The British company, Direct Video Distribution Ltd., recently 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. Again stamped with "AMC Monsterfest" on the back covers (where in God's name are the U.S. releases?!!), they now present two more in the series: THE BRAIN EATERS and THE SHE CREATURE. While the films are not nearly as memorable as their poster art, they are still treasured 50s monsters flicks from the AIP roster.
Released in 1958, THE BRAIN EATERS was directed by everybody's favorite overweight B character actor, Bruno VeSota (who also directed THE FEMALE JUNGLE and INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES for AIP). Based on Robert A. Heinlein's novel, "The Puppet Masters" (also the subject of a 1994 film starring Donald Sutherland), it concerns a large metallic cylinder which emerges in a ravine near a small Illinois town. The cylinder apparently propelled it's way up from the earth's surface, unleashing tiny fury parasites with pipe cleaners sticking out of their heads. The parasites puncture the backs of peoples' necks, taking over their minds in the process. An alien-violated mayor goes wacko in his office and is gunned down by the cops, while his son Glenn Cameron (Alan Frost) and scientist Dr. Paul Kettering (Ed Nelson, also the film's producer) are conducting experiments to destroy the nasty buggers.
Running an even 60 minutes in length, THE BRAIN EATERS is strictly second feature stuff, with lots of voiceover narration and overbearing (stock) classical music constantly blaring (where is Ronald Stein when you need him?). Closer to Ed Wood than the usual AIP programmers of the period, director VeSota still manages to inject some ingenuity with effective "Dutch" camera angles, a nice shot of the parasite's point of view, and the then-prevalent communist/takeover paranoia themes so prominent in many sci-fi films of the time. The special effects are non-existent, and when the monsters are dissolved during the climax, they resemble the strands of noodles from cans of Franco American macaroni and cheese. The heroine is Joanna Lee (also in PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE the following year) and a pre-Spock Leonard Nimoy (billed as Nemoy) is also present, though you'll only recognize his voice.
A very early AIP creature feature, 1956's THE SHE-CREATURE was directed by the overworked Edward L. Cahn, who also gave us sci-fi classics like CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN, INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN and IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE. Sideshow stage hypnotist Dr. Carlo Lombardi (Chester Morris) performs a popular act in which he hypnotizes his assistant Andrea (Marla English), transforming her to a past life where she was a prehistoric sea creature! Of course, this activity manifests the "she-creature" of the title, as Lombardi controls it and influences it to kill. Now predicting the murders as part of his act, he draws the attention of the police, as well as wealthy socialite (Tom Conway) who backs the act and lets Lombardi stay in his home to perform in front of guests. Young Dr. Erickson (Lance Fuller) is skeptical of Lombardi and quickly falls in love with Andrea, whose will is not her own.
Fairly dull and talky, THE SHE-CREATURE is best known for the monster created by Paul Blaisdell (who also appears inside the costume). A scaly lobster concoction with long stringy hair and enormous breasts(!), the she-creature is one of the most memorable of 50s monsters. Unfortunately, its screen time is limited to a handful of standout scenes. Most of the acting is substandard (Morris is awkwardly hammy and Fuller is wooden) with English being terrific eye candy. Also in the film are Cathy Downs (THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN), Frieda Inescort (RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE), William Hudson (ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN) and Kenneth MacDonald, the bad guy in numerous Shemp-era "Three Stooges" shorts. English, Fuller, Conway and most of the she-creature costume returned the following year in VOODOO WOMAN (also directed by Cahn), while the head mask can be seen in 1958's HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER.
The full frame, black & white DVD transfers on Direct Video's releases of THE BRAIN EATERS and THE SHE-CREATURE look very decent. BRAIN EATERS has nice detail and sharpness, and the source print is in very good shape, only suffering slightly by an occasional awkward image-jerking and some scratchy audio. The full frame looks acceptable, but some shots look very tight on the sides. THE SHE CREATURE (which to date was never released on home video in the U.S.) fairs satisfactory as well, with deep blacks and rich detail, but the outdoor beach scenes appear too dark. The source print is in very good shape, although a jump cut causes a very slight truncating of dialog. The mono sound is adequate. Both titles have optional German and Dutch subtitles.
Inside both discs is a fold-out of postcard-size reproductions of classic AIP posters. Trailers included on both discs are THE SHE-CREATURE, THE BRAIN EATERS, VOODOO WOMAN, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, BLOOD OF DRACULA and REFORM SCHOOL GIRL--all which Direct Video have released or plan to release on DVD 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.
Anyone interested in purchasing these DVDs can visit www.dvdisc.co.uk. (George R. Reis)
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