“The ultimate in scientific monsters!”
The folks at Shout! Factory, the gatekeepers of all things cool, continue their run of Roger Corman releases with this three-movie, two-disc set.
• Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
A group of scientists travel to a deserted island to investigate atomic activity. Once there, they are trapped and under siege by the titular giant crabs and an unseen intelligence guiding them.
• Not of this Earth (1958)
A nurse (Beverly Garland) gets a job administering daily blood transfusions to a reclusive patient (Paul Birch). What our heroine gradually discovers is that her mysterious employer is—drum roll—not of this Earth! He’s an alien come to our world to harvest human blood to feed his dying species.
• War of the Satellites (1958)
As the space program, which not called NASA but is instead “Project Sigma,” launches satellites into space in the hopes of penetrating “the barrier” in deep space, Earth receives warnings from an alien race insisting that humans not enter their territory. The humans proceed, however, so the aliens show up in disguise with attempts to sabotage the next space mission.
These movies exist in a weird paradox—I can’t call them “good” movies, exactly, but they sure do offer a lot of rollicking fun. If nothing else, they provide a lot of the concepts and visuals that everyone associates with 1950s low budget sci-fi. In Attack of the Crab Monsters, we get the following:
• The heroes are studly men of science, with one woman along for the ride.
• There are warnings about the ever-present and unpredictable radioactivity.
• Said radioactivity is behind the creation of the monster.
• Said monster is a delightfully clunky effect once we get a good look at it.
• Gratuitous use of miniatures and stock footage.
Despite the tumult of tropes on display, Attack of the Crab Monsters remains watchable and exciting. At its heart, it’s a story of survival. Our heroes are trapped on an inhospitable island and have to find some way to outwit their pinchy enemies. Even though the titular monster looks like a Muppet reject, the script offers a series of one “How will they get out of this?” moment after another, and that’s what makes the flick enjoyable.
Similarly, War of the Satellites serves up even more staples of 1950s sci-fi:
• The heroes are studly men of science, again, with one woman along for the ride, again.
• The spaceships are models on easily visible wires, capable of feats like coming to a sudden stop in zero g.
• The first humans to encounter the alien spaceship are, of course, a pair of teenagers in a convertible parked at makeout point.
War of the Satellites will drive nitpickers crazy with its attempts at “science.” Like, aren’t satellites supposed to orbit a planet, not explore deep space on their own? Where, exactly, is this “barrier” in space that mankind can’t penetrate? How can spaceships just skid to halt in no atmosphere? And so on. Still, the element of fun is nonetheless present. The scene with the horny teenagers is hilarious, and the machinations of the evil alien disguised as a human gives the actors a lot of dramatic tension to play with. For another plus, the cast includes the always-great Dick Miller (Gremlins), bringing his usual charm to the film.
Not of this Earth isn’t as atypical of ’50s sci-fi as the other two movies, but that’s also why it’s one of Corman’s best directorial efforts from the era. Corman allegedly wanted to combine two genres, the vampire film and the alien invasion film, and he does so surprisingly well. Beverly Garland makes for a nice “girl next door” type, as we see most of the action from her eyes. Paul Birch’s deadpan alien exudes a lot of cold menace as well, creating a memorable movie monster. By keeping everything earthbound and relatively grounded, Not of this Earth is one of the standouts of Corman’s career.
The three films are on DVD with new transfers allegedly taken directly from the original negatives. Attack of the Crab Monsters and Not of this Earth look excellent, crisp and clean, making the black and white photography really shine. War of the Satellites is in far worse shape, with specks and scratches all over the picture, and hissy, crackly audio. Extras start off with commentaries on Attack of the Crab Monsters and Not of this Earth with the authors of the book Universal Horrors, who discuss trivia for the films and Corman’s overall career. The featurette, “A Salute to Roger Corman,” is just that, with a variety of actors, directors, and special effects experts discussing getting their start and learning the movie business from Corman’s “film school of hard knocks.” We also get “syndication prologues,” which were filmed years later and added to the films to pad them out to a TV running length to air them on television. These are available to watch separately, and not as part of the main film. Finally, there’s a Roger Corman trailer gallery with an exhausting 25 trailers.