Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger went to Cult Camp one summer. They made paper mache goat heads, macrame hoods, and macaroni collages of runic texts. But campfire time was scary. He didn't eat the S'mores.
See a female colossus…her mountainous torso, skyscraper limbs, giant desires!
Movie peddlers will cash in on any buzzword du jour. Bad movies with no redeeming qualities might be hastily repackaged as films noir, exploitation, vintage horror, or whatever else is selling these days. You have to take trendy boxed sets with a grain of salt.
That's why it is so refreshing when studios like Warner Brothers and Fox crank out their themed boxed sets. You don't have to guess or split hairs here: the Sci-Fi Thrillers entry in Warner's Cult Camp Classics features three bona fide camp classics with actual cult followings. Sit back and prepare to chortle.
Facts of the Case
Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman
Queen of Outer Space
The Giant Behemoth
Fans of these three films had nothing to do with that middle "C," Camp. Fans were not on set, earnestly striving to make the next sci-fi breakthrough hit. They spent no time in makeup, then under the lights wringing every impassioned (wooden?) nuance out of the pulpy prattle that passes for dialogue in these flicks. Fans were not behind the megaphone booming out direction which seemed like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect is inexplicable. In short, fans were not responsible for these misguided failures which earned the Camp label.
But fans are directly responsible for those other two C's. If you're a longtime appreciator of The Giant Behemoth, Queen of Outer Space, or Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, then you put some effort in. Whether from word of mouth or through your own warped predilections, you sought out these wretched works and found something enjoyable, maybe even sublime, in them. You definitely got a good laugh from the juxtaposition of earnest intent with miserable result. And you probably passed that enjoyment on to others. You fed the beast and gave extended life to pictures that should by all rights have died on the vine.
And now, thanks to your efforts, people like me who have never seen these films get them packaged up in a neat, laughable little bundle. No effort required. Perhaps a critic who sat at the drive-in in the '60s could walk down memory lane with you and revel in the supreme badness of these films; I can only offer the perspective of an unsuspecting modern viewer who was bludgeoned about the head three times in a row. Bludgeoned in a good way, of course (maybe with Nancy Archer's giant, floppy-fingered, foam rubber hand?).
Because I couldn't save the best for last, I dove right into Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman. It was the most recognizable icon in the lot; most cinephiles can conjure up the image of a majestic Allison Hayes straddling the freeway and tossing cars right and left. I couldn't wait to see it for myself.
And I'll go on waiting, because no such scene exists. Allison Hayes doesn't go on a rampage. In fact, it isn't even a spree. She walks two blocks from her house to the bar and picks up one man: her slimy, no good husband. The cover image is a sham, a ruse; a big fat phoney. I may not have paid my hard earned nickel along with throngs of 1958 moviegoers enticed by the audacious poster and the even more audacious tagline: "See a female colossus…her mountainous torso, skyscraper limbs, giant desires!" Nevertheless, I was duped just as thoroughly. Call it a long con, with the 50 Ft. woman laughing all the way to the bank.
Fortunately, Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman is amusing precisely because it so utterly missed its ambitious goals. There is no way to fully describe how bad—and yet, compellingly bad—this film is. Whether it is the 90 carat "diamond" or the see-thru giants or the gosh-durn antics of Deputy Charlie (played with charm by an amiable Frank Chase), something will make you laugh out loud. For me, it was the foam rubber hand and the elephant syringe. I promise you, there is not a less convincing hand in sci-fidom. Picking holes in the plot is as easy as picking your own nostril, and as perversely rewarding.
Allison Hayes doesn't seem to have much fun with the role, but she arches her eyebrows and gnashes her teeth with enough gusto to keep us awake while we wait for the infamous bedsheet bikini. And the scene is quite a payoff—as long as your idea of a payoff is 15 seconds of double-exposed footage with a couple of balsa wood models in the foreground. William Hudson is appropriately slimy but unmemorable. Aside from the aforementioned Frank Chase, Yvette Vickers is the only one who shows a spark of life. She is sexy, trashy, and bad to the bone, necking and dancing like a pro.
There is a certain eroticism in the image of a 50-foot woman with 500 DDD breasts and 25-foot gams picking up a man between her thumb and forefinger (or at least, most of a man; the dummy seems to be missing its legs). But the march of the giantess is so brief, and the erotic elements so under-exploited, that Yvette Vickers runs away with the movie.
Time for a relief pitcher: Zsa Zsa Gabor and her brigade of miniskirt models.
Queen of Outer Space has a promising start with its footage of a steaming, gleaming rocket on the launchpad. The first sour note quickly creeps in as the crew talks at length in a claustrophobic, silver-cardboard-as-stainless-steel set. When the four men lay down on their futons and "take off," I got the drift: Queen of Outer Space was going to suck. Though the actual footage of a rocket takeoff was nifty, Queen of Outer Space is generally an unconvincing affair. Between the teal and fuchsia flora of "Venus" and the crumpled cardboard "caves," not to mention the repeated footage of white "death rays" in space, Queen of Outer Space fares poorly under the decent resolution of DVD. These are special effects only a mother could love.
