19 Reviews (1 New)
A Dark and Scary Place
After the mysterious death of his brother, Harry Spalding and his wife Valerie inherit a cottage in a small Cornish village called Clagmoor Heath. Despite a couple of veiled warnings they decide to make it their new home. However, people are dying from what locals are calling the Black Death, but on closer inspection appear to be large reptile bite marks. The couple soon encounter Anna, a beautiful and exotic young woman who lives with her unpleasant father, Doctor Franklyn, in a large manor house not far away. But Franklyn has a valid reason to be over-protective towards his daughter, for she endures a powerful and evil curse, and both are in the thrall of the only man who can help but is the least likely to...
As a money saving experiment Hammer Films made four movies back to back in 1965 at Bray Studios and on location in Cornwall. As it turned out only one came in under budget. However, what it means is that these Seven Arts productions were paired-up and as a consequence shared some of the same actors, sets and locations - particularly on The Plague of Zombies and The Reptile. It’s always great to see Hammer main-stay Michael Ripper, who actually appeared in more titles than either Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. Jacqueline Pearce also acted in both films; in this one she balances the personality of a woman who just wants to have a normal life, with an alluring but inaccessible quality which is rather beguiling. Her reptilian make-up for the snake sequences are well-handled with quick cuts and good (subdued) lighting. There is only one scene wherein the camera lingers and the suspension of disbelief times-out.
Whilst not reaching the heights in terms of quality and script of The Plague of Zombies, The Reptile remains an interesting chapter in the Hammer historic library. There is much to enjoy, and for film buffs many talking points, such the sexual intensity of the Sitar playing scene, and the origins of the Snake Cult. Again, the restoration work for this Blu-ray release is exemplary. Other extras include another episode of World of Hammer (this time about Wicked Women), a trailer, and the excellent making of... featurette The Serpent’s Tale, which includes Jacqueline Pearce, film historian Marcus Hearn and the suitable enthusiastic horror fan, actor, writer and presenter Mark Gatiss.
I look forward to the forthcoming Blu-ray releases of The Devil Rides Out, Rasputin the Mad Monk, and The Mummy’s Shroud.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2012)
After a confrontation with the tribe’s leader, a man is made outcast from the Stone People. His life is later saved by a beautiful blonde woman from the Shell People. They make an instant connection, but their ways are different. The Shell People are more civilised, and when they cross paths with the Stone People a battle ensues. However, with strange predatory creatures all around them in an ever-changing dangerous environment, they have a greater, common enemy...
It’s a number of years since I last saw One Million Years B.C. It’s one of those films where the public conception lives on in your memory, rather than the actual plot, characters and movie itself. So, this is the one in which Raquel Welch runs around for an hour and a half in a furry bikini! It’s a misconception, because there is no great parading of her sexuality – any more than you would find in other examples from this era. The movie poster is actually a publicity photograph of her, and this is what has ended up in everyone’s subconscious mind: Bikini woman runs screaming from plastic dinosaurs!
In more than a few aspects this does the film a great disservice. Okay, so the plot isn’t brilliant; but what do you expect from prehistoric man: soliloquys from Shakespeare? A set-in-their-ways tribe meets a more mentally and socially advanced tribe. They clash, before coming together towards a greater goal. You could argue that this is a ‘rites of passage’ for mankind, and certainly for the more backward tribe. However, essentially it’s a bit of fun, as most people will be aware that man and prehistoric dinosaurs did not co-exist. I say ‘prehistoric’ because otherwise some overly pedantic wise-guy is going to argue that some dinosaurs exist today (turtles, rhinos, etc.)!
The costumes are actually very well made. Faux animal skins which look like they have been knife-scraped of fur. Though it’s more logical to assume they would have wrapped themselves entirely in animal skins for warmth, and shrugged them off to hunt naked. But that would be a totally different film! The sound effects are a little monotonous at times, like a pensioner clicking his false teeth, or an old fashioned typewriter clacking away incessantly. There is one particular sound reminiscent of a locomotive… The music score is iconic in contrast, and I wouldn’t be surprised if John Williams said it had influenced his incidental music on Star Wars.
The most outstanding aspect of this film is Ray Harryhausen’s brilliant stop motion effects. During the course of the movie we are entertained by a giant lizard, turtle and spider. We also get a Brontosaurus and a Triceratops fighting, a Ceratosaurus, an Allosaurus and a flying Pteranodon. Phew! It is these sequences in particular which have made One Million Years B.C. so famous. Let’s face it, Ray Harryhausen was a special effects genius in the days before CGI, with a career spanning from the original Mighty Joe Young right up to Clash of the Titans in the 1980s. This movie was Hammer Films’ biggest commercial success, which was a fine way to celebrate their 100th production.
This 50th anniversary release features a 4K restoration, along with interviews with Raquel Welch, bond girl Martine Beswick, storyboards and artwork from Harryhausen’s extensive collection, plus for the first time storyboards depicting an unfilmed Brontosaurus sequence.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2016)
"Why is it always so costly for man to move from the present to the future?"
The U.S. XY21 spacecraft to Venus crash lands upon its return to Earth. It hits the sea near a village off the south coast of Sicily. Fishermen witness the event. One of them checks-out an opening in the craft. There is a dead man inside, but two others are still alive and are removed before the spacecraft sinks. One of them dies from his injuries but the other - Colonel Robert Calder - survives.
Meanwhile, a young boy from the village finds a glass cylinder with something inside washed-up on the beach, and sells it to a local zoologist, Dr Leonardo and his beautiful daughter Marisa. It turns out to be a gelatinous form of egg which soon hatches into a tiny lizard-like creature standing upright on two legs, and with a semi-human-like torso. It is placed in a cage on the back of a truck, and by the next morning has more than doubled in size.
Military officials arrive to talk to the survivor of their clandestine trip to Venus. They tell the local Secretary of State the tale, and request his cooperation in supplying divers to search for the missing cylinder. The boy informs them about sale of the cylinder's contents to the zoologist, who is on his way to Rome with his daughter. When the tarpaulin comes loose from the back of the truck they stop to refasten it - only to stand in amazement as the even larger creature easily destroys the bars of the cage and escapes.
After scaring some horses and a flock of sheep the creature (Ymir) approaches a farm. In the barn two stallions rear-up and flee, and a number of live chickens are quite obviously thrown into the scene. While it is searching for food it is attacked by a dog. After a scuffle the dog is left badly injured but not dead. Calder and the other military catch-up with the farmer as he discovers the dog. As they are all attempting to coax the creature into a cart, the farmer stabs a pitchfork into its back and is in turn killed for his trouble. An attempt is made to lock it in the barn, but it breaks out through the side.
It is learned that the creature's main diet is sulphur, so they plan to search for the creature at the base of Mount Etna. Calder intends to drop an electrified net over the beast in order to capture it alive. Sacks or sulphur are dropped as bait, and the creature begins to eat. It is captured in the net and electrocuted to a state of unconsciousness. The creature is transported to a zoo in Rome, where it is studied by scientists. A press statement is released, and selected people are permitted to see the Venusian creature, which - due to the Earth's effects on its metabolism - is now 20 feet tall and continuing to increase in size.
While the creature is being scientifically tested, an accident causes it to regain consciousness and break free. There is mass panic from the public, particularly when the creature is confronted by an elephant. After a fight the elephant is left bloodied but alive. The creature escapes into city. As the military tracks it down, it bursts forth from the river, destroying a bridge, and heads for the Colosseum. It is attacked by soldiers and flame-throwing tanks. Bazookers and field guns are brought into play. The creature is harried to the highest point of the ancient ruins, and is finally brought down by destroying the stone structure to which it is left clinging. A sad end to a magnificent being.
