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Sci-fi From The Vault (Mill Creek Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • Sci-fi From The Vault (Mill Creek Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment
    Released on: February 21st, 2023.
    Director: Edward L. Cahn, Robert Gordon, Nathan Juran, Sidney Miller
    Cast: Richard Denning, Angela Stevens, S. John Launer, Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis, William Hopper, Joan Taylor, Thomas Browne Henry, Lou Costello, Dorothy Provine
    Year: 1955/1955/1957/1959
    Purchase From Amazon

    Sci-fi From The Vault – Movie Review:

    Mill Creek Entertainment offers up a quarter of Hollywood action moves across two discs in this budget friendly Blu-ray collection aptly titled Sci-fi From The Vault.

    Disc One – Creature With The Atom Brain / It Came From Beneath The Sea:

    Creature With The Atom Brain:

    Director Edward L. Cahn’s Creature With The Atom Crain, made in 1955 and written by Curt Siodmak for producer Sam Katzman, begins when a giant monster man breaks into the home of a mobster named Hennesy and kills him. This beast leaves behind some fairly damning evidence in the form of fingerprints and radioactive blood! When the cops run the prints, they find that they belong to a man who recently died, only a few short days before.

    Meanwhile, a mob boss named Frank Buchanan (Michael Granger) who was recently exiled from his American homeland heads to Europe where he connects with a former Nazi scientist named Wilhelm Steigg (Gregory Gaye) who has carried out a series of experiments in an attempt to bring the dead back to life. Seeing an opportunity here, Buchanan finances Steigg's continued experiments and brings him back to America with him where he hopes Steigg's success will allow him to use an army of zombies to get revenge on those who he feels have wronged him!

    When a few more bodies show up, police Dr. Chet Walker (Richard Denning) gets on the case and starts putting together the pieces of the puzzle - but will he sort all of this out before it all hits the fan?

    A pretty entertaining seventy-minute cheapie from the atomic age, Creature With The Atom Brain is good, goofy entertainment. The pacing is quick and the plot wacky enough to work, despite the presence of some pretty major plot holes. This isn’t loaded with vintage effects work but when it is used, it’s pretty cool to see. The performances are decent enough as well. Denning is pretty fun to watch as the film’s hero and Gaye and Granger make for a pretty fun pair of diabolical villains.

    Worth noting is that the late, great Roky Erickson wrote a song about this movie using the same title.

    It Came From Beneath The Sea:

    One of a few films that Harryhausen made for Columbia, It Came From Beneath The Sea is a fun romp through atomic monster land as only Harryhausen could do it.

    Directed by Robert Gordon (no relation to the late ‘Rockabilly Boogie’ musician of the same name), our story opens with Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and The Thing From Another World) and his crew aboard an atomic submarine that gets attacked while on patrol by an unseen creature of unknown origin. Once the sub escapes and returns to its base, the engineers find an unusual gloopy substance stuck in the blade of the ship's propellers.

    They navy and its team of scientists, led by Dr. Leslie Joyce (Faith Domergue of This Island Earth), begin investigating but unfortunately for a crew aboard a cargo ship, it's too little too late and a giant octopus makes short work of them, then heads for San Francisco where it wreaks havoc on the good citizens and the military alike.

    While it takes a little while to get started, the last half of the film is a lot of fun and the monster effects on display are undeniably cool. Here we're treated to such scenes as the giant octopus taking on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco as well as a few skyscrapers around town, each one of which are worth the price of admission alone.

    While Harryhausen's effects are definitely the real star of the film, the performances from Kenneth Tobey as the tough-as-nails, chain smoking Navy man and Faith Domergue as the smart and sassy scientist are also both worth noting and better than the average fifties monster movie performances tend to be.

    Disc Two – 20 Million Miles To Earth / The 30 Foot Bride Of Candy Rock:

    20 Million Miles To Earth:

    Nathan Juran (who helmed The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad) directs this film, a personal favorite, that begins with a mysterious spaceship that crash lands in the ocean near a small village in Sicily. It seems that there was a secret American expedition to Venus and that this was their ship that crashed – and when it did it freed a small jar containing a little green globby thing inside, which washed up on the shore only to be found by one of the local boys.

    Not sure what to do with his new discovery, the boy takes the jar to the local scientist, Dr. Leonardo (Frank Puglia). They open the jar, and out pops a cute little green alien that looks like a dinosaur. It seems friendly enough, but soon the atmosphere on Earth takes its toll by expediting the creature's growth at a rate much, much faster than it should occur.

    One night the creature escapes from the scientist's care and it begins exploring the countryside. When cornered in a farmhouse he's forced to kill a dog in self-defense and people find out and assume it's a hostile being. Of course, the military is called in to kill the monster before it does more damage to the local populace, and by this point it has grown to much larger proportions. Eventually the creature, named the Ymir, heads towards Rome where it can do some real damage, where the inevitable showdown occurs…

    Harryhausen's effects on this film are quite literally fantastic. The Ymir, a creature created completely by admittedly limited period effects work, has more personality and life to him than the majority of big name Hollywood stars working these days. Despite the fact that the script is a little corny, it's very easy to let yourself get into the movie and actually feel for the poor misunderstood monster.

    Performances are standard fifties sci-fi movie material – no better and certainly no worse than what you'll see in other genre movies of the era. Juran's direction does a great job of showcasing Harryhausen's effects work which are the true star of the film, and Ray himself even has a small cameo in the film, during the scene that takes place in the zoo where the Ymir kills the elephant (a scene that was omitted from a few television broadcasts).

