Cold War Creatures: Four Films From Sam Katzman Arrow Video Blu-Ray Review – Paranoia-Drenched, Ridiculous Genre Fun

Zombies! Werewolves! Atomic Mutation! Intergalactic Avians! Let this quartet of classic terrors take you back to the golden age of B-Movie Monsters! A mob boss hires an ex-Nazi scientist to reanimate his dead thugs in Creature with the Atom Brain. An auto-accident survivor is used as an experimental subject to create a vaccine for nuclear fallout with hair-raising side-effects in The Werewolf. Treasure hunters get more than they bargained for in the search for a cargo of diamonds that went down with a sunken ship when they discover the zombified crew members are guarding the loot in Zombies of Mora Tau. Meanwhile, an enormous bird from outer-space descends to chow down on the people of planet Earth in The Giant Claw! Four fantastic feature presentations from prolific producer Sam Katzman with a bounty of informative extras. These Cold War Creatures are coming for you!

For thoughts on Cold War Creatures: Four Films From Sam Katzman, please check out our discussion on The Video Attic: 

Video Quality

The four films in the Cold War Creatures box set make their domestic Blu-Ray debut thanks to Arrow Video with brand new 1080p masters produced by Sony Pictures in their original aspect ratios. While the exact details of these transfers may not be entirely known, you can typically count on Sony to treat their catalog with respect, and these transfers are no different with their pleasing appearance across all four films. By and large these four releases are very similar to one another and will be discussed as a group with any meaningful differences pointed out. 

Once again, Arrow has provided fans of cult cinema with some striking presentations that show off why they are one of the best labels around. The beautiful black-and-white photography sparkles in high definition with natural grain intact throughout. The grain field seems a bit heavier on Zombies of Mora Tau, but all transfers are resolved well. Print damage has been cleaned up immensely with these presentations, with nothing but a few light nicks and scratches making its way through the restoration gauntlet. There are thankfully not very many moments where anything appears clumpy or unnatural. The most noticeable moments of quality degradation come in the optical dissolves during the transformation of The Werewolf, along with some of the stock footage of The Giant Claw. Oddly enough, outside of these small moments, these two transfers stand out as the best of the set. 

There is an incredible amount of detail present with nice texture on the costumes and in the distinct production design. Black levels are fairly deep with no noticeable occurrences of black crush or compression artifacts. Zombies of Mora Tau is a film which takes place mostly under the cover of darkness, which can find it struggling for fine detail. This makes it the weakest of the bunch, but it is not a lacking transfer by any means. The contrast is well defined across the board, but the tracks do experience moments of density fluctuation and clarity in the print. All four features have until now mostly been relegated to an afterthought, but they are finally getting the respectful presentations they deserve. Arrow Video has done a terrific job of bringing these films into the high definition era. 

Audio Quality

Zombies of Mora Tau and The Giant Claw come with a DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio mono track, while Creature With The Atom Brain and The Werewolf are given LPCM 1.0 mono tracks. Every one of these tracks represent these extraordinary tales in a pretty solid way sonically. Dialogue and background noises are represented in pleasing harmony with all competing elements. The music never overpowers the dialogue or other important information, but it does sound a little fragile at its highest peaks. No matter what is happening on screen, the soundtrack maintains an impeccable sense of fidelity. The artistic intention of these tracks is preserved with every outing. These tracks do present with a very minor amount of age related wear and tear including some faint crackles that likely date back to the source elements. There are optional English (SDH) subtitles included for all feature films. The good folks at Arrow Video have done their best to provide the most stable track possible for these.  

Special Features

Creature With The Atom Brain

  • Audio Commentary: Critic Russell Dyball provides a pretty informative commentary track in which he discusses the history on the film, the ethos of producer Sam Katzman, the special effects of the picture, the background of the creative figures involved, how this film fits into the period in which it was released, the boundary-pushing nature of the feature and more. 
  • Introduction From Kim Newman: A nearly nine-minute introduction from the film historian in which he discusses the work of screenwriter Curt Siodmak, how this feature fits into the output of zombie films, the career of director Edward L. Cahn, the film’s exhibition and more. 
  • Sam Katzman – Before & Beyond The Cold War Creatures: A terrific new 74-minute featurette with historian and critic Stephen R. Bissette which plays like an extended Powerpoint presentation on the career of producer Sam Katzman from his earliest days to the end of his career. While it can be a bit dry at points, there is a ton of great information included here that will shine a light on a lot of forgotten projects and personal details you otherwise would never know about.
  • Super 8 Version: A nearly 20-minute condensed version of the film created for home viewing which offers up a distinctly unique way to take in this story. 
  • Theatrical Trailer Trailer: The two-minute trailer is provided here. 
  • Image Gallery: A series of behind-the-scenes photos, promotional material, stills and more are provided here. 

