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Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Corinth Films’ Science Fiction Triple Feature Picture Show

Way back in olden times when watching a movie meant going to a theater or tuning into whatever was playing on the few TV channels available, there was a lot less to be picky about.  It was during this era that many of us, including myself and podcast co-host Joseph Perry, were exposed to classic sci-fi and horror films from a couple of decades earlier thanks to local horror-host programs that regularly aired those genre films. The rarity of being able to watch this stuff back then made it easier to ignore their shortcomings and enjoy them all the more. Now, in the digital age of entertainment, a lot of these films are unavailable or are poor quality transfers usually airing on free services that plunk commercials into their movies on a clockwork schedule regardless of what’s happening in the film.  The ones that HAVE gotten a physical release were from a while back, mainly when DVDs were the next best thing after videotapes - and even then the quality was sometimes lacking due to compression used in order to squeeze as many films onto a disc as possible.

Thankfully, Corinth Films has stepped up and collected a few vintage, low-budget sci-fi films on a disc called Drive-In Retro Classics Science Fiction Triple Feature.  This trio of films plays like one of those menu items at a chain restaurant that gives you a little bit of this and a little of that — the perfect option for someone who can’t decide what to order, or who has never been to the restaurant and doesn’t know what to order.  If you’ve ever been to Olive Garden, a perfect example is their “Tour of Italy”.  This is a great way to introduce someone to classic sci-fi, or as a way to collect a few films you may not have seen for some time.  There is a downside, though.  For something like this it would be great to have restored versions of the films and possibly a booklet with background and behind the scenes information about the movies themselves.  Without any supplemental material, there isn’t much here to brag about, and that makes this collection a bit of a letdown.  Still, having the films uncut and available is better than not having them at all AND it makes it pretty easy to drag out a projector and play this sucker on the side of your house like it was your own personal drive-in theater.

Here’s the lineup:

Rocketship X-M (1950)
A lot of people are going to recognize this from the first episode of the second season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  In it, we’ve got a crew that is slated to be the first manned mission to the moon but they somehow end up off course and soon find themselves on Mars!  Here they come across the last remaining survivors of a long-ago technically advanced society that was all but wiped out by atomic war.   Aside from Lloyd Bridges as pilot Col. Graham, the coolest part of this flick is how director Kurt Neumann uses a reddish-sepia tone for the action on Mars. 

While not a technical masterpiece (it obviously had a fairly minimal budget), and only clocking in at 78 minutes, Rocketship X-M nonetheless has an important spot in the pantheon of classic sci-fi films, specifically those revolving around the blossoming space race and our drive and desire to conquer the stars.

The Brain From Planet Arous (1958)
B-movie and low budget flicks are all a little better off for having John Agar star in a handful of films that fit squarely into the sci-fi wheelhouse.  In this one he plays Steve March, a scientist who discovers a cave that contains a giant, floating brain named Vol. Not only can Vol shoot laser beams from his eyes, he has quite the hankering for some Earth-girl lovin’ which he tries to get by taking over March. Okay — admittedly, that passion mainly plays backseat to Vol’s plans of using March’s knowledge of and access to weapons that he wants to use in his plan to take over the world!

The Brain From Planet Arous is one of the more inspired entries from the classic sci-fi era. Yeah, you’ve gotta just roll with some of the leaps of logic it takes, but if you do you’ll find a nice little gem of a film.  Plus, how many movies can boast of having a plot involving a giant, disembodied brain and a possessed dog trying to thwart the brain’s plans for global destruction?  Not many!

The Hideous Sun Demon (1959)
The last film included on this triple feature disc is a stereotypical 50s sci-fi monster type of film.  When exposed to sunlight, Gil McKenna (played by sci-fi regular of the time, Robert Clarke), turns into a monstrous reptilian creature with a taste for blood  thanks to a radioactive lab accident.
I have a feeling that this one is either going to be most people’s favorite entry, or their least favorite with very little in-between.  The low budget shows on this one with an obvious costume that Clarke is stuffed into and for every minute of monster action it seems like there’s 10 or 15 minutes of exposition, doing a lot of telling and not showing.  But it all comes together to provide viewers with a prime example of classic sci-fi drive-in fare.

Here’s hoping that Corinth Films is able to up their game a little bit and give future releases an extra or two.  The movies being showcased might have been low-budget but that shouldn’t mean that these DVD releases need to be.

-Mike Imboden

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