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My Latest DVD Obsession: Low-Budget Horror Flicks from the '50s

6 May, 2004 By: Thomas K. Arnold

I'm having the most wonderful time, wallowing in muck.

While an unopened copy of The Last Samurai and other top-flight blockbusters sit undisturbed in my bookcase, I'm thrilled to the hilt to be watching a succession of low-budget sci-fi and horror films from the 1950s and early 1960s, cult classics from the drive-in era with titles like Carnival of Souls, Beach Babes and the Monster, The Giant Gila Monster and, of course, Ed Wood's own Plan 9 From Outer Space, branded by critics as the worst movie ever made.

I'm as happy as a pig in … well, you catch my drift. I even went to Wal-Mart and picked up one of those Rubbermaid “media boxes” so I could give my precious collection of camp its very own home, away from the mainstream films that line the bookcases in my family room and office.

Thank you to Image Entertainment — and MGM Home Entertainment, with its Midnite Movies line — for bringing to DVD these and other unsung heroes of the “Atomic Age in Cinema,” a peculiar time in the annals of filmmaking when fears of a nuclear holocaust made imaginations run amok. Trashed by critics and dismissed for their amateurish special effects — in Plan 9, nylon thread is clearly visible at the top of each “flying' saucer — these films, upon recent viewing, are far more influential than anyone probably has given them credit for.

George Romero's 1968 Night of the Living Dead gets credit for starting the zombie movie craze, a craze which recently hit another of its periodic peaks with a big-budget remake of Dawn of the Dead and such other theatrical films as House of the Dead and 28 Days Later (all right, so they weren't zombies, per se, but they sure looked and acted dead).

But nearly a decade before Night of the Living Dead, Ed Wood was resurrecting corpses and turning them into vicious killers.Likewise, the inventive monsters in Men In Black are the direct descendents of the black-and-white aliens of the 1950s, and while the “giant Gila monster” in the 1959 frightfest was obviously a regular-size lizard, the shots of the shadowy creature sliding its way through the river bed in search of prey, at least to my eyes, looked a lot more realistic than the charging mechanical dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

On top of that, the fashions, the hairstyles, the slang and most of all the cars are incredibly amusing and entertaining to watch.

Don't get me wrong. I'll get to The Last Samurai and all the other new stuff. But first, I've got a whole pile of other movies to watch. Starting tonight, with She Demons. Or maybe Bride of the Monster…

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