Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Scream Factory/Universal International
Shout! Factory and its horror arm, Scream Factory are taking sci-fi fans back in time again next month with the release of yet another one of Universal Pictures’ timeless creature features.
The Deadly Mantis is scheduled for release on March 19 on Blu-ray. The classic low-budget b-flick was lambasted by critics following its theatrical debut on May 26, 1957. The criticisms focused on items, such as its overt use of stock footage and re-use of sets. While it hardly received a warm welcome in its debut, The Deadly Mantis has since gone on to become a cult favorite among sci-fi fans and movie buffs alike, but has been difficult to find on DVD and Blu-ray. That is until now. This new re-issue of The Deadly Mantis is another welcome addition to the library of any of the noted audiences. That is proven in part through the movie’s story. Its bonus content adds even more interest and appeal to its presentation as its story. The Blu-ray’s average price point rounds out the most important of its elements. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the movie. All things considered, they make The Deadly Mantis’ new Blu-ray re-issue another welcome watch for sci-fi fans and movie buffs alike.
The upcoming Blu-ray re-issue of Universal International Pictures’ 1957 creature feature The Deadly Mantis is a presentation that will appeal to cinephiles across the board. That is proven in part through its story. The story focuses on the introduction of a giant prehistoric praying mantis into the 20th century world and mankind’s efforts to stop the creature before it has any chance to reproduce. The story was hardly the only one of its kind at the time, having been preceded by Them! in 1954, Tarantula in 1955, and Attack of the Crab Monsters only three months prior to the debut of The Deadly Mantis. The latter of that trio – one of famed director Roger Corman’s creations – was an Allied Pictures presentation, unlike the other two mentioned here. This is important to note as it was just one part of what was a much bigger cinematic trend at that point in time. Considering the bigger trend being presented, what makes this movie stand out is that it did not center on giant mutant creatures that came to be as a result of the military’s nuclear testing. Rather, the mantis simply existed millions of years ago, and was freed from its cryogenic slumber (of sorts) as the overarching result of a volcanic eruption thousands of miles away in the Earth’s southern hemisphere. Film historian Tom Weaver addresses this scientific approach during his bonus commentary. This will be discussed a little later on. Getting back on the subject at hand, the story at the center of The Deadly Mantis might have seemed silly at the time, but considering the scientific advancements and discoveries that have been made in the current age, it makes the story more believable. That ability of audiences to suspend their disbelief (even today) due to the story’s setup, ensures even more, viewers’ maintained engagement and entertainment. Now given, missiles and fire being unable to bring down the giant beast seems a bit of a stretch, considering it is just a giant praying mantis. That thing must have had an exoskeleton made of titanium, especially considering what ultimately ended its reign of terror. That aside, the reality that giant beasts did in fact exist at one time in reality, and that scientists even today are in fact, trying to clone other giant beasts (E.g. wooly mammoths and saber-tooth tigers) makes this story that much more believable, and in turn enjoyable. The ability of audiences to suspend their disbelief with this movie’s story is just one part of what makes the movie such a joy for sci-fi fans and movie buffs alike. The movie’s bonus content adds even more enjoyment to the movie’s presentation.
The bonus content featured in this movie includes the previously noted feature-length audio commentary from film historian Tom Weaver and fellow film historian David Schecter, and the full-length episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that featured The Deadly Mantis. Unlike The Mole People, which was re-issued by Shout! Factory/Scream Factory last month, this movie’s re-issue is lacking a bonus “making of” featurette. The lack of that featurette is disheartening, but not enough to ruin the movie’s presentation.
The feature-length commentary from Weaver and Schecter reveals quite a bit of interesting information. Viewers learn from the commentary, that principal photography — the main part of a movie’s production involving capturing scenes in which the cast is on camera – took only 13 days, and that the use of stock footage in the movie played a direct role in the movie. Weaver reveals that approximately 14 minutes (or 1/5) of the movie was composed of stock footage. Considering that the movie’s run time is listed as just 79 minutes, that 14 minutes is actually a large portion of the movie. Additionally, viewers learn through the duo’s commentary, that the movie’s original opening scene was actually different from what is in the final cut. Weaver notes that the final cut was presented, as the movie’s director – Nathan Juran – wanted to ensure the story was believable, right from the opening sequence. The end result was that the frozen mantis was freed as the result of a volcanic eruption thousands of miles away. This is actually believable, considering what we know today about the effects of volcanic eruptions. Now, could the weather patterns that might have resulted from said eruption been enough to thaw out the mantis? That is debatable, even today. However, knowing mankind’s impact on climate change, it actually does not seem overly unbelievable. Keeping this in mind, the right move was taken to change the opening. As if all of this is not enough for fans, audiences also learn the identity of the film used for part of the stock footage – S.O.S. Iceberg (1933) – through Weaver’s scripted commentary. It is revealed that the Eskimos in the noted scenes were reacting to a seaplane circling their community in Greenland, not to a giant praying mantis.
