Flying Beast out of Prehistoric Skies! Fred F. Sears’ THE GIANT CLAW to Blu-ray in April from Anolis Entertainment

Addition (03/31): Anolis Entertainment’s The Giant Claw (Angriff der Riesenkralle) is up for pre-order now, through Amazon.de and other outlets.


It’s been less than two weeks since German label Anolis Entertainment’s excellent Blu-ray issue of Ishiro Honda’s The H-Man, but they’re already at it again, expanding upon their Gallery of Horrors with an oddball monster yarn that’s near and dear to ExB’s cold little heart.

Fred F. Sears’ The Giant Claw was made on the fast and cheap under the auspices of prolific penny-pinching producer Sam Katzman and distributed through Columbia in the Summer of 1957, and though it superficially resembles the classic Charles H. Schneer-produced Ray Harryhausen effects ventures which preceded it (the first two of which, It Came From Beneath the Sea and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers were also made under Katzman) it’s the details that make all the difference. Starring sci-fi regular Jeff Morrow (KronosThis Island Earth, The Creature Walks Among Us) and actress and pin-up sensation Mara Corday (Tarantula!, Raw Edge)The Giant Claw is a more or less competent mid-century genre quickie with one tremendous exception: It’s special effects production.

To my child eyes the feature’s eponymous creature; an impossibly gigantic buzzard from intergalactic space; was the single best monster I had ever seen. These days I still love it, though it’s impossible to deny the overwhelming silliness of a giant space vulture with sharp, pointy teeth, flaring nostrils, bulging veiny eyes, and a billowing scraggle of a mohawk. With Harryhausen having followed faithful producer Charles H. Schneer as he exited from under Katzman’s supervision to pursue his own film enterprises The Giant Claw was forced to improvise, and Katzman, as was typical of him, spared most expenses.

The results were a noted embarrassment to the film’s cast, and well below the standards set by the Schneer / Harryhausen classic 20 Million Miles to Earth (which was in release through Columbia that same Summer), but have helped to make The Giant Claw a sort of classic in its own right. Sixty years on the film remains a relevant cult item, salvaged from the obscurity suffered by so many other (and sometimes better) films by its own iconic shortcomings.

Gif shamelessly snagged from Tumblr user SwampThingy

The Giant Claw will receive its high definition home video debut on April 13th, in a dual format Blu-ray / DVD edition as part of Anolis’ ongoing Die Rache der Galerie des Grauens series. The film will be presented with both English and German audio options, presumably through Sony’s own master of the title (a la The H-Man), and will likely be Region B / Region 2 locked. The full details, quoted from Anolis’ Facebook page, follow below.

Ja, ich weiß, ihr alle wartet auf unsere nächsten Hammer-VÖs. Und keine Sorge: Dieses Jahr wird es davon reichlich geben. Nur eben noch nicht im April. Dafür gibt es in dem Monat, der nicht weiß, was er will, eine weitere GALERIE Veröffentlichung. Und diese bietet das wohl abstruseste Filmmonster, das die Welt je gesehen hat. Einen übergroßen Vogel Strauss mit Punkfrisur. Ganz klar, dabei kann es sich nur um ANGRIFF DER RIESENKRALLE (orig. THE GIANT CLAW) handeln.

Für diejenigen unter euch, die dieses grandiose Meisterwerk noch nicht kennen, hier mal ein paar Sätze zum Inhalt bzw. zur Einordnung in die Filmgeschichte:

Als über dem amerikanischen Luftraum ein seltsames Wesen von der Größe eines Schlachtschiffes auftaucht, will keiner der Aussage des Wissenschaftlers Mitch MacAfee Glauben schenken. Dann attackiert das Wesen, ein gigantischer hässlicher Raubvogel aus dem All, die Zivilisation. Er schleppt Züge fort und frisst Teenager. Konventionelle Waffen prallen am Energieschild des Monsters ab. Als sei das nicht genug, hat die Bestie bereits ein Nest gebaut und brütet weitere Ungetüme aus. Ist die Menschheit noch zu retten oder endet sie womöglich als Vogelfutter für eine Schar fliegender Monster?

Sam Katzman produzierte diesen berühmt-berüchtigten Monsterfilm, in dem die bekannten Genrestars Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday und Morris Ankrum die Welt vor dem mit Abstand verrücktesten und ungewöhnlichsten Monster der 1950er Jahre retten müssen. Der Riesenvogel mit seinem vollkommen grotesken Design begeisterte schon Generationen von Fans und ließ die Darsteller des Films seinerzeit vor Scham im Boden versinken.

Nicht vor Scham im Boden versinken müssen wir was die Präsentation dieses Films angeht, bieten wir euch doch schon wieder eine Blu-ray/DVD-Kombo an:

Verpackung: Standard Amaray Hülle (mit Flügel für 2. Disc)
Bestell-Nr: 31077
EAN-Code: 404 1036 31077 6

FSK: 12
Bildformat: 1:1,79 (16:9)
Tonformat: Deutsch/Englisch DTS MA 2.0 Mono
Untertitel: deutsch (ausblendbar)

2-Disc-Edition (Blu-ray & DVD)

Extras: Audiokommentar mit Ingo Strecker und Thomas Kerpen / Audiokommentar mit Dr. Rolf Giesen, Uwe Sommerlad und Ivo Scheloske / Einleitung von Dr. Rolf Giesen über die Spezialeffekte / Amerikanische Titelsequenz / Spanische Titelsequenz / Amerikanischer Kinotrailer / Super-8-Fassung / Bildergalerie

16-seitiges Booklet geschrieben von Ingo Strecker

Als VÖ-Termin haben wir den 13. April 2017 festgelegt, damit die Edition noch rechtzeitig in euren Osterkörbchen landen kann.

The Giant Claw (as Angriff der Riesenkralle) should be available through Amazon.de and other outlets soon. The film is already out in an excellent DVD domestically from Sony, as part of the Icons of Horror: Sam Katzman Collection. The film’s original double-bill co-feature Night the World Exploded is also available, through Sony’s MOD DVD program or as part of Mill Creek’s questionably mastered (yet excruciatingly affordable) Vintage Sci-Fi 6 Movie Collection.

All Brand New! An Important Film of Our Age Starring Russ Tamblyn, Kumi Mizuno, and… Kipp Hamilton?

Tokusatsu Tuesdays is a regular feature relating to Japanese special effects entertainments and their associated whatsits, and a bridge, so to speak, between ExploderButton.com and its sister site, Eiga · Bouei


Just a short write-up for all of you this Tuesday. The artwork shared below comes courtesy of a trade ad Toho placed in the September 14th 1966 issue of the industry publication Motion Picture Herald, in which it serves as the back cover image (which is great, as it means I didn’t have to dismember the entire mag just to get a decent picture of it). The sharp two-tone design is a variation on the key poster image Toho produced to advertise the film to international buyers, and which served as the basis for the final theatrical poster art in territories like France and Spain.

