A Dark and Scary Place
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.
We are introduced to this film with a deep-voiced narration from an unseen alien (‘Probably the best alien invader in the world…’) which informs us that everything we do is watched with a million eyes. We then get another narrative from the main character, Allan Kelley, a rancher who lives with his wife Carol and daughter Sandy. The ranch has made a loss three years running, Carol is perpetually bad tempered, and Sandy is going to be sent away to school to ‘give her a chance’.
The movie begins properly when a loud droning noise passes over the area. Most of the glass in the house shatters, and Allan is inexplicably attacked by birds. A neighbouring farmer is assaulted whilst carrying out his morning milking duties, although attempting to milk a bull probably goes some way to explaining why it was so angry! Something in the desert is luring things closer. It starts when Sandy’s German Shepherd dog wanders too close and returns to attack Carol, who kills it off-screen with an axe (although in reality the dog looks as fierce as a Buddhist monk at prayer).
It seems that the minds of animals are easier for the device in the desert to control. However, Carl (or ‘Him’), the ranch hand who lives in the shed, is another matter. He is not only mentally challenged but is somewhat creepy, too. There are several lines of dialogue early in the film when Allan and Sandy call the man harmless. You just know then he won’t turn out to be so. It transpires the poor man is divided. He carries out the instructions of the device but ultimately doesn’t hurt anyone because his own mind periodically takes control.
The film loses its way in the final third of the running time. And that’s exactly what the cast do: run around a lot. With the car out of action and birds attacking them at home, they finally decide to do what they should have done in the first place: go into the desert and confront the device. It turns out to be a spacecraft with one occupant. The Beast was added to the movie as an afterthought, as it was suspected the cinema audience would feel short-changed with no monster.
It tries to take control of Sandy’s mind, but the family stands strong against it. It is suddenly introduced that the Beast can take over a lesser body; thus the Beast falls like a puppet with its strings cut and a desert rat runs from the crater. Allan is about to shoot it when a bird of prey swoops down and scoops it up for its dinner. For all the effect it has it’s tantamount to a child’s balloon trying to take over the world.
I always like to think about what might happen after the conclusion of these films. In this case, the family might have been brought close together by events but the ranch is still losing money. Perhaps they should publish a book, sell the movie rights (hopefully, a bigger budget) and conduct tours for nosy rubberneckers.
This example of the period avoids the blame of atomic war on events. Not much happens over-all but it remains eminently watchable. Ideas and money seem to have evaporated by the final scenes which consist of characters wandering into the desert and back to the house. And into the desert and … well, you get the picture. There’s a deputy sheriff as a potential love interest for the daughter Sandy, but he doesn’t do anything significant.
(original review Ty Power 2018)
An unidentified object is detected over the Earth. It’s path is monitored across America and it lands in a public area. The police and military surround the craft with heavy artillery, and the public crowd around a cordon eager for a glimpse of the occupants. Eventually, a ramp appears and helmeted humanoid approaches on the on-lookers with a gift. An itchy-fingered soldier mistakes it for a weapon and shoots the newcomer. Before things get out of hand a large robot emerges from the craft. A visor opens and a beam vaporises the military’s guns and tanks.
The injured humanoid, who is called Klaatu, is treated privately and his wounds heal quickly. He needs to gather all of the world’s nations together to impart to them knowledge of the utmost importance to the future of the human race. A government representative explains that there is a huge amount of distrust. The Russians won’t attend unless it takes place in Moscow; the Americans insist it’s in the USA, etc. Although he is locked in his room, the alien Klaatu decides to vanish into normal society to discover what the average person is saying about the situation.
Using the name Mr Carpenter, Klaatu rents a room in a boarding house where he meets a friendly young woman and her son. The boy, Tommy, shows Carpenter around the town. This includes a military cemetery, a look at the spaceship and a visit to the foremost scientist in the country. It is arranged that scientists will be brought together to hear Klaatu’s message. The visitor arranges a show of power by making all the electricity die, causing a temporary worldwide blackout. Tommy becomes attached to Carpenter and follows him one night as he returns to his craft to give instructions to the nine foot robot, Gort, and set the demonstration in order.
