Digi-Schlock: ROGER CORMAN SCI-FI CLASSICS (Shout! Factory DVD)

Roger Corman’s later work has always been treated well on DVD: almost everything from House Of Usher on has gotten nice releases on disc, with his A.I.P. productions in particular getting nice remastering jobs and the occasional cool extra or two.  It’s a different story for his earlier work.  Much of his pre-A.I.P. material has suffered from fuzzy looking boots and grey-market releases that never do justice to the craftsmanship Corman invested in his early work.

Thus, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a trio of films he did for Allied Artists getting a handsome treatment in the Roger Corman Sci-Fi Classics set.  Each film has gotten a fresh transfer from genuine film materials: they were transferred from negatives and the improvement in clarity is substantial.  There is light speckling apparent in each film but the black-and-white photography looks rich and crisp.  Attack Of The Crab Monsters and Not Of This Earth are anamorphically enhanced while War Of The Satellites is presented in a flat full-frame transfer.  It is not revealed on the packaging whether the latter title is presented in an open-matte version or not but the compositions do not appear to be compromised.  Mono audio is provided for each title and they all sound fine.

Shout! Factory has also provided a generous complement of extras to flesh out the two-disc set.  The first disc features commentaries for Attack Of The Crab Monsters and Not Of This Earth by genre historians/authors Tom Weaver, John Brunas and Mike Brunas.  Both are lively and detailed affairs, with the three men discussing the differences between the films and their scripts, the careers of the different actors involved and any other interesting background trivia.

Highlights on the Attack Of The Crab Monsters track include a discussion of the disputed origins of the crab props and a funny story Weaver tells about how his mom dropped in while he was screening the film at home: she asked questions about what was going on, finally leaving after five minutes when it made too little sense for her liking.  Interesting material on the Not Of This Earth commentary includes a discussion of the disagreement between Corman and actor Paul Birch that led to him walking off the film before its final day of shooting and the revelation that the film is a childhood favorite of Bill O’Reilly’s!

Another interesting inclusion on this disc is a pair of intro sequences that Herbert Strock created for Attack Of The Crab Monsters and Not Of This Earth when they played on television.  Both come from rough-looking video sources but they’re fascinating to watch nonetheless and give younger viewers insight into what it was like to see these films on television back in the day. The first disc is rounded out by a video interview with Corman in which he lays out the stories behind each film on the set in a tidy, tightly edited 12-minute package.  As always, he is a concise and entertaining storyteller so it’s interesting to hear his comments on these early efforts.

The second disc adds even more:  the first is a 25-minute video tribute to Corman taken from a variety of interviews.  Contributors to this piece include Joe Dante, Peter Fonda, George Hickenlooper and Jack Hill, not to mention a large number of visual and makeup effects men like Chris Walas, Peter Kuran, Kenny Myers and Phil Tippett.  Each strikes the balance between paying affectionate tribute to their one-time benefactor and poking fun at the low-rent conditions he had them working under.  Fonda and Dante are among the most insightful commentators but Hill also scores a few memorable moments.  The inclusion of Hickenlooper takes on an unexpected poignance in light of his recent passing, particularly since he is one of the ones who praises Corman most highly.

However, the sweetest and most substantial of these extras is the grand finale: an epic collection of trailers that cover much of Roger Corman’s filmography as a director.  A few of the early trailers are taken from video sources but most come from film elements and look great.  Starting with Attack Of The Crab Monsters and continuing all the way to Frankenstein Unbound, watching these trailers back-to-back allow the viewer to chart the growth of Corman’s skill and confidence as a director.  His body of work is one of the most impressive and accomplished in the world of the b-movie and this program of trailers allows the viewer to get a sense of it all in one sitting.

In short, this Roger Corman Sci-Fi Classics set is an excellent collection and a must for aficionados of vintage b-movies.  Not only does it offer three movies in one neat package, it also offers a substantial visual upgrade for each and a bounty of worthy extras that takes the viewer deep into Corman-cinema lore.  If you’re a fan, you need this.

Sci-Fi Classics [Triple Feature]

Sci-Fi Classics [Triple Feature]

Attack of the Crab Monsters: A group of scientists are trapped on a remote island inhabited by atomically mutated giant crabs. War of the Satellites: An “unknown force” declares war against Earth when the United Nations disobeys warnings to cease and desist in its attempts at assembling the first satellite in the atmosphere. Not of this Earth: A humanoid alien from outer space is sent to earth to bring back human blood to his home planet for transfusion purposes.

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