VCI entertainment has once again gone into the bargain basement movie vaults to re-release three very beloved campy horror and science fiction films plus a forgotten movie that gets a first time release on home video. We are treated to the first ever release of SERPENT ISLAND, and returning to DVD are much improved editions of MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR, THE CRAWLING HAND and THE SLIME PEOPLE (all three were previously released on DVD from Rhino Video but now long out of print). This quartet of films has been paired together as two double feature discs as part of a new "Creepy Creatures Double Feature" series. Not only is the packaging of these movies much improved over the initial Rhino releases, but so have the transfers, particularly in the case of THE CRAWLING HAND and THE SLIME PEOPLE, now presented anamorphic. And still better, both discs have supplements (they retail for around $10.00 each at most online retailers).
Creepy Creatures Volume 1 combines the first two efforts from two of the biggest pioneers of the low budget genre film: Bert I. Gordon and Roger Corman. MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR is the very first film produced by Roger Corman. As many of you know, Roger Corman (who has a small part in the film) directed and produced many classic horror and sci-fi titles including THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE TERROR, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD and numerous others. This film, originally shot as “Sea Devil”, was directed by Wyatt Ordung (TARGET EARTH, ROBOT MONSTER), who also plays Pablo. The plot is a very simple one, concerning the search for an enormous sea creature. Julie (Anne Kimbell, PORT SINISTER), a young blonde visiting Mexico (it’s actually shot in Catalina Island, California), decides to search for the legendary ‘devil’ located at the bottom of the ocean. She asks for assistance from a marine biologist (Stuart Wade, TEENAGE MONSTER) who has taken a fancy to her (he serenades her while strumming a guitar), but he disbelieves that an underwater monster exists. After nearly an hour’s worth of padding the film with endless underwater submarine shots (and it only runs a little over an hour!), we see the great beast, which is more or less a Cyclops/Octopus thing that somewhat resembles a poor man’s version of the superior monster in THE CRAWLING EYE, shot some years later. This is a typical 1950s B-level (actually, Z-level) popcorn film; it is a little slow paced, but moody in certain areas with some tense music to keep the talky bits somewhat interesting. In his first film role, Corman regular Jonathan Haze (THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) appears as a Mexican fisherman.
SERPENT ISLAND, the co-feature here with MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR, has a has-been booze lover (Sonny Tufts, CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON), a Pennsylvanian secretary (Rosalind Hayes, MISS ROBIN CRUESOE) and a cantankerous captain (Tom Monroe, of THE NEANDERTHAL MAN and numerous TV shows including “Death Valley Days” and “The Andy Griffith Show”) joining together in search of a priceless treasure. This is another movie that moves at a slow pace, but there is a lot of sexual tension between the one desperate female and her two salty male wooers (who are always at each other’s throats), as they sail to an inhabited island and face various (unexciting) perils. What they encounter is a Haitian tribe (so naturally, one tribal member is an actor who speaks French, but most of the others are made up of excessive stock footage) and a “serpent” which is nothing more than a large Boa Constrictor (it ends up wrapped aroun Hayes'– or her stunt double's – entire body). A film that can't be classified as sci-fi or even fantasy (or action, 'cause there really is none), SERPENT ISLAND is more or less known for being the cinematic debut of Bert I. Gordon (Mr. B.I.G.). Even though this film is not something Gordon either wrote or directed, he was at the helm for the special photographic effects. Many genre fans will recognize Gordon’s more impressive work on 1950s drive-in monster films such as THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST and EARTH VS. THE SPIDER.
Volume 2 of Creepy Creatures pairs somewhat more iconic cult titles together. THE CRAWLING HAND, one of the all-time great camp drive-in horror films, is directed by Herbert L. Strock (I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, GOG, BLOOD OF DRACULA) and stars Peter Breck (THE BEATNIKS, SHOCK CORRIDOR), Alan Hale Jr. (THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION and of course the Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island”), and Kent Taylor (BRIDES OF BLOOD, THE MIGHTY GORGA). These officials are out to stop teenager Paul (Rod Lauren, THE BLACK ZOO) from killing the local community after being possessed by the hand of a dead astronaut. The astronaut, with dark black circles around his eyes, is possessed by some unknown evil force in outer space, begs the control station to blow up the spaceship he is manning. The ship is blown to pieces, and all that remains is one of his arms, which makes its way to Earth. Paul then discovers the astronaut’s severed arm on the beach with his lovely girlfriend (Sirry Steffen, a former Miss Iceland). This hand takes hold of Paul's throat, controlling his mind and causing him to kill. Paul gets those really creepy black eyes just like the astronaut who was blown to bits. This movie is also well known for the presence of classic oldie“The Bird’s the Word” by early 1960s doo-wop group The Rivingtons (of “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow fame), which plays on a soda shop jukebox during one of possessed Paul's attacks. Alison Hayes, (immortalized in ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. WOMAN) has a small role in this film as well.
