Back when I reviewed Drive-In Discs Vol 1: Attack of the Giant Leeches / The Screaming Skull, I expressed disappointment in not being to recommend it more fulsomely. I reported that the filler material -- ads for treats, messages from the theater management, etc., -- which, added to the two feature films, was meant to recreate the program one might have seen during a night at a drive-in, was great stuff. However, the fatal flaw of the first edition was that the prints of the actual movies were practically unwatchable. Needless to say, this was sort of a problem, and I could only give the disc a rather tepid endorsement.
So Id like to say that I could whole-heartedly recommend this second attempt. Unfortunately, while progress has been made, there are still problematical elements that keep me from giving it the rave review I was hoping.
The first feature here is Roger Cormans The Wasp Woman. A beauty company tycooness is worried about how the ravages of time are beginning to reduce her attractiveness. She begins taking an experimental drug which restores her youth, but with the side effect of periodically turning her into a murderous, if extremely unconvincing, insect woman. The film can be read as a satire on the whole beauty industry and whatnot (and has been, but the usual subtext-seeking academics and fan journalists), but really its just another werewolf/Dr. Hyde variation.
The second film, more of a crowd pleaser, is the enjoyably campy The Giant Gila Monster. Teens, hot rods, romance, really bad rock songs, nitro, and a hilariously utilized real-life Gila lizard -- its purportedly massive size suggested by placing it on marvelously bogus sets -- make this a fan favorite of some lineage. Often shot in close-ups that emphasize its little black eyes and flickering tongue, the title critter solidly remains one of filmdoms cutest menaces.
A bit odd is that The Giant Gila Monster was teamed up with The Wasp Woman here, since it was famously amongst a certain crowd, anyway released to the drive-ins on a double bill with The Killer Shrews.
The print of The Wasp Woman is quite good, especially after the awful quality of the films featured on the first disc. There are still plenty of speckles and such, and the image is by no means perfect, but for a fifty year-old cheapo sci-fi flick its pretty solid. Id award it a B.
Unfortunately, the image quality on The Giant Gila Monster isnt nearly so good, although its still better than either of the movies on the first disc. Id give it a C+. Its watchable but quite grainy at times, and the night sequences in some cases are much too dark. Given how much better the Wasp Woman print is, Im a little surprised that they didnt show that film second.
The sound elements on each are passable, about what youd expect from cheapie films of this vintage. However, as with the first disc, you can also listen to an optional soundtrack recorded in Distort-O, which further lowers the quality of the sound and channels it through a single speaker. This is meant to reproduce the experience of listening to a film through a bad drive-in speaker. You also hear sounds meant to suggest people talking and walking past your car and other such environmental drive-in noises.
The quality of the myriad extras (see below) ranges from pretty good to fabulous.
While the films on the first disc were awful, the extras were nifty enough so that I gave the disc a mild thumbs-up. Ironically, that situation is reversed here. The extras still are pretty good, but they are also pretty much the exact ones featured on the prior disc. (I included a detailed list of these in the first disc review.) So if you buy both discs, as I have, you end up with quite a lot of duplicate material.
The new stuff aside, of course, from the two movies -- include the two cartoons, still one Betty Boop and one King Features Popeye cartoon, but different ones. The Popeye short has a fun Halloween theme. Theres also a long intermission montage thats incredibly boring. It features ten minutes of American landscape footage accompanied by patriotic music. As a means of driving customers to the snack bar it was undoubtedly very effective. As an interesting DVD extra not so much.
If you didnt buy the first disc then all the extras are new to you, and this is a pretty respectable purchase. Still, the company making these supposedly plans to eventually put a large number of these things out. If so, theyll need to vary the extras and provide better prints of the main features. Ive seen, for instance, I Bury the Living mentioned as a film for an upcoming Drive-In Disc. Well, MGM is putting that same picture out next month as part of their bargain Midnight Movie DVD collection. Admittedly, there youre only getting the film itself, and maybe the trailer, but the print quality of the MGM line tends to be pristine.
The second disc in this series is a solid improvement over its predecessor. Still, if they want fans buying each new edition, especially with other firms releasing quality prints of some of the same movies, theyve yet got a lot of work left to do.
Ken Begg, 11/4/2001