Halloween is less than half a month away. With the unofficial start of the holiday season once again so close, Arrow Video is offering audiences a great way to get into the holiday spirit with its recently released Blu-ray box set, Cold War Creatures. Released Sept. 14, the four-disc collection is an excellent way for audiences to do just that. That is due in no small part to the movies featured in this collection and their stories. They will be discussed shortly. The bonus content featured across the set is just as important as the movies and their stories and will be discussed a little later. The set’s pricing rounds out its most important elements, considering the overall content. It will also be discussed later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the box set. All things considered, they make this collection one of the absolute best of this year’s new DVD and BD box sets for grown-ups.
Arrow Video has quickly become one of the leading names in home entertainment over the course of the past year or so, even surpassing the likes of Shout! Factory. The reason being is its offerings. It continued to do just that last month when it released its new classic sci-fi horror cinema collection, Cold War Creatures. Released Sept. 14 on Blu-ray, the four-disc collection features four classic Columbia Pictures flicks, all produced by Sam Katzman. The movies are all from the 1950s, the era that gave audiences some of the greatest sci-fi and horror flicks of all time. In this case, the movies are spread across those genres. The Giant Claw (1957) is a classic creature feature. It was Columbia Pictures’ answer to all of Universal’s classic creature features. Yes, it is so cheesy from beginning to end, but it is one of those flicks that is just so bad that it is great. Thanks to HD technology, audiences can even see the strings and wires that controlled the giant bird and all of the model planes. On another note, The Werewolf (1956) throws back to Universal’s older monster movies, but even being a werewolf movie, is not just a ripoff of The Wolfman. This will be discussed shortly as the focus turns to the movies’ stories. Creature With The Atom Brain takes the focus on atomic energy in that era and crosses it with a mob flick and a zombie flick. That all sounds really contrived, but in a weird way, it works here. Meanwhile, Zombies of Mora Tau is a more supernatural movie that, as the title infers, centers on a bunch of zombies. However in this case, they aren’t brain-eating zombies. This will also be discussed as the focus turns to the movies’ stories. Looking at all of this, it is clear that the movies are unique from one another while also showing the ground that they cover within the sci-fi and horror realms of the time. Simply put, they in themselves give audiences diversity in their viewing options.
Moving to the movies’ stories, the stories are as diverse as the movies themselves. The story featured in Werewolf for instance centers on a man named Duncan Marsh (playe by Steven Rich – Wagon Train, Plunder Road, City of Fear) who is suffering from amnesia and just wants to remember who he is and how he became a werewolf. Meanwhile, the residents of Mountaincrest — the town where Marsh ends up — meet him and eventually come to find out he is also the one responsible for a series of “murders” that happen in the town. The revelation of how Marsh became a werewolf in the first place versus the mindset of sheriff Jack Haines (Don Megowan – Blazing Saddles, The Creation of the Humanoids, The Devil’s Brigade) and that of his fiancé, Amy Standish (Joyce Holden – Private Eyes, The Milkman, The Ford Television Theatre) really does a good job of making Marsh a sympathetic character. Haines’ mindset meanwhile really makes him more of a villain in the bigger discussion on humans’ humanity and lack thereof. That and the intolerance shown by the townspeople versus Amy’s more humane mindset really makes the story even more interesting. That coupled with the blatant Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde comparison makes the story even more engaging and entertaining. It does well to help separate this movie from its Universal Pictures counterpart, The Wolfman. Interestingly enough, the movie is in fact a lifting of another movie, as is revealed in some of the set’s bonus content. This will be addressed later. Getting back on topic, it is just one of the interesting stories featured in this set. The story featured in Zombies of Mora Tau is completely unlike that featured in The Werewolf.
The story featured in The Zombies of Mora Tau centers on a group of treasure hunters who have come to an unnamed region of Africa to retrieve a cache of diamonds. As the set’s bonus content notes (again, this will be discussed later) the comparison to RKO Pictures’ 1932 movie White Zombie (which starred Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi) are inescapable. AS it turns out, the diamonds are “protected” by the zombie crew that originally tried to steal the diamonds. There is some tension and action throughout. It is a story that is completely unlike that of the stories in the set’s other movies.
On yet another side of things, the story featured in The Giant Claw harkens back to the so bad they’re great creature features, such as The Deadly Mantis (1957), Them! (1954) and The Fly (1958). In the case of The Giant Claw, the story is simple. A giant, monster bird (apparently from outer space) comes to Earth to terrorize the planet while also preparing the next generation of super powered creatures. It’s up to a smart mathematician named Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday – The Rookie, The Gauntlet, Sudden Impact) and her guy friend, the stereotypical, headstrong male lead, Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow – This Island Earth, Kronos, Flight To Tangier) to figure out how to beat the apparently extraterrestrial beast. This approach – the elite pair/team working to defeat the deadly beast(s) – was so typical of the creature features of the 50s, but is still just as entertaining to watch here as in those movies, even as cheesy as it is here. Of course Sam Katzman was known for just rehashing previously used plots and plot elements from other movies for the movies that he produced. This is also noted in the expansive bonus content featured in this set. It will also be discussed later. Getting back on topic again, this story is yet another example of the diversity in the movies’ stories.
