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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Cold War Creatures: Four Films From Frank Katzman (Blu-ray Review)


The Film (Creature with the Atom Brain)
The Film (The Werewolf)
The Film (Zombies of Mora Tau)
The Film (The Giant Claw)
The Video (Overall)
The Audio (Overall)
The Supplements


This collection brings together four 1950s creature features from outsized genre producer Frank Katzman that are the definition of American Cold War paranoia with their atomic creatures, alien monsters, Russian spies, and unsettled suburbia. Arrow Video brings together a monster collectible set.

Cold War Creatures: Four Films from Sam Katzman brings together four 1950s monster movies from producer Sam Katzman whose force as a producer was so strong, he overshadowed the idea of the director in these genre films that he put together. Creature with the Atom Brain, The Werewolf, Zombies of Mora Tau, and The Giant Claw, are the four B-movie creature features brought together in this collection and they are an enticing mix of 1950s Cold War Americana. With creatures created through atomic energy, like the mind-controlled zombies committing crimes of revenge in Creature with the Atom Brain, its title a misnomer as there are a few of these creatures throughout the film, or a vaccine created against the threat of nuclear fallout that creates monsters like The Werewolf. By Zombies of Mora Tau, Katzman, and America, were weary of the Cold War schtick and the zombies of this film were taken back to their supernatural roots as treasure hunters trying to hunt for a sunken cargo ship loaded with diamonds disturb the ship’s guardians – zombies. The final film in the collection, The Giant Claw is either the most famous or the most infamous, depending on your perspective. Katzman wanted to do a big creature feature but also didn’t want to spend the kind of money required to hire the visual effects wizard Ray Harryhausen with whom he had worked in the past. The result is the monster in this film, made on the cheap in Mexico, looks like a giant demented flying turkey and nothing like the description given as having the “head of a wolf on the body of a woman with wings”. Putting that aside, this story still has some pathos as the enormous turkey, err, creature from outer space descends and begins to attack. Some of the nest scenes here take place early on with the French-Canadian character Pierre and his Apple Jack just from the perspective of the cinematography.

The Video

Each film in the collection is presented in AVC 1080p and rich black and white. Creature with the Atom Brain and The Werewolf are framed at 1.85:1 while the remaining films are 1.78:1. Each film in this set is very satisfying to watch and looks surprisingly natural, clean, and detailed, with the black and white and that Columbia Pictures “film-noir” look helping a lot with the contrast. The first two films, Atom Brain and Werewolf, have the coarsest grain structure, but from there we get some very fine-looking grain and also stunning, inky blacks and bright highlights, especially in Zombies of Mora Tau, but also in the cabin scenes of The Giant Claw. There are some frames throughout that unavoidably show their age, but they do not hinder the overall impact of what is an excellent set.

The Audio

This is another Arrow set that for whatever reason mixes uncompressed LPCM 1.0 and lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 like the Years of Lead collection. Again, it’s the first two films in this collection that are given LPCM 1.0 audio tracks, and the rest have DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Either way, they all present the audio with a decent amount of clarity in the dialogue and foley effects with little to no crackle and about the sort of dynamics one would expect from a monaural track from the 1950s.

The Supplements

Limited Edition Contents:

  • Reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork for each film by Matt Griffin
  • 2 double-sided posters featuring newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin
  • 80-page collector’s art book featuring reproduction stills and artwork from each film and new writing by historian and critic Stephen R. Bissette
  • Fully illustrated 60-page collector’s book featuring extensive new writing by Laura Drazin Boyes, Neil Mitchell, Barry Forshaw, Jon Towlson and Jackson Cooper

Creature with the Atom Brain:

  • Introduction by Kim Newman
  • Audio commentary by Russell Dyball
  • Sam Katzman: Before & Beyond the Cold War Creatures (1080p; 01:13:57) – Historian and critic Stephen R Bissette provides an introduction to the life, career, and films of Sam Katzman in this feature-length illustrated presentation.
  • Super 8 Version (1080p; 1.37:1; 00:19:27) – A condensed 8mm version of Creature with the Atom Brain produced for home cinema viewing.
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p)
  • Image Gallery (1080p)

The Werewolf:

  • Introduction by Kim Newman
  • Commentary by Lee Gambin
  • Beyond Window Dressing (1080p; 00:23:35) – A new visual essay recorded exclusively for Arrow Video by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas exploring the oft-overlooked role of women in Sam Katzman’s films.
  • Super 8 Version (1080p; 1.37:1; 00:07:33) — A condensed 8mm version of The Werewolf produced for home cinema viewing.
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p)
  • Image Gallery (1080p)

Zombies of Mora Tau:

  • Introduction by Kim Newman (1080p)
  • Commentary by Kat Ellinger
  • Atomic Terror: Genre in Transformation (1080p; 00:19:48) – In this new visual essay, recorded exclusively for Arrow Video, critic Josh Hurtado explores the intersection of mythical horror creatures and the rational world of science in Sam Katzman’s monster movies.
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p)
  • Image Gallery (1080p)

The Giant Claw:

  • Introduction by Kim Newman (1080p)
  • Commentary by Emma Westwood and Cerise Howard
  • Family Endangered (1080p; 00:12:51) – In this new visual essay, recorded exclusively for Arrow Video, critic Mike White examines the theme of Cold War Paranoia in Sam Katzman’s monster movies.
  • Super 8 Version (1080p; 00:06:29) — A condensed 8mm version of The Giant Claw produced for home cinema viewing.
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p)
  • Image Gallery (1080p)

The Final Assessment

This is an awesome, sprawling, fun collection of Frank Katzman 1950s horror filled with noir visuals, Cold War paranoia, strange creatures, and most of all, pretty darn good for B-movie storytelling. This Arrow Video collection does what Arrow does best and that is brings together some fine genre material in the best possible condition with a boatload of new video and written bonus materials plus enticing collectibles. Highly recommended.

Cold War Creatures: Four Films from Frank Katzman is out on Blu-ray September 14, 2021 from Arrow Video

  • Rating Certificate: NR
  • Studios & Distributors: Clover Productions | Columbia Pictures | Arrow Video
  • Directors: Edward L. Cahn | Fred F. Sears
  • Run Time: 293 Mins.
  • Video Format: AVC 1080p (B&W)
  • Primary Audio: English LPCM 1.0 | English DTS-HD MA 1.0
  • Subtitles: English SDH

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