THE RENOWN PICTURES MONSTER COLLECTION
Bonkers B-movie bonanza
released OUT NOW! 1957-1977 | PG | dVd
Directors Ooh, loads of people
This box set features nine films, mostly dating from the late ’50s. It’s impossible to go into detail on every one, but they do have shared qualities. Expect giant insects or lizards, preposterous science, copious grainy stock footage, fag-smoking middle-aged heroes and pointy-sweatered heroines, old-fashioned attitudes to African “natives”, and vintage sexism so blatant it prompts guffaws. In the case of the four British entries, also expect the bathetic juxtaposition of high weirdness with, say, grumbling punters in spit-and-sawdust pubs.
With scripts and production values never Oscar-worthy, the highlights are the most out-there entries. Best of the bunch: the campy Woman-eater, in which a scientist seeking a life-restoring serum puts women into a trance with some bongo bashing, then feeds them to a faintly indecent-looking carnivorous tree. The Killer Shrews sticks toothy masks on some dogs, then has them digging through the walls of a research centre; with its bizarre dialogue, shabby sets and ludicrous conclusion (which sees our heroes building a footpowered tank out of steel drums) it is, incredibly, even dafter than the title suggests. The misleadingly-named The Strange World Of Planet X (“Planet X” is actually Earth – bah!) is barking too, mashing together a Day The Earth Stood Still-ish “alien visitor delivers a warning” plot with a killer tramp and a wood full of face-chewing giant insects. Meanwhile, Gorgo and Behemoth The Sea Monster make a decent fist of transplanting the building-trampling carnage we usually associate with Tokyo to London.
Most entries clock in sub-70 minutes, which on occasion is a mercy. Monster From Green Hell’s interminable trudge through a stock-footage Africa in search of giant wasps soon gets tedious, while The Giant Gila Monster is more interested in talking about hot rods than its inexplicably outsized lizard. Technical standards can disappoint too: late-’70s Plesiosaur cobblers The Crater Lake Monster looks cruddy, while Beast From Haunted Cave (debut of Monte Hellman, director of cult road movie Two-Lane Blacktop) has very muffled audio.
That said, this remains a solid way for anyone with a soft spot for cheesy old B-movies to score several weekends’ worth of amusing hokum. You couldn’t call any of these films “good” – well, not while keeping a straight face – but watched en masse they numb your critical faculties enough to acquire a naive charm.
Extras A new interview with Woman-eater star Vera Day (13 mins); 1999 doc Man Or Beast (eight mins) – a puzzling inclusion, given that it covers films like Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. Ian Berriman
Monster From Green Hell pinches lots of footage from the 1939 Spencer Tracy movie Stanley And Livingstone.
Caught in a web in The Strange World Of Planet X.