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Films so grotesque they're kinda great

`Cult Camp Classics' unites low-budget howlers, including Joan Crawford's last hurrah and Sergio Leone's first.

June 24, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Agiant monster from the deep, making mincemeat of London! Zsa Zsa Gabor in outer space! Joan Crawford bonding with prehistoric man! James Brolin hijacking an airplane! Women in prison! Joan Collins sashaying in the pyramids!

Priceless film moments all. Now Warner Home Video is celebrating the trashy, kitschy and the classically corny with its four-volume "Cult Camp Classics," arriving Tuesday on DVD.

The 12 films are divided into categories: Sci-Fi Thrillers, Women in Peril, Terrorized Travelers and Historical Epics. Leading off the Sci-Fi Thrillers is the 1958 cheese-fest "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman."

With its low-rent special effects and cheap sets, "Attack" is sheer bliss for connoisseurs of camp. Allison Hayes stars as Nancy Archer, a wealthy woman with a drinking problem and a philandering hubby, Harry (William Hudson), who has a girlfriend, Honey (Yvette Vickers, Playboy's Miss July 1959).

Harry and Honey get their comeuppance after Nancy has a close encounter with an alien in the desert, which transforms her into a 50-foot hellion.

Equally delicious is 1958's "Queen of Outer Space," the legendary turkey about a spaceship that lands on a planet where men are outlawed. Not only does the queen (Laurie Mitchell) hate men, she also aims to destroy Earth. But Zsa Zsa and her contingent decide that they like the opposite sex.

Also from 1958 is "The Giant Behemoth," directed by Eugene Lourie. "Behemoth," which revolves on a radioactive paleosaurus that rises from the ocean intent on destroying London, has some nifty stop-motion special effects.

Lana Turner must have been strapped for funds to agree to star in 1969's "The Big Cube," a psychedelic jaw-dropper made in Mexico that's part of the "Women in Peril" set. She plays the recently widowed stepmother of a wealthy man who is nearly driven insane after her stepdaughter (Karin Mossberg) and her fortune-hunting, drug-dealing boyfriend (George Chakiris) decide to lace her prescription medication with mind-bending drugs.

Perhaps it is because 1950's "Caged" is set in a women's prison that the film has been included in the set; it doesn't belong here. The drama -- "Will she come out woman or wildcat?" it was declared in the ads -- was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Eleanor Parker for best actress as a young innocent who is sent to prison, where she becomes a hardened career criminal; Hope Emerson for supporting actress as the ruthless matron; and Virginia Kellogg for her script. John Cromwell, father of actor James Cromwell, directed.

Crawford had the misfortune of making her swan song in 1970's "Trog," a silly-billy horror flick in which she plays an anthropologist who finds a wild half-man/half ape in a cave in the British countryside.

The Terrorized Travelers volume features two films starring Dana Andrews.

Andrews and Jeanne Crain are really slumming it in 1967's exploitation flick "Hot Rods to Hell." They play ultra-conservative parents of a teenage daughter and young son who get more than they bargained for when they drive from the Midwest to new digs in the wild, wild West.

Things are even worse for Andrews in the 1957 "Zero Hour," the basis for the comedy classic "Airplane!" Based on a story by Arthur Hailey of "Airport" fame, this goofy romp finds Andrews as a former World War II pilot who is forced to overcome his fear of flying when the crew of a passenger plane falls deathly ill after eating the tainted fish for dinner during the flight. Linda Darnell and Sterling Hayden also star.

Rounding out the volume is 1972's suspenser "Skyjacked," which features the lantern-jawed Charlton Heston as the pilot of a passenger flight that is hijacked by a deranged Vietnam vet (Brolin).

Kicking off "Historical Epics" is the 1961 Italian sword-and-scandal spectacle "The Colossus of Rhodes," which marked the feature directorial debut of Sergio Leone.

The lavish 1955 drama "Land of the Pharaohs" was director Howard Hawks' first commercial failure. Co-written by William Faulkner, "Land of the Pharaohs" stars Jack Hawkins and a young, almost unrecognizable Collins.

"Land of the Pharaohs" resembles "Citizen Kane" when compared with 1955's biblical spectacular "The Prodigal," based on the parable of the Prodigal Son.

In this production shot in CinemaScope. Edmund Purdom, sporting a bad beard and an even worse hairstyle, is the lame Prodigal, and Turner, who still looked stunning in her elaborate bejeweled gowns and headdresses, plays the priestess who lures Purdom down a path of sin and lust.

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susan.king@latimes.com

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