More classics and cult favorites from the good people at Scream Factory!
Where do I even begin talking about my love for Night of the Creeps? Writer/director Fred Dekker, a monster kid from way back, was a successful screenwriter when he got to finally direct a movie. He was only about 26 at the time, but the movie plays like the work of a guy who has waited his entire life to make a movie. He packs it top to bottom with all the things he loves and includes every shot he's dreamed of composing, from the Jaws zoom in/dolly out to the first appearance of hard-boiled Tom Atkins, shot from a high angle looking down through a ceiling fan. He doesn't direct Night of the Creeps like he's trying to prove something; he directs it like he's only going to get one chance to make a movie and wants to be sure it's exactly the kind of thing he's always dreamed about seeing.
Night of the Creeps is the ultimate genre pastiche, blending '50s sci-fi with '80s teenagers and monster movies, giving us familiar characters and situations, but then subverting what we expect. It is so bursting with love for all of my favorite kinds of movies that my heart explodes just thinking about it. Where Creeps really excels is in its characters, two insecure but sweet college guys who walk the line between nerdy/pathetic and sarcastic/superior. Chris and J.C. might be Ferris Bueller or they might be Lewis Skolnik. Truth is, they're neither, and Dekker's refusal to turn them into stereotypes is just one of the movie's many charms. That the movie gives us Tom Atkins going balls out as he riffs on both wisecracking action stars and film noir detectives is just gravy: gravy that tastes of testosterone and brains.
Night of the Creeps is the best: funny, gory, sweet, moving. It offers a slightly different spin on both the alien invasion movie and the zombie movie. Its influence can still be felt today in horror movies that smash together a bunch of influences, but only those that come by it honestly. Its clearest antecedent is James Gunn's Slither, which feels almost like a remake in a lot of ways, but ditches most of the emotional stuff for the blackest of black comedy (though an argument can be made that the Michael Rooker monster crying is actually moving). It's one of those horror movies I would watch with my siblings late at night at an age when we probably shouldn't have been watching it, but its spirit is so infectious that it allowed even us kids to be in on the joke. It's a movie among those I credit for making me love horror movies.
Because Sony’s previous Blu-ray of Night of the Creeps was pretty packed with good special features, Scream Factory has had to up their game in order to justify the upgrade for fans. Thankfully, they have risen to the challenge to offer a two-disc edition positively packed with bonus content. The first disc contains the original theatrical cut of the film, plus the excellent five-part “Thrill Me” retrospective documentary contained on the previous edition. There’s also a retrospective of Tom Atkins’ career, a collection of deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer. It’s the second disc, which features the director’s cut (with a different ending), that contains all of the new content: interviews with actors Jason Lively, Alan Kayser, Ken Heron, Suzanne Snyder, and Vic Polizos, plus editor Michael Knue; a new installment of the Sean Clark-hosted “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” that also features Jason Lively and Fred Dekker; plus the two commentary tracks ported over from the Sony release, the first featuring Dekker and the second featuring Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall, and Jill Whitlow. The first is more informative, the second more entertaining.
Movie Score: 4/5, Disc Score: 4.5/5
Next up is Frankenstein Created Woman, one of a number of Hammer titles to recently join the Scream Factory library. Peter Cushing once again plays Baron Victor Frankenstein, who opens the film by experimenting on himself: he allows himself to die for exactly 60 minutes to see if his soul will leave his body. To celebrate the success of his experiment, he sends his assistant, Hans (Robert Morris), to the local inn to buy a bottle of champagne. It's there that Hans' lover, the partially paralyzed and disfigured innkeeper's daughter, Christina (Susan Denberg), is mercilessly mocked by three rich d-bags who stop in for a drink. Hans loses his temper and fights them. The d-bags retaliate by murdering Christina's father and framing Hans, who is executed for the crime. A heartbroken Christina throws herself into the river, giving Frankenstein an idea: can he put the soul of the recently deceased Hans into the recently deceased Christina? And if he succeeds, what kind of bloodthirsty monster will it create?