Tommy tells his mother and boyfriend what he saw, and Klaatu comes clean to Tommy’s mother. The electricity is neutralised worldwide, except for hospitals and planes in flight – but only for thirty minutes. The jealous and selfish boyfriend contacts the military and the hunt is on for the spaceman. Tommy’s mother warns Klaatu and they escape in a taxi. Klaatu issues her instructions to go to Gort and say the words 'Klaatu barada nikto' if anything happens to him. Klaatu is shot in the street by the military and declared dead. Tommy’s mother rushes to the spacecraft where Gort has just become active and killed two guards with the beam from its visor. Gort has the power to destroy the world, but she remembers in her fear to relay the remembered phrase. Gort takes her inside the craft and then leaves to recover the body of Klaatu, which returns to life using a machine in the ship.
As the collected scientists are being asked to leave, Klaatu emerges from the craft to address the people. He explains that Earth’s experimentation with atomic power and weapons threatens the stability and peace of the other planets. They do not tolerate aggression and so have developed a race of robots like Gort to police the worlds, and given them complete power to wipe out any sign of outward aggression. The message is simple: choose to live in peace, or suffer the consequences. With a smile of appreciation to Tommy’s mother, who has returned to the crowd of stunned onlookers, Klaatu and Gort re-enter the spacecraft and it takes off.
This is the film which set the bar for science fiction movies in the 1950s. It was a bar that, as far as I’m concerned, was seldom if ever reached by other films (although a handful came close). This is not only an outstanding film for the period, but an all-time science fiction classic which fully deserves its cult classic status.
Director Robert Wise – who also directed many other movies, such as The Haunting, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, and many others – utilises nice use of light and shadow which other directors from this era should really have learnt from. There is also tight editing, a flowing pace and a progressive ratcheting-up of tension and atmosphere. Michael Rennie is the perfect choice for Klaatu. I don’t really see how this film could have been improved. Do yourself a favour; make a copy your own – and avoid at all costs the dire remake.
(original review Ty Power 2018)
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!
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.
(original review Ty Power 2017)
Amateur astronomer John Putnam witnesses a comet pass over his remote desert home and strike the ground. Along with his fiancé Helen Fields and his friend George, he goes to investigate. Alone, he ventures into the crater where he finds a spacecraft. The hatch is open, offering a brief glimpse inside before it slams shut, causing a rock fall. The craft is completely buried so that neither of his companions believe his revelation.
Undeterred, John informs the sheriff. Word soon spreads and news crews show up at the site. However, no one wants to spend the time or money removing the tonnes of rock. When John has a later run-in with the craft’s occupant he is told the buried ship is being repaired, and that it will be leaving soon. But to aid the work required on the damaged craft the alien occupant copies some of the local inhabitants, including John’s friend George, telephone engineer Frank (who looks every bit the cold, alien-possessed automaton) and, later, Barbara herself.
The sheriff rounds-up some townsmen with guns to kill whomever has taken the hostages, so John speeds off to an abandoned mine near the crater. He sees the work on the spacecraft is near completion, and strikes a deal with the alien creature: if the captives are released he will buy time and prevent possible conflict. He escapes with Barbara, George, Frank and others, and uses dynamite to block the mine’s entrance just as the sheriff’s posse arrives. A short while later there is a seismic rumble and the craft bursts out of the crater and into the sky.
This tale from master storyteller Ray Bradbury would have been better suited to an anthology series such as The Twilight Zone. Unfortunately, the plot has trouble sustaining itself as a film-length venture. As with many of these low budget 1950s sci-fi monster movies there is a lot of coming and going – this time by car. The point of view of the alien is seen as if through the bottom of a bowl of jelly. It also lunges toward the camera; a one-man tent with an eye on the front. This is to make use of the then new cinematic 3D effect.
