THE CRAWLING EYE/THE TROLLENBERG TERROR
British science fiction monster movies generally do it right and do it best. Take for granted the British production The Trollenberg Terror, released in the US with the more sensational title, The Crawling Eye, a movie produced by Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker (Blood of the Vampire, Jack the Ripper, Flesh and the Fiends), with a story by Peter Kay and screenplay by Hammer veteran Jimmy Sangster, directed with tension and style by Quentin Lawrence.
The miniature model created giant eye-ball monsters, actually looking closer to big creepy-crawling brains, but white instead of gray, with protruding eyes. To make the effect even more horrible, each eye monster has elongated tentacles which reach out and entwine themselves around unsuspecting villains, ripping their heads off. These creatures are low-budget but effectively photographed and, here's the main point, never shown until the movie's climax. Throughout the entire production, the director and cinematographer (producer Monty Berman) build suspense by showing the creature's dead victims, displaying subjective death-rattle reactions as people fall victim to the fiends and creating impending dread and gloom as the dominant mood.
By the time the door at the hotel bursts open and we physically see the alien terror, our pumps have been more than primed for such a payoff. And instead of taking the American way of focusing on the military or the loner scientist, here, at this little mountain village, we have subplots of scientists referring to a similar incident that went awry a few years earlier that mimics the current mystery unfolding before our eyes, and we have a mind-reading act featuring Janet Munro as an actual psychic presence, one who is considered dangerous by the alien menace and who must be destroyed to protect them. Thus, she is psychically compelled to go up the mountain alone, and when she is prevented from doing so, human corpses of the dead, still seemingly alive, come to the hotel to silence her once and for all.
The only unsatisfying plot twist is having these dead humans being able to be killed, for a second time, with guns and knives. American hero Forrest Tucker has a secret past and Lawrence Payne, another visitor to the hotel, also seems mysterious and untrusting. Since the identity of the eye creatures is not known until the movie's end, the suspense is maintained by having such unknown creatures live in a radiation cloud, approximating their atmosphere, which remains static until the cloud abruptly moves to enshroud intended victims who generally lose their heads and have their bodies frozen into crystal.
Thus the movie succeeds on many different levels: acting and character development, cinematography and direction, suspense and a very mysterious plot, and ultimately, wonderful giant monsters from outer space. While The Trollenberg Terror does not achieve the heights of the first two Quatermass movies, it is at least as good as XThe Unknown and is generally more successfully rendered than the majority of American counterparts. To the film's merit here, for the first time, the The Crawling Eye can be seen in its 1:66:1 letterbox ratio in a beautiful 35mm print, enhanced for 16:9 televisions. Since this is the British print, it is several minutes longer than the American version, containing a few additional shots of gore (a head in a leather bag and a decapitated corpse) and some added sequences which help to clarify the plot. But this is truly the complete, uncut version never before seen in the USA. A very dupey, blurry trailer is the only extra. But I give the film additional credit for presenting a letterboxed print (very sharp with good contrast) of the British release version. For me, this film is in my top-5 B monster romps of the 1950s. On Image EntertainmentÕs DVD, it has never looked better.
CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA
In the declining era of video tape, we can fondly remember those gray-area distributors such as Sinister Cinema (now boldly heading into the new world of DVD), The Fang, Cinemacabre Video and many others, small video companies that released public domain titles or titles unavailable for legitimate release. Now, with the era of DVD, Alpha Video has entered the DVD marketplace offering many titles formerly released by The Roan Group and other public domain titles.
Now these DVDs are not state-of-the-art 35mm prints that have been digitally enhanced or corrected. No, these are DVDs created from collector's private 16mm prints, transferred to DVD with splices, hissy sound and scratches. Thus far, I have only had time to preview Creature from the Haunted Sea, but many other titles have become available and will become available, including The Woman in Green, White Zombie, Topper Returns, Pride of the Bowery, Nosferatu, Doctor Blood's Coffin, The Fury of the Wolfman (Paul Naschy), Horror Express, King of the Zombies, Maniac, Spooks Run Wild and Night of the Living Dead. Some of these titles are available from other companies, at higher list prices, with better quality. But some of these titles are not available from any other company currently on DVD. And Alpha Video's generally sell for $5.00 per title (and are available at Sam's Club, B.J.'s, Border's, etc.). Thus, these 16mm copies are quite fairly priced, and where else can one acquire Creature from the Haunted Sea or Spooks Run Wild on DVD?
Filmgroup has never produced any of my favorite Roger Corman productions, and Creature from the Haunted Sea, a cult favorite for many, is still not my cup of tea. The film begins promisingly with a funny spoof of spy movies, this pre-title episode most-likely directed by Monte Hellman (Beast from Haunted Cave) and not Roger Corman. But once we board the boat that attempts to sneak Cuba's gold out of the country and out of the hands of Castro, well, the plot becomes quite monotonous with cardboard characters that do not hold one's attention. Add to this mix one of the most low-budget sea monsters imaginable, even for Roger Corman standards. The monster begins to pick off occupants of the boat, one by one, with far too much time between each monster appearance to hold the viewer's interest. By the movie's end Antony Carbone's Bogart imitation becomes overbaked and Betsy Jones-Moreland overstays her welcome. The best sequence in the film is the final one, showing the gold underwater, now guarded by the monster, who appears to be the winner in this quirky monster comedy. The DVD offers no extras except chapter stops, and the 16mm film quality is quite watchable, as long as the viewer has not been spoiled by perfect, digitally corrected DVDs such as the ones released by Image or Anchor Bay. Bottom line, Creature from the Haunted Sea is definitely worth five bucks!