was recorded over and I lost track of the film. It was the explosion of eBay’s bootleg video market [since imploded] that reunited me with FROM HELL IT CAME after having gone a decade without seeing it. I was anxious to relive every terrifying smoldering and quick-sandy moment. Boy do expectations suck.

001I didn’t know the Milner brothers, Dan and Jack, from Stanley Kubrick when I was a boy, but their reputation precedes them now that I’m older. Dan had been working in B-pictures since the early 30’s as an editor, dabbling in mysteries, adventures, westerns, and everything in between. Jack got a slower start, snagging his first work editing a western in 1945. By 1955 the Milner’s had caught up with the expanding market for monster movies, unleashing on unsuspecting audiences THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES. Their magnum opus, so awful that it effectively ended their careers, came just two years later, with the August release of FROM HELL IT CAME. Legend has it that the release inspired the infamous review “And to hell it can go!” Is that true? Who knows, but I like to think so.

The script by Richard Bernstein [writer - TERRIFIED, WHY MUST I DIE?] is full of backwards ideas and idiotic concepts, and begins with a band of white Pacific islanders killing their local prince Kimo for scheming with the dastardly American scientists. Kimo is stabbed through the heart and buried upright in a coffin made of logs, but not before he eloquently screams “I will come back from the grave to revenge for myself!” Meanwhile, the American scientists dawdle about with the more trusting natives, curing them of various maladies caused by the atomic bomb they tested near the island sometime earlier and drinking whatever real troubles they have into a hazy oblivion.

Things start to go south when a female scientist [gasp!], former lover of one of the scientists, arrives, carrying with her a new experimental formula that regenerates dead tissue. The female scientist [for shame!] finds a strange tree stump [complete with perturbed face] growing out of Kimo’s grave, and convinces her colleagues to dig it up and bring it back to the lab. They discover that the stump has a heartbeat, and that it’s dying from their efforts to dig it up [d'oh!], so the female scientist [the horror!] injects it with her regeneration serum.

002It doesn’t take long for the stump to come back to life, escape the lab, and begin terrorizing the natives for their transgressions against Kimo. After hugging the island chief to death and dropping his lover in quicksand, the American scientists and a few of their native buddies go on the hunt. The stump somehow kidnaps the female scientist [expression of uncomfortable surprise!] but is stopped dead before it can do her any harm. Though unharmed by the ordeal, it’s still  traumatic enough that the female scientist [...!] decides to drop all of her career ambitions to start a family with her ex boyfriend. The end.

There’s a serious misogynistic vibe running through FROM HELL IT CAME. At worst, women are portrayed as backstabbing and malicious [it's Kimo's wife who schemes to have him killed] – at best, as useless and unworthy of the college degrees they’ve earned. It’s important to note that the troubles in FROM HELL IT CAME all seem to revolve around female lead Tina Carver. It is she who first discovers the monster, convinces her co-workers to uproot it, saves it with a super serum, and unwittingly lets it loose upon the unsuspecting natives. Kimo’s dying words be damned, it’s Carver who’s responsible for all the death and destruction here. The conclusion is nothing short of a wish fulfilled for her culturally backwards ex boyfriend [Tod Andrews], who makes sure she knows that a career is nothing for a woman like her to have. That the movie obviously sides with his point of view is downright insulting.

Depictions of the Pacific islanders are also pretty infuriating, with the natives here proving to be little more than a bunch of uncultured morons. Politically, HELL walks the government line in support of the nuclear testing in the Pacific and relocation of the native peoples of the islands there. The point is made that the fallout isn’t what’s making the islanders sick, but diseases they’re just too stupid to avoid.  We kindly Americans are just helping them when they’re too oblivious to help themselves. Even the writers of KING KONG knew the effects of unchecked Western intrusion into the lives of indigenous peoples, and similar death, mayhem, and destruction results here. But writer Bernstein ensures that the blame is placed squarely at the feet of the natives and their primitive superstitions as opposed to with the Americans, where it really belongs.

