McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
Bryan Senn, Author
424 pages, $59.95, 2.14 lbs.
Reviewed by Roy Frumkes
Hmmm. My favorite film as a kid was REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, the second installment in the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON trilogy. This book starts when that second installment hit the theaters, paired with Universal’s CULT OF THE COBRA. But what about the original CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON? Why doesn’t that title lead off the book?
Well, because there weren’t double-features as an ongoing concept until the second CREATURE film came out, except for stand-alone presentations every now and then. For example, Universal’s original FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA were re-released as a double bill in 1938, and was a mega hit, but it was a unique release and stand-alones don’t qualify for this book.
I didn’t remember that the original CREATURE was released solo. Very interesting, as is this entire, enjoyable compendium. Almost two hundred and fifty pages chronicling all the specifically created double-feature theatrical releases in the US, accompanied by their newspaper advertisements and other reference material when possible. Many of the visual reproductions seem slightly degraded, including the book’s cover art, but still these newspaper and poster images evoke a kind of charm, and even an artistry that was compelling at the time and successfully lured people back into movie theaters against the magnetic forces of television, which had robbed the theaters of half their attendance in the 50’s. Giving them two flicks of similar genres for the price of one was the key, and the youth crowd was their target audience. The older crowd had succumbed to the boob tube and, settled into their arm chairs, they never did come back. But the teenagers and adolescents (up till their late 20’s) welcomed the ability to escape from their living rooms into a grade B universe in the neighborhood movie house or drive-in.
Roger Corman has claimed that he invented the idea that the double bills must be of similar genres – two horror flicks, or two biker films, etc. - rather than pairing disparate genres side by side, such as a western with a noir, or a sci-fi with a musical, etc. Whether he did, or whether he was there when the concept was floated and successfully tried out, Senn’s book reveals that he indeed directed one of the first halves of a double-bill, a horror film ominously entitled THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED. I saw that flick in the theatres in 1955, and cheap as it was, it nonetheless creeped me out. A mutated human stalks a group of survivors after a nuclear holocaust, its body charred black like an over-cooked marshmallow. I also saw the bottom half of the double bill – THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES, which was absolutely dreadful, featuring glimpses of an underwater monster that looked like it belonged in an octopus hospice. That disappointment lingered in my memory as the worst film I’d ever seen…for a good two years, until THE ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES came out on another one of these horror double-bills and snatched away the trophy. During that disaster, as the monsters waded down-stream, one of their arms actually protruded through the leech costume.
TWICE THE CHILLS! TWICE THE THRILLS! lays it all out for us – for someone like me, who was there when it happened, and for more recent horror devotees who might want to recreate the experience by picking up the components of a double-bill or two and watching them at home.
It’s a keeper of a book, nicely and humorously and knowledgeably written. In it, one can even trace the intrusion of Hammer Films product from across the Atlantic. Not co-incidentally, Hammer’s financial decline and demise occurred in the mid ‘70s, just as the double-bills wore out their welcome.
Here are the best double bills from the 1950s, meaning that the ‘B’ titles are as good as the ‘A’ titles:
THE BLACK SLEEP & (well, okay, the ‘A’ half isn’t quite up to the ‘B’ half in this instance) THE CREEPING UNKNOWN (known as THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT in its native England).
ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS & NOT OF THIS EARTH
THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN & ‘X’ THE UNKNOWN
I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF & INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN
THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD & THE VAMPIRE
THE HAUNTED STRANGLER & FIEND WITHOUT A FACE
THE BLOB & I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE
THE KILLER SHREWS & THE GIANT GILA MONSTER
THE FLY & THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE
Four of them are about teenagers saving the day. Adolescent audiences loved seeing the kids being smarter than the adults.
Three of them are Hammer imports.
Two of them are from Brit producer Richard Gordon.
Two of them are directed by Roger Corman.
Two of them star Beverly Garland, ‘scream queen’ of the 50’s.
Some might think that THE KILLER SHREWS & THE GIANT GILA MONSTER don’t fit the bill, but THE KILLER SHREWS is one of my cherished guilty-pleasures, so you’re overruled!