The film itself should need little introduction. 1966’s 「フランケンシュタインの怪獣 サンダ対ガイラ」War of the Gargantuas, the kind-of sort-of sequel to the prior year’s 「フランケンシュタイン対地底怪獣バラゴン」Frankenstein Conquers the World, received significant distribution both in theaters and on television worldwide and remains one of the best-known and beloved of Toho’s special effects productions. Toho have a fine all-region Blu-ray available, albeit in Japanese only, and an inexpensive domestic DVD is available which features both the Japanese and American versions.

Toho’s international key art speaks well for the film’s charms – two monsters locked in a duel to the death, the military amassed against them and the fate of a city in the balance. The film’s opening attraction – a malevolent giant octopus – even makes an appearance. Perhaps my favorite thing about the piece, however, is how also-ran guest star Kipp Hamilton finagles a third-place credit, right behind genuine stars Russ Tamblyn and Kumi MIZUNO. Hamilton appears briefly to regale audiences with War of the Gargantuas‘ enduring anti-classic lounge tune “The Words Get Stuck in my Throat“, before running afoul of a not-so-jolly green giant. The lamentable number is shared, below the ad, in its DEVOlved version.

Earth Attack Order: Godzilla vs. Gigan「地球攻撃命令 ゴジラ対ガイガン」

Aliens in orange leisure suits plot world conquest from a theme park, and it’s up to a comic artist and his friends (with an assist from Japan’s preeminent monster star) to stop them in Godzilla vs. Gigan, the twelfth entry in Toho Co.’s iconic monster franchise. A conceptual return to form after the previous year’s bizarre and experimental Godzilla vs. HedorahGigan recalls the multi-monster throw-downs that had defined the series in the middle sixties, if only superficially so. From the ostentatious title (best when spoken with multiple exclamation points) and ad slicks to the music (something of a greatest hits of Ifukube library tracks) to the monster roster itself (including frequent series villain and kaiju-for-hire King Ghidorah) the film is calculated to evoke Godzilla’s recent (and more profitable) past, but beneath all that affected pomp lies one of the monster’s shabbiest outings. With dwindling attendance figures driving the series to the lower depths of under-production Gigan was left to build an ambitious tokusatsu epic from slim pickings indeed – in retrospect it’s a wonder that any of it works at all.

Penned by longtime series scribe Shinichi Sekizawa (Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster) from a story by Takeshi Kimura (The H-Man), Godzilla vs. Gigan offers an amusing pop-art twist on the rote alien invasion archetype that had dominated Toho’s special effects productions from 1957’s The Mysterians onward. Kimura’s involvement assures at least a touch of substantive meandering by way of the invader’s backstory (their world was driven to ruin by the unchecked industrial ambitions of its dominant life forms, leaving lesser creatures to seek a more hospitable world), but the desperate man-sized cockroaches of Nebula Space Hunter M are mostly a silly bunch. After assuming human identities and amassing a hip collection of belligerently colorful formal wear, the M-aliens begin their quest for world domination (or as they refer to it, “perfect peace”) in a truly unusual fashion – by building a monster-themed amusement park with a monumental Godzilla Tower as its main attraction. The plan from there is simple: Destroy Tokyo with a pair of computer-controlled space monsters in a bid to lure Godzilla from his digs on Monster Island to the M-aliens’ fun-land base of operations, then destroy the King of the Monsters with the space lasers mounted in the head of his own (presumably unlicensed1) likeness. What could possibly go wrong?

Giving the M-aliens a run for their money in the silliness department are the human cast – a down-on-his-luck comic artist named Gengo (non-star Hiroshi Ishikawa in  his next-to-last film appearance), his martial artist girlfriend Tomoko (Bohachi Bushido‘s Yuriko Hishimi), and a pair of hippies hunting for a kidnapped electronics expert (career supporting player Kunio Murai, Nobunaga Concerto). Using balloons, exploding cartoon murals, an affinity for yellow fruits and vegetables, and some considerable narrative gymnastics to their great advantage, Gengo and his cohorts become just the sort of oddball anti-invasion force the ill-fated M-aliens deserve. For his part underrated director Jun Fukuda (Secret of the Telegian) keeps the human action moving at a brisk enough clip, assuring that there are usually enough parts in motion at any given point in the proceedings to keep it all from feeling dull. The pop art-inflected production design doesn’t hurt either. Veteran art director Yoshifumi Honda (Throne of Blood) uses hefty doses of color to keep the palpable cheapness of it all from becoming too obvious or distracting, and generally with good results – the following year’s Godzilla vs. Megalon would have him following the same basic ethos, and with like success.

With the exception of the aforementioned ecological angle and some Invasion of Astro-Monster-derived commentary on the perils of technology (the computer-fixated M-aliens are ultimately destroyed their inflexible reliance on them) Godzilla vs. Gigan is played mostly for kicks, and provided the series with what was up to that point its least complicated perspective on Godzilla as hero. Though Yoshimitsu Banno had presented the character in stark heroic terms the year before he had done so within the context of a film with far more substantive ambitions (so had Ishiro Honda for that matter, in 1969’s All Monsters Attack). Gigan‘s approach is utterly simplistic by contrast, reducing the whole concept to its essence of Good Monsters against Bad Monsters, for better or worse, a trend that would continue through 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Still, rarely has Godzilla felt more dissociated from his past than he does here, rising to thwart an alien invasion out of heroic necessity and speaking to his buddy Anguirus via stylized speech bubbles. This Godzilla is pure kid’s stuff, theme song and all.

That’s not to suggest that this is an inherently bad thing, but Gigan‘s climactic kaiju brawl is just too protracted and sluggish to rate with the better among the ’70s films. With too little money and too little time on their side accomplished SPFX director Teruyoshi Nakano (Submersion of Japan) and his associates did their best by the considerable number of effects cuts Gigan demanded of them, but the quality of the work is inconsistent to say the least and is hampered further by an over-reliance on footage culled from prior series outings. An early appearance by Anguirus in Sagami Bay is limited to a few fresh takes on a tiny and unconvincing effects stage, a new process shot of troops running back and forth, and a heap of alienated military assault footage from War of the GargantuasDestroy All Monsters and so on. The final four-way monster brawl doesn’t fare much better, and feels at least a reel too long for its torpid pacing and frequent stock footage interruptions (minutes worth of material from Ghidrah the Three Headed MonsterInvasion of Astro-Monster and so on). King Ghidorah must have proven too difficult to operate effectively under the constraints of the production and spends the majority of the fight watching quietly from the sidelines while Godzilla falls increasingly to pieces. The latter suit appears for its fourth (and final, blessedly) time in as many films here, and looks all the worse for wear after its demanding turn in 1971’s Godzilla vs. Hedorah.

