🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1956 — Part One

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BODY SNATCHERS, MAN BEASTS AND MOLE MEN

1984

1984 (1956)

Will Ecstasy Be a Crime… In the Terrifying World of the Future?

Directed by Michael Anderson, the film is based on the novel by George Orwell that tells of a totalitarian future society in which a man whose daily work is rewriting history, rebels by doing the unthinkable– he falls in love. 1984 stars Edmund O’Brien as clerk Winston Smith of The Ministry of Truth for the Outer Party who refuses to accept the totalitarian state of 1984, where all the citizens are under surveillance at all times. When Winston meets Julia they bask in their physical pleasures outside of the watchful eyes of Big Brother but are betrayed by a member of the Inner Party, O’Connor (Redgrave). Each state functionary must adhere to their designated positions and Redgrave gives a superb performance as a proud drone who possesses a drive as he demonstrates his responsibilities to the state.

The underrated Jan Sterling plays Julia of the Outer Party, David Kossoff is cast as Charrington the junk shop owner. Co-starring in the film are Melvyn Johns as Jones, Donald Pleasence as R. Parsons, Carol Wolfridge as Selina Parsons, Ernest Clark as Outer Party Announcer, Patrick Allen as Inner Party Official, British character actor Michael Ripper as Outer Party Orator and Kenneth Griffith as the prisoner.

It was in 1954 that Nigel Kneale (writer creator of the Quatermass trilogy, The Quatermass Xperiment 1955, First Men in the Moon 1964, The Witches 1966, Quatermass and the Pit 1967, The Woman in Black 1989 first adapted George Orwell’s dystopian ordeal for BBC television starring Peter Cushing as Winston Smith.

Director Michael Anderson (who would later take on another futuristic cautionary tale, Logan’s Run 1976) unveils Orwell’s bleak vision, it’s passage of vigilance, yet it has been criticized for lacking the deeper essence of his novel and the gravity of its contributions – a premonition of things to come. The ferocious inclinations of man that creates- Big Brother. A destiny intent on tyranny, depersonalization, the all watchful eye of the totalitarian state and the loss of free will.

There were two endings made. The British release that presents Winston Smith (O’Brien) defying Big Brother and dying for his principals. The American version has lovers O’Brien and Sterling brainwashed, reconditioned and ultimately abandoning their relationship.

“Thus, in place of Orwell’s savage satire on the rise of the authoritarian state ( and specifically Stalinism), producer Rathvon and Anderson mount a vapid romance in which beefy O’Brien and mousey Sterling are clearly intended to represent the undying spirit of rebellion. Even the drabness of life in Oceania that Orwell creates so convincingly, is lost in the film which, like so many literary adaptations, centers on the slim storyline of the novel.” -Phil Hardy

 

The Beast of Hollow Mountain

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One Day After A Million Years It Came Out Of Hiding To… Kill! Kill! Kill!

Directed by Edward Nassour and Ismael Rodriguez. Starring Guy Madison as Jimmy Ryan, Patricia Medina as Serita, Carlos Rivas as Felipe Sanchez, Mario Navarro as Panchito, Pascual García Peña as Pancho, Eduardo Noriega as Enrique Rios Julio Villareal as Don Pedro and Lupe Carriles as Margarita.

In Bill Warren’s rich overview Keep Watching the Skies, he talks about Willis O’Brien being passionate about both Westerns and monster flicks. O’Brien expected to do the stop motion animation, after he sold his story Beast of Hollow Mountain. The film allowed his idea of merging his love of cowboys and dinosaurs, and uses the traditional themes applied in the Western genre, that of rivalry for love, cows, horses and/or land.

The process the visual effects department used including Nassour’s stop motion animation is called ‘replacement animation’ which utilizes a series of different sculptures.

The Beast of Hollow Mountain tells the story of an American, Jimmy Ryan (Madison), who owns a ranch in Mexico and finds himself having to gather evidence that will prove he is innocent of killing his rival, Enrique Rios (Eduardo Noriega) who bares a grudge against him and his partner Carlos Rivas (Felipe Sanchez). Rancher Ryan also steals Sarita (Medina) who Rios is about to marry. Suddenly Ryan’s cattle begin to disappear after Sarita stands Rios up on their wedding day.

Ryan suspects Rios of being responsible for his cattle disappearing, but in truth, they are being devoured by a prehistoric dinosaur. Of course the superstitious locals tell him about the legend of a gigantic monster that dwells  in the swamp around Hollow Mountain, so he goes on a mission to prove the giant lizard exists and is responsible for the death of Enrique Rios. While chasing a local boy (Marjo Navarro) hunting down the swamp monster who has killed his father, Sarita becomes trapped in a hut while the giant Allosaurus tears the roof off and threatens to eat her. Ryan comes to the rescue!

In adapting this script to the screen, the Nassour’s writer Jack Hill used elements of both O’Brien’s Hollow Mountain story and of his “Valley of the Mist”/”Ring Around Saturn” Instead of a giant lizard, the Allosaurus from “Valley” was used as the menace and was substituted with a Mexican setting. The result was a U.S.-Mexican co-production and was shot entirely on Mexican locations. -Bill Warren

Don Pedro-“Well, maybe that’s your answer. That swamp is a very mysterious and sinister place.”

The Black Sleep

The Terror Drug That Wakes the Dead! –Out of the evil brain of a twisted scientist comes a fantastic robot army – crushing all barriers…feeding on beauty – lusting to claw the world apart!

Rising from the depths of black hell…!

This Psychotronic horror/sci-fi hybrid is directed by Reginald Le Borg (Calling Dr. Death 1943, Weird Woman 1944, The Mummy’s Ghost 1944, Voodoo Island 1957). John C. Higgins wrote the screenplay, and is notable for writing the film noirs- Raw Deal 1948, Border Incident 1949, Big House USA 1955, and Hold Back the Night 1956, he also directed the lyrical fantasy Robinson Crusoe on Mars 1964).

The titans of horror on the set of The Black Sleep.

The Black Sleep features a powerhouse cast of horror titans Basil Rathbone as Sir Joel Cadman, Akim Tamiroff as Odo, Lon Chaney Jr. as Mungo, John Carradine as Borg, Bela Lugosi as Casmir the mute butler. Herbert Rudley stars as Dr. Gordon Angus Ramsay, Patricia Blair as Laurie Monroe, Phyllis Stanley as Daphne, and Swedish wrestler and B movie cult figure, Tor Johnson as Curry, who once again portrays a cue ball eyed hulk.

In 1892, Sir Joel Cadman, deranged surgeon and mad scientist, goes to London and saves his former surgical student Dr. Gordon Ramsay who has been condemned to hang. Ramsay has been convicted on circumstantial evidence and is now sentenced to swing at the gallows. Cadman arranges for Ramsay to be given an East-Indian drug called Ninduntera or, “the black sleep” which suspends the pulse and respiration. He instructs Ramsay to drink the small vile of ‘black sleep’ the morning of his execution in order for him to appear dead. Cadman who also signed his death certificate claims Ramsay’s seemingly lifeless body from the surgical school before his colleagues can dissect him.

Rathbone is typically austere as the obsessed Cadman who at his surgery and torture chamber hidden in an old Abbey, kidnaps his victims and cuts open their brains in an effort to discover a means to cure his catatonic wife, beseiged by a brain tumor that has left her paralyzed and in a coma.

Sir/Dr. Joel Cadman employs Odo the Gypsy tattoo artist (the always swiftly sardonic and cajoling in mannerism – Akim Tamiroff) to help him with his murder spree and grave snatching. Cadman believes that life can be justifiably snuffed out if it is in the furtherance of medical science and research. “I would my knife into a thousand men!”As the promos states, Cadman is“a famous brain specialist gone BERSERK!”

Now having saved Ramsay’s life, he can essentially blackmail him into assisting during his profane brain surgeries, otherwise he’ll be turned over to the executioner. One of the poor failed experiments at the hands of Cadman is the hulking mindless Mungo (Lon Chaney Jr.), who was once Cadman’s colleague and surgeon himself formerly known as Dr. Monroe, now a murderous human wreck.

Daphne, Cadman’s surgical nurse (Phyllis Stanley) is the only one who is able to calm Mungo. She is also in love with Cadman. We also learn that Lauri Monroe (Patricia Blair), working for him, is in fact Mungo’s daughter. Just the sight of Lauri riles Mungo to a mad fury. She tells Ramsey that her father was once kind, gentle and wise.

Soon Ramsay discovers the even darker secret that Cadman is hiding. Not only are the subjects they are experimenting on still alive while dissecting their brains, his unfortunate patients beig tampered with, are locked away in the dungeonous bowels of the Abbey. They have been turned into mindless abominations chained and roaming around in dark damp cells. And as you would expect, with the taste of delicious revenge on their lips, led by sardonic wildman Borg (John Carradine), these medical failures rise up against the heartless Cadman. You have to love anything the ubiquitous Carradine is in! And that goes for Bela Lugosi as well.

“… his soul sleeps, nor does it feel pain. He is a dead man, yet he is not of the dead.”

Sir Joel Cadman- “Rome wasn’t built in a day, so it must have been built in the night.”

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The Creature Walks Among Us

Beauty and the Man-Beast from a lost world!

The Creature Walks Among Us is directed by John Sherwood (The Monolith Monsters 1957, film noirs- Ride the Pink Horse 1947, Female on the Beach 1955 with Joan Crawford, No Name on the Bullet 1959) with a story and screenplay by Arthur A. Ross.

With special photography and visual effects by Clifford Stine. (Cinematographer on This Island Earth 1955, It Came from Outer Space 1953, Stine put his stamp on so many notable films, just to mention a few here- The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, The Tarnished Angels 1957, The Tattered Dress 1957 – also directed by Jack Arnold, in addition, Touch of Evil 1958, and Sparticus 1960)

The film stars science fiction regular – Jeff Morrow (Exeter in This Island Earth 1955, The Giant Claw 1957, Kronos 1957) as Dr. William Barton, Rex Reason as Dr. Thomas Morgan, Leigh Snowden as Marcia Barton, Gregg Palmer as Jed Grant, Maurice Manson as Dr. Borg and James Rawley as Dr. Johnson. The Creature is played by Ricou Browning before the burning and Don Megowan afterwards. Megowan is actually 6″ taller than Browning.

Fun facts:

Don Megowan, at 6’9″ (207 cm) was the tallest and heaviest Creature in the series. His Creature wore a shirt and pants to emphasize his muscularity. 

Rex Reason and Jeff Morrow had teamed up previously in another sci-fi classic, This Island Earth, released in 1955, one year before The Creature Walks Among Us. They played scientist Cal Meacham and the mysterious alien Exeter, respectively.

Stemming from the unexpected success of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) for Universal, this is the second sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) after Revenge of the Creature (1955). The first two films were made in 3-D and were directed by Jack Arnold. Revenge was enough of a success to guarantee a followup. Here replacing Arnold is director John Sherwood with the exception of some initial and familiar scenes of the Gill-man swimming underwater once again being pursued by men in scuba gear. The director later transforms the Creature from a hybrid amphibian-man to a pants monster with a non expressive face and the look Play Dough. It’s sort of a sad and unfortunate evolution of one of the most recognizably iconic monsters that came out of the 1950s. Due to this less alluring Creature, any other sequel after this was essentially doomed.

Similar to the original movie, scientist Barton (Jeff Morrow) sets out on an expedition to the Florida Everglades to capture the Creature in order to experiment on his blood chemistry “halfway between the count in mammals and marine life vertebrae. Nature moving out of one phase and into another.” Barton’s goal is to create a new species of man.

The plot also adds fuel to the fire with the essential trope, the love triangle between the two scientists (Jeff Morrow and Rex Reason) and Marcia. Dr. William Barton (Morrow) is married to Marcia (Snowden). He is an unreasonable, driven tyrant and she, in his eyes, is a ‘cheap little tramp’ in nearly hot pants. Scientists Barton and Morgan also argue over their diverging beliefs, with Morgan asserting that the Creature should and will only remain amphibious and Barton insisting that his genes can be manipulated, “The Creature can be changed! We can make the giant step and bring a new species into existence!”… We can create an entirely new form of life. We can change the blood texture, build up the red corpuscle count- and the gene structure has to be effected!”

The dichotomy of the two men’s scientific ethics is clear. Morgan pursues answers through ‘good’ science and Barton is a scientific hedonist, who disregards the potential consequences if it stands in the way of what he sees as progress and power. For what end, it is not made clear.

When the Creature is accidentally burned, his body sheds its gills and Barton discovers that underneath his fishy exterior he possesses human flesh and lungs. He alters the blood chemistry, genetic structure and respiratory functions of the Creature and turns him into a full blown air-breather, with the question as to whether he’d now survive under water.

The Creature finally escapes at the end when Barton who has himself become a brute. He kills Grant (Gregg Palmer) who has been making sexual advances toward Marcia. Clumsily, he attempts to drag Grant’s lifeless body into the cage with the Creature, watching Barton commit this physical act of violence. He becomes enraged after he sees the ‘man’ holding him captive, acting like the one who is an uncivilized creature. Yet Barton walks freely outside of a cage. The Creature rips the bars apart as if they were as flimsy as pipe cleaners. It reminds me of Island of Lost Souls, once the beast-men see Moreau (Laughton at his devilish best) drawing blood, doing exactly what they are told not to do — having ‘the law’ drilled into them like a mantra. They too rebel against the hypocrisy and turn on their captor, their master.

After being caged up with the rest of the animals, at the climax of the movie, he goes on a rampage, a shambling gill-less Creature in cotton pajamas chasing after Barton. The Creature stumbles upon Dr. Morgan (Rex Reason) and Marcia who have formed an attraction to each other, and in a merciful gesture leaves the two alone, going off to punish the one who has caused him such physical and existential pain. Barton the hunter has now become the hunted, and faces his retribution by getting flung off a balcony.