Another early offering by stop-motion effects maestro Ray Harryhausen. This one is at least as impressive as The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms in terms of magnificent set-pieces. He injects otherworldly movements into his Ymir creature, and ensures it has its own look and identity. Make no mistake, Harryhausen was a genius; a master of his craft. Many monster movie film fans, such as myself, actually prefer the look of these painstakingly-filmed model creations than the coldness and at times cartoony look of CGI.
This is another film which, although perfectly fine, was greatly enhanced by Ray Harryhausen's loving labours. Having said that, the creature in 20 Million Miles to Earth is an innocent victim of events beyond its control. It is very much like Frankenstein's monster and King Kong in that respect and, as with those movies, you can't help having sympathy with its plight. The makers are very careful not to make this creature the aggressor. Therefore, it only fights when it is attacked first. With the instances of the dog and the elephant, it defeats them but leaves them alive.
This is an entertaining film, and the amount of extras make it even better. There is a Commentary with Ray Harryhausen; Remembering 20 Million Miles to Earth; Tim Burton sits down with Ray Harryhausen; Interview with Joan Taylor; David Schecter on the Film Music; Photo Galleries and Artwork; and the 20 Million Miles More Comic Book. The movie was made in black and white, but there is a choice to select whether to watch it in its original format or as a colourised version (black and white every time!).
The one with the Rat-Bat-Crab-Spider!
The MR-1 rocket ship to Mars has been out of contact for a considerable number of days. Now it has been picked-up by Earth and remotely brought back. There are only two survivors out of the four. Colonel Tom O'Bannion is very ill with a spreading skin infection, and Doctor Iris Ryan is suffering from exhaustion and also taken to hospital. To understand what they are dealing with and save the Colonel's life, the doctors need to know what took place on the Red Planet.
Many of the scenes take place on the set of the rocket ship interior. Then, for the Martian surface walks, everything is tinted a vivid red and yellow. The backdrops of rock formations and vegetation are basically drawn and pretty cheap-looking - only the heavy tinting saving us from looking too closely.
Most films from this era only feature one monster or alien for budgetary reasons, but this one makes certain we get our monster fix when Tom and Iris - along with Professor Theodore Gettel and Warrant Officer Sam Jacobs - get attacked by, consecutively, a man-eating plant, the infamous Rat-Bat-Crab-Spider (if you haven't seen this creature in action then you really need to), a humongous ameboid creature, and a three-eyed peeping tom Martian.
Our heroes, sans Sam Jacobs (easily the most interesting character) who dies trying to defend the others, attempt a take-off to flee the planet. However, the ameboid prevents this by attempting to absorb the ship. A plan is devised to electrocute the mass through the outer hull. When this begins to work, they make their escape. But the consequences of a rapid take-off is the death of the Professor, who it turns out has a weak heart. You mean savage attacks by three bizarre monsters didn't do the trick?
Predictably, this just leaves our hero the Colonel and his love interest the Doctor, which isn't unusual in these flicks. With a reported budget of only $200,000 and a deadline of just nine days, I believe this is a remarkable final product. Okay, it looks cheap and a bit Heath Robinson, but the tinting works well in covering-up the flaws. Most of all, it's great fun, and in hindsight that's the main objective for me.
(original review Ty Power 2020)
An Atomic bomb is tested near the Arctic Circle. Tom Nesbit is one of many who are monitoring the effects of the environment in the surrounding area. After an avalanche of snow injures a colleague, he witnesses the astounding sight of a huge prehistoric creature. Of course, afterwards nobody believes him. He visits Thurgood Elson, the world's leading paleontologist, who tells him the beast he describes couldn't possibly exist today. However, the man's beautiful assistant, Lee Hunter, produces dozens of drawings of dinosaurs from different eras and Nesbitt finally picks out what he saw. Of course, there is no other confirmation until a fishing vessel is destroyed at sea and the sole survivor identifies the same picture - a rhedosaurus.
A pattern of other incidents at sea lead the professor and his experts to conclude that the creature is making for New York, which is the location of the rhedosaurus ancestral breeding grounds. Initially telling the world the US Navy is on active manoeuvres to keep enquiring ships away, they are finally obliged to reveal the truth. Professor Elson and a Navy operator are lowered in a diving bell to get a closer look at the creature. They communicate that they can see the magnificent beast, before the radio goes dead and the complete diving bell and its two occupants are consumed by the beast.
Emerging in Manhattan, the colossal beast rampages through the streets, destroying buildings and cars. There are a couple of dry moments in this sequence, as a uniform cop seems to think he can take on the monster with one small pistol and, consequently, soon learns the error of his ways. In a barber shop the patrons simply stare as crowds of panic-stricken people flee past the shopfront window. The beast eventually returns to the sea, only to emerge again at Coney Island. The wounded beast drops blood which, through some kind of a virus, incapacitates many of the police and troops. They realise then that they can't use explosives on it through fear of spreading the virus through the air.
The beast ends up entangled in a roller coaster - itself like the bones of an old dinosaur. The creature's movements cause part of the structure to break and fall. Nesbitt and a crack marksman (played by Lee Van Cleef, best known for his Spaghetti Westerns with Clint Eastwood) ride a roller coaster car to the top with a radioactive isotope. The marksman fires the isotope into a would on the creature, and it writhes around in anger and pain preparatory to collapsing and dying.
Unfortunately, this thrashing causes the coaster cars and part of the track to fall, and the two men are obliged to gingerly climb down the unsteady structure to the ground. Lee falls into Nesbitt's arms, as the women often do in these films, but there is no mention of the radioactive and viral hazard of the dead creature.
This was stop-motion effects genius Ray Harryhausen's first film with full control, and timeless writer Ray Bradbury's first screen adaptation of one of his stories. Bradbury was brought in my the director to tighten and improve an existing script, only to find that it was very much like his short story The Fog Horn. It was realised the story had been inadvertently stolen and so Bradbury was quickly employed to make the script his own. This was a dream come true for both Bradbury and Harryhausen, who had first met when Bradbury was introduced as a boy and they had been close friends for a number of years.
The film was made to tap in on the 1952 re-release of King Kong, and to create their own 'monster on the loose'. In the same manner that John Carpenter unknowingly set the template for subsequent Slasher Horror movies, Ray Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury set the standard for a multitude of monster B-Movies that would follow. It was easy for a multitude of low budget enterprises to serve-up giant animals, insects, bygone creatures, and even humans. There would be an authoritative hero (usually an officer from the armed forces), a professor (an expert in the required field), and the professor's beautiful daughter or assistant (a love interest for our hero).
Although this film came before and had a lower budget than It Came From Beneath the Sea, it is in my humble opinion the better of the two movies. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms features a monster none of us have knowledge of (unlike the octopus of ICFBTS), and there are more and better set-pieces encompassing the monster of the piece: the Arctic appearance, the attacks on the ships and the diving bell, the impressive stomp through the streets of New York and snacking on some dockers, and the climatic scene with the rollercoaster. It should not be forgotten, however, that the central core of Bradbury's sad and poetic short story - the lighthouse itself - features in this movie, although to a much lesser extent.
