Directors: Dan Milner and David Kramarsky

Not only can we be grateful that MGM has refueled its once dormant line of Midnite Movies with a generous batch of new releases, but it's great to see them pay due to ultra cheapie black and white efforts like the ones found here. The mid 1950s sci-fi titles on this two-sided DVD, THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES and THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES, were early releases from American Releasing Corporation, which soon changed its name to American International Pictures (the rest of course, is history!).

On route to visit an oceanography professor, government investigator Ted Stevens (Kent Taylor) discovers a fisherman's dead body drenched in radiation burns. When Ted finally catches up with Professor King (Michael Whalen), he seems more interested in wooing the old man's daughter (Cathy Downs from THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN) more than anything else (and who can blame him?). Meanwhile, the overworked college professor is experimenting with genetic animal mutation. King walks into his tiny lab, puts on an oversized beekeeper's outfit, and using some kind of ray, transforms a defenseless turtle into something large and deadly -- a guy in a paper maché monster suit that looks like it was constructed by a poor man's Paul Blaisdell.

Add some bumbling spies, a nosy secretary, bad shoddy underwater photography, cheap sets, and the most barren beach imaginable, and you have THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES. Well, actually, the title should be "Phantom From 20 Feet Below the Ocean," but we won't get too technical about it. Most likely inspired by the success of Univeral's THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, we only see the monster several times (he's revealed in the opening minutes), and much of the duration has actors in suits and actresses in bathing suits walking and talking near the ocean. It was co-billed on the bottom half with Roger Corman's THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED for a frolicking double feature of nature/ecology warnings and actors in rubber monster suits. Kent Taylor (here, without his famous mustache) went on to become a B picture champion, closing his long career in Al Adamson schlockers like SATAN’S SADISTS, BRAIN OF BLOOD and I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE.

Side B’s THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES has a family consisting of dad (Paul Birch, from THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED and NOT OF THIS EARTH), mom (Lorna Thayer, best known as the waitress who Jack Nicholson gives his “chicken salad” lecture to in FIVE EASY PIECES) and teenage daughter (Donna Cole), living on a ranch house in the California desert. An object believed to be an aircraft zooms over their land, breaking all the glass in the house, including mom’s precious China. In actuality, it was a passing UFO (it turns out to resemble a converted coffer percolator) which can control various animals (including chickens, birds, cows and pet dog Buck) and transmits annoyingly loud sound waves that can draw people to it. When the dysfunctional family isn’t getting on each other’s nerves, they pull together to stand up to the unfriendly, pint-sized threat from another world.

THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES was actually the concoction of AIP co-head James Nicholson, who came up with the catchy title, as well as a poster campaign based on, before any cameras actually rolled or any script was put to paper. Of course, the film does not deliver anything promised by the title or the poster (no beast with a million eyes), so what we get is a minimalist effort shot on location, which pits an evil alien against the human condition on a miniscule $23,000 budget. Production values are almost as poor as THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS, but there’s something about the film that makes it hard to turn away, and its ineptitude can actually be engaging. Executive producer Roger Corman reportedly directed some of it along with an uncredited Lou Place, and some sources say producer David Kramarsky (the credited director) didn’t helm any of it. When the alien monster (voiced by Bruce Whitmore) is finally revealed, it’s the trademark work of Paul Blaisdell, but it’s basically a hand puppet hiding inside a mechanical coffee pot. Future “Bewitched” star Dick Sargent is the lanky deputy, Leonard Tarver (in terrible greasepaint make-up made to look like wrinkles) is the perverted mute handyman referred to as “him,” and former silent film actor Chester Conklin does some unfunny comic relief before being stampeded by an enraged cow.

As already mentioned, credit should go to MGM (and DVD distributor Fox) for putting the time and effort into these creaky creature features, especially when you learn that THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES has been given a new anamorphic transfer! Previously available on DVD from countless PD outfits, the new transfer put the rest to shame, presenting the film in a perfectly framed 1.85:1 aspect ratio, culled from the original materials. The black and white image sparkles with a clean picture you never would’ve imagined possible, with excellent detail and sharp black levels. The mono English track is clear as a bell, and a new stereo track has been created for this disc, which also includes optional subtitles in English, Spanish and French.

THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES is presented full frame, which looks to be the correct aspect ratio. With only some minor wear and grain here and there, the black and white image is very clean, boasting rich picture detail and nice contrasts. It also contains both mono and stereo tracks, as well as optional subtitles in English, Spanish and French. There are no extras on the disc, and it would’ve been nice to have the original trailers for these two, but at least we get the excellent transfers we have come to expect from the Midnite Movies line. (George R. Reis)