Like so many of these 1950’s science fiction – horror movies, The Creature Walks Among Us explores the predominance of the meddling scientists who dabble in unorthodox ambitions, and the price humanity pays for that intrusion into nature. At the end, it is left up in the air for us to imagine that the Gill-Man is still out there after he disappears into the ocean.

Dr. Thomas Morgan:because we all stand between the jungle and the stars, at a crossroads. I think we better decide what brings out the best in humankind, and what brings out the worst, because it’s the stars or the jungle.

Dr. William Barton (Morrow): We are changing a sea creature into a land creature.

Dr. Thomas Morgan (Reason): We only use what nature offered. The lungs were there, we didn’t make them.

Dr. William Barton: You’ll see Dr. Morgan.

Dr. Thomas Morgan: Just don’t move too fast trying to change him.

Dr. William Barton: Are you afraid of unknown things?

Dr. Thomas Morgan: I’m only afraid of misusing what I do know.

Curucu, Beast of the Amazon

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Voo-Doo Rites of Head Hunters!

Curucu, Beast of the Amazon was filmed on location in the Brazilian Amazon and was directed and written by Curt Siodmak (Black Friday 1940, The Wolf Man 1941, I Walked with a Zombie 1943, The Beast with Five Fingers 1946, Donovan’s Brain 1953.)

After finishing Curucu, director Curt Siodmak discovered he had enough film leftover to make another movie, so he quickly wrote out a screenplay, got some of the actors from Curucu, and made the movie Love Slaves of the Amazons 1957.

It’s star is the epitome of the ‘anti-damsel’ Beverly Garland  as Dr. Andrea Romar. Garland has always been a strong figure in most all of her roles, westerns, B-movies, thrillers… virtually all genres. You have to check out her extensive filmography at IMDb. She is an early inspiration as an independant woman, a feminist role model, and in my opinion not as celebrated or recognized as other retro superwomen – Diana Rigg as the alluring Emma Peel or Anne Francis with the verve of Honey West. Though I am a devout fan of both Rigg and Francis, Garland has taken on some gutsy roles of women who didn’t cower from danger. Doesn’t twist an ankle and have to be carried. She doesn’t wear heels in the jungle, doesn’t scream like a baby when she’s got a tarantula on her and she eats ants!

“If it moves, eat it. If it doesn’t, bury it!”

A favorite choice, she was often cast in Corman’s now regarded cult classics. She walked right into that cave and took on Paul Blaisdell’s cucumber monster in Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World 1956 and grappled with space vampire Paul Birch in Corman’s Not of this Earth 1957. Garland wielded a gun as Marshall Rose Hood in Corman’s Gunslinger (1956). Corman even at times, to the detriment of Garland’s ankle, encouraged her to do her own stunts, and even carries a gun in her purse in Decoy 1957-1958 the television series which cast her in the lead role as policewoman Casey Jones. I guess you can tell by now, I love Beverly Garland.

Curucu, Beast of the Amazon also stars these guys –John Bromfield as Rock Dean, Tom Payne as Tupanico, and Harvey Chalk as Father Flaviano.

I suppose they threw Bromfield in there just to assure the audience that Dr. Andrea Romar wasn’t too independent and found men useful. You can’t wager women as too self-sufficient in the 1950s! And she does let out a few obligatory distress calls when the pythons and alligators descend upon her. But she’s still got that Beverly Garland grit… Don’t judge the expression of terror from the images below.

Tupanico: A beast with claws like that of a giant bird.

Captain of Police: A crocodile, perhaps?

Tupanico: A crocodile is no bird.

I believe Curucu was the unspoken inspiration/pilfering for M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (2004)

Beverly Garland’s Dr. Romar works in Brazil doing cancer research when she learns that the local headhunters actually shrink heads, which gives her the notion to perhaps use their methods, in order to shrink cancerous tissue and their cells. Interesting leap? But in the midst of her medical inquiries, she is obstructed by the legend of a monster Curucu that is killing the locals. She takes off in search of Curucu up the Amazon River with plantation owner Rock Dean (John Bromfield). He plans on traveling up said river, to find out why there is widespread panic with the locals and all his workers have run off. His name really is Rock Dean, isn’t that name delicious! Just as tacky and wonderful as a 70s porn star. Dr. Andrea Romar is one brave lady, who wades through some wild and dangerous territory just to find the drug that might help her discover the cure to cancer.

In terms of offensive cultural inaccuracies, you’ll have look at this as a relic of that time period. As balsy as Andrea is, Curucu is still a misogynistic romp that even includes a scene where one of the ‘natives’ feels her breast to see if she’s really a female! low point for Siodmak for sure.

Tom Weaver’s Interview with Beverly Garland:

Did you enjoy working with Curt Siomak while making Curucu, Beast of the Amazon in Brazil? “you know, it was hard working with Curt. First of all, he was very difficult to understand because he had a very thick accent. He was in a hurry to do this picture- the heat was oppressive, we all got the turistas, we were all sick.  He had probably the hardest job because he had to be up every morning earlier than anybody else., and he was the last one to go to bed. And he was not a young man when he did Curucu. As he told you when you interviewed him, he got very sick, and he came away from the picture never really feeling good again.  And I can understand that… {…} But it was probably one of the most exciting things that I ever did. I mean, I look back on it now and think about all the junk we went through, but it was thrilling and great fun. It was awful but it was wonderful, and I would never trade the experience for a million dollars. I loved every bit of it.” – From Interviews with Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers – Tom Weaver

Earth vs the Flying Saucers

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Warning! Take Cover! Flying Saucers Invade Our Planet! Washington, London, Paris, Moscow Fight Back! The terrifying truth about flying saucers!

Extraterrestrials traveling in high-tech flying saucers contact scientist Dr. Russell Marvin as part of a plan to enslave the inhabitants of Earth.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) Directed by Fred F. Sears Shown: Joan Taylor pursued by an alien.

This fun movie is directed by Fred F. Sears and based on the book Flying Saucers from Outer Space by Donald E. Kehoe, a retired U.S. Marine who believed that certain aerial phenomena were UFOs. The screenplay was written by George Worthington Yates (This Woman is Dangerous 1952 with Joan Crawford, THEM! 1954, The Spider 1958) and Bernard Gordon (Chicago Confidential 1957, Zombies of Mora Tau 1957, Horror Express 1972). Gordon was apparently a ‘front’ for Raymond T. Marcus who wrote the final screenplay.  Curt Siodmak  conceived the screen story.

It features the spectacular visual effects by the great Ray Harryhausen who worked with Siodmak on the storyline. According to Bill Warren, the final script differed substantially from the vision that Harryhausen had for the film, and had already completed his flying saucer footage. The saucers have that spectacularly Harryhausen stamp on them.

Earth vs The Flying Saucer’s lively cinematography is by Fred Jackman Jr (They Made Me a Killer 1946, Creature with the Atom Brain 1955, The Night Holds Terror 1955) and art direction by Paul Palmentola (The Giant Claw 1957, The Man Who Turned to Stone 1957, Zombies of Mora Tau 1957.)

The movie opens with a documentary style, narrated by hard working voice-over artist Paul Frees with his most distinctive weighty voice that conveys all his story telling with great import. Frees also contributed his narration on War of the Worlds. But as much fun as Earth vs the Flying Saucers is, the contrast between both alien manned space ship invasion movies, the latter is a pale imitation to H.G. Wells’ story (War of the Worlds) and its 1953 adaptation to the screen.

The film stars Hugh Marlowe (All About Eve 1950, Night and the City 1950, The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, World Without End 1956,  Elmer Gantry 1960) as Dr. Russell A. Marvin, Joan Taylor as his new bride and secretary Carol Marvin. Donald Curtis has a small role as Maj. Huglin, and character actor John Zaremba in the role of Prof. Kanter.

Also in the cast is a very busy guy who regularly played various genre military types, cops and doctors in 1950’s sci-fi films, yes! – that would be Morris Ankrum (Invaders from Mars 1953, Science Fiction Theatre 1955-66, Zombies of Mora Tau 1957, Kronos 1957, Beginning of the End 1957, The Giant Claw 1957, Giant of the Unknown 1958, How to Make a Monster 1958, Curse of the Faceless Man 1958, Half Human 1958). Here he plays Carol’s dad, Brig. Gen. John Hanley.

In this invasion play, Ankrum’s Gen. Hanley gets his brains sucked out by the giant crystal kleenex dangling from the ceiling of the saucer.

Alien: People of Earth, attention… People of Earth attention. This is a voice speaking to you from thousands of miles beyond your planet… This is a voice speaking to you from thousands of miles beyond your planet. Look to your sun for a warning… Look to your sun for a warning.

Aliens talking about world domination: Despite our power the few of us would be busy indefinitely trying to suppress a largely hostile population.

Admiral Enright (Thomas Browne Henry): When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capitol, we don’t meet him with tea and cookies!

Earth vs The Flying Saucer

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Earth vs the Flying Saucers is lovingly remembered for Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion visual effects expertise that add that special presence to the flying saucers. I love how Bill Warren refers to Harryhausen’s ships as ‘spookily alive’.

In Harryhausen’s biography he said that this was the least favorite of his movies.

Harryhausen with his Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

The film is premised on the invasion narrative that was popular in the 1950s, due to the fear of communism and brainwashing.

In an interview Harryhausen talks about the lack of character development in the movie, “We try to put characterization in a film, as long as it doesn’t stop the story… But the character takes time to develop. And when you’re trying to tell a tale such as we do in the saucer picture, you either spend time trying to develop  characterization or you spend the time developing the destruction, which these pictures are all about.”

Influenced by War of the Worlds 1953, it possesses a relatively slick display while the former entertains us with more of colorfully lavish style and naive sentimentality, instilled with existential crisis and search for a deeper faith. Earth vs the Flying Saucers was also inspired by the popularity of War of the Worlds and the appetite for seeing flying saucers on screen.

Though Earth vs the Flying Saucers pales in comparison to the grandeur of George Pal and director Byron Haskin’s iconic masterpiece War of the Worlds, the script is weak and relies heavily on the scenes of flying saucers. Still, this low budget science fiction romp is lovingly viewable over and over again because of it’s timely 1950s invasion anxiety presented with pure homage to our nonage and the phenomenal attention given to Harryhausen’s animated flying saucers!

Let’s get into the simple plot, shall we. From the get go, we, like the movie’s onlookers watch the flying saucers along with credits and Frees’ narration, popping up like mischief makers casually darting passed the windows of commercial flights and military planes, with passengers looking on stunned and bewildered. This is a novel way to draw you in, starting out with worldwide sightings of space ships whirling around in the clouds. It won’t be long until we learn that they are a race of aliens from a dying planet, ancient humanoids who come from a dead solar system, who plan to invade in order for their race to survive. They can maneuver their menacing fleet of saucers swiftly, intent on a hostile take over of Earth.

The saucers are piloted by metalicized grey leathered humanoids in robotic fabric or rubbery? armor that looks like iron, yet is light as a feather once examined. Their bullet nose shaped helmets help them to compensate for their poor eyesight and hearing. They move stiffly and clumsily as characters out of an Art Clokey’s Gumby animated feature, and lumber around with their long arms down to their metal armored knees and cannon balls for hands. These aliens are essentially pants robots.

Rocket scientist Russell Marvin is working on the top secret ‘Project Skyhook’, his plan, to launch artificial observation satellites into orbit around the Earth to keep an eye on things up there.

Russell and Carol (Joan Taylor) Marvin are newlyweds who while driving through the desert encounter a saucer tailing them. Later they would come to learn that the visitors are trying to send a message to Dr. Marvin but due to the time differential between the aliens and Earth, their speech – sounds like gibberish. When they arrive at the base they are met by General Hanley (Ankrum) who is also Carol’s dad. They tell him about their encounter and Gen. Hanley warns Marvin to stop the planned launch of his next satellite. Ten of the others have already inextricably exploded in flight or shot down by some unknown force.

Once again, up in the sky by the launch tower they all see odd lights. Omens of things to come? Electric particles that move around the air? St. Elmo’s Fire? The strange lights have been moving around the sky pretty frequently lately.

And then, they lose contact with rocket number 11.

Like the mysterious foo lights, Marvin has been seeing lately in the sky over the base, he tells Gen. Hanley he and Carol saw something strange out in the desert. They don’t realize it yet, but Marvin and wife Carol while recording their notes on tape during their drive, have accidentally captured the strange sounds emanating from the hovering saucer.

Then another mysterious saucer lands at the rocket testing base where Dr. Marvin works on his top secret project. The ship is immediately met with gunfire. The saucer unleashes a potent green laser beam (colorized version) on the military presence. This unfathomable power threatens to destroy the base.

The ship plants itself like a spinning mushroom as the aliens exit the saucer, surrounded by something like an electronic  force field protecting the lumbering, armored, truss wearing soldiers. They look as if they are under rippling water, the ship warbling and rotating. This scene is one of my favorite moments of the picture that highlights the threat, the bottom of the craft rotating the way Harryhausen designed them. One of the best features of the picture is Harryhausen’s flying saucers and their rotating rings on the top and bottom of the ships.

Harryhausen’s visual effects are the real celebrity of the film.

In their clunky armor the intruders slowly totter through a thin layer of vaseline. The military opens fire, but the force field deflects the armies artillery and bounces off of the barrier — the aliens blast the soldiers into a glowing green gas.

The saucer-men wage an onslaught with their mean green death rays, while the military fight back with futile artillery, they are disintegrated into a glimmering cloud.

Just a general observation about all these movies. When will these guys learn to stop relentlessly firing a gun at something as impenetrable and imposing as a spaceship, giant bugs or as gelatinous as THE BLOB!!!

The saucers are impossible to shoot down even with rockets, but I will ammend my snide generalized observation about futile gun fire, it seems that these particular aliens individually, in their supposed armor, can be brought down with one bullet. I concede that much.