Even so, the only thing which really lets this production down (apart from the female lead with no mind of her own) is the melodramatic dialogue prevalent of this period. Why is it all these visitors from space are always far more advanced than us, and here to teach us a moral lesson to save us from ourselves – often under threat of destruction?!
(original review Ty Power 2018)
Contact is lost with a rocketship expedition to Mars, and a second ship is sent to discover what became of the first. There is a single survivor, Col. Ed Carruthers. He is taken aboard the new ship where he tells them a wild story about a not quite clearly seen bipedal creature that wipes-out his crewmen. This is relayed to Earth on the journey home and instructions are received to watch Carruthers at all times. He will go on trial for the murder of his crew. None of the new crew believe his story, but Ann Anderson takes a liking to him and ‘doesn’t disbelieve’. Colonel Van Heusen, who commands this rescue ship, has no time for the fairy stories of Carruthers. He intends to get the truth out of the man and deliver him to the authorities in a neat little package.
However, his plans go awry when it comes to his attention that the airlock had been left open prior to lift-off. A creature (probably the same one that killed the crew of the first ship) has clambered aboard. Initially, it manages to secrete itself away while the backstory gets up-to-speed (which seems impossible on a small ship, and retrospectively considering the amount of roaring it does and stuff it knocks over), but then a man goes missing and another is attacked, triggering a little bit of pandemonium.
Once the perpetrator is fully revealed to the crew, the stigma with which Carruthers has been labelled is fully and instantly forgotten. In reality, there would be lingering resentment. Anyway, the race is on to find a way to kill the alien monster. Aside from its powerful claws, strength and intelligence, it is by nature a vampire of sorts, absorbing blood, water and other fluids from its victims. Bullets won’t stop it. Nor, it seems, will multiple hand grenades (not a good idea to set off explosives within a pressurised hull).
Having escaped through two levels, the creature is now attempting to bash its way through a heavy hatch to get to them. They try to gas it but that has little or no effect, so Carruthers comes up with a plan whereby he and Lt. James Calder suit-up and walk down the outside of the ship’s hull to re-enter one level below the creature. They attempt to electrocute it by wiring-up the metal steps, but Calder is injured and only keeps the alien at bay by the use of a welding torch. Carruthers tries to save the man but is obliged to make his escape to the others. But blood is needed to treat the wounded. So the creature gets shut in with the open reactor and the others use the time to grab the blood. The alien breaks through the reactor room door and kills another crewmember.
Now holed-up in the top section of the ship their last resort is to don their spacesuits and eject the oxygen from the ship. This succeeds in asphyxiating the creature, and suddenly the film is over. No epilogue here.
Aside from the flat feet and large clawed hands, the IT creature costume is pretty impressive. There is a commonly-held belief that this film was the inspiration for the Ridley Scott film Alien. As writer Dan O’Bannon is no longer with us there is no confirmation he even saw this film. However, you can’t deny the similarities in setting and premise. A pretty solid example of the 1950s SF B-Movie trend.
(original review Ty Power 2018)
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.
(original review Ty Power 2018)
Let me first say no leeches were harmed in the making of this film. In fact, there aren’t any! The first ten minutes are taken up with experimental chemist Dr Paul Talbot arguing with his wife June at his workplace. She is ten years his senior and doesn’t feel she has her looks anymore. He certainly feels the same way, as he treats her with contempt, driving her to drink. Ironically, his research involves finding a way to slow the ageing process.
When an ancient-looking woman enters his office and offers a powder to temporarily halt the natural ageing of the body in exchange for the money to return her to her homeland African tribe, he not only snatches the opportunity with both hands, but takes his estranged (and strange!) wife and a guide to Africa. So suddenly, with a montage of stock footage set pieces of lions, crocodiles, monkeys, hippos, elephants and hyenas, etc. (which made me think I had somehow switched channels to a National Geographic wildlife film), we are in Africa – or a set made to resemble it!
