Film Review: The Deadly Mantis (1957)

Also known as: The Giant Mantis, The Incredible Praying Mantis (alternate titles)
Release Date: May 1st, 1957 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Nathan H. Juran
Written by: Martin Berkeley, William Alland
Music by: Irving Gerts (uncredited), William Lava (uncredited)
Cast: Craig Stevens, William Hopper, Alix Talton, Pat Conway

Universal-International Pictures, 78 Minutes

Review:

“I’m convinced that we’re dealing with a Mantis in whose geological world the smallest insects were as large as man, and now failing to find those insects as food, well… it’s doing the best that it can.” – Dr. Ned Jackson

I have a soft spot for The Deadly Mantis and it is also one of the few films that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 that I don’t mind watching without the riffing of Mike and the ‘Bots. It’s actually decent for what it is and it’s better than most of the 1950s American giant monster movies.

Atomic Age films are a lot of fun though. There’s something cool about ’50s B-movies dealing with atomic fears, giant creatures and science run amok.

In this one, we get something special. It’s not just about a big ass bug smashing cities, this creature takes flight and has some big aerial battles with military fighter jets. In some ways, it kind of reminds me of Rodan from Japan, which came out a year earlier.

Now the acting leaves a lot to be desired and the direction and writing aren’t too great but this film is still pretty ambitious when looked at beside other films like it from the same era.

It’s got some good, action packed sequences and even if it has some dull science-y moments, it moves at a good pace.

The effects are also decent for what they are. I liked the scene where the mantis attacks the arctic lab, as well as the scenes where it takes flight.

While far from the best horror film of the 1950s, it’s definitely in the upper echelon of American Atomic Age thrillers.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Tarantula!, The Black Scorpion and The Giant Claw.

Film Review: The Undead (1957)

Also known as: The Trance of Diana Love (working title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1957 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Mark Hanna
Music by: Ponald Stein
Cast: Pamela Duncan, Richard Garland, Allison Hayes, Val Dufour, Mel Welles, Richard Devon, Billy Barty, Dick Miller

American International Pictures, 75 Minutes

Review:

“Hickory dickory dorse / My guest is dead, of course / The clock struck two / He’s turning blue / With little or no remorse.” – Smolkin, the Gravedigger

Man, Roger Corman certainly had a lot of films appear on Mystery Science Theater 3000. But it was all for a good reason and it’s a lot of fun seeing the master of schlock dominate the way he did.

Fans of Corman will probably enjoy this film, even though it’s what I would consider to be below Corman’s normal quality. Normies out there will probably be bored shitless and wonder why anyone would watch this but it takes a special someone to have a real love affair with Corman’s great and uniquely impressive work.

The reason why it is impressive is because Corman can create so much with almost nothing. Now this specific film isn’t the best example of that but for a movie that was made for less than a dime, he’s able to pull this off better than any other director in a similar situation would be able to.

Although bizarre, the story is kind of interesting. A psychic researcher sends the mind of a prostitute back in time in an effort to study her past-life experiences. So the film takes place in the Middle Ages and we soon discover that the prostitute’s older self is going to be killed over suspicions that she’s a witch. The psychic sends himself back in time to convince the prostitute to avoid death but in doing so, her future incarnations can never exist. Ultimately, the psychic ends up stranded in the past.

I wouldn’t call the plot wholly original or anything but it is kind of ambitious for a cheap-o ’50s motion picture.

While the acting isn’t good, it also isn’t atrocious. We also get to see a very young Billy Barty and Dick Miller.

Overall, this is far from Corman’s best but I think that this is a notable picture in his oeuvre, as it almost feels like a spiritual predecessor to his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations of the 1960s, which would primarily star Vincent Price and were some of his absolute best pictures.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Roger Corman’s other late ’50s/early ’60s films, as well as his Poe adaptations.

