Retro Sci-Fi Double Feature Vol. 1 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (20th November 2021).
The Film

Retro Sci-Fi Double Feature Vol. 1

"Tarantula" (1955)

In the rural Arizona town of Desert Rock a gruesome discovery is made with a deformed corpse of a man. Dr. Matt Hastings (played by John Agar) is called in to town by Sheriff Andrews (played by Nestor Paiva) to examine the body, as the man is identified as the scientist Dr. Eric Jacobs, a researcher working with Dr. Gerald Deemer (played by Leo G. Carroll) in the area. Deemer identifies the body and explains that Jacobs was suffering from acromegaly, which caused disfiguration and died of a heart attack. Hastings is suspicious of the situation as acromegaly cannot overtake a body so quickly, and he is not wrong.

Deemer has been working on a formula that increases the mass of animals. In the laboratory, giant hamsters, rabbits, and even a tarantula are kept. It is learned that the formula was tested on humans - on both Jacobs and assistant Lund, who didn't start to grow but started mutating into deformed states. The deformed Lund takes revenge on Deemer, by attacking him and the laboratory while also injecting him with the formula. Through all of the chaos, the large tarantula escapes from the lab, ever growing in size to wreak havoc on the townsfolk...

In the 1950s the science fiction genre took a giant leap in cinema. Coming out of a decade that was hampered by war and the threat of atomic warfare and nuclear annihilation, the ideas of scientific discovery was both fascinating and terrifying. Medical marvels were continuing, space exploration was becoming a reality, and the film industry took notice of the trends of comics and new ideas for filmmaking. Alien invasion movies such as "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951), "The War of the Worlds" (1953), "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers" (1956), and monster movies such as "Them!" (1954), "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" (1953), "The Fly" (1958) became a craze in America, and also across the Pacific in Japan with the groundbreaking "Godzilla" (1954). Universal Pictures which made a string of monster hits in the 1930s and 1940s continued the trend of the monster genre by turning to the trends with their expertise in special effects work. Universal Pictures made massive hits with "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954) as well as its two follow-up films. Director Jack Arnold directed the first two in the series as well as "It Came from Outer Space" (1953) and episodes for the television series "Science Fiction Theater" proving his credibility in the science fiction genre. In 1955 Arnold directed the "Science Fiction Theater" episode "No Food for Thought", about scientists working on a dangerous formula in Arizona. The teleplay was adapted and rewritten for the screen as a giant monster movie rather than a deadly virus story, and the idea of the giant tarantula causing horror to the desert area was born.

"Tarantula" also follows in the footsteps of "Them!" with the at-the-time major special effects of giant ants. The effects work on "Tarantula" is more impressive with the trick shots of the laboratory animals using mirrors to expand their sizes, as well as the superimposed shots of the ever growing tarantula out in the desert. More than half a century later some of the effects work might look unnatural but it truly showcases the ingenuity of the technicians of the day, which in many instances are still used in modern times. Though not all is considered groundbreaking, as the make-up effects of the deformed men look lousy, like the artists just melted a few old alien masks that were sitting around.

But what is a 1950s science fiction film without strong characters? Actually that may seem like the most unnecessary part. The characters are fairly one dimensional for the most part and not many are considered very memorable. John Agar as Hastings doesn't do very much except ogle over Stevie (played by Mara Corday) and just be in the right place at the right time for many scenes. Mara Corday as the new assistant doesn't serve much purpose either except for the necessary female role somewhere in the story. At least she does play a non-traditional role as a scientist rather than the 1950s norm of a housewife or a secretary. Leo G. Carroll may be the best of the cast with his turn to madness though not overdone. It is never really explained why he injected both his older partners and his psyche but it can be fascinating to hypothesize about. He could be considered a villain but he never plays it cartoonish evil, rather as a straight man. The real reason audiences watch monster movies is simply the monster. The amount of time that the tarantula on screen is very few, but it at least does take good amounts of screentime and does not hide away in shadows or obscure itself like many other genre film monsters. Sure some of the matte paintings are obvious when the real tarantula walks in the wrong area, but the threat is real and as fake as it is, it's still an absolute joy to watch.

Filmed mostly on the Universal Backlot in California in which the town square should look familiar to fans of "Back to the Future", "Gremlins", and episodes of "The Twilight Zone", the film is also notable for Clint Eastwood's screen debut. Although uncredited and most of his face obscured by a mask, he plays the squadron leader near the end of the film and his voice as well as his eyes are unmistakable. Released in late 1955, the film wasn't exactly the biggest film of the year but in later years has been a staple of cable TV and video rentals. It may not be one of the best or thought provoking 1950s Sci-Fi films but it is one of the most enjoyable and most memorable of them.

