Proclaiming themselves as “The Leader In Restoration And Colorization Technology,” Legend Films has been blessing (and some would argue cursing) drive-in movie fans with their recent DVD releases of well-known Public Domain titles. In conjunction with Genius Entertainment, Legend Films has released several desirable DVDs that contain both a restored black and white version of a film, along with a colorized version. One of their most recent releases replicates an original drive-in double feature from 1959, showcasing THE KILLER SHREWS along with THE GIANT GILA MONSTER. Both PD titles have seen at least four previous DVD releases from numerous companies in varying levels of quality, and fans have been clamoring for definitive versions. So, how does this latest release from Legend Films stand up against the countless others that have come before? I have some good news for you, so let’s take a closer look.
Sharing the same production company and distributor, and almost the exact same crew, THE KILLER SHREWS and THE GIANT GILA MONSTER helped to close out the glorious 1950s with a delirious double-bill of over-sized animal mutations. The vast majority of fans reading this review are very familiar with the films themselves (and have probably read numerous synopses from the previous DVD releases), so we’ll spend more time evaluating the DVD release itself.
THE KILLER SHREWS stars James Best (SHOCK CORRIDOR, MIND WARP, TV’s “The Dukes Of Hazzard”) as Capt. Thorne Sherman, who becomes stranded on an island along with a team of scientists who have isolated themselves in order to conduct experiments meant to solve the world’s over-population problems. Expectedly, these experiments go horribly wrong, and a collection of tiny shrews grow to the size of greyhound dogs and begin feasting on the island’s inhabitants.
Previously released onto DVD by (but, not limited to) Goodtimes in ’05, Alpha in ’02, Madacy in ’01, and Diamond in ’99, the Legend Films DVD of THE KILLER SHREWS easily trumps all the previous releases in regards to video quality. The full-frame, restored picture is sharp, features a nice amount of detail, and offers up some pretty deep black levels. Sadly, the source print is in terrible shape, riddled with numerous blemishes. So, Legend Films has done a commendable job here considering what they had to work with. The audio, on the other hand, does not come off as well. My audio set-up isn’t anywhere near state-of-the-art, but every line of dialogue had a hollow ring to it. The framing and running time is practically identical among all five DVD releases. Sadly, the opening with the voice-over narration is clipped on every single DVD release including this one – it could very well be that all these labels have copies of the exact same print. Despite the battered source print and the audio issues, this is easily the most definitive version of THE KILLER SHREWS.
Don Sullivan (THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS, TEENAGE ZOMBIES) lends his acting and musical talents to the second picture on this release, THE GIANT GILA MONSTER. Sullivan stars as Chase Winstead, who along with his group of fellow teenagers, are all squeaky-clean, good-natured kids that love their hot rods and enjoy hanging out with each other. The title of the film says it all – a massive Gila monster terrorizes a small Texas town until quick-thinking Chase risks his life and his newly-completed hot rod in a heroic effort to destroy the marauding beast.
THE GIANT GILA MONSTER shares an equally active DVD history. Previous DVD releases include Image/Wade Williams in ’02, Alpha in ’02, Elite: Drive-In Discs Vol. 2 in ’01, Madacy in ’01, and Diamond in ’99. The Image and Elite releases were in Anamorphic 1.78:1 and 1.85:1, respectively. Of those five releases, the Image one is clearly the best, with solid video and audio, and with framing that helps to make the film appear a bit classier by eliminating occasional dead space. But, as is the case with THE KILLER SHREWS, the restored Legend Films release presents THE GIANT GILA MONSTER with a sharper image, more detail, and deeper blacks than any previous release. The image is full-frame, and when compared to the 1.78:1 framing on the Image release, the amount of information on the sides is almost identical – the framing only varies with the cropping done at the top and bottom. Despite the fact that Image’s version fills up a widescreen TV beautifully, the edge goes to the restored Legend Films release for the three reasons listed above. The audio is fine, too, and doesn’t exhibit any of the problems found on THE KILLER SHREWS.
This reviewer has no interest in watching, let alone evaluating, the colorized versions of both films. But, credit must be given to Legend Films as they have packaged this release perfectly (terrible cover art, notwithstanding). Included are two single-sided discs, with the colorized versions of both films on Disc 1, and the black and white versions together on Disc 2. There’s a smattering of special features on Disc 2, including an anamorphic trailer for THE GIANT GILA MONSTER. With an MSRP of $15, I picked up a copy at Fry’s Electronics for only $10.
Despite their understandable tendency to emphasize their colorized versions ahead of the restored black and white versions, Legend Films deserves to be lauded for their efforts. No other label is currently dedicated to restoring Public Domain films with the regularity of Legend Films. Be sure to also check out their release of Roger Corman’s THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, as that version is clearly the definitive DVD release of a bona-fide PD classic.
Arguments against colorization are almost mute here – as long as Legend Films continue to restore black and white PD titles that no one else will, the inclusion of a colorized version within the same DVD release seems fairly harmless. (Matt Martell)
Special thanks to Rob Brown for providing the screen shots.
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