Film Review: I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)

Also known as: Blood of the Werewolf (working title), El monstruo adolescente (Argentina)
Release Date: June 19th, 1957
Directed by: Gene Fowler Jr.
Written by: Herman Cohen, Aben Kandel
Music by: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Michael Landon, Whit Bissell, Yvonne Lime

Sunset Productions, American International Pictures, 76 Minutes

Review:

“It’s not for man to interfere in the ways of God.” – Det. Sgt. Donovan

I saw this movie when it first aired on Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in the ’90s. I guess, at the time, I never realized that Michael Landon was the star of this. It’s kind of cool thinking of the star of Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven as a teenage werewolf but it made revisiting this film a bit more enjoyable.

This is a bad movie but it’s also fairly amusing. I loved the cheesy ’50s teen dancing bits and this film felt like it had some heart, despite being made cheaply, quickly and without much concern about actual filmmaking craftsmanship.

For what this picture is, I actually liked the werewolf makeup and Landon looked like a legit snarling beast man.

I love werewolf pictures and this is far from the best of them but it is a better film than more contemporary werewolf pictures by B-level studios. Hell, when I think about it, there aren’t many werewolf films I care about in modern cinema.

This was a fun film and MST3K episode to revisit. It came with good riffs and it wasn’t a film that was so bad that it was a drudge to get through and could only be saved by the humorous flourishes of Mike and the ‘Bots.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and any low budget werewolf movie from the ’40s through ’50s.

Film Review: Viking Women Vs. The Sea Serpent (1957)

Also known as: The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (complete title), Viking Women (UK)
Release Date: December, 1957
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Lawrence L. Goldman, Irving Block
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Abby Dalton, Susan Cabot

American International Pictures, 66 Minutes

Review:

“Get your filthy hands off her, you big slobbering dog!” – Ottar

This is one of a few Roger Corman films that has eluded me for years. It’s also one of the few movies that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 that I hadn’t seen until now. But I missed it when it aired, back in the day, and it’s not one that has been all that accessible on streaming services. Maybe that’s due to the broadcasting rights contract they had back in the early ’90s for this film.

Having seen it now, I can say that I didn’t miss out on much.

For the most part, the film is slow and goofy. It’s enjoyable in that hokey Roger Corman way but for a film promising a sea serpent, the monster’s time on screen is pretty minute.

Also, the creature looks exactly like you’d expect being that it’s a simple sea serpent and showcased in a Corman film of the ’50s. It’s basically just a rubber tube with some fins glued to it and a dead, gnarly face. But I love this sort of shit so I can’t hate it. I just wish there was more monster and less pointless conversation throughout the movie.

The majority of the movie is just viking chicks paddling a boat and walking around on an island. This has some action but it’s nothing to write home about.

This is far from the worst Corman picture but it is also far from the best.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other late ’50s and early ’60s Roger Corman pictures.

Film Review: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Also known as: Frankenstein (Netherlands)
Release Date: May 2nd, 1957 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart

Hammer Film Productions, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve harmed nobody, just robbed a few graves!” – Baron Frankenstein

It’s Halloween season and since it’s been a couple years since I watched through the Hammer Horror Frankenstein series, I felt that revisiting it was needed.

This is really the point where Hammer hit the right note, at the right time. The success of this film not only led to a slew of Frankenstein sequels, it also opened the door for their Dracula and Mummy film series and a bunch of other classic monster movies reinvented for the time.

This also sort of solidified the working relationship of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who ended up doing nearly two dozen pictures together. Plus, they became best friends and were forever linked. This is the film that also gave them long lasting careers and established them as horror movie legends. Without this film Gran Moff Tarkin and Count Dooku may have never existed in the forms that we know. Not to mention, without the longevity that this gave to Lee’s career, we might not have ever gotten to see him as Saruman, a role he was absolutely perfect for.

The Curse of Frankenstein is a very important motion picture for the reasons I just mentioned and because it changed the horror genre going forward. Hammer would inspire other studios like Amicus in the UK and American International in the US, who probably took cues from Hammer’s movies when they produced their Edgar Allan Poe films of the 1960s.

However, looking at this film, apart from all that context and it’s importance in film history, it still stands pretty damn tall on its own.