I was puzzled by this simple plot flaw. If the armor is capable of sending out disintegrating beams, how can it be penetrated by bullets? Good question. I’ve learned not to ask good questions of B-movies. There’s always so much that is implausible or poses scientific fiddly bits that just don’t add up or go nowhere. All the same, we love them –  minimal or major imperfections and all.

Russ and Carol become trapped in their underground observation bunker, and assume there are no survivors. Carol doesn’t know that her father Gen. Hanley has been captured by the aliens and taken aboard their saucer, where they drain his brain of all his knowledge, even baseball statistics. Carol does eventually find out that her father is still alive but he is essentially a hollow shell.

Once taken captive aboard their ship, Hanley experiences an ‘interstellar conveyance’ which just means that he has been yanked away from his reality of time. There he is subjected to an “infinitely indexed memory bank.” The art direction by Paul Palmentola and set direction by Sidney Clifford, seems to have modeled a futuristic light fixture that descends from above and gives the appearance of a giant glowing crystal kleenex, the device also drains Hanley’s mind. This is a translating device that informs Hanley that they (the aliens) were met with violence after they had warned Dr. Marvin of their alarm about the Earth launching satellites, the day they were following the couple in the desert. But Gen. Hanley tells them that all Marvin had heard were meaningless sounds emanating from the ship.

Meanwhile Dr. Marvin and Carol are still trapped in the bunker at the rocket base, and as the batteries to the tape-recorder die, the tape slows down and the voice of the aliens are revealed. When they had first heard the noise in the car, they were listening to the sound at an accelerated speed. Once the voice becomes clear, Marvin regrets all that has happened because he did not decipher the message sooner.

The aliens give Marvin the task of gathering all the important representatives of Earth, just sixty days in which to surrender before they create deadly violent storms — what they refer to as meteorological convulsions. But, Marvin will soon learn that they have inadvertently given him information of how their ships operate and the way they might be stopped.

“We hear you Dr Marvin, and we understand you.”

When Marvin asks why they won’t take over the Earth they tell him, “After that we’d be masters of a wrecked and non compliant planet.”

When the helmets are removed, it reveals a humanoid then they poof into a cloud of dust. Marvin tests one of the helmets of a slain saucer-man’s armor. He tries it on and discovers that he can hear sounds at a distance.

Bill Warren brings up a good point in Keep Watching the Skies where he infers that this scene is a way of copying a similar scene in War of the Worlds. If you remember when Gene Barry takes an axe to the alien probe, then examines it’s technology — which turns out to be a camera with three insect like eyes.

“This ability of the saucerman doesn’t occur anywhere else in the film, and makes absoultely no difference to the plot. The scene seems to be added because there was a similar sequence in War of the Worlds in which the probing Martian eye is hooked to a television screen. In that film, the very alienness of the Martians is a part of the storyline, and the sequence works because it adds to our knowledge of just how strange the Martians are. But in Earth vs the Flying Saucers, the only real enemy are the flying saucers themselves.”

Earth vs the Flying Saucers erroneously explores the invaders technology through scientific advancement. This is seen in the lab when they pour over the helmet and their odd space suits that appear like clunky yet futuristic armor. Armor which shoot deathly rays at their targets and helps enhance their ability to perceive their surroundings. They also have the language translator built in, and ‘saucers’ that are ‘highly maneuverable’, travel swiftly at a fast speed and are impressive weapons of death and destruction. Though, as I puzzled over earlier, the armor is not impenetrable to gun fire.

Marvin and other scientists around the world uncover the method of thwarting the invasion. By using a high-frequency gun that directs sound at the spaceships, they can down the crafts and make them immobile.

After Marvin’s sonic weapon shoots down the saucers, at the movie’s climax the space ships crash into too many of Washington D.C. landmarks, to feel like they thwarted much in that moment, well at least for the District of Columbia that is!

Earth vs the Flying Saucers is an orgy of destruction!

TRIVIA:

Bernard Gordon was one of the screenwriters, but was originally credited as “Raymond T. Marcus” because of the Hollywood blacklist. For the 2008 DVD release his real name was restored to the credits, and he was moved from second billing to top billing (over George Worthing Yates).

This was the last movie in which Ray Harryhausen used stop-motion to create collapsing buildings. He said it was too much work.

Tim Burton, a huge Ray Harryhausen fan recreated the destruction of Washington as a tribute in his movie Mars Attacks! (1996).

The location for the home barbecue scene, and sporadic neighborhood shots during the final attack, were filmed on Morning Glory Circle (also known as Blondie Street), a very popular outdoor set for film and television on the Columbia-Warner back lot. It was the major location for Leave It to Beaver (1957), Bewitched (1964), The Partridge Family (1970), American Beauty (1999), Pleasantville (1998), and countless others.

Fire Maidens from Outer Space

Fire Maidens from Outer Space

MAIDENS WITHOUT MEN ON A MYSTERY PLANET!

Directed by Cy Roth the film stars a bevy of space nymphs. Fire Maidens is a bit of British B-movie flummery. It stars Susan Shaw as Hestia, Anthony Dexter as Luther Blair, Paul Carpenter as Capt. Larson, Jacqueline Curtis as Duessa, Harry Fowler as Sydney Stanhope, Rodney Diak as Anderson, Maya Koumani as a fire maiden, Owen Barry as Prasus, Richard Walter as The Monster, Norma Arnould as a fire maiden, Jan Holden as a fire maiden and Sylvia Burrows as — a fire maiden.

A team of astronauts from Earth led by Luther Blair (Anthony Dexter) arrive on the 13th moon of Jupiter,  guided by a strange voice to land their spaceship. They are met by a sage old fart named Prasus (Owen Barry) who relates the story of his people. The planet is also inhabited by a collection of beauties clad in a weird flavor of Hellenic and romantic tutu fashions with which they use to theatrically emote to an absurdly incongruous classical score. One always has to wonder how space cuties seem to have their garments riff on a confringle of historic Earthly couture.

The inhabitants of this satellite are the survivors of the sunken civilization of Atlantis, where they fled to Jovian, the 13th moon of Jupiter. Now, they desire to return to Earth and establish a New Atlantis! In the meantime, they are being assailed by a mutant called the ‘Creature’, all the while they perform their fire rituals for us to feast our eyes on. All in the midst of a planetary soap opera, that of the budding romance between Luther and the head fire maiden (Susan Shaw). The ‘Creature’ winds up killing old man Prasus and kidnaps one of the fire maidens, where the crew of astronauts pursue them and the monster falls into a fiery pit.

Luther heads back to Earth with Hestia but promises to return to rescue the remaining fire maidens, and all is well with the 13th moon!

Luther Blair “Based on what we’ve learned, the possibility of life as we know it exists only on the 13th moon.

The Gamma People

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Journalist Howard Meade and Mike Wilson gaze at the grotesque sculpture created by one of the most evil of all the Gamma children, the sociopathic Hugo (Michael Carrida).

Gamma-Ray Creatures Loose!

The Gamma People’s ‘village of the damned’

The Gamma People is directed by Brit John Gilling (Pickup Alley 1957, The Man Inside 1958, The Flesh and the Fiends 1960, Night Caller from Outer Space 1965, and Hammer / Seven Arts The Plague of the Zombies 1966, The Mummy’s Shroud 1967.)

The film is written for the screen by John W. Gossage and John Gilling, based on a draft by Louis Pollock who, in the late forties was the director of United Artists’ publicity unit until he left to become a screenwriter. Also on board as director is the uncredited Robert Aldrich (whom writer Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies claims is not the same director responsible for such films as Kiss Me Deadly 1955, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962, and The Dirty Dozen 1967.) I still have to hunt that answer down.

Cinematographer, Ted Moore had also worked on the Ray Harryhausen movies The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) and Clash of the Titans (1981). He won an Oscar for A Man for All Seasons (1966). He also shot The Day of the Triffids (1962) and Michael Anderson’s miniseries The Martian Chronicles 1980.

John Box as the production designer went on to win four Oscars for his work on Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Oliver! 1968. He also designed the sci-fi cult film which I will be featuring soon – Rollerball 1975.

Tom Howard was responsible for the visual effects. Howard later worked on Village of the Damned (1960), Gorgo (1961), Children of the Damned (1964), Battle Beneath the Earth (1967), 2001: A Space Odyssey 1969.

The Gamma People was a project that had been in line for production a long time, and was met with a number of problems along the way. It was released on January 1956. The end result was a science fiction oddity that cropped up amongst the genre of the 1950s. Gilling created an anxious sense of place, that was a bit bizarre for it’s mix of atmosphere which partly comes across as a Universal gothic horror film, mixed with a queer narrative of science fiction and cold war political unrest.

In 1951 the British wing of MGM had obtained the rights to Pollock’s story and was planning on releasing the film that was originally going to star Lon Chaney Jr. This initial film was to be directed by actor-director Anthony Bushnell. But things changed hands when producer Irving Allen left MGM and was taken over by Albert R. Broccoli. At that point Chaney who had been busy working on Indestructible Man was off the picture. The script passed over to John Gossage who had really wanted Brian Donlevy for the lead role because of his success with The Quatermas Xperiment 1955. Writer-director John Gilling took over as director. The film was double billed with 1984 which starred Paul Douglas’ wife, underrated actress Jan Sterling.

Paul Douglas plays journalist Mike Wilson. Douglas had the lead role in Elia Kazan’s Oscar winning film, Panic in the Streets 1950. Also in the leading role is B-movie actress Eva Bartok (Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace 1964) as Paula Wendt. Bartok was a Hungarian refugee who escaped her communist-occupied country in 1950. Leslie Phillips plays photographer Howard Meade. Walter Rilla as Boronski, Phillip Leaver as Koerner, Martin Miller as Lochner, Michael Caridia as Hugo Wendt, Pauline Drewett as Hedda Lochner, Jocelyn Lane as Anna and Rosalie Crutchley (Mrs. Dudley ‘no one comes any further than town in the dark in the night’ The Haunting 1963) as Frau Bikstein.

On a European trip, on their way to do a cover story on the Salzburg Music Festival, an American newsman Mike Wilson (Douglas) and British photographer Howard Meade (Phillips) are diverted when their railway car gets detached from the rest of the train. They wind up stranded in Eastern bloc, Godavia, an Eastern European nation that isn’t on any map. Immediately they are arrested as spies by Commandant Koerner (Leaver).

The two think they’ve gotten wind of a story where the locals live in fear of a tyrant Dr. Boronski (Rilla). Boronski lives up in the castle on the hill, fiddling around with gamma rays in order to build an army of children. He’s been blasting their brains with gamma rays, so he can turn them into his murderous minions. Depending on whether the dosage of rays are spot on or off, his experiments can either give rise to a legion of geniuses or instead seems to produce a profusion of mindless idiots known as ‘goons’. Boronksi is trying to create his own little country populated with Wunderkind yet winds up with zombies.

Working along side Boronski is Frau Bikstein (Crutchley) and Paula Wendt (Bartok) who are against his methods but are too afraid to contradict him. No one in Godivia dare go against Boronski.

The sinister Boronski instructs his apointed dictator Koerner to release Wilson and Meade, as he does not want attention from the press, so Koerner tells both of them they are not to leave the country. They find that they are absolutely cut off from sending a telegraph, there is also no long distance phone service and they are told that there are no cars available. The two wind up taking a room at the Hotel run by Herr Lochner (Miller) but are swept up in the intrigue when the maid Anna (Jocelyn Lane) hands them a note from Frau Bikstein asking them for help. Unfortunately it’s too late, she is found murdered.

When Wilson and Meade finally meet Boronski they recognize him as Dr. Macklan a brilliant biologist who was famous for his experiments in longevity. Dr. Macklin, had been shunned in the scientific society for his controversial work with gamma rays. Next they meet Paula (Bartok) the head teacher who works with Hedda Lochner (Pauline Drewett) a brilliant young pianist. And then they meet Hugo, a little monster with a genius IQ, who is Boronski’s eyes and ears. In the beginning of the film there’s a scene where Hedda Lochner is improvising at the piano, Hugo the Übermensch mocks her, remarking that perfection can only be reached through mathematical precision.

The two newsmen now must battle for the stability and survival of Godavia!

Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

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Godzilla, King of the Monsters! poster

SEE! A monstrous sea-beast…surging up from the ocean! ….. a city of six-million wiped out by its death ray blast ! … Giant ships swamped! Jet planes swept from the skies ! Trains ripped from the rails ! MORE ! MORE ! MORE ! SEE EVERY SCREEN-SHATTERING THRILL!

Directed by Ishirô Honda, shot the movie with a very darkly moody feel, especially because it was photographed in black and white. Raymond Burr stars as Steve Martin, Momoko Kôchi as Emiko. Takashi Shimura as Dr. Yamane, Akira Takarada as Hideto Ogata. With art-direction by Satoru Chuko and Tako Kita, set direction by George Rohr.

Visual effects specialist Eiji Tsuburaya was heavly influenced by the success of his favorite monster, King Kong, still had to utilize what he had access to with such a low-budget and the result was a monster that was men in a rubber suit.- “Haruo Nakajima perspired inside the suit so much that the Yagi brothers had to dry out the cotton lining every morning and sometimes re-line the interior of the suit and repair damages.”-(Rifle 1998)

Kintaro Makino, the chief of miniature construction, was given blueprints by Akira Watanabe for the miniatures and assigned 30 to 40 workers from the carpentry department to build them, which took a month to build the scaled down version. A majority of the miniatures were built at 1:25 scale but the Diet building was scaled down to a 1:33 scale to look smaller than Godzilla.

The buildings’ framework were made of thin wooden boards reinforced with a mixture of plaster and white chalk. (Rifle) Explosives were installed inside miniatures that were to be destroyed by Godzilla’s atomic breath while some were sprayed with gasoline to make them burn more easily; others included small cracks so they could crumble easily. – Steve Rifle (1998)

According to Tom Weaver, writer Don Glut points out that Gojira (the Japanese name for the US version of the film – Godzilla) was a combination of “gorilla” and kujira which is the Japanese name for whale. This became the title of the giant reptile that would become one of the most iconic monsters in film history. Embassy Pictures had bought the rights to Gojira and released it in the U.S. as Godzilla, King of the Monsters. The ads seem to make comparisons to King Kong, which later was cast in films as adversaries. After replacing the Japanese reporter with the American journalist (Raymond Burr) they spliced the existing footage and shot footage of Burr in the United States, after the Japanese version had already been completed.

