Buzzing Thru the Pylon: Halloween Free-For-All, Pt. 1

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996)
Director: Jim Mallon
Universal, 1:13, color
Cinema 4 Rating: 6

Icons of Horror Collection: Sam Katzman
The Giant Claw (1957)
Director: Fred F. Sears
Columbia, 1:15, b/w
Cinema 4 Rating: 2

The Creature with the Atom Brain (1955)
Director: Edward L. Cahn
Columbia, 1:09, b/w
Cinema 4 Rating: 4

Zombies of Mora Tau (1957)
Director: Edward L. Cahn
Columbia, 1:10, b/w
Cinema 4 Rating: 3

The Werewolf (1956)
Director: Fred F. Sears
Columbia, 1:19, b/w
Cinema 4 Rating: 6

You might wonder why I would bother to purchase the Sam Katzman collection in the Icons of Horror series if it is quite clear from the ratings I have given three of its four films that most of this is utter (though not uninteresting) crap.

Ah, but that fourth movie, The Werewolf... what terror and joy that film brought to my youth, which was spent surrounded by snow and creepy, wintertime forests in Alaska. As it was well known to the kids of my neighborhood, which lay below a mountainside in our little town of Eagle River, the woods were most assuredly laden with all manner of bears, Sasquatch and the occasional dragon, in addition to a large family of werewolves. My identification with The Werewolf is mostly due to locale, as the predominate backdrop to this movie is indeed snow and creepy forests, as it was filmed around Big Bear Lake here in California. And don't think I didn't dwell on this picture once more early last year as I traipsed about the woods around Big Bear during a couple of blizzard-laden days on a marketing think-tank retreat there. (There wasn’t a whole lot of thinking done at this retreat, and as a result, it definitely tanked.)

My interest in the film goes beyond just our common setting of woods-bound terror. The Werewolf is that exceedingly rare (for its time) lycanthropy flick where the condition is brought about through biological means rather than via a supernatural curse. This aspect is far more interesting to me now that I am older, because when I was a kid, I was mostly scared to death of walking home through the woods after school in the winter, and this film did not help me any. The makeup job on actor Steven Ritch is certainly not so frightening now, but it didn't matter to me then. Already frightened to death to be outside at night by every single televised Bigfoot special that hit the airwaves in the mid-to-late '70s, as well as a library book full of chilling woodcut illustrations from the 17th and 18th centuries, The Werewolf placed a blood-soaked cherry on the sundae of fear that kept me rushing through the snow in the dark woods every single year far beyond the age where such behavior is even halfway reasonable.

I should mention that this was seen by me, along with The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, long before The Wolf Man and The Curse of the Werewolf, two far more famous and influential lycanthropic flicks. Certainly it is nowhere near as accomplished as those films, nor does it have the same budget, but having it watched it in the past year, The Werewolf still holds up as a surprisingly tense little thriller, and it is a kick watching Ritch muck about the woods looking like a well-dressed and very hirsute preacher. I am definitely looking forward to sitting down here in October and spending an afternoon getting cozy with this old furry friend/fiend, and perhaps even catching up with a couple of those lesser films in the collection as well.

Definitely fully welcome in the household is the DVD re-release of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. Somehow, I missed it the first time around (though I did see it in the theatres twice on its original release), and having not heard about it coming out again, I was stunned to wander into a stack of them at Best Buy the other day. Not really one of their best outings -- Mike and the 'Bots tackle Universal's This Island Earth this time around (a favorite sci-fi flick of mine, but I am not grousing about it like some people did) -- the film is hampered by making the switch from TV to the big screen, where the expectations of a paying audience change the game somewhat. Even counting it as a more-or-less average episode, MST3K: The Movie is still essential to any fan of the series, if only to see what they can do with a slightly higher budget. Seeing it on the shelf at that store, there was no hesitation on my part, except to briefly reflect on whether I was dreaming or not. "Didn't this go out of print? Why do they have so many copies?" Always read the fine print, my friends. "Copyright 2008" means brand new. Well, at least this year, it does.


EggOfTheDead said…
LOL. I didn't have a TV when I was a kid, so at sleepovers I would make everyone stay up all night watching whatever was on. One of the movies I saw was "The Giant Claw," and even at the age of 10 I was laughing at the bird effect, but my friend Karen was so frightened by it that she couldn't sleep.

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