Frankenstein Created Woman appears to take a page from another Hammer title, Curse of the Werewolf, in that it spends a ton of time on backstory before it gets into any of the sort of plot we've come to expect. The difference this time is that it's not prologue only tangentially related to the plot; after a short opening in which we see Hans' father executed, all of the major players are introduced. It still takes a long time (like, more than two-thirds of a 90-minute film) for Frankenstein to make a monster, but at least its time spent with the characters that drive the story. Just like with Curse, it's all this background character stuff that's the most compelling in the movie. Once it becomes a more traditional monster movie, it's easy to see where everything is going. Though, to be fair, any film in which a woman is ordered to kill by a decapitated head she carries around with her can hardly be called "traditional."
In case you haven't already pieced it together, Frankenstein Created Woman is a crazy movie. It hides its craziness well, though, passing itself off with the ornate production design and stately Britishness of so many Hammer films; one of the best things about Hammer is that they seem to produce costume dramas, but behind all the bodices and cravats is a ton of transgressive stuff. It's only when you scratch the surface that you realize just how nutty it is. There's already something goofy about a movie that declares the death of God by embracing the concept of The Soul, suggesting that it not only exists, but can survive death. It's as though screenwriter Anthony Hinds knew that the audience was used to accepting the traditional building-a-monster myth of the Frankenstein story and set out to tell a story that required even further suspension of disbelief. That it works is due in large part to Peter Cushing's performance; he's utterly matter-of-fact about the existence of the soul.
Previously available on Blu-ray from Millennium, Scream Factory’s new disc of Frankenstein Created Woman offers a new 2K scan of the film taken from the original elements, offering an upgrade over previous HD versions of the film. The existing commentary with film history Jonathan Rigby and stars Derek Fowlds and Robert Morris has been ported over, accompanied by a brand new commentary with film historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr, who discuss the film’s background and where it fits within the Hammer canon. Robert Morris also sits down for an on-camera interview, as do 2nd assistant director Joe Marks and camera assistant Eddie Collins, both of whom are able to talk about the film’s production with the knowledge of firsthand experience. Two “World of Hammer” episodes are included, one spotlighting Peter Cushing and the other looking at The Curse of Frankenstein. Rounding out the bonus features are the usual collection of trailers, TV and radio spots, and production/promotional stills.
Movie Score: 3/5, Disc Score: 4/5
Finally, there is Monster on the Campus, a combination werewolf riff/mad scientist film directed by the great Jack Arnold, who knows how to put a movie together. There aren’t many other directors who could make material this potentially silly work as well as Arnold does, and while it’s not up to the level of, say, Creature from the Black Lagoon, it’s an incredibly enjoyable Saturday afternoon monster movie and one of Universal’s better “B” grade offerings of the 1950s.
Arthur Franz plays Dr. Donald Blake, a university professor who accidentally cuts his hand on the teeth of a prehistoric fish that’s delivered to his lab. Wouldn’t you know that this particular fish has been preserved by radiation, and now anything that comes in contact with it winds up reverting back to a prehistoric state. That means that Blake occasionally turns into a hairy caveman and commits murders without even knowing he’s doing it.
So, yes, Monster on the Campus is basically The Wolf Man redux, only the protagonist turns into a killer neanderthal instead of a werewolf. It’s a tested formula, one director Jack Arnold knows his way around, and the addition of a sort of mad scientist spin adds an element of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (at a certain point, Blake begins injecting himself with the prehistoric fish plasma—a sentence I just typed—to see what happens), making Monster on the Campus a mash-up of some of horror’s greatest hits. The monster makeup isn’t especially good, but the story is surprisingly involving and Arnold executes it all with such professionalism and craftsmanship that what should probably be a very goofy horror movie can easily be taken seriously. The results are genuinely entertaining.
Scream Factory has been doing a killer job getting these 1950s Universal sci-fi and horror pictures out onto Blu-ray, and Monster on the Campus is no exception. In addition to offering the movie in 1080p HD for the first time (using what I believe is an existing high-def master), there are not one but two historical commentary tracks that play over the length of the film. Dana M. Reemes, author of Directed by Jack Arnold, speaks over the movie and offers a great deal of insight into the director’s career and this movie’s place in it. The second commentary features Mark Jancovich, a professor of film studies (appropriate that a college professor would provide the commentary for this title) and author of the book Rational Fears: American Horror in the 1950s. The theatrical trailer and a still gallery are also included.
Movie Score: 3/5, Disc Score: 3/5