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The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1 and 2 [6 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

The Land Unknown
Generous portions of The Secret Land, the 1948 documentary on the Byrd Antarctic Expedition, were worked into the action of The Land Unknown. Jock Mahoney and William Reynolds play Hal and Jack, leaders of an expedition to the South Pole. Along for the ride is girl reporter Maggie (Shawn Smith), over whose affections Hal and Jack constantly battle. Making a forced landing in the Antarctic, our intrepid explorers find that they've descended well below sea level. Before long, they are attacked by prehistoric beasts which have been preserved in this heretofore uncharted region. When not fending off Tyrannosauri and Pterodactyls, Hal, Jack, Maggie and copter pilot Steve (Phil Harvey) try to steer clear of an unwieldly carnivorous plant. Further complicating things is the presence of a long-lost, slightly demented scientist (Henry Brandon) who craves companionship...specifically the female companionship of Maggie. Its reasonably convincing special effects notwithstanding, The Land Unknown is much ado about nothing. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Monolith Monsters
In some ways, the coming-attractions trailer for The Monolith Monsters is more exciting than the picture itself. The plot gets under way when a meteor crashes in the desert, leaving behind huge black chunks. While being analyzed in a science lab, the crystaline stones are accidentally drenched with water, whereupon they begin to grow to gargantuan dimensions. In a twinkling, these monster monoliths are running amok, "petrifying" whomever and whatever gets in their way. A sudden rainstorm further exacerbates the situation, causing the monoliths to grow to hitherto unimagined heights. Can the world be saved by the saline solution which the scientists are hurriedly developed in the lab? The notion of killer rocks was certainly a novelty: it would have been nice if Monolith Monsters had consistently lived up to the promise of its premise. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Dr. Cyclops
The first Technicolor horror film since Mystery of the Wax Museum, Dr. Cyclops was directed by Ernest Schoedsack, of King Kong fame. Albert Dekker chews the scenery as mad scientist Dr. Thorkel, who has developed a process that will shrink human beings to doll size. His first victims include mining engineers Bill Stockton (Thomas Coley) and Steve Baker (Victor Kilian) and biologists Mary Mitchell (Janice Logan) and Dr. Bullfinch (Charles Halton). At first willing to play-act the role of benevolent despot with his miniaturized captives, Thorkel reveals the more sinister side of his personality by abruptly murdering Bullfinch in cold blood (easily the film's most frightening sequence). The rest of the picture details the escape efforts of the three pint-sized protagonists as they hack their way through a jungle of gigantic foliage and do battle with oversized wildlife. Though the cheery Technicolor hues tend to dilute the "scare" quotient in Dr. Cyclops, the special effects are superbly convincing throughout. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Incredible Shrinking Man
The screen's great existential science fiction film, The Incredible Shrinking Man stars Grant Williams in the title role. While catching some rays on his brother's yacht, Scott Carey (Williams) is enveloped by a mysterious dark cloud. Soon after, he discovers that he's getting thinner -- and smaller. Despite the assuring attitude of his family doctor (the inevitable William Schallert), Scott is losing an inch's worth of height with each passing day. It is finally determined that he has developed an "anti-cancer," a by-product of a new strain of insecticide. By the time he's reached the size of a small boy, Scott has become world-famous. But the phenomenon has adversely affected his personality, turning him into a tyrant, lashing out at the world in general and his faithful wife in particular. An anti-toxin briefly halts the shrinking process, whereupon Scott joins a midget troupe, where he is briefly "accepted" for what he has become. But before long he's shrinking again, becoming so tiny that he is forced to live in a dollhouse. When Scott is attacked by his pet cat, his wife assumes that he's been killed; in fact, Scott, by now so minuscule that even a garden-variety spider poses a deadly threat to him, is hiding in his cellar. By film's end, Scott is no larger than an atom. Uncertain of what is in store for him, he steps out into the mists, summing up his newfound philosophy: "Smaller than smallest, I meant something too. To God there is no zero. I still exist!" Adapted by Richard Matheson from his own novel, The Incredible Shrinking Man is enhanced by its superb special effects. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Tarantula
Monster on the Campus
In this sci-fi film, a college professor must deal with the cataclysmic consequences that ensue when a transmogrifying dragonfly bites a prehistoric fish from Madagascar. Soon after the bite, the strange fish becomes gigantic and begins passing on its new ability to morph all it comes in contact with back into their primal forms. When it bites a dog, the dog becomes a wolf. When some fish slime ends up in the professor's pipe, the professor put it to his lips, and he turns into a rampaging Neanderthal with a very large stone-axe that he freely wields around the terrified college campus. Bloody mayhem ensues. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

The Mole People
The Mole People holds the dubious distinction of being the weakest of the Universal-International horror films. John Agar plays Dr. John Bentley, who leads a Middle Eastern expedition in search of a lost tribe of Sumerians. Bentley and his cohorts follow a tunnel deep, deep, deep below the surface of the earth, eventually coming across a tyrannical tribe of albino Sumerians, who use the semi-human Mole People as slaves. What follows is so dull and plodding that stars John Agar and Hugh Beaumont seem like Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger in comparison. Some prints of The Mole People are minus the pre-credits "explanation" by 1950s celebrity egghead Dr. Frank Baxter. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Leech Woman
An uninspired horror film by Edward Dein, this ragged story begins in darkest Africa and in the even darker psyche of a mentally deteriorating woman. June Talbot (Colleen Gray) goes on a trip to Africa with her husband Dr. Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry), only to discover that she is to be the trial balloon in one of his experiments on an anti-aging compound. Not willing to jump off into the unknown, the already unbalanced June kills her husband after she learns of a tribal ritual that will keep her youthful if she can obtain a hormone from the pineal gland of a human male. The problem is that she will revert back to a wrinkled woman unless she keeps replenishing her stock of the hormone. That, of course, leads to gruesome killings and ultimately, one disastrous mistake. ~ Eleanor Mannikka, Rovi

Cult of the Cobra
Six GIs stationed in Asia secretly photograph the arcane rituals of a group of cobra worshippers. At the climax of the ceremony, the cult members turn themselves into snakes. The high priestess catches the soldiers spying and throws a curse upon them. This off-beat horror film follows what happens to the men after that. Soon after they return to the US, the vengeful priestess follows them and people begin to die from snake venom poisoning, adding credence to the strange tale told by a surviving GI to the police, who become less skeptical as more evidence is unearthed. More trouble follows when the serpentine goddess falls for the ex-soldier's roomie. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

The Deadly Mantis
This is the one in which the "villain" is a huge, carnivorous praying mantis. After the titular insect has attacked several people in a remote Arctic region, Col. Joe Parkham (Craig Stevens) swings into action. Parkham and his associates, Dr. Ned Jackson (William Hopper) and Ned's assistant Margie Blake (Alix Talton), track the predatory mantis as it heads southward to Washington DC (how did it get past customs?) The green monstrosity meets its Waterloo in "Manhattan Tunnel", where it is bombarded with poison gas (a little Raid or Black Flag might have come in handy). Some of the Arctic scenes in The Deadly Mantis were clumsily culled from the 1933 drama SOS Iceberg and a handful of Air Force training films. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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