Anyone with knowledge of Ray Harryhausen's output will tell you that, to all intents and purposes, he was the director of each film he worked on. To ensure that his high standard of work would mesh properly with live action, he also spend a lot of time with the actors on location, telling them in great detail what their characters were seeing and making sure at all times they looked in the right places and reacted accordingly. Sometimes this would mean running around with a ball on a long stick to show the eye-level of the beast.
This is a very enjoyable movie. There are some nice extras on the DVD release, too, with two good documentaries: The Rhedosaurus and The Roller Coaster: Making the Beast, and Harryhausen & Bradbury: An Unfathomable Friendship. There is also a Hidden Extra, and 4 Trailers
An old man who lives in a shack in the woods outside of town finds a meteor rock which has just fallen from space. When he prods it with a stick a gelatinous substance engulfs his hand. He runs across the road and is nearly hit by teenager Steve Anderson and his girlfriend Jane. They drive him to the doctor, who later watches helplessly as the substance totally takes over the old man until there is nothing left. His nurse is similarly consumed, forcing the doc to lock himself in an adjoining room.
The teens return from looking for clues at the scene of the meteor and the old man's house, to find the doctor's surgery in darkness. Rushing around the side, Steve sees through the window as the 'Blob' envelops the helpless doctor. When they report the incident, all that the sheriff's office find is a mess in a locked room. With no proof, the teens are accused of a prank. They are sent back to their respective parents until the next day.
Steve and Jane sneak out of their respective houses in the middle of the night (Steve making enough noise to wake the street, and Jane having a loud conversation of the stairs with her young brother). They ask for help from some other teens, but no one will take them seriously.
Steve and Jane find the Blob in a food store and are backed into a storage room. It starts to come under the door before conveniently retreating. Perhaps that's why they call them convenience stores! The teens set off horns and sirens to bring out the town's people. They think the Blob is in the store, but it is in the cinema, and it's grown very big. The people run screaming into the streets from the cinema.
Our heroes are trapped in the dinner, which is completely enveloped by the creature. The police attempt to electrocute the thing with power cables, but it doesn't work and the diner erupts in flames. In the cellar, the survivors realise Co2 extinguishers keep the Blob at bay with the cold. The local school is raided by the police and other teens for the extinguishers, and they manage to freeze the thing as Steve and the others escape the cellar.
It is not dead. No one knows if it can be killed. The inert Blob is dropped in the remote and extreme cold of the Arctic. We are safe... as long as the Arctic remains cold.
The Blob was supposed to be the B-Movie to a B-Movie. In other words, it was released as a double-bill with I Married a Monster from Outer Space, but test screenings proved The Blob to be the more popular of the two films. At this point the outlay for promotion was increased. Over the years it has garnered fond memories and familiarity with fans of films from this period. Every year in July cult film fans flock to Pheonixville in the US for Blobfest, a three-day film festival where they re-enact the scene from the movie when the audience flees in terror from the cinema.
Although Steve McQueen looks like the oldest teenager in history, this movie helped launch his career, and the career of music composer Burt Bacharach. The title song for the film, 'The Blob' was co-written by Bacharach and appears on his album, Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection. Because the teens themselves look like adults, the authority figures of the police, doctor and parents are made to look even older.
The Blob itself is well-realised. The effects are kept to a minimum so that, although there are plenty of moving images of the creature, it is made in the way that you think you see more than you actually do, in terms of people being attacked and engulfed. The film has heart, and shows off its quaintness and quirkiness. A remake in 1988 achieved nothing in capturing these moods. These B-Movies exist in their bubble of the 1950s and 1960s wherein they are king. It is only now with films like Big Ass Spider and It Came from the Desert that young filmmakers are creating their own B-Movies in this style.
In a discussion with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, astrophysicist Neil Degasse Tyson stated that among all Hollywood aliens the Blob was his favourite and most plausible alien character in science fiction.
A group of scientists embark on a boat trip to the Florida Everglades in an attempt to capture and study the infamous Creature From the Black Lagoon (or Gill Man, as they come to refer to it). However, there is already dissension in the ranks. Doctor Barton (Jeff Morrow), who leads the expedition, wants to practically dissect it for the purposes of medical experimentation and to ascertain how it breathes under water, in order to further space travel. Whereas another doctor is determined it should not be harmed, but only logged as a new species or missing evolutionary link. Further conflict comes in the form of Barton’s mistreatment of his wife, and her flirtatious manner in front of the other men. The Creature is tracked/leads the boat into its own territory where, cornered, it attacks its aggressors. After being stunned by a tranquilliser, it is accidentally engulfed in flame. Back in a lab, they discover that the Creature has lung tissue and that its massive burns have revealed somewhat humanoid characteristics. After it weakly attempts to escape, it is seen as the original monster certain individuals had condemned it as. But events which follow prove that Barton is more of a monster...
This is the third and last of what became the Creature Trilogy. There are elements of this film which I love, and others I have little or no time for. The early underwater scenes featuring the Creature (played by Ricou Browning) are beautiful to behold – particularly now the picture quality has been lovingly restored. The concept for this sequel quickly moves from intelligent prehistoric fish to Frankenstein’s Monster. After the marvelously sculptured mask is abandoned for the moral tale of the misunderstood ‘monster,’ we witness situations which tell the audience that the Creature is essentially sound in its ‘human’ values. The scenes in the pen are quite revealing in this respect. When a mountain lion enters the electrified pen by climbing an extending tree limb and dropping down to attack a sheep, the Creature steps forward to protect it and kills the lion. This gives Barton an idea, so that when he kills one of his wife’s suitors he drags the body into the pen to make it look like the Creature was at fault. As in all these stories, it is the real monster of the piece who gets his final comeuppance.
Unfortunately, the plot line which really ties this film to its 1950s origins is the character of Marcia Barton (Leigh Snowden). She exists only as a possession of her husband, and really shouldn’t be present at all. It was no doubt obligatory to have an attractive female part for the men to gush over, but it is unnecessary here as it means that virtually every scene which doesn’t feature the Creature is taken-up with dreary dialogue surrounding her supposedly inescapable sexuality.
On the whole, though, this is a solid enough film. It ends on an ambiguity. It’s mentioned during the plot that the Creature’s gills have been badly burned, meaning it is obliged to breathe air, rather than oxygen through water. However, the final shot sees the Frankenstein’s monster version of the Creature walking back into the water – the only home it knows. But will the Creature drown, or have its gills repaired themselves? We’ll probably never know.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2015)
There is a volcanic explosion at the Antarctic which somehow causes an iceberg to break up at the opposite end of the earth at the North Pole - releasing a gigantic creature. North of the border between Canada and North America, tracking stations monitor changes and, when contact is lost with one of these, Colonel Joe Parkman investigates. Strange long tracks are found which don't match any aircraft, and the place has been trashed. What appears to be a large claw is found, and it is taken to renowned paleontologist Dr Ned Jackson and his beautiful assistant Marge Blaine. The claw-like piece is identified as belonging to a praying mantis, but one which has to be of extraordinary size.
A plane is attacked in flight, and an Eskimo village is menaced, resulting in a comical scene wherein a slightly accelerated bit of film shows loads of Eskimos grabbing boats and frantically paddling out to sea. The giant insect is heading south and eventually arrives (surprise, surprise) at Washington D.C. After landing merely to turn over a train and a bus, and to peer in through a window at a couple of stunned security guards, it takes to the skies again - only to be shot at by a couple of US fighter planes. One of the aircraft collides with the flying mantis. The pilot ejects, and the injured creature takes refuge in the Manhattan Tunnel.