Godzilla

Steve Martin –“This is Tokyo. Once a city of six million people. What has happened here was caused by a force which up until a few days ago was entirely beyond the scope of Man’s imagination. Tokyo, a smoldering memorial to the unknown, an unknown which at this very moment still prevails and could at any time lash out with its terrible destruction anywhere else in the world. There were once many people here who could’ve told of what they saw… now there are only a few. My name is Steve Martin. I am a foreign correspondent for United World News. I was headed for an assignment in Cairo, when I stopped off in Tokyo for a social; but it turned out to be a visit to the living HELL of another world.”

Godzilla is a radioactive, fire-breathing dinosaur that is awakened by the military testing a hydrogen bomb. Raymond Burr plays Steve Martin an investigative reporter who opens with his narration, as he relates, while lying in the rubble of – ‘Human Wreckage’ from the aftermath. He refers to the events as “A VISIT TO THE LIVING HELL OF ANOTHER WORLD” and total destruction that led to the ruin of Tokyo. In this way, Godzilla is not only a science fiction extravaganza, it also acts as a disaster movie.

In the beginning there is a foreboding of things to come as ships are engulfed in flashes of fire. The lost crews have caused pain amongst their families and leave communities terror stricken. They all have seen the fires at sea.

The leading paleontologist Dr Yamane (Takashi Shimura) seeks to find the answers. Martin, Yamane and several officials head to the fictional Island of ODO. The people there are superstitious, and believe in a 400 ft. monstrous reptile. Each year they sacrifice a young girl who they send out on a raft to appease the creature they have named Godzilla. The elders warn them Godzilla will rise from the sea to “FEED ON HUMANITY” killing not only with his savage fury and magnitude but radiation which causes destruction in its path.

On the island, the scientific expedition led by Yamane finds radioactivity, and the water is poisoned. He also discovers a trilobite which is a winged worm thought to be extinct. He also finds a huge radioactive depression in the sand that looks like a sizable foot print. Eventually Yamane allows the military to use his invention, an “oxygen destroyer” as a weapon they use to disintegrate Godzilla. Tom Weaver in his book Keep Watching the Skies, points out that this Godzilla was completely destroyed in this film, left as ‘merely atoms drifting at sea’. The new Godzilla who appears in films to come was an entirely new monster. One version released in the U.S. appeared as Gigantis the Fire Monster.

Indestructible Man

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The scream that shocks the screen with 300,000 volts of horror! Inhuman! Invincible! Inescapable!

The Indestructible Man was released by Allied Artists and directed by Jack Pollexfen. (story for The Secret of Convict Lake 1951 and writer on such sci-fi films as The Man from Planet X 1951, The Neanderthal Man 1953, Port Sinister 1953, Daughter of Dr. Jekyll 1957.) Lon Chaney Jr. twitches and narrows his dark and lifeless eyes on screen as killer Charles ‘Butcher’ Benton. The movie also stars Max Showalter as Police Lt. Dick Chasen, Marian Carr as Eve Martin, Ross Elliot as Paul Lowe, Stuart Randall as Police Capt. John Lauder.

From the moment the Butcher swears revenge from his death row cell, The Indestructible Man moves into a menacing crime thriller that translates into a science fiction horror hybrid because of the punch in your face presence of horror veteran Lon Chaney jr. and his menacing massive size. Sadly, during the filming Chaney was already wrestling with his alcholism, which only lent to the beleaguered features of the actor and his character Butcher Benton. Chaney came from a glowing career with memorable roles like Lawrence Talbot in Universal’s The Wolf Man 1941, Lennie in Of Mice and Men 1939, and small yet great roles like Big Sam in The Defiant Ones 1958. Much later on, his drunk drenched spirit, to me, added a level of vulnerability in one of my favorite roles of his, that of Bruno in Jack Hill’s outre quirky horror, Spider Baby 1967.

Professor Bradshaw (Robert Shayne) and his assistant Joe Flynn perform scientific experiments accidentally reviving executed criminal, Butcher Benton who with his unrelenting grimacing, goes on a vengeful rampage to fulfill his promise of killing his two friends who are rats. One of them, Paul Lowe  (Elliot) set him up to take the rap for an armored car robber and is now responsible for him sitting in the electric chair. When the Butcher awakens from the dead, he has become untouchable, impenetrable, and indestructible- well nearly. The police are on his trail as he seeks revenge on his former partners. The Indestructible Man does function as a police procedural film noir with an anti-hero who happens to be a dead man walking.

Paul Lowe, Attorney: Well that’s it, Butcher. The evidence against you is so strong, the governor turned down your appeal.

Charles ‘Butcher’ Benton: You’re a rotten liar, Lowe. You started railroading me from the beginning of the trial. And now you’re still trying to throw me curves.

Paul Lowe, Attorney: Look, I don’t blame you for being edgy but get this straight. I didn’t doublecross you. I never worked harder for a client.

Charles ‘Butcher’ Benton: You mean you never worked harder for a client to get him sentenced.

Paul Lowe, Attorney: You’re a fool, Butcher. If you hadn’t tried to doublecross Squeamy Ellis and Joe Marcelli, they wouldn’t have turned state’s evidence against you. But you had to get greedy, you wanted to keep the whole $600,000 for yourself. And the boys got sore and I don’t blame them.

Charles ‘Butcher’ Benton: It was all your idea. You planned the whole job. You hired us. When you found out I stashed the money you figured it was time for me to die. You got those two crumbs to turn state’s evidence on me. You stinkin’ rotten mouthpiece.

Paul Lowe, Attorney: We both know that isn’t true, Butcher. Now look what’s the sense in not giving me the money? It’s not going to do you any good.

Charles ‘Butcher’ Benton: Well. I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that none of you three crumbs are going to spend it.

Paul Lowe, Attorney: What about Eva? Don’t you owe her something? You tell me where the money is, I’ll see that she gets your share.

Charles ‘Butcher’ Benton: I’ve got a different idea. I’m gonna kill you and Squeamy and Joe. Then I’ll take care of Eva myself.

Paul Lowe, Attorney: You thick-headed ape, you’re gonna die tomorrow.

Charles ‘Butcher’ Benton: Remember what I said. I’m gonna get you. All three of you.

Paul Lowe, Attorney: Even for you, Butcher, that will be quite a trick. So long, dead man.

Charles ‘Butcher’ Benton: [As Lowe leaves Butcher’s cell] Remember what I said. I’m gonna kill you. All three of you.

There’s an obvious little-bitty echo to Kenneth Strickfaden in the lab scene when they resurrect the Butcher.

The electrical voltage has burned out his vocal chords but he remembers who he is, understands everything and has retained his memory. The lack of Chaney’s dialogue actually lends to his savage exterior, as he eludes the police, again like a film noir anti-hero. He utilizes the city’s intricate sewer system as a hiding place for the stolen cash and an preemptive escape route. Now with superhuman strength. Dr. Bradshaw proclaims the Butcher is “a brutal animal with an inconceivable amount of strength” enough to break men’s backs and withstand bullets, blow-torches and massive jolts of electricity.

The leading man Max Showalter appeared in Niagara 1953 with Marilyn Monroe and Vicki with Jean Peters and Jeanne Crane that same year. He was cast in two fairly obscure film noirs Down Three Dark Streets and Naked Alibi in 1953. A pretty busy character actor he also appeared along side Jack Lemmon in How to Murder Your Wife 1965. Interesting, he was the original Ward Cleaver on the pilot episode of Leave it to Beaver. You can see him as Dr. Tad Johns in one of my favorite sci-fi movies, (a genre that hit its peak in the 1950s) – The Monster that Challenged the World 1957 starring the exquisite Audrey Dalton. Here he plays Police Lieutenant Dick Chasen, but Showalter has all the charisma of a perky vaudeville ventriloquist. Chasen begins a romantic relationship with stripper Eve Martin (Marian Carr), also sort of miscast because she too, doesn’t possess the edgy erotic appeal of a 1950s Burlesque vamp. Actress Carr projects an undiluted purity to look at home in a dive bar. When Butcher seeks Eve out backstage at her nightclub, under the impression that she too has betrayed him assuming that she is in cahoots with his old pals, he restrains himself from hurting her.

Ross Elliot is really good at playing smarmy as Butcher Benton’s lawyer. He is the brains who engineered the robbery and convinces Joe Marcelli (Kenneth Terrell) and Squeamy Ellis ( Marvin Ellis) to turn state’s evidence against the Butcher, making him the fall guy.

The Indestructible Man is a low-budget unreasoning violent skip through seventy two minutes, has been referred to by critics as a ‘crude and dismal shocker’ yet it’s still fun to sit through! For a B-movie hybrid of science fiction horror with a few scenes that might have happened as an artistic accident. The grim and grimy landscape is reminiscent of a dismal lower budget film noir, even the climax is a low price translation of Cagney’s Cody Jarrett in White Heat 1949.

It Conquered the World

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SEE THE WORLD CONQUERED BY THE HORRIBLE BEAST FROM BEYOND THE STARS! — SEE THE HIDEOUS “FLYING FINGERS” OF THE MONSTER!–Every man its prisoner… every woman its slave!

It conquered the world 1956

It Conquered the World 1956, was directed by king of the cult movie quickies, Roger Corman who made a ‘hundred movies in Hollywood, and never lost a dime!” Corman’s fertile imagination was emblematic of what made some of the best cheap 1950s movies work so well after all these decades. This dime-store science fiction was double billed with The She-Creature. The script was written by Charles Griffith who’s first produced script with Corman was The Gunslinger (1956) which also starred Beverly Garland, Corman’s girlfriend at the time.

It’s initial title was to be called It Conquered the Earth and apparently it was Corman’s answer to Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, because of it’s similar theme that dealt with loss of identity and an alien life force, partly made up of vegetables that would take over human will, their bodies hijacked. And in each film, both leading actresses are possessed and die. Alien vegetables as corrupter, in this case Venusians using humans as vessels to carry out their authoritarian rule — much like communism. So in essence they were Communist cucumbers with fangs and beady glowing eyes!

Frederick E. West was the cinematographer on the film, 1956  was a particularly busy year for West, having been no stranger to other Corman B-movie exploitation productions having shot such cult films as Swamp Women 1956 starring Marie Windsor and Beverly Garland, Gunslinger 1956, Girls in Prison 1956, The She-Creature 1956, Flesh and the Spur 1956, Invasion of the Saucer Men 1957, My World Dies Screaming aka Terror in the Haunted House 1958, Requiem for a Gunfighter 1965 and The Bounty Killer 1965 with Dan Duryea and Audrey Dalton. From what I’ve learned with It Conquered the World, Corman’s blocking and West’s use of close ups and long shots, never allowed the film to appear visibly static. The movie was filmed at Bronson Caverns a popular location for shooting pictures.

The picture stars sci-fi heroine Beverly Garland as Claire Anderson married to Dr. Tom Anderson (tough guy Lee Van Cleef- he became a cult figure in Spagetti westerns) who has been in communication with a mysterious Venusian, who has mislead him into thinking that it is a benevolent being come to Earth to change things for the better. When in actuality ITs plan is to take over man’s free will and create an authoritarian rule, at first, from the comfort of his dank cave.

Tom’s willingness to forge an alliance with the Venusian is an exhortation against totalitarianism, though he is deluded by ITs false promises. Tom’s ideology for positive change through social disorder, found it appealing,  sensing the futility of his human wish-fulfillment and the slight he felt from the scientific community. Tom believes IT has come to rescue us, not conquer us. The naiveté of Van Cleef’s character brings ‘IT’ to Earth buying into the thing’s deceptive ideology that “Hate-bitterness-dreams. All foolish emotions are gone.”

And so he is compelled to reach out and communicate with the Venusian, who exploits his superior intellect.

“He’s in his laboratory right now, waiting to come down and save us!”

Like Invasion’s pods and Howard Hawk’s The Thing from Another World 1951 with that masterpiece’s super intellectual carrot, the ‘threat’ is amoral rather than evil. But that was a very complex argument for the American teenage audience to grasp as the central theme, so in easy terms to grasp, the threat had to be interpreted as a foreign invader, therefor… simply… evil.

The look of fleeing in- Invasion of the Body Snatchers when it’s director Don Siegel and Ellsworth Frederick  behind the camera.

And then in It Conquered the World, there’s Roger Corman and a few of his neighbors and crew member’s families paid with the promised of a hot lunch!

This is what It Conquered the World’s fleeing town’s people look like! Notice the guy who couldn’t leave his saxophone behind. Can you imagine me and my upright grand piano in a panic situation. She’s too precious, heavy and massive to move. I’d stay and get ‘released!’

In 1950s decade of monster movies we needed to fear invasion of any ‘outsider’. The “released” victims of this picture much like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, replaced victims, saw the maximum threat as dehumanization. A few films not disimilar to several of the invader/possession tropes of the 1950s were, Invader from Mars 1953, The Brain from Planet Arous 1957, I Married a Monster from Outer Space 1958, and The Brain Eaters 1958.

Peter Graves also appeared in two other 1950’s science fiction films that was a backlash or commentary on the dangerous effects of radiation – Killers from Space, Beginning of the End 1957. Here he stars as Dr. Paul Nelson. Sally Fraser co-stars as Peter Graves 50s wholesome housewife.

Let’s get this out of the way right now. It Conquered the World absolutely has the feel of a movie that was completed in ten days. We all know that the Venusian cucumber monster with fangs is silly, but that doesn’t change the deliciousness of the whole thing. Paul Blaisdell referred to the rubber creature as Beulah, a cucumber shaped rubber cone with clumsy arms and a mirthful devilish grin.

