1950s Monster B-Movie Reviews

8 Reviews (3 New)
A Dark and Scary Place

The Killer Shrews (1959)

Starring: James Best, Ingrid Goude, Ken Curtis & Gordon McLendon

In Black & White

Directed by Ray Kellogg

Written by Jay Simms

Thorne Sherman and his one-man crew, Griswold, shore-up on a remote island to ride out a storm. Sherman returns to a house with two doctors (one of whom has a beautiful daughter, of course!) and two other men. One of these men is our resident cowardly villain, and we know what ultimately happens to them… The others are keen for him to leave, storm or no storm, but Ann Gragis (played by Ingrid Gonde – who, incidentally, is one of the worst actors I’ve seen for a long time) has a reason for keeping him close – apart from the obvious!

The doctors have been participating in dodgy scientific experiments resulting in giant shrews the size of dogs. In fact, they
are dogs except they’re wearing ratty-looking shaggy coats. First we see poor Griswold (who it seems everyone has forgotten) get attacked. The story is they have to eat five times their weight every day to survive, and that includes humans. One of the creatures manages to get into the cellar and bite the ‘help’ Mario, after which we learn their saliva contains a deadly poison.

Sherman takes a rather pointless daytime walk down to the beach just so that villain Jerry Farrel can try to kill him twice and the two can partake in a little fisticuffs. We then enjoy an all-out siege as the killer shrews break through the thin walls and kill another peripheral character, Dr Radford Baines.

Sherman is automatically accepted as their leader by everyone except the villain. As luck would have it he finds some cylindrical metal tanks and ties them together with rope. In a matter of mere seconds he uses a cutting torch to put eye slots in them. They secrete themselves inside and shuffle along like Siamese Dalek triplets. In close-up shots of them inside we see them wiggle their heads in exaggerated movements to make out they are walking. To me this is more humorous than watching the dogs charge around in their shaggy coats.

They make it to the sea where the shrews can’t follow. Jerry refuses to go with them. Instead he decides to walk around on the roof for a while, and then come down just long enough to be eaten by the pack of killer shrews. He gets his just desserts, as we knew he would. And so we leave the island where it is assumed the shrews will eat each other and the last one starve to death. Ann, who is supposed to be a professional scientist, melts in the arms of Sherman who she has only just met, and we are subjected to one of the corniest final lines in movie history.

People often cite the dog-shrews as being hilarious, and they are good fun. But in truth the night scenes are quite dark and the daytime scenes are carefully shot at a distance, so that we can’t really scrutinise their shortcomings. Any close-ups of the heads are shown through small holes where they are trying to break through into the house. What is seen in these cases is an artificial head with large beady eyes, sharp teeth and even a sabre-tooth addition!

The Killer Shrews was directed by Ray Kellogg, which inspires the question why didn’t we get Killer Shrews: The Serial? A considerably worse sequel called Return of the Killer Shrews emerged in 2012. Whereas this film is fun-bad, the sequel is just bad-bad.

VERDICT: 6 out of 10

(original review Ty Power 2018)

The Monolith Monsters (1957)

Starring: Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Les Tremayne, Trevor Bardette & Linda Scheley

In Black & White

Directed by John Sherwood

Screenplay by Norman Jolley & Robert M Fresco

Story by Jack Arnold

A meteor falls to Earth, somehow failing to attract anyone's attention. When a geologist working for the Department of the Interior finds a glassy rock he returns to his office in the town of San Angelo to study it in the lab. The next day his colleague Dave Miller arrives to find his partner has been turned to stone (with no Medusa in sight!). Furthermore, the lab is half-wrecked and there are fragments of the rock everywhere.

Dave’s love interest is teacher Cathy Barrett. When she takes a group of small children on a field trip in the area of the meteor crater, Ginny, one of her charges, takes a fragment of the rock home. Afterward, the farmstead is found wrecked and two stone-like bodies discovered. Their child, Ginny, is in a catatonic state of deep shock. A specialist doctor puts her on an iron lung, as she is dying and the stone-effect spreading up her arm. The race is on to find an antidote or cure. Dave teams-up with Professor Flanders and between them they learn that silicone has been drained from the bodies.

