The Spider and(Lionsgate Home Entertainment, 1.10.2006)
War of the Colossal Beast
Bert I. Gordon was a busy man in 1958 with both of these films and Attack of the Puppet People (released on the Midnite Movies Double Features series) hitting the drive-in screens across America. And while it's not that big of a feat to direct three films in a year (Michael Curtiz cranked out a feature bi-monthly during his prime), Burt co-wrote the scripts and was the special effects wizard (along with his wife Flora) for these fantastical cinematic treats. Think Spielberg, Lucas or Peter Jackson could pull off three in a year, even with the help of a spouse?
Burt was a poor man's Ray Harryhausen, which meant he was perfect for American International Pictures. His effects weren't the worst in cinema but, if he could figure out a fast and cheap way to make it happen, he'd go for it. He skipped the rotoscoping stage which occasionally allowed his oversized monsters to fade into the background. Such an effect takes time and costs money. And who would notice such a detail through the fogged up front window of dad's '57 Chevy?
While some may wonder where Bert I. Gordon got his inspiration to create this trio, the answer is simple: he was paying homage to Jack Arnold, the director of Tarantula and The Incredible Shrinking Man. Burt didn't merely knock off Arnold's work. In Puppet People, he gave the audience more than a single shrinking man.
Earth vs. the Spider (aka The Spider) is different from Tarantula since Arnold's eight-legged menace is created by a science project gone out of control. Burt's spider is a natural monster that emerges from a cave and attacks a small town. The title of the film is another case of AIP over-selling the actual battle. The Earth really doesn't show up in this fight. Instead, we're left with a teenager and the local police department that worships Don Knotts. When the spider destroys the town and eats the local citizens, the cops sit around the police station making phone calls. I wonder if future FEMA directors viewed this film as educational?
Instead of a complex stop-motion spider (which takes time and money), this film has a live tarantula roam across photos of the town that are matted into live shots. Burt even plugs his other features as his teenage hero works at a movie theater that's about to show Attack of the Puppet People. The current feature is The Amazing Colossal Man, which leads us to the second feature on this DVD, War of the Colossal Beast.
Sure it doesn't make too much sense to watch the sequel first, but the AIP titles that Lionsgate distributes belong to Sam Arkoff's estate. Unfortunately Colossal Man is controlled by Jim Nicholson's estate and is trapped in a vault. But you won't feel left out of the first film since halfway through Beast we get the highlights of Man including Col. Glenn Manning's exposure to an atomic blast, his rapid growth, rampage through Vegas, and what appears to be his death.
Beast lets us know that you can't keep a radioactive growing freak down, especially when he's down in Mexico. Glenn's sister arrives south of the border looking for her brother (even though in Man he has no living relatives). The radiation has taken a toll exposing part of his skull and he can no longer communicate. All this helps cover up the fact that they swapped actors playing Manning between films. Beast isn't as good as Man, but it does have him destroying parts of Los Angeles. And the ending gives us a jolt as the film goes from black-and-white to color.
Unfortunately, there are no bonus features, not even a trailer. But the low price makes these films essential to anyone who remembers the gang on Mystery Science Theater 3000 raving about Burt I. Gordon or caught these films on the Creature Double Feature in Boston. -- Joe Corey