He had to dismantle her in order to get her out of his studio and take her to Bronson Canyon. The control devices that IT shits out from his cumbersome sharp toothed base, look like ‘Bat-Mites’, or flying winged ink blots with large incisors.

In the control room of a rocket station, radar technician Ellen Peters (Karen Kadler) reports an unidentified object to Dr. Paul Nelson (Peter Graves). The first satellite mysteriously explodes in orbit. Now another American armed forces satellite inexplicably disappears from orbit. What does land in the mountains is a spaceship carrying the Venusian who plans to conquer the world.

Karl Brainard is credited as ‘property master’ which means he manages the props. There’s no reason to refer to him as set designer because there’s a minimal set. But it actually this works for this oddball B-movie that functions like an avante garde stage play. Instead of distracting us with observable fanfare, the quality of filming each scene like it’s in someones basement, backyard, Aunt and Uncle’s living room and rumpus room, gives it a peculiar appeal. I used to make science fiction control rooms out of random knobs that fell off appliances, and glued them onto plywood and set it up in my basement. This control room has a similar look.

In the meantime renowned physicist Tom Anderson is introduced to Gen. James Pattick (Russ Bender). Tom advises the miliary brass to stop their plans to launch another satellite. He thinks it’s a threat to the world, and has already warned the government. Tom saw this happening 3 years earlier, since The Manhattan Project and the project he ran called the Perpetual Missile Program. He alerted Secretary Platt (Marshall Bradford) about other planets feeling threatened by Earth, and wanting to keep her (Earth) “out of the skies.” Tom tells them, “Alien intelligence watches us constantly. It will see this satellite of and know something must be done.I’m here to ask you- to beg you to save the world”,  then he leaves infuriated by their stubbornness to listen.

While spending the evening with Paul and Sally at Tom and Claire’s secluded home, the two couples casually eat their dinner. Everything at the rocket project has been quiet for three months. Paul sees this as proof that Tom’s prophetic warning was incorrect. But Paul senses that Tom has a secret. Tom takes Paul into the living room, un-drapes a dinky little interplanetary radio and tunes into mysterious frequencies from Venus. “Listen to it Paul. Listen to the voice.”

IT — is one of only nine left on Venus; “the race was born too soon” into a hostile environment. “IT evolved amid the boiling gases and eruptions of Venus.”

Then Paul gets a telephone call. The second satellite has disappeared.

Tom tells Claire, this Venusian is good and not evil. Claire tells him “you’re a sick man. Tom answers, “The whole world is sick. But it’s all over now. At last every dream of mankind can be realized.”

On their way from Tom’s house,  Paul and Joan do catch a flash of a cone shape waddling away from the wreckage of the crashed ship. IT raises it’s lobster clawed arms and disables all sources of local power and everything just stops. Effected are all forms of motion, virtually all mechanisms and electrical energy is cut off. Cars don’t work, watches stop, there is no water, all phones are dead.

Paul and Joan’s car dies on their way home from Tom’s house up in the mountains. Joan-“I’ve got a premonition.” Paul- “No I’ve got a stalled car.”

Joan “Paul do you think he could be right?

Paul “He couldn’t be”

Joan “He said he predicted it”

Paul “In the fifteen years I’ve known Tom Anderson he’s predicted everything a fertile imagination
Could. He’s wasted his entire life on calculated fantasy One or two of his dreams were bound to come true if only because they’re all encompassing.”

Joan “Maybe this dream has come true.”

The Venusian sends out his army of bat like creatures carrying their special weapons of flying mind programing winged bat-like creatures to make their victims submissive and ‘release’ people from their independent will. They inject like a stinger, electronic devises into the back of people’s necks.

Tom explains to Claire about the bats what happens to them after they’ve done their job, –“then dies like bees”. Claire- “And the people… they don’t die… only their minds.”  Tom – “They are released. The hate, the bitterness, the dreams- all of the foolish nonsense” Claire- “And the emotions?”  Tom- “Yes, the emotions.”

Tom explains later, these Venusians are turning to other planets for conquest. ‘IT’ has obtained names from Tom of the key personnel to target, in order to take control.

People begin to panic when everything stops working, and at some point Paul figures out that his genius loner friend Tom is somehow behind it all. Tom’s beliefs have left clues as to what he’s been up to. “Alien intelligence watches us constantly.” He is brilliant but suffers from paranoia and a cynicism that turns him into rebel.

IT’s creepy little army of bat apparati attack General Pattick (Russ Bender) and other officials. Peter’s wife Joan (Sally Fraser) is not immune to IT’s domination. In a freaky scene Joan surprises Peter with his own bat thingy, leaving him to be ‘released’. “When I return you’ll feel much better.” After she leaves, he kills the thing with a fireplace poker, then plays along when she returns. He asks if their lives will be removed from emotion now. “We will be this way from now on?” She tells him, “For the rest of our lives.” 

Then Paul shoots her. For the 1950s this is kind of risky proposition even for a B-movie aimed at a young audience, to have the leading hero shoot and kill his own wife. That’s the beauty of Corman’s vision, being unconstrained by Hollywood standards and exploiting that freedom.

For example in re-watching this movie, I hadn’t recalled how graphic and brutal the scene is with Ellen getting strangled by her colleague. It’s particularly violent for a 1956 picture aimed at a teenage audience. When her ‘releasing’ goes terribly wrong she is murdered in a long drawn out clip. No pods here, just a plan to stage a little bat sting in the back of Ellen’s neck that failed, or in this case, choking her to make her compliant.

“Relax Ellen it won’t take more than a minute.”

Claire- “don’t let that imagination of yours bring itself to life”

Peter tells Tom, “Your hands are human but your mind is the enemy. You’re the greatest traitor of all time.” Paul asks why he isn’t fighting ‘IT’ and Tom tells him, “That superior intelligence happens to be a personal friend of mine.”

It Conquered the World becomes a battle between Tom and Paul’s will and a test of Tom’s love for Claire. And the only reason Tom keeps Paul uncontrolled is his belief that Paul’s mind is very valuable. Tom’s wife Claire (non-damsel in distress Beverly Garland) hates what her husband has been doing since he started contacting the fiendish Venusian cucumber. Once the power goes down, she becomes furious with him and at one point, shuts off his radio, the only working radio. “Must be great to have the only working phonograph in the world… Suppose your boss wants you to run downtown and cut out a few hearts?”

“I won’t love a monster”

Garland as with so many of her roles, as Claire Anderson shows off her cool strength and self-possessedness. She also has some of the lines with the most biting satire. Throughout the film she taunts Tom for his smug superiority and dangerous gulliblity. The most balsy character, Claire takes a rifle and confronts ‘IT’ in his cave and tries to blow his cucumber brains out. Garland in that tough voice calls the creature “ugly, horrible” and “I’ll see you in hell,” while Tom listens to his wife being killed by the Venusian over his radio transmitter.

Soldiers led by Dick Miller (Bucket of Blood) head to the cave to fight ‘IT.’ Paul has to kill Ellen Peters who has become ‘released’ and he wounds Gen. Pattick.

Paul then grabs a blowtorch and he and Tom get to the cave at the same time. ‘IT’ rolls and I do mean rolls out of the darkness and Tom confronts it, “I made it possible for you to come here! I made you welcome to this Earth. And you turned it into a charnel house!.”  Tom blow torches IT’s eyes and the two fall to the ground united in their separate destructive dreams.

Beverly Garland towered over Beulah, from the beginning she could not believe this was the monster she would have to battle in the climax. Blaisdell wound up having to add the cone shaped head to make it taller. And Corman never filmed Beverly and Beulah in the same shot together. The scenes in the cave were saved for the end of the production.

According to D. Earl Worth in his book Sleaze Creatures: An Illustrated Guide to Obscure Hollywood Horror Movies 1956-1959 James Nicholson wanted to create a truly original monster. Scientist speculation was that Venus was a tropical planet with heavy gravity. So Blaisdell designed something that brought to mind a toadstool. ‘IT’ has often been referred to as a cucumber. Writer Griffith took over for Rusoff whose brother fell ill. It took him merely three days to finish the screenplay. Initially, Beulah (IT) was supposed to remain in the cave – she was also left with wobbly arms because grips had trompsed all over them. Also, the crew hadn’t brought along any generators for the lighting so they made the decision to film ‘IT’ outside the cave.

‘IT’, was supposed to creep out of the cave at the end, but had no visible feet to move on,  and Corman was afraid of losing the light, so he ran up behind the thing with Paul Blaisdell inside the creature works, and began pushing it forward. Blaisdell, operating the clumsy arms and fanged mouth parts, fell headlong down the slope.

Finally when on screen when ‘IT’ emerges from it’s hiding place, Blaisdell still inside, duck walked, moving the Venusian along on it’s castors, while Corman pushed it from behind.

You know what gives me that warm fuzzy nostalgic feeling for cheap monsters? When ‘IT’ is attacked with the blow torch, ‘ITs’ eyes gush chocolate syrup blood… that’s special effects were in the good ol’ days!

Dick Miller, Corman regular, on his experience working on It Conquered the World –“I approached Conquered with the same loose spirit as Not of this Earth. Lee Van Cleef is a scientist trying to communicate with intelligent forces from the planet Venus. Beverly Garland, as his wife, questions the entire project with some very funny dialogue written by Lou Rusoff and Chuck Griffith. Before shooting , Beverly ad-libbed a few sharp lines of her own. From my engineering and physics background, I’d reasoned that a being from a planet with a powerful field of gravity would sit very low to the ground. So with my effects man Paul Blaisdell, I’d designed a rather squat creature. But just before we were to shoot the climactic showdown with Beverly and the monster, she stood over it and stared it down, hands on her hips. “So,” she said with a derisive snarl, making sure I heard her. “you’ve come to conquer the world, have you? Well, take that!” And she kicked the monster in the head. I got the point immediately. By that afternoon the monster was rebuilt ten feet high. Lesson one; Always make the monster bigger than your leading lady.”

Claire Anderson: [raising her rifle] You think you’re gonna make a slave of the world… I’ll see you in Hell first!

Do you recall seeing the smaller version of the Venusian monster which Corman initially planned to use in It Conquered the World?

“I remember the first time I saw the It Conquered the World monster. I went out to the caves where we’d be shooting and got my first look at the thing. I said to Roger. ‘That isn’t the monster…! That little thing there is not the monster, is it?” He smiled back at me, “yeah. Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?” I said, “Roger! I could bop that monster over the head with my handbag!” This thing was no monster, it was a table ornament! He said, “Well, don’t worry about it because we’re gonna show you, and then we’ll show the monster, back and forth. “Well don’t ever show us together, because if you do everybody’ll know that I could step on this little creature!” Eventually I think they they did do some extra work on the monster. I think they resprayed  it so it would look a little scarier, and made it a good bit taller. When we actually filmed, they shot it in shadow and never showed the two of us together. 

-From Interviews with Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers -Tom Weaver asks Beverly Garland

Dr. Tom Anderson: He wants you on his side. Next to me, he wants you.”

Paul Nelson: And you want me to condone this reign of terror? To swear allegiance to this monstrous king of yours? To kill my own soul and all within reach? Well, I won’t, Anderson. I’ll fight it ’til the last breath in my body. And I’ll fight you, too, because you’re part of it – the worst part. Because you belong to a living race, not a dying one. This is your land, your world. Your hands are human but your mind is enemy. You’re a traitor, Anderson. The greatest traitor of all time. And you know why? Because you’re not betraying part of mankind – you’re betraying all of it.

Dr. Tom Anderson: Do you have any idea what you’re listening to?

Paul Nelson: London Philharmonic?

Dr. Tom Anderson: It’s Venus

Paul Nelson: Uh Huh

Dr. Tom Anderson: Venus

Paul Nelson: Why not? We’ve bounced signals off the moon’s surface. There’s no reason that Venus shouldn’t radiate impulses.

Dr. Tom Anderson: No, I don’t mean the static. Can’t you hear it? The other thing?

Paul Nelson: …What other thing?

Dr. Tom Anderson: Listen to it Paul! Listen to the voice!

🚀

Man Beast

Man Beast 1956

Sub-human monsters go on a rampaging blood-binge !– Hair-raising excitement in the icy lair of man-like creatures roaming the roof of the world!

Man Beast was directed by schlockmeister Jerry Warren (dir. Teenage Zombies 1959, The Incredible Petrified World 1959, Attack of the Mayan Mummy 1964, uncredited –Creature of the Walking Dead 1965, Curse of the Stone Hand 1965 and House of the Black Death 1965, which are some of the most drecky B-horrors I’ve ever had to endure in order to give myself either well rounded exposure or psychological dysentery- it’s one or the other. In later films, director Warren would piece together bits of other films, usually footage that is Mexican in origin according to Bill Warren in Keep Watching the Skies.

Man Beast stars Rock Madison, Asa ‘Virginia’ Maynor as Connie Hayward, Lloyd Nelson as Trevor Hudson, Tom Maruzzi and George Skaff as Varga.

The film takes us on not a trek, but as my Bubby would call it in Yiddish, it’s some really overblown ‘drek’ – essentially meaning rubbish or trash. Man Beast quite plainly, is a laborious and dreary bore. Men climbing up snowy mountain sides, men fighting in snow, sitting in snow, being buried under a snowy landslide, underweight dialogue, and the occasional blurry snow beast. What do you think, a bleached out icy toned white gorilla suit? There isn’t even a credit for make-up, what does that say about the production.

“Today I had the feeling someone is watching us.”

The creatures are almost never seen in the same frame as the other actors and the way the film is shot, it is obvious that particular angles are used in order to give the appearance of the Man Beast as having a looming size over humans.

