This week, we're taking a look at some of the first titles from Imprint Films, a new premium-label Blu-ray series from Via Vision Entertainment, featuring world-first releases of classic films. Each month, new titles are added to the collection, featuring new transfers, exclusive special features and more, and the first 1,500 units come with a beautifully designed slipcase. As far as boutique home entertainment releases go, Imprint is already proving a welcome addition for Australian audiences.
Our first title for review takes us back to 1950s sci-fi paranoia with 'I Married A Monster From Outer Space'.
Bill (Tom Tryon, 'The Longest Day') and Marge Farrell (Gloria Talbot, 'All That Heaven Allows') have been married for a year, but Marge is worried about her husband. He hasn't been himself ever since they got married, and no matter what she does, she can't seem to bring back the man she thought she married. In fact, she starts to suspect that he may not be the man she thought she was marrying. She begins to suspect that he may not be a man at all, but some other kind of creature. And he might not be the only one pretending to be a husband in their sleepy town.
As far as 50s sci-fi goes, 'I Married A Monster...' is mostly as you would expect, delivering pretty much what you'd think from the title. Woven into the premise are the expected codes of Cold War paranoia, fear of the unknown, the destruction of the family unit, as well as a surprisingly frank discussion of sex and intimacy. These aliens have come to earth to reproduce with human women, but their lack of understanding of the emotional side of sex hinders and ultimately defeats them. There's a strong sense in the film of the preservation of American values, particularly what it is to be a man - the aliens cannot have sex and don't like to drink, something the unaffected men of the town do rambunctiously. In a way, it is choice and indulgence at risk, the ability to have human vices, that the alien men cannot replicate or understand. This myriad of thematic ideas makes 'I Married A Monster...' a far more engaging premise than its simple screenplay and middle-of-the-road budget might suggest, and while it ultimately spins its wheels for most of its short run time, it at least offers actual food for thought.
SWITCH: 'I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE' TRAILER
What really impresses about the film is its craft, with director Gene Fowler Jr and cinematographer Haskell B. Boggs pursuing an often striking visual language. There's a strange, haunting beauty to the film, shot in widescreen with a strong interplay of shadow and light, and some really clever editing and camera tricks. The special effects are relatively simple but often handled in creative and clever ways, delivering a considerable impact. There are even flashes of the kind of visual beauty George A. Romero would concoct for 'Night of the Living Dead' ten years later. Fowler Jr also gets some terrific performances from his cast. Tom Tryon has a haunted, distant quality as the monster masquerading as Bill, and while the character is mostly a cypher, he gives it a weight and presence. The standout is Gloria Talbot, who dazzles from the moment she appears. Rather than falling into the role of the damsel in distress, she has more agency and drive than you would expect, and while the film doesn't necessarily serve her well in the last act, she makes such an indelible impression that her performance is the one you're left with at the end.
'I Married A Monster From Outer Space' doesn't stray too far from the run-of-the-mill 50s sci-fi that has become a pop-culture cliché, but it does distinguish itself enough to almost be regarded a classic of the genre. Real thought has clearly gone into it, to offer audiences at the time something more substantial than the usual B-grade monster scares, and it's for this reason that, over sixty years later, it justifies still being in conversation.
There's a strange, haunting beauty to the film, shot in widescreen with a strong interplay of shadow and light, and some really clever editing and camera tricks.
PICTURE & SOUND
For its premiere Blu-ray release, Paramount has provided Imprint with a wildly inconsistent 1080p 1.85:1 transfer. While some sections show a nice level of clarity and detail, balancing the tones in the black-and-white image beautifully, others are in desperate need of restoration, with sudden shifts in quality occurring within the same scene. Film damage and noise range from acceptable to distracting. That said, it would take a significant restoration to balance the inconsistencies in the image, and it's certainly far from unwatchable. The good news is that the film comes with lossless audio with an LPCM 2.0 Dual Mono track. It could also do with a restoration, but is in much more consistent shape that the video, offering a strong sound and clear dialogue. The sound design and score in the film are among its highlights, and this track serves them very well.
It would have been nice to see 'I Married A Monster...' given a more robust high definition debut, but what Imprint offers can't be scoffed at. The fact they have invested in releasing this film at all on Blu-ray, let alone in such a prestigious set, is to be commended.
The highlight of the small collection of extras is the exclusive commentary from film critics Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman, both recognised for their knowledge and passion for genre cinema. It's a mostly engaging track, offering fascinating thematic and historical information on the film, though the film could have benefited from a female analytical voice. Both Forshaw and Newman discuss the feminist angle and gender politics of the film, but not always in the most informed manner. Even so, this is a terrific companion piece to the film and welcome addition to the set. The disc also includes an original theatrical trailer (1:52), a gallery featuring gorgeous publicity shots for the film (2:15) and a short preview of the other titles in the first wave of Imprint releases.
The slipcase included with the release is really handsomely designed, with a simple and striking cover featuring art from the original poster, clear and well-balanced layout and no permanent rating logos on either the slip or the case inside, which features equally striking alternate artwork on the cover and inside the case.