Icon worship

Icons of Horror Collection: Sam Katzman

The DVD boom continues to be a boon for forgotten auteurs, apparently even when they’re not all that forgotten. Hence Sony’s recent Icons of Horror Collection: Sam Katzman, a group of four sci-fi/horror bill-fillers cranked out for Columbia in the 1950s by the absurdly prolific titular producer.

The movies run the gamut from the respectable if plodding 1955 atomic-age paranoia wallow Creature with the Atom Brain to Universal-monster-style throwback The Werewolf (1956), notable for its radioactivity-induced lycanthropy and intriguing San Bernardino Mountains location shooting. The remaining pair, Zombies of Mora Tau and The Giant Claw (both from 1957), are respectively the best and worst of the bunch. Despite a shambling army of balding, middle-aged undead and the least convincing “underwater” footage ever attempted, Zombies is a satisfying mix of B-grade voodoo tropes and lurid domestic soap opera (soon-to-be 50-foot woman Allison Hayes plays a shrewish, two-timing wife, naturally), while Claw attempts to cook up apocalyptic dread in the form of a rampaging, gargantuan bird. Fair enough, but the film’s effects—reportedly farmed out to a Mexican house to save money—are risible in the extreme; every appearance by the goggle-eyed, cartoon-turkey-like monster drains the movie of suspense, and by the third go-round the bestringed critter is more embarrassing than funny.

Still, the most curious aspect of Sony’s set—aside from the exclusion of companion piece The Man Who Turned to Stone (1957)—is its positioning of Katzman as a horror specialist. Better remembered for launching the teen-musical craze with 1956’s Rock Around the Clock, he successfully milked that subgenre well into the ‘60s. Sony, which released a few of those titles early last year with Katzman’s name nowhere on the packaging, seems to have its icons confused.