Dr Talbot allows them to be captured by the old woman’s tribe, as he is after stealing the secret ingredient which makes a person young again. They witness the stick-thin and emaciated tribeswoman returned to voluptuous young health when a pointed ring is jabbed into the back of a warrior’s head, killing him but extracting melatonin from the Pineal Gland, also known as The Third Eye.
Obviously, very little research was conducted for the film; or a great deal of poetic licence was used. The Pineal Gland is situated at the centre of the brain between the two hemispheres and is the size of a small pine cone (hence the name), so the chances of striking lucky with the ring in such a haphazard manner is practically impossible. In this film everyone’s an expert in the art! June, our anti-heroine, even manages it whilst being strangled.
The unloved wife is returned to her former beauty but is told to choose the person to die in the process. It’s no shock when she logically selects her husband Paul. Although informed they can never leave the village, the guide steals some powder and the ring, and the two escape in the confusion caused by some thrown sticks of dynamite. The tribal warriors all run around in little circles like confused ants.
The youth is short-lived (so to speak) so it isn’t long before the guide goes the same way as her husband. After returning home June periodically plays herself (older) or her own fictitious niece (younger, after killing someone). Luring Neil Foster away from his fiance, she ends up killing the competition and sticking the body in the wardrobe (like you do!). Then the police arrive and June Talbot ages to death, falling out of the window.
All so suddenly it’s over and I’m no longer distracted by the possibility of the kettle being on or a plug being in which should possibly be removed. I’d never noticed that there is a subtle pattern in my carpet before watching The Leech Woman. Having said that, at least the film attempts to engage our human faults such as greed and vanity. Grant Williams from The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Monolith Monsters, and others returns here as Neil Foster.
(original review Ty Power 2018)
John Lawrence, an American journalist who is owed an exclusive, uncovers the story of a lifetime when he is sent to Bury in Scotland to meet Professor Elliot, an expert in Astronomy. It seems a new planet has appeared and is heading towards Earth at great speed. The professor has no idea what will happen when it reaches proximity; only that there will be consequential disasters … or worse.
A small rocket-shaped contraption – possible a beacon – is found on the moor by the professor’s daughter, Enid Elliot, whilst walking with the journalist Lawrence. It seems to be made of a kind of steel, but stronger and a fifth of the normal weight. An old student of the professor, who has coincidentally arrived by chance (!), sees an opportunity for financial gain. But there is to be another discovery. When Enid’s car breaks down she sees a pulsing light through the thick mist. Investigating, she discovers a craft resembling a diving bell, and peering through a transparent section she is terrified at the sight of an alien face.
She informs her father who returns with the journalist. They meet the bi-pedal creature and save its life when the gas supply to its helmet is restricted. Trusting them but unable to communicate, it follows them back to the house. As the professor inconveniently takes to bed with flu (that’s the bug, not a woman), his old student sees an opportunity to communicate somehow with the visitor from space. There is an apparent difference of opinion and a struggle ensues. The man from Planet X returns to his craft and influences Enid and the selfish student – as well as other locals – to aid in his preparations to leave.
However, John Lawrence has managed to solicit the help of Scotland Yard in London. They easily destroy the spacecraft in an explosion which leaves nothing behind (so much for the super strong metal hull), but not before Lawrence has freed his love interest, Enid, from her hypnotised state and escaped to a safe distance with her. The potential fear and anxiety over what will happen when Planet X reaches its closest point of contact with Earth is completely negated when it shoots off in a slingshot effect and clears off into space again.