THE SLIME PEOPLE is another fun and silly B-monster movie (from the same producer of THE CRAWLING HAND, Joseph F. Robertson) wherein the city of Los Angeles is covered in fog, having been taken over by these hideous man-sized reptile creatures (who come up from the ground and carry spears). It is up to a small group of survivors, who take refuge in a TV studio, to end the threat. The survivors include the director of this film, Robert Hutton (INVISIBLE INVADERS, THE VULTURE), Les TREMAYNE (THE MONSTER FROM PIEDRAS BLANCAS, THE ANGRY RED PLANET), Robert Burton (I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN) and Susan Hart (WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP). Yes, this is the Susan Hart, aka Mrs. James Nicholson (the late co-founder of American International Pictures), who owns the rights to many of the great 1950s AIP monster movie flicks we so badly want on DVD and Blu-ray including THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, INVASION OF THE SAUCER MAN and IT CONQUERED THE WORLD. Ninety percent of the film is literally in a haze of fog, in fact there is so much fog, that you will have a difficult time seeing any of the actors. Luckily for us, Horton and the few other survivors devise a way to remove the thick mist and send the pesky Slime People back to wherever they came from.
VCI entertainment has done an overall very nice job with the visual presentation of these films, more so with the second volume of these sets. In Volume 1, THE MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR is a very nice full screen transfer which at the very least equals the previous Rhino release. The detail on black and white picture is nice, if nothing spectacular, while SERPENT ISLAND looks to be taken from a 16mm Medallion TV Enterprises print. The transfer on this is marginal (colors look somewhat muted, but I supposed they always did) and for those that like this movie, at least it has finally been released on home video, despite the quality. Both films carry sufficient mono tracks, with MONSTER having some fluctuating high and low points in dialogue, mostly caused by the original no-budget production values.
Volume 2 is where I can easily say that both THE CRAWLING HAND and THE SLIME PEOPLE have never looked better. I can confidently declare that you can retire those old Rhino discs. VCI presents both films in attractive anamorphic (1.78:1) black and white transfers, culled from overall clean print sources (only SLIME PEOPLE gets a bit a tatty during optically-enhanced fog sequences). Overall, the contrasts are sharp, and only occasionally soft, and black and grey levels are satisfactory. The mono English audio on both titles is fine, with occasional pops and hiss.
As alluded to earlier in this review, these double feature discs have some supplements on them. Volume 1 has a Roger Corman (spelled incorrectly as “Coreman” on the disc's extras menu) phone interview conducted by author and film historian Tom Weaver. This 30-minute piece is very informative as Corman (now celebrating his seventh decade in the film industry!) discusses many topics concerning MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR, including how he raised the money ($12,000) to make the picture, how he was able to receive a producer credit, the original title of the film, and his thoughts on the cast and crew, including Wyatt Ordung, Anne Kimbell, Stuart Wade and a few others. In a separate audio piece running nearly 30 minutes, Weaver provides further trivia on the film, with more behind-the-scenes inside information and interview quotes (including some bits from Corman’s autobiography, as he apparently wouldn’t address certain subjects related to MONSTER during the recent phone talk). There is also an original MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR theatrical trailer and a section of non-dialog deleted scenes which consist of removed footage of Julie’s underwater swimming, as well as more shots of the one-man submarine.
The supplements on Volume 2 include a nearly one-hour audio interview with Susan Hart, conducted by Weaver via telephone, and he intermittently adds his own notes and comments about the film (so this sort of works as a separate audio commentary, running nearly as long as the film). Hart discusses her experiences prior to and during the making of THE SLIME PEOPLEN (her first film) and she apparently had a wonderful time making it. She addresses such tidbits as having to pay for her own wardrobe, the film’s extremely low budget, and just about whatever else she can recall about the locations, the cast and the crew, including the unseen actors playing the creatures. Weaver adds some terrific background information (including a history of its theatrical run, often as a co-feature with THE CRAWLING HAND, as well as its TV distribution), with quotes from his interviews with Hutton and actress Judee Morton, who also appears in the film as Hart’s younger sister.
Rounding out the extras for this disc are the original trailers for both THE SLIME PEOPLE and THE CRAWLING HAND. One final mention about the extras; these are only available on the 2013 releases of these DVDs. Apparently, in 2012 around Halloween, VCI had previously released versions of these two discs without any fanfare and minus the extras So when looking for the DVD volumes with the extras, make sure you look for the initial release date of March 19, 2013. (David Steigman)
BACK TO REVIEWS