"The Incredible Shrinking Man" (1957)

While Scott (played by Grant Williams and his wife Louise (played by Randy Stuart) are sailing out on the ocean, a mysterious cloud of radiation engulfs their boat, covering Scott's entire body as he stood outside. Some time after they return home, he notices that his body is shrinking. First he thinks the cleaners were returning clothes that weren't his. Louise thinks that he's stressed with work and has been losing weight. But this was not his imagination. Scott is gradually getting smaller in height, weight, and size. But how much smaller will he get, and is there a cure for such a happening?

Director Jack Arnold's film "Tarantula" showcased some great special effects of giant animals against humans in peril, but with "The Incredible Shrinking Man", the effects were just the opposite, by making it seem like a human being was smaller in comparison to everything else. The initial effects are quite easy with the actor having to wear clothes that were one size too big for him to give he illusion. But the film gets more creative in its effects the more the story goes on. Using forced perspective sets, creating and interacting with large props, matte shots, and using velvet backdrops for superimposition, the illusion of Scott's nightmare is wonderfully realized. The effects are truly the showcase of the film, which has a wonderful awe with the innovative effects while also giving a sense of fright with some of the scenes, such as the cat attack when Scott becomes as tiny as a mouse. Of course the effects are not perfect by any means, as sometimes the matting is slightly off, shadows are not added in, and other cases of the effects being primitive. But it is something about the analog effects that give it a sense of true creation by the craftsmen involved at Universal Studios.

Writer Richard Matheson wrote both the novel and the screenplay, which had some differences due to Universal's decisions. Matheson's original script starting with Scott already being miniature and telling the story in flashbacks was restructured to have a linear storyline, though keeping the self narration of his character intact. Some scenes dealing with sexual content and bullying were also removed. The changed do not necessarily hurt the film, as the straightforward structure makes it easy for audiences to identify with Scott as he goes on this unusual journey unlike any other. In the atomic age that the film was made in, there were constant scares of atomic energy and its effects on people could lead to disaster in different ways. In this story, there is no explanation about the atomic cloud that Scott was exposed to. There is no science to explain the mystery why he is getting smaller every day. Instead the focus is on how the character changes in body as well as in mind, with paranoia, stress, and fear that haunts him more and more daily.

There is one point in the story that Scott decides to run away from home but this was one of the weaker elements in the film. Meeting Clarice (played by April Kent) who is a dwarf working for a traveling circus, he finally sees someone eye to eye, literally, who lives with being much smaller than others and is around the same height as him. They spend some time together and it is the first time to see Scott happy, but it all comes crushing down when he realizes that he is getting even smaller, and the dwarf woman is taller than he is. The weaker element comes from the fact that the actress was not a dwarf, but like the actor Grant Williams was a normal sized human placed in sets with large props to give the illusion. In addition, when he returns home, there seems to be a complete scene missing of what happened to Scott and Louise as she would have been in complete distress finding out that her husband was missing for several days. Some of the deeper emotional scenes seem to be removed, in order for the film to sell its special effects sequences, and while that can be bad in character development, it does balance fairly fine overall. It's just this one tangent sequence that seems to be the odd ball compared to the rest of the film.

Williams does an able job in his performance as Scott, having to go through quite an ordeal during the film. From shooting on specially made stages, being stressed and fearful throughout, as well as having to do an incredible number of physical stuntwork towards the end of the film, there was a lot for him to give in his memorable role. As said, towards the end when he is becoming smaller than a mouse, he must battle cats, spiders, water, and much more. The tarantula fight does have some reminiscence of the film "Tarantula", utilizing some of the film's special effects work here, by making it look like the spider was much larger than the character of Scott. Apparently Williams got quite a few injuries on set, from the fighting scenes, the running around and other constant physical work. Due to the injuries plus the amount of work that had to be done for the special effects, the film went overbudget by $25,000. The final cost was about $800,000, which a lot was spent on the effects work, as the cast was relatively small (no pun intended) and were not made of big name A list actors. Test screenings were fairly positive, but some had issues with the ending of the film as it didn't seem to have a traditional happy end for the Scott character, but more of an ambiguous one. Interestingly Universal opted not to change the ending but keep it as is for theatrical exhibition.

The film premiered on February 22nd, 1957 in New York City, followed on March 27th, 1957 in Los Angeles, and on April 29th, 1957 for general theatrical release in the United States. Grossing $1.43 million in the United States, it was one of the bigger science fiction hits of the year, but was not a massive hit compared to other blockbusters of that year. The critics were mixed at the time, though there were some notable awards with a Best Dramatic Presentation prize from the Hugo Awards and Best Screenplay for Matheson at the Faro Island Film Festival. From the great special effects work and the tension created with the wonders of the imagination, the film is a treat for adults and children alike, and has lost none of its power all these decades later. The film has inspired countless film works over the years, from "Fantastic Voyage", "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" (1989), "The Secret World of Arrietty" (2010), "Ant-Man" (2015) and more. Over the years into the home video age, "The Incredible Shrinking Man" has only increased its status as one of the best science fiction films of the period. Arnold, who was a contract director at Universal was getting reappraisal for his work in special effects films of the period, creating many favorites such as "It Came from Outer Space" (1953), "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954), "Monster on the Campus" (1958), "The Space Children" (1958) and others more. He may have not gotten the great respect as a special effects director at the time, but his 1950s work are still as wonderful as ever.

