Sunday, February 7, 2016

The PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES - BLU-RAY REVIEW

A lone fisherman off the coast of some unnamed beach is killed when his boat is capsized by a strange beast, which resembles some sort of giant, mutated sea serpent.  Later that evening – even if it does look more like morning, due to some rather unconvincing “day-for-night” photography! – his charred boat washes ashore while his burned body becomes the focus of an investigation by Bill Grant (Rodney Bell) and Ted Stevens (Kent Taylor), a highly-regarded oceanographer who seems to have connections to Washington because he was one of the first to develop a “workable death ray.”  At the Pacific School of Oceanography, Professor King (Michael Whalen) has also been using “hydrogen isotopes in heavy water” in his laboratory, which mutates a harmless turtle into some sort of monster.  While wooing King’s daughter Lois (Cathy Downs), Dr. Stevens learns there may be some connections between Prof. King’s experiments and the creature, which has been terrorizing the local beach…

Released by American Releasing Corporation (ARC), which later morphed into the better-known American International Pictures (AIP), this super-cheap quickie was picked up in order to fill the bottom half of a double-bill alongside Roger Corman’s DAY THE WORLD ENDED (1955).  Advertising ace and co-founder James H. Nicholson (along with Samuel Z. Arkoff) of both ARC and later AIP came up with the snazzy, if nonsensical title, wonderfully lurid poster and ad-copy; which promise a lot but deliver a lot less.  Despite it’s success at the time, this very economical horror flick is pretty slow on the uptake, and even though everyone in the cast does a serviceable enough job, the relatively brief running time is filled with seemingly endless scenes of talking.  Kent Taylor plays the straight-laced, stuffy hero as expected, while Cathy Downs – who would go on to star in Edward L. Cahn’s The SHE-CREATURE (1956) and Bert I. Gordon’s The AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957, AIP productions both) is just another pretty face and she doesn’t add a whole lot as the concerned daughter and love-interest.  Michael Whalen as the shifty Professor King (“I’m working on breathtaking things!”) definitely adds some much-needed B-movie madness to the proceedings as he discusses utter nonsense such as “atomic mutations” and “death rays” while Vivi Janiss as King’s duplicitous secretary and Helene Stanton as Wanda, a curvy, blond “femme fatale” in league with some unidentified country trying to obtain King’s ‘secrets’, are also two of the more interesting, if still derivative, characters to grace this lowly film.
U.S. Half-sheet poster.

The shoddiness of the entire production is evident almost immediately, as the film’s key setting, an eerie, desolate stretch of beach, only exhibits such desolation – not because they were trying to invoke some potential “atmosphere” – but because the producers simply couldn’t afford any extras outside of the film’s players.  The threadbare interior sets are also indicative of the production’s decidedly thrifty nature; the so-called Oceanography school is especially cheap, and seems to consist of merely a single outer room with a secretary’s desk and some filing cabinets.  King’s small, overcrowded laboratory is equally as economically furnished.  Even Ted Stevens, who is apparently backed by Washington, also doesn’t have the resources to properly study this menacing creature, and other than for a couple of scuba gear tanks and a paltry rowboat, his ‘research’ isn’t very substantial, to say the least.  In fact, the whole chintzy production looks like it reuses the very same rowboat time and time again, including during a scene where the obligatory amorous teenage couple have their brief encounter with the beast.  This rip-off of Jack Arnold’s CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) does actually feature some decent underwater photography, but unlike the athletically agile Ricou Browning as the Creature in Arnold’s film, this monster merely floats in and around the surface attacking (off-screen, yet!) anyone that wanders into its neck of the beach.

Director Dan Milner was a prolific editor of low-budget films, such as Richard C. Kahn’s SON OF INGAGI (1940) whose career stretched back to the ’30s.  He only directed three films, including FROM HELL IT CAME (1957), which features yet another less than agile monster – a demonic tree!  The present film was one of Lou Rusoff’s early writing assignments, and he would go on to become a prolific writer for AIP in their early years, which also included William Asher’s phenomenally successful BEACH PARTY (1963), which spawned a number of sequels.

One of the many public domain DVD's.
A public domain mainstay since the dawn of DVD, this was initially released by Retromedia in 2001, but it wasn’t until September 2007 than an ‘official’ DVD was issued through MGM/Fox as part of MGM’s popular Midnite Movies line, which paired it up with David Kramarsky’s equally cheap The BEAST WITH 1,000,000 EYES.  Earlier this year, Kino Lorber Studio Classics issued this on Blu-ray in a newly remastered 1080p transfer, which is a massive improvement over those earlier DVDs.  Framed at 1.85:1, detail is excellent throughout but still very film-like while the DTS-HD Master 2.0 Audio track sounds terrific for such a low-budget film.  As for extras, the disc includes a very solid, informative commentary from TCM/Movie Morlocks’ Richard Harland Smith who discusses all sorts of interesting tidbits about the production, its players and even the genesis of American International Pictures.  The only other extra is a “Trailers From Hell” trailer with Joe Dante commentary and bonus trailer for Arnold Laven’s The MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957), which is also available from Kino, and is yet another recommended Blu-ray.

While certainly far from good, anyone with a fondness for ’50s monster movies will undoubtedly still find something to appreciate here, especially via Kino’s excellent Blu-ray, but relative newcomers may still by put-off by the lack of production values, action or a very satisfying monster.  Order it from Amazon here. 

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