A while back, I nattered on about The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, a Best Buy exclusive from Universal of films long overdue for DVD release. That collection ranged from the top-flight classic (The Incredible Shrinking Man) to the mid-level classic (Tarantula, the official Second Best Big Bug Movie after Them!) to the unsung gem (The Monolith Monsters) to the middling programmers (The Mole People and Monster on the Campus). Today, Volume 2. It’s another Best Buy exclusive, but can still be found quite easily being resold on Amazon.
The first volume was an eclectic mix, as far as quality was concerned. The second one is a bit more consistent, but that doesn’t mean these are the best of the best. Far from it. On offer here: Dr. Cyclops (1940), Cult of the Cobra (1955), The Land Unknown (1957), The Deadly Mantis (1957) and The Leech Woman (1959). We’re talking the B-list players here, people. The most highly regarded of this bunch is Dr. Cyclops, wherein Albert Dekker shrinks human beings to doll size. Fine mad doctor stuff, and the first SF/horror film to appear in full Technicolor. The FX are pretty solid too. It’s a little odd to find the film, very much a 40s effort, grouped with lesser 50s works, but hey, here it is on disc, so who am I to complain?
Not that I’m complaining about any of these. Cult of the Cobra and The Leech Woman are rather easy to dismiss, but those of us who dearly love this period will watch just about anything, even the worst offerings, and these are certainly not the worst. Of a bit more interest (or at least, as far as your humble scribe is concerned) are The Deadly Mantis and The Land Unknown.
The Deadly Mantis has been much-maligned over the years, and not without some justification. It is certainly one of the weakest of the Big Bug movies. It isn’t the loveable shambles of Monster From Green Hell, but the latter wasn’t a major studio release, and The Deadly Mantis was from Universal after all. So yes, the stock footage is grotesquely overused, and at times makes very little sense: why, for instance, we watch an entire community of Inuit take to their kayaks is never very clear. The film has also been accused of being dull, and while that has never bothered me, I’d be very hard-pressed to actually defend the film on that charge. But granting all this, the bug itself is still pretty impressive, and there is one brief scene, where a bus is attacked in the middle of the night, that is so striking – one of the most beautiful and terrifying moments in all Big Bug-dom – that its few seconds come close to making everything else worth sitting through.
The Land Unknown, meanwhile, sees a Navy expedition crash inside an Antarctic volcano, only to find a prehistoric world. Journey to the Center of the Earth this is not, but there is something very endearingly childlike about the fantasy narrative, and the T-Rex is such a clumsy, slow and awkward costume (demonstrating just how good the Japanese efforts of the same era were) that it’s impossible not to feel a certain kind of wrongheaded love.
So there we are. Nothing earth-shaking in this lot. But boy, is it nice finally to see them on DVD.