Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Deadly Mantis (1957)

Poster for The Deadly Mantis (1957)The Deadly Mantis (1957) by #NathanJuran
w/ #CraigStevens #WilliamHopper #AlixTalton

When a melting iceberg releases a prehistoric giant praying mantis, a palaeontologist works with the military to kill it after it attacks scientific outposts on its way to Washington and New York.

“The most dangerous monster that ever lived!”
“A Thousand Tons of Horror! From A Million Years Ago…”

#Horror #SciFi #Giant #Monster
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

At the risk of repeating myself…

Quite some time ago, I wrote about a TV show that I discovered when I was young. It aired late on Saturday nights and was called Not Quite Classic Theatre. As I said back then, “perhaps ‘show’ isn’t the right word for it. It was a time slot during which the TV station would air old B-movies.” I wrote that “watching those old monster movies inspired and excited me in a way that no other movies had. I loved them, and I loved that they gave me ideas and made me want to write.” Basically, watching movies on Not Quite Classic Theatre helped to make me into the person that I am today (for better or for worse).

I had already grown up watching back and white classics like Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931) – and I loved them. But the movies on Not Quite Classic Theatre were different. They were black and white, and they were (mostly) monster movies, but they tended to be less famous and respected. Many of them were from the late fifties and early sixties (so a whole other era of horror and sci-fi movies). These included the giant bug movies – some of which I’d heard of, but never seen (like Tarantula (1955) – as well as some lesser known sequels involving classic monsters like the Wolfman (don’t ask me which ones, because it’s all a bit of a blur now).

The Deadly Mantis (1957) is one of the movies that I have a strong memory of watching on Not Quite Classic Theatre. As such, watching it again now elicits powerful feelings of nostalgia in me. Objectively, it’s not as good a movie as Tarantula (1955), but it’s still a whole lot of fun.

I’m not sure if I appreciated it at the time, but The Deadly Mantis sort of begins in Canada, at the DEW Line – or Distant Early Warning Line. This was a system of radar stations in the arctic that would be able to detect nuclear missiles (or any other attack) coming from the U.S.S.R. and heading for the U.S.A.. In The Deadly Mantis, the DEW Line seems to be manned by U.S. military people. In reality, I think it was a mix of U.S. and Canadian personnel, but I don’t really know a lot about it.

It’s at the DEW Line that the unidentified flying creature (The Deadly Mantis) is first detected – and first wreaks havoc. From there it gradually heads south and winds up in the USA, where it continues kicking butt and taking names.

Those with a taste for giant bugs running amok will find much to enjoy in The Deadly Mantis. It’s got pretty much everything that one might hope for in such a movie. On the other hand, those who hate bugs (giant or otherwise), or black and white monster movies in general, will probably not be won over by this one. But I think that anyone who chooses to watch a movie called The Deadly Mantis made in 1957 – with a poster like the one it has (see above) – should probably know what they’re getting into.

The Deadly Mantis (1957) is one of the very movies that made me a fan of #NotQuiteClassicCinema all those years ago. It will always have a special place in my heart, and an open invitation to screen on any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday night at the home drive-in: Tarantula (1955)

I’m almost certain that I first saw this movie on Not Quite Classic Theatre back in the 1980s. For those who don’t know, Not Quite Classic Theatre was the late night movie show that really solidified my love of old monster movies (and other B-horror films). I wrote about it a while back, to explain my use of the #NotQuiteClassicCinema hashtag.

I don’t specifically remember Tarantula (1955) being on that show, but it is so exactly the kind of movie that I saw week after week, that I feel it must have been. I do remember a couple of other specific titles which were aired (Monster on the Campus (1958) & The Monolith Monsters (1957)). They were produced and released by the same company as Tarantula (Universal Pictures). I suspect that Universal sold a package of films to Not Quite Classic Theatre, and it makes perfect sense that Tarantula would have been part of it.

In any case, I first saw Tarantula on late night TV many, many years ago. Watching it at the home drive-in last Friday was a wonderful blast from the past. It took me right back to my younger days, when giant spiders and other bugs were totally new to me. It’s movies like this that made me want to make movies (or at least be a writer). Unfortunately, I fell into a deep, dark hole of theatre and playwriting which took me about as far away from giant monsters as a writer can get.

I remember a good friend of mine, who I perceived as a very successful playwright, once giving me this piece of advice: “Write want you want.” I took it to mean that he had fallen into his own deep, dark hole where he was constantly being asked to write things that he was uniquely qualified to write, but did not excite him. He must have felt trapped; unable to turn down the paycheques. I did not have that problem back than. No one was paying me to write stuff, and it seemed like a pretty good problem to have….

…but now I find myself looking back on 20 years spent writing things that I did not care about.

Okay, that’s not quite true. I found a way to care about everything I worked on, and I wanted them all to be the best work I could do. However, they were always somebody else’s idea; somebody else’s dream project. In most cases I was paid for my work (often not enough, mind you), and that is a good feeling (and helps to pay the bills). Unfortunately, many of the projects I worked on never saw the light of day. But even if they had, they would have been somebody else’s babies, not mine. In retrospect, I have to wonder if my time would have been better spent writing B-movies like Tarantula. No one would have been paying me, but I certainly would have had more fun with them.  And when they were done, they would have been all mine, to do with as I pleased.

“Write what you want.” I should have paid more heed to those words. At least I can revisit movies like Tarantula and be transported back to a time in my life before I had made those mistakes. Is it possible to go back for real, and become the person you were always supposed to be? I’m not sure. But I am sure that Tarantula (1955) is a masterpiece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema and I will be using it to travel through time again in the not too distant future…