This isn’t quite on the level of Universal’s Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein from the 1930s but after those two films, this is the best version of the story out there. It’s very different from the literary source material but I like the changes and that was Hammer’s thing. They often times rewrote the classics in an effort at keeping them fresh and not just rehashes of the same thing you’ve seen before. Besides, as a series, Hammer’s Frankesntein films are a better complete body of work than the Universal ones. This series did get really weird but it was cool because, at its core, Frankenstein is already a weird story.

The Curse of Frankenstein was a good foundation to what Hammer would build for a solid fifteen years after this with all of their iconic horror pictures. Sure, they took creative liberties but they always seemed to respect the material and to look at these classics from new and interesting angles.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: The Unearthly (1957)

Also known as: House of Monsters, Night of the Monsters (working titles)
Release Date: June 28th, 1957
Directed by: Boris Petroff
Written by: John D.F. Black (as Geoffrey Dennis), Jane Mann
Music by: Henry Vars
Cast: John Carradine, Myron Healey, Allison Hayes, Marilyn Buferd, Arthur Batanides, Sally Todd, Tor Johnson

AB-PT Pictures, Republic Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Time-fo’-go-ta-bed.” – Lobo

Well, at least this has two horror actors I enjoy in it. Those men being John Carradine and Tor Johnson. That being said, this is still a tough movie to get through. But luckily for all of us and the good of humanity, this was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so we can at least laugh at it along with those guys.

The story follows a doctor played by Carradine. He is experimenting with artificial glands in an effort to extend life. He has a brutish assistant named Lobo (played by Tor Johnson and not the only time he played a Lobo).

The experiments obviously have disastrous results and we end up getting gross, mutated people.

This is a plot that has been done to death, even by 1957. This feels very much like an Ed Wood film but completely devoid of Wood’s charm and character. This falls flat in every way even with Carradine in the lead and with Johnson playing basically the same character he did in the Ed Wood films Bride of the Monster and Night of the Ghouls.

Overall, this is slow, pretty friggin’ boring and the acting, camera work and sound are all abysmal. Carradine isn’t terrible but he was at that stage of his career where he could just dial this shit in and collect a paycheck.

This really isn’t worth watching unless you want to see all of Carradine or Johnson’s filmographies or unless you have the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version in a place you can stream.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Night of the GhoulsBride of the MonsterThe UndeadThe Disembodied and Zombies of Mora Tau.

Film Review: The Black Scorpion (1957)

Also known as: El escorpión negro (Spanish title)
Release Date: October 11th, 1957
Directed by: Edward Ludwig
Written by: Robert Blees, David Duncan
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro

Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“[to the peons in the village as he and Ramos pull into the rural town in their jeep] We’re from Mexico City! I say, we’re from Mexico City! We’re scientists! Is the mayor here?” – Hank Scott

There were a lot of these giant creature movies in the 1950s when American culture had succumbed to atomic hysteria. Some of these films are good and some are terrible but then there is a third type, the ones that are so bad that they become an incredibly amusing experience to witness.

The Black Scorpion is that third type. This is also probably why it was riffed on the first nationally televised season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. But as awful as the effects may seem, they were still created by stop motion maestro Willis O’Brien: the man behind the effects on The Lost WorldKing Kong and Mighty Joe Young. Classic stop motion doesn’t hold up well today but for the time, it was better than the alternative method of forced perspective.

The plot sees this giant black scorpion start tearing up shit in Mexico. It’s a good Hollywood example of refined whitey boffins talking down to a culture that isn’t theirs. But I guess that doesn’t make this any different than any ’50s film that features scientists in an exotic location.

It’s a silly movie but it is exciting if you are into this type of thing. I obviously am because I spend a lot of my time throwing films like this on.

On a side note: it has a really cool poster. The monster is also cool. Plus, it has a lovable face.

I will refrain from running this through the Cinespiria Shitometer because I really like this film and I respect the work of O’Brien.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Other O’Brien stop motion pictures like The Lost WorldKing Kong and Mighty Joe Young.