IT'S ALIVE! (1968)/YEAR 2889 (1967)
Director: Larry Buchanan
Retromedia/Image Entertainment

Retromedia's latest DVD release pays an inviting tribute to the golden age of AIP-TV (American International Television that is). During the 60s, AIP released a number of campy titles straight to TV, including Japanese Gamera adventures, Mexi monsters and super hero wrestlers, as well as some horror films imported from other countries. When color became the norm in the mid 60s, AIP commissioned economical Texas-based filmmaker Larry Buchanan to make a string of no-budget monster flicks, most being remakes of some of their older titles. The results have given bad movies fans something to talk about for decades, and the odd late-night TV gazer something to stare in disbelief at when said titles were aired. This disc represents two of Buchanan's most well-known AIP TV efforts, produced by his Azalea Pictures.

YEAR 2889 (or IN THE YEAR 2998 as the opening titles dictate) is Buchanan's remake of Roger Corman's THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED, but this time instead of the ambitious Paul Blaisdell creature, we get a mutant in a shapeless rubber mask, dime-store plastic teeth, and snowy cotton hair. Like in the Corman original, the plot concerns survivors of nuclear bomb that has put a kibosh on most of the world. A no-nonsense retired Navy Officer named Captain John Ramsey (Neil Fletcher) and his nervous daughter Joanna (Charla Doherty) survived in their home at the bottom of a canyon, but soon an array of oddball visitors turn up for refuge.

Trying to make do with what little food they have, along comes young Steve (Paul Petersen, a year after his long stint on "The Donna Reed Show" had ended) and his radioactive, flesh-hungry brother (Max W. Anderson); a floozy stripper (Quinn O'Hara, who around the same time was causing many an adolescent hard-on in GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI) and her ultra-sleazy boyfriend/manager Mickey (Hugh Feagin, the "Sergeant" in DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT), and lastly; a sweaty alcoholic ranch farmer named Tim (Buchanan regular Bill Thurman). Although Captain John assumes leadership of the group, he has a hard go at baby-sitting them, but seems to trust the sensible Steve--whom he plans to marry off to his daughter so they can breed babies. There may be a shortage of food, but young Steve is certainly not at a loss for cigarettes. There's lots of lusting, drinking, murder, and let us need not forget the telepathic mutant that carries off the girl.

Call it inept, call it slow-moving, but as bad as it may be, I've always found this entertaining, moody and tense. Sure the monster looks terrible, but it's actually quite horrific, as is a poor bastard who is found near death with an eyeball popping out of his head and pizza burnt skin. The small cast do their best (over)acting to keep it interesting, and there are extra points for Quinn O'Hara in a fetching two-piece bathing suit. I recommend watching this late and night with a tub of popcorn and beverage of choice.

The other Buchanan title on this bill is the following year's IT'S ALIVE--not to be confused with the 70s box office smash of the same name. Needless to say, IT'S ALIVE is a mind-numbing experience, as it must have been for its star Tommy Kirk (who also did MARS NEEDS WOMEN for Buchanan), who tries to keep a straight face throughout. Sweaty Bill Thurman is back, this time as a weirdo with a sideshow attraction--a cave with a real monster in it. Buchanan was able to rent an Arkansas cavern museum for this film, and that's where most of it takes place.

Annoying husband-and-wife vacationers (Shirley Bonne and Corveth Ousterhouse) stumble upon Thurman's place and become prisoners, as does Kirk who plays a friendly paleontologist with a terrible hairpiece. Also prisoner is a frightened teacher (Annabelle Weenick of DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT) who is now Thurman's housemaid. She tells her story to the current cave hostages in flashback in a sequence that goes on forever. You do get to see Thurman startle her with a whistle(!) and try to feed her a dead mouse on a covered platter. The ping-pong-eyed monster has the same costume from CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION and is revealed to be of enormous size in special effects worse then the ones you'll see in THE MIGHTY GORGA!

Both titles were shot on 16mm, and in this presentation, look fine for what they are. The full frame transfer (the correct ratio) on YEAR 2889 is a bit faded and marked up, but no better or worse than it used to look on TV. IT'S ALIVE fares much better, and despite the inherited grain, the image is well preserved and colors are pretty bold. Both movies have Dolby Digital mono tracks, and though they exhibit some scratchiness from time to time, there are no outstanding defects and all is rendered adequately.

A great extra is "Rappin' with Paul Petersen," a ten-minute interview with the actor and former Mousketeer, who is now best known as the founder of A Minor Consideration, and advocacy group for former child stars. The interview is solid, and Petersen enthusiastically discusses his early film work, his brief stint as a pop star, and the fun time he had making YEAR 2889 (he also mentions that he enjoyed the original films that they were remaking). Naturally there are no trailers, but a Paul Petersen still gallery is included. If you like MGM's Midnite Movies series, are an AIP completist, or just a plain old Z-grade movie fanatic, this release will be a welcomed edition to your library. (George R. Reis)