The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016! 🚀 “Keep watching the skies!” Science Fiction cinema of the 1950s

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“I bring you a warning. Every one of you listening to my voice. Tell the world… Tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the Skies! Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!

Ned ‘Scotty’ Scott — The Thing From Another World (1951)

Keep watching the Skies!

It’s that time of year once again when Movies Silently, Silver Screenings & One Upon a Screen host a momentous event…. The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016 which will begin August 5th -10th, 2016.

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a “literature of ideas. –Wikipedia definition of Science Fiction

Robot Monster rocket

This event always promises to be an epic endeavor as there are so many interesting themes and subjects to cover. I am excited to be participating once again with these fabulous hosts who make it possible for all of us to contribute to a wealth of classic film history goodies to devour. Now listen folks, don’t get frightened off! You cast of exciting unknown readers… This has become a real project for me, a work in progress that will unfold over the next several weeks. For the purpose of The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016, I offer an overview that will be a lead in for the entire decade of 1950s science fiction cinema conquering it year by year in separate articles. As I started delving into this project, it began to grow larger and larger as if Jack Arnold and Bert I. Gordon themselves compelled me to GO BIG!

amazing colossal man vegas

attack_of_the_50_foot_woman_3_by_farzelgaart-d4ubn9h

50 foot woman at the bar

In order to review an entire genre of such an influential decade and do the treatment it so rightly deserves, I realized that I needed to spread it out as a series. Re-visiting these beloved movies that inspired my childhood with wonder and sometimes tapped into my own authentic fears, I fell in love all over again. And though I tend to gravitate towards the classical Gothic horrors that are steeped in mythology, the supernatural and the uncanny, I can’t help but feel my mind expanding by the iconic themes that emerged from 1950s science fiction! So I’ll be publishing each year as individual posts or chapters from 1952 on… over the next several week or so instead of all at once. Talking about all the films I mentioned here and so many more films & things to come!

It’s a collection–a decade of the sci-fi genre, sub-genres and it’s hybrids– some eternally satisfying because of their remarkable ability to continuously shine a light on fascinating & mesmerizing fantasy stories. Well written and adapted as visual narratives and surreal stories by beloved visionaries who set out to reach inward and outward through all of us dreamers and thinkers.

There are also those lovable Sci-fi films that are charming and wonderfully kitsch. And some… are just downright so, so, soooo awful their… awesome!

That’s what makes so many of these diverging films cut through the cross-sections to become cinematic jewels & memorable cult favorites!

Robot Monster 2

There are many films that I’ll cover more in depth, some are the more highly polished masterpieces that have lingered for decades with us as adult children who grew up watching them on a rainy afternoon on televisions with knobs that only had 9 channels and if you were lucky you didn’t snap the knob off every 6 months! Growing up in New York I had Chiller Theater, on local channel 11 or Creature Features on Channel 5, or Fright Night on Channel 9. That’s how I fell in love, and got my fill of the treasures of films & television anthology series that was lurking out there destined to leave long lasting impressions on so many of us!

Chiller Theater

Fright Night WOR

Or back in the day, you went to the Drive-In theater to explore in the back seat of your pop’s Chevy Impala any double feature, and it was an invigorating and entertaining experience and you didn’t even have to get out of your pajamas.

Retro Drive In

You could spend all day in a musty theater festooned with captivating promotional lobby cards and colorful posters. Too bad, I wasn’t of the age to witness William Castle’s ballyhoo he strategically placed at certain theaters for that interactive live experience , EMERGO, PERCEPTO! You could take in a bunch of the latest scary films, sometimes double & triple features, while sitting on sticky red velvet seats that smelled like hot buttered popcorn and week old spilled Pepsi. A box of Milk Duds in hand and the faint wiff of air conditioner freon at your back. You’d enter the movie theater in the bright light of a sunny Saturday afternoon only to exit into the dark of night, tired and filled with wonder, awe and okay maybe looking over your shoulder a few times. Some films were big budget productions, that contained serious acting by studio contract players, terrific writing that blended deep thoughts and simple escapism pulled from some of the best science fiction, fantasy & horror literature and adapted screenplays, scares and witty dialogue besides and cinematography that still captivates us to this day.

3D Audience

Well… sure some were B movies that have now sustained that Cult film charm and cheesiness, and some… are just downright pitiful, laughable guilty pleasures… and a bunch even came with really neat 3D glasses!

SOME ICONIC GEMS FOR THE AGES THAT I’LL BE COVERING!