But how are the rocks becoming animate? Well, it seems to make a Monolith you just add water, and to make matters worse (isn’t it always the case?) there just happens to be torrential rain outside. The rocks absorb the water and grow in mere moments into great monoliths, which then topple over and smash into a thousand pieces, starting the cycle yet again. Thus the movement of the Monoliths comes from the widespread fragments growing and shattering – and they’re heading for the town.

As the little girl is injected with silicone and begins to recover, the new problem is to find a way to halt the progress of the Monoliths before the town is destroyed. A series of experiments reveals that salt in a saline solution renders them inert. Dave has this plan to blow-up a nearby dam, allowing the escaping water to flow across the path of the encroaching Monoliths. The only worry is that there is enough salt present to do the job. It works; the Monoliths topple and fragment but cannot grow again. The town – and probably the world – is saved.

The logic is far from airtight but, nevertheless, this is a solid science fiction story, which gains credence by avoiding the organic alien invasion trap. These are just rocks which have a very different nature; there is no preconceived plan.
The Monolith Monsters is a film which tries to do something different with this period’s subject matter.  Many of the same names – from both in front of and behind the camera – returned several times to the Science Fiction Monster B-Movies of the 1950s and beyond. Jack Arnold was involved in many films from this era, either in a writing or directorial role. Grant Williams was a regular leading actor, his most famous role being The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Verdict: 7 out of 10

(original review Ty Power 2018)

The Mysterians (1957)

Starring: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa & Momoko Kôchi

In Colour

Directed by Ishiro Honda

Japanese with English Subtitles

After suffering raging fires, landslides and a heavy radioactive presence in the rivers, the villages of Mount Fuji are systematically destroyed by a giant robot. It is finally incapacitated when the army plants explosives on a bridge to bring it down. This, it turns out, is a show of strength by the Mysterians, an alien race whose planet has been ruined by a war of H-bombs. They tell five prominent Japanese officials they want two or three kilometres of land. But they also want Earth women, as their own are sterile as a result of war. The men refuse, but the aliens abduct them anyway. Now the battle is on. The army throws everything it has at the grounded enemy craft, but nothing appears to damage it and the ship emits its own deathly rays. It is now down to the scientists to try something new.

This is a Japanese film with English subtitles, directed by Ishiro Honda. The fact it was made by Toho International who made
Godzilla, you kind of expect a reasonably high standard. Toho stated this film was far superior. Although I wouldn’t go that far (Godzilla was original and fun, and has spawned the largest amount of sequels of any franchise) I will admit they pulled out all the stops with this one. Subsequently described as a cautionary tale for the atomic age, there is mention of H-bombs in the script to the extent of not resorting to using them at any cost.

The Alien show of power involves an early stomp through some villages by a giant robot which appears to possess flippers rather than arms, and a head that resembles the outcome of an uneasy coupling between a Clanger and a Fingerbob. It’s great fun. I was very sorry to see it meet its end – although it does unsuccessfully attempt to revive itself and crawl out from below ground at the conclusion of the story. The fact it instantly falls back and disappears when the ground gives way makes for a fittingly humorous sayonara.

This was Toho’s first full colour widescreen offering, and makes full use of the medium. The Mysterians never remove their helmets, and stride around purposefully in rank-related primary colours and flowing capes. The sets and modelwork are practically beautiful to behold. There is great attention to detail. I would go as far as to say exemplary. Having said that the attack on the spacecraft does outstay its welcome a little. Additionally, some events are less than logical, like the requirement of the Mysterians of only five women – all of which just so happen to be connected to the five men to which they make their demands. Three they already have hostage; so, knowing the other two are in danger what do the great Earth brains do? They leave them unprotected!

Admittedly, far from being a classic
The Mysterians does remain as an example of one of the better serious attempts at science fiction from the golden 1950s period. Certainly, the British Film Institute believed it worthy of remastering and presenting with a fantastic booklet of informative text and excellent studio set photographs and design drawings.

Verdict: 7 out of 10

(original review Ty Power 2018)

Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman (1958)

Starring: Allison Hayes, William Hudson, Yvette Vickers

In Black & White

Directed by Nathan Hertz

Written by Mark Hanna

Mrs Nancy Archer witnesses a large sphere descend from space (on wires) and a 30 foot giant emerge. But Mrs Archer has previously been in a sanatorium and has been known to hit the bottle.

