Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Giant Claw (1957)

If you’ve ever watched a bad movie and wondered how talented actors could wind up in an awful flick, The Giant Claw is a cautionary tale of good intentions gone bad.  This film contains effects so horrid that star Jeff Morrow walked out of the screening, in his hometown, midway through the movie.  Then, depending on the story you want to believe, he either went home or found a bar to drown his sorrow concerning the audience’s laughter at the sight of the titular monster.
And you can’t blame the audience, as the monster looks like this….

Wait, why is everyone laughing?

Which, for some reason, reminds me of this….

"I'm bringing home a baby bumblebee...."

It didn't help the movie that Beaky Buzzard was introduced over a decade earlier, and the audience for The Giant Claw probably remembered the goofy bird from their youth.  And, as the promotional artwork hides the titular critter, one has to expect the studio heads knew the bird would lay an egg.  But it’s a shame, as this was a decent B-movie in the making. 

Morrow plays Mitch MacAlee, a pilot and electronic whiz, is testing some science thing for the Air Force.  He happens to see an Unidentified Flying Object, as big as a battleship, but radar searches and a bunch of scrambled jets find no trace of the object.  Mitch is ridiculed, for a bit, but a series of attacks on aircrafts convinces the government that he might be telling the truth. 
The threat is a giant bird from space, deciding to make Earth its nesting ground. Now Mitch and his assistant Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday) must find a way to get around the bird’s anti matter shield so the US military can blast it.

Which should give the movie ample opportunity to wow you
with effects like this!

Okay, the science is wonky, as it searches for a way to make the creature near invulnerable.  It’s a common troupe in the giant monster movies of the 50s.  The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms had radioactive blood, It Came From Beneath The Sea was only vulnerable with an short range targeting system and as for Them!,well, it’s a big colony, and flying queen ants and, whatever.  The idea is that most of the giant monsters of the era had abilities to protect them from the normal weapons of humanity, making the film more suspenseful than if we could just wipe them out with a single cannon blast.

I shouldn’t need to mention the plot is pretty stereotypical.  Mitch and Sally bicker, the Armed Forces don’t believe Mitch’s UFO report until several other disasters occur, and Mitch learns to calm his anger with a few healthy swigs of Canadian apple cider.

Yeah, it was the 50s and the solution to most of life’s problems was a stiff drink away.

The downfall to this movie isn’t the script or the acting.  The cast is quite good, delivering wacky lines about anti-matter and UFOs with convincing dedication.  And it might surprise modern audiences that Sally is a pretty good 50s heroine.  Despite falling for stereotypically loutish Mitch, she displays scientific knowledge that sets her above the typical damsel in distress common to movies of the time.  And she's a damn good shot with a rifle, an equal to Mitch.

No, the film fails with the first clear glimpse of the extraterrestrial bird.  Ray Harryhausen was slated to do the effects, but declined (for budgetary reasons).  So producer Sam Katzman went with a low-budget special effects crew to create the titular monster, and the rest is bad movie history.  Morrow has gone on record that none of the actors knew about the creature's appearance until the film hit theaters.  One can only imagine the shame they felt being involved in a project that promised top notch effects and delivered a monster that might have you singing, "I'm bringing home a baby bumblebee."  Yep, that will sink your film right away.

Come on, quit laughing.  I'm scary, SCARY...

I’m not suggesting a puppet wouldn't be effective in a giant creature flick.  Hell, I love movies like The Giant Shrews or The Green Slime, so you know my standards are rather low when it comes to the presentation of the monster.  But the design, not the execution, of the monster in The Giant Claw is so bad, so goofy, that it’s hard not to laugh, even as the beast gobbles up helpless parachutist. 

Hey, movie audience.  I’m being eaten alive!!  Why are you all laughing?

There is a big difference between a goofy looking monster (like those in The Green Slime) and a creature that is just goofy.  Sure, the audience can chuckle at it's first appearance, but if they continue to laugh as the monster tries to bring humanity to it's knees, it's time to pull a Morrow and walk out of the theater to the nearest drinking hole.  

And yes, I saw several shots lifted from other films.  But that was a common practice, along with recycling music cues, and even that doesn’t sink the film.  The Giant Claw is a rare low budget horror feature, derailed not by the acting or screenplay, but the effects alone.  Had the monster looked better, this film might have become a beloved B-Movie classic.  Instead, it’s a stark example of how the best intentions of a cast and crew can be derailed by the choices made by a producer in the creation of the titular monster.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

CthulhuCon PDX brings Lovecraftian insanity to Portland this spring!

If you need a bit of cosmic insanity after you finally complete and mail off your taxes, plan to make your way to the Crowne Plaza (1441 NE 2nd Ave in Portland, OR) for CthulhuCon PDX on April 25 and 26, 2015.

This con is NOT taking the place of October's film festival, but will focus more on gaming, panel discussions and author readings.  You know, all the things you miss at the Film Festival because, well, you're too busying taking in all the cinematic wonders.

The festival will include a few films, as well as a vendor's area.  Stay tuned to The Shadow Over Portland for more details as they become available, or check out the Facebook Event Page for up to the minute information.