Monolith [1993]

A quintet of fun '50s science-fiction thrillers from the Universal vaults make their DVD debut in this three-disc set that's sure to please fans of vintage creature features. Arguably, the best of the lot is The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), with Grant Williams as a businessman whose exposure to a radioactive cloud causes him to decrease in size exponentially until he is literally microscopic. Based on a novel by legendary fantasy writer Richard Matheson, director Jack (Creature from the Black Lagoon) Arnold's balance of suspense (Williams' battles with a house cat and common spider) and pathos (the effect his condition has on his marriage) make it one of the most memorable science-fiction films of the decade, and a favorite even of those with only a passing interest in the genre. On the entirely other end of the spectrum is The Mole People (1956), a loopy pulp adventure with John Agar and Hugh (Leave It to Beaver) Beaumont as intrepid adventurers who discover a lost city and the title creatures at a top of a Middle Eastern mountain. Campy to a fault, with a logic-straining script and ridiculous monsters, The Mole People is also a goofy good time for B-movie mavens. Agar, whose faded star power forced him to seek work in low-budget films during the '50s and '60s, also turns up in the effective Tarantula (1955), a fast-paced "big bug" creepshow modeled after Them!. (1954), and featuring a cameo by Clint Eastwood as a jet pilot; the rest of the set is rounded out by the truly wacky Monster on the Campus (1958), with Arthur Franz as a college professor whose exposure to a prehistoric fish turns him into a rampaging Neanderthal, and The Monolith Monsters (1957), about fragments of a meteor that grow to colossal heights when exposed to water and threaten a small desert community. For TV babies that grew up on a steady diet of Saturday afternoon monster movies, The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection offers a nostalgic trip back to those cathode-soaked days, but without the barrage of commercials. The set offers trailers for each film by way of extras, as well as an anamorphic presentation of The Incredible Shrinking Man; the rest of the titles are presented in full screen. -- Paul Gaita

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