Case Number 08678

EARTH VS. THE SPIDER / WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST

Earth Vs. The Spider
Lionsgate // 1958 // 73 Minutes // Not Rated
War Of The Colossal Beast
Lionsgate // 1958 // 69 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // February 24th, 2006

The Charge

The towering terror from hell!

Opening Statement

Director Bert I. Gordon was the maestro of skewed scale films in the 1950s, a man seemingly obsessed with the novelty of inserting disproportionate people, animals, and insects into his cheaply made drive-in flicks. Though much of his work has been slow to receive much-needed digital makeovers, two of Bert's best known giant creature flicks, Earth vs. The Spider and War of the Colossal Beast have finally been paired up as one of the debut entries in Lionsgate's "Samuel Z. Arkoff Collection: Cult Classics" DVD collection.

Facts of the Case

In Earth vs. The Spider, Bert I. Gordon spins one of his most entertaining giant monster tales. While out looking for her missing father, teenager Carol (June Kenney, Hot Car Girl) and her boyfriend Mike (Eugene Persson, The Party Crashers) stumble across a massive cavern. Inside, they find themselves caught in a giant silken web that is home to an equally enormous spider. They barely escape being captured, and head back to town to convince the disbelieving Sheriff (Gene Roth, She Demons) to investigate. After locating Carol's dad's picked-clean skeleton, the Sheriff and some locals use DDT to kill the giant creepy-crawly, and foolishly set up the carcass in the high school gymnasium so everyone can have a peek. Only problem is, the astounding arachnid is still alive, and it destroys half the town as it makes its way back to the cave -- where Carol and Mike are busy searching for a brooch her father dropped.

War of the Colossal Beast is a sequel to the previous year's The Amazing Colossal Man, a film that had army Lt. Col. Glenn Manning grow 60 feet tall after being exposed to a nuclear blast. This time, the giant's sister, Joyce Manning (Sally Fraser, It Conquered the World) is convinced that her brother is still alive, and manages to locate the now heavily disfigured Glenn (Dean Parkin, The Cyclops) raiding food trucks south of the border. The army drugs Glenn with a doped-up shipment of bread and hauls him back to Los Angeles, where a team of military scientists attempts to see if any traces of human awareness linger in his monstrous frame. Glenn, who apparently has other plans, breaks free and tears up the city -- twice.

The Evidence

Under the supervision of American International Pictures impresarios Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson, Bert I. Gordon and his special effects collaborator (and wife) Flora explored the possibilities of everything from "giant" grasshoppers, ants, and spiders to lizards, rats, alligators, and military officers over the course of their 35-year careers. Though Gordon couldn't come up with budgets to compete with the superior studio sci-fi extravaganzas that he took his inspiration from, such as The Incredible Shrinking Man and Them, he usually made the best of his limited resources in the spirit of all good B-film directors. This threadbare charm is evident throughout these passable B-films, which were both released in 1958.

Hitting theatres three years after Jack Arnold's big bug pic Tarantula, Earth vs. The Spider is aimed squarely at the 1950s teenage audience, with revved-up hot rods, bass-slapping rock 'n' roll, and even moments of outright camp. It's easily the better of the two films offered here, with the impressive Carlsbad Caverns acting as a backdrop to Carol and Mike's eight-legged encounter. Gordon isn't afraid to flaunt his technical prowess this time out, using a variety of techniques to get his garden-variety tarantula to tower over the teenage heroes, including rear-projection, matte work, a hairy leg prop, and even having the spider crawl along a miniature street lined with photographs of various storefronts-a budget-conscious approach used far less effectively in The Beginning of the End. Sure, the characters are paper-thin and the story is mind-numbingly contrived, but the film is undeniably fun and delivers a healthy dose of dumb drive-in thrills. As a special bonus, this film even features a scene at a movie theatre that has posters and lobby cards for Mr. B.I.G.'s earlier films, Attack of the Puppet People and The Amazing Colossal Man conspicuously on display.

On the other hand, War of the Colossal Beast is nothing more than a 90-minute replay of the third act of The Amazing Colossal Man, with more gruesome make-up. Glenn Langan, who played Col. Manning in the original, is absent for this follow-up, replaced with former stagehand Dean Parkin -- a scar-tissue ravaged mask with a missing eyeball tries to disguise this discrepancy. But unlike Langan's giant Glenn, there's simply no empathy for the monster as the film amounts to little more than a repetitive capture-escape cycle of destruction. The effects aren't much either, since Glenn is made colossal solely with bad composite shots, but it's worth noting that the film switches from black and white to color for the shocking finale, as Joyce pleads with Glenn to gently put down a bus full of screaming school children, the film's brightest moment. As a sequel, War of the Colossal Beast plays just OK, but on its own without The Amazing Colossal Man, it's definitely not up to scratch. It's unfortunate these two films couldn't have been presented together, as anyone who has never seen the original will be bored silly by Glenn's guttural squawking and the relatively unspectacular scenes of destruction.

Both Earth vs. The Spider and War of the Colossal Beast look fairly good, even if they're not quite as good as most available DVDs of 1950s sci-fi films. Grayscale and detail levels are both acceptable, but noticeable grain and a few distracting source flaws keep these nearly identical transfers from being exceptional. No surprises on the audio side of things either: each film features a serviceable 2.0 mono track delivers dialogue clearly, despite some underlying hiss and distortion. Music is a limited in fidelity, but I've heard much worse. No special features have been included, not even trailers.

Closing Statement

Wait a second..."cult classics"? Not hardly. While it's great to see some of these great AIP B-films finally hit DVD -- as inexpensive double feature discs, no less -- I'd hesitate to call either Earth vs. The Spider or War of the Colossal Beast either "cult" films or "classics," despite selected moments of interest. These low-budget quickies are definitely worth a watch for fans of low-budget 1950s trash, but more casual viewers will probably be disappointed -- big time.

The Verdict

This case is to be remanded to a higher court -- or at least a giant one.

Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Earth Vs. The Spider
Video: 74
Audio: 76
Extras: 0
Acting: 74
Story: 75
Judgment: 72

Perp Profile, Earth Vs. The Spider
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 73 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Earth Vs. The Spider
* None

Scales of Justice, War Of The Colossal Beast
Video: 74
Audio: 76
Extras: 0
Acting: 62
Story: 64
Judgment: 65

Perp Profile, War Of The Colossal Beast
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 69 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, War Of The Colossal Beast
* None

Accomplices
* IMDb: Earth vs. The Spider
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0051570/combined

* IMDb: War of the Colossal Beast
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0052378/combined