If there’s a special effects highlight to be gleaned from Godzilla vs. Gigan it’s Gigan itself, a truly bizarre kaiju creation and one of my favorite among Toho’s menagerie. Nakano and company manage to afford the beast a few minutes of old-school city-stomping action, and despite the modest size of the effects stages it all plays quite well. Late SPFX photographer Motoyoshi Tomioka2 (King Kong Escapes) keeps shots tight for the most part, making good use of a sparse few blocks of miniatures before pulling back to watch it all burn. The sequence is still set back by its dependence on recycled footage (in this film it’s positively unavoidable), but the original material stands as a fine slice of budget-conscious tokusatsu action all the same.

I have a lot of fond memories of watching Godzilla vs. Gigan as a child, back when it was still running in syndication under its Cinema Shares Int. theatrical title of Godzilla on Monster Island, and even if the film holds up rather poorly these days a certain fondness for it remains. The human drama is goofy fun, the aliens bizarrely fashionable, and Gigan is still one hell of a thing. This is yet another of those films that I like a good deal more than I probably should, and despite any earlier bellyaching I find myself revisiting it more often than I care to admit. I’m not sure that really qualifies as a recommendation or not, but in the case of Godzilla vs. Gigan it’s as much as you’ll get from me.


Screengrabs are taken from Toho’s own blu-ray release of Godzilla vs. Gigan, which was issued in July of last year. The disc presents a strong Mpeg-4 AVC encode of a relatively soft 2.35:1-framed HD master, but plays fine for my tastes in motion (I find the excessive noisiness of the Kraken blu-ray rather distracting in playback, and as with Ebirah – Horror of the Deep, tend to prefer the color timing and framing of the Toho release over the domestic alternative). The speech bubbles absent in domestic DVD and Blu-ray editions are of course present and accounted for here, and the original titles are a revelation by contrast to their bland English counterparts. How did such an underwhelming film come by such a groovy opening titles sequence? Audio is presented in monophonic 2.0 LPCM (16 bit), and is decent if unremarkable – the original mix sounds fairly flat, and I suspect this is as good a presentation of it as can be reasonably expected. The 5.1 remix produced for the film’s first Japanese DVD issue is also on board (revamped in DTS-HD MA), and adds a bit of punch to the music tracks as well as a wealth of phasing issues in the sound effects (noticeable on most of the 5.1 remasters I’ve heard from the company). Optional Japanese subtitles are included for the feature, but the all region compatible disc offers nothing in the way of English language support.

As with many of Toho’s blu-ray discs, supplements are unexpectedly weighty (though again, not English friendly), with all of the most noteworthy bits being exclusive to this release. Masaaki Tezuka x Yuriko Hishimi: Special Talk is a substantial and enthusiastic interview featurette between the director and Gigan‘s most prominent star, and runs for 40 minutes in HD. The Man who Made Godzilla Tower: Nobuyuki Yasumaru runs roughly 20 minutes in HD, and covers not only the effects sculptor’s contributions to Toho productions (like his work on Gorosaurus and the various late-Showa Godzilla suits, as well as the eponymous Godzilla Tower) but his non-film art pieces as well. Neat! The rest of the video extras are less substantial, but nice to have all the same – you get a theatrical dispatch (HD, same transfer as on the Kraken disc, for which this dispatch is the only extra), a karaoke presentation of the film’s infectious “Godzilla March”, as well as an HD reproduction of the original theatrical program. The final on-disc supplement is an audio commentary with effects artist and director Shinji Higuchi (Gamera: Guardian of the Universe) moderated by playwright and television writer Kenji Konuta (Ultraman Dyna), which is thoughtfully carried over from Toho’s earlier DVD. Packaging is typical for the company’s tokusatsu blu-rays, and includes an attractive slip case, as well as a 60th Anniversary promotional obi (not pictured), a sticker, and a print advertisement for the rest of Toho’s 60th anniversary blu-ray releases. I love the way these packages look on the shelf, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t figure somehow into the whys of why I keep buying them.

Godzilla vs. Gigan is available from Amazon.co.jp and the other usual import outlets, though in a rare turn (I had some trade-in credit) I actually picked up my copy from a third party seller (JAPANWORLD, who were lovely to work with) at Amazon.com. I recommend shopping around if interested, as the prices for these releases can vary quite a lot from shop to shop or from seller to seller. The domestic Blu-ray release remains available as well for those so inclined, and is darned cheap besides.

GVGigan_FrontSlip GVGigan_BackSlip GVGigan_FrontCase GVGigan_BackCase GVGigan_InsideCase

1 It’s not hard to imagine an alternate Universe in which the world is saved from the M-aliens not by the intervention of giant monsters, but by Toho’s legal department. They could foil the evil scheme through the sheer force of copyright litigation alone.

2 The IMDB credits him as Sokei Tomioka for whatever reason, while Allcinema.net suggests Motohiro Tomioka. The reading in this article was confirmed from the commentary tracks for Godzilla Raids Again and Terror of Mechagodzilla, in which he participated before his passing in 2011.

Creeping! Crawling! Crushing! Bill Rebane’s ‘The Giant Spider Invasion’ to Blu-ray and DVD next week from VCI

Update (6/13/2015): The original post continues below – received the Blu-ray on Wednesday and wanted to share some quick thoughts. Firstly, I really wanted to love this release. The film is a bona fide household favorite, and there was the potential, at least, to really knock the socks off the so-so presentations of the past. Unfortunately, VCI’s The Giant Spider Invasion is pretty terrible, at least in so far as the feature presentation is concerned. People will bellyache about the Mpeg-2 video encode, but that’s an utterly inconsequential technicality in this case – the transfer on-disc would look terrible regardless. The problem here is processing, processing, and still more processing. The grainy, scratch-riddled source elements have been practically sand-blasted, with much of the already modest detail the picture possessed carelessly scrubbed away in the process. Artificial sharpening and motion errors (a stuttered ghosting effect that appears from time to time) just add to the troubles – for all the improvements in color and framing over past editions, the disc just looks bad.

Samples are included below, in uncompressed PNG. The trailers on-disc hint at what might have been. The damage is there in the form of vertical scratches and plenty of dust and speckles, but the unprocessed image is miles in advance of what can be seen in the feature presentation. Unless you’re really, really itching to shell out nearly $30 for the newly-produced extras (the HD galleries, trailers, and Rebane interview that accompany the Blu-ray are neat, but only add up to maybe half an hour of material) then this disc is a complete pass. I never thought I’d prefer an early ’80s VHS to a modern Blu-ray release, but I suppose them’s the breaks. What a disappointment.

The Giant Spider Invasion – feature screenshots: 

trailer / television spot screenshots:

Original Post:

THE-GIANT-SPIDER-INVASION-BLU-RAY-500x500Does this film even need an introduction? Bill Rebane’s Midwestern big-bug epic is pretty infamous these days (the lampooning from cult program MST3K is, admittedly, hilarious), but was a significant drive-in hit in its own time. I remember seeing it on television as a kid in the late ’80s and thinking it was pretty much the best thing I had ever seen – the gangly spider mock-ups and trashy atmosphere creeped me out in the best of ways back then.

