Monsters And Madmen


The Atomic Submarine


Corridors Of Blood


First Man Into Space


The Haunted Strangler

The feverish, dreamlike quality of Darwyn Cooke's stylishly retro artwork for Criterion's "Monsters And Madmen" box set perfectly suits the four pulpy Alex and Richard Gordon-produced B-movies within. None of these genre pluggers—the Boris Karloff vehicles The Haunted Strangler and Corridors Of Blood, the alien beastie pictures First Man Into Space and The Atomic Submarine—qualifies as a classic, except to those who fetishize gothic camp and rubber costumes. But though the Gordon brothers ran separate production companies, they shared a passion for earnest exploitation, and the patina of seriousness surrounding their films makes them more enduring than the usual no-budget '50s/'60s junk. These movies aren't as classy as Hammer Studios', or the higher-toned Fox and Universal fantasy efforts, but they're energetic and easy to watch, even as they creep into the subconscious.

The two Robert Day-directed Karloff films comprise the set's objectively "better" half. In The Haunted Strangler, Karloff plays a writer investigating a serial killer and finding an unexpected personal connection. In Corridors Of Blood, he's a doctor who tests a new anesthetic on himself, with surprisingly violent results. Both are historical pieces set in a grimy 19th-century England, and both are about a man descending into madness to protect his reputation. The shocks are mild, but the overall atmosphere of gloom and human depravity frames Karloff's always-entertaining cultured-gentleman-goes-nutzoid routine.

As for the science-fiction half of the bill, it's weighed down by Day's leaden First Man Into Space; aside from some stock footage of actual atmosphere-busting test flights, it doesn't do much with its story of a pilot who flies too high and comes home a gnarled, vampiric monster. Much better is Spencer Gordon Bennet's The Atomic Submarine, an alternately gripping and stolid submarine-vs.-flying-saucer movie that thrives on its weirdly specific undersea-living detail and flimsy effects. One of the first inside-the-sub shots is a close-up of roast beef being pulled out of a huge galley oven, while from the outside, the sub looks every inch like a plastic model. The contrast between the toy-like miniature exteriors and the vast interiors creates a surreal effect, like something out of a Guy Maddin movie, and Alexander Laszlo's high, whistling soundtrack only heightens the feeling that we've disappeared inside our own heads.

Key features: Chatty commentary tracks with the Gordon brothers and pulp historian Tom Weaver, and short interviews with the directors and stars.

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