Per Matt
Less is more. That simple cultural proverb has been attributed to a variety of people throughout history, but it was absolutely taken to heart by filmmaker Ray Kellogg. Primarily known for his groundbreaking special-effects work in blockbusters during the Golden Age (and beyond) of Hollywood, Film Masters celebrates his brief work as a director with a pair of cult-classic monster movies from the ’50s in its premiere release.

The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews co-headline the first Blu-ray/DVD release in a series by the vintage film restoration and distribution company. The majority of the film releases for the new label will be restored from a new 4K scan of a 35mm print. They’ll include original film elements that will be offered in original aspect ratios, presented on region-free discs with DTS-HD and Dolby AC3s sound. One Blu-ray/DVD title is planned to release each month, with Kellogg’s original 1959 double feature debuting on September 26th, followed by the horrors of Beast from Haunted Cave (1959) on Oct. 24th and The Scarlett Letter (1934) on November 21st.

Guiding the company is film historian Phil Hopkins, who noted, “Preserving these films in an increasingly homogenized media world is more important than ever. As a consortium of historians and avid enthusiasts, Film Masters was launched to celebrate the preservation and restoration of vintage movies, many of them cult films, that otherwise might not be seen or experienced by a new generation of film lovers. Each release will feature original bonus materials that contextualize and enhance the enjoyment and understanding of the film.”

As for that large lizard and the foragers with voracious appetites, these creature features were originally intended for drive-in movie theaters that can now be enjoyed in the comfort of your home, and just in time for Halloween!

The Giant Gila Monster tells the tale of mother nature’s mistake. Stoking the fears of what may lie in the dark shadows of unexplored regions throughout the planet, a small town is haunted by a mysterious menace. Times were much simpler back then. There were country roads filled with racing teens, an early distrust of authority and a killer kaiju seeking snacks.

“Everybody in the world is scared of something…”

While I was never quite sure if the man-eating monster was actually attracted to noise or simply human flesh, this much I know, classic car fans will love it and pop-culture afficionados will dig it, too. There’s a moral to the story as well, but that’s also a little vague. Could this be a warning intended to prevent driving lonely roads at night, stalling teenagers from running away to get married or a perhaps it’s simply an anti-hitchhiking film? It would be best to beware each one!

The Killer Shrews opens with an ominous narrator defining these (usually) tiny terrors as “the wildest and most vicious of all animals.” That was a decent hype-job to introduce a captain and his first mate, who are delivering research items to a remote island before being stranded there during a hurricane. It’s science projects gone wrong, as the group must work together in order to survive the German Shepherd-sized animals with a fetish for human flesh!

I found this film more entertaining, which deals with invasion horror and mad scientists concerned with overpopulation, while working on a genetics research project. Both were fun to watch — naturally, I rooted for the mutated monsters — and both low-budget movies have intended isolated horror elements, along with a strong sci-fi vibe, which is definitely in my wheelhouse.

Bonus materials on the two-disc set include full commentary of both films, a full-color insert booklet with essays by Don Stradley and Jason A. Ney, and an archival interview with actor Don Sullivan. My favorite featurettes include the original vintage radio and marketing spots for both releases that were provided by Gary L. Prange and the Ballyhoo Motion Pictures documentary, Ray Kellogg: An Unsung Master, which was written by C. Courtney Joyner and narrated by Larry Blamire.

I’ve always been fascinated by old-school giant monster movies and these movies look and sound great, while reminiscing Hollywood’s shlocky days gone by. The gloriously dated special effects and technology — Does anybody remember using a party line? — look inexpensive to the casual observer, clearly using the less-is-more theory for resources, but I’ve got to acknowledge the retro advertisements, where repeating the film’s title numerous times is its biggest asset. That, and using some of the all-time best promo quotes.

Are these miscarriages of nature “motion picture’s greatest horror masterpieces” offering “the silver screen’s most terrifying moments?”

You be the judge when you purchase the films’ Blu-ray or DVD release on September 26th!