DirectorRichard E. Cunha
Release Date(s)1958 (January 19, 2021)
Studio(s)Screencraft Enterprises/Astor Pictures (The Film Detective)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
1958 was a significant year for horror and science fiction films, spawning classics like The Fly, The Blob, and It! The Terror from Beyond Space. On the flip side were low budget quickies that deep-seated genre fans appreciate more than most: The Screaming Skull, The Thing That Couldn’t Die, and Earth vs. the Spider. Among those plodding-but-charming-and-enjoyable-under-the-right-circumstances efforts is Giant from the Unknown. Directed by Richard E. Cunha, who helmed four films back-to-back that year (including She Demons, Missile to the Moon, and Frankenstein’s Daughter), Giant from the Unknown was released by Astor Pictures and featured makeup work by Jack Pierce of the Universal monsters era.
In the small mountain town of Pine Ridge, the locals grow restless after a series of animal mutilations and the sudden death of one of their own. Sheriff Parker (Bob Steele) attempts to quell their fears, but a local Native American, Indian Joe (Billy Dix), continually asserts the idea of a curse. Unaware of the uproar, an archaeologist, Dr. Cleveland (Morris Ankrum), and his daughter Janet (Sally Fraser), have arrived in town to explore Devil’s Crag, a stretch of land in the mountains nearby where the majority of the problems have occurred. Agreeing to help them is a local geologist and former student of Dr. Cleveland’s, Wayne Brooks (Ed Kemmer), who is also interested in Janet romantically. Though the sheriff is suspicious and warns them not to go, the three head off into the mountains. They explore the area, finding evidence that a group of Conquistadors had been there 500 years prior. Unbeknownst to them, one of them, Vargas (Buddy Baer), rises again from his long slumber, threatening anything that gets in his path.
A favorite among monster movie fans who grew up with it, Giant from the Unknown is one that hasn’t had much attention during the disc-based home video era. It’s a well-made film with more going for it than most films shot in six days with little to no money. Some are bound to find it boring or uninteresting due to how long it takes for the titular giant to actually appear, without appreciating that it doesn’t rely on stock footage, cheap gags, or one location to film in. It’s certainly not a perfect film, but considering what it had to work with, it’s not to be overlooked.
The Film Detective brings Giant from the Unknown to Blu-ray for the first time in widescreen utilizing a 4K transfer from the original camera negative. It’s a lovely black-and-white presentation with refined grain levels and wonderful depth, particularly in shadowy spots of forested areas, which is where most of the film takes place. Grayscale offers a range of solid whites and blacks with natural gradations in between. Detail on clothing, faces, and objects is crisp with only a tinge of softness. Contrast levels are ideal and the image is stable with minimal damage leftover, limited mostly to occasional speckling.
The audio is included in English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH and Spanish. Other than extremely mild hiss and a tiny bit of distortion, mostly in the second half of the film, this is a clean and precise mono track. It gives a proper boost to sound effects and score while also allowing for clean and precise dialogue exchanges. It’s also far less narrow than most single channel audio tracks from this era.
The following extras are also included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Tom Weaver
- Audio Commentary with Gary Crutcher
- You’re a B-Movie Star, Charlie Brown (14:17)
- The Man with the Badge: Bob Steele in the 1950s (9:51)
- Trailer (1:32)
Tom Weaver’s excellent audio commentary features excerpts from filmmaker Larry Blamire, vintage recordings of director Richard E. Cunha and producer Arthur A. Jacobs, Richard E. Cunha’s son Rick, author Steven Cronenberg, and actor Ewing Miles Brown. It covers various opinions on the film, a wealth of knowledge about it, and Weaver’s personal ties to the producer and director. Actor and screenwriter Gary Crutcher provides a second solo audio commentary, watching the film and commenting upon as he does, providing plenty of first-hand information about the making of the film. He also discusses the local folks who were involved with it on and off screen, members of the cast and crew, and various anecdotes about his experiences during the making of it. The two new interviews have been created by the great Ballyhoo Motion Pictures. In You’re a B-Movie Star, Charlie Brown, actor and screenwriter Gary Grutcher discusses his background, getting the part of Charlie, learning to drive a car for the film, working with Richard Cuhna and the rest of the cast and crew, acting with little to no experience, a sudden blizzard during filming, and making friends and getting other jobs after the film’s release. In The Man with the Badge, author and film historian C. Courtney Joyner talks about the career of actor Bob Steele who appeared in many westerns before moving on to other types of films when acting in westerns was no longer fashionable. The film’s trailer appears to be from a new scan. Also included is 12-page insert booklet featuring photos and an essay by Tom Weaver.
The Film Detective’s presentation of Giant from the Unknown gives the film its due with a lovely new film transfer and a nice set of extras to go alongside it. For monster movie fans, this is certainly one to pick up.
- Tim Salmons