• Giant From The Unknown (The Film Detective) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: The Film Detective
    Released on: January 19th, 2021.
    Director: Richard E. Cunha
    Cast: Ed Kemmer, Sally Fraser, Morris Ankrum, Bob Steele, Buddy Baer, Gary Crutcher
    Year: 1958
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    Giant From The Unknown – Movie Review:

    Directed by Hawaiian born filmmaker Richard E. Cunha, the same man who gave us Frankenstein's Daughter and Missile To The Moon, is set in and around the small California mountain town of Pine Ridge. The locals are in a bit of a huff lately, as they’ve found some animals torn to bits and, more recently, even one of their own, with no one really sure what’s caused the deaths.

    Around this time, Dr. Frederick Cleveland (Morris Ankrum) and his hot daughter Janet (Sally Fraser) team up with a scientist named Wayne Brooks (Ed Kemmer) to scope out the area in hopes of digging up some artifacts that once belonged to a Spanish conquistador named Vargas who roamed these hills five centuries before. A storm comes in, quickly and unexpectedly, putting a damper on their exploratory activities, but not before they find a few odds and ends that indicate that they’re on the right track. Meanwhile, Sheriff Parker (old school western stalwart Bob Steel) starts to figure Brooks is responsible for the murders. Of course, no one involved realizes that Vargas (played by massive 6’ 7” one time World heavy title contender Buddy Baer) has been brought back from the dead and is running about with a big ol’ axe ready to do some business. Oh, and a boy named Charlie Brown (Gary Crutcher) shows up too!

    Featuring makeup effects from the great Jack Pierce (this isn’t his best work, but it’s still his work!), Giant From The Unknown is every bit as goofy as it sounds but if you’re into low budget 50’s monster movies this is, if not even close to the upper echelon, a fun watch. There isn’t much in the way of tension or scares here and honestly not much happens for the first forty-minutes or so. Still, it’s watchable in the way that goofy old B-movies are watchable thanks to some hokey dialogue and unnecessary subplots that, admittedly, probably just exist to pad out the running time.

    The film’s biggest flaws are that there isn’t enough monster mayhem on display and that the monster itself isn’t much of a monster. Buddy Baer is big and intimidating but he’s really just made up as a guy in dusty old armor with a dirty beard, someone who could be turned into a normal man should someone decide to simply turn the hose on him. Ankrum, who is quite elderly here, is fine as the kindly old doctor and Fraser simply lovely as his daughter, despite the fact that the vast majority of her dialogue is as hokey as hokey can be, even by the standards of the day. Kemmer is essentially the male lead here and he does just fine in the part, he’s dashing and charismatic and all of that stuff, while a very obviously makeup-laden Bob Steele steals a few scenes as the town Sheriff. He’s just got that authoritative vibe to him that goes a long way in a picture like this. Gary Crutcher, who was clearly quite young when this was made, is also fun to watch.

    Not really a very good movie by most standards, it still has that certain fifties B-movie charm that makes it plenty watchable in spite of its flaws.

    Giant From The Unknown – Blu-ray Review:

    Giant From The Unknown arrives on Blu-ray from The Film Detective on a 25GB region free disc with the feature taking up 14GBs of space on the disc and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and taken from a new 4k scan of the original 35mm negative. Strangely enough, this transfer uses a VC-1 encode (as did the recent release of The Other Side Of Madness) which is likely the cause of the compression issues, but despite that it looks pretty nice. We get nice, strong black levels, clean whites and a nice grey scale with good contrast evident throughout. The image is almost shockingly clean, showing very little in the way of print damage while retaining the natural film grain you’d want it to. The framing looks good and there’s nice depth and detail here as well. As noted, however, unfortunately some noticeable compression artifacts and occasional macroblocking does pop up in some of the darker scenes, but otherwise this looks quite nice. It’s an obvious step up from the old DVD release, it’s just a shame that the encoding wasn’t better.

