Cult Camp Classics Vol. 1 - Sci Fi Thrillers (DVD)
Featuring three enjoyably "awful" movies from 1958-59, Cult Camp Classics, Vol. 1: Sci-Fi Thrillers turns nuclear radiation into cause for celebration, especially if you enjoy movies with extra cheese. With the Cold War in full swing and society's worries blamed on the threat of nuclear annihilation, sci-fi buffs (like future filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and John Landis) could see a new monster movie almost every week. Many of them came from Allied Artists, the low-budget B-movie production company (formerly Monogram) that rose from the ghetto of "poverty row" distribution to produce countless exploitation thrillers between 1946 and 1979. The '50s saw the rise of nuclear monster thrillers, and Allied popularized the trend with its own menagerie of giant, irradiated creatures. The key to Allied's success was its crowd-pleasing combination of exploitable ingredients, and what better way to combine sci-fi, sex, and horror than to unleash a towering babe with an attitude problem? That's exactly what Allied did with Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, a now-classic campfest in which a spurned wife (Allison Hayes) is irradiated by a glowing alien space-ball, grows to a height of (you guessed it), and exacts revenge upon her cheating husband (William Hudson). A year before she bared her shapely backside as Playboy's Playmate of the Month for July 1959, Yvette Vickers costars as Hudson's scheming mistress, giving the film an extra boost of sex appeal. With bargain-priced effects including a giant floppy-fingered hand, hilarious process shots, and cheesy models destroyed by the world's biggest bitch (for whom it is still possible to feel some sympathetic compassion), the movie's not as good as its celebrated poster (which now adorns movie-geek T-shirts around the world), but it's still a lot of fun.
The Giant Behemoth was director Eugene Lourie's obvious attempt to capitalize on his 1953 hit The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, starring a gigantic paleosaurus rising from the Atlantic with a bad case of atomic radiation. London is the monster's eventual stomping ground, but the lumbering lizard is camera-shy for nearly an hour; you can imagine Beaver Cleaver and his pals groaning through seemingly endless scenes of talky exposition, anxiously awaiting the climactic stop-motion creature effects supervised by the legendary Willis (King Kong) O'Brien. Scoring much higher on the camp-o-meter, and far more entertaining, is the cult classic Queen of Outer Space, which borrows props and costumes from Forbidden Planet, Flight to Mars and World Without End for its outrageously kitschy plot about manly astronauts who crash-land on Venus and discover an underground society of mini-skirted space-babes. Unfortunately the disfigured Venusian queen (Laurie Mitchell) is a man-hater supreme, so the spectacularly costumed Zsa Zsa Gabor (as a Venusian scientist, no less) leads a revolution against her. With a screenplay by Twilight Zone veteran Charles Beaumont and a story credited (almost incredibly) to legendary playwright/screenwriter Ben Hecht (who surely never suspected his idea would eventually yield this movie), Queen of Outer Space is exactly what you'd expect it to be: So bad it's good, and more than worthy of inclusion in this irresistibly priced triple-feature set. --Jeff Shannon
On the DVDs
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Three feature-length commentaries accompany the sci-fi thrillers in Cult Camp Classics, Vol. 1. Two of the commentaries are hosted by Tom Weaver, a noted authority on sci-fi and horror films whose historical acumen is more casual than academic: While sharing the commentary on Queen of Outer Space with the film's titular star Laurie Mitchell (who became a mainstay at fan conventions at Weaver's invitation), Weaver fails to explain how the production came to use props and costumes from the classic Forbidden Planet, and that's a glaring oversight. He compensates as an amiable interviewer with the equally good-natured Mitchell, and it's a treat to hear them enthusiastically reading unfilmed scenes from the film's original screenplay. For the commentary on Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, Weaver is joined by the film's comely costar Yvette Vickers (another regular at sci-fi conventions), and their combined anecdotes provide an adequate oral history of this camp-classic production. Star Wars veterans and special-effects masters Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett provide the loose-and-lazy commentary on The Giant Behemoth, which consists mostly of Muren making sarcastic jokes about the film's glacial pacing. It's hardly the authoritative commentary that some fans might've hoped for, but Muren and Tippett are well-versed in special-effects history (Muren even owns the original stop-motion Behemoth creature model), and they share an infectious enthusiasm for the films that inspired them to excel in their profession. --Jeff Shannon