The tunnel is filled with smoke and sealed-off at both ends. Joe Parkman suits-up and, wearing masks, leads soldiers into the tunnel. They throw gas bombs at the mantis, and eventually it succumbs to the gas and dies. Marge is allowed in after the gas clears to take her headlining photograph of the astounding creature. However, she is nearly killed by the autonomic muscle reaction of the dead insect.
Some of the model work - particularly in the tunnel, on the monument and at the tracking station - is pretty good, but for a monster movie the scenes featuring the subject of the title are very few and far between. Most of the images of the mantis feature a sorry-looking fluttering, buzzing thing on a backdrop of stock footage. And talking of stock footage, there is a lot of it. I realise that a concerted effort was made to reduce the budget by this method, but I would venture to say at least fifty percent of this movie is incorporated stock film, and thereby at times dull and preachy.
There is a comical moment during the attack on the tracking station. Out heroes are inside and having a polite conversation whilst, unbeknown to the characters (who must have had their blinkers on), the mantis looks in through the window. Marge walks past the window at least three times before seeing it, and her associates are all facing in that direction.
Ray Bradbury's and Ray Harryhausen's The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms has a lot to answer for. In the same way that John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) set the template for subsequent horror slasher films, Beast (1953) set the standard for giant monster/creature flicks. This film has exactly the same plot and direction as Beast. Therefore, we have the military officer hero, the professor and his beautiful assistant (who is the love interest for our hero), the giant animal or insect heading towards what would have been its natural environment in prehistoric times and causing havoc all along the way.
(original review Ty Power 2020)
A remote Scottish inn is rudely awakened by the arrival of an escaped prisoner, who killed his wife. Doris at the inn is his ex-lover and protects him by announcing the man as a stranger. Other guests include Miss Preswick, a model hiding from a stalking ex-partner, and a journalist who, with a professor, is on the trail of a meteor which is supposed to have landed nearby. The latter two attempt to leave for a telephone in the next village (the inn's one is currently out of order), but the car refuses to start.
There is a strange loud noise and they all go outside to see what appears to be a flying saucer land (the simple model looks smooth in the first shot and positively shaky in the next; a little bit of editing wouldn't have gone amiss here). The flying saucer is red hot and no one can approach it. Bizarrely, they all go back inside, as if the excitement is over. The on-the-run villain, is recognised by the reporter. He runs away, but Doris hides the man in a storeroom.
A woman dressed in black PVC emerges from the spaceship and kills the inn's handyman with a ray gun. Doris appears to be in a catatonic state of shock. The woman from the craft appears in the doorway of the inn and announces herself as Nyah, from Mars. She removes Doris from her hypnotism, and explains all too freely that this is her first visit to Earth. She was on a course for London, but a collision with a meteorite sent her off-course and to an unscheduled landing in the Highlands of Scotland.
There was a devastating war on Mars between the sexes, culminating in the development of the Perpetual Motion Chain Reaction Beam (eh?). Women became the rulers of Mars, but the men fell into decline - and now Nyah has come to take back some strong men to perpetuate the species. She threatens to prevent objection by freezing movement over a large area, in the same way she had frozen Doris.
Nyah returns to her ship, raising an invisible wall behind her. She then returns, taking the handful of people from the inn to just outside her spacecraft to perform a demonstration of power. It is a robot - and a pretty naff and clunky-looking one at that. It zaps a tree, making it disintegrate, and does the same with a truck. Our villain has climbed out of the storeroom window and is watching from the barn. He just manages to run before the robot disintegrates the barn, too.
Nyah hypnotises him, and uses the opportunity to kidnap a young boy from the inn. The professor is invited to the ship to see wonders and powers beyond the imagination. But all she does is explain how her spaceship works. "We've done enough talking," says the reporter at the inn. Never a truer word spoken! He offers to exchange himself for the little boy. Nyah returns to the ship with the journalist , but when he attempts to control the robot, she threatens to kill them all. She decides to take a guide who can help her when the ship has repaired itself and travels to London. They draw lots to decide who is going. It falls to the reporter, but the prisoner goes instead. The ship takes off but explodes at high altitude. The professor had described the power source and the prisoner had sacrificed his life to save everyone else's, by causing the propulsion system to explode.
This is the one with the dominatrix; it's not just the attire, it's the whole demeanor. Had she placed a foot on a male character's chest, it would have sealed the deal. She portrays a very domineering Martian with very little to back it up. Her ray gun essentially does away with the need for a robot that pretty much achieves the same effect. But who doesn't like a silly robot in these films?
Devil Girl From Mars is a London Films (International) release from British Lion Films. It's clear that there is very little budget at play, as the story is very talky, and everything takes place in the inn (mostly in one room), and a few steps outside - like an Agatha Christie novel wherein the killer is among the potential victims. Rather than creating atmosphere through claustrophobia, however, this simply dulls-down the proceedings to the point of repetition . Nyah arrives at the inn, goes back to her ship, returns to the inn, goes back to her ship, returns to the inn, and goes back to her ship. Did I mention that she returns to the inn? And she does this many more times than I can do it justice here. Presumably, it keeps her fit, though. Each time, she appears dramatically framed in the open French windows, with the weird logic that if it looks good the first time, it will look even better after a dozen times. All that the guests at the inn had to do was lock the French windows and Nyah would have been stymied!
However, you can't apply logic to most 1950s Monster B-Movies. If Nyah had remained in her spacecraft until it had repaired itself, she could have carried on to London and bored them all to death. Instead, rather than taking the two young men at the inn and returning home, she chooses to tell them everything - thereby giving them information enough to defeat her.
Although placed straight, there are a couple of genuinely funny lines: "Come on. While we're still alive we might as well have a cup of tea." And particularly, "Mrs Jamieson, may I introduce our latest guest, Miss Nyah. She comes from Mars." "Och! That'll mean another bed."
(original review Ty Power 2020)
Professor Jarrod is an expert wax sculptor who runs an exhibition of the macabre. His financial partner wants to pull out of the venture, so Jarrod arranges for an interested businessman to buy-in. But his current partner can't wait the required three months for the money, so he sets light to the place for the insurance pay out. Jarrod tries to stop him but, after a fight, finds himself trapped in the building attempting to save his life's work. He is assumed dead; however, Jarrod returns as a crippled, twisted representation of his former self, and kills the arsonist by making it look like suicide. When he kills the man's lady friend, he is seen by her room mate. Later, miraculously looking fine except for being wheelchair-bound and possessing gnarled, useless hands, Jarrod opens a new House of Wax under another name. The Chamber of Horrors depicts lifelike figures of recent violence. The unsuspecting earlier witness is invited to model for a cast, until she notices that a figure looks a little too like her murdered friend...
This is undoubtedly a superb film for it's time (1953), which still stands up well today. The fight sequence between Jarrod and his former partner is a little over-dramatic, but what film wasn't in that era? The performances are solid (Vincent Price was no less than excellent is nearly every part he played), there's no padding, and the plot makes for an enjoyable 84 minutes. There's even an Intermission inserted into the middle of the film, and it's still there now. Originally, House of Wax was screened in 3-D, hence the nonsensical lingering on the man with the bat and attached elasticated ball at the opening of the new museum. As a point of interest, Charles Bronson plays Igor, Jarrod's deaf-mute assistant.
You could pick holes in House of Wax if you really wanted to. There are a few quirky or silly comments, and the epilogue is entirely superfluous to requirements. Also, near the conclusion, all the police rush from the station to the museum, leaving a drunken criminal behind by himself. Nevertheless, this is a great film, and I find a modern remake by a Hollywood incapable these days of inventing a new story to be completely unnecessary.
