Directors: Harmon Jones and Juan Piquer Simon
Fox Home Entertainment

On the surface, Fox’s Midnight Movies double feature release of GORILLA AT LARGE and MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND seems to be a mismatched pair. Sure, both films boast an impressive cast of eclectic genre stalwarts, including prolific titans Cameron Mitchell, Peter Cushing, and Paul Naschy. But, the similarities appear to end there. GORILLA AT LARGE takes place in and around a carnival, and has many of the trappings found in standard murder mysteries, with multiple suspects that include one of the carnival’s main attractions – a ferocious gorilla. MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND instead takes place on a remote island, and is more of a fantasy/adventure film where our protagonists are constantly fleeing assorted terrors, including a variety of prehistoric creatures. Well, there is in fact a tie that binds these two films together, but since this shared plot device would be considered a “spoiler,” it won’t be disclosed here. Instead, you’ll just have to give this two-disc DVD set a spin to discover it on your own.

GORILLA AT LARGE centers around the Garden of Evil carnival, which is enjoying a healthy business due to the draw of its main attraction – Goliath, “the world’s largest gorilla,” as the signs proudly proclaim. But, despite the throngs of eager and gullible patrons, all is not well at the popular attraction. Someone – or something – is violently killing off the carnival employees, and despite the best efforts of the local police department, the murders continue to go unsolved. All of our leading players are suspects, and there are plenty of red herrings to go around. Are the brutal murders being committed by the shady carnival owner? What about the mysterious animal trainer lurking around the proceedings? Or, could it be the menacing Goliath himself, innocently following orders or simply lashing out against his human captors?

A glorious Technicolor production originally released in 3-D at the tail end of the craze, GORILLA AT LARGE showcases a wonderful cast of familiar faces. An impossibly young and dashing Cameron Mitchell (FLIGHT TO MARS, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE) is top-billed as the likeable hero, Joey Matthews. Also on hand is the sultry and seductive, Anne Bancroft (DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, THE ELEPHANT MAN), burly Raymond Burr (BRIDE OF THE GORILLA, TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL) appearing in his second film with “Gorilla” in the title, stern and authoritative Lee J. Cobb (THE EXORCIST), gangly Lee Marvin (THE KILLERS, POINT BLANK), Warren Stevens (FORBIDDEN PLANET, WOMEN’S PRISON), and the lovely, Charlotte Austin (THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST, FRANKENSTEIN 1970).

As previously mentioned, GORILLA AT LARGE was originally screened to audiences in 3-D, during the magical year of 1954 that included no less than 22 other films also released to theaters in 3-D, including CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and THE MAD MAGICIAN. Even though Fox has released GORILLA AT LARGE onto DVD in 2-D, the entertainment value isn’t hampered with this “flat” presentation. Sure, we get plenty of sequences with the gorilla lunging at the camera, which must have been a blast during those original 3-D screenings. But, when viewed today in 2-D, these shots are still a lot of fun, and never come across as too excessive or gratuitous.

Fox has done a wonderful job with the transfer of GORILLA AT LARGE. The 1.66:1 anamorphic image is solid overall, with a decently sharp picture that has a fair amount of detail. Most importantly, the colors are robust and punchy, as the Technicolor hues come through very nicely on this DVD. In particular, the sparkling crimson outfit that Anne Bancroft wears while performing her initial trapeze stunt is a sight to behold. The print itself is in excellent condition, with nary a blemish to be found. The image is slightly window-boxed, so thin vertical black bars are noticeable on a computer monitor. The English mono soundtrack is almost as strong as its video counterpart. There’s a bit of scratchiness here and there, but otherwise the audio is solid. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French.

Special features include a grainy, full frame, black and white theatrical trailer, running just under one minute. “Intermission Card” presents the original card used during the 3-D theatrical screenings while the reels were being changed. “Photo Gallery” includes a hefty amount of publicity stills, behind the scenes stills, publicity materials, and promotional artwork.

Directed, produced and co-written by Juan Piquer Simon, MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND (aka MONSTER ISLAND) is unfortunately a rather tedious affair. A Spanish/American co-production supposedly based on Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND revolves around the character of Jeff Morgan, a young man seeking out adventure before he settles down to marriage. Luckily, his uncle just purchased a small island, so Jeff and his tutor, Professor Thomas Artelet, set sail on the journey of a lifetime. Once they arrive on the island, they are beset by all sorts of vaguely menacing perils, including prehistoric monsters, cannibal tribes, and merciless pirates.

MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND does have a few redeeming qualities. The monsters are fairly plentiful and include gill-men, seaweed men, giant caterpillars, and two different dinosaur-like beasts. And, the locations used throughout Spain, the Canary Islands, and Puerto Rico are effectively utilized. But, the film is severely hampered by an emphasis on broad humor and excessive amounts of slapstick. The music used for the soundtrack is distressingly painful, and often inappropriate. Another detriment is the lack of screen time for genre icon Peter Cushing (ISLAND OF TERROR, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS), who is relegated to an extended cameo appearance. Faring even worse is Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy (FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR, THE FURY OF THE WOLFMAN), who is pretty much wasted here. While the blame for this misfire lays squarely on the shoulders of Juan Piquer Simon, who had a say in many crucial elements of the production, it’s still difficult to find fault with his intentions. Simon’s oeuvre is packed with genre projects, and he clearly enjoys working on fantasy and horror films. It’s disappointing that with MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND, Simon was unable to channel his passion better.

Whether it’s warranted or not, Fox has done an admirable job bringing MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND to DVD. The 1.66:1 anamorphic image is bright, sharp, and colorful, and definitely enhances the viewing experience. The image is slightly window-boxed, so thin vertical black bars are noticeable on a computer monitor. The DVD back cover incorrectly lists the aspect ratio as 1.85:1. The English mono soundtrack is fine, despite the fact that some actors have clearly had their voices dubbed. A Spanish mono soundtrack is also provided, and optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French. The lone special feature is a theatrical trailer, also presented in 1.66:1 and is anamorphically enhanced.

With an affordable MSRP of $15, Fox’s two-disc DVD set of GORILLA AT LARGE and MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND is recommended. GORILLA AT LARGE is a winner, with earnest and enthusiastic performances from its spectacular cast. (Matt Martell)