IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST (1958)

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war of the colossal beast - posterHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the 1958 Bert I. Gordon flick WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, up now in the March 2015 edition of the HWA NEWSLETTER.

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA


The Towering Terror From Hell! 

So reads the original lobby card for today’s movie, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST (1958).

WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST is the sequel to THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957), and both these classic giant man-in-a-diaper movies from the 1950s were written and directed by Bert I. Gordon (B.I.G. himself), the famous writer/director who gave us such movies as BEGINNING OF THE END (1957), EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958), THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976) and EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977).

I’ve always had a soft spot for WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, mostly because of the old 8mm copy of the film I had when I was a kid.  That being said, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST really isn’t a very good movie.  It’s a sequel, and it plays as such, and in terms of quality, is slightly inferior to the first film, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN.  The most creative thing about the movie is its lively title, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST.  I love that title!

At the end of THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, the colossal man— turned colossal because of exposure to a plutonium bomb explosion- is shot by an army bazooka and falls to his death from the Boulder Dam.

In WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, we learn that Glenn Manning- Mr. Colossal Man himself— survived the fall and is hiding out in the deserts of Mexico.  Hot on his trail is his sister Joyce (Sally Fraser), who must be his long-lost sister because in the previous film it’s mentioned how Manning had no surviving family members.  As Joyce gathers evidence that her brother is indeed still alive, the military arrives and attempts to help her find him, and find him they do, only now Manning is even more far removed from the man he once was.

In the previous film, Manning was gradually losing his mind, becoming a crazed lunatic giant.  In COLOSSAL BEAST, Manning boasts a hideous face, the result of either the bazooka blast or the fall from the dam or both, and now he can no longer speak, instead making only animal-like growls and snarls.  Have I mentioned yet that the Colossal Beast is pretty darned scary?  When I was a kid, he used to give me nightmares.  He’s still rather frightening.

Anyway, the army captures the Manning Beast and brings him to Los Angeles where army scientists hope to find out if there’s any hope of restoring his sanity.  They pretty much decide he’s beyond hope and plan to bring him to a deserted island where he can live out his life in seclusion where he won’t be a danger to society, but Manning has other plans and escapes, terrorizing Los Angeles in true 1950s giant monster movie fashion.

The best part of WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST is the actual beast.  He’s gruesome looking and quite frightening.  Director Bert I. Gordon uses his grotesque face to full effect and crafts a couple of really cool scenes in this one.  His first appearance, for example, as he jumps out from behind a mountain in a quick shock shot, packs quite a jolt.  The scene just before he escapes from his army captors, where he pretends to be asleep, is also creepy.

The Colossal Beast's frightening first appearance.

The Colossal Beast’s frightening first appearance.

Dean Parkin takes over the role of Glenn Manning from Glenn Langan, who played him in THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN.  Langan was excellent in the role in the first film, and his presence is definitely missed in this sequel, even though the Glenn in this movie only snarls and growls.  Langan turned in a superior underrated performance in the first film, and was particularly effective in scenes where he talked about his fears of growing larger and larger.  It was these scenes in particular which made THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN better than it should have been.

While I have no problem with Dean Parkin’s performance here as the more monster-like colossal beast, I still miss Glenn Langan’s dramatic take on the role.

The rest of the cast is pretty awful, sorry to say.  Sally Fraser is particularly bad as Glenn’s sister Joyce, and it doesn’t help that she has to speak some horribly bad lines of dialogue.  Roger Pace as Major Mark Baird, the male lead in the film, isn’t any better.

While Bert I. Gordon is credited with the story, the screenplay was written by George Worthing Yates, who actually has some impressive credits.  He received story credit for THEM! (1954) – arguably the best giant bug movie ever made—and wrote the screenplay for the Ray Harryhausen special effects films IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956), among others.  WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST has a decent story but its dialogue is nothing to write home about.

I do like Bert I. Gordon’s direction, however.  This one is full of energy, and there seems to be a concerted effort to make this film scary, much more shocking than the first one.  Plus there’s that final shot in color, which black and white films did back then, so we get to see the Colossal Beast’s demise in vivid color.

