Directors: Fred F. Sears, Edward L. Cahn
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

You’ve got to hand it to Sony Pictures Home Entertainment for paying tribute to Sam Katzman. Not exactly a household name even amongst diehard genre fanatics, the legendary producer’s body of work can collectively best be described as “psychotronic” in nature, as he's aptly depicted on the packaging here as “Jungle Sam,” “Schlockmeister” and best of all, “King of the B’s.” The four features collected in this set are all favorites of the “Chiller Theatre” crowd, enduring monster movies which grant us one of Sony’s best Halloween-time DVD packages yet. ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION: SAM KATZMAN presents on DVD, THE GIANT CLAW, CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN, ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU and THE WEREWOLF, the latter being presented on home video for the first time. Here’s a rundown:

Disc One’s first feature, THE GIANT CLAW (1957), concerns a pilot who spots what appears to be a UFO, yet the military doesn’t buy it. It is soon learned that the flying threat is a giant bird made of matter which makes it indestructible against common weapons. A top scientist surmises that it’s from another planet, and a weapon is developed to annihilate it for good. The central cast here (the big bird follows them everywhere!) are all familiar from 1950s sci-fi programmers, including Jeff Morrow (THIS ISLAND EARTH), Mara Corday (TARANTULA), as well as Morris Ankrum and Robert Shayne trying to keep straight faces as they represent the military. The film is admirably recognized by bad movie followers, due to its puppet-like flapping monster bird which looks like some deranged cuckoo reject from “The Muppet Show.” Since THE GIANT CLAW came from the same studio releasing well-crafted Ray Harryhausen/Charles H. Schneer effects-driven productions, this film is often regarded as a joke which didn’t even want to fully reveal its title monster in the advertising. However, as goofy as the thing with always visable strings looks, you have to admire the automated beak, as well as the fact that the it does damage not often seen in other 1950s similar efforts, including swallowing parachute jumpers whole, carrying off with an entire locomotive, chomping off the tops of buildings, etc. A stand-out scene has some teen hot rodders yelling, “Hey daddy-o, get that tin can off the road,” right before getting swept up by the Giant Claw. Priceless!

The second feature on Disc Two, 1955’s CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN, has a another mad scientist with a heavy German controlling the brains of dead men with radioactive technology, prompting their fatal moves through closed circuit TV. He’s actually aiding a meatball gangster knocking off his enemies to regain his crime-lord power. As the handsome detective with a pleasant “Father Knows Best” home life, Richard Denning is on the case, fighting off indestructible pasty-faced zombies with Frankenstein-like scars across their foreheads. Feeling like an old-time serial at times, this could be one of the late-night favorites which inspired George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING, and with a 69-minute running time, director Cahn (CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN, INVISIBLE INVADERS) does a decent job of churning out an enjoyable little black and white thriller with little dough to back it up, giving it a moody, almost noirish feel to it. This is the umpteenth Curt Siodmak (THE WOLF MAN) screenplay to deal with human brains in a fantasy scenario. Angela Stevens, S. John Launer, Michael Granger, Gregory Gaye and Linda Bennett also star. I could swear the living room here was also used for several later Three Stooges shorts!

Moving onto Disc Two and ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU, another B thingy dealing with the living dead. In an unconvincing studio-bound replication of Africa, a sorted crew of Americans are looking for a chest of diamonds, guarded by the now zombified sailors who drowned with the treasure many years earlier. An old lady warns the visitors of the ghoulish legend, which they don’t believe one bit until they witness a small legion of balding, stocky and undead middle-aged men with blackened nostrils menacing them. Lots of typical B movie monster fun to be had here with a typical macho hero (Gregg Palmer), a pretty blonde heroine (Autumn Russell) and best of all, super-stacked Queen B Allison Hayes as a bitchy floozy type. When Hayes goes into a zombie trance and is hit on the head by a tossed trinket, it brings on some unintentional laughs. One of the unique things about the zombies here is that they are able to exist underwater (by jason). Look for a character named “George Harrison,” I kid you not! Veteran character actors Morris Ankrum (again!), Marjorie Eaton and Gene Roth (EARTH VS. THE SPIDER) are also on hand.

Disc Two’s second feature, THE WEREWOLF (1956), is a real gem, especially considering how the 1950s often shied away from classic monsters in favor of atomic menaces and outer-world invaders. Duncan Marsh (Steven Ritch) is a desperate man who ends up in snowy, booze-obsessed town, not able to remember who he is or where he came. Marsh was actually the victim of a car accident and found by two callous scientists who inject him with an experimental serum, causing him to occasionally transform into a werewolf. The no-nonsense sheriff (Don Megowan, THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US) attempts to capture the murdering man-beast, putting him in a jail cell which doesn’t hold him for long. THE WEREWOLF doesn’t offer much new to the werewolf cycle story-wise, but it does allow Steven Ritch to give a sympathetic performance as a hapless victim who is torn from his loving wife and boy, and there’s some really great scenes here, especially when he surprisingly turns hairy in his cell and retaliates against his two bozo victimizers. The werewolf make-up is also highly memorable, and the snow-filled Big Bear Lake in California makes for an atmospheric backdrop. THE WEREWOLF also features Joyce Holden, Eleanore Tanin, Kim Charney, Harry Lauter (as the deputy), Larry J. Blake and Ken Christy.

In terms of quality, it’s safe to say that all films on this collection are looking better than ever! Remastered in High Definition, CLAW, ZOMBIES and WEREWOLF are all presented in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The black and white transfers look sharp as can be, with truly crisp images and excellent grayscales. CREATURE has been presented full frame, open matte, even though the original aspect ratio is 1.85:1. At times the image looks boxy and showcases too much headroom, but it’s hard to complain as it still looks nearly as good as the other three. All four titles are pretty much flawless as far as not containing any major print blemishes, and the mono audio on all is very clean with no noticeable hiss or distortion. Optional English subtitles are provided for all four.

With attractive packaging and menus which are simple but pleasing, Sony has also tossed some nice bonuses into the mix, giving a real “Saturday Matinee” feel to the package. There’s an amusing color UPA "Mr. Magoo" short entitled, TERROR FACES MAGOO, from 1959. MIDNIGHT BLUNDERS is a Columbia two-reel comedy short subject from 1936. It’s actually pretty funny, featuring the comedy team of Tom Kennedy and Monty Collins as bumbling Chinatown night watchmen in search of a criminal with a wooden leg, and they also find themselves menaced by a mad scientist’s ape-like creation (listen for sound effects familiar from various Three Stooges shorts). “Sinister Savages” is the second chapter from the 1951 Katzman-produced serial, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. Hopefully this little cliffhanger tease indicates that Sony will release more of the old Columbia serials on DVD (they did a great job with their two 1940s “Batman” properties). Trailers for all four films are present, as well as trailers for other Sony titles available on DVD. Highly recommended! (George R. Reis)