Long available only in editions culled from masters dating at least as far back as my first experience with the film, The Giant Spider Invasion is set to make an unlikely comeback next week courtesy of VCI. The label will be releasing a fresh DVD of the film (with tasty supplemental accompaniment) in wide distribution, but the big news is their web-exclusive (it appears to be available from their webstore only at present) Blu-ray, a loaded deluxe edition that’s set to present The Giant Spider Invasion in widescreen and HD for the first time in its lengthy home video history.

Supplements for the Blu-ray are stacked. Quoting from the VCI site:

  • New 2015 Documentary by Daniel Griffith – “Size Does Matter! Making The Giant Spider Invasion”
  • Bonus CD from “The Giant Spider Invasion the Musical” – 14 Rockin’ Tracks from the forth-coming Live Musical-Stage Play
  • Mini ‘TGSI’ Collectible Comic Book
  • The SUPER-8 Version (the original home media format!)
  • The SUPER-8 Version re-edited in HD!
  • Archival Interviews with cult-film director Bill Rebane and other members of the cast, crew and Super-fans
  • Archival Interview with actor Robert Easton (Kester)
  • Bill Rebane introduction by Kevin Murphy and Mike Nelson (of Mystery Science Theater fame)
  • Extensive Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery
  • Original Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots
  • Archival TV News Reports
  • Liner Notes written by Tom Stockman, WeAreMovieGeeks.com

VCI are set to present The Giant Spider Invasion at its theatrical 1.85:1 ratio with LPCM audio (VCI say Dolby Digital, but the DVDDrive-In review disputes this) and optional English subtitles. No complaints here. I’m fascinated to see how it all shakes out, and all the more so given VCI’s spotty track record (in so far as feature presentation is concerned at least). So long as this Blu-ray plays better than my 25-plus-year-old Japanese VHS I suspect I’ll be happy enough.

VCI’s less expensive (and less loaded) The Giant Spider Invasion DVD edition is available for pre-order through Amazon and other online retailers. For now the Blu-ray edition is available only through VCI directly. Both editions are set for release on June 9th.

1001 wonders! 1001 thrills! Henry Levin’s ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ (1959)

Jules Verne’s classic science fiction adventure novel Voyage au Centre de la Terre has been adapted many times for screens both large and small, most often quite badly, but despite some considerable liberties taken with the source material this big-budget adaptation from 20th Century Fox remains the best of the bunch. The (very) big brother to Irwin Allen’s alternately lamentable / lovable sci-fi fiasco The Lost World, Fox’s 1959 production of Journey to the Center of the Earth fills the CinemaScope screen with vivid color spectacle and A-list talent while one of Bernard Herrmann’s best fantasy scores rumbles forth in 4-track stereo. It remains a damn fine show more than half a century on, bolstered by an intelligent, often playful screenplay that still holds up (from Charles The Lost Weekend Brackett and Walter Gaslight Reisch) – it’s no surprise the film made a small mint upon release, and continues to generate royalty checks for its then-young star Pat Boone.

Though substantially altered in its details the narrative here is familiar enough: When the recently-knighted Professor Lindenbrook (James Mason, displaying the same charismatic misanthropy that would mark his performance in Kubrick’s Lolita) receives a celebratory paperweight – an unusually heavy chunk of igneous rock – from his star pupil Alec (Pat Boone, whose heart-throb appeal is plundered early and often), he suspects there’s more to the thing than meets the eye. A chance encounter with an overfed laboratory furnace reveals the suspicious rock’s secret. Within lies a plumb-bob upon which is etched the last words of explorer Arne Saknussem, who therein claims to have reached the center of the Earth!

Thus is launched the Lindenbrook expedition, an effort by the Professor and his loyal underling (Boone is, amusingly, billed above Mason) to follow in Saknussem’s footsteps and reach the furthest recesses of the inner Earth. After joining forces with Madame Carla Göteborg (the lovely Arlene Dahl as the freshly widowed wife of a rival scientist), Icelandic strongman Hans (legitimate Icelander Peter Ronson), and his devoted duck Gertrude, the expedition makes its way down into an extinct volcanic crater and through the cavernous interior of the Earth, threatened all the while by hazardous geology, dinosaurs, and a devious heir to the Saknussem legacy who wishes to claim the center of the Earth as his own…

Journey to the Center of the Earth is a matinee-style programmer done in atypically grand style, and one of the few honestly BIG science fiction spectacles of its day (along with Forbidden Planet and the productions of George Pal). While some of the set design is suspect (director Henry Levin and director of photography Leo Tover keep those early cavern interiors dark with good reason) the overall scale of the thing, particularly when the ruins of Atlantis and the expansive mushroom forest make their appearances, and the caliber of the talent involved more than make up for it. Boone no doubt set his young idolaters’ hearts a-twitter, both with his early crooning and later clothing-impaired antics, but for me this has always been Mason’s show. The actor was arguably at the height of his potential here, with Hitchcock’s North By Northwest under his belt and Kubrick’s Lolita within sight, and had already proven his Verneian mettle as the quintessential Captain Nemo in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea just a few years earlier. Perhaps more important than Mason alone is the convincing tit-for-tat relationship that develops between him and his co-star Arlene Dahl (one of Minneapolis’ own, for any locals reading) – this drama has always worked for me, even as a kid who was accustomed to patiently waiting out the “boring parts” to get to the sensational trappings.

Of course Journey to the Center of the Earth has sensational trappings in spades, including such suspense staples as the ledge walk (soon to be appropriated by Irwin Allen, who evidently thought it the epitome of screen thrills), the giant rolling boulder, and the collapsing rock bridge – this was one of the earlier big-budget efforts to co-opt such B-grade cliffhanger devices, before Lucas and Star Wars made the practice an industry standard. The special effects production is top-notch throughout, with the matte artist(s) proving especially deserving of commendation (the early vistas of Icelandic mountains and later revelation of a vast underground sea are both breathtaking stuff), though, as ever, there is at least one point of contention. Like One Million B.C. and the Flash Gordon serials before it, Journey to the Center of the Earth relies on the deservedly criticized slurpasaur technique to bring its various dinosaurs to life. In this case its a gaggle of rhinoceros iguanas and one rather irate tegu pulling monster duty, though at least the former are cast as morphologically similar Dimetrodons – in the annals of slurpasaur history they are easily some of the most convincing. Fox obviously deemed the monster efforts of Emil Kosa Jr., James B. Gordon and L. B. Abbott to be “good enough” in this respect, as the trio were tasked with the process again just a year later, for Irwin Allen’s The Lost World.

Slurpasaurs or no, Journey to the Center of the Earth‘s tremendous entertainment potential remains, and with a host of wonderful performances, a taught script, and superb production design on its side it stands firmly as one of the best of its type. This is a film that’s captivated me since before I can rightly remember, Pat Boone, dinosaurs, ducks and all, and is more than worthy of recommendation if for that reason alone.