Connie Hayward organizes an expedition to the Himalayan Mountains looking for her brother, who recently went missing while on a trek to find the Yeti or “Abominable Snowman.” Steve (Tom Maruzzi) is their guide who takes them up into the mountains where they encounter Dr. Eric Erikson (George Wells Lewis in his only role) Erikson believes that the elusive Yeti are a race of primitive men. They eventually make it to the camp site where Connie’s brother had been, but now there is only one man left, his curious guide Varga. How can they survive amidst the snowy isolation. Soon everyone on the expedition is attacked by Snow Beasts or Man Beasts… and Varga reveals that he is actually a descendant of the race of these snowy beastly woolly men, who kidnap women in order to breed with them. Old storyline, they seek to evolve out of their Yetish identity. I guess they are self-hating Man Beasts who seek to cleanse themselves of their heredity. I guess, they no longer desire to be woolly no more.

Steve Cameron: You mean you don’t know the purpose of Dr. Erickson’s expedition?

Connie Hayward: Only that he’s been preparing it for years.

Steve Cameron: Well, his purpose is to capture one of the abominable snowmen, that’s what the natives call the yeti. A kind of people, covered with hair, supposedly living above the 21,000 foot level.

Trevor Hudson: Covered with hair?

Connie Hayward: What do you mean, ‘a kind of people’?

Steve Cameron: Nobody seems to know whether they’re… man or beast.


The Mole People

Terrifying monsters from a lost age!

This truely B (minus) – movie was produced by William Alland and directed by Virgil W. Vogel who was believe it or not was the editor on Touch of Evil 1958, and prolific director of popular television series over decades. The Mole People, stars science fiction/horror poster-boy John Agar, Cynthia Patrick, Hugh Beaumont, Nestor Paiva and Alan Napier. One little interesting side note, Clifford Stine (cinematographer on It Came from Outer Space 1953, This Island Earth 1955), was responsible for additional photography.

The art direction is by Alexander Golitzen (This Island Earth 1955, The Monolith Monsters 1957, The Big Heat 1958, 1959, The Twilight Zone’s pilot episode ‘Where is Everybody”, Cape Fear 1962, To Kill a Mockingbird 1962, William Castle’s The Night Walker 1964, Curtis Harrington’s idiosyncratic Games 1967) who was nominated for an Academy Award fourteen times, for his prolific flair and his roots in architectural design. He worked in Technicolor and stark black and white films, from noir to westerns, musicals, drama and of course science fiction.

Given Golitzen’s keen talent, we won’t hold this turkey against him, as the pathetic script he was working from wasn’t exactly the Morlocks and George Pal’s The Time Machine 1960. Bill Warren points out that one of the most interesting shots that stands out is the space where the Mole Men dwell. “It looks like Hell itself, and in fact, in the script is described as ‘The Inferno” “The tunnel suddenly widens and deepens into a large cavern – it is a Dantean nightmare world.” Thank you Alexander Golitzen!

This science fiction film is a virtual bore edging toward fantasy with no suggestion of logic or pure science. The Mole People’s more playful things about the movie is the Mole People’s design themselves, with Jack Kevan uncredited for his work on the masks and the blistery rat like claws. Agar plays his usual one dimensional character who is often dismissive and condescending. Here he’s cast as Dr. Roger Bentley, who heads up an anthropological expedition in the Middle East. Based upon an artifact found, they head into the mountains in search of a lost tribe of ancient Sumerians. When one of the members slides down an opening and is killed, the others go down in order to retrieve his body.

THE MOLE PEOPLE, Nestor Paiva, 1956 Courtesy Everett Collection PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xCourtesyxEverettxCollectionx MBDMOPE EC010

Nestor Paiva (who is also no stranger to science fiction movies of the 1950s most notably Lucas in Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954, and Tarantula 1955) appears as Professor Etienne LeFarge a particularly anxious fellow who winds up getting himself killed after he runs off in hysterics. Eventually the expedition discovers the descendants of the sallow Sumerians living below ground with bug eyed Mole men as their slaves. The men are trapped beneath the earth after a tremor closes the shaft. Too comical to handle is the fact that the Sumerians shrink in fear of Agar’s flashlight, believing it to be a weapon. I guess if your total existence is blanketed in darkness, a chrome hand held Ever Ready dry-cell battery flashlight could almost be a burning sun in comparison. The Sumerian’s ‘optic nerve must be hypersensitive.’ They also live on mushrooms, goats and cave rats.

Cynthia Patrick who plays the heroine Adad, is a ‘marked one’, one of the Sumerians who aren’t ghostly pale like the others and can walk amidst the sunlight, unlike the other Sumerians who become charred remains.

Silly as these movies are, they conflate historic cultures that have no connection to each other, this ancient race of cave dwellers sacrifice virgins after a disposable dance number. They are brought before the “Eye of Ishtar” which leaves them burnt to a crisp. The scorching ray’s are really just the sun burning down from the opening of the shaft. Maybe it’s just a giant maglite?

Dr. Jud Bellamin: [Sarcastically] Why don’t we just give up and apply for Sumerian citizenship?

Dr. Roger Bentley: I don’t like mushrooms.

Dr. Jud Bellamin: Last night we had cave rat for dinner.

Rodan

Rodan-2069819_jpg

Thundering out of unknown skies–The super-sonic hell-creature no weapon could destroy!

Rodan or Radon the Flying Monster was directed by Ishirô Honda (Godzilla 1954, The Mysterians 1957, Mothra 1961, Destory All Monsters 1968)

This was the first one of Toho’s monsters in Eastmancolor! The film does nod it’s hat a bit to the American giant insect craze with the jumping off place of it’s plot. After H-Bomb testing, it releases giant insect larvae in the coalmine. The monster bugs terrorize the miners, which then rouses the movie’s hero to follow them deeper into their lair.

Though so horrible he blocks it out, is the discovery of a gigantic monster hatching out of an egg. Rodan is a huge pterodactyl who’s mere wings flapping causes hurricanes and flying at supersonic speed causes shockwaves like the aftermath of an atomic explosion. After hatching and feeding on colossal dragonflies called Meganuron, Rodan rises up from a coalmine and causes destruction to Japan. It’s piercing screams can be heard all the way to Mount Aso, a volcano where it’s mate has laid its eggs. While later on Rodan, makes it’s appearance as a ‘good’ monster who joins forces with Godzilla and Mothra in 1965 to defeat Ghidorah.

Rodan stars Kenji Sahara as Shigeru Kawamura, Yumi Shirakawa as Kiyo, Shigeru’s lover Akihiko Hirata as Professor Kyuichiro Kashiwagi, and Akio kobora as Police Chief Nishimura.

There’s impressive special effects by Kaimai Eizo who also worked on Honda’s Godzilla 1954, and Matango 1963 ( an obscure guilty pleasure of mine aka Attack of the Mushroom People– just another reason for me to fear mushrooms!, The War of the Gargantuas 1967– which I saw in it’s theatrical release and still can’t get the image of the ‘bad’ green gargantua crunching between his teeth, a flaling miniature person – queasy, still makes me queasy) Eizo had worked on every film you can imagine in the Japanese monster genre. Included in the team is another prolific artist, director of special effects Eiji Tsuburaya whose miniatures are iconic, Akira Watanabi and visual effects designer Sadao Lizuka.

The She Creature

she_creature_poster_02

Hypnotized! Reincarnated as a monster from hell!

🚀

The She Creature

This is what comes to my mind when I look at Chester Morris as the smarmy Dr. Carlo Lombardi:

1930: Chester Morris (1901 – 1970) plays hardened jailbird John Morgan in the prison drama ‘The Big House’, directed by George Hill. (Photo by George Hurrell/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)

The She-Creature is directed by master of the low budget yet memorable exploitation, horror and sci fi films, and one of my personal favorites, the maestro of truly exceptional schlock – Edward L. Cahn. (Creature with the Atom Brain 1955, Flesh and the Spur 1956, Girls in Prison 1956, Runaway Daughters 1956, Invasion of the Saucer Men 1957, Zombies of Mora Tau 1957, Motorcycle Gang 1957, It, the Terror from Beyond Space 1958, Curse of the Faceless Man 1958, Invisible Invaders 1959, The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake 1959).

This was AIP’s first try at a ‘personality’ monster, as an answer to Universal’s emblematic models of horror in their series that made their studio the principal players in the monster game. Paul Blaisdell, designed and wore the creature costume that he named “Cuddles”. She had scaly breasts and seaweed in her slimy hair and fangs on her knees? Cuddles would wind up appearing in Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow and Voodoo Woman, How to Make a Monster and a mutation at the end of Teenage Caveman.

Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Golden State Prods/Kobal/Shutterstock (5876588g) Paul Blaisdell The She-Creature – 1956 Director: Edward L Cahn Golden State Productions
USA On/Off Set

Although Blaisdell liked the script, due to AIP’s recipe of turning out movies at a fast pace, and that it cost a buck and change to make, it became a missed opportunity for him to create something innovative. The script described the appearance of the creature as looking amphibious, but this posed some problems for the suit he was to design, as foam rubber cannot be submerged under the water, this he discovered when he almost succumbed inside the monster suit in Day the World Ended. According to Randy Palmer, after the crew soaked the mutant costume with rain fall and special effects fog, the rubber acted like a sponge.

Blasidell told them that they would have to use some trick photography when the creature emerges out of the ocean, prowling around the breaking waves. He could barely get his feet wet, and so the shots of She rising out of the sea was achieved by using double-exposure, superimposing the image which gave it an appearance that it was phosphorescent or nearly transparent. He made over 100 sketches of the creature costume that wound up weighing 72 pounds and having massive lobster-like claws. Blaidell was told by producers Nicholson and Alex Gordon to make her a cross between a reptile with a face like a cat. I assure you, none of our felines look anything like this. Blaisdell finally had to tell them, “Look, it’s going to have a little bit of each of what each of you wants, but you’re going to have to leave it up to me and my imagination. If you do that, it’s going to be the best one I’ve ever done.”

From SON OF GUILTY PLEASURES by Randy Palmer–

“Gordon always loves everything he (Blaisdell) does, but Cahn hated the ‘abdominal teeth’. He told Cahn that they were the monster’s ‘lunch hooks’. The opening allowed Blaisdell to get some ventilation and the way that he built it, by exercising his stomach muscles, the hooks could be made to squeeze inwards. The effect was weird and when one stopped to think about it, it was downright grotesque because this was how Blaisdell thought the creature should kill her victims with someone in her clutches the lunch hooks would rip them wide open. Leaving that to the imagination. a couple of close ups of the clenching hooks followed by a long shot of the grabbing of victim in a bear hug with a scream would give the viewer the idea. Cahn complained “Paul, we can’t use that, it’s too horrible.” Blaisdell recalled the director complaining, so instead the creature simply kills the victim with one swipe of the massive claws.”

1952 saw a sensational case of past life regression in the case of Bridey Murphy who emerged out of a state of hypnosis with a subject, Colorado housewife Ruth Simmons. Simmons was put into a trance by businessman Morey Bernstein, writing about his experiments in a book called The Search for Bridey Murphy. Bernstein was not a writer by profession – he managed a plumbing supply company in Pueblo, Colorado. It was his fascination with hypnotism that started the Western craze to discover the secrets of reincarnation.

While hypnotized, Simmons manifested the astral incarnation of an 18th century Irish woman from Belfast. So popular was the story, that it was adapted to the screen in 1956, as a major motion picture – The Search for Bridey Murphy starring the Academy Award nominated Teresa Wright. Then in 1956 Universal Studios released a picture called I’ve Lived Before starring Leigh Snowden. But after all the fanfare started to quiet down, the case was revealed to be a hoax.

Heads of AIP – Nicholson and Arkoff wanted to cash in on the tremendous publicity and current fascination with the story and the subject of reincarnation that was bubbling over during that time in American culture. They spent a lot of their budget securing the rights to the story, working with Lou Rusoff, to write the screenplay, that now in addition to a ‘personality’ monster, featured reincarnation, age regression, and also blended the abstract ingredients of ESP, prognosticating, the mysterious world of sinister occultists, all seasoned with a dose of the crime & film noir genres.

AIP, who specialized in producing quirky horror/sci-fi films that appealed to young audiences, decided to ride on the wave of the Bridey Murphy case and do their own kookie schlocky spin on the story. Red Jacobs, who eventually peddled cheapies at his Crown International Pictures gave them the idea, and so in 1956, AIP released their low budget Bridey monster movie – The She-Creature in which the Colorado housewife is swapped out for a carnival siren who not only summons up an English lass from the 17th century, she also shares a telekinetic bloodline with a primordial creature (She) from the beginning of time. Amidst all the other inconsequential monster movies, and hoax not withstanding, The She-Creature became one of the most successful pictures for AIP in the 1950s.

Composer Ronald Stein (It Conquered the World 1956, Attack of the Crab Monsters 1957, Not of this Earth 1957, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman 1958, The Girl in Lovers Lane 1960, Journey to the Seventh Planet 1962, the highly imaginative and macabre score for Dementia 13 (1963), The Haunted Palace 1963, The Terror 1963, Spider Baby 1967,  The Rain People 1969 starring Shirley Knight) whose music appeared in many a cult flick, is responsible for the lurking murky orchestral score. I can hear a theremin in there! The 1950s needs an obligatory theremin. Stein worked regularly for Corman and wrote some of the most ideal scores for a genre that would become the touchstone of popular culture of the decade.

The She-Creature stars classic Hollywood actors who had already started to fade away-Academy Award nominated Chester Morris best known for his role as Boston Blackie. He plays slick as an oil spill Dr Carlo Lombardi.

Simone Simon and Tom Conway in Val Lewton’s Cat People 1942

Tom Conway *brother of George Sanders* (appeared as Dr. Judd in Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People 1942 & I Walked with a Zombie 1943. Conway also co-starred in Mark Robson’s The Seventh Victim 1943, and as Tom Lawrence in The Falcon series) plays Timothy Chappel. Conway often showcased himself as untrustworthy characters who happened to possess ‘gentlemanly charms’. Cathy Downs plays Chappel’s entitled daughter Dorothy, not the ‘good girl’ of the picture just less of the darkly enticing bad girl.

