Film #37: War of the Colossal Beast (1958)

film 37 war of the colossal beast

Rating: 2.5/5

“There’s no place in the civilised world for a creature that big.”

A quickie sequel to the previous year’s The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast asserts that, contrary to the government’s assumptions, Lt. Col. Glenn Manning did not actually die when he fell from the top of a dam after having been blasted with heavy artillery. While writer/director/special effects maestro Bert I Gordon directly continues the narrative established in the first film, it doesn’t matter if, like me, you’ve not seen it. Using the wonders of recycled footage, the original plot, including the plutonium blast that kick-started Manning’s excessive growth and his subsequent “death” that concluded The Amazing Colossal Man, is retold, indicating the first film’s superiority in terms of both concept and characterisation.

While it seems that Manning (Glenn Langan in the first film, replaced by Duncan “Dean” Parkin in the second) underwent not only a physical transformation but an emotional and psychological one following his unfortunate radiation poisoning, War of the Colossal Beast largely eschews any such conflict. Manning, pursued across Mexico by his sister Joyce (Sally Fraser) and a number of military men, including Major Mark Baird (Roger Pace), is less of a complex individual than a grunting, deformed Neanderthal. His mental breakdown is explained as a side effect of both his plutonium radiation and his fall from the Boulder Dam; in essence, this is a film about concussion, albeit on a giant scale.

Gordon’s screenplay is minimal and formulaic, offering little in the way of novelty in a decade when science-fiction saturated and dominated the movie industry. Despite being a whopping 60foot (although he frequently appears to be either bigger or smaller than that), Joyce, Major Baird, the scientists and the army seem to have great difficulties in tracking their target down: working on the dubious conceit that the disappearance of a person this size, following a public tumble from a dam, is not only acceptable but expected, the group then spend the majority of the film locating poor Manning, then losing him again.

The script is filled with inconsistencies – Manning is first discovered following his attempted robbery of a grocery truck but, when his secret hiding place (behind some rocks in a mountain range) is located, there are at least half a dozen other trucks, despite there having been no apparent reports of such disappearances. More galling is both Joyce and Major Baird’s attitudes towards the poor man. His sister, who has never given up her belief that Manning survived, is nothing less than callous in her attitude, seemingly ambivalent to Baird’s constant claims that death is the only solution, right up until the very last moment, when she sobs and begs for an alternative. Similarly, Baird has a sudden change of heart and seemingly forgets that he had ever made such claims, ordering his soldiers to capture, rather than kill, Manning. Thus Manning spends the majority of the film lying prone in a giant warehouse, where everyone seems to find him more an irritation than anything else – no one is surprised or intrigued, there is no discussion about a possible cure, he’s barely even viewed as a curiosity.

Despite the aggressive connotations of the film’s title, War of the Colossal Beast features very little in the way of action. In fact, the most effective moments are predominantly those recounting the events of the first film. Superimposing Parkin into scenes to show his massive size is effective, and models and miniatures are exploited in other sequences. It does work, though by today’s standards the effects are both dated and obvious. Yet the film is entertaining, and culminates with a potentially devastating finale, in which a bus-load of school kids are wielded as a weapon by poor, addled Manning. As with the majority of radioactive monsters, however, the sympathy does eventually revert back to the former army lieutenant: he may be a vicious beast now, but these 50s movies always made sure to remind the audience that, like Frankenstein’s creation several decades previous, they were once men, now negatively transformed through scientific mishap and meddling. In a final unexpected flurry of budget, the final minute of this black and white movie bursts into colour.

War of the Colossal Beast was one of a number of science-fiction films of the 1950s that exploited height difference in their narrative. Its predecessor was most obviously a response to The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), an intelligent film based on a short story by legendary sci-fi author Richard Matheson. One year later, as Gordon released his giant sequel, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman was also released, which shares not only the concept but a similar conclusion. Of these films, Manning’s second outing is arguably the least interesting or novel; it is neither bad enough to be laughed at consistently (although a mother’s half-hearted attempts to get to her teenage daughter in the final scene is rather entertaining) nor innovative enough to be memorable. As sequels go, it is acceptable, but overall fails to make much of an impact.

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