Just in time for Halloween weekend comes one of the cheesiest, er, best man-in-a-rubber-monster-suit films I've seen in a long, looong time. Called "Terror Beneath the Sea," the Japanese-made, 1966 film stars a young Sonny Chiba, the cult action hero best known for 1974's "The Street Fighter," and most recently seen as samurai swordmaker Hattori Hanzo in "Kill Bill: Vol. 1." Along with fellow reporter and love interest Peggy Neal (whose investigative journalism consists largely of screaming and gasping), Chiba uncovers a plot by a mad scientist intent on world domination who has created a race of gilled humanoid "water cyborgs."
Replete with the lowest of low-rent special effects -- the "scales" Chiba eventually develops on his face look as if they are made from rubber cement somebody picked up at the office supply store -- the DVD is just one of three obscure gems (all unrated) unearthed by the Dark Sky Films label, a relatively new division of MPI Media specializing in cult horror, forgotten science fiction and noirish B-movie fare. Company Vice President Greg Newman likes to call the selections the world's "lost" films.
The 1958 German film "Wet Asphalt" is an odd, topical little thriller about an unscrupulous reporter who fabricates the tale of a soldier who survived for several years after the end of World War II in a food-stocked bunker.
Of the three new releases, though, the campy 1964 black-and-white "The Flesh Eaters" probably comes closest to taking the so-bad-it's-good crown. Starring Martin Kosleck, a German immigrant who made his name in Hollywood playing swinish Nazis, the surprisingly well-shot film centers on a group of castaways stranded on a desert island where -- say it with me now -- a mad scientist intent on world domination is developing a strain of carnivorous sea organisms. Best yet, it doesn't suffer from the clumsy English dubbing of the other two films.
Since its debut in April with the release of Jim Van Bebber's "The Manson Family" (2003), Dark Sky has been carving out quite a niche for itself, releasing such films as "Without Warning," an early slasher flick that Newman says "hadn't seen the light of day since its theatrical release in 1952."
"We're really mixing it up," promises Newman, who dangles the upcoming two-disc "ultimate collector's edition" of 1974's "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" in front of fans, along with such arcana as "The Horror of Party Beach" (1964) and tonier works, including "Magic," the 1978, Richard Attenborough-directed, Anthony Hopkins-starring thriller about a demonic ventriloquist's dummy. "Believe it or not," Newman says, "that film has never been released on DVD."