Fans of the filmmaker, of the genre, of cult film in general will be well advised to snap up this extraordinary DVD set before it becomes a scarcity. After years of lousy bootleg video tapes, Shout Factory has finally released official copies of three out of the four drive-in pictures Roger Corman made for Allied Artists (Teenage Doll is the other one, and as fantastic as the other three).
First up, on Disc 1 - "The Greatest Double Horror Show of All Time!" - Crab Monsters and Not of this Earth, in near-pristine UK theatrical prints, and they have never looked better. Floyd Crosby's moody cinematography, Paul Julian's marvelous animated title sequences, and Ronald Stein's haunting scores both come to life in these new releases, which is like watching these classics for the first time.
Crab Monsters stands up today better than ever, of course featuring the greatest monster prop of all time, an expressionist aluminum-and-styrofoam sculpture which puts modern Giger-influenced creature design to shame. Not of This Earth was Corman's wild attempt to create a science-fiction fable inspired by European neo-realism, and is as dark and gloomy a drive-in picture as was ever made, with Paul Birch's vampire-alien character one of the great performances of the 1950s.
Disc 2 features War of the Satellites (also via a near-mint UK theatrical print), one of Corman's most misunderstood and under-appreciated pictures IMHO, an exciting parable on the moral duality of Man, with magnificently cool miniatures and f/x by Jack Rabin, Irving Block and Louis DeWitt, along with a thrilling score by Walter Greene (one of the decade's finest), and an absolutely incredible dual-role performance by Richard Devon.
But the Bonus Features are worth the price of admission alone. The trailer compilation features some really rare ones, including the original double-bill trailer for Crab Monsters/Not of This Earth, which I had never encountered before, a very exciting find indeed. And joy of joys, they even included the additional footage from the television syndication packages on these films (including those beloved prologue crawls, purportedly penned by film historian William K. Everson!), scenes which will be instantly recognizable to anyone who watched these great flicks over and over again on the Million Dollar Movie in the mid-1960s.
I have always thought that 1956-1961 was Corman's most brilliant creative period, as he was cranking out little genre masterpieces like these almost monthly. There is nothing even remotely like them today, of course, and seeing these dear drive-in gems rescued from oblivion is truly cause for celebration.
So turn off the sophomoric fan-boy audio commentary by "The Weaver Gang," and enjoy these time-honored cult classics in their pure state, as you might have originally seen them back in 1957 or 1958. B-Film does not get better than this, folks - what Corman did with $100,000 fifty years ago, Spielberg could not recreate for a billion dollars today.
Now let us pray to the Goddess of Cult Film for a release of Teenage Doll, the other picture Corman made for Woolner Brothers/Allied Artists, in which he concocted a highly stylized, virtually abstract use of "beat" language in the service of B-melodrama, enhanced by another stunning Walter Greene score. (The use of arcane linguistics to convey a sense of foreign "otherness" was prominent in many Corman features of the day, Not of This Earth, War of the Satellites and The Undead amongst them, but Teenage Doll is his crowning achievement in this experimenting with esoteric speech.)