Tarantula

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(6/10) This 1955 film marked Universal’s entrance into the giant bug market, and along with Them! it stands as one of the classiest examples of the subgenre. Sci-fi stalwarts John Agar and Mara Corday back up a good Leo G. Carroll in a rather anachronistic mad scientist role. The script is derivative and somewhat clumsy, but moves along at a good pace and avoids communist/nuclear hysteria. Occasionally flawed, but ultimately impressive visual effects make Jack Arnold’s fourth sci-fi picture a genuine classic.

The spider.

The spider.

Tarantula (1955, USA). Directed by Jack Arnold. Written by Robert M. Fresco, Martin Berkeley, Jack Arnold. Starring: John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll, Nestor Paiva, Eddie Parker, Clint Eastwood. Produced by William Alland for Universal-International.
IMDb rating: 6.5/10. Tomatometer: 92% Fresh. Metascore: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

1955 stood in the middle of a decade that marked the second Golden Age for monster movies. But unlike in the thirties, the monsters were no longer gothic undead ripped from the pages of literary classics and folklore. No, these were the monsters of the atomic age – mutants, radioactive giants and overgrown insects. The hugely successful re-release of RKO:s King Kong (1933, review) in 1952 spurred Warner to take a chance with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review), and the old masters of the monster genre, Universal, answered with Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954, review). Smelling success for science fiction in general, Universal splashed out with a big-budget space epic, This Island Earth (review) in 1955, and even if the film made back its budget, it wasn’t the hit they had hoped for. So, the studio decided, space rockets and far-off planets still weren’t the money-cows they needed, and for the rest of the decade decided to play it safe with an ever-declining line of mutated insects, arachnids and other critters. Tarantula isn’t the first time we’ve seen giant spiders on films, but it is the first time the spider has taken the size of a house. And this movie is without a doubt the best of Universal’s post-1954 sci-fi horror films. Continue reading

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Revenge of the Creature

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(4/10) The creature from the Black Lagoon returns in Universal’s inferior sequel to the 1954 hit movie. Producer Alland and director Arnold also return, but they are unable to create magic with a crappy script and a small budget. Cult actor John Agar does his first of many sci-fi leading roles, a bland actor playing a bland character opposite a bland Lori Nelson. The creature still looks awesome, there are good action scenes and moments of visual brilliance, but the film has too much padding and too little plot. It is best known today for a 30-second appearance by Clint Eastwood in his first film role.

Lori Nelson struggles in the grip of the creature from the Black Lagoon.

Lori Nelson struggles in the grip of the creature from the Black Lagoon.

Revenge of the Creature (1955, USA). Directed by Jack Arnold. Written by William Alland and Martin Berkeley. Starring: John Agar, Lori Nelson, John Bromfield, Nestor Paiva, Ricou Browning, Ginger Stanley, Tom Hennessy, Clint Eastwood. Produced by William Alland for Universal International Pictures.
IMDb rating: 5.5/10. Tomatometer: 25% Rotten. Metascore: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

After the classic monster movie franchise collapsed in the mid-forties, Universal studios had sort of been floundering a bit without a line of movies they could make for a fairly short buck, and would be sure to draw a big juvenile audience and make for great advertising. Science fiction had exploded onto the scene in the early fifties, but by 1953 the vast majority of the sci-fi films were being churned out as cheap exploitation fare by Poverty Row studios or as independent productions. Initially the big studios weren’t quite sure how to handle this new age of space explorations, flying saucers and visitors from other planets. Twentieth Century-Fox made the big-budget splash The Day the Earth Stood Still (review) in 1951, but then stayed away from sci-fi. Paramount was one of the standard-bearers for the genre with George Pal’s expensive colour epics, but Universal, a ”minor major studio” didn’t have the muscle to compete with such movies. But then in 1952 two things happened. One: Arch Oboler released the first 3D movie, Bwana Devil with enormous success. Two: RKO re-released King Kong (1933, review), and swept the floor with all major studios. For Universal this was an epiphany: people wanted monsters again, and if Universal could give it to them in 3D, they would have a winner on their hands. Continue reading