B&W, 1955, 77 mins. 21 secs.
Directed by David Kramarsky
Starring Paul Birch, Lorna Thayer, Dona Cole, Leonard Tarver, Dick Sargent
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
More famous for its misleading title and eye-catching poster art, this very low-budget but entertaining slice of '50s monster mayhem credited to production assistant David Kramarsky but was largely helmed by other parties including its uncredited executive producer, Roger Corman. It's also fascinating for its priceless views of Palm Springs and other surrounding areas, not to mention the very aggressive use of classical stock music and one of the weirdest cost-conscious "monsters" in movie history.
After the dramatic main titles accompanied by Shostakovich's "Symphony No. 10 in E Minor,- II. Allegro" (exactly the same way Pedro Almodóvar's Matador opens, believe it or not), the action centers around a desert ranch owned by the Kelley family: father Allan (Birch), wife Carol (Thayer), and daughter Sandy (Cole). Allan is filled with angst over his domestic situation and believes his wife resents him, but that's just the start of their troubles when a metal alien craft (played by a jerry-rigged tea kettle) ends up lodged in the desert nearby and starts exerting a strong psychic pull over animals in the area including a cow, chickens, and even the pet dog. Also affected is the farm handyman (Tarver), who plasters his wall with girlie pin-ups and starts behaving in an even stranger fashion than usual. Can the family patch up their differences and band together in time to stop the alien invader from wreaking even more havoc?
Though obviously very limited by its impoverished budget, this fascinating little film has enough rewards to make it stick in the memory including those striking opening titles, some hallucinatory abstract methods used to indicate the alien's presence including a high-pitched screeching noise, and an animal attack premise that predates not only the '70s tidal wave of films but Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds as well. The fact that it spends so much time on a dysfunctional nuclear family is also an interesting touch with the frustrated Carol a very far cry from the TV-friendly housewives so commonplace at the time; in fact, her early admission that she holds a grudge against her college-bound daughter is still pretty startling today.
For some reason this film took a very long time to hit home video and only appeared on TV a handful of times, finally turning up on DVD in 2007 as an MGM Midnite Movies double feature (flipper disc) with The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues. The negative has been kept in good shape and looks fine here with a 1.33:1 transfer; this film was released during the switchover from that aspect ratio to widescreen theaters more commonly screening at 1.85:1, which means this is essentially an open matte presentation that can be zoomed in to 1.78:1 or so without losing anything significant if you want to fill up your screen. In 2019, Scorpion Releasing brought the film to Blu-ray available via Ronin Flix and Diabolik, again with the maximum amount of image info at 1.33:1. Detail increases nicely with a more refined and natural presentation of film grain (which looked a bit softened on the DVD), and blacks are deeper and more impressive here as well. The DTS-HD MA English mono track (with optional English SDH subs) is fine considering the patchwork nature of the audio itself. A very in-depth and rewarding audio commentary by Tim Lucas really tears into this one as a study in postwar alienation and fear of failure, a reading borne out by the hero's own narration and the events in the film. He also fills in the strange history behind the film including its origins as a script called The Unseen, the reason it ended up being shot non-union out in the desert, and the backwards marketing tactics that ended up selling the film and its poster before it was even shot. There are some extremely long silent gaps here, though that may be due to the same factors involved in other MGM-connected audio commentaries over the past year or so (to put it tactfully). A dupey theatrical trailer is included along with bonus ones for The Monster That Challenged the World, Invisible Invaders, Donovan's Brain, The Magnetic Monster, and The Black Sleep.
SCORPION RELEASING (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on November 30, 2019