003As aggravating as HELL’s gigantic substantive missteps are, it’s the laziness of the production and lack of inspiration on all fronts that ultimately dooms it to failure. The story moves at a languid pace, with fifty minutes of nothing separating the opening sacrifice of Kimo and the concluding attack of the stump monster. We get drinking, arguing, scheming, and a few bits of romance, but action of any kind is in much too short a supply. Paul Blaisdell’s wandering stump, which goes by the name of Tobunga in the film, is a marvellous pulp creation, with bulging angry eyes and huge old-man scowl. It is also almost entirely inflexible, rendering its few horrific moments hysterically ineffectual [the image of it rising from the depths of a fire pit is a welcome exception, and as iconic as anything in cult cinema history].

HELL was relegated to a double bill with the dreary Allison Hayes vehicle THE DISEMBODIED on initial release, finally reaching an appreciative audience when it was sold to television – it was a staple of afternoon programming for decades thereafter. A long-time lack of an official home video release coupled with the fond memories of people who grew up watching it have conspired to make HELL a staple of the bootleg DVD market, where it’s undoubtedly garnered more profits than it ever did in theaters.

Warner Brothers has obviously not been completely blindsided by the popularity of the film, now part of their extensive library.  An early announcement about the Warner Archive Collection DVD-on-demand service mentioned that the company was looking into titles popular in the gray market.  It should come as no surprise that FROM HELL IT CAME, a title perhaps too marginal to warrant a full-scale release, should find it’s first ever officially licensed home video iteration as part of that collection.

004How does Warner’s official DVD-R release of FROM HELL IT CAME stack up to the bootlegged editions that have been circulating of everything from ancient 16mm TV prints to the recent HD remaster culled from the defunct MonstersHD channel?  In short – if you own a bootleg, throw it out.  The Warner Archive Collection presents the film in a fine progressive and 16:9 enhanced black and white transfer that looks far better than I’d have imagined a turnip like FROM HELL IT CAME ever could.  Detail is at the high end for the format, contrast is consistent and natural, and damage is minimal.  Audio is presented in a crisp and clear monophonic track – there are no subtitles.  Someone has obviously taken very good care of the source materials on this one, though that may beg the question of “why?”

Supplements are, as is to be expected from all Warner Archive Collection releases, extremely limited.  You get a generic menu and a promo for the Collection itself – that’s it.  There’s a high price point for all of these releases [$19.95 from Warner itself, not including shipping and taxes, and more from other retailers] and whether or not it’s worth it will depend entirely on how much you value the title.  That said, Warner’s presentation of the feature is peak and fans of the film should definitely take the plunge.

Aside from the fifteen minutes or so that Blaisdell’s tree monster is puttering around, there’s very little to recommend about FROM HELL IT CAME and even less to enjoy. Take it from someone who knows – this one is definitely better left as a fond memory of days long since passed, whether you grew up on UHF or VHS.

Cult Camp Classics Vol. 1: Sci-Fi Thrillers

Warner Brothers [2007] $29.98
Single layer DVD5 x 3 / NTSC / Region 1
subtitles: English, French, and
English SDH available for all films
Allied Artists [1958] 66′
director: Nathan Juran
cast: Allison Hayes, William Hudson,
Yvette Vickers, Roy Gordon
Allied Artists [1958] 80′
director: Edward Bernds
cast: Zsa Zsa Gabor, Eric Fleming,
Laurie Mitchell, Lisa Davis
Allied Artists [1958] 80′
director: Eugene Lourie
cast: Gene Evans, Andre Morell,
John Turner, Leigh Madison
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This is an excellent little collection that I took my sweet time catching up to [finally picking it up from a secondary seller at and getting it, new, for $12 less than retail] and the first dip by Warner Brothers into the vast collection of old Allied Artists properties they now own.  With the DVD market in a downturn and Warner opting to offer its archive titles in expensive [$15 to $20 a piece] on-demand editions it seems that these sorts of collections from the company may be a thing of the past – a real shame, as the Cult Camp Classics label had real promise.

Volume 1 brings together a trio of wildly disparate but undeniably fun Allied Artists science fictioners from the late 50′s, all new to legitimate US DVD and all of which are available separately for $14.98 retail.

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ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN is a fine tongue-in-cheek take on the popular giant-themed Bert I. Gordon efforts of the time [THE CYCLOPS, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, et al.] that I remember first seeing on a UHF station towards the end of the 80s.  It concerns unfaithful husband Harry [William Hudson], his affair with greedy beauty Honey [Yvette Vickers] and the duo’s disdain for Harry’s needy but rich wife Nancy [Allison Hayes].  Harry and Honey devise a number of lame schemes to off Nancy after an encounter with an alien spacecraft sends her off the deep end, but wind up getting their just deserves when the encounter has the unlikely side effect of turning Nancy into a 50 foot giant . . .