As noted earlier, the story in Creature With The Atom Brain is unique in its own right. It features a mobster named Frank Buchanan (Michael Granger – Battle of Rogue River, Fort Vengeance, Murder By Contract) who enlists the aid of ex-Nazi scientist Dr. Wilhelm Steigg (Gregory Gaye – Ninotchka, My Gal Sal, Dodsworth) to bring a bunch of dead criminals back to life and use them to get even with the law enforcement officials who caused him to be deported. What audiences get here is a story that blends elements of a crime story and a zombie story to make quite the unique tale that is, again, super cheesy but still somehow so entertaining at the same time. Looking at all of this, it is clear that the stories featured in this set are just as unique from one another as the movies’ genres. To that end, they are just important to the set’s presentation as the movies themselves. The two together are just one part of what makes this collection so entertaining. The bonus content that accompanies the movies and their stories is of its own importance.
To say that the bonus content featured in this set is expansive would be an understatement. Each movie comes with its own bevy of bonuses. Film historian and critic Kim Newman provides his own new introduction to each movie. Each also features its own feature-length audio commentary and other extras. One of the most notable of the “other” extras is the in-depth bonus, “Family Endangered!,” which comes with The Giant Claw. Critic Mike White discusses in this feature, how so many movies in the 1950s reflected audiences’ concerns and the real world in general. For instance, White points out that Creature With The Atom Brain features two antagonists who essentially represented the axis powers from WWII, in an Italian mobster and an ex-Nazi scientist. The hero, an American detective went up against the pair, eventually defeating the men. In the essay about the movie (which is part of the set’s bigger “Essaays” collection about each movie), writer Curt Siodmak was himself a survivor of sorts of Hitler’s regime. The movie’s essay points out that he and his family actually fled their homeland to come to America to get away from Hitler and his evil. So it is interesting to note that this likely played into his writing here.
Getting back on topic, in the case of The Giant Claw, White points out that the bird was essentially a physical manifestation of the fears that Americans had during the Cold War. It was able to “cloak” itself from radar, and destroy so much of America. It even ate the United Nations building while also building a nest in an attempt to spread its evil. In other words, the whole movie was, in essence an allegory of global political tensions at the time. That is interesting in its own right to learn.
On a related note, Newman points out in his introduction to The Giant Claw that allegedly, special effects legend Ray Harryhausen looked into The Giant Claw and essentially turned it down because of the low budget special effects. This is shocking in its own right.
Moving on to Werewolf, Newman points out in this movie’s introduction, the comparison to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydeand adds that it was an intentional throwback to the old Universal monster movies of days gone by. The noted “Essays” collection that comes with the set adds to Newman’s own in-depth discussion, pointing out that the movie was in fact a lifting of the 1943 Columbia Pictures flick The Return of the Vampire. This goes back again to the bigger discussion on Katzman’s willingness to just lift from other movies for the works that he produced. This is also discussed in the “Essays” booklet.
The discussion on Katzman’s willingness to lift plots and plot elements from other movies points out that such a move was intentional. It was part of Katzman’s overall overly spendthrift approach to making movies during the 1950s. He knew that people would buy into such an approach, and that in turn, the movies would make a profit. Keeping that in mind, it leads one to realize that the more things change the more they stay the same, especially in Hollywood. Knowing that movie studios have been excessively taking such an approach over the past 20 years or so, it looks like their approach is nothing new. It lessens the annoyance of studios doing that even today, but at the same time adds to the annoyance that Hollywood even has taken such approach. Ironically if not for that approach, the movies in this set would never have existed, so it becomes something of a bizarre necessary evil. It is just one more of so many bonuses featured in this collection that show the importance of the set’s bonus content. Between everything noted here and so much else featured with the set, the whole strengthens the set’s presentation that much more. Keeping the breadth and depth of that content in mind along with that of the movies and their stories, the whole of the primary and secondary content gives audiences more than enough reason to own this cinematic set. It also makes the set’s pricing money well spent.
The average price point of Cold War Creatures is $93.23 according to prices averaged through Amazon, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble Booksellers. The collection was not listed through Walmart, Target, and Books-A-Million at the time of this review’s posting. Best Buy actually is the best buy in this case, listing the set at $79.99. Barnes & Noble Booksellers and Amazon each list the movie at $99.99. That roughly $80 price point (just over that, counting shipping and handling) is not that bad, considering – again – the amount of content and the depth thereof in this collection. Considering so many Blu-rays ranging from as little as $9 to about $25 on average by themselves, that noted price is actually that much more affordable, considering that at the high end, buying each by itself would equal to about $100. Add in the two extensive booklets that discuss the movies and their art one by one, and that average price point and the least expensive listing becomes that much more affordable. Keeping that in mind along with the overall content, the whole proves even more why any cinephile, any classic sci-fi and horror fan, and any fan of all things Halloween will find this set so enjoyable. It leaves no doubt that the set is among the best of this year’s top new DVD and BD box sets for grown ups.
Arrow Video’s recently released box set of vintage Columbia Pictures movies, Cold War Creatures, is one of the most impressive of the company’s releases so far this year if not the company’s most impressive this year. That is due in part to its primary content. That primary content consists of the set’s featured movies and their stories. The movies and their stories are all unique from one another, offering plenty of diversity from the top down. The secondary content – the bonus content that accompanies the movies and their stories – adds even more engagement and entertainment to the presentation. That is because of the amount of background that it provides for the movies. Any true cinephile fill agree it makes the set that much more immersive. The set’s pricing proves to be money well spent, especially on the lower end. On the lowest end from the nation’s major retailers, audiences will spend less than $100 on the set. Speaking specifically, the lowest point is just over $80. That is not bad, again, considering all of the noted content. When that pricing is considered along with the content, the whole makes this collection overall a complete success one of the year’s top new DVD and BD box sets for grown-ups.
Cold War Creatures is available now. More information on this and other titles from Arrow Video is available at:
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