The regal Scottish born Frieda Inescort (Pride and Prejudice 1940, The Return of the Vampire 1943, De Chantenay’s Mother in Boris Karloff’s series Thriller episode The Prisoner in the Mirror 1961) plays Mrs. Chappel. Inescort started her film career in 1921, and was often cast as “society gals with something to hide” She was in melodramas and film noirs like Street of Chance 1932, Shadows on the Stairs 1941. She also appeared in the low budget horror The Alligator People 1959 co-starring Beverley Garland and Lon Chaney Jr. “I’ll kill ya alligator man!”

Then there is the sultry, raven haired beauty MARLA ENGLISH   (Shield for Murder 1954, Three Bad Sisters 1956, Voodoo Woman 1957, Flesh and the Spur 1956), as Andrea Talbott / Elizabeth Wetherby – the dark damsel in peril. Critics referred to her as AIP’s own Elizabeth Taylor.

At the age of 15, English was crowned Miss Science Fiction of 1951 at a San Diego Sci-Fi convention. She went on to make a few more pictures for AIP. Runaway Daughters 1956, and Flesh and the Spur 1956.

She-Creature (Cuttles) designer Paul Blaisdell had said that English studied her lines and rehearsed very hard as she was concerned about getting her part right. In Cahn’s film she pulled off playing the enigmatic girl-in-peril. Andrea is Lombardi’s Trilby. Then she went on to play a bad girl in AIP’s Voodoo Woman.

Mike Connors was supposed to play leading character, Dr. Ted Erickson but the part went to Lance Fuller. Fuller as Ted, is as bland as a stale pound cake. Ted and Andrea develop a predictable love connection. Fuller also plays opposite Marla in Voodoo Woman. Morris’ character is the counter-balance of Lombardi’s inscrutable language of metaphysics to Fuller’s language which represents the agency of absolutes, in the scientific world.

Shot on location at Paradise Cover California, Frederick West was the cinematographer whose stark black and white photography didn’t translate well to television, often appearing dim and cloudy. West’s darkness has been referred to as ‘Malibu Gothic’ and ‘relentlessly cheerless’ in particular the carnival scenes. With a dark and murky atmosphere, The She-Creature comes across as a moody and melancholy film noir, that happens to feature a cockeyed shambles of a creature who has emerged from evolution and metaphysical invocation with sea breasts.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Golden State Prods/Kobal/Shutterstock (5876588f) Paul Blaisdell The She-Creature – 1956 Director: Edward L Cahn Golden State Productions USA Scene Still

Dr. Carlo Lombardi: I can transport her from what she is to what she was.

Chester Morris is a 1950s rendering of Bela Lugosi’s Legendre in White Zombie 1932 or Tyrone Power’s mentalist Stan Carlysle in Nightmare Alley 1947. Slippery Svengali types who operate on human weakness and thrive on power. Morris’ Lombardi seems like he is ideal to play a dasdardly swindler with a greasy mustache and cape, right out of the 19th century. Morris’ parody  of the vintage villain works to create an eerie dissonance within the film’s current decade and Carlo Lombardi’s darkly cartoon menace. He is a silent movie scoundral, a 1930’s devil, a sociopathic hypnotist that evokes classical horror films, and is seemingly out of place in this quintessential science fiction-horror film of the 1950s. A genre which saw a slew of its usual contemplation of giant bugs and invaders from mars, modern monsters and nature run amok.

Peter Lorre had been producer Alex Gordon’s original choice to play Carlo Lombardi. By the 1950s Lorre had shed that eccentric sinister swagger that he projected for Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock. When the actor read the script he considered it rubbish and refused to accept the role. Alex Gordon then approached John Carradine who also turned down the picture claiming he was done doing horror movies, but one year later he appeared in The Black Sleep 1956 and The Unearthly 1957.

But in the following decade the fabulous actor would go on to appear in AIP pictures after all. He was in the very successful campy horrors, Tales of Terror 1962 written by Richard Matheson and directed by Roger Corman, starring Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone, and then in Jacques Tourneur’s The Comedy of Terrors 1963 once again with Vincent Price and in this go around with Boris Karloff. These macabre comedic films seemed a perfect fit for Lorre.

The She-Creature is a terrible movie that is terribly perfect for the 1950s supply of genre goodies. It’s a little guilty pleasure of mine to enjoy this particular offering as it refrains from the decade’s usual atom age panic and veers off into hybrid sci-fi and horror, with it’s preturnatural mysteries, nether regions of the abstract, age regression, hypnotism and the forces of nature that transcend time. For all its flourishes of the incomprehensible and the impending terror, Dr. Carlos Lombardi, carnival hypnotist and prognosticator is the master of ceremonies and Andrea, his beautiful apparition, he and his muse are the main stars of the show.

As an example of this, in one scene Lombardi talks with the police Lt. James about the couple savagely murdered, he flauntes his dark and vain gospel when he tells the Lt. that he knew they were dead before he even went inside the cottage on the beach. “She comes out of the beginning of time- huge and indestructable. I am the force that gives her life.”

Dr. Carlo Lombardi, with a piercing wicked stare and a villainous Boris Badenov mustache, stands on a desolate nightime beach, wearing an outmoded top hat, cane and black cloak. His appearance at that moment is surreal, out of place and out of time. I wonder if it’s the character of Lombardi or actor Chester Morris who wears an interminable curl of the lip coming through.

Lombardi (Morris) opens with a gloomy voice-over that seems to lament the inevitability of his predictions. Auguries that seduce his expoitable audience. There is a finality in his tone, that conjures up his bleak prophecies within his patronzing rhetoric and his almost grotesque self-importance.

‘Now, on this very night, I have called into the unknown depths of time itself. She is here” And with her coming, the world will bever be as it was. Neither man nor animal will be the same. This, I, Dr. Carlo Lombardi, have brought into being.”

The She-Creature starts out with an ominous film noiresque voice-over by Lombardi on the shore, as he watches a primordial creature only he can summon, rise out of the water. A translucent otherworldly shape, lit by the moon, that suddenly dissolves beneath the swells of the sea. Lombardi subsisting in a nickel – and – dime sideshow act, the carnival sign touts him as a lecturer of the occult and reincarnation. With his beautiful marionette Andrea, Lombardi pulls the strings and conjures up past lives while she lies in a hypnotic state, under his Svengali like spell.

Wanting to break out of his dead end life, he predicts a series of gruesome murders then uses Andrea’s monstrous alternate personality to commit them in order to gain international notoriety, claiming that he possesses the power of clairvoyance because his prophecies have come true.

Advertising entrepreneur Tim Chappel (Conway) is hosting a coctail party for high society at his beach house. The main feature will be Dr. Carlo Lombardi demonstrating the past life regression of his lured maiden Andrea (English) the reincarnation of a 17th century English girl named Elizabeth Wetherby. Mrs. Chappel is totaly mesmerized by Lombardi and can’t wait to show him off at her party.

Chappel tells his wife “Some women keep pets or grow roses for kicks. My wife supports crackpots. A couple of years ago my wife supported spiritual mediums. last year it was a swami and now Dr. Lombardi. As long as it amuses you” She replies, “No seriously, he puts this girl into a deep trance and sends her back 300 years. Now she tells about her life in England. I tell you it’s uncanny.”

Professor Ted Erickson (Fuller) psychic researcher has a long running rivalry with Lombardi, trying to expose him as a charlatan. He also does hypnosis like Lombardi but is skeptical about the authenticity of the sinister fortune-teller’s experiments in age regression.

Though Chappel’s pushy blonde daughter Dorothy is engaged, she pursues Ted. He tells her that he’s a farmboy and he doesn’t fit in. Dorothy refers to Ted’s training in hypnosis as his tricks of the trade, and wants him to use his knowledge of thought transference (ESP) in order to refute Lombardi’s magic. Ted tells Dorothy that her mother was disappointed in his appearance at the cocktail party. “She thought I’d make it an age regression party… I told her that was Dr. Lombardi’s field not mine.”

At the party, Ted has become fixated by Andrea’s mysterious beauty. On stage, she has been put into a deep trance by Lombardi, who then provokes Ted to join them on stage, and he confirms that Andrea is indeed in a trance. Under Lombardi’s guidance Andrea becomes Elizabeth Wetherby who lived in 1618, and Ted asks her certain questions that he can verify later. The guests are amazed. Then Lombardi puts her in a deeper state.

The She Creature roams while Andrea sleeps because it’s Andrea who is the conduit for She to rise out of the sea. Their spirits are connected, as Lombardi has regressed her back millions of years. He refers to it as the transmigration of the soul, of a living woman into her first life body, it first emerges in its Ectoplasmic form.

After the party, Lombardi walks along the beach and follows strange depressions in the sand leading up to a beach cottage. He puts on his black Victorian magician’s gloves. Lombardi goes inside a bungalo and shows no sign of being startled when finding a dead couple, the Jefferson’s, knowing they were attacked by the She Creature.

The scene is pretty gruesome for a picture released in 1956. The lifeless bodies, first Mrs. Jefferson with her vacant stare, and both bodies looking like ragdolls with broken necks and there are trace smears of b&w blood on the wall. The disordered interior is grey and freaky which is suprisingly effective. The scene is a dark moment in the entire otherwise cheaply hammy film.

The police are called in and two detectives show up. Deadpan Police Lt Ed James (Ron Randall– who appeared in a variety of popular television series from the 1950s-1970s, one of my favorites is his miserable woman hating hothead, Edmund Parry in The Girl in the Black Stockings 1957, The Longest Day 1962, The Seven Minutes 1971) searches the crime scene for clues. They find seaweed and a strange not human footprint. The bodies look like they’ve been killed by a pile driver. There’s a piece of seaweed trailing to the door. Lt. James also notices a damp spot on the carpet.

Lt James gives the other cop a hard time, because it seems like he’s buying into the footprint not being human. He tells James that it’s really his wife that believes in Lombardi’s black magic. He talks about a creature out of the past that will roam amongst them, “a first life form of someone living today” from over a million years ago. Of course, Lt. James teases him, it’s the one moment of comic relief.

Lt. James questions Lombardi about the murders.

Boardwalk Johnny, carnival worker provokes Lombardi after mentioning that he’s noticed Andrea still in a deep sleep after a long while, “I knew Andrea long before you did Doc. I knew her when she was a carnival follower.” Lombardi tells him “I’ve asked you to forget that.”  Obviously, he wants Andrea’s life to have begun once he has taken control of it. After this exchange, Lombardi summons up the She-Creature to kill Boardwalk Johnny.

Andrea tells Lombardi, “I hate the sound of the ocean. I hate you!”You’ll never leave me- you can’t.” “I will -someday … soon.” ” As long as I’m alive.”she says. He tells her, “I’ll possess you. It is something beyond yourself that makes you need me.” “You’ve taken my soul away from me.”

The She Creature’s ethereal shape materializes out of the sea, as Johnny’s reading a paperback, she smashes through his door and flips his cot over, then kills him with her massive claws.

As Lombardi’s reputation grows, Chappel sees a million dollar profit for his publishing outfit in promoting Lombardi as a celebrity. He reads the newspaper, and sees the hysteria over his occult craze. Realizing that he can exploit this, he latches onto Lombardi’s magnetism. At the moment, people are scared like they’re being followed by the plague. Chappel figures, ”He’ll be a sensation. This She Creature stuff is a stroke of genius.”

But as the menacing mystic’s predictions grow more deadly, as the beachside murders continue, Chappel realizes that Lombardi’s powers are not a hoax and he wants nothing else to do with him. He calls him a dirty fortune- teller with delusions of grandeur. So Lombardi calls up the She Creature and sends her to kill Chappel and that meddling Lt. James.

Once Lombardi’s notoriety takes off, he tries to show the scientific community his power over substance and soul. But they are men of science and don’t believe in fairytales. He predicts deaths with deadly accuracy, because naturally he himself is behind the murders.

Andrea is a ‘sleeping beauty’ Lombardi keeps Andrea captive by his will, in a constant state of deep hypnosis and brings her out of her trance to show her off as his Galatea. More than just the creature who rises up out of the sea like a phosphorus cloud, the real HORROR of The She-Creature is Lombardi’s hold on Andrea and this monster movie’s more covert psycho sexual narrative. He is creepy, uncious and a lecherous sadist, as it plays around with the suggestion that she may never be free of his sleeping maiden fetish. The movie almost envisions Lombardi as a necrophile, hovering over Andrea while she slumbers like a dead flower. Why I think Cahn is a fabulous director is underneath the superficiality of his low-budget features emerge some fascinating ideas and in some cases a disturbing atonality.

“You’re in a deep sleep Andrea, a very deep sleep.”

Lombardi is Andrea’s stalker, a collector as he holds her captive. A predatory impresario who violates her consciousness, her body, her essence. When she sleeps the She-Creature roams. It is Andrea’s past life, but it is Lombardi’s mental monster, like Walter Pigeon’s sci-fi version of Prospero’s Id in Forbidden Planet 1956.

“Now I will touch you and slowly you’ll awake.” He kisses her. She has no way of protecting herself while he penetrates her space, she stirs “Now you’ll come back to me Andrea.” Even after she has pleaded with him not to keep her under. She tells him, “I need to get away from here, from you.”

“I can make you grovel in the dirt, I can turn you into Elizabeth Weatherby, but I can’t make you love me.”

Andrea tells him –“Some day I’m goin to kill you.” Lombardi answers her, “I should kill you Andrea but the artist is vain. He cannot destroy the beauty he’s created.”

A few deaths later, Ted fights for Andrea’s free will. Lombardi the great master of the unknown, winds up being flawed afterall, because he assumed Andrea and the creature would be bound by the power of his will. What he didn’t forsee is Andrea deveoping an affinity with her crustaceous doppleganger.

Sources:

Sleaze Creatures by D. Earl Worth

Son of Guilty Pleasures – essay by Randly Palmer

Warning from Space

Lobby Card Warning from Space

Warning from Space was directed by  Kôji Shima

The film is also known as The Mysterious Satellite aka Unknown Satellite over Tokyo, aka Space Men Appear in Tokyo.

