Famous Fantastic Mysteries
The Deadly Mantis (Universal International, 1957). Science Fiction.
Starring Craig Stevens, William Hopper, Alix Talton, Donald Randolph, Pat Conway, Florenz Ames, Paul Smith, Phil Harvey, Floyd Simmons, Paul Campbell, Helen Jay, Keith Aldrich, William A. Forester, and Paul Frees. Directed by Nathan Juran. Artwork by Ken Sawyer
—Wonder Woman #34 (1949) by Robert Kanigher & H.G. Peter
June 1942 issue. Cover art by Peter Driben
Like many great things, it all begins with an ape.
Like many great things, it all begins with an ape. Earlier cinema may have included some oversized spectacles in the past, but it was the arrival of King Kong that created a whole new genre of horror—the giant monster movie. A smash success, Kong had few imitators until Ray Harryhausen, a protégé of Kong Special Effects master Willis O’Brien, adapted Ray Bradbury‘s The Lighthouse and brought forth The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (included in this earlier edition of our “31 Days of Horror” series).
Now the giant monster genie was truly out of the bottle, where it soon spawned parallel veins of monster movies. In the States, we explored our Cold War anxiety with a series of atom age monstrosities, while in Japan filmmakers used Godzilla and his fellow Kaiju (“strange beast”) to initially explore the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before taking a ’60s super heroic turn. And now, with the recent announcement of 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong from Legendary and Warner Bros., those two veins become one again!
This groundbreaking achievement in movie-making is not just a supreme icon in the realms of the films of the fantastic, it is rightly regarded as one of the best movies of all time, period. On a mysterious and dangerous island, a film producer captures a giant ape and brings him back to New York in the hopes of capitalizing on his prize.
Released the same year as King Kong, sequel Son of Kong is a tribute to the prodigious skills of Willis O’Brien and company. The film opens on the day after King Kong fell, and Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), is facing financial ruin. Fleeing back to the South Pacific, Denham meets Hilda Peterson (Helen Mack), and the two find themselves again stranded on Skull Island, where Denham finds an unlikely, lovable ally in the Son of Kong. This lost treasure is coming to Blu-ray on October 27, both on its own or as part of Warner Home Video’s new Special Effects Collection.
Lightning struck again when the team behind King Kong reunited to create another towering ape: Mr. Joseph Young. This simian may be shorter, but the SFX are just as Kong-sized. A slick nightclub owner (King Kong veteran Robert Armstrong) discovers the giant ape frolicking in Africa as the beloved pet of a young girl (Terry Moore). He brings both to Hollywood as a floor-show sensation, until some no-goods ply Joe with booze and the blitzed behemoth goes bonkers. Available on Blu-ray October 27, either on its own or in Warner Home Video’s new Special Effects Collection.
After The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms proved to be an enormous breakout success for Warner Bros., ever-capable director Gordon Douglas was tasked with delivering up “another Beast.” Although marketed in a similar fashion, the film that Douglas and his team delivered ended up being a whole other sort of giant monster movie—and an even bigger success. Part police procedural, part character drama, part military, Them! is 100% a Warner Bros. picture of the 1950s—and its stature only increases with age (no wonder it makes its Blu-ray debut October 27 and also appears on the Special Effects Collection Blu-ray set). Starring James Whitmore, James Arness and Edmund Gwenn, Them! begins in New Mexico with a child wandering in shock, a ransacked general store, and a battered corpse full of enough formic acid to kill 20 men. It ends with an epic struggle in the 700 miles of storm drains under Los Angeles.
A lean budget goes a long way when the master of movie miracles, Willis O’Brien(King Kong), is on hand to deliver up the SFX. After unexpected seismic activity unleashes a swarm of stupendous scorpions from the bowels of the earth, a pair of geologists leads the vanguard tasked with dispatching them back. Co-starring Richard Denning (Creature from the Black Lagoon) and pin-up queen Mara Corday (Tarantula).
The horrors of the Atomic Age threaten Britain when thousands of lifeless fish wash up on its shores and fishermen are found dead at sea. Two scientists investigating these mysteries discover something far more frightening than their worst nightmares: a giant, radioactive sea creature horribly mutated by the effects of radiation staggers from beneath the ocean depths bringing death to every living thing in its path. Even worse, they realize the monster is heading for London! Read the rest of this entry »
1950 published as Lady, Toll That Bell
1960 republished with this new title
Cover Art Earle Bergey, 1952
Harry Barton: The Squeeze, paperback cover, 1955
The Ark of Mars by Frank Kelly Freas