Unconvincing effects alone will not kill a movie, but a plot that feels one step above playing army with your elementary school pals will do the trick. Queen of Outer Space very much resembles an extended away mission featuring four redshirts from the original Star Trek. Essentially, the crew walks around some strange rocks, then camps next to some strange rocks, gets captured by a gaggle of Ensign Rand lookalikes, spends the night in a cardboard city running from more Ensign Rand lookalikes (let's hide under this convenient bridge!), escapes to a landscape of strange rocks (let's hide behind these convenient rocks!), then returns to the city to free the Ensign Rand lookalikes. If you ever got in an argument with your backyard buddy about who shot who first with his stick-like raygun, you have the skills to grasp the basic mechanics of Queen of Outer Space.
Though Laurie Mitchell is technically the Queen of Outer Space, Zsa Zsa Gabor makes what little impact is made by the film. She's a scientist who walks around in flowing chiffon robes and makes goo goo eyes at Capt. Patterson; she benefits from copious lip gloss and soft-focus photography. Eric Fleming almost convinces us that he isn't James T. Kirk. (Yes, I know Star Trek came years later, but that's all I've got. If Capt. Patterson inspired Captain Kirk, I'll eat my go-go boots.)
With two of these doozies under my belt, I put The Giant Behemoth into my DVD player with some trepidation. Surprisingly, the film kicks off with a solid premise (environmental cataclysm) and decent acting by Gene Evans and André Morell. Evans crafts Steve Karnes into a gifted firebrand of a marine biologist, drawing disturbing conclusions from his data and ready to hop across the world to thwart nuclear disaster. Morell's Professor Bickford is a shrewd, stabilizing influence. Still better, The Giant Behemoth presents a pair of second-string heroes—played by John Turner and Leigh Madison—that made my wife and I sit up and take notice (respectively). She was taken in by his lackadaisical charm and the Grand-Canyon-like cleft in his chin; for my part, pert ponytailed blondes with fair skin and bright eyes do the trick every time, especially if they have fetching British accents.
The Giant Behemoth had set a promising stage—which it quickly whisked away. John Turner and Leigh Madison were discarded like cotton eyecandy stuck on the sole of a shoe. The glowing goo on the beach was never to be seen again. The Giant Behemoth has the hood of a Porshe and the chassis of a Datsun.
Gene Evans and André Morell try to be good sports through the thing, weathering each inexplicable plot twist like Zen acolytes. But the burden of exposition is eventually too much for their good graces to handle: The Giant Behemoth is one dull slog. But it is a dull slog filled with such random, riotous dialogue and peppered with such good cheer that it takes a long time to comprehend how badly the film sucks.
Eventually, after you feel yourself staring to devolve into a sofa cushion, our evil Nessie clone takes the stage. For a 10-million year-old dinosaur with radioactive ESP and an electrical carcass, Behemoth is as nondescript as disaster flick antagonists come. She keens and stomps a bus or two, and even graces us with some 12-frame-per-second stop motion, but Behemoth doesn't have much charisma. By the time Steve Karnes climbs into a submarine to hunt her down with a modified torpedo, the picture is already sunk.
As they do with most of their genre boxed sets, Warner Bros. has provided pleasing transfers and a commentary for each film. Video and audio flaws permeate each flick, of course, from dense black spots and indistinct detail on Queen of Outer Space to edge enhancement on The Giant Behemoth to nicks, poor black levels, and instability on Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman. Yet these minor annoyances never detract from the viewing and indeed help accent the charm. Audio pops and hiss might spoil an audiophile's bliss, but poor audio is part of the B-movie game.
The commentary tracks are welcome additions. Tom Weaver's amiable, appreciative tracks balance out the piss and vinegar of Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett's sarcastic, unenthusiastic attempts at wit. The two are wholly unconcerned with any aspect of the film that doesn't involve stop-motion effects work. Given that about five minutes of the film's 80 feature stop-motion, the problem becomes clear. I waited around anyway thinking that they'd have some real enthusiasm for the effects, but if anything they were less enthusiastic when the effects took center stage. Fortunately, Weaver has some enthusiasm for the films and took some time to research them. Laurie Mitchell is game, but she doesn't share Weaver's fondness for the flick. Yvette Vickers shows the same enthusiasm and spark in her commentary that she does in her acting. Both tracks are good listens.
Fans who grew up with these films and their more successful cohorts will undoubtedly find more to chuckle about; stolen props and wholesale larceny of footage from other films is but one angle. Spotting wires and boom mikes is another, or playing the vehicle continuity game: they drove up in a station wagon and left in a pickup truck! Suffice to say, whatever angle floats your boat, Cult Camp Classics 1: Sci-Fi Thrillers offers lots of fodder for the cannon of your wit. Happy hunting!
If it is possible to be guilty and innocent at the same time, this set has found a way.
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Scales of Justice, Attack Of The 50 Ft. Woman
Perp Profile, Attack Of The 50 Ft. Woman
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Attack Of The 50 Ft. Woman
• Commentary by Yvette Vickers and film historian Tom Weaver
Scales of Justice, Queen Of Outer Space
Perp Profile, Queen Of Outer Space
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Queen Of Outer Space
• Commentary by veteran special effects creators Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett
Scales of Justice, The Giant Behemoth
Perp Profile, The Giant Behemoth
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, The Giant Behemoth
• Commentary by Laurie Mitchell and film historian Tom Weaver
Review content copyright © 2007 Rob Lineberger; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.