Creature From the Black Lagoon

Incredle Shrinking Man vs Cat

THEM! (1954)*INVADERS FROM MARS (1953) *DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)*FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) *THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)*EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) *THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) *INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) *WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) * CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) * IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953)* IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) *EARTH VS THE SPIDER (1958) *THE CRAWLING EYE (1958) *THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959) *IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) *TARANTULA (1955) *FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958) *THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957)* THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957) * THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959)*KRONOS (1957)* THE CREEPING UNKNOWN (1956)*X-THE UNKNOWN (1956

I’LL ALSO BE TALKING ABOUT SOME GUILTY PLEASURES!

Attack of the Crab Monsters 4

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

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Paul Birch is the alien vampire Paul Johnson in Roger Corman’s Not of This Earth 1957

The Brain from Planet Arous 1957* Attack of the Crab Monsters 1957* The Killer Shrews 1959* The Giant Claw 1957 *Beast From Haunted Cave 1959 *The Monster from Piedras Blancas 1959 *Invasion of the Saucer Men 1957 *The Monster that Challenged the World 1957 *Not of this Earth 1957* The She-Creature 1956* The Man Who Turned to Stone 1958* Invisible Invaders 1959* Attack of the 50 Foot Woman 1958* The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) * Monster on the Campus 1958* The Unknown Terror 1957* Creature with The Atom Brain 1955 * The Unearthly 1955 * From Hell it Came 1957,

Tabanga and Korey

It’s also important to mention some of the ubiquitous actors who graced both the great & guilty pleasure flicks, you’ll be seeing a lot of in the following chapters like John Carradine * Ed Nelson *Allison Hayes *Paul Birch *John Agar *Hugh Marlowe*Peter Graves *Richard Denning *Richard Carlson *Faith Domergue *Mara Corday *Les Tremayne *Marie Windsor *Morris Ankrum * Arthur Franz *Kenneth Tobey* John Hoyt * Whit Bissell and of course Beverly (kicks-ass!) Garland!

One thing is for certain, each film is relevant and all have a place in the 50s decade of Sci-fi / Horror & Fantasy!

So come back and read a little at a time and get some thrills even while you’re sitting under the hair dryer… Do people still do that today? I need to get out more…

1955 hairdryer wants to be a space-age helmet

This 1955 hair dryer is just begging to be a space-age helmet!

It all started with Georges Méliès 1903 fantasy A Trip to the Moon
Le Voyage Dans La Lune 1902 – Georges Méliès

Le Voyage Dans La Lune 1902

Trip to the Moon 1902

As early as 1920 there was the German expressionist film dealing with the arrival of a menacing alien visitor from the planet Algol giveing actor Emil Jannings a machine that awards him unlimited powers. ALGOL aka POWER 1920 directed by Hans Werckmeister

Emil Jennings in Algol 1920

“That which you believe becomes your world.”
Richard Matheson from ‘What Dreams May Come’

Science Fiction emerged out of the “Age of Reason” literature reflected a merging of myth and historical fact. Stories filled with an imagination that had no boundaries. While Science Fiction is a literary movement that can be a separate study all it’s own, story tellers who grasped the concepts of science fiction who questioned the endless possibilities, the far reaching machinations of brilliant minds, this project if focused on the history of 1950s science fiction cinematic and all it reveals. Science Fiction cinema flirted blatantly with ideas and images of a world that reached beyond the known, and contemplated aloud, fantastic stories as early as the silent era. Consider Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, re-envisioned time and time again.

barrymore 1920 dr jekyll

dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde-(1920)

John Barrymore lifts the dark conflicting tale of the inward monsters off the pages of Stevenson’s book. Barrymore so fluently moved through the silent stage, reveals that we all just might be harboring in our sub-conscious hidden dark and primal desires. Unleashed by a concoction, a seduction of science creates a fiend! Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920)

aelita-queen-of-mars-1924

Aelita Queen of Mars (1924)

The odd yet visually stunning Russian spectacle Aelita Queen of Mars (1924) aka Revolt of the Robots.e

There were a few early visions of fantasy, magic & Science Fiction films from all around the world- At 3:25 aka The Crazy Ray (1924)  Directed by Rene Clair-a scientist invents a ray that makes people fall asleep where they stand! The German film Master of the World (1934) (Der Herr der Welt) where a German scientist wants to create an army of Robots to do the dangerous work of laborers so, when he is told it’s too risky he goes mad and it’s too late the machine has a mind of it’s own. It features really cool electronic chambers and more!

And Transatlantic Tunnel (1935) Scientists construct a tunnel under the ocean-stars Richard Dix, Leslie Banks and C. Aubrey Smith.

Metropolis 1927 the dystopian masterpiece by director Fritz Lang was the beginning of the fascination with exploring the fantastic and our unbounded imaginations on film, it’s remarkable set design, imagery and narrative sparked the Science Fiction genre in a big way— spanning decade upon decade, in particular revived in the 1950s!

Metropolis

The first influential science fiction film by Fritz Lang created a dystopian societ in Metropolis 1927. It’s influence has maintained it’s powerful thrust for decades. An inspiration for Ridley Scott’s neo-noir sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner (1982)
Metropolis 1927

“Man is the unnatural animal, the rebel child of nature, and more and more does he turn himself against the harsh and fitful hand that reared him”-H.G.Wells

Island-of-Lost-Souls 1932

Kathleen Burke Island of Lost Souls

Island of Lost Souls charles_laughton

Island of Lost Souls 1943 The House of Pain

Charles Laughton is superb as H.G. Wells Dr. Moreau a sociopathic sadist/scientist with a god complex whose profane experiments on animals and humans tortures them in the ‘house of pain’ trying to create a hybrid race he can hold sway over on his private island hell! Science has never been more evil! Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Then there was the 1936 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ Things To Come (1936) directed by William Cameron Menzies and starring Raymond Massey as Oswald Cabal, Ralph Richardson as The Boss, Margaretta Scott as Roxanna/Rowena and Cedric Hardwicke as Theotocopulos.

things-to-come

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“What is this progress? Progress is not living. It should only be the preparation for living.”

Flash Gordon and similar serials provided super heroes for generations of young people in the 30s & 40s, planting the seeds for the future that would give us the Star Wars legacy.

Flash Gordon Buster Crabbe and Ming

Audiences between the World Wars preferred horrors of a Gothic nature– James Whale’s Frankenstein 1931 & Bride of Frankenstein 1935, as they helped exercise demons conjured up from the 19th & early 20th century.

James Whales Bride of Frankenstein 1932

The electrical secrets of heaven, the lighting, the elaborate sets designed by genius Kenneth Strickfaden with his lights throbbing gizmos flashing and zapping, the creepy atmosphere of murky tones. The consummate Universal monster movie with iconic scenes introducing a new face, Boris Karloff who would become the great father of terror stories …

colin clive and dwight frye Frankenstein 1931

Frankenstein's hand it's alive

ColinClive it's Alive

What’s on that slab?,It’s Alive, It’s Alive!…” those monumental words that remain ingrained in our consciousness. Colin Clive becomes hysterical as he has creates life from death, but that life would become a whole new ethical, moral and imposing dilemma for Dr.Frankenstein. A horror film with strong science fiction/fantasy tropes. And the laboratory as gorgeous set pieces would become a staple of the science fiction realm.

Bride & Frankenstein's monster

bride_of_frankenstein 1935

The 1950s Science Fiction genre took root with it’s profouns contribution to our collective consciousness AS a genre its vision & breadth possessed quintessential & ever-lasting sociological and psychological metaphors, iconic tropes and striking imagery.

The splitting of the atom, ushering in the atomic age and the collective anxiety most definitely was the catalyst for the many of the movie fantasy stories known as the 1950s Sci-Fi film.

“But no matter what else it might be, what makes a science fiction film science fiction is the fact that it is, in some sense, about science—and not only science but futuristic science. By that I mean that science fiction movies deal with scientific possibilities and technologies that do not exist yet but that might exist someday. Science fiction is the realm of the not-yet.” — “Cult Science Fiction Films” by Welch Everman

Ridley Scott – (Alien 1979, Blade Runner 1982) “When you come to the second World War You’ve got a very specific enemy. You know what that enemy is, It’s there for all the wrong reasons and it should be prevented…. Then you got the next phase which is The Cold War again which is to do with paranoia . But I think real, it’s real. Movies started to dip into that.”

splitting the atom men in white coats

“The Splitting of the atom…. forces that can only be explained to us by these guys in white coats… All of a sudden the guys in white coats became these simultaneously kind of rock stars and the most evil thing you could imagine.”

In a scene from The Atomic City 1952– The mother’s child sitting at the kitchen table with his breakfast “If I grow up do you know what I’m gonna do?” The mother turns to him, leaving her scrambled eggs on the stove and corrects him nervously, “It’s when you grow up, not if…”

The Atomic City 1952

The Atomic City 1952 trailer

Duck & Cover 1951 classic propaganda film

From the short instructional film Duck and Cover “But no matter where they go or what they do they always try to remember what to do if the atom bomb explodes right then!” (the kids suddenly fall into the brick wall. The narrator says ) It’s a bomb DUCK & COVER!

James Cameron – “All of our fate as human beings, our destiny seems bound up in our technology and our technology is frightening. It’s Terrifying!”

Steven Spielberg- “So there was a great deal of anxiety in the air. It was not just fear of being beaten up by the local bully. But the fear was being NUKED!… But we almost pushed a button on each other during The Cuban Missile Crisis…… I was absolutely prepared for Armageddon and these movies from the 1950s and early 60s played on those fears. And these movies were all metaphors for those fears. ”

George Lucas- “I would say that there was a certain amount of anxiety about that I mean I grew up right in the very heat of that. DUCK & COVER drills all the time… We were always hearing about the fall out shelter. About the end of the world, issues that were always going on about how many bombs were being built. The Cold War was always in the media.”

From The Twilight Zone “The Shelter” season 3 episode 3

Twilght Zone 'The Shelter' s3e3

1950s Sci-Fi films represented a conservatism or ‘reactionary wing’ that seems consumed by a motive to emphasize the values of 1950s America post WWII, in the midst of a McCarthy era witch hunt that prevailed fueling our fears that seeped into many of the Sci-Fi narratives on screen and in literature. Reflecting the growing internal struggles within American society and the developing mistrust about Soviet aggression and anyone and anything perceived as subversive.

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?”

Some films that reflected the paranoia of the period were well regaled by a Hollywood studio system that was itself at the center of the controversial House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) targeting screenwriters and actors as ‘communist sympathizers’ and no one could be trusted. -Just like Invaders from Mars 1953, Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, X the Unknown 1956, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, and I Married a Monster From Outer Space 1958.

X The Unknown

Invaders from Mars

In 1947, in Roswell New Mexico the military reports that they have a UFO in their possession. The phenomena of sightings of UFOs would continue throughout the 1950s, though agencies were fully prepared to explain away the reports. Yet the public had a hunger to and fascination with the possibility of extra-terrestrials.

As Phil Hardy’s insightful take on the genre, all this manifested in a way that the Science Fiction films of the 1950s ‘supplanted horror as the genre that dealt with fear and paranoia.” The films expressed a very realistic look at science within the atomic age, and shed the shadows and expressionism of the earlier Gothic horrors and while not all scientific fact, tried to embrace a world of possibility.

The Flying Saucer 1950 begins the momentum for the decade of Science Fiction cinema’s love affair with unidentified objects and begins to round the edges of space crafts from other worlds that aren’t our American sharp and phallus shaped rockets!

The Flying Saucer -ship

The flying_saucer 1950

DESTINATION MOON 1950 was featured in COLOR BY TECHNICOLOR. Being hailed the 2001, Space Odyssey of it’s time, it attempts to portray a realism trip to the moon. Phil Hardy calls Destination Moon 1950a sober celebration of man’s imminent conquest of space that dominated the decade.’

destination moon rocket

destination-moon-space matters

Destination Moon did attempt to accurately portray a trip to the moon given the technology and knowledge that was stuck in 1950.

Then we shot past the moon in cinema and went straight to the red planet with Flight to Mars 1951!

Flight to Mars

Themes and metaphors that emerged from anxiety about the atom bomb, radiation fallout, the advent of modernity, the space race and the wanderlust to conquer outer space, interplanetary warfare, military vs. science hubris, science meddling with nature, fear of science and technology, invasion anxiety, continued fear of otherness, deviant (in terms of counter-culture not exclusively moral judgement) subversion and xenophobic nightmares.

Sometimes we were even married to a monster from outer space and didn’t even notice much of a difference except for the lack of small talk! Here’s Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott in I Married a Monster from Outer Space 1958.

I Married-a-Monster-from-Outer-Space Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott

I Married a Monster From Outer Space

Director Howard Hawk and screenplay by Charles Lederer, created a striking science fiction masterpiece of film noir ambience with it’s chilling back lit set pieces- The Thing From Another World 1951, adapted from John W. Campbell’s story ‘Who Goes There?’, other films that followed the path of paranoia — Invaders from Mars 1953, War of the Worlds 1953, It Came from Outer Space 1953, It Conquered the World 1956 & Invasion of the body snatchers 1956.

Xenomorph

bodysnatchers 1956 review

The Thing it's round like a spaceship

The Thing at the door

the thing shadow play

There were also science fiction films that rang the warning bell about cosmic calamity and catastrophic world coming to an end, annihilation fantasies like When Worlds Collide 1951.

War of the Worlds 1953 and When Worlds Collide 1951 