Creature Double Feature is one of the lowest hanging fruits on the Gen X Bostonian nostalgia tree, familiar to any child of the Seventies who lived within WLVI’s broadcast range and had access to a TV set on Saturday afternoons.
Bring it up in a gathering of local forty-somethings and you’ll get a chorus of “Oh, man! I loved that!” followed by hazy recollections of cinematic scenes where the title escapes the teller but the echoes of childhood terror remain. Its roots run deep enough to ensure that at least one geekwear vendor at any given funnybook convention in the region has a t-shirt for sale with the Creature Double Feature logo, and the heir of a local auto dealership empire sprang for a one-off revival of the show a decade or so back. (Alas, any goodwill this generated was utterly squandered when said scion hopped on board the Trump turnip truck.)
As large as Creature Double Feature looms in my provincial-generational memory, I hardly ever watched the program when it aired. Barring inclement weather or illness or other reason to remain housebound, Saturday afternoons were too precious to be spent parked in front of a TV for four hours. It didn’t help that much of the featured fare was duller than dishwater for a restless preteen — chopped and dubbed kaiju flicks, cheaply made Euro-thrillers, and sensationally titled B&W domestic jobbers whose sensationalist titles attempted to compensate for the amount of screen time in which a bunch of doughy white dudes smoked and chatted endlessly in office sets.
To get my attention, the opening part of the bill either had to be especially unusual or earned my mom’s seal of approval. My mother was not a huge fan of horror movies, but she did have a small roster of beloved favorites from her own childhood. All had to do with huge-ass abominations of nature. There was The Deadly Mantis, Earth vs. The Spider, and It Came from Beneath the Sea, accompanied by the two-part magnum man-monster opus The Amazing Colossal Man/War of the Colossal Beast.
My mom’s excitement was enough to convince me to stick it through the broadcasts’ sluggish parts until the small snatches of nightmare fuel broke through, leading to many moments of dread where I suspected there was a giant arachnid lurking under my bed and a massive octopus hidden in the shallow stream across from my home.
A more abstract form of terror came from the Colossal Man flicks. They (along with Earth vs. The Spider, Beginning of the End, and Village of the Giants) were the brainchild of director Bert I. Gordon — “Mr. B.I.G.” — who made a surprisingly lengthy film career out of variably convincing process shots and props deployed to suggest HUGENESS AMOK.
The titular Colossal Man was Colonel Glenn Manning, a Korean War hero who attempts to rescue a civilian during a Nevada nuclear test but gets zapped with by the blast instead. The plutonium radiation lays the poor officer’s scalp bare and transforms him into a sixty-foot tall monster with a dubious grip on his sanity. (If this sounds incredibly familiar, let’s just say that Lee and Kirby weren’t above stripping the hulk of the popcult zeitgeist for usable parts.)
Despite the best efforts of his fiance and some military scientists, Manning loses his grip and goes on a leisurely stroll through Las Vegas, ending with a bazooka-assisted dive off the Hoover Dam…
…only to return alive, missing a chunk of his face, and played by a different actor in the sequel. Manning’s previously unmentioned sister links the disappearance of some food delivery trucks in Mexico with her supposedly deceased big brother, and ropes in the military to help locate him. They do, and haul him back to States after dosing him with a truck full of lude-laced bread. From there, things follow a diminishing returns retread of the final reel of the first flick, with a schoolbus of screaming kids standing in for the Strip and some high-tension wires for the big finish.
As far as movie monsters go, the Colossal Man trends toward the silly end of the spectrum. He’s not some phobia-inducing bit of wildlife dialed up to city-wrecking proportions, but a bald sad sack who resembles nothing so much as a giant toddler — right down to his loincloth “diaper” and halting body movements meant to convey his hugeness. for all that goofiness, though, he’s the Bert I. creature who spooks me the most.
Manning’s descent from self-pity into insanity is played to the scenery chewing hilt by Glenn Langan, who manages to put more menace into a pained chuckle than a dozen giant spiders combined could muster. That may be less about the quality of the performance than my own childhood experiences with a father who teetered between man and monster depending on his alcohol intake, which made me acutely sensitive to the moment he passed a threshold where bad shit was going to happen. (And when you’re six years old, five-foot-eleven might as well be sixty feet tell.)
Even on a less personal level, the movies have a few legitimate chills and thrills to offer. The giant syringe which the scientists use in the first movie is ridiculously literal right down to the basketball sized finger holes, but it doesn’t make the moment when Manning turns it into a lethal lawn dart any less grisly. And while the sequel mostly coasts on creative fumes, Manning’s mutilated face makeup occupied a prominent place in my childhood nightmare registry.
They may not be great movies, but they were certainly worth missing an afternoon playing in the sandpits to see.