Nathan [THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, 20,000,000 MILES TO EARTH] Juran directs under the pseudonym Nathan Hertz and does what he does best – taking sub-par premises and turning out entertaining drive-in diversions.  ATTACK, like the previous year’s THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, is intentionally ludicrous from top to bottom and features effects that wouldn’t have passed muster with the king of the ineffective travelling matte, Bert I. Gordon himself.  It’s all in good fun and over in barely an hour, making it prime material for a double [or triple, in this case] feature.

Warner Brothers presents ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN in a fine 16:9 enhanced progressive widescreen transfer, and I doubt this black and white cheapie has ever looked better.  Detail is at the high end and contrast is spot on.  I noticed no encoding issues though the 66 minute feature takes up less than 3 gigs on this single layer disc.  The only extra is a commentary track from the always excellent Tom Weaver, here interviewing actress Yvette Vickers.  The packaging lists a theatrical trailer, but it seems to have been forgotten in the finished encoding and is nowhere to be found in the vob structure.

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Fashioned from a satirical source script that no one seemed to notice was satirical until it was too late and loaded with props and effects from previous ventures [like FORBIDDEN PLANET and WORLD WITHOUT END], QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE is easily the worst of this set but is no less fun for its numerous troubles.  The story concerns a band of Earthmen, three astronauts and a scientist [the dependable Paul Birch, of WAR OF THE WORLDS and DAY THE WORLD ENDED fame], crash land on Venus and overthrow the evil feminist society that has developed their in the absence of men.

Director Edward Bernds [WORLD WITHOUT END, RETURN OF THE FLY] plays Charles Beaumont’s outright parodic script painfully straight for much of the picture with unintentionally hilarious results.  The cast, headed by beauty Zsa Zsa Gabor, deliver the inane dialogue as well as can be expected but look to be having a good time with things [how could you not?].  I missed this one in my early childhood but caught it on TNT as part of their Rudy and Gogo New Year’s Eve Flaming Cheese Ball special at the nexus of 1995/1996.  It was in good company with the likes of THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO and THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL – I had a blast.

Warner’s progressive and 16:9 enhanced transfer of QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE presents it in its original Cinemascope for the first time outside of theatrical exhibition, which only makes the paltriness of the production even more apparent [there are at least twice as many cuts in the pan-and-scanned edition, which at least adds some variety to the static dialogue takes].  Detail and contrast are strong, though the colors fluctuate from time to time due to negative damage.  The unrestored image is certainly good enough for me, and I can’t imagine anyone footing the bill to improve upon it.  Like ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN, QUEEN is accompanied by a Tom Weaver commentary, with Laurie Mitchell [the disfigured queen of the title] the interview subject this go around.  The commentary is fun and informative, though there are a few dead patches here and there – I suppose one can’t be blamed for having too little to say about a film like this.  The promised theatrical trailer is present and accounted for here, allowing us another glimpse at just how much the film’s marketing depended on Zsa Zsa.

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THE GIANT BEHEMOTH [or BEHEMOTH THE SEA MONSTER, as it's called in the United Kingdom] was a co-production between Artists Alliance, Ltd. [THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X] and Diamond Pictures Corp originally intended as an X THE UNKNOWN / QUATERMASS styled science fiction thriller about a radioactive sea-blob.  But the money lenders wanted a more bankable run-of-the-mill monster, and the rest is history.  The story involves two scientists [Gene Evans and the great Andre Morell] investigating a fish kill and mysterious deaths that are eventually linked to the resurrection of the fictitious paleosaurus, a radiation-spewing dinosaur perturbed by atomic tests that soon makes a bee-line for London.