The Werewolf

  • Audio Commentary: Film Historian Lee Gambin provides an entertaining and informative commentary track in which he discusses the history on the film, how it handles werewolf mythology, the place of alcoholism in the narrative, the background of the creative figures involved, the larger themes of the feature, the film’s legacy and more. 
  • Introduction From Kim Newman: A 14-minute introduction from the film historian in which he discusses the push to appeal to teenagers, how this feature fits into the evolution of creature films, the career of director Fred F. Sears, the recycling of costumes and makeup, how the film uses location and more. 
  • Beyond Window Dressing: A wonderful 24-minute visual essay from historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas which takes a closer look at the roles women play in these Sam Katzman films with analysis of their role in the narrative and the strength they exhibit, along with personal details about the performers including one woman’s unique connection to a historic gangster. While the female representation in these films is far from perfect, this essay makes a great argument for the things these movies do right. 
  • Super 8 Version: An eight-minute condensed version of the film created for home viewing which offers up a distinctly unique way to take in this story. 
  • Theatrical Trailer Trailer: The two-minute trailer is provided here. 
  • Image Gallery: A series of behind-the-scenes photos, promotional material, stills and more are provided here. 

Zombies Of Mora Tau

  • Audio Commentary: Critic Kat Ellinger provides her typically informative and immensely entertaining commentary track in which she discusses the history on the film, the context of this feature within Gothic horror, the evolution of zombies in movies, the career of Sam Katzman, the portrayal of women, the background of the creative figures involved, the utilization of superstition and ritual within the narrative, the legacy of the feature and more. 
  • Introduction From Kim Newman: A nearly eight-minute introduction from the film historian in which he discusses the advancements introduced in this film, the place of supernatural horror in the genre, how this feature fits into the output of zombie films, the influences of future filmmakers such as John Carpenter and more. 
  • Atomic Terror – Genre In Transformation: A fascinating 20-minute visual essay from critic Josh Hurtado which takes a closer look at how producer Sam Katzman played with the science fiction and horror genres by combining old myths with new scientific beliefs to create something fresh and exciting. The conclusions that are drawn are enlightening and important to understand the larger history of genre filmmaking. 
  • Theatrical Trailer Trailer: The two-minute trailer is provided here. 
  • Image Gallery: A series of behind-the-scenes photos, promotional material, stills and more are provided here.  

The Giant Claw

  • Audio Commentary: Critics Emma Westwood and Cerise Howard provides a jovial and informative commentary track in which they discuss the history on the film, where exploitation cinema was at the time of this film’s release, the special effects of the picture, how this film came to be, the thematic notions of the narrative, the background of the performers, the legacy of the feature and more. 
  • Introduction From Kim Newman: A nearly 13-minute introduction from the film historian in which he begins by discussing the notorious reputation of the film, the business dealings of Sam Katzman, the cost-cutting measures that were implemented, the visual effects of the feature, the work of the actors and what they thought they were getting into and more great details. 
  • Family Endangered: A well-done 13-minute visual essay from critic Mike White which takes a closer look at how producer Sam Katzman tapped into the Cold War paranoia in his genre films, recurring themes throughout these four films, frequent collaborators and more. There are engaging insights provided for each feature. 
  • Super 8 Version: A nearly seven-minute condensed version of the film created for home viewing which offers up a distinctly unique way to take in this story. 
  • Theatrical Trailer Trailer: The two-minute trailer is provided here. 
  • Image Gallery: A series of behind-the-scenes photos, promotional material, stills and more are provided here. 

 

Final Thoughts

Cold War Creatures: Four Films From Sam Katzman contains a fun assembly of science fiction tales that tap into the paranoia that was running rampant at the time of creation. The scenarios are ridiculous, but this is part of what makes them all so much fun. The brief running time of each film ensures that no one film gets stale before the last fanfare has been played. While they are all cheesy fun, they are anything but disposable with all the effort that has been put into crafting them. Arrow Video has released another terrific box set featuring a pleasing A/V presentation, enlightening special features, and lovely packaging. Fans of the genre should not pass this up. Highly Recommended 

Cold War Creatures: Four Films From Sam Katzman is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Arrow Video has supplied a copy of this set free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

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