Giant Monstershow: War of the Colossal Beast

This is the fifth review this Horrorshow featuring a film from giant monster auteur Bert I. Gordon. It’s only fitting, then, that Missile Test makes it official. Bert I. Gordon, I declare thee the unofficial official filmmaker of this year’s October Horrorshow. Keep an eye out for a certificate in the mail.

War of the Colossal Beast, released in June of 1958, is the sequel to Gordon’s The Amazing Colossal Man. Gordon not only directed this film, he produced and shared a screenwriting credit with George Worthing Yates (who penned an amazing six b-movies in 1958 alone).

In the previous film, Lt. Colonel Glenn Manning was exposed to a nuclear blast, resulting in him growing to about 60 feet in height. A finale at the Hoover Dam wrapped that film up nicely, but with a little more cash to be made from the idea, Gordon resurrected Manning for another film.

The action moves to Mexico this time around. A young Mexican man, Miguel (Robert Hernandez), is seen fleeing from something in a truck. He runs the truck into a deep puddle and it bogs down. The young man tries to run away, but doesn’t get far before succumbing to panic. Later, he is found and taken to a local doctor, but he is in shock. He can’t describe what it is that terrified him so.

Meanwhile, his story manages to make the local TV news in Los Angeles, where Joyce Manning (Sally Fraser), Glenn’s sister, sees it and makes a connection to her brother. He may have seemingly fallen to his death at the Hoover Dam, but his body was never found. Joyce thinks the Colorado River could have carried Glenn down to Mexico, and finds this bare thread from the news enough of an excuse to head down to investigate. Accompanying her is Major Mark Baird (Roger Pace), representing the interests of the United States Government.

The two try and talk to Miguel, but all they can get out of him is the word ‘ogro,’ meaning ogre or giant. Gordon might not have been able to give audiences a reasonable explanation for why Joyce would go flying down to Mexico, but it appears she made the right decision. War of the Colossal BeastAnd, of course she did. This movie is only 69 minutes long, so Gordon didn’t have any time to waste showing Joyce and Baird chasing unsuccessful leads.

Indeed, it’s not long after this interview that the giant Glenn Manning makes his appearance. He’s gone through some changes since the previous film. For one, Manning is no longer played by Glenn Langan. His role has been taken over by Duncan Parkin. Parkin, astute readers of the Horrorshow will remember, played the giant man in The Cyclops, also directed by Gordon. Parkin wasn’t the only thing that Gordon repurposed from that film. Whereas Manning was a conversational gent in the first film, in this one he is a scarred monster, incapable of speech. Gordon used similar makeup to that used in The Cyclops (although without the creepy eye), and also re-used the ridiculous vocalizations of Paul Frees from that film, although he did tone it down some.

Setting the film in rural Mexico doesn’t do much for the spectacle, so Gordon moves the whole show to Los Angeles for a finale featuring Manning attacking the Griffith Observatory. It’s all very ambitious, but still shitty.

By this time in his career, it was clear what kind of filmmaker Gordon was. His films are full of filler and stock footage. It’s amazing that he had to resort to such tricks to pad the running time of his movies, considering how short they were. The good news for viewers of this film is that Gordon was making progress as a filmmaker. This film has much better pacing than what came before, and is miles better than King Dinosaur, the first of his films featured this month.

Despite the improvement, this is still a bad movie. The plot is razor thin, the acting is only slightly better than the dialogue the cast was paid to read, and the special effects, while better than what Gordon managed before, are still cheap.

War of the Colossal Beast is, in many ways, a prime example of ’50s giant monster fare. When I conceived of this month of reviews, this film was one of the first that came to mind as a film that must be included. King Kong, Them!, War of the Colossal Beast. It may not seem like this film fits in with such significant films of the genre, but this film is more representative of the typical quality one finds with these movies. It’s cheap, silly, stupid, and easily mocked by a viewer. When it wasn’t boring me to tears, I was laughing. Still, Alien: Resurrection is a better movie than War of the Colossal Beast.