Meanwhile, her husband Harry is playing away (more of an away score draw). Harry wants her recommitted, but Nancy’s butler is loyal to the end. Nancy convinces Harry to drive them into the hills in an attempt to find the ‘satellite’. He hopes she will finally admit she is crazy and have herself committed. Harry and his illicit girlfriend Honey are after her fortune. However, when they come across not only the sphere but the giant occupant, she is elated.

The dirty little coward Harry flees in the car, leaving Nancy at the mercy of the giant. But Mrs Archer is found on the roof of her house and put to bed. It seems she has had some contact with radiation. A nurse gives her periodic injections, and this gives Harry and Honey the idea of slipping her an overdose. But before he gets the chance to give her the needle (so to speak) the resident nurse puts on the light to reveal the giant form of Nancy.

The sheriff and the faithful butler are following giant footprints. In the sphere spacecraft they find Mrs Archer’s Star of India diamond which, along with other gems, appears to help power the craft. The giant man arrives, looking for all the world like a reject from a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings (complete with tunic and coat of arms). After being shot at by the sheriff a few times, he returns to the sphere and speeds off.

There isn’t enough morphine to keep Nancy unconscious. She’s awake, a giant, and taking a Sunday afternoon casual stroll to town to exact her revenge. As in all of these films only the guilty seem to get killed. It’s a touching naivety. Honey gets her just desserts from falling timber, and Harry is swept-up in one hand (a la King Kong and Fay Wray) and doesn’t survive the experience.

I like the way these films just end suddenly; there’s no aftermath and no outstaying its welcome. Big Nancy (or is that a different film!) is brought down by electrocution, but her eyelashes flutter. Is she still alive, or just a bad actress. I guess we’ll never know.

Comic relief comes from the sheriff and his deputy; a sort of Abbott and Costello double-act. When they’re searching the garden the sheriff asks for a boost-up on to a chest-high roof. He kneels on the top and says, ‘There’s nothing up here.’ The deputy looks across from a lower height and states, ‘I can see that from here.’ When they find what is obviously a giant bare footprint the deputy asks, ‘What do you suppose it is?’ The sheriff replies, ‘Whatever it is it wasn’t made by a Japanese gardener.’

When speaking of 1950s science fiction monster movies, the titles people usually quote are
Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman. Let’s just say it’s memorable but not a classic.

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(original review Ty Power 2017)

Fiend Without a Face (1957)

Starring: Marshall Thompson, Terry Kilburn, Kim Parker and Kynaston Reeves

In Black & White

Directed by Arthur Crabtree

Written by Herbert J. Ledger (Based on 'The Thought Monster' by Amelia Reynolds Long)

The film tagline for this one is: When Mad Science Spawns Evil.

When a body is discovered near the grounds of a US Air Force base in Canada it is easy to blame to atomic powered radar project. But the body turns out to have no brain and spinal cord. More deaths follow, causing folks from the nearby town (who curiously all seem to be young angry blokes) to get out of their tree and protest against the presence of the base.

Major Jeff Cummings has other ideas. He believes that Professor Walgate and his psychic research experiments might have something to do with it. With this hunch his first course of action is to search the graveyard at night (eh?). He gets locked into a mausoleum by a fleeing figure, because this will use up some of the running time. The group of angry young townsmen search the woods for an assailant, but simply manage to lose one of their number. However, he later turns up looking dishevelled and uttering ‘Urrg!’ like a local ordering his tenth pint. This, as opposed to ‘Argghh!’ screamed by the victims of a seemingly invisible attacker.

They finally get around to questioning the professor, who tells them about his work spent trying to separate human thought from the conscious mind so that it can move objects and perform tasks with just a will. The radar atomic testing at the base has given the professor’s equipment a jolt of power (with the help of some less than atmospheric lightning) which not only makes the experiment a success but turns the thought monster into an invisible assassin.

Just as the house comes under attack, and the siege victims wonder just how they can fight invisible creatures (shouldn’t there just be one?), one of the things gets into the atomic plant and turns up the power, rendering itself visible. Obviously, the creature can’t be very intelligent! It now resembles a large brain with a spinal cord and – strangely – two antennae. They move themselves along using the spinal column, and somehow manage to propel themselves through the air when attacking.

The movement is achieved via a stop-motion animation, and looks okay – providing you’re not expecting modern day CGI. This sequence is amusing and a great deal of fun. A brain even uses a hammer to free a boarded-up window.

