Most of the early American International Pictures (AIP) titles are apparent victims of scattered rights. Some of them are in the hands of Susan Hart (wife of the late AIP co-founder, Jim Nicholson), while others are owned by the Arkoff family and have been the subject of some recent name-only cable TV remakes. Most of these titles have been out of print on home video for a decade, not seen on the format since a VHS collection from RCA/Columbia (later Columbia/TriStar Home Video). A British company has just released four films in "The Arkoff Film Library," as Pal, Region 2 DVDs--THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER and THE SPIDER. Stamped with "AMC Monsterfest" on the back covers, it's hopeful that the titles will also get a U.S. DVD presentation in the near future. Here's a rundown on the foreign release of these long-awaited low budget favorites (hopefully we'll delve more deeply into these films at a later date):
THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED (1956) is one of the earliest AIP titles, and it's also director Roger Corman's first sci-fi oriented film for the company. A narrator tells us of an atomic bomb blast, and it seems that there are only a few survivors after T.D. (Total Destruction) Day. A retired Navy captain (Paul Birch) and his pretty daughter (Lori Nelson, from REVENGE OF THE CREATURE) open their mountain home to a heroic geologist (Richard Denning) and his contaminated, flesh-starved brother (Paul Dubov); a trigger-happy heavy (Mike "Touch" Connors) and his floozy dame (Adele Jergens); and an old moonshining prospector (Raymond Hatton). They all get on each others' nerves as they fight to survive and later come face-to-face with a lurking mutated mess, courtesy of the outrageous monster suit created by Paul Blaisdell (who also plays said creature).
Although the beginning credits are slightly letterboxed, and the end credits fully letterboxed, Direct Video's transfer presents THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED cropped from its intended SuperScope aspect ratio. The image often displays the center action, cropping much picture information off the sides of the screen, and often when characters are talking. Surprisingly, the picture zooming does not cause an abundance of grain, and the image is satisfactory, despite some print damage and some of the nighttime scenes are very dark. The mono sound is adequate, displaying some hiss and pops at times.
HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (1958) has always been a big treat for monster movie fans, not only a follow-up to I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, but also being a fun send-up and tribute to the genre. The film has veteran make-up man Pete Dummond (Robert H. Harris) getting his pink slip from "American International Pictures" after being told monster pictures are passé. While working on his final film, "Frankenstein Meets Werewolf," he concocts a numbing ingredient into his make-up mix that will enable him to hypnotize young actors into bumping off the studio heads. "Teenage Frankenstein" Tony Mantell (Gary Conway, reprising his role) and "Teenage Werewolf" Larry Drake (Gary Clarke, taking over for Michael Landon) are unleashed to do damage, and even Pete dons make-up to attack a nosy security guard.
Direct Video's DVD of HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER is of decent picture quality, on par with the old RCA/Columbia VHS release. Sometimes the image is too bright, but satisfactory overall. The original color sequence--displaying the last ten minutes in full color--is thankfully included here and is a delight to behold. It reminds one of HOUSE OF WAX, and it's great to see busts of other AIP monsters in color. Presented full frame, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER's original aspect ratio was most likely 1.85:1, as its stagey scene set-ups display far too much headroom with an open matte. The mono sound is adequate.
The final two titles of this foursome are from director Bert I. Gordon (aka "Mr. BIG"): WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST and THE SPIDER. WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST is an inferior sequel to Burt's THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (with lengthy padding from it), with Duncan 'Dean' Parkin (also the titular THE CYCLOPS for Mr. BIG) this time as the enlarged Col. Glenn Manning. The giant has now lost an eye, and half his face is skull-like, probably to hide the fact that he's played by a different actor (he also groans and growls, speaking only once or twice). The colossal man is discovered in Mexico, captured by the military after by feeding him drugged loaves of bread, and his subjected to a home-movie slide show before escaping and wreaking havoc at Griffith Park. His over concerned sister (Sally Fraser) stops him from tossing a bus full of kids, and at the very end, the picture turns to full color (a typical AIP gimmick appropriately contained on this DVD presentation).
The other Bert I. Gordon title is THE SPIDER (AKA EARTH VS. THE SPIDER), and it's no doubt one of the best. When a teenage girl's (June Kenney) father doesn't come home, she and her boyfriend go out searching and discover his wrecked car, leading them to a nearby cave with a giant spider in it. They bring back the Sheriff (husky Gene Roth from SHE DEMONS and 50s "Three Stooges" shorts) and a concerned teacher (Ed Kemmer) and spray the bugger with DDT. Thinking it dead, they haul it back to the school gymnasium where it awakens to terrorize some rock n' rolling teens, and then the entire town. A real tarantula is used and the usual rear projection effects are in check.
Both WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST and THE SPIDER are presented full frame and seem to be culled from the same transfers aired here in the US on AMC. The black and white images are acceptable. There are minimal examples of print damage, but detail is very good and blacks are deep. These two Bert Gordon titles most likely should be letterboxed at 1.66:1 or 1.85:1, but the full screen framing doesn't look that bad, unlike HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER. The audio tracks detect some background noise, but nothing too problematic.
Aside from the great individual packaging (including original poster art), all four titles have the same extras. Inside each disc is a fold-out of postcard-size reproductions of classic AIP posters. Trailers for the four titles are on each disc, as are trailers for THE SHE-CREATURE, THE BRAIN EATERS, VOODOO WOMAN, THE UNDEAD, BLOOD OF DRACULA and REFORM SCHOOL GIRL--all which Direct Video plan to release in the UK There is a 50 minute audio interview with Samuel Z. Arkoff, recorded in 1991 at the National Film Theatre which is accompanied by photos taken of him at the time (actually, the same half-a-dozen or so photos are repeated over and over). Arkoff's lecture shows what a great speaker and showmen he was, relating stories about Roger Corman, Vincent Price, Martin Scorsese, and many others. All discs have optional German and Dutch subtitles.
It's wonderful that some of these early AIP/Arkoff titles are beginning to be unleashed on the DVD market, even if it's just in the UK for the time being. At any rate, with "AMC Monsterfest" clearly visible here and with their merchandising line of AIP monster figures on the way, it's inevitable that these will also make their way to U.S. DVD releases in the near future. While some of the early AIP titles (I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, etc.) still remain tied up with rights issues, this is still great progress. (George R. Reis)
BACK TO REVIEWS