The film, Japan’s first color sci-fi film is based on Gentaro Nakajima’s novel, it’s an attempt at moving toward a more serious science fiction film, and although the aliens delightful though as they may be, do make an appearance, the plot works more outside of the Japanese monster movie genre.

UFO’s are sighted over Tokyo. The creatures are friendly giant starfish with an eye in the middle of their bodies, here from the alien planet Paira. How could a starfish be anything but benevolent right!

They don’t even wish to frighten people so they change their bodies into human form, so Ginko takes on the identity of a popular singer, Hikari Aozora (Ginko).

Their leader Hikari/Ginko (Toyomi Karita) implores the people of Earth to abandon using their nuclear weapons.  The Pairan’s ask for help joining them in destroying the fiery Planet R that is about to collide with Earth. Because of this collision course, the Earth begins to experience natural disasters. Scientist Matsuda (Isao Yamagata) develops a bomb that can be launched from the Paira’s spacecraft to destroy the threat.

“This takes the idea from “When Worlds Collide” as the earth goes through disasters as “Planet R” comes closer and closer. Finally the scientist is rescued from the Yakuza, and the wayward planet is destroyed. The film is a charming look at Japan, coming into its own following the Occupation after World War II.” IMDb review 1999

competes with enemy Toho studios and their 1954 hit “Godzilla”. In 1957, Toho studios even made a somewhat similar movie, “Chikyû bôeigun”, also known as “The Mysterians”. –  IMDb review 2002

Alternate Versions

The U.S. English dubbed version titled “Warning From Space” (1956) is quite faithful to the original Japanese version. However, at the final fade-out an additional sequence is added showing Ginko (Toyomi Karita) transforming from the human form back to the Pairan form. They simply took the transformation sequence, showing Ginko transforming into the human form, from earlier in the film and printed it in reverse.

Is it just me, or are these Pairaens in the theatrical group Mummenschanz?

Pairan #1: As soon as they see us, they scatter in fear, as if they had seen something monstrous.

Pairan #2: What? Are we considered hideous? Are they more beautiful than us?

Pairan #1: No. Examine this. This is what they consider a beautiful woman.

Pairan #2: This is their concept of beauty? It has a very large lump in the centre of its face.

The Werewolf

werewolf_1956_poster_02

Scientists turn men into beasts!

The Werewolf is directed by Fred F. Sears (The Miami Story 1954, Chicago Syndicate 1955, Teen-Age Crime Wave 1955, Earth vs the Flying Saucers 1956, Escape from San Quentin 1957), and stars Don Megowan as Sheriff Jack Haines, Joyce Holden as Amy Standish, Eleanore Tanin as Mrs. Helen Marsh, Kim Charney as Chris Marsh, Harry Lauter as Deputy Ben Clovey and Steven Ritch as The Werewolf.

It happens before your horrified eyes!

The Werewolf has a very crime/noir edge to it, considering Sears was no stranger to low-budget crime movies. It was filmed by cinematographer Edward Linden (King Kong 1933, Swamp Woman 1941, City of Missing Girls 1941), The Werewolf being his last film.

Two scientists discover an unconscious man in the wreckage of a car accident. They bring him back to their lab and inject him with their experimental serum, exposing him to radiation, which accidentally turns him into a werewolf. Like many altruistic scientists of the science-fiction/horror genre of the 1950s, The Werewolf has the familiar narrative of men who’s purpose is to heal, instead unleashing the forces of destruction.

In Mountaincrest, a stranger with a foggy memory wanders into a small town bar to have a drink to quiet his nerves. When he leaves the bar, a local thug Joe Mitchell (Charles Horvath) tries to rob him and he turns into an vicious two legged animal and kills his mugger. The film’s anti-hero is a parable of the outsider, a lost soul who wanders through his own desolation, a victim to some kind of outside force he has no control over.

Much like Lyle Talbot but without the familiar loyality we feel for that character early on. After the attack he (Steven Ritch) runs off into the woods. Sheriff Jack Haines (Don Megowan) puts together a posse to hunt down the animal that walks on two legs who has taken off with no shoes, escaping barefoot in the snow. Weak, sad and desperate he finds local doctor Jonas Gilcrist (Ken Christy) and his daughter, nurse Amy Standish played by Joyce Holden who try to help this guy who calls himself Duncan Marsh. He only remembers having had a car accident and then being treated by two doctors (Dr. Emery Forrest played by S.John Launer and Dr. Morgan Chambers played by George Lynn). Gilcrist already suspects him of being the werewolf. The stranger –‘Marsh’– tells them, that he doesn’t know his name or why he’s even in that town. “I want to know who I am, I want to know what I am!”

Once again he flees and Sheriff Jack Haines (Don Megowan) wants to hunt him down but Amy and her father want to convince Haines to capture Marsh so they can treat him. His wife Helen and his son Chris arrive in Mountaincrest. Sheriff Haines would like to take Marsh alive, but Dr. Forrest and Dr. Chambers who are responsible for turning Marsh into the werewolf plan on killing him in order to keep their secret experiments — a secret.

Dr. Emery Forrest: But to take a stranger, a man injured in an accident, and give him a full inoculation of that serum.

Dr. Morgan Chambers: Yes, I’d almost forgotten about him. So much could fail if he should remember and tell someone what he knows about us. There’s nothing else left but to-…

Dr. Emery Forrest: You’re not going to kill him!

Dr. Morgan Chambers: You think he still wants to live after what he’s become? It would be an act of charity.

World Without End

World Without End 1956

Thru the Time Barrier, 552 years Ahead… Roaring To the Far Reaches of Titanic Terror, Crash-Landing Into the Nightmare Future!

World Without End was directed by Edward Bernds (Reform School Girl 1957, High School Hellcats 1958, Queen of Outer Space 1958, Return of the Fly 1959). It stars Hugh Marlowe as John Borden, Nancy Gates as Garnet, Nelson Leigh as Dr. Eldon Galbraithe, the wonderful Rod Taylor as Herb Ellis, Shirley Patterson as Elaine, Lisa Montell as Deena and Everett Glass as Timmek. And a musical score by prolific composer Leith Stevens. ( The Narrow Margin 1952, War of the Worlds 1953)

Produced by Allied Artists, this lesser known sci-fi film is a reworking of H.G Well’s novel The Time Machine brought to the screen officially in 1960.

On a voyage to Mars, after breaking through a time warp, four astronauts led by Hugh Marlowe land back on Earth but discover that the planet has been ravaged by nuclear war, and it is now the year is AD 2508, in a post-Apocalyptic Earth that is populated by mutants and giant spiders. The remaining humans live underground in a world where they grow food in their hydroponic gardens and make their way around connecting tunnels. All weapons have been banned and the langourous inhabitants of this underworld wear tunics and tights and is led by Garnet (Nancy Gates). The problem is, that the men are sterile and their race is dying out, with the surface mutants becoming more aggressive and daring. Of course the appearance of Marlowe and the other astronauts brings renewed hope to the people of future Earth, by rousing them to fight back with newly forged weaponery.

X the Unknown

Directed by an un-credited Joseph Losey (a complex and avant-garde director responsible for some of the most intensely psychological pictures- (M 1951, darkly noir The Prowler 1951 starring Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes, Eva 1962 starring Jeanne Moreau, The Concrete Jungle 1960, The Damned 1962, The Servant 1963, Accident 1967, Secret Ceremony 1968 starring Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum, and Mr. Klein 1976)

The films credited director is Leslie Norman, who never directed another picture in the genre, which is unfortunate because he created something here that is stylish, attainable, and put forward as a quasi-feasible concept for a 50s science ficition film. X the Unknown has accents of a dark mood that even includes elements of the Gothic.

This was the prolific Jimmy Sangster’s first science fiction/ horror script for Hammer, writing both the story and the screenplay. It is inspired by the work of Nigel Kneale who wrote the screenplay for Quatermass and the Pit 1967, & The Quatermass tv series in 1979. Filmed in a short period of time, X the Unknown only took 3 weeks to shoot.

This British science fiction/horror flick is produced by Michael Carreras (Four-Side Triangle 1953, The Curse of Frankenstein 1957, Quatermass 2 1957, The Revenge of Frankenstein 1958, The Snorkel 1958, The Man who Could Cheat Death 1959, The Mummy 1959, Never Take Candy from a Stranger 1960, The Brides of Dracula 1960, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll 1960, The Damned 1962, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb 1964, One Million Years B.C. 1966) and Anthony Hinds (both are wizards of British cult pageantry. The film is actually more deep-seated in intellect rather than exploitation, though it caters to audience’s taste for British pop cinema’s science fiction – fantasy and horror genres, with its merciless animated fright.

Hammer’s most prolific composer James Bernard (Nosferatu 1922, The Quatermass Xperiment 1955, The Curse of Frankenstein 1957, Horror of Dracula 1958, The Hound of the Baskervilles 1959, The Stranglers of Bombay 1959, The Damned 1962, The Gorgon 1964, She 1965, The Plague of the Zombies 1966, Dracula: Prince of Darkness 1966, Dracula has Risen from the Grave 1967 Torture Garden 1967, Taste the Blood of Dracula 1970,  The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires 1974) wrote the effectively creepy and mordant orchestral score.

Cinematographer-Gerald Gibbs’ (British film noir No Orchids for Miss Blandish 1948, Finger of Guilt 1956, The Avengers tv series 1967-68) moody high contrast black and white photography traded in the daytime scenes for  the night scenes. His use of middle grey tones and dramatic lighting gives X the Unknown, a Gothic look and a shade of realism.

Bill Warren -this unpretenious thriller is one of the best of the second rank sci fi films of the 1950s… This is a superior example of the sober, realist tradition of British Sci fi.

Make-up artist Phillip Leakey (Quatermass Xperiment 1955, The Curse of Frankenstein 1957, Horror of Dracula 1958, The Revenge of Frankenstein 1958) created a wax duplicate of the melting actors head molding it over a skull with heating elements inside, then sped up the process of the film, taking out alternate frames to create the illusion of a rapidly melting man. Not only does his face liquefy but his hands swell up and squirt fluid from the extreme radiation. The scene was considered too gruesome for its television release and was edited down. This moment in the film also reminds me of Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava’s horrifying Caltiki the Immortal Monster 1959, in which Gérard Herter’s face and arm are melted to the bone by an ancient living radioactive growing, crawling blob.

The film co-stars Edward Chapman as John Elliot, Leo McKern as Insp. ‘Mac’ MacGill-(The Day The Earth Caught Fire 1961, Childen of the Damned 1964, and in The Omen 1976 as the uncredited Carl Bugenhagen), Jameson Clark, William Lucas, Peter Hammond, and Anthony Newley cast as comic relief, together trying to profit from the situation. Kenneth Cope plays Sapper Lansing who dies at the opening of the film. And Hammer regular, Michael Ripper as Sgt. Harry Grimsdyke.

X the Unknown stars American actor Dean Jagger in the lead, whose career was waning at the time. It was not uncommon for British companies releasing low-budget films to cast American actors in order to attract an American audience. For example, in 1958, American actor Marshall Thompson starred in producer John Croydon’s Fiend Without a Face. The film echoes the popularity of The Quatermass Xperiment 1955 and Quatermass 2 which also starred an American actor, Brian Donlevy.

Jagger sustains his character as a similarly convincing scientist, Dr. Adam Royston, a research scientist at a nuclear plant headed up by John Elliot (Chapman). Royston is conducting unofficial research of his own, in neutralising radiation, by “disintegrating the atomic structure.” He’s trying to achieve the breaking up of particles that would render a bomb useless. With his work, he figures either two things can happen, his containers of a volatile unstable atomic compound will  give off radiation for the next two hundred years or it can be subjected to an outside source that’ll disintegrate it in a fraction of a second. By using frequencies whose pitch will neutralize bombs, Royston is trying to prevent explosions. If he can solve this puzzle he can turn a volatile container of radioactive materials into a handful of mud in a very expensive casing.

Royston, is a loner, a quirky egghead, a self-absorbed scientist who isn’t concerned with social niceties. He is a self-determined nonconformist who solves the mystery behind the strange occurances. He’s developed a theory that this energy monster has formed at the time of the original cooling of the Earth’s crust and has adapted itself to feed off radiation.

X the Unknown as the central theme is based on the accepted paranoia of the 50s sci-fi cautionary tales about the dangers of radiation.

It’s a taut and gripping story of a dreadful radioactive muddy blob that swells up from the crust of the Earth, a sludge monster that terrorizes the Scottish Highland Moors of Inverness. The film leaves us with an ambiguous ending “We did destroy it…didn’t we?” much like The Blob 1958 whose vague coda of the final credits are, “the end?” which leaves open the possibility of a sequal, which The Blob did take advantage of due to its popularity.

The visual effects are an asset to the film’s grim tone. Jack Curtis and Les Bowie created X the Unknown’s radioactive mud and reasoned the look of it, as naturally being a mucky ooze that might have crawled out of a crack in the ground that leaves us with a creeping dread.

The Brits do like their puds!

Royston is the one alerts the head of the research project John Elliot and the Army leadership, that they are dealing with a legitimate threat that cannot be thwarted just by sealing up the fissure with a layer of concrete. The military brass believing that scientists don’t know how to take the easy way out. Eventually he discovers a way to vanquish the muddy menace using sonic frequencies to neutralize the radiation. Director Elliot thinks Royston’s crazy theory is preposterous rubbish, but Dr. Royston is joined by the amiable Inspector ‘Mac’ McGill (Leo McKern), who is sent from London by the British Atomic Energy Commision to investigate the explosion at the films open at the gravel pit. McGill respects Royston’s experience right from the beginning and asks for his help destroying X. McKern is wonderful as the receptively humble inspector who doesn’t have an ounce of skepticism in him, it’s a refreshing dynamic that pairs scientist and official in the 1950’s sci-fi narrative.