Of course, the Colossal Beast would have been even more frightening had he learned how to run.  He pretty much does his terrorizing at a leisurely pace, strolling through the deserts of Mexico and later the streets of Los Angeles like a man getting his newspaper, not like a giant chasing down people to kill.  I guess he was afraid he’d trip and fall.  But even so he’s still a convincing monster.

And Bert I. Gordon also created the film’s special effects, and they aren’t half bad.

So, if you’re looking for some 1950s horror movie fun, the type of film you used to find at the drive-in during those days of yesteryear, look no further than WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST.  It’s entertainment of gargantuan proportions.

—END—

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THE HORROR JAR: GIANT BUG MOVIES

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THEM! (1954), the first and arguably the best of the giant bug movies.

THEM! (1954), the first and arguably the best of the giant bug movies.

THE HORROR JAR: Giant Bug Movies
By Michael Arruda

Just in time for summer, it’s another edition of THE HORROR JAR, that column where we feature various lists of odds and ends pertaining to horror movies. This time out we look at giant bug movies. That’s right, when you’re out picnicking, at the beach, on a hike, or at a barbecue, and the pesky bugs are getting in your face, remember, it could be a lot worse.

They could be a lot bigger.

Here’s a look at some giant bug classics:

THEM! (1954)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Screenplay by Ted Sherdeman
Sgt. Ben Peterson: James Whitmore
Robert Graham: James Arness
Dr. Harold Medford: Edmund Gwenn
Dr. Patricia Medford: Joan Weldon
General O’Brien: Onslow Stevens
Running Time: 94 minutes

Giant ants attack Los Angeles. One of the first giant bug movies remains one of the best. Chilling thriller is much scarier than its 1950s counterparts. Originally to have been shot in color and in 3D. It works just fine in black and white.

 

TARANTULA (1955)
Directed by Jack Arnold
Screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley
Dr. Matt Hastings: John Agar
Professor Gerald Deemer: Leo G. Carroll
Running Time: 80 minutes

John Agar defends a desert town from a giant tarantula. Another classic.

 

RODAN (1956)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Screenplay by Takeshi Kimura
Running Time: 74 minutes

Sure, Rodan is a pterosaur, but this Toho flick also features prehistoric insects which are quite scary until Rodan decides to eat them for breakfast.

 

BEGINNING OF THE END (1957)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Fred Freiberger and Lester Gorn
Dr. Ed Wainright: Peter Graves
Running Time: 76 minutes

It’s all in the family, as this tale of giant grasshoppers stars future Mission: Impossible star Peter Graves, the brother of James Arness (future Gunsmoke star) who starred in THEM! This one comes to us from director Bert I. Gordon (B.I.G.) who made a lot of these giant monster movies, and it’s an inferior production to the giant bug films which came before it.

 

THE BLACK SCORPION (1957)
Directed by Edward Ludwig
Screenplay by David Duncan and Robert Blees
Hank Scott: Richard Denning
Running Time: 88 minutes

This tale of giant scorpions attacking Mexico City features special effects by KING KONG (1933) creator Willis O’Brien and stars Richard Denning, fresh off his battle with the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954). Budget constraints forced O’Brien to use incomplete shots of the giant scorpions in some scenes. In these scenes the monsters appear as black shadows as opposed to fleshed out creatures.

 

THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957)
Directed by Nathan Juran
Screenplay by Martin Berkeley
Col. Joe Parkman: Craig Stevens
Dr. Ned Jackson: William Hopper
Running Time: 79 minutes

Universal’s companion piece to its earlier hit TARANTULA, this one about a giant praying mantis. Not as good as TARANTULA, but still an above average entry in the genre. Contains some very creepy scenes.

 

EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Laszlo Gorog and George Worthing Yates
Running Time: 73 minutes

This Bert I. Gordon flick should have been called Teens Vs. The Spider, as a group of 1950s teens takes on a giant Arachnid which invades their small town.

