I Luvz Me Sum Roger Corman Sci-Fi

These films were ubiquitous when I was a kid.  Less than 70 minutes long, they were perfect fare for 90 minute early shows (late afternoon) or pre-cartoon Saturday morning slots.  I must have seen each at least 6 times before I turned 12.

For a long time these films were available only as part of various TV movie packages; there was a rights issue that held these films back from video release.[1] As fewer and fewer stations ran early shows, and as interest in black and white movies faded to just TCM, these movies gradually fell from public view.

Now Shout! Factory has released them in a nice 2-disc set.

Attack Of The Crab Monsters is a finalist for the crown of Most Quintessential 1950s Sci-Fi Movie; the title alone sums up the movie, the genre, and the attitude perfectly.  It’s the Snakes On A Plane of the Eisenhower Era.

That being said, it’s dumb & cheezalicious, shot on a shoestring budget & crammed with more nonsensical characters & non sequiturs that you can shake a crab leg at.  Most low budget producers would be content to have just giant crab monsters menacing the heroes, but Corman ups the ante by making them giant telepathic brain eating crab monsters that absorb the knowledge & personality of their victims, a move that proves both silly & spooky.

Bonus points for a talking Colt .45 automatic.

A lot of people consider Not Of This Earth to be the best of Corman’s early films.  I’m not in that camp, but it is the film where he did the most with the least.  Relying more on his actors than typical, Corman churned out a spooky little Twilight Zone-esque tale of an alien scout seeking to determine if Earth would be a good source of blood for his dying planet.

Not many people can pull off an alien invasion using only a business suit & dark glasses.

War Of The Satellites is my favorite and the best of the trio.  It is a minimalist epic, zipping along at a brisk 65 min. pace.

Storywise it was pretty good:  Aliens seeking to prevent humans from leaving the confines of Earth create a satellite destroying barrier in space; to seal the deal they kill & replace one of the key scientists on the space project with one of their shapeshifting cohorts.  Unlike the other films in this set, War Of The Satellites actually resembles the stories found in sci-fi digests of the era, most notably John W. Campbell’s Astounding.

War Of The Satellites was written, produced, and distributed within 6 weeks of Russia’s Sputnik 1 launch.  The prime movers behind the project were Jack Rabin and Irving Block, 2 guys who owned a low budget special effects shop with Louis DeWitt.  The trio would cook up an interesting low budget effect, then Rabin and Block would build a story around it & pitch it to poverty row producers or the B-units of major studios with the proviso that they would do the effects & get producer credits.

They cranked out a number of interesting low budget sci-fi films this way of which War Of The Satellites is the best one they had direct input to.[2]

The film has a number of interesting set pieces (and one really odd piece of padding/comic relief involving the world’s oldest teenagers).  For the most part it’s intelligently written and produced, though the ending (while satisfying) almost degenerates into complete scientific gibberish.

Though it has a cramped look, War Of The Satellites also has an epic feel that most low budget films never approach.  The special effects are…well, let’s be kind and say “charming.”  The earthbound sets look cobbled together from leftovers (they probably were) but the interior of the satellite creates the impression of spacious corridors and compartments by cleverly using a few key pieces over and over again.

Best of all, Corman stalwart Dick Miller, everbody’s favorite B-movie supporting character, finally gets a chance to play the hero.  Corman hizownsef pops up as a flight engineer.

The Shout! Factory 2-disc set has Attack Of The Crab Monsters and Not Of This Earth on disc 1; disc 2 features War Of The Satellites and 25 Roger Corman trailers which, by astonishing coincidence, are for movies also being released by Shout![3]

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[1]  IIRC, the widow of one of the principles in Allied Artists or some other film venture had the rights to these and a few other films; she wanted too much for home video rights & never came down in her demands.  When she passed on her estate finally closed a deal that she would never have agreed to.

[2]  They only got story credit for Forbidden Planet, which by MGM’s standards was a B-movie.

[3]  Wow!  What are the odds of that?

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