    The 30 Foot Bride Of Candy Rock:

    Last up, Sidney Miller’s 1959 film, The 30 Foot Bride Of Candy Rock, tells the story of a junk collector named Artie Pinsetter (Lou Costello, appearing here without Bud Abbott) who lives and works in a small town. Artie, however, wants better things in life and hopes to one day achieve his dream of becoming a big time scientist! Unfortunately he hasn't done much in the field, outside of constructing a talking computer dubbed Max. Artie's sweet on pretty Emmy Lou Rossitter (Dorothy Provine) and hopes to put a ring on her finger, but her uncle, gubernatorial candidate Raven Rossiter (Gale Gordon), really doesn't like Artie at all.

    Eventually, Artie manages to expose the love of his life to some radiation and turn Emmy Lou into a thirty foot tall woman and has to figure out how to fix it. When he tells her uncle that she’s gotten bigger, he assumes Artie has knocked her up and the old man insists that they get married before the baby is born. This leaves Artie and Emmy Lou trying to figure out how to carry on a proper relationship with such a huge difference in size, all while Artie tries to figure out how to get Emmy Lou back down to her regular, everyday size.

    Not nearly as well-made as the far superior Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The 30 Foot Bride Of Candy Rock is interesting to see, if not very good at all. The humor is really, really hokey and the film is pretty predictable, right down to the ending with the dog. You’ll know pretty much exactly how this is going to play out if you’ve seen even a few sci-fi movies from the era, as everything here is done pretty much by the numbers.

    The main draw for this picture was likely the opportunity to see Costello flying solo in the first film he’d made after splitting with Bud Abbott not too long before this was made. Costello’s performance is pretty much what you’d expect from him, slapsticky and hokey, but he is admittedly fun to watch even if by this point he’s playing a walking cliché. Sadly, Costello died of a heart attack a few months before the movie was released.

    Sci-fi From The Vault – Blu-ray Review:

    The four black and white films in Mill Creek’s Sci-fi From The Vault arrive on Blu-ray spread across two 50GB discs, with two films per disc, each film presented in AVC encoded high definition. Everything is offered up in 1080p except for Creature With The Atom Brain, which is presented in 1080i and framed at 1.33.1, which shows some pretty obvious aliasing and shimmering throughout playback and this is hands down the weakest of the transfers in this collection. There are stair-stepping effects all over the place and detail is consistently soft. It Came From Beneath The Sea, framed at 1.85.1, fares better and has noticeably stronger detail but it still stops short of reference quality and frequently has trouble with grain, which can appear kind of lumpy at times. Quality on 20 Million Miles To Earth, also framed at 1.85.1, is comparable to the transfer on It Came From Beneath The Sea, showing decent detail but again having some fairly lumpy grain in spots. The 30 Foot Bride Of Candy Rock suffers from some pretty obvious compression artifacting and some mild DNR. Where the other three transfers were at least pretty clean, this one also shows some fairly consistent print damage in the form of small specks and the like.

    As far as the audio goes, each track is presented in its original English audio with optional English subtitles. It Came From Beneath The Sea gets a 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 mix while everything else is presented in 24-bit 2.0 Mono. While it would have been nice to get a mono option for It Came From Beneath The Sea, the audio quality is otherwise just fine. Dialogue is always clean, clear and audible and the respective tracks are free of any hiss or distortion. Range is understandably limited in the mono tracks while the 5.1 mix mainly just uses rear channels for score and effects placement, keeping the dialogue up front.

    Extras on disc one include a featurette called They Came From Beyond which runs twenty-six minutes and covers Sam Katzman's work at Columbia Pictures. Lots of biographical details here courtesy of C. Courtney Joyner as well as insight into how Katzman came to really cash in on the low budget picture boom that was happening in the thirties and forties and then went on to work his way up, learning as he went and eventually making a pretty solid career for himself as a producer.

    A second featurette, Fantastical Features, covers the career of Nathan Juran by way of a talk with C. Courtney Joyner over the span of fifteen minutes. This goes over his early noir work as well as his genre films while providing plenty of detail about his work with Charles Schneer and Columbia where he made B-grade action and genre films.

    We also get an audio commentary for each feature. Pheof Sutton and Mark Jordan Legan cover Creature With The Atom Brain, detailing the biographies of the cast and crew and doing a fairly deep dive into director Edward L. Cahn and writer Curt Siodmak as well as producer Sam Katzman. Lots of info here about some of the film’s quirks, its production history, locations and plenty more.

    The commentary for It Came From Beneath The Sea comes courtesy of Justin Humphreys and C. Courtney Joyner. This track covers Robert Gordon’s career and offers up plenty of detail into Ray Harryhausen’s involvement in the picture. The standard cast and crew biographies are discussed here as well, as well as the score, the effects work, the studio’s involvement in all of this, the film’s release history and other details.

    Disc two features an audio commentary for The 30 Foot Bride Of Candy Rock from Larry Strothe, Matt Weinhold, Shawn Sheridan and James Gonis from The Monster Party Podcast. It’s an interesting and thorough talk that goes over how Lou Costello, sans Bud, came to star in this picture, details of the director and producer’s respective careers, how the film was marketed and how it was received, some of the effects work in the movie, details on the script and lots more.

    This release also comes with a slipcover and some double-side cover sleeve art.

    Sci-fi From The Vault - The Final Word:

    Mill Creek Entertainment’s Sci-fi From The Vault collection offers up four really fun vintage sci-fi films with some decent extra features in presentations that vary from okay to not okay. It’s a shame that these don’t look better than they do, as there’s a lot of entertainment value to be had here, but it is what it is. At least the price is right.

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