Extras on this DVD include Round the Clock Premiere, in which black and white footage of personalities of the time visiting the screenings is seen. It's amazing how some so-called starlets react the moment they realise a camera is on them (cue tilting of head and fluttering eyelashes). Also included on this single disc is the 1933 film Mystery of the Wax Museum, starring King Kong's Fay Wray, upon which House of Wax is based. It's valid only as an interesting reference; it's a perfectly fine movie, almost scene for scene the same as House, but has not had the picture or sound cleaned-up. At least this 1953 Vincent Price version doesn't have the feel of a Chicago gangster flick.
( Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2005 )
An atomic submarine is on its maiden voyage when the crew pick up a large, dark shape closing on them fast. They also detect a strong radiation trace. When they finally surface and limp back to port, it is to discover a substance caught-up in the propellers.
Here, Commander Pete Matthews meets Professor Lesley Joyce, the Head of Marine Biology at the Institute of Oceanography. He feels an immediate attraction. The substance is found to be part of a huge octopus from the depths of Mindanao Deep, awakened and brought to the surface by recent atomic testing. The Navy Admiralty is informed but, initially, they don't take it too seriously. However, the creature attacks another vessel, leaving only a handful of survivors. When one of them tells his story he is carted-off to see the psychiatrist. Consequently, the others deny they saw anything.
Lesley Joyce and her associate Doctor John Carter are due to leave on a research trip, but when news of the attacked vessel reaches them the navy cancels their release. Lesley gets the full story from one of the survivors, and suddenly the search is on for the creature. Officially, the US Navy tells the world that they are carrying out exercises in the Pacific, but when the word gets out they are obliged to tell the truth. Any number of depth charges and aircraft fly-overs fail to locate the beast.
There is an incident at Harper's Cove; they find a car turned over and large circular prints in the sand. Curiously, Commander Matthews decides to go swimming for fish. All of the fish have been scared away from the area by the radioactive field surrounding the creature. The gigantic octopus makes another appearance that night, and they report on its direction. The coastal Pacific waters are mined and the nearby Golden Gate Bridge is closed as San Francisco waits for the imminent arrival of the behemoth.
A special torpedo is adapted to penetrate the monster and fragment, blowing it apart. The Commander and Professor Joyce drive to the bridge. Doctor John Carter is already there. The huge octopus is wrapped around the bridge and pulling it apart. Matthews saves Carter from being killed. The public is instructed to remain in their homes, but there is a certain amount of panic with rubber-neckers. The creature is in the docks area and destroying everything around it. Matthews commissions a submarine, taking Carter with him, but it is necessary to drive the creature back underneath the sea. The army achieves this using flame throwers.
It works . The submarine is able to successfully fire a torpedo into the octopus. However, the octopus grabs the submarine and it is stuck fast. Matthews dons his diving gear and shoots a harpoon at the creature. But he is injured. Carter goes out next and finds a sensitive area which makes the creature release its hold on the submarine. The two divers manage to flee the area as the torpedo is detonated. The creature is no more. But are there more of them out there?
This is one of those films which would be average at best if not for the fantastic stop-motion work of early effects supremo Ray Harryhausen. Quite frankly, the guy was a genius and I can't sing his praises highly enough. The plot itself is a generic one for this period: the military tracking and destroying a monster which has inadvertently been causing damage and loss of life. The budget was pretty low, but a step-up from the penny-pinching of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (which, ironically, was a much better movie).
Ray Harryhausen made some preliminary sketches of what he needed to achieve with his monster scenes, and then went to carefully study the rolling movements of octopuses to ensure that his model was as realistic as it was able to be. There is a long-standing joke among fans who say that the octopus only had five tentacles. This was true, but not through any mistake. Harryhausen had to construct what he could with the restraints of time and money, An octopus would never have all eight tentacles in the air at once, as it would need most of them for balance and movement in the water. As with all myths and legends, this one got further exaggerated to only four tentacles. Harryhausen, even by this time, had such a status that he was left alone by the film executives to weave his magic, sending periodic clips to show where he was at.
There are some nice extra features on this two-disc remastered DVD set: A Commentary by Ray Harryhausen and Visual Effects Artists Randell William Cook, John Brono and Arnold Kunert; David Schecter on the Film Music's Unsung Hero; A Present Day Look at Stop-Motion; A Digital Sneak Peek of It Came From Beneath the Sea...Again! Comic Book; Video Photo Galleries; and Original Ad Artwork.
The best extra feature, however, is Remembering It Came From Beneath the Sea - Tim Burton Sits Down With Ray Harryhausen. Gothic director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, Batman, Mars Attacks!, and countless more) made a very good documentary film in 2011 (just two years before his death) called Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan. Here, he talks to the great man primarily about his three films Earth Vs The Flying Saucers (showing some of the models), 20 Million Miles to Earth, and this one - as all three had just been colourised. Burton asks Harryhausen if he agrees with the process, to which the latter replies that they would have been made in colour originally had they possessed a higher budget. I can understand Burton's question though, as I'm of the school that they should remain black and white if they were made that way. An advantage of this set though is that you get the choice of viewing either, and can even flick back and forth mid-movie.
(original review Ty Power 2020)
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...
I absolutely adore watching the 1950s and 1960s SF Monster B-Movies. They are so much fun. Just disengage your logic circuits and go along for the ride. This one from 1953, directed by Jack Arnold, finds it difficult to sustain itself over the running time. Arnold went on to make better movies, such as Creature From the Black Lagoon, and The Incredible Shrinking Man. What this film does have going for it is the phenomenal writing skills of the sadly missed Ray Bradbury. The screenplay is credited to Harry Essex, who wrote Creature From the Black Lagoon, but the truth of the matter is that the finished product incorporates the whole of Bradbury’s script and the dialogue as written. In fact, he had put forward two proposals for the alien – one wherein it is malicious and the other benign – and was pleased when the latter option was chosen. This decision ultimately influenced Steven Spielberg when he made Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
There is an uncredited music soundtrack by Irving Gertz, Herman Stein and in particular Henry Mancini, the winner of four Academy Awards, a Golden Globe, twenty Grammy Awards, and a Posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. As one of many ‘firsts’ in this film an electronic theremin is utilised for the weird moments. And talking of awards, the actors are pretty solid in their roles (you have to remember this is 1953 and attitudes were different). Ironically, my instinct is that Barbara Rush’s portrayal of Ellen is the weakest, and yet in 1954 she won a Golden Globe for most promising female newcomer for her role in the film. So, what do I know?
As in most low-budget films from this era, there are a couple of humorous moments. When John Putnam first encounters the spacecraft he hears what sounds like snoring. No wonder the ship crashed; the alien obviously fell asleep at the wheel. Sight of the creature in the desert scares the wildlife, including an owl who, bizarrely, does a backflip. John’s car obviously does good miles to the gallon, too, because he spends most of the film driving back and forth across the desert between his house or the town and the crash site or mine entrance. For me, the spookiest moment of the movie doesn’t involve the alien – which, let’s face it, is pretty basic and added as an afterthought – but when John comes across George and Frank, the first two men to be copied in a darkened doorway. In this version, they have actually left in the Intermission screenshot, too.