 

MOTHRA (1961)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Screenplay by Shin’ichi Sekizawa
Running Time: 88 minutes

I’ve never understood the desire to make a movie about a giant moth (“Hey, guys, here’s an idea for a giant monster movie: a giant moth!” Seriously?) Of course, this shows how little I know, as MOTHRA became a hit for Toho, and everybody’s favorite giant moth would go on to appear in countless other movies, most featuring Godzilla.

 

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961)
Directed by Cy Enfield
Screenplay by John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, and Crane Wilbur, based on the novel by Jules Verne.
Captain Cyrus Harding: Michael Craig
Herbert Brown: Michael Callan
Gideon Spilitt: Gary Merrill
Captain Nemo: Herbert Lom
Running Time: 101 minutes

This classic movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen features many giant creatures, including oversized bees. Superior special effects here, but that’s no surprise as Ray Harryhausen always brought his “A” game to his movies. Memorable music score by Bernard Herrmann.

 

GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1964)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Screenplay by Shin’ichi Sekizawa
Running Time: 89 minutes

Godzilla battles Mothra for the first time. Mothra would go on to appear in many other Godzilla movies, not listed here.

 

SON OF GODZILLA (1967)
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Screenplay by Shin’ichi Sekizawa and Kazue Shiba
Running Time: 84 minutes

No Mothra here, but this film which introduced Godzilla’s son Minilla does feature giant praying mantises known as Kamacuras, and a giant spider called Kumonga.

 

THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Bert I. Gordon, based on the novel by H.G.Wells.
Running Time: 88 minutes

This Bert I. Gordon flick is mainly about enormous rats, but does feature humongous wasps as well.

 

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Jack Turley, based on a story by H.G. Wells
Marilyn Fryser: Joan Collins
Dan Stokely: Robert Lansing
Running Time: 89 minutes

Bert I. Gordon again, this time directing a tale about giant ants in Florida, starring Joan Collins, four years before her run on the TV show Dynasty.

 

KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977)
Directed by John “Bud” Cardos
Screenplay by Richard Robinson and Alan Caillou
Rack Hansen: William Shatner
Running Time: 97 minutes

Okay, technically, this isn’t a giant bug movie, because the spiders in this flick are regular sized— it’s just that there are millions of them invading a small town. (Well, maybe not millions, but there sure are a lot of them!). This film is on the list for one reason only, other than the spiders, of course, and that’s William Shatner. Shatner lifts this one to a higher level. Sure, it’s his over-dramatic Captain Kirk shtick again here as he plays veterinarian Rack Hansen, but that’s what makes his performance and ultimately this movie so much fun.

 

TREMORS (1990)
Directed by Ron Underwood
Screenplay by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock
Valentine McKee: Kevin Bacon
Earl Bassett: Fred Ward
Burt Gummer: Michael Gross
Heather Gummer: Reba McIntire
Running Time: 96 minutes

Another film that technically isn’t a giant bug movie, but this flick about ferocious giant mutated worm-creatures is so good it’s impossible to keep off this list. A highly entertaining movie that was largely ignored upon its initial theatrical release, TREMORS ranks as one of the best giant monster movies ever made.

 

EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS (2002)
Directed by Ellory Elkayem
Screenplay by Jesse Alexander and Ellory Elkayem
Chris McCormick: David Arquette
Ashley Parker: Scarlett Johansson
Running Time: 99 minutes

This effective horror comedy mix about giant spiders features Scarlett Johansson in one of her early roles.

 

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson, based on the novel “The Return of the King” by J.R.R. Tolkien
Frodo: Elijah Wood
Aragorn: Viggo Mortensen
Gandalf: Ian McKellen
Gollum: Andy Serkis
Running Time: 201 minutes

This 2004 Oscar Winner for Best Picture features one very nasty giant spider in one very creepy scene. The other 195 minutes aren’t half bad either!

Well, there you have it. A list of giant bug movies just in time for summer. Is this all of them? No way! These are just a few of the giant critter flicks which I recommend. There are many, many more.

That’s it for now.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael