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Featured DVD Review: Roger Corman's Cult Classics: Attack of the Crab Monsters / War of the Satellites / Not of This Earth

February 26th, 2011

Roger Corman's Cult Classics: Attack of the Crab Monsters / War of the Satellites / Not of This Earth - Buy from Amazon

Roger Corman made a lot of movies, producing far more than he directed. However, this triple-shot DVD has three films he directed during 1957 and 1958. Will these films, Attack of the Crab Monsters, War of the Satellites, and Not of This Earth, be better than the average film he produced? And will this two-disc set have enough extras to be worth checking out, perhaps even picking up?

Attack of the Crab Monsters

A group of scientists and military personnel arrive on a small remote island. They are they to search for previous group of scientists and military personnel sent to that island, who were sent there to do research on the effects of nuclear radiation from recent atomic bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll. They are also here to continue the scientific inquiries. They are not there for five minutes when something under the water attacks one of the sailors, removing his head. Unexplained explosions, earthquakes, and then when the supply plane leaves, to head back to base, it is destroyed by an approaching storm, which also cuts off their radio communications.

Strange things continue to happen on the island. They find the journal of the old crew, but it ends mid-sentence. They hear weird noises. A sinkhole appears in minutes. Then two of the scientists hear voices from one of the dead.

That's when things get weird. And I mean giant psychic crabs that can talk through metal.

As far as low budget creature features go, Attack of the Crab Monsters is actually pretty good. Granted, during the Golden Age of these films, the 1950s, there were likely hundreds of such movies made and most of those were complete trash, so you are marking on a curve. The creature itself looks rather good, considering the age of the movie and the budget constraints, while the acting is better than a lot of its genre compatriots, many of which are too embarrassing to appear on MST3k. The action and the pacing was too uneven to be top notch, but it is a solid entry in Roger Corman's career.

The Extras

Extras for this movie include an audio commentary track with some film historians and the TV prologue. The audio commentary track has plenty of information and it is well worth listening to for fans of the movie. The TV prologue was shot in order to increase the length of the film so it can be shown on TV. It's an interesting note, but the video quality is quite poor.

Not of This Earth

One of Roger Corman's most famous movies. An elderly dying man, Paul Johnson, hires a live-in nurse, Nadine Storey, to take care of him. He also hires a chauffeur, Jeremy Perrin, to drive him around. One of the nurse's duties is to give him a daily blood transfusion, it seems Mr. Johnson has a rare blood disorder, one his doctor, Dr. Frederick W. Rochelle, has never seen and is working hard to cure. Meanwhile, the cops are looking at the deaths of 13 people, who have all been killed in the same mysterious way with marks on their necks and their blood drained out. Could these deaths have anything to do with the mysterious Mr. Johnson? Yes. He's a alien that kills people and steals their blood. That's not really a spoiler, as we learn that right away. (Practically the first thing we see in the beginning of the movie is him killing a teenage girl and draining her blood.)

The tension of the film is built up as we follow Nadine Storey while she slowly uncovers the mystery herself. In that regard, it's very much like an episode of Columbo.

So does it work? Absolutely. It's one of Roger Corman's best movies. Granted, most of his movies can charitably be described as B-Movies, so even his good ones are "Good for B-movies". However, Not of This Earth is a good movie without having to give any qualifiers. It uses a very good script to compensate for a production budget that was tiny (even back in 1957, $100,000 was not a lot of money to make a movie). The actors give great performances and not the usual B-movie stiffness. Beverly Garland is excellent as Nadine Storey while Paul Birch is sufficiently creepy. (Dick Miller is in the film as a vacuum salesman, which is a fun cameo from a long-time Roger Corman player.)

The ending is a little abrupt, but that's the only real complaint I have with the movie.

The Extras

Extras include an audio commentary track, plus the TV prologue. These are the same quality as the ones above; in other words, the audio commentary track is definitely worth checking out, while the prologue is more for curiosity.

War of the Satellites

Speaking of Dick Miller, in the final film on this DVD he has a rare lead. Here he plays Dave Boyer, a scientist who is part of the team launching a manned spaced mission. However, each attempt has ended in death as the Satellites hit a barrier around the Earth. Shortly after the tenth failure, a rocket lands near two teenagers (Mitzi McCall and Jay Sayer). In it is a message for the people of Earth from the Master of the Spiral Nebula Guana that they view the people of Earth as some type of disease and they have quarantined the planet to prevent us from spreading the infection.

Afterward, the leader of the ground team, Dr. Pol Van Ponder, is determined to continue, but this time with him as the captain of the space ship. Going with him are Dave Boyer and Sybil Carrington. Just before the launch, Dr. Pol Van Ponder is summoned to the U.N. to defend the program from those that want to defund it, but while on his way, a strange beam hits his car repeatedly and he is killed in a car crash... or is he? Before the shock of the announcement of his death can wear off, he appears alive and well. But of course we know better.

Further attacks against the Earth occur (earthquakes, fires, ships being sunk) and the U.N. Again threatens to cancel funding. This time the Dr. Pol Van Ponder / alien creature agrees and sends Dave Boyer to tell the U.N. that the program is over. However, instead of giving his prepared speech, he gives an impassioned plea that if humanity bows down to these aliens now, next they won't be content with quarantining humanity, but exterminating it. So moving is this speech that unlimited funding is given.

But afterward, several strange things start to happen that make Dave suspicious of Dr. Pol Van Ponder, but he can't prove anything before the launch. Now three teams of astronauts have to deal with the dangers of space, with a saboteur on board.

This is another solid entry in the Roger Corman filmography. It's not a great movie and there are some parts of the film that could use a little tightening up, while some of the special effects are laughably bad. (The rockets meeting in orbit spring to mind.) That said, the film only cost $70,000 to make back in 1958, which is like costing $700,000 today, so I'm willing to forgive the bad special effects. In fact, if someone were to argue that the bad special effects were part of the charm, I wouldn't disagree with them.

The script is much better than most B-movies have to offer, as is the acting. Fans of 1950s sci-fi should enjoy this movie.

The Extras

Sadly, there's no audio commentary track for this movie.

The Extras

There are a few extras not associated with any of the three films specifically. Disc one has an interview with Roger Corman. Disc two has a 26-minute long retrospective on Roger Corman's career, featuring interviews with many, many directors, editors, special effects artists, etc., who got their start with Roger Corman. Very cool. Finally, there's a selection of 25 trailers for Roger Corman movies.

Final Verdict

The latest Roger Corman's Cult Classics DVD presents three films. Attack of the Crab Monsters is a pretty good, if cheesy radioactive creature feature. War of the Satellites has a better than expected script and acting and even if the end product is hampered by a low budget, it's also worth checking out. Meanwhile, it's not overly praiseworthy to call Not of This Earth a minor sci-fi classic. It has certainly aged the best out of the three. If the DVD only had these three movies at the price, then it would be worth picking up for fans of Roger Corman. However, there are plenty of extras and it is a must have for his fans, and fans of films from the era in general.

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