It is obvious that It Came From Outer Space was filmed for 3D cinema, as many of the shots not only have movement coming towards the camera, but incorporate mid-screen movement, with striking foreground and depth-of-view in the background. It was also the first of these films to have the alien’s perspective. It’s not a classic, but it is certainly worth a look. It has some of the most convincing dialogue of this genre. I have been asked if there is a dream sequence featuring John seeing the missing Helen as he remembered her, but I can confirm that there is only the appearance of the copied Helen who he follows to the mine entrance.
Extras include a Feature Commentary by Film Historian Tom Weaver; The Universe According to Universal: An Original Documentary on It Came From Outer Space (this is quite a basic featurette, which shows more clips of This Island Earth than ICFOS; Theatrical Trailers in 2D and 3D; and Poster Gallery.
(original review Ty Power 2020)
Georges Bonnet is a doctor and skilled sculptor in Paris. His masterpieces are busts (yes, in both senses of the word) of young women which he refuses to sell. In fact, his basement contains many of them. The truth is Georges harbours a dark secret. He sends for a professor colleague to perform an operation to replace a gland. In doing so, it will further prevent his ageing (he is currently 104, though his body remains that of a 30 year old). Unfortunately, the professor is too old and frail to carry out the procedure, and so he is obliged to ask another surgeon (Christopher Lee), the suitor of Janine Dubois – the subject of his latest sculpture. When the surgeon refuses, Georges resorts to kidnapping and blackmail...
This is an unsung classic from Hammer Productions, which dates back to 1959. Rather than Lee, it is Anton Diffring who plays the protagonist in a role not too dissimilar to the one he played in Circus of Horrors. However, this is an infinitely superior film. Diffring is an unusual choice to play a suave Dorian Gray-like abomination of nature. However, this is not a horror in today’s widely accepted sense; it’s closer to a suspense thriller. In fact, apart from the necessity to kill to survive every ten years, Georges comes across as quite a sympathetic character. He even has the foresight and compassion to withhold his findings from publication because he fully realises how this will reflect on population growth and food shortage. Everyone around him takes the moral high ground, but the question investigated by this simple but effective script is, given Georges’ position, would you have the strength to forego treatment and die if you were given the chance of another ten years of healthy life?
The Man Who Cheated Death borrows from Jack the Ripper (for the opening scene), the aforementioned The Picture of Dorian Gray (in some ways the sculptures take the place of Oscar Wilde’s picture, as they represent the killed women who have kept him alive), and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (for the sequences involving the serum which, after the ten years has expired, prevents his reversion to old age over six hour intervals). The scene in which he begins to revert consists of slightly bulging eyes and a sickly pallor like he has the onset of jaundice. So, not much visual horror on display. However, this being a Hammer film, there just has to be a dramatic climax to see-in the closing credits. In this instance, we have Georges’ rapid ageing-to-death amidst a raging fire.
This could so easily have been mediocre material, but for the tight script by Jimmy Sangster and the clever direction from Terence Fisher – a great team and both mainstays of Hammer. Even Christopher Lee gets a rare opportunity to play against type, in what seems like a dry run for his part in The Devil Rides Out.
Extras include an entertaining Interview with critic and author Kim Newman, and an Interview with film scholar Jonathan Rigby. There is also a Limited Edition Collector’s Booklet.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2015)
A major storm in Japanese waters causes a ship to run aground as they send a Mayday. Rescue teams search for bodies, but discover four survivors on an island which had been a testing site for atomic bombs and is considered a dangerous radioactive hazard. The survivors are tested and found to be completely healthy, apparently tended by unknown natives. A private expedition is arranged to return to the island. Here, they find two minute fairy-like women, but are warned away by the natives. The expedition returns with the agreement to mention nothing of the ‘Tiny Beauties’; however, the unscrupulous Mr Nelson captures them and returns to Tokyo to announce his money-making show. A reporter who had helped to keep the story quiet sneaks into the show to attempt to help the islanders. The ‘Tiny Beauties’ sing and dance in the show, but they are strong telepaths and in reality sending a distress signal asking Mothra for help. On the island, the natives perform their own ritual dance in front of a gigantic egg, which begins to hatch. Mothra emerges and is soon making its way across the sea towards Tokyo, and allowing nothing to stand in its way or block progress – including a ship and a fleet of bombers. It causes destruction in the city, before being cornered at Tokyo Tower. Here, it cocoons itself and is thought dead by the populace after Atomic Heat Canons are used. However, the now more powerful winged Mothra emerges. Can the journalist save the ‘Tiny Beauties’ known as Shobijin, catch the perpetrator and save Tokyo before the city is totally destroyed...?
I am a big fan of 1950s and 1960s Monster B-Movies. This Japanese Creature Feature emerged in 1961 to acclaim which has steadily grown over the years to cult status and inevitable sequels. You would expect it to be good considering it was directed by Ishiro Honda who made The Mysterians and the original Godzilla – and in fact, it’s better than good, it’s a classic of the genre. Honda’s movies are well known for his model work, but if anything he excels himself in the dramatic destruction elements. The disturbance caused by Mothra’s beating wings not only causes cars and even tanks to be blasted down the streets like the toys they are, but actually causes vibrations which break-up the buildings and then cause them to fall onto everything else. The set pieces are quite stunning for their time: the scenes at sea, the breaking-up of the dam, the streets of Tokyo, and the destruction at Rolisica (effectively a fictitious stand-in for America and Russia) are all very impressive. Only the tanks are a little bit jerky in their movements.
However, this film is not simply about scenes of disaster. It has a certain psychedelia about it, which is highlighted by the fact it’s in colour. On the island, in particular, there are vivid colours and a nice choreography of distance shots showing the dancing tribal coordination of the natives. There is a nice structure to the movie, which incorporates many more aspects than a simple monster fest. I have to say that the Mothra song sticks in your head for some time after the experience. The song brings the beast, but it is a protector rather than a destructor. So Mothra has a theme which makes you root for it even more. The ritual singing and dancing makes at least a part of this movie a musical – strange as that seems. I have seen this film several times over the years, the last time being as part of the excellent Killer B’ Movie collection. Each successive viewing seems to improve my opinion of it. This Eureka Entertainment release as part of their Masters of Cinema collection is Mothra’s first outing on Blu-ray. There is a Limited Edition set of only 4000 copies in a Hardbound Case, with a 60-Page Perfect Bound Collector’s Book, and Reversible Poster showing the Japanese or US artwork.
You have the choice of viewing the Japanese Version with English Subtitles (yes) or the shorter English Dubbed Version (no). There is an Audio Commentary with Film Historian and Writer David Kalat; an Audio Commentary with Authors and Japanese Sci-Fi Historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski; the entertaining Kim Newman on Mothra – an Interview with the Film Critic and Author; and Stills Galleries. A thoroughly entertaining film. Buy it.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2020)
The hidden tomb of the Egyptian Princess Ananka is discovered by John Banning, his father and his uncle. However, John cannot enter the tomb because of his injured leg. His father suffers a seizure inside and blabbers insanely about a mummy and the theft of the Scroll of Life. His father is eventually institutionalised, but even here he is not safe because an Egyptian who had warned them not to enter the tomb has animated Kharis, protector and ultimately avenger of the tomb's desecrators...
This 1959 film was Hammer's third major monster movie, after The Curse of Frankenstein and the excellent Horror of Dracula. At only 60 minutes, this example must have been the shortest of their releases. That's not necessarily a bad thing; the script is short and to the point, and even caters for a flashback to the princess's pilgrimage, death and laying to rest. Some, however, may argue this particular scene is a little long, as it utilises a large percentage of the over-all running time.