This is the first volume of Umbrella Entertainment's "Retro Sci-Fi Double Feature" releases, having both films and their extras on a single Blu-ray disc.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray


Umbrella Entertainment presents both films in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. Both films come from high definition masters from Universal Pictures. Both films were shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio with the intention of releasing them theatrically in widescreen where available by matting the top and bottom portions of the frame. With theaters that were unequipped for widescreen at the time, they were shown unmatted with the full 4:3 aspect ratio. This also applied for eventual television broadcast as well as earlier home video transfers on VHS to DVD. For the HD masters for Blu-ray, the theatrical aspect ratio is kept. As for the transfers themselves they are fairly clean looking with little to no instances of damage within the frame such as dust or scratches. Some special effects shots can look a little weaker, due to the processed shots having to lose a generation to combine effects. This also affects grain structure as well, with the processed shots looking grainier than others. There is a fair amount of grain left intact, without any use of filters or such to keep a very filmic look throughout for both films. Grey levels are very good, detail is strong, and overall a pleasing experience for both features. Not the most pin sharp of transfers, but are still great to see in motion.

The runtimes are as follows:
* "Tarantula" (80:14)
* "The Incredible Shrinking Man" (80:47)


English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
Both films are presented with the original mono track in lossless form. Dialogue, music and effects are fairly well balanced, keeping all dialogue clear and easily heard. The music and effects are well used for some scares and action oriented scenes in both films, and are never overbearing. Being mono tracks of the time period, there are some limitations to be said, but overall have no major issues to speak of. Hisses, pops, and other damage is basically non-existent, and fans should be more than satisfied with the aural presentations.

There are no subtitles for either film.


"Tarantula" trailer (1:52)
"The Incredible Shrinking Man" trailer (0:38)

The original theatrical trailers for both films are offered here. The "Tarantula" trailer gives too much away with the special effects sequences, while "The Incredible Shrinking Man" is basically a teaser offering very little information. Narrated by Orson Welles, the trailer actually features no scenes from the movie itself.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Do the Stomp!" trailer reel (27:07)
- "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms"
- "Them!"
- "It Came from Beneath the Sea"
- "Attack of the Crab Monsters"
- "Not of This Earth"
- "The Creature from the Haunted Sea"
- "20 Million Miles to Earth"
- "The Black Scorpion"
- "The Giant Claw"
- "War of the Colossal Beast"
- "Monster from Green Hell"
- "The Giant Behemoth"
- "Equinox"

Like they did for their Blu-ray release of "The Sniper, Umbrella has curated a number of genre related trailers as extras. Entitled "Do the Stomp!" this trailer reel features multiple trailers of films featuring monsters of different breeds and sizes. All are original trailers, and they have their usual share of issues with sharpness and fidelity, but all look fairly good for the most part. A great selection has been put together and is a fun extra to have on as background as well.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in various ratios, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Tarantula" has had various incarnations on Blu-ray already. The US Shout! Factory release has an exclusive audio commentary with the film in the widescreen ratio. The French Elephant Films release has exclusive French language interviews, with the film in the 4:3 ratio. The German Koch Media release has an interview with Jack Arnold and has options for both the widescreen and 4:3 versions.

"The Incredible Shrinking Man" also has a few versions on Blu-ray. It was released by The Criterion Collection in the US with numerous new and vintage extras, including a commentary, a Jack Arnold interview and more. The French Elephant Films releases has two French language featurettes. The German Koch Media release also has an interview with Jack Arnold. The UK release from Arrow Video has exclusive extras including a commentary which differs from the US release.

The Australian release may be on the shorter side extras wise, but is a good budget alternative for fans.

Below are trailers for the films with commentary from "Trailers from Hell":


The cover is reversible, with the opposite side having identical artwork except with the PG rating logo removed.
The packaging states region B only but is in fact region ALL.


Umbrella's Retro Sci-Fi Double Feature Vol. 1 is a fun way to spend a day with two classic 1950s films with good transfers, as well as a lengthy amount of bonus trailers. It may be light on extras compared to other international releases, but it still comes as recommended.

Film ratings:
- "Tarantula": B-
- "The Incredible Shrinking Man": B+

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: C Overall: B


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