It feels like this is a great time to be a fan of classic monster movies. Godzilla is celebrating new success in the west thanks to the Monsterverse, which is getting a spotlight shone on its original films; films like Nosferatu are getting new releases to celebrate their anniversary; and classic films from the 1950s are getting new box-set releases, such as last year’s Cold War Creatures collection. Now Eureka Entertainment are bringing fans three new Blu-ray releases in Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror.
This new collection brings together three films from the 1940s and 50s that take a more science fiction spin on the classic monster movies. These were the decades where the European Gothic was out of fashion (can’t be setting stories in European castles whilst the Nazis are still fresh in people’s minds), and instead writers have turned to science to explore themes of horror. These were the decades where radiation and mad scientists reigned supreme, and these three films showcase a pretty wide assortment of these movies.
The first in the set is the 1941 film Man-Made Monster, which starred horror icon Lon Chaney Jr early in his career with his first horror role, before his big break in The Wolf-Man later that same year. The story follows Dan McCormick (Chaney), a man who survives a tragic accident that kills dozens of others when a bus crashes and becomes electrified. It turns out Dan has some kind of immunity to electricity, and agrees to work with some local scientists to investigate this. However, one of the scientists has some shady ideas about what to do with Dan, and after subjecting him to some awful experiments, turns him into a glowing, brainwashed killer filled with electricity.
Man-Made Monster, directed by George Waggner, is the mad scientist story of the piece. Despite becoming a ‘monster’, Chaney isn’t the villain of this film, with that role being filled by Lionel Atwill’s Doctor Rigas instead. The film played into the fears of the ‘supermen’, of people turned into soldiers, mindless monsters that couldn’t be stopped. Made during World War II, but before the US had entered the conflict, the film is absolutely influenced by the fears of the time, and makes for a fascinating watch. It also comes with an audio commentary from authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, who discuss the film, the actors, and monster movies of the era in greater detail.
Also on the first disc is the 1957 film The Monolith Monsters, directed by John Sherwood. This film is one of the more unique sci-fi horrors of the era in that despite the title there’s not really much of a monster in this film. The movie begins with a meteorite crashing into the desert outside of a small town in Southern California. The meteorite scatters strange black rocks across the landscape. When the locals come into contact with the rocks a horrifying reaction occurs, turning the people exposed to it into stone.
Worse still, the local authorities learn that when exposed to water the rocks grow in size, eventually shattering into more pieces, spreading the rock further. When a huge rainstorm rolls through the desert the space rocks grow to gargantuan size, spreading towards the small town. Now the sheriff and the local geologist must figure out a way to stop the spread of the rocks in time to save the town, and possibly the rest of the world.
The Monolith Monsters is a truly unique monster movie. It doesn’t have a creature coming to kill you, there are no alien monsters or mad scientists. Instead it becomes more of a science thriller, with scenes of folks in labs trying to analyse the strange space rocks, and doctors trying to stop the victims dying. Where the movie really excels, however, is in the model work. The monoliths are these interesting creations that grow on screen, towering over the desert, destroying houses as they shatter and spread. The miniature work is definitely the part of the film that shines above the rest, and is worth watching for that alone. Eagle eyed viewers may also get a kick out of noticing that the town is also the same set as both Back To The Future and Gremlins, being one of the first films made there. As with the other film, The Monolith Monsters comes with an audio commentary that delves into the making-of, by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby.
The final film in the set is Monster on the Campus, released in 1958. This film, directed by Jack Arnold, deals with the dangers of radiation, and is a quite fun Jekyll and Hyde style horror. The film is set at Dunsford University, where Doctor Donald Blake (Arthur Franz) is researching into evolution and human history. He’s excited to receive a specimen of the coelacanth, a fish believed to have been extinct for millions of years. The living fossil will help Blake in his research. However, strange things begin to happen on campus to those that come near the fish.
When a dog drinks some of the bloody water the fish arrived in, it becomes aggressive, and grows large fangs. Even a dragonfly that lands on the creature isn’t immune, and grows to huge proportions. Blake believes that somehow the irradiated blood from the fish is reverting animals to more primitive states. He also thinks this could explain the large, monstrous person seen around the campus killing people, but first he has to make the authorities believe his outlandish claims.
Monster on the Campus was my favourite of the three films on offer here, and seemed to have a lot more to it. Whilst there’s very little mystery as to who the monster is in the film (Blake gets infected almost immediately), it is still fun to watch him try to piece the evidence together, especially as he’s investigating himself. The movie keeps the monster hidden for much of the runtime, which is for the best as the mask used is pretty shoddy, yet remains very charming in its ridiculousness. Thanks to the kitschy nature of the film it’s a lot of fun to watch, even it it’s not perfect. It also comes with a full length commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman.
The films on offer in this set are a lot of fun, showcasing a lot of the range of movies on offer from the period. They’ve got some big name stars, some famous directors, and some special effects work that are absolutely delightful. If you’re a fan of old monster movies this set is absolutely worth checking out.
Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror is out on Blu-ray on 11th April from Eureka Entertainment.