    Audio for the feature is handled by an English language 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, with optional subtitles offered in English and Spanish. The audio quality is just fine for an older low budget film. The track is balanced well, and the dialogue is always clean and easy to follow. There’s a bit of depth to the score that you might not expect, and the track is, thankfully, free of any hiss, distortion of sibilance. An optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track is also included on the disc.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary featuring author/historian Tom Weaver “and guests“ that talks about the advent of the cheap horror movie boom of the late fifties, how this picture was made by a lot of people who had little to no filmmaking experience, its place in the history of ‘backyard horror films,’ the locations used for the film, details on the history of Cunha and producer Jacobs and the movies that they made together, when exactly the film was shot, details on the cast and crew, the movie’s connections to Earth Versus The Giant Spider, the makeup used in the picture, why Steele is slathered in pancake makeup in the film, the different aspect ratios that the movie has been shown in and plenty of details on Cunha’s career and filmography. Weaver does the vast majority of the talking here, but the “guests” do pop up to provide voice work for interviews that he did with the likes of Lucky Brown which are used in the track to provide some historical details.

    The disc also includes a new audio commentary with co-star Gary Crutcher, who talks about landing the part in what would be his first movie without having to read for the part since he looked like the actress who was to play his sister. He covers what it was like shooting in Big Bear, California, other pictures that were shot in the area, how he got along with some of his co-stars (some of whom had appeared in some big pictures like Casablanca), how moviemaking has changed so much over the years, using the Lagunita Lodge to shot much of the picture in, some of the amusing details you can see in the film as you watch it (watch for his shirt changing prints in the same scene), having to shoot the last part of the movie during a massive unexpected blizzard that came into the area, having to bring in the effects work on a movie with such a low budget, notes on some of the props featured in the movie and more. There are times when he spends a bit too much time narrating what’s on screen where maybe a moderator would have come in handy, but there’s still quite a bit of worthwhile material here.

    There are a few featurettes here too, the first being You’re A B-Movie Star, Charlie Brown, which interviews actor/screenwriter Gary Crutcher four fourteen-minutes. He talks about his childhood, being put into a minstrel show at nine and getting into the performing arts from there, quitting the show at eighteen and moving to Cuba, then moving to NYC and Hollywood after that. From there, his career started to take off after doing some plays and getting an agent. He talks about landing the part in Giant From The Unknown, his first movie, working with Cunha who he speaks very fondly of, as well as Buddy Baer, Jack Pierce and the other cast members. He also talks about what the locations were like, having to learn to drive or the role, the rushed six-day production schedule and quite a bit more. It’s interesting stuff, even if it does cover a lot of the same ground as the commentary track. Crutcher comes across as very likeable and he clearly had a good time making this movie.

    The Man With A Badge: Bob Steele In The 1950’s is an interview with author/film historian C. Courtney Joyner that clocks in at ten-minutes. He speaks about Steele’s move to Los Angeles where his father worked as a film director and getting his start in some western movies. We learn how his career took off from here during the western boom, where he did a lot of work for Monogram, and how, when westerns started to fade in popularity, he started making other pictures like Of Mice And Men and The Big Sleep. When the fifties came along, we learn how he kept working by doing a lot of television work like F-Troop, how and why he wound up in Giant From The Unknown, why he would have been attracted to the part and what his presence brings to the picture. It’s a good piece, Joyner knows his stuff and is very animated and fun to listen to.

    The disc includes a trailer for the feature as well as menus and chapter selection.

    Also worth mentioning is that inside the case alongside the disc is a collector’s booklet with a gallery of images and liner notes by Tom Weaver that document the history of the picture and which are very much worth taking the time to read.

    Giant From The Unknown – The Final Word:

    Giant From The Unknown is hokey stuff to be sure but it’s entertaining in its own goofy way. The Film Detective brings the picture to Blu-ray with a transfer that could have been better, but on a disc loaded with extras that are quite interesting. A fun release, all in all.

    Click on the images below for full sized Giant From The Unknown Blu-ray screen caps!