As the others (including Barbara, the professor’s young secretary and love interest to the Major) are assaulted by flying brains, Jeff is on his way to blow-up the control room of the atomic plant with dynamite in order to remove the power source of the thought monsters. As he lights the fuse and leaves, it’s a nice touch to have a gunshot-wounded brain trying to reach the fuse to extinguish it, before collapsing dead. The explosion renders the brains inactive, and they all immediately decompose.

Of course, there was a much easier way to remove their power: Make the professor watch this film and his IQ would have instantly reduced by half!

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(original review Ty Power 2017)

The Fly (1958)

Starring: Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, Al Hedison, Patricia Owens

In Colour

Produced & Directed by Kurt Neumann

Based on a story by George Lange Laan

Andre Delambre is a scientist who invents a matter transmitter, running a series of tests on inanimate objects, and a live guinea pig. The process breaks down the subject to its constituent atoms and reassembles them in an identical booth on the other side of the laboratory. After a failure with the family cat (we hear its haunting meow), he perfects the procedure, deciding to use himself as the ultimate organic test. Unfortunately, a fly is trapped in the booth with him causing their atoms to mix. The confusing outcome of this is he now possesses a human-size fly head and one arm like the appendage of the insect.

As the presence of the fly causes unnatural and confusing thoughts and he feels his humanity slipping away, he communicates the urgency of finding the white-headed fly. Only by putting himself and the fly through the matter transmitter can he hope to reverse the process (eh?). However, although his wife Helene and son Philippe see the fly on a number of occasions they fail to catch it (although Philippe had it in a matchbox before he knew it was important). The only thing left to do is destroy all trace of the experiment... and that includes himself.

Although this sounds like a load of old nonsense, it carries a lot of emotional gravitas, which is in part down to the excellent screenplay by James Clavell (Shogun). In fact, the bigwigs were so impressed by it they not only raised the budget but decided to film in colour when it was initially intended to be black and white. In effect, it became an A-film.

The Fly's story is uncovered retrospectively, with Helene being accused of murder, and reluctantly relaying what had gone before. In  this respect it works quite well, and allows more airtime to Vincent Price who plays the scientist's brother, Francois, and isn't part of the main story. Al Hedison is particularly good as the conscientious scientist, and Herbert Marshall's Charas is the most laid back police detective I think I've ever seen.

The lab set is impressive without being pretentiously over-the-top. But it is the final scene that steals the show. After disbelieving Helene's crazy story, Price and Marshall see the human-headed fly trapped in a web and about to be devoured by a spider. The little cries of 'Help me!' stay with you.

Of course, you can always pick holes in a movie like this. When Patricia Owens goes manic in a room over the white-headed fly it's actually very comical to behold. Likewise, when Al Hedison's fly limb keeps on exerting a life of its own and has to be grabbed by his human hand. There is no logical way to assume that putting himself through the matter transmitter with the fly again would undo what had happened before. Why is the fly head human size, and the human head fly size? Wouldn't they materialise as one creature, part human, part fly? And how has Andre retained any human thought and reasoning with an entirely insectoid head?

Nevertheless, this is one of the better sci-fi horror movies of the 1950s. Not a classic but certainly memorable. It is one of those examples when you're more than happy to suspend your disbelief.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(original review Ty Power 2017)

Return of the Fly (1959)

Starring: Vincent Price, Bret Halsey, David Frankham

In Black & White

Scripted & Directed by Edward Bernds

It is several years after the ill-advised experiments and death of scientist, Andre Delambre. His widow has now passed away, and their son, Philippe, is an educated scientist himself. Philippe asks his uncle Francois (Vincent Price) about his father’s work and, after a lot of persuasion, is finally given access to the man’s laboratory.

With the help of an assistant he continues his father’s experiments with matter transference. They break down the atoms of a live gineau pig, agreeing to bring it back the next day to see if a delay in the process causes any problems. However, a policeman discovers the assistant copying the machine’s plans and, in an attempt to arrest him, gets himself transferred – resulting in an amalgamation of atoms with the gineau pig.

When Philippe finds out what a dirty rotten scoundrel his assistant is, a game of roly-poly rough and tumble ensues. Philippe is incapacitated and put through the matter transmitter with a fly. Mr bobble-head emerges and makes his escape. It is left to Price’s Francois to explain to the police what needs to be done.

Why the head and one arm is affected in exactly the same way as the first film is anyone’s guess. This time one leg is mutilated too, and the fly head is significantly larger than before. He walks through the woods dragging one leg and trying to keep his head straight (in more ways than one!).

