Friday, November 30, 2007

ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION: SAM KATZMAN

Remembered – and sometimes reviled – as the cheapest producer in Hollywood, the legendary "Jungle Sam" Katzman is celebrated in Columbia’s new ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION: SAM KATZMAN boxed set. This collection includes four of the genre films that he produced for Columbia Pictures, among them the most ridiculous giant monster flick of the Fifties and a genuine low-budget lycanthropic gem.

THE GIANT CLAW (1957) features probably the most absurd giant monster of all time in the form of a gangly, apparently molting marionette representing an "antimatter bird" from another dimension. Aside from that, though, it’s not a terrible slice of 50’s sci-fi, with a fairly imaginative script, and a good cast featuring Jeff Morrow (THIS ISLAND EARTH), the lovely Mara Corday (TARANTULA) and solid direction by veteran Fred F. Sears (EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS). Shame about the puppet, though.

Scripted by Curt Siodmak (THE WOLF MAN, DONOVAN’S BRAIN), 1955’s CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN stars Richard Denning (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) as a police scientist embroiled in a plot involving gangsters, Nazi scientists and reanimated atomic zombies. Decent direction by Edward L. Cahn (IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE) and a cast full of familiar serial vets make for a fast-paced 69 minutes of vintage schlock.

Cahn also helmed ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957), a sluggish tale of sunken treasure and its undead protectors somewhere on the African coast. The best part of this interminable potboiler is the presence of sexy Allison Hayes (the 50-FOOT WOMAN herself) as a spoiled bitch-turned-zombie.

The best film in the set, though, is Fred F. Sears’ THE WEREWOLF (1956), a sci-fi take on lycanthropy, featuring hapless Steven Ritch as the victim of a couple of mad scientists. Never before available on home video, this briskly paced, well-acted chiller benefits from lots of authentic snowy mountain locations and is a great atomic age twist on an old theme.

Columbia presents CLAW, ZOMBIES and WEREWOLF in beautiful new B&W transfers, correctly framed at 1:85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. ATOM BRAIN is presented full-frame. Columbia has also included the second chapter of the Katzman-produced movie serial MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1951), which purports to be based on the Jules Verne novel, but is instead a ludicrous mishmash of cliffhanger cliches. There’s also a Mr. Magoo cartoon, a somewhat tedious comedy short, MIDNIGHT BLUNDERS, and trailers for all four features, as well as for other vintage Columbia genre titles.

A fantastic package, affordably priced, and highly recommended.

BUY: Icons of Horror Collection - Sam Katzman (The Giant Claw / Creature with the Atom Brain / Zombies of Mora Tau / The Werewolf)