I love late 50s early 60s British sci-fi, especially if it has some kind of monster in it and The Renown Pictures Monster Collection contains four Brit movies from that monochrome era (except for Gorgo which is in colour) plus four similar vintage flicks from the good old US of A and a not so vintage bit of 70s filler on three DVDs and all for about £22.
Let’s start with the good stuff: Womaneater (1958) stars Hollywood veteran George Coulouris as Dr James Moran, a scientist and explorer who has returned from the Amazon with a tree from which he is harvesting a serum to reanimate the dead, the drawback is that the tree needs regular feeding and not with Baby Bio. Starlet Vera Day is the eye candy who having been sacked from a fun fair beauty pageant, becomes his secretary, and then falls foul of Moran’s evil housekeeper who has a bit of a frustrated love thing for Moran going on.
In Hollywood, Lancashire born Coulouris had worked alongside Bette Davis (Mr Skeffington 1944) and Ingrid Bergman (Joan of Arc 1948) and most notably Orson Welles on Citizen Kane (1941), but back in Blighty this low-budget British Horror paid his bills and with his wild staring eyes he makes a fine job of the obsessed scientist in this madly plotted film. It may also contain the UK’s first movie zombie.
Behemoth the Sea Monster (1959) is essentially a Brit knockoff of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) with a nod to Godzilla (1955). Nuclear testing causes a whacking great huge Palaeosaurus to surface and attack London where amongst other atrocities it attacks the Woolwich Ferry meanwhile our brave National Serviceman do a lot of jumping in and out of trucks. Andre Morell is the Man from the Ministry and Gene Evans the necessary American scientist who come up with a suitably implausible plan to vanquish the stop frame animated critter with a Royal Navy micro sub and a torpedo armed with a nuclear warhead.
Gorgo (1961) is a Brit Godzilla, but also owes a substantial debt to King Kong (1933). Woken by an undersea volcano just off the coast of Ireland a huge man in a rubber suit dinosaur is captured by enterprising sea-captain Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and brought to London to be exhibited at Battersea Funfair. But 65 foot tall Gorgo is only a wee baby and soon all 200 foot of his mum, Ogra is on her way to trash London. Despite being battered by Korean War library footage of US jets and warships and our brave National servicemen once again getting to do a lot of jumping off the back of trucks, Ogra liberates baby Gorgo and heads off back to the sea from whence she came and leaving, dare I suggest, just a tad of influence for Jurassic Park II the Lost World. Both Gorgo and Behemoth were directed by Eugene Loure.
In The Strange World of Planet X (1958) British electro-magnetic experiments cause the local insect life to grow to enormous proportions and attack the village school. Fortunately a friendly alien in the shape of that foreign looking Mr Smith (Martin Benson) drops in and helps our brave National Servicemen clear up the mess and then nips off in his flying saucer before the UK Border Agency can nick him. Forest Tucker is the obligatory US scientist while future Mrs Alf Garnet Dandy Nichols is a customer at the local pub.
And so on to the American features: In Beast From the Haunted Cave (1959) a bunch of crooks set off an explosion in a gold mine as a diversion when they rob a ski resort’s bank. Problem is that when they set the explosives a kind of spidery vampire creature was released to menace them in their snowy mountain hideaway. It won’t end well for most of them.
In Monster From Green Hell (1957) American rocket scientists are sending animals up into space in preparation for manned space flight, but then it all goes horribly wrong when a rocket carrying wasps crash lands in darkest Africa (well it is the 50s). Since most bad things in American movies are down to the British maybe the rocket caught a dose of electromagnetic radiation from The Strange World of Planet X. So off safari the scientists to Africa’s Green Hell where they discover that the savage wasps have grown to huge proportions, but fortunately the insects are pretty daft since they have built their nest in the path of the lava flow from the obligatory active volcano.
A sea-captain (James Best) delivering stores to a geneticist finds himself trapped on a remote island by a storm in The Killer Shrews (1950). Dr Marlowe Craggis (Barruch Lumet) has been experimenting with shrews to try to discover a means of slowing down human metabolism so that people will need less food. Naturally it all went horribly wrong and the mutated giant shrews (played by coonhounds in all over hairy bodysuits or by glove puppets in closeup) are just as hungry as their ravenous little cousins and have a poisoness bite as well. Worse still they are loose on the island.
The Giant Gila Monster (1959) is just that, there’s no real explanation given for the critter’s size as the local hot-rodding kids help the Town Sheriff take the beast down with some nitro-glycerine they just happen to have in a the shed.
Finally The Crater Lake Monster (1977) is a Plesiosaurus that hatches from a frozen egg when a flaming hot meteor splashes down in Crater Lake. It’s up to the local Sheriff (honestly who’d take that job with all those monsters out there) to take the poorly animated creature down.
If like me you enjoy vintage monster movies with shoddy special effects The Renown Monster Collection is a great little package. Personally I enjoyed the British movies best, but the only real clunker is The Crater Lake Monster which with its 1970s fashions and vehicles it seems out-of-place with the other movies in the set.
DVD extras include an interview with Womaneater star Vera Day and Man or Beast a short and to be frank bit rubbish documentary about early monster movie creatures.
find out more about Renown Films here