The biggest draw of BEHEMOTH is its sparse stop-motion effects work, directed by Willis O’Brien and animated by Pete Peterson [THE BLACK SCORPION], but it’s obvious that there wasn’t enough money around to produce much of it.  What’s on display is quite good, though several shots are rather obviously optically enlarged and repeated throughout the climactic attack on London [we see the creature step on the same car at least three times].  The final script by Eugene Lourie and Daniel James has much in common with Lourie’s earlier THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, including the important plot point that the monster must be killed in one piece and the daffy professor who dies to see the thing.  Still, BEHEMOTH is at the high end of the spectrum as far as generic creature features are concerned thanks to its excellent cast and Lourie’s solid direction.  I’m constantly surprised by just how dark this film is compared to the earlier BEAST and some of the images of the destructive aftermath of the eponymous monster are quite graphic for a mainstream release from 1958.

Warner’s new DVD of THE GIANT BEHEMOTH is of the full-length cut of the film, including the ferry boat sequence omitted from an earlier VHS release here in the states.  The unrestored progressive and 16:9 enhanced transfer is crisp and clean, with excellent contrast and minimal damage.  Every flaw in the under-funded special effects is front and center, but that didn’t deter me in the least – BEHEMOTH looks great on digital, and it’s been a long time coming.  Unfortunately the commentary track commissioned for the disc is anything but helpful – effects men Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett are woefully under-informed and have nothing of use to say beyond a few comments on the effects and the occasional condescending remark.  It’s a real shame that Tom Weaver wasn’t approached again for this title, as this track is a complete bust.  The promised theatrical trailer is present and accounted for and is in reasonably good shape, though it reveals nearly all of the stop motion monster effects.

There have been three other Cult Camp Classics collection released thus far, though it would probably be best if we not expect more [especially with Warner offering up obscure titles like FROM HELL IT CAME through their Warner Archive Collection].  I’ve not seen the others and don’t have the same attachment to the films contained in them, but this set is, with few exceptions, a real winner.  Highly recommended!

End of the World

company: Ace Books, Inc.
year: 1962
pages: 128
author: Dean Owen
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From the back cover:

When the H-bombs struck America, they wiped out not only the cities but law and order and inhibitions.  The few who survived were faced with a fierce fight for SURVIVAL.

For Harry Baldwin, survival meant responsibility he had never known.

For his wife Ann, it meant a new kind of fear.

For his son Rick, it meant strange prey for his new rifle.

For his daughter Karen, it meant shock, terror – and rape.

And for too many others, survival meant the beginning of an open season on plunder, murder, and assault – as civilization had ceased to exist!

Despite the disparity in title, END OF THE WORLD is a novelization of the American International Pictures production of Ray Milland’s PANIC IN YEAR ZERO from the same year, barely adapted by Dean Owen from the screenplay by John Morton and Jay Simms.  The irony of the situation is that the story for PANIC IN YEAR ZERO was culled lock, stock, and barrel from the pages of John Christopher’s ecological disaster novel NO BLADE OF GRASS and Ward Moore’s tales of atomic apocalypse, LOT and LOT’S DAUGHTER, making END OF THE WORLD doubly redundant as literature.

The novelization follows the Morton and Simms screenplay to a T, relating PANIC’s tale of the Baldwin family roughing it in the aftermath of the bombing of Los Angeles with a minimum of embellishment.  The only thing I found to be missing was a radio announcment about the calendar being turned back to year zero, a minor point that may not have made it into the screenplay until after Owen had finished his adaptation.  The substantive content of the book only runs 121 pages and can be read in about as much time as it takes to watch the film.

Owen does his best to make sense of the rapidly shifting morals of lead Harry Baldwin [played by director Milland in the film - Milland's name appears larger than both the title and the author on the cover of the book], and allows for numerous moments of introspection.  That’s not to say that his frequent digressions into outright lawlessness gel any better with his condemnation of the same here.  Harry wastes no time in announcing that civilization has been lost and the rule of law ursurped after a nuclear attack on Los Angeles, and when a radio announcer reports that the penalty for looting is death he glibly responds, “That’ll give ‘em something to think about,” apparently having forgotten that he had himself robbed both a gas station and hardware store earlier.


Still, the story benefits from the addition of some background for its lead, making Harry a World War II veteran [having served on both the Italian and African fronts] and a champion of racial equality [it is noted that the only time he'd previously fought a man hand-to-hand was to defend the honor a fellow soldier, a black man, from a racist in his unit].  Owen goes out his way to ensure that we know that Harry is at least troubled by the things he finds himself doing, particularly after he executes a couple of “punks” for assaulting his daughter.  It’s unfortunate that none of the other characters are granted similar treatment.