So it’s all been a lot about nothing, but at least a mildly enjoyable one. The alien of the title has what appears to be a large papier mache head with rectangular cut-out features, which removes any possible movement or emotion; in this instance a process that, whether by accident or design, creates a suitable otherworldly aloofness. All of these films which emerged in a decade of paranoia ended happily for the human race. Quite different from today when any horror element has to – almost by unwritten rule – finish open-ended, leaving the way for a possible franchise. Sequels were rare in the 1950s; filmmakers simply sold their projects on for whatever profit they could before moving on to the next one.
(original review Ty Power 2018)
At a dig in Asia a stone tablet is discovered with a Sumerian hieroglyphic inscription. After it is deciphered as a warning a distant earthquake reveals clues to an ancient civilisation high on a mountain. When a member of the expedition falls through the earth into a great abyss, the others lower themselves down on ropes. They accidentally trigger a rock fall and become trapped below ground. They find the lost city for which they have been searching but are pulled into the ground by bipedal Mole Men.
In a lovely example of bad editing one of the party announces, “Look!” a few seconds before a rock wall moves aside to reveal two guards who take them to a temple. When they are sentenced to death by the king our heroes, Dr Roger Bentley and Dr Jud Bellamin, are non-too pleased. They make their escape, pulling over two huge candle holders for some guards to theatrically fall over. When they use a torch on the priest and king they are said to possess the Light of Ishtar.
One of our two surviving men is given a female slave called Adad and she learns of the world above. The city people create beautiful and aesthetic crafts, but they keep many of the Mole People as slaves. When our two men from above intervene in the bad treatment and torture of the slave Mole Men, it culminates in the reduction of food available for the city people. The king sacrifices three women to the outside Light of Ishtar. During the ceremony another woman throws herself around in a mad dance as if she has ants in her pants.
The priest soon persuades the king that the outsiders are mortal like them. Bentley and Bellamin are poisoned with mushrooms and taken away, and the woman ex-slave Adad makes her escape. The Mole Men pull her down into the loose earth and all disappear, leaving the guards with no one to whip. With our heroes pushed out into Ishtar’s Light, Adad leads the Mole People in a rebellion attack on the king and his subjects. These are dispatched all too easily which makes you wonder why they didn’t think of doing that a long time ago.
They help break through the door to Ishtar’s Light, before doing a collective ‘runner’ from the glare. Our female ex-slave doesn’t even get a tan. “Beautiful,” she remarks. It turns out Adad is the ‘Marked One’ – a sort of link between the surface dwellers and those below. Our two men are none the worse for wear and so it all ends happily ever after – except that after their climb to the surface there is an earthquake tremor and Adad inexplicably throws herself under a collapsing pillar.
A word about the Mole Men. They have long, clawed hands and a larger than human, mottled head and bulbous eyes… oh and a hunchback. They look just different enough without coming across as totally ridiculous. As the monsters of the piece they are Frankenstein’s creature-like benign innocents. In other words, misunderstood. This has elements of The Time Machine about it – only not as good. It’s great to see Alan Napier here as Elinu from the ancient city. He of course was Alfred in the classic 1960s Batman TV series. The Mole People is not actually that bad… but it’s not particularly good either, and far too predictable. Even so, it would spawn a sequel.
(original review Ty Power 2018)
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.
After some atomic testing by the US Navy over the sea an earthquake is felt up to ten miles away. When things return to normal, a routine parachute drop and pick-up over the sea goes wrong when the jumper is not found – only his parachute. One of the two men on the pick-up boat dives in but fails to surface. The sole remaining man recoils in horror as something emerges from the sea.
An investigation reveals only a thick slime on the side of the boat. It’s analysed by Dr Jess Rogers in Intelligence, and Lieutenant Commander John Twillinger, the investigating officer, gets to meet the attractive receptionist Gail MacKenzie and her young daughter. The body of the parachutist is recovered and found to be drained of blood and water via puncture marks. The slime is discovered to be radioactive.