The screenshots for this article were gleaned from Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray edition of Journey to the Center of the Earth, a welcome reissue that benefits very nicely from 20th Century Fox’s fresh 4k restoration of the film. The new master loses the considerable noisiness of Fox’s first HD attempt (the same used for their DVD more than a decade ago), and adds substantially more information at the edges of the CinemaScope frame as well (AR is spot on at 2.35:1). The overall appearance is darker and richer, with precise, saturated colors and subtle grain textures, and in motion it can be very impressive indeed! The matte work and trick photography play better than ever here, even as a wayward technician’s hand or two find their way into the iconic Dimetrodon scene, and that old school Fox production value shines. Technical specs appear sound – Journey to the Center of the Earth receives an Mpeg-4 AVC encode at an average video bitrate of 29.3 Mbps, and unlike the reissue of Fright Night, I noted no significant encoding artifacts.

A very brief comparison between the two discs, old above and new below:

Audio is offered up in two flavors, 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround, both in DTS-HD MA (for whatever reason the film’s 4.0 mix is missing in action). Herrmann’s bellowing score fares well across both, and the extra LFE bump it receives in the 5.1 rendering gives it a positively otherworldly presence. Dialogue and effects can sound quite flat at times in comparison, though that’s endemic to the original production. A set of optional SDH subtitles support the dialogue, and are a welcome addition – I don’t believe Twilight Time’s original release had them. Supplements get a bit of a boost by way of a fresh commentary track, featuring actress Diane Baker as well as historian Steven C. Smith (author of A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann) and filmmaker and TT co-founder Nick Redman. Otherwise the disc sports a theatrical trailer (in standard definition) and a robust isolated score track, accessible through the “setup” options or from your remote. The dual-layer BD50 disc appears to be all region compatible (it played just fine on both my Region A PS3 and Region B secondary deck), and arrives with newly commissioned booklet art and a set of reprinted liner notes from Julie Kirgo.

One would love to see this restoration trotted out again once native 4k discs arrive, but barring that, it’ll be tough to top this edition from Twilight Time. It looks great and sounds pretty damn good as well, and fans of the picture are encouraged to indulge. Journey to the Center of the Earth is a limited production run of 5,000, and is available now through ScreenArchives.com.

Note: Unlike the other shots which accompany this article, the menu image below was taken with my digital camera during playback, and not captured directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Saturday Monster Matinee:
Irwin Allen’s ‘The Lost World’

French Blu-ray cover - THE LOST WORLD - 1960Playing as a sort of matinee ready follow-up to 20th Century Fox’s successful production of Journey to the Center of the Earth from 1959, Irwin Allen’s The Lost World is big, colorful, and dumb in more or less equal measure. The screenplay by Allen and frequent collaborator Charles Bennett (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), freely adapted from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel with some allusions to First National’s classic silent version thrown in for good measure, may propel Doyle’s early-century action into more modern times, but the film’s effects production remains positively prehistoric. This is perhaps the slurpasaur epic, second only to Hal Roach’s One Million B.C. in its wholesale embarrassment and abuse of large lizards and others of their ilk. It really is a dreadful show by most measures, a fact only compounded by a stirringly awful turn from Jill St. John (Diamonds Are Forever), but Winton C. Hoch’s vivid CinemaScope photography and Allen’s own sense for pure stupid spectacle (this may be the genesis of his go-to suspense setup – the ledge) keep it from being a total bore.

The tale begins in London where, shortly after bopping bothersome American newsman Ed Malone (David Hedison) over the head with an umbrella, the imminent and irascible Professor Challenger (the wonderful Claude Rains, horribly miscast) heads to a meeting of the resident Zoological Society to make a shocking announcement: He has discovered an unscalable plateau hidden deep within the forests of the Amazon, a plateau populated by the living descendants of animals thought extinct since the Jurassic Age. In other words, “Live dinosaurs!”

With nothing to show for himself, his photographs and journals having been lost in an accident on the return voyage, Challenger proposes that a new expedition be mounted to his lost world, to be manned by himself, the ZSL’s own Professor Summerlee (Richard Haydn, well chosen as Challenger’s condescending professional rival), and two unbiased volunteers. Stepping up to that challenge are Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie!), a renowned big game hunter, explorer, and philanderer and, much to Challenger’s chagrin, reporter Ed Malone, whose boss immediately fronts $100,000 for the expedition’s expenses. With the money and team in order the trip into the Amazon begins, where its roster of personnel quickly bloats beyond all recognition. Aside from the necessary addition of helicopter pilot Gomez (Fernando Lamas!) the expedition takes on useless and slimy local profiteer Costa (character player Jay Novello, wasted in his role) as well as Roxton’s headstrong love interest Jennifer Holmes (a dreadful Jill St. John) and her brother David, the two children of Malone’s wealthy news-baron employer.

Gorged on superfluous humanity, the Challenger expedition hobbles its way to the isolated plateau and, with its helicopter destroyed by a wandering brontosaurus (amusingly, it’s identified by Challenger regardless of his never seeing it), quickly becomes stranded there. Taking refuge in a spacious cave, the team members set out to investigate their surroundings and happen upon an example of the native wildlife of rather a different sort than dinosaurs – the beautiful Vitina Marcus as a mini-dressed tribeswoman. Unfortunately her existence suggests that more of her kind are living on the plateau, and soon the expedition finds itself contending not only with dinosaurs and other giant flora and fauna, but a tribe of monster-worshiping cannibal natives as well…

While several oft-omitted elements of the original novel found their way into this The Lost World in heavily adapted forms, including subplots involving diamonds, capture by natives, and even a dramatic conflict between Roxton and Gomez (in the novel this was the method by which the expedition was stranded, and was replaced by a brontosaurus in the 1925 film – this The Lost World keeps both), those hoping that Allen and Bennet’s writing might stick close to the source should look elsewhere. Indeed, the closest Allen’s production comes to honoring the author’s intentions is to put his name above the title card, which summarily bursts into flames. Perhaps the most grievous wound inflicted upon the material, the inclusion of Frosty the poodle in the character roster excepted, is a love triangle revolving around the dull Jennifer Holmes and the backwards sexual politics that come with it. The Lost World, like many before and since, is another of those films in which a woman tries to prove herself in “a man’s world” only to be happily put in her place by the final reel. The overtly objectified Vitina Marcus doesn’t escape either, being so much eye-candy that the film neglects to even name her. After an attempted rape by the sleazy Costa is thwarted young David pulls Marcus aside. “We’re not all like that,” he assures, before losing all credibility with his follow-up. “You know, you’re kinda nice!”

Ultimately more problematic than their politics is the fact that Allen and Bennet have chosen to populate their The Lost World with a full cast of unlikable characters (not to mention that damned dog). It’s impossible not to like Claude Rains’ as Professor Challenger, miscast though he is in the role of the boorish and confrontational zoologist, and at least Gomez is granted a justifiable reason for being such a jerk. Otherwise this is pretty rough going, compounded by the lackluster quality of the writing itself and Allen’s own uninspired direction. Seemingly at a loss for blocking the action in any interesting way, Allen resorts time and again to having his cast wander into single and double-file lines to fill out the frame. Winton Hoch’s vivid CinemaScope photography helps to distract from at least some of the deficiencies – Hoch had worked with Allen previously on The Big Circus, and would go on to photograph Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Five Weeks in a Balloon as well as episodes of several of Allen’s television series. More than just an award-winning director of photography, Hoch had helped to develop the three-strip Technicolor process as a lab tech in the 1930s. When it came to color on film he obviously knew his stuff.