While the human-headed fly is caught, the fly-headed human dispatches the villainous fiend who betrayed him, as well as the man’s partner in crime. This neatly wraps-up the loose ends. Francois and the police detective justify the matter by saying it was the fly that killed them, not Philippe. This statement, however, defies all logic as Philippe remembers where he had last seen his former friend and kills him as retribution, which proves human cognitive thought. I don’t blame him though; if someone turned me into Mr Fly Bobblehead, I’d want to kill him, too.

All ends on a positive note when Philippe instinctively returns to his house and is led into the laboratory’s matter transmitter by a half-delirious Francois, who is recovering from a gunshot wound. With Francois’ vision of the controls blurring, you feel sure something will go wrong. But the human-headed fly is thrown in with Philippe and he emerges fully intact and none-the-worse for his ordeal.

Of course, this outcome defies all scientific logic, but it’s fun all-the-same. Everyone seems to forget that the fly was in the transmitter, as well. Surely, as a scientist you would have to prevent the fly from escaping and carefully check it over. Philippe’s fiancé, screaming like a banshee only moments before, now holds him close. You just long for her to hit him with a rolled-up newspaper!

Obviously, the film production had less faith in this sequel, as they proffered much less money and as a result it was made in black and white. In truth, the script is predictable but not too bad – the only glaring mistake being the gigantic head of the fly.  Vincent Price is the only returning actor from the first film. There’s a rumour that he actually preferred the script of this sequel to the original… that’s outrageous! Let’s send in the SWAT team.

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(original review Ty Power 2017)

Robot Monster (1953)

Starring: George Nader, Claudia Barrett, Selena Royle, and George Barrows as Ro-Man

In Black & White

Directed by Phil Tucker

Produced by Al Zimbalist & Phil Tucker

In a plot so ludicrous it makes many of the other lacklustre 1950s sci-fi monster movies seem like works of art, Ro-Man, an alien in a gorilla suit with a deep sea diver helmet and antennae so big he might just pick up Channel 5, destroys all life on Earth. Only a handful survive: a professor’s family and a work colleague who has designs on his daughter. They avoid detection by surrounding their refuge with an electrical field. But it is the professor’s vaccine against all illness which inexplicably makes them impervious to Ro-Man’s death ray.

In his cave he has a nice futuristic flat screen viewer by which he communicates with his identical-looking commander. His boss is understandably getting a little irate. He wants to know why Ro-Man can’t kill the remaining pocket of humans when they have wiped out the rest of the human race within what is assumed to be a few days. I want to know the same.

He spends most of the film’s running time walking up and down ravines or canyons, or quarries… or whatever the hell they are, and then returning to the cave in a kaleidoscope of pretty washing-up bubbles. You have to feel for the alien though; he must be losing half his body weight in that gorilla suit, and his brain has obviously become fried in that goldfish bowl on his head. The character’s IQ and powers of reasoning have melted away (if they were ever there in the first place), because when the heroine is kidnapped and asks Ro-Man where he gets his strength he actually tells her it’s a machine housed in the cave.

The continuity is fantastically non-existent. The best example is when Ro-Man is attempting to tie-up the heroine when a communication comes through. So he knocks her out with a sweep of his hand and she falls to the ground. After a short message he turns back to find that she is not only conscious and standing-up, but securely tied-up!

When the source of his power is destroyed, Ro-Man simply falls to the ground. For some reason he could not bring himself to kill our heroine, so his boss arrives to take care of business himself – moving menacingly towards the camera in a sequence which is repeated twice to take advantage of the new 3-D techniques.

And suddenly the whole family’s alive again as we discover the spaceman-obsessed little boy dreamt the whole thing. Poor kid; it must have seemed like the worst nightmare ever!

The DVD I watched comes courtesy of Cheesy Flicks, who seek out the most cringeworthy examples of the silver screen. They must have been easily distracted during one of Ro-Man’s many country walks, because on the rear of the case they mistakenly promote the film as Monster Robot.

You may be interested to know (or not) there is a successful stage play version of the film playing to audiences in Los Angeles, USA. There is also a behind-the-scenes-of-the-film book available. sometimes the longevity of a notoriously bad film is greater than that of a good one...

Verdict: 3 out of 10

(original review Ty Power 2017)