The 1950s is one of the single greatest eras of American cinema. That is because it was during this era that the science fiction and horror realms came together to create some of the movie industry’s greatest and still timeless movies. Movies, such as Them!, The Beast From 30,000 Fathoms, and This Island Earth joined the likes of It Came From Outer Space, Godzilla, and It Came From Beneath The Sea and so many others to give audiences a fun fright. That era also produced some lesser-known flicks within said realms, such as Rocketship X-M, The Brain From Planet Arous, and The Hideous Sun Demon that as cheesy as they are, still offer their own entertainment value. Now thanks to independent movie company Corinth Films, those three films have been culled in one setting for renewed attention in the newly released collection, Drive-In Retro Classics. Released on DVD March 15, this cinematic collection is a must have for any fan of 1950s cinema. The movies themselves are reason enough for that. This will be discussed shortly. While the movies are reason enough for audiences to take in this collection, the lack of any bonus content slightly detracts from its presentation and will be addressed a little later. Knowing that the lack of any bonus content is not enough to doom this set, the discussion on the movies’ general effect should also be examined, and will be later, too. It rounds out the collection’s most important elements. When it and the other items noted are considered together, they still make the set still well worth watching, and owning, especially by true cinephiles and lovers of classic science fiction and horror.
Corinth Films’ newly released vintage science fiction/horror cinematic collection, Drive-In Retro Classics is a must have for any true fan of movies from the 1950s and of vintage science fiction and horror. That is due in no small part to its featured trio of movies. The movies are Rocketship X-M (1950), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957), and The Hideous Sun Demon (1958). The Brain From Planet Arous is a great hybrid sci-fi/horror flick that finds its protagonist, Steve March (John Agar — The Mole People, Sands of Iwo Jima, Fort Apache) possessed (yes, possessed) by a giant brain creature from another planet, Planet Arous. The very concept of possession is typically saved for religious-themed horror flicks. Though, there have been movies in which the innocent victim’s mind is controlled by an alien being. In the case of this story though, March is actually possessed by the alien/spirit being. It actually enters his body like a demon and gives March the powers of radiation to kill and destroy. Meanwhile another brain creature (a good one in this case) comes to Earth in search of the evil brain creature. How it all plays out will be left for audiences to discover on their own. It all has a happy ending. Again, the comparison to horror movies centered on possession makes the story all the more interesting especially being that this is a science fiction movie about an evil being from another planet wanting to conquer Earth and the universe. That in itself is certain to generate plenty of discussion among audiences. To that end, it would have been interesting to have some discussion on the matter in some bonus content, but sadly there is no bonus content. This will be discussed a little later.
The Hideous Sun Demon is interesting in its own right. In the case of this movie, one cannot help but make something of a Frankenstein comparison. That is because the monster in this case is in fact, not necessarily the bad guy, when one really thinks about it. Played by Robert Clarke (The Man From Planet X, Captain John Smith and Pocahontas, Beyond The Time Barrier), the monster becomes itself when Clarke’s character, Dr. Gilbert McKenna, is exposed to sunlight after initially being exposed to a dangerous level of radiation. Things turn out anything but good for McKenna/the monster in the end, again making for a direct comparison to Frankenstein. On another note, one can’t help but wonder if this movie played any part in the creation of the famed Dr. Connors/Lizard from the Spiderman universe in Marvel Comics. That is yet another discussion that would have been interesting for inclusion in the set, but sadly isn’t. On yet another note, this very concept of McKenna turning into a monster whenever the sun comes out seems to be a turning of two other classic Universal movie monsters, Dracula and the Wolfman. Dracula goes out by the light of the moon, and the Wolfman becomes himself by the light of the moon. Where Dracula is afraid of sunlight because it can kill him, McKenna becomes his monster because of the sunlight. So again, one can’t help but wonder if there was influence from those old timeless Universal monster movies here.
Getting back on the subject at hand, McKenna has a friend who thinks he has a serum that can help cure McKenna, but things don’t exactly go as planned, leading to a final showdown between the monster and law enforcement atop an oil container at a refinery. The matter of the serum is also a link back to Dr. Conners’ story in the Spiderman universe, again leading to the noted comparison. The way in which the story ends is so much like that of Frankenstein, too. There is even a scene in which McKenna (in his human form) is talking to a little girl. It immediately conjures thoughts of the scene from Frankenstein when the monster meets the little girl. Of course, the outcome is quite different, but the comparison is unavoidable. All things considered, the story proves itself a unique presentation that audiences will find fun to watch every now and then.