Like the majority of Irwin Allen productions the issues of writing and characterization are all secondary to the spectacle of the thing, and The Lost World has spectacle to spare. Aside from the expected encounters with dinosaurs and cave-people Allen also treated audiences to one of his first daring ledge-walks (watch out for those obvious fall-away rocks!) as well as a climactic volcanic eruption and a gaggle of man-eating plants. Though Willis O’Brien receives credit as an effects technician (just what he contributed, if anything, is unclear – sadly this appears to have been his final on-screen credit) his time-consuming stop motion animation process went unused here, and the dinosaurs were instead brought to life through the dubious slurpasaur technique. Used to reasonably good effect in Fox’s earlier Journey to the Center of the Earth and here managed by the same studio effects techs (L.B. Abbott, James B. Gordon, and Emil Kosa Jr.), The Lost World features monitor lizards, iguanas, alligators, and geckos in a variety of rubber appliances. Though close inspection reveals the detail with which the technique was carried out (a lot of work went into matching colors, scale patterns and so forth) it never goes so far as to actually work. Convincing an audience that a Nile monitor topped off with a floppy triceratops’ frill and a stegosaurus’ back plates is anything other than what it looks to be is a losing battle.

The dependence on slurpasaur effects is perhaps the show’s greatest handicap, particularly for modern viewers with higher sensitivity to animal cruelty. There’s little doubt that at least some of the costumed reptiles were outright killed for the production. One is sunk into a bubbling pool and doused with smoldering lava-substitute, while an homage to the star dinosaur battle from One Million B.C. concludes with technicians lobbing the participants over a cliff. These scenes were enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth even as a child, and certainly haven’t grown on me since then. Allen either thought differently or was too much the penny pincher to care, and trotted out this dinosaur footage at every opportunity during his television career. It appeared in everything from The Time Tunnel to Land of the Giants, and Allen even re-cast Vitina Marcus in her familiar cave-girl role for Turn Back the Clock, a season one episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea that replays the events of The Lost World wholesale.

So what are we left with after all this? A well-shot but poorly conceived adaptation of a classic novel that’s loaded with unlikable characters and largely dependent on animal abuse for its thrills. This is one of those cases where I should by all rights hate the film, big and stupid and reprehensible as it can be, but for some intangible reason I don’t hate Irwin Allen’s The Lost World at all. Contemporary audiences apparently agreed. Though it received only middling critical attention the modestly budgeted The Lost World made a mint for both Allen and 20th Century Fox upon its release, fast-tracking Allen’s far more substantial (if no less dumb) Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and setting the stage for his successful stint as a producer of 60s fantasy television.


The screenshots for this review were gleaned from the Rimini Editions Blu-ray of The Lost World, which was released in France in November of 2014. Aside from a few dupe shots and occasional damage the transfer offered looks quite nice indeed, with robust color, a natural filmic texture, and a decent level of detail besides (for those curious, the disc is sourced from the same HD transfer which is available domestically through Vudu). The single-layer BD25 encode (Mpeg-4 AVC at middling average bitrate of 19.6 Mbps) supports the ‘Scope image surprisingly well, and I noted no artifacts – Allen’s premiere camp opus has never looked better. Note: Per the usual at ExB, these Blu-ray screenshots were captured as uncompressed .png in VLC Media Player and converted to .jpg at a quality setting of 93% using the ImageMagick command line tool.

Audio is available in French DTS-HD MA 2.0 monophonic or original English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereophonic (the film’s alternate 4-track mix is unaccounted for here), with optional French subtitles (they play by default for the English track, but can be deselected via your remote control). The French dub is pretty dull and flat all around, with the film’s score sounding especially lifeless. The original English track expands significantly in comparison, again, particularly with regards to the score – Sawtell and Shefter’s accompaniment for the Challenger expedition’s approach to the plateau is absolutely lush. Supplements include a pair of French-only video featurettes (the 16′ Dinosauria!, an interview with paleontologist Jean Le Loeuff, and the 22′ Le Monde Fantastique de Conan Doyle, which has cinema historian Christophe Champclaux discussing the author’s impact on film, but with only a late token nod to the Allen production) as well as a rough 52′ presentation of the 1925 silent version of The Lost World (SD, looking much like the public domain copies I grew up on) and an original theatrical trailer (SD again). While more with regards to the Allen production would have been nice (like an HD upgrade of the production sketches included on the American DVD) I can’t argue that it honestly deserves it, and that anything at all was included is much appreciated.

Irwin Allen’s The Lost World is as big, dumb, and wonderful as ever on this latest revisitation, and those looking to see the film in the best of possible presentations (I’d ask why, but this is my fourth copy of it…) need look no further than the Rimini Editions Blu-ray. Though marked with an ominous B, this appears to be all region compatible, and played just fine (feature, menu, supplements and all) on my Region A-locked Playstation 3. The disc is readily available from Amazon France and elsewhere, though I’d recommend shopping around – Amazon.it and Amazon.es often have it for less.

Tape Deck: King of Snake (大蛇大戦 / Python Wars) AVA Nippon VHS

King Of Snake 001

Every time I revisit the 1984 giant monster oddity King of Snake I go in hoping I’ll like it at least a little more than I ever ultimately do. Chui Yuk-Lung’s yarn about a gargantuan snake, the girl who loves it, and the gangsters who beat the shit out of her parents is essentially 100 minutes of tonal inconsistency spruced up with some neat-o SPFX flair (courtesy of future Toei effects director Nobuo Yajima). Titanic rat-snake Mosler steals what little there is to take of the show, shaking Taipei to its miniature foundations in an ill-fated hunt for his kidnapped owner, an obnoxious adolescent named Ting-Ting.

King Of Snake 003

Beyond the giant serpent antics there’s just not much to love here, but they (and perhaps Yajima’s involvement in them as well) were enough to assure King of Snake what little legitimate home video presence it was ever to have – a pair of high-priced VHS releases through Japanese outfits WOO Video and AVA Nippon. Showcased here is the latter, released in 1990. Like the earlier WOO Video edition, AVA Nippon’s presents King of Snake in its native widescreen, with original Mandarin audio and relatively non-invasive Japanese subtitles. Overall quality suffers a bit in comparison to the other release – this one flickers throughout, and looks perhaps a generation degraded.

King Of Snake 002

At least the cover is pretty sweet, dominated by bold orange and red by way of Mosler’s fiery Taipei rampage. With regards to wear and tear my copy looks like it could have been minted yesterday – this package wears it’s 25 years pretty darned well. Like most videos of its origin and generation, the price point here is pretty staggering: King of Snake would have set you back a cool $100 at average 1990 exchange rates, consumption tax courteously included.

