Thursday, 8 May 2014

War of the Colossal Beast

Director: Bert I Gordon
Writer: George Worthing Yates
Producer: Bert I Gordon
Cast: Sally Fraser, Duncan Parkin, Roger Pace
Year of release: 1958
Country: USA
Reviewed from: UK DVD (Direct Video Distribution)

War of the Colossal Beast is terrific! It’s a genuine AIP classic and is pretty much unique among 1950s B-movies in being a direct sequel to another film, The Amazing Colossal Man. Think about it: apart from this, the Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy and the Fly trilogy, what other 1950s SF/horror sequels are there? (You can’t really count How to Make a Monster.)

Russ Bender is the only cast member to return from the first film although he’s now playing a character named Dr Carmichael whereas before he was Richard Kingman (which was the name of Ed Kemmer’s character in Earth vs the Spider). Coincidentally Bender also played a ‘Dr Carmichael’ in War of the Worlds. He was also a doctor in Invasion of the Saucer Men and was in It Conquered the World, Panic in Year Zero and The Navy Vs the Night Monsters.

The colossal fellow himself, Colonel Glenn Manning, is now played by Duncan Parkin, who had been a grip on Bert I Gordon’s Beginning of the End. This film and a similar giant the previous year in The Cyclops were his only screen credits. Hideous skull-like make-up by Jack H Young (The Cyclops, The Brood, Salem’s Lot) covering half his face effectively covers the fact that the character is played by a different actor (Glen Langan) in flashbacks to the first film, which take up five minutes of the movie’s brief 68-minute running time.

At the end of Amazing..., sixty-foot tall Colonel Manning was blasted with bazookas and fell off a dam, presumed dead. In this film he is found alive in Mexico, but scarred mentally as well as physically. Parkin is never called on to do more than grunt or roar - this is a colossal beast, no longer a man (although calling the movie's story a 'war' is stretching things a bit...).

Sally Fraser (It Conquered the World, Earth vs the Spider) plays Manning’s sister Joyce who makes the incredible deductive leap that her brother has survived when she hears a jokey news report about a missing truck South of the Border. (The TV newsreader is Jack Kosslyn: Empire of the Ants, Attack of the Puppet People, Earth vs the Spider.)

John Swanson (George Becwar: Bride of the Monster) is the owner of the truck which apparently vanished into thin air, the young Mexican lad who was driving it having gone mad. Joyce investigates along with Major Mark Baird (a solitary screen credit for Roger Pace) who has a weird symbol on his uniform - an A inside a six-pointed star. What is that, the Jewish Air Force?

Well, it turns out that old Glenn has been stealing trucks for the food they carry, which makes no sense because at his size he would need to get through about 30 or 40 truckloads a day, but never mind the logistics. They find a giant footprint near where Swanson’s truck disappeared and there’s a terrific scene when Joyce and Baird climb to the top of an inaccessible local mesa - and find a dozen or so wrecked vehicles. That’s quite a clever, subtle bit of plot development for a Bert I Gordon movie!

The thing that was Glenn appears shortly afterwards. For the most part the matting and back-projection work very well; it was of course Gordon’s forte so he should know how to do it, and the flashback clips from the first film suggest a definite improvement in the technique.

Glenn is captured - using a truck full of doped bread! - and flown to the USA. There is a wonderful sequence where three different government departments shuttle the problem between themselves, all arguing that there is nothing in their legislative remit about handling sixty-foot tall men. And at this point I realised - this is a comedy! Pay close attention to the dialogue and there are some absolute gems as writer George Worthing Yates has real fun with the movie’s obviously daft central premise.

Anyway, Glenn is shackled up in an aircraft hanger at Los Angeles airport, breaks free, is restrained, breaks free again and goes on the rampage. Joyce still cares about her brother, however big and hideous he is, and somehow manages to touch the remnant of humanity within him so that he realises what a monster he has become. He strides over to some power cables - this one scene is actually a miniature set, rather than a matte - and commits suicide by electrocution. (Or does he? He just seems to disappear, rather than actually falling down or exploding or melting or anything...)

Famously, in those final few seconds the film bursts into Technicolor. Although the (full-frame) print used by DVD Ltd is as nice and crisp as anything in their Arkoff Film Library, the Technicolor footage is very ropy indeed, in even worse shape than the final colour reel of How to Make a Monster.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking to dip your toes into the world of AIP, this is a good one to go for. As with all the DVD Ltd Sam Arkoff films, there is a 50-minute audio interview with the man himself, plus nice poster-reproduction postcards and tatty trailers for nine films: Voodoo Woman, Blood of Dracula, Day the World Ended, The Brain Eaters, How to Make a Monster, The She-Creature, The Undead, Earth Vs The Spider and this one. The film was originally released in the UK as The Terror Strikes.

MJS rating: A-

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