Christopher Lee (who else?) is seen as Kharis performing the rituals and sealing the tomb. It transpires that Kharis was in love with Ananka and secretly desecrates the tomb himself in an attempt to revive her using the Scroll of Life. For the crime he is bandaged-up and stuffed in a cupboard for all eternity, guarding her resting place and ready to punish other desecrators.
Lee is simply superb as the mummy of the title, emerging from a bog after an accident in transportation, and staggering/lurching menacingly but unsteadily, obviously not used to this walking lark. His performance as the Mummy is very convincing, considering he never utters a single word (a little difficult, I should imagine, having had his tongue cut out). A marvelous acting performance, displaying certain emotions with only his eyes.
The scene where he breaks into a cell in the sanatorium from outside has the appearance of being well-choreographed. It's quick and brutal. The camera stops short of showing the mummy get a leg-up the wall to the high window, which would have been so humorous I'd have paid good money to see it. I think this is the most convincing look and portrayal I've seen of a cinematic mummy. The Mummy/Mummy Returns of more recent years has no style in comparison.
As I’ve watched this film several times over the years, and reviewed the last DVD release way back in 2004, let’s concentrate on the special features. This time around we get a three-disc release. As I was only sent the two DVDs for review, I can only comment on those. However, I do believe everything which is on the DVDs is also incorporated on a Blu ray disc. On Disc 1 there is the original UK theatrical release of the film in the new aspect ratio of 1:66:1. There is an alternate full frame version with an aspect ratio of 1:37:1. There is also a new commentary by Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby, who are Hammer experts/historians.
Disc 2 holds some very nice extras: Unwrapping the Mummy – The Making of a Hammer Classic, is an entertaining new documentary. The Hammer Rep Company, describes the bit players who returned time and again (my favourites are Patrick Troughton and the unsung hero Michael Ripper, who appeared in more than thirty Hammer flicks). The House of Horror: Memories of Bray is another new documentary following the rise and fall of Bray Studios (this is the extras highlight for me; 45 minutes, and the family atmosphere just shines through). The World of Hammer Episode: Hammer Stars – Peter Cushing (I love Cushing, but this is just a load of clips; buy the films instead). There is a stills gallery; an industry promo reel, restored to HD; and a ROM PDF booklet by Hammer archivist Robert J. E. Simpson.
So, there is plenty to please the enthusiast. If you have the old DVD, that might suffice; but if you’re thinking about purchasing it for the first time – or you’re a Hammer fanatic – don’t hesitate, as this is one of Hammer’s strong releases. Go into a shop and say, “I want my Mummy.”
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2013)
Psychologist John Holden arrives in England from America, only to be informed that his contact, Professor Harrington has been killed in an accident. As part of his investigation into the occult, Harrington had been about to expose the eminent Doctor Karswell as a Devil-worshipping back magic cultist. Harrington’s daughter, Joanna, is convinced that Karswell had her father killed by summoning a demon. A practical man, Holden is wholly unconvinced. However, he does intend to continue Harrington’s work, and that includes looking into the affairs of Doctor Karswell. Unsurprisingly, he is warned off, but Holden is not easily scared. That is until he is passed a paper depicting runic symbols and told he only has three days to live. As the deadline fast approaches, he is finally forced to concede there are more things in hell and earth... But is there a way out...?
Fully restored, and for the first time on DVD, comes this black and white classic from the 1950’s. Jacques Tourneur’s film must have made quite an impression upon its first release, because it still resonates with intensity today.
The appearance of the demon is almost secondary to everything that comes before and after. Not many movies around this time played the supernatural story for real, with scientists, psychologists, hypnotism, and a strict, learned approach. Consequentially, it works very well as a psychological thriller, throwing ambiguity into the mix, and a sense of impending doom - of time running out.
The villain of the piece, Karswell, is gentlemanly, as most great perpetrators are; he is even seen entertaining local children as a clown of sorts on the grounds of his large estate. The plot motors along, using audience shocking sound and vision tricks of the trade that have become almost commonplace now.
The disc carries the original uncut UK film (95 minutes), and also the cut US version (82 minutes) which debuted under the title Curse of the Demon in 1958 as a double-bill alongside Revenge of Frankenstein. There is also a stills gallery. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the packaging as I only received the disc itself. Only a small percentage of the horror and science fiction output of the 1950s worked; those that did became film classics, and Night of the Demon is most assuredly one of them.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010)
Doctor Carlo Lombardi, the hypnotist and all-round bad guy in this movie, introduces himself with a voice-over and by staring-out a dog. He has warned that some representation of the occult will happen this night. His parlour trick is to supposedly regress people back to a previous life. He follows strange footprints to a beach house, where he finds two dead bodies. At a carnival, Lombardi keeps a young woman in deep sleep. But she is not a willing subject. He explains, rather arrogantly, that the two men were killed by a creature beyond time, who comes out of the water.
Doctor Erickson is a psychic researcher. He sees Doris as a friend - unlike Doris herself, who has aspirations for them as a couple. But he has a fascination for Lombardi's test subject, Andrea. Meanwhile, Lombardi regresses her, and the She-Creature rises from the sea to kill a carnival stall-holder who knows too much. Bizarrely, he doesn't even attempt to rise from his bed when a nightmare creature crashes through his door and attacks him. The police can't pin a connection on Lombardi, even though they know he's involved.
In front of guests at Doris's house, Lombardi - with Doctor Erickson being invited to prove him a charlatan - hypnotises and regresses his subject, Andrea. In the time of King James Stewart, she speaks as a lady who was called Elizabeth. However, he takes her back further, and a spiritual form which cannot be seen, rises. She has been taken back to the 'beginning' and is barely breathing. The She-Creature, invisible at first, rises from the sea and looms-up behind Doctor Erickson. However, the creature does not attack him, and disappears as Andrea wakes.
Although in thrall of Lombardi, Andrea hates the man and threatens to kill him. The experts are convinced it's nothing but a parlour trick. But Lombardi becomes famous to most, infamous to others. There is another killing at the beach but, again, no one can directly pin it on the hypnotist. Andrea finds the strength to resist Lombardi with the love of Doctor Erickson. By hypnotising the dog, Lombardi plans on having it kill Erickson, but Andrea confronts the dog and seeing something in her manner, the dog backs off.
There is another, final, demonstration. Telling Erickson that Andrea is recovering, he actually sends her deeper into regression. The She-Creature emerges from the sea again and kills the police detective. At the house, it kills Doris's father, but it refuses to kill Doctor Erickson - instead killing Lombardi. Erickson admits to himself for the first time that the creature is Andrea. The She-Creature returns to the sea where it is shot at, even though invisible now. Andrea herself recovers and will forever be free from the menace of the She-Creature. Presumably, now she and Erickson will have time to partake of some rumpy-pumpy.
The She-Creature is one of many excursions by executive producer Samuel Z. Arkoff into the realms of monster b-movies. The script - such as it is - was written by his brother-in-law, Lou Rusoff. The Creature costume (worn by Paul Blaisdell) is not exactly terrifying, but it is further let down by the fact that all of the actual killings take place off-screen. Thus, it is reduced to looming-up behind someone, or waving its 'arms' menacingly. The costume was used again the following year for Voodoo Woman.