Sampled below is a bit of what this AVA Nippon release has to offer – the opening logo, video generated Japanese title (with English sub-heading), and a bit of snake-tastic footage from the feature itself. Yahoo Auctions Japan is the place to go for those looking to score a copy for themselves – King of Snake doesn’t show up there very often, but when it does the prices tend to be pretty low.

A Song Before Annihilation: Beginning of the End (Albert Glasser)

It’s thrills, chills, and bombast to spare in this brief suite of cues from Bert I. Gordon’s big-bug opus Beginning of the End (1957), courtesy of one of the director’s earliest collaborations with prolific cinema composer Albert Glasser. His minute-long opening theme to the picture is an all-out assault on the audience dominated by shrill strings and woodwinds and explosive brass, whose meandering motifs duel and overlap in martial conflict before collapsing into percussive, repetitive stings. The cue which follows (from the film’s Pied Piper finale) is of subtler stuff, if only just – what I wouldn’t give to have a more complete score recording!

The small sampling here (just shy of three minutes) comes courtesy of Starlog’s long out-of-print 1978 LP release, The Fantastic Film Music of Albert Glasser Vol. 1, which offers a stellar mix of the composer’s work ranging from his early outing on The Cisco Kid film series (circa 1948) to his rare non-monster Gordon collaboration, the colorful 1960 fantasy The Boy and the Pirates. It’s a shame that the implied Vol. 2 never came to fruition (Starlog Records wasn’t in action for long), but I suppose them’s the breaks. Vol. 1 is still readily available on eBay, Discogs and elsewhere at very reasonable prices (mine ran me a whole $7, shipped) and, needless to say, is highly recommended.

Saturday Monster Matinee:
Ebirah – Horror of the Deep
「ゴジラ・エビラ・モスラ 南海の大決闘」

An unlikely series of events land a bank robber, two go-go dancing yacht enthusiasts, and one determined, naive youth on an isolated South Seas island crawling with comic book baddies and giant monsters in this silly seventh entry in the Godzilla series. Though initially pitched as a return adventure for King Kong, still under license to Toho at the time (after 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla – he would re-appear in the more lavish King Kong Escapes the following year), Ebirah – Horror of the Deep instead became a vehicle for the company’s own star monster, and effectively finalized Godzilla’s transition from living nuclear nightmare to dependable tokusatsu hero in the process.

It’s perhaps best not to dwell too much on Ebirah‘s narrative details – regular series scribe Shinichi Sekizawa (Invasion of Astro-Monster) and director Jun Fukuda (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla) certainly did’t, but that’s not really a bad thing. The film’s oddball band of good-humored heroes are propelled into action setups early, often, and with a good deal of tasty pulp contrivance to spare. After a perfect confluence of inclement weather and ill-wanted kaiju intervention leaves them stranded on unfamiliar shores Ebirah‘s considerable heroic cast finds itself in trouble yet again, fleeing the island’s resident bad-guys – the insidious Red Bamboo organization, who are dabbling in human trafficking, slave labor, and gargantuan prawn husbandry on their way to nuclear domination of… well, something. Good-guy thief Akira Takarada gives the Bamboo plenty of his own brand of trouble, stealing into its island base with his mad lock-picking skills and making asses of them with their own munitions stores, but not without some unfortunate consequences. One among the heroes is captured and put to work manufacturing the chemical the Bamboo use to keep their guard-monster Ebirah from biting the hand that feeds, while another is whisked by errant spy balloon to nearby Infant Island (which the Bamboo have been using as their personal slave emporium).

With their numbers dwindling and the Bamboo hot on their heels Takarada and friends make a strangely fortuitous discovery. Deep within their secret cave hideaway sleeps Godzilla, a slumbering giant Ebirah‘s heroes hope to wake for their own benefit. Elsewhere the ever-oppressed yet ever-positive natives of Infant Island pay endless musical homage to their massive insect god Mothra, trusting that she will rise to aid them when they are most in need. With two monsters against them and another’s allegiance hanging by the slenderest of manufactured threads the odds are soon stacking up against the once mighty Red Bamboo, but their fit of in-the-crosshairs desperation may well spell doom for everyone…

As much substance as there had been to the Godzilla series in its fledgling days, where it served as a reflection both of Japan’s wartime experience and of the anxieties born of a newly nuclearized world, by 1966 it had devolved into pop cinema pure and simple. While Ebirah – Horror of the Deep pays some lip service to the no-nukes messaging of the past (a character briefly ponders the future of nuclear proliferation, just before the owari rolls) it is far more concerned with its own goofy fantasy thrills than making any kind of meaningful statement. Despite its obviously diminished production values and similarly diminished narrative ambitions (the island-based action is scaled down significantly from the prior year’s Invasion of Astro-Monster, which sent Godzilla and Rodan into space and had them thwarting an alien invasion back at home) Ebirah succeeds well enough as escapist entertainment, adeptly shuffling us from one colorful action setup to the next before attentions wane or the palpable cheapness of it all has a chance to set in.

And cheap it can certainly appear. Godzilla himself, a retrofitted suit from the previous year’s Invasion of Astro-Monster, has obviously seen better days, and Haruo Nakajima’s nose and brows make occasional guest appearances from the openings in his well-worn neck. The newly-crafted Ebirah fairs well enough for what it is, a big bug in the same vein as the later Kamakiras and Kumonga, but monster-god Mothra is short-changed early and often, appearing as an unconvincing matte painting for much of the picture and falling victim to some truly dreadful process photography later on. The tokusatsu action isn’t particularly inspired either. Godzilla’s conflict with the Red Bamboo amounts to a duel with the organization’s excessively wobbly air force and a protracted assault on their base of operations – a nondescript patch of dirt studded with some of the series’ least convincing miniatures. It’s a pitiable sight at times. Once at the cutting edge of its particular brand of effects magic the Godzilla series was now simply doing the best it could in the midst of falling attendance and diminishing budgets, and with Toho’s pre-eminent effects personality Eiji Tsuburaya increasingly busy with his television productions (Ultra Q premiered that same year) it was left to his long-time assistant Sadamasa Arikawa (The Mighty Peking Man) to somehow make it all work.

In the case of Ebirah – Horror of the Deep tone is the great equalizer, and most of Arikawa’s setups are wisely played for kicks (with a hefty assist from Masaru Sato’s raucous, surf rock inflected score). Case in point are Godzilla’s pair of battles with big-shrimp Ebirah, the first of which is punctuated by an impromptu boulder volleyball match with a bit of fun collateral destruction as its end result. The aforementioned air force battle plays better in context than its meager effects would suggest, scored as it is with rock and roll dance music to which Godzilla busts the occasional move (shades of The Great Monster Yongary). Still, amid all the goofy fun even Ebirah manages some indelible series moments. Godzilla’s first appearance, bursting from the side of a mountain as a storm rages, has legitimate visual impact, and his stylish lightning-fueled awakening would be repeated for 1984’s big franchise reboot Return of Godzilla.