A young couple go missing whilst swimming in the sea, so the beaches are closed-off and the navy send down divers to check the seabed. Two divers find a body, and that’s not all … There’s what appears to be a large semi-transparent object outside a cave. It looks like a balloon to me, but another good guess would be an egg. It’s lifted onto the boat just as a giant slug-like sea monster emerges from the cave and kills one of the divers. The other makes it to the boat, but is followed. The monster erupts from the water. The navy men attempt to fight it off. One of them manages to spear an eye and it sinks back into the sea.
The experts believe the creature to be some sort of mollusc. They have the egg in the laboratory at a constant temperature so that it doesn’t hatch. Of course, that translates to 'something is going to go horribly wrong and it will hatch!' Depth charges are set off in the region in order to destroy any other creatures or eggs, but they can’t assume success, so coastal patrols are organised. But the monster uses underground waterways to escape via the canal system. Not only does a mollusc monster emerge at one of the canal locks, but the egg in the laboratory hatches (told you so!) when the little girl – who really shouldn’t be wandering around navy intelligence – turns up the heating because she thinks the test rabbits are cold.
An old map of the canal system is revealed, showing well holes created by the Red Indians. This is where the creatures are congregating. Our hero goes down with another diver and places charges. One of the creatures (in reality, the only one!) simply watches them do this and only makes a move when they are leaving. The charges detonate and the mollusc monsters are destroyed. All but one, of course. Commander John Twillinger returns to the Navy Intelligence lab to find Gail and her little girl hiding, terrified, in a storage room. The monster hatched from the egg is breaking in. Twillinger uses a fire extinguisher and a broken heating pipe on the creature, before two men burst in with guns and end its ambitions.
So our monster of the piece didn’t exactly challenge the world; however, for the viewer it’s very enjoyable all the same. The film has structure and pace, as well as identifiable characters – which is all anyone can hope for. This one’s fun.
(original review Ty Power 2018)
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.
An old man’s wife has died and he is so grief-stricken that he walks out into the road and is killed himself. Two grave diggers are found dead and deformed. The police arrive at the graveyard to investigate, but Inspector Clay is killed when a strange dark haired woman with extremely long fingernails and the risen old man converge on him. Airline pilot Jeff Trent has his own close encounter with a UFO, both in the air and at home. More UFOs are being seen over major cities around the world. The military fire rockets at them and send jet fighters, to no avail. We learn that the alien objective is to use electrode guns to stimulate the pituitary glands of the recent dead to return them to a semblance of life (essentially zombie-like).
Paula Trent, wife of pilot Jeff, lives next to the graveyard (now there’s a coincidence), and when the dead old man gets into the house she runs, screaming, into the graveyard only to be pursued by the long-fingered woman and the newly-risen Inspector Clay (who at least looks a little scary). Paula is rescued by a passing motorist. Police, led by Lieutenant Harper, return to the graveyard to discover that Inspector Clay’s grave is empty. The military develop a machine which can translate recorded messages from the aliens, and send Colonel Edwards to the little town and graveyard where much of the activity is taking place.
The aliens lure Jeff and Paula Trent, Lieutenant Harper and Colonel Edwards to a flying saucer where a representative explains they are having to take drastic action to make the people of Earth listen to them, because messages have been ignored and saucer sightings covered-up. Now that Earth has developed the Atom and Hydrogen Bombs it is only a matter of time before it produces the Sol Bomb that explodes light itself, and that could destroy the universe (surely only the solar system?). The humanoid aliens plan to raise many more dead and have them overrun the cities. A fight breaks out inside the saucer and all of our heroes escape, leaving the flying saucer to take off in flames and explode in the air. It’s a victory of sorts, as the aliens have more spacecraft at their disposal. The logical speculation is they will be back at some time.
