Wednesday, October 28, 2009

War of the Colossal Beast (Carmel/American-International, 1958)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

War of the Colossal Beast proved to be a flawed film and have its moments of silliness, but it was actually a decent genre piece, better than most of the films Mystery Science Theatre 3000 ridiculed and almost good enough for you to question why they wanted to do it at all. It’s a sequel to The Amazing Colossal Man, made by the same people — producer-director-writer Bert I. Gordon and American International Pictures — who did the original; the first one was released in 1957 and this sequel came out in 1958 — and this time George Worthing Yates, who worked on the script for the first film but didn’t get credit, here gets credit for turning Gordon’s story into a screenplay.

The film starts with Miguel (Robert Hernandez) frantically driving a truck through the wilds of northern Mexico, fleeing an unseen menace, until his truck gets stuck in a mud flat and he survives, but the truck disappears. The truck’s owner, John Swanson (George Becwar, the actor who caused Edward D. Wood, Jr. all that trouble with the union on the set of Bride of the Monster), goes to Mexico to complain to the local police, and after a couple of reels of exposition it turns out that the truck was picked up whole by the Amazing Colossal Man, who stuck his hand into it like a Cracker Jack box (I made the joke a few seconds before the MST3K crew did, too), pulled out the food it contained and ate it. It turns out he’s been doing this to quite a few trucks in the neighborhood since he escaped his fall off the Boulder Dam at the end of the first movie. It also turns out that, though it didn’t kill him, the fall did poke out one of his eyes, seriously scar his face and turn him into a different actor (Dean Parkin instead of Glenn Langan).

There’s an attempt — actually more successful than it was in the first film — to turn the Colossal Man into a character of pathos à la the Frankenstein monster (especially in the James Whale movies) and King Kong — though the accident at the end of film one has cost him his ability to speak in this one and it’s his sister Joyce (Sally Fraser — taking the place of the character of his still normal-sized girlfriend in the first film) who acts as his interlocutor and talks about how the gigantic growth process turned him into a freak. This isn’t a great movie, and for an attempt to engender sympathy for the monster it’s hardly in the same league as Frankenstein or King Kong, but it’s got its points — the film moves, the story makes (relative) sense, the “uglification” of the monster (the fact that he’s badly scarred and not just an unnaturally large human the way he was in the first film) anticipates The Incredible Hulk, and the acting is at least decent and in Sally Forrest’s case better than that.

There’s also a surprisingly creative ending; caught in a trap, the monster kills himself by deliberately grabbing electrical power lines — and at the moment he touches them, the image goes from black-and-white into color and stays that way for the remaining minute or so of the film. Offhand I can’t think of any other movie that has just its last few feet in color — though there was a color insert at the end of the 1956 film I Married a Woman (homely George Gobel is married to sexpot Diana Dors and doubts her love for him until the end) and the 1940’s films The Picture of Dorian Gray and Portrait of Jennie used color inserts to depict the titular artworks even though the rest of those films were in black-and-white. In 1958 American-International used a color final scene far more effectively in How to Make a Monster (and it helped that it was considerably longer — more like a whole final reel in color than just the last few shots!) and here it’s an interesting if not especially compelling effect that put the colossal beast to rest for the last time. ( lists a 1962 film called Revenge of the Colossal Beasts, but it’s just an amateur short produced and directed by the 14-year-old John Carpenter.)