I watched Ebirah – Horror of the Deep a lot as a kid, either on tape (one of the first I ever owned) or in its innumerable television airings as Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, and while its more ragged aspects may have become more obvious it remains a good heap of fun. You get Akira Takarada as a charismatic burglar, Kumi Mizuno as a comely Infant Islander, a trio of Toho heavies as the evil Red Bamboo (Akihiko Hirata, Jun Tazaki, and Eisei Amamoto at their sinister cartoon best), as well as explosions, dubious Bond-esque secret labs, a deadline atomic plot device, and a trio of giant monsters in varying degrees of conflict with both the human cast and each other. This is monster cinema reconfigured as pure primary-colored pop escapism, and it’s pretty good stuff.


G004_GVTSMThe screenshots in this article are sourced from the Japanese Blu-ray of Ebirah – Horror of the Deep, which was released by Toho Visual Entertainment in August of this year to commemorate Godzilla’s 60th birthday. While some will consider the transfer inferior to the domestic Blu-ray (in terms of detail it certainly is, though I prefer Toho’s color saturation and framing in this case), the Japanese release makes good by offering a heap of supplements and an alternate cut of the film besides (the shorter Champion Festival version). I’m reticent to recommend, with Toho tinkering with 4k technology and all, but those interested can find the disc through Amazon.co.jp, Cdjapan.co.jp, and the other usual outlets. The American edition is also still available, and at dirt-cheap prices.

Disc Love: The X From Outer Space
「宇宙大怪獣ギララ」 (Shochiku Blu-ray)

My thoughts on director Kazui Nihonmatsu’s oddball kaiju opus Space Monster Guilala The X From Outer Space haven’t changed all that much since I reviewed it a couple of years back in conjunction with the it’s domestic DVD premiere. remains a gigantic mess of a picture, an awkward mix of swinging space travel, lethargic romance, and ludicrous giant monster action that appears as though it were edited together by someone with no knowledge as to what story it’s various bits were supposed to be telling. I would be remiss, however, in saying that I hadn’t softened a bit more to the film over those ensuing years. There’s a definite charm to be found in its propulsive sort of pointlessness, a euphoric brand of utter silliness that could only have been born in the space-crazed ’60s, with the Apollo program on the rise. This is the antithesis of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the recent Interstellar – post-Kubrick science fiction has about as much interest in lunar surface bounce-party diversions and impromptu astronaut cocktail shindigs as X does in actual science, but then that’s the greater part of X‘s appeal.

Astronauts

I suspect there will be plenty of reappraisal of X‘s willfully goofy space-age charms in the wake of its latest video edition, a fine blu-ray offering from Shochiku in Japan which presents the film in its first new transfer in more than a decade (from Shochiku’s ‘Collector’s Edition’ in 2001 to Criterion / Eclipse’s release in 2012, X‘s DVD editions have all regurgitated the same lackluster SD master). Released as part of the company’s new The Best of Films in Those Days Shochiku Blu-ray Collection (あの頃映画 the BEST 松竹ブルーレイ・コレクション), X and its minimal supportive content receive a well-encoded single layer BD25 treatment at the bargain price (by Japanese standards) of ¥3,300 plus tax. Better yet, the disc looks to be all region compatible (it played fine on my Region B secondary deck), and while English subtitle support has not been included an English dub for the film has. I suspect this one will turn up on many a tokusatsu fan’s shopping list this holiday season, and with good reason.

Shochiku’s new HD master for The X From Outer Space presents the film in full 1080p at the proper Shochiku GrandScope ratio of 2.39:1, and adeptly corrects the many weaknesses of the DVD master that preceded it. Framing is now consistent and stable (the old master was fond of showing ragged frame edges), mid-range contrast is no longer boosted beyond the pale, and the finer detail of the 35mm photography finally shines through. The image here is darker and richer overall than has been evidenced in the past, and the more balanced color still packs plenty of pop. The image loses trace amounts of information at the edges in comparison to the DVDs, but most of this was never intended to be seen by viewers – the jagged extremities of the 35mm frame should never have been allowed onscreen in the first place, and their loss here is a positive. has also been digitally restored, albeit only to a point. The image is still afflicted by traces of splice gunk and dust and specks crop up from time to time, but the major damage (particularly during the film’s frequent optical effects) has been corrected, leaving X looking better than it would’ve when new in many instances. Detail advances as much as one might hope in comparison to the old DVD master (the comparisons below will tell more in that regard than I ever could), and there’s a subtle layer of grain tinkering about attractively in the background. Technical specs provide more than ample support – X receives an Mpeg-4 AVC encode at an average bitrate of 29.3 Mbps (with peaks to 40.0 Mbps), and I noted nothing in the way of significant artifacts. It all adds up to a fine looking video presentation, and fans should be very pleased indeed.

Criterion / Eclipse DVD (L) vs. Shochiku Blu-ray (R)
Frame matches are not exact in all cases.

Audio isn’t likely to wow anyone with regards to The X From Outer Space, but Shochiku have done quite well given the limitations of the film’s original mix. There are no artificial bumps to contend with, just the original Japanese monophonic recording presented in lossless 2.0 LPCM (48kHz / 24-bit). I noticed no significant wear and tear (pops, hiss and the like) and aside from some shrillness at the high end the track sounds very nice. A set of optional Japanese SDH subtitles are offered in support. Included as a bonus is Shochiku’s own English dubbed track for the film, which is in a bit rougher shape than its Japanese counterpart, but still perfectly presentable. The English track, too, is given a lossless encode, albeit at a lower bit depth – 2.0 monophonic LPCM (48kHz / 16-bit). A second set of optional Japanese subtitles is offered in support of the English dub track.

City

As with all of the titles in Shochiku’s …the Best blu-ray line, supplements are extremely limited. The original theatrical trailer (4 minutes) for The X From Outer Space is included, as is a short theatrical dispatch (~40 seconds) announcing the production (this was a treat, as I’d never seen it before). Though unrestored, each is presented in native 1080p HD with lossless 48kHz / 24-bit audio – one can’t ask for much more in that regard. Strangely absent is a second, longer dispatch for the film that was included on the original Shochiku DVD, which featured Guilala’s fanciful naming ceremony. The first pressing of the blu-ray also includes a miniature lobby card replica, in this case a familiar shot of Guilala on the lunar surface with the FAFC moon base and Astro-Boat AAB Gamma tooling about in the background.

There’s not much else to say, really. While a bit more supplemental heft would have been appreciated (isn’t that always the case?), it’s tough to argue against Shochiku’s efforts here. This is an excellent and affordable presentation of a real oddball of a film, and I’ve got no complaints. The X From Outer Space was released December 3rd, and is readily available for purchase through Amazon.co.jp, HMV, and the other usual outlets.

Cover (w/ OBI):

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