Plan 9 From Outer Space is generally known as being not only the worst example from this era, but one of the worst films of all time. There is certainly a problem with continuity and knowing when it’s day or night (even in the same scenes). Tor Johnson is one of the worst stilted actors when he has to speak normally as Inspector Clay, but is actually pretty impressive as an undead zombie – mainly down to his heavy built. Bela Lugosi (famous for his 1930s portrayal of Dracula) died during the making of this film, and was reportedly replaced by his wife’s doctor or psychiatrist who was quite a bit taller than Lugosi and, let’s face it, looked nothing like him. So the replacement is forced to walk around with a stoop and holding a cloak half over his face. Due to the order in which the scenes were shot, the ‘old man’ changes back and forth between Lugosi and his ‘double’.
Narration in the film is cringeworthy and, frankly, awful. The flying saucers each hang by a single string and wobble crazily, almost totally out of control. The alien space station décor and uniforms are reminiscent of 1930s Flash Gordon. The ‘old man’ quite illogically looks and acts like Dracula. The list of oddities goes on. The dialogue is also worth a mention, with some unintentionally hilarious moments like: ‘He’s dead. Murdered. And one thing’s for certain … Someone’s responsible!’
This film was, of course, written, produced and directed by Ed Wood, who became known for making mostly rubbish films. Vampira plays (believe it or not) the Vampire Girl, who wanders around the graveyard with her fingers extended as if imploring someone to cut her nails. The appearance of Bela Lugosi essentially reprising his Dracula role is both funny and sad. It demeans him and the character.
I’m not a fan of colourising films which were made in black and white, but I have to say my copy of the film has both options and the colour version is quite good. Is it the worst of the 1950s Sci-Fi Monster B-Movies? Almost certainly not, although it does suffer from countless shortcomings, so there is plenty to talk and laugh about.
(original review Ty Power 2018)
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.
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...
(original review Ty Power 2017)
A deformed man is found dead in the desert. He is diagnosed as having an ageing disease but, impossibly, it has accelerated beyond any previously recorded case. The local doctor, Matt Hastings, encounters an attractive young woman, Stephanie ‘Steve’ Clayton, who has arrived in town. Steve is the new assistant to Professor Gerald Deemer, who is working on a growth serum for animals in an attempt to alleviate the ‘fast growing’ population’s food shortage. The professor has his own problems. His previous assistant – the dead man – had injected himself with the serum , hoping to hurry along a successful outcome. However, the ageing disease sent him mad and much of the laboratory is burnt out and the test subjects lost. Two factors are as yet unknown to the doctor and Steve: the assistant had attacked the professor and injected him with the isotope-affected serum, and one of the test subjects – a tarantula – escaped and continues to grow.
Doctor Hastings bumps into Steve in town and offers to drive her back. They stop to waste a bit of time admiring a rock formation and are nearly caught in a polystyrene rock fall. As they drive away the giant tarantula waves a hairy leg over the area where the rock fall began. Meanwhile, Spidey stomps around, mainly at night, sucking the meat from the bones of cattle and horses. In fact, the scene wherein the huge spider comes over a hill and bears-down on a corral of terrified horses looks very impressive. Of course, it still takes the doctor and the pretty useless sheriff an age to put together the clues of growth serum, animal subjects, dead cattle (and later, people) and large pools of arachnid venom, and theorise about what might be happening.
The spider has an ulterior motive, it seems; after hiding over the horizon until our hero guesses what the danger is, it decides to take its gigantism woes out on the by now badly deformed professor. Or perhaps it just wants to go home and returns to its cage. Either way, it destroys the house. Steve escapes and is driven away by the doctor. They team-up with the sheriff’s men, but the not-so-Incy-Wincy spider is hot on their trail – and he’s about to get hotter.
When boxes of exploding dynamite doesn’t even slow it, the air force is called in and, when conventional missiles have no effect, napalm is used. Our monster of the piece goes out in a blaze of glory.
Anyone who has seen this movie will surely remember the iconic climatic scene where we see our heroes standing in the centre of town watching the spider approaching from the desert. It’s all done in the same shot and looks tremendous. Also, unlike some of the early films showcasing giant people or animals, this one doesn’t have the look of transparency. A solid man-playing-God monster movie.