Rocketship X-M takes audiences in yet another direction. In the case of this movie, the story is a space travel type tale. A group of astronauts goes into space with the aim of going to the moon, but instead ends up off course and landing on Mars. They discover that there is in fact life on Mars, too, but not what people might think. Instead of multi-headed, multi-eyed creatures with long, slimy tentacles, the beings are humanoid. The astronauts, led by a very young Lloyd Bridges (Airplane, Airplane II, Hot Shots, Hot Shots Part Deux) as Col. Floyd Graham, even discover a stone head that looks like some of those found in Egypt through the decades. This discovery brings about a discussion that any ancient alien theorists will find engaging. The planet’s inhabitants kill most of the crew while Graham and two others survive. The catch is that while the remaining group survives its encounter on Mars and gets back to Earth, the finale is less than happy. Rather, the whole thing ends on a decidedly somber note, leaving one wondering ultimately why they watched. At the same time, that wonderment leads to the understanding of why Rocketship X-M is one of the lesser-known science fiction flicks from the 50s. Even with that in mind, it is still worth watching at least once.
While the movies that make up the body of Drive-In Retro Classics are each worth watching in themselves and collectively, the lack of any bonus content connected with them detracts from the collection’s presentation to a point. As noted already, it would have been interesting to have a discussion on The Brain From Planet Arous and its combined science fiction and religious horror elements. Again, this movie’s story finds a being from another planet actually possessing the story’s protagonist. This is a blending of two separate genres in one and works so well. It would have been nice to have someone connected to the movie or even an academic with knowledge of the movie talk about this and other matters, such as the film history of its main cast. Sadly none of that is there.
A discussion on whether there was in fact a direct link between Universal’s classic monster movies and The Hideous Sun Demon would have also added to the collection’s presentation. The connections are unavoidable in watching the movie, but again, without some discussion on that possible background, audiences are left to just assume that the connection was intentional. It is a piece of cinema history that in its absence just hurts the overall engagement and entertainment in the movie that much.
Moving to bonus content for Rocketship X-M, some discussion on the movie as it relates to the likes of Destination Moon (which came out around the same time as Rocketship X-M) would have been interesting. Just as interesting would have been any talks on humans’ (and moviemakers’) fascination with the moon. The history of movies centered on humans going to the moon reaches back to the very birth of movie making, so something on that would certainly have been interesting. On a similar note, Destination Moon and Rocketship X-M each came out five years before the so-called “Space Race” started, so obviously there is no connection there. That aside, that is in itself worth noting in another discussion.
The discussions on the movies’ background and their connections to other items is just some of the bonus content that would have really helped enhance the viewing experience here. Some discussion on the special effects used in the movies would have added even more to the viewing experience. Clearly the special effects in these movies are very low grade. From the video effects used in the possession scenes in The Brain From Planet Arous to the makeup and costume for the lizard creature in The Hideous Sun Demon, to the obvious strings used to create the effect of weightlessness in Rocketship X-M and more, there is plenty to address in the way of the movies’ special effects. It just would have been nice to have those discussions and the others addressed here. Not having them does not doom the collection’s presentation, but it certainly would have enhanced the viewing experience so much.
Knowing that the lack of any bonus content does not make this overall presentation a failure, there is one more item to examine. That item is the movies’ general effect. Audiences will note that little if any effort was made to remaster the movies’ video and audio in presenting them here. To a point that is a bad thing, as is evidenced in the audio in The Hideous Sun Demon. There are points throughout this movie in which it sounds like the audio was recorded on an area microphone. At other points, the audio is more balanced. In the case of The Brain From Planet Arous, there are obvious jump cuts and other related video matters that clearly were not touched up. Even with the imperfections there, there is something so positive about it all. It plays into a sense of nostalgia that viewers will find themselves appreciating plenty. When this is considered along with the movies themselves and their stories, that collective makes for plenty of reason in itself for audiences to watch all three movies in this collection. To that end, the collection proves worth owning and watching even despite the lack of any bonus content.
Corinth Films’ classic sci-fi collection, Drive-In Retro Classics, is a largely successful offering for any true cinephile and lover of vintage science fiction and horror. That is due in no small part to the movies featured in the collection. They are lesser-known entries from what is one of the greatest eras of cinema, but still fun sci-fi flicks either way. The lack of any bonus content associated with the movies does detract from the overall presentation, but not enough to doom the set. To that end, the general effect of the movies’ presentation works with the movies and their stories to make for even more reason for audiences to give the collection a chance. Each item examined is important in its own way to the whole of the set’s presentation. All things considered, they make Drive-In Retro Classics a presentation that true cinephiles and lovers of vintage science fiction will find engaging and enjoyable.
Drive-In Retro Classics is available through Corinth Films. More information on this and other titles from Corinth Films is available at:
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