END OF THE WORLD obviously panders to a male audience, depicting its female characters’ frequent mood swings as un-understandable nonsense that grates at Harry’s nerves more than the prospect of world-wide thermonuclear destruction.  Worse are Owen’s descriptions of the same.  The wife of the owner of the robbed hardware store is described thusly – “She was a redhead, with a sprinkling of freckles across her nose.  In plaid shirt and jeans she looked more like a high school senior than Ed’s thirty-five-year-old wife.” Others receive the same treatment.  More disturbing is the seeming lack of empathy for the two rape victims of the story.  Harry’s son Rick is unable to comprehend why orphaned farm girl Marilyn, freshly rescued from a gang who had spent the past several nights molesting her, doesn’t approve of his sexual advances.  When he talks to his dad about his troubles Harry responds, “It’ll take a long time for her to forget what happened.  She’ll come around.”

One of the sillier aspects of the story is the nature of its threats.  The bombs go off early and are said to be of low radioactive content, making them far less troublesome than the other two bogeymen of the book – bad drivers and drug addicts.  It’s on this first point that Owen elaborates most extensively, and Harry Baldwin is involved in dozens of near-catastrophic traffic incidents before his tale is told.  But its the rampaging narcos [all three of them] that cause the most distraction for the family, terrorizing them on the highway early on and raping daughter Karen later on.

Owen’s writing style is as obvious and uninspired as is to be expected given the nature of the book – I can’t imagine him taking it any more seriously than was necessary to receive his paycheck.  Typical for this style of writing, the women are attractive [an adjective Owen uses repetitively], the men strong and handsome, and the baddies irredeemable no-good thugs.  When introducing Carl, leader of the gang of punks that rapes Karen and Marilyn, Owen notes that “Harry could see the pinpoint pupils of his yellow-brown eyes.  This Carl was under the influence of narcotics.” Carl’s henchmen are almost comically drawn – what self-respecting early 60′s nuclear family wouldn’t feel threatened by a pair of teens with bleached hair, a penchant for rock-and-roll and faces that suggested I.Q.s “at the lower levels”?

It seems important to note that I did enjoy END OF THE WORLD, for all of its shortcomings, and it’s certainly no worse than the problematic film it was written to promote.  That said, it is what it is, and doesn’t offer up anything of much interest beyond what you’ll find in PANIC IN YEAR ZERO.  If you can find a copy cheaply enough [mine was around $4, more than I'd like to have paid but not enough that I regret it] then it may be worth picking up, and keeping expectations low won’t hurt.

In the Year 2889

Azalea Pictures [1967] 80′
country: United States

After the success of their 1961 film MASTER OF THE WORLD, American International Pictures was itching to produce another fantastic film based on the works of Jules Verne – they acquired the rights to the short story IN THE YEAR 2889 in hopes of adapting it, but the project was shelved. Cut to 1967 – Larry Buchanan was working on another of his infamous AIP TV projects [pictures contracted for to fill out their syndication packages], his fourth such film, and needed a title. Having already purchased the rights to the story and refusing to waste perfectly good money, AIP attached the title of the short story to the new Buchanan film.

IN THE YEAR 2889 has absolutely nothing to do with the Jules Verne story from which it takes its namesake and is in no way futuristic science fiction – it is, instead, a near scene-for-scene remake of the Roger Corman’s post apocalyptic mutants-amok film THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED. Much of the dialogue remains intact in this updating, though the scope of the story [already limited to a single location to begin with] has been downsized a bit due to budgetary necessity [the budget for this TV production was around $20,000, compared to the roughly $90,000 expended on the Corman film].

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Genocide – War of the Insects

Shochiku Co., Ltd. [1968] 84′
country: Japan

Accurate information about this utterly obscure [at least to Western audiences] Shochiku science fiction / horror production is difficult to come by, to say the least. Shochiku’s own website offers little – only a few credits, a brief synopsis, and two photos – while the more comprehensive listing at the IMDB is full of inaccuracies [something I've attempted, as of recently, to correct]. The film purportedly received a limited release in America under its international English title of GENOCIDE in 1969, though I can find no corroborating evidence of this [copies of this English language edition are floating around, indicating that a print of it was available in America at some point]. There is no doubt, however, that GENOCIDE received theatrical release in Germany [as GENOCIDE-THE KILLER BEES TAKE HOLD*] or Italy [THE HALLUCINITORY END OF MAN*], as ad materials survive from both of these runs and, in at least one case, the repsective theatrical version of the film has been made available on home video [on VHS and twice on DVD in Germany**].