Schecter’s portion of the movie’s commentary will appeal just as much to music lovers as it will to movie lovers. Schecter notes in his portion of the movie’s commentary, that legendary composer/conductor Henry Mancini played a specific part in the movie’s soundtrack. The full depth of his involvement in the soundtrack will be left for audiences to learn on their own. He was just one of the famed musical figures who were connected to the movie, according to Schecter. Fellow composer Irving Gertz also had a tie to the movie’s soundtrack, as Schecter notes. He makes note that the soundtrack to The Deadly Mantis and The Monolith Monsters were indirectly connected to each other. Again, the full discussion will be left for viewers to take in on their own time.
The items listed here are just a portion of what Weaver and Schecter discuss throughout the course of The Deadly Mantis. Far more is discussed, such as ties that certain members of the crew had to the now infamous “Red Scare” and the various ties that the cast had to other movies of the age. While Schecter’s (and Weaver’s) commentary are quite insightful, the one negative to their insight is that each man’s commentary is once again scripted. This is made clear through their delivery. Each man is obviously watching the movie as he shares his insight. The problem is that each man is watching the movie only for timing purposes with his commentary. This detracts from the commentary at least a little bit. It is not enough to make the commentary unenjoyable, but cannot be ignored.
Speaking of things that detract from the experience, the movie lacks a “making of” featurette this time out. It doesn’t ruin the viewing experience, but it would have been nice to see what could have been told through such a feature that maybe was not addressed in the bonus commentary. In defense of Shout! Factory/Scream Factory, there had to have been a good reason for omitting it this time out. Luckily, the commentary from Weaver and Schecter does provide enough insight and entertainment to make up for that omission.
While The Deadly Mantis lacked a “making of” featurette, one thing that was thankfully included was the full episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that focused on the classic creature feature. Shout! Factory/Scream Factory did the same with its recent re-issue of The Mole People, and once again, it is a welcome addition to the movie’s presentation. This time out, Mike and his robot pals are trying to escape Pearl Forrester once again, and luckily escape her after her ape friends inadvertently activate a thermonuclear device that destroys Earth. Of course Pearl and company managed to escape the blast. How they escape and what happens from there will be left for audiences to discover on their own. In the meantime, plenty of riffing happens as the crew of the Satellite of Love take in The Deadly Mantis. Early on there is a joke about Minnesota (the state in which the show was based), that audiences will enjoy. As the movie progresses, there is a joke about one of the unidentified cast members because of a certain shot. “Shot in bald spot vision,” one of the robots cracks. There are also pop culture references about Wheaties and Vicks Vapo rub later in the movie, along with a joke about the famed comic opera, the H.M.S. Pinafore and so much more. Between the constant riffing and the live segments, the laughs that result from this episode of MST3K prove to be nonstop. When that entertainment is coupled with the insight offered through the movie’s bonus commentaries, the end result is content that truly is a bonus in every sense of the word. When it is collectively considered along with the story, which itself guarantees just as much engagement and entertainment, the movie proves that much more welcome in any cinephile’s home library. Keeping all of this in mind, the breadth and depth of the movie’s primary and secondary content makes the movie’s average price point money that is well-spent.
The average price point for Shout! Factory/Scream Factory’s upcoming re-issue of The Deadly Mantis, using price listings at Shout! Factory’s store and those of Amazon and Books-a-Million, is $25.39. The movie is not listed at Target, Best Buy, Walmart and Barnes & Noble Booksellers at the time of this review’s posting. Research shows that Shout! Factory’s price of $22.99 is the least expensive of the three listings, and is will below that average price point. Books-A-Million’s listing of $27.99 is the most expensive, while Amazon’s list price of $25.19 is barely below that average. In other words, at the time of this review’s post, Shout! Factory’s price for the re-issue is the most affordable. It is money that sci-fi purists and movie buffs alike will agree, is well-spent. That is because of the already noted content overall. Add in that right now, the only outlets that audiences have for such a movie are occasionally on Turner Classic Movies and Me-TV’s hit show Svengoolie (both of which are themselves wonderful outlets), it makes that money even more well-spent, as it will allow audiences to watch this timeless classic any time that they want. Keeping all of this in mind, it can easily be said that the upcoming Blu-ray re-issue of The Deadly Mantis is one more of this year’s top new DVD/BD re-issues.
Shout! Factory/Scream Factory’s upcoming Blu-ray re-issue of The Deadly Mantis is one of this year’s top new DVD/BD re-issues. That is proven in part through the movie’s story (its primary content), which is actually quite believable considering what science has discovered to this day, and through its bonus content (its secondary content). The insight and entertainment offered through the bonus content is just as certain to keep audiences engaged and entertained as the story. Add in an average price point that once again won’t break viewers’ banks, and the movie proves a completely welcome addition to any cinephile’s movie library. It will be available March 19. More information on this and other titles from Shout! Factory is available online now at:
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