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Three of legendary producer-director Roger Corman's earliest science-fiction films--Not of This Earth (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), and the delirious Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)--are featured in dazzling new presentations on this double-disc set. Make no mistake about these films: though they're billed as "classics," they're pure B pictures--the Crab Monsters are ungainly, goggle-eyed constructions, and the futuristic space design of Satellites consists of a few desks and couches--but Corman's particular skill was in translating a clever, watchable idea into a brisk and ultra-cheap feature. As a result, the plots of these films remain engaging and entertaining long after the giggles over the special effects have been stifled; Crab Monsters hinges on the unique notion of the monsters assuming the intellects of a research team (which includes Gilligan's Island's Russell Johnson) after consuming them, while Satellites concerns an alien-possessed astronaut who tries to upend the US space program. Not of This Earth is the best of the lot, an atmospheric thriller about an alien (Paul Birch, with unsettling white contact lenses) who kills to send human blood back to his home planet. Its mix of horror/vampire tropes and invasion thrills makes for a thoroughly watchable feature, and one that Corman found particularly appealing, having remade it in 1988 and 1995. Credit should also go to scripters Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna, both veteran writers for Corman, who crafted the novel concepts behind Crab Monsters and Not of This Earth.
All three films were staples of Saturday afternoon and late-night TV broadcasts, but remained out of circulation, save for poor-quality bootlegs, until now. Shout Factory's presentations are virtually spotless and even include (mostly extraneous) footage shot to fill out syndicated TV time slots. Not of This Earth and Crab Monsters also feature fact-filled commentaries by film historians Tom Weaver and John and Mike Brunas, while Satellites is buffeted by 25 trailers for Corman's films, including early efforts like Creature from the Haunted Sea and his last directorial credit to date, 1990's Frankenstein Unbound. Corman himself offers a brief background on his experiences with the film, while a host of Hollywood talent he nurtured, including Joe Dante, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Hill, and others, pay tribute to him in a sizable testimonial. In all, it's an essential package for Corman devotees and those with a fondness for '50s sci-fi. --Paul Gaita