But unlike THE X FROM OUTER SPACE or GOKE BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL, which have been growing in popularity in the Western world thanks to home video releases, television airings, and rumors of forthcoming DVD editions from high-end production houses like Criterion, GENOCIDE has remained largely unheard of, even in cult film circles, outside of Japan since its initial run in 1968. Filmed in Shochiku grand-scope and color with decent special effects and one of the more bizarre narratives ever to grace a 60′s production [scientists, military men, lost H-bombs, communist spies, insane people, dirty old men, and killer bugs all have their own important spot in the proceedings], one has to wonder why! The answer almost undoubtedly lies in the unwavering nihilism of said narrative, penned by Susumu Takaku [THE GOLDEN BAT, GOKE].

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The Mysterians

a.k.a. Chikyu Boeigun
company: Toho Co. Ltd
year: 1957
runtime: 88′
country: Japan
director: Ishiro Honda
cast: Kenji Sahara, Akihiko Hirata,
Takeshi Shimura, Yumi Shirakawa,
Momoko Kochi, Yoshio Tsuchiya
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Back in the late 1950′s when Toho Co. Ltd’s sci-fi production schedule was not dominated by the an increasingly absurd Godzilla franchise, the company was taking honest chances at creating films the likes of which the world had never seen – it was the half decade of creative fruitfulness that gave us such classics as RODAN [1956], THE H-MAN [1959], and THE SECRET OF TELEGIAN [1960], not to mention the noble misfires of VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE [1958] and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE [1959]. Without a doubt, the biggest science fiction project of that time period was THE MYSTERIANS – the first Japanese sci-fi effort to be filmed in scope and color and presented in 4-track stereophonic sound. Produced by the legendary Tomoyuki Tanaka, directed by Ishiro Honda, and featuring spfx direction from Eiji Tsuburaya and a score by Akira Ifukube, THE MYSTERIANS was a cinema spectacle to rival anything put out by Hollywood at the time.

Scientist Shiraishi [Akihiko Hirata] seems to have resigned himself from the social life of other Earthlings – after breaking his engagement to Hiroko [Momoko Kochi] and relocating to an isolated village, he spends his time obsessing over a scientific theory. He believes that the asteroids between Mars and Jupiter were once the fifth planet – which he calls the Mysteroid. Soon strange things are happening around the town – forest fires and unexplainable phenomena of nature. When a landslide completely destroys the town, Joji [Kenji Sahara] investigates, discovering odd residual radiation that seems to appear and disappear at will. Hot on the trail of the mysterious radiation, Joji sees a gigantic robotic monster [named Mogera - based on the Japanese word for mole (mogura) - but never referenced as such in the film] emerge from a mountainside. Soon the beast is rampaging through rural Japan, crushing buildings beneath its massive bulk and scourging the land with heat rays.

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The Beast of Yucca Flats

Cinema Associates [1961] 54′
country: United States

“Touch a button . . . Things happen . . . A man becomes a beast . . . ”

THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS is a terrible film on a technical level – that needs to be gotten out of the way to begin with. The first of three films conceived by producer Anthony Cardoza and writer/director Coleman Francis shows the novice nature of its creators at every turn and that it stars Ed Wood regular Tor Johnson as the titular beast has certainly done it no favors in the forty seven years since it was made. BEAST has been bashed regularly and universally since being unleashed upon the public at large, most famously by cable show Mystery Science Theater 3000 – one would be mad to say that said bashing was entirely unwarranted.

But as a reviewer who’s interests have been growing more and more focused on subtext, the technical aspects of this 54 minute oddity are of no concern. The question then remains, is there enough subtext to THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS to warrant a serious critical appraisal of it?

That answer, at least as far as I am concerned, is an emphatic yes! By the end of this article [one of a series I am working on covering the directorial endeavors of Francis] I hope that at least a few of my readers will agree.

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