Another problem is repeated scenes. Lombardi puts on a show in the same house more than once, the She-Creature emerges from and returns to the sea several times, and Doris half-heartedly attempts to seduce Erickson at every opportunity. Even the plot strand of Doris's father making money out of Lombardi's success can't hide the truth. The DVD film print is quite dark, but maybe this was achieved purposefully to cover the limitations of the Creature. I should also mention Marla English played Andrea, as she's halfway down the main list of credits in the film. For all of you animal lovers out there, the dog King was played by Spike. It's also interesting that Peter Lorre and David Carradine were offered a part in this movie, but turned it down - probably after seeing the script!
(original review Ty Power 2020)
Two policemen in a patrol car find a catatonic little girl walking through the desert. Down the road is a wrecked trailer. The general store is in a similar state. Here they find a dead body and spilt containers of sugar. They split up, and the cop who is left behind is killed by something outside. As an F.B.I. guy turns up to lend a hand, the medical examiner reports that the body was pumped full of formic acid.
Peterson the cop and Graham the F.B.I. man meet Dr Medford at an airfield. Medford is an expert on agriculture. He introduces his beautiful daughter and assistant, Patricia (Pat). One of the atomic explosions nine years before was in the area, and Medford has a theory. He manages to bring the little girl out of her catatonic state by waving a glass of formic acid under her nose. The girl screams "Them!" and attempts to hide.
A visit to the desert reveals several prints. A giant ant appears near Pat and her screams bring the others. They shoot the antennae, which disables its senses, and then manage to kill it. "And there shall be destruction and darkness come up on creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth."
They fly in helicopters over the area and discover the nest. However, Medford stops them from destroying it. They must wait until the hottest part of the next day, when all the ants should be inside to keep cool. They can then flood the nest or 'fire' it to drive them further down inside, and then drop cyanide to kill them. Descending into the nest they find lots of dead giant ants, and a live one which attacks them from another chamber. In the queen's chamber they find two empty eggs. These would have been winged ants... new queens which can hatch thousands of eggs. The priority is to find the queens before they can establish their colonies and lay their eggs. If they don't, mankind will be displaced as the dominant species within a year.
The S.S. Viking sends an S.O.S. that it is being attacked by flying ants, and is purposefully sunk to prevent any eggs hatching. In Los Angeles, a 40 ton sugar load goes missing. At the same time, a man is found with his arm severed and other hideous fatal injuries. His two children are missing. A drunken witness says he saw giant ants near the river, and a search is intensified in sewer drainage system.
Cue convoys of troop-carrying trucks and army jeeps (many of them the same ones!) enforcing a curfew on the streets and guarding storm drains, attentive for activity. The search is on for the two missing children. A jeep driver crawls through the tunnel after hearing noises. Ants are attempting to get to the two boys, and the ceiling is falling in. He flames two ants and attempts to escape with the boys. He pushes them into a crawl tunnel, but is caught and killed himself by a new arrival. The army turns up and kills a number of ants. The objective from Professor Medford is to find the egg chamber and discover if any new queens have hatched. The nest is quickly found with two new queens. They are torched with flame throwers before they can escape and lay new eggs.
Them! is commonly remembered as 'the one with the giant ants' - but it deserves a lot more recognition. It's played straight and with conviction, the only real humour being when the drunk is questioned about seeing a giant ant. Of course, the ants themselves are realised in the best way they can be considering the restriction of the budget. The antennae are floppy and the eyes bulbous. One victim is obliged to literally throw himself into the mandibles of an attacking ant, just to make it look more convincing. Yes, it has its restrictions, but Them! is a well-made movie, which was successful and impactful enough to spawn a multitude of other giant creature features from a host of production companies.
Again, the mutations are the result of atomic testing in the Nevada Desert. Professor Medford speculates on what other monstrosities might have been created by subsequent testing. There are some nice quotes in this film. When a discussion between scientists and the military gets bogged-down in technicalities, we get: "Why don't we all talk English, then we'd have a basis for an understanding." Perhaps the best quote is: "We haven't seen the end of Them. We've only had a close view of the beginning of what could be the end of us."
The DVD extras include some test footage of the ants. Great stuff! The picture is nicely cleaned-up, too. One of the crisper-looking films from the period.
When contact is lost with Midwich, a high-ranking military man drives to the village to discover what has happened to his friends the professor and his wife. It seems the entire population, both humans and animals, have simply passed-out. No one can enter the outskirts without suffering the same fate. After several hours the people begin to regain consciousness with no knowledge of what has taken place. When the professor's wife learns she is pregnant she is delighted, but then it is revealed that every woman young enough has conceived. They all give birth to strange and highly-developed babies. As young children they are extremely advanced and possess mental abilities such as mind reading and compelling individuals against their will. It seems that colonies of similar children have been born in other countries, and such were their powers that the authorities were obliged to destroy entire regions to wipe them out. Can the professor reach them on a personal level or will he be forced to take similar action...
Village of the Damned is based on the excellent Midwich Cuckoos book by John Wyndham, and is equally entertaining in its interpretation. George Sanders plays the professor with a calm and methodical assuredness, and Barbara Shelley avoids the normal penchant of this time for dramatic and hysterical overacting. There's a feeling here that every scene is important or even critical to the whole, and the film succeeds by having the first major event happen before the titles even appear and then lifting the closing credits immediately after the climax. In other words, Village of the Damned starts, tells the story concisely, and then finishes, with no sign of padding anywhere in the script. Quite simply it's a masterpiece.
A couple of minor points: Why is the church bell tolling 11:00 am when there's nobody conscious to ring it? And where did they find such a brilliant dog (played by Bruno!), who made all the right actions and reactions without looking in any way excited or directed? I remember reading once somewhere that there was a curious debate over whether the children's eyes lit-up when they took over someone's mind (apparently, they do in one version of this film but not in another). Well, I can tell you that here they shine in all their glory.
As a huge fan of John Carpenter's work you might expect me to say that his remake of Village of the Damned (starring Christopher Reeve in his last role before his accident) is everything this original is not. That's not the case. Carpenter's film was only made because he was offered the money; a purely business enterprise, which is okay, but you have to wonder why anyone bothers to remake a classic film when it can only be worse (Assault on Precinct 13, anyone?). 9
In Children of the Damned, a series of intelligence tests carried out on children across the country reveal one such subject to be outstandingly gifted. When other countries perform similar tests five more similarly talented children are revealed. They are brought to London for further study, but when a government man plans to spirit the English boy away for experimentation the six children group together in an abandoned church. Two men arrive to recapture the children but are attacked with resonating harmonics. The world powers realise the danger of children who know each other's minds, and if they can't possess them as a weapon for their respective countries then they are prepared to destroy them. Then a professor discovers via a blood sample that the children are human, perhaps advanced by evolution a million years.
Based loosely on the situations created for John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos, comes this original sequel to Village of the Damned. This time we have a United Nations of representative children, with Paul, Mi Ling, Nina, Ago, Rashid and Mark harking from different countries which see the potential for their use as weapons. It's very much the same idea as Village, with the youngsters grouping together for strength and support. However, this time there's little sense of the eeriness and fear felt by others in their presence. Also, because there are no UFO Ed Straker-like silver-blond wigs there's no feeling of the children being a strange breed of their own.
Children in itself is an eminently watchable film without a great deal really happening during its running time, the conclusion reminding me of many a 1950s B-movie cold war solution of blowing-up what you don't understand. The first film is the classic, but it certainly makes sense to package these together. Bizarrely, the only extra on these discs is a James Dean Collection trailer (eh?!), but don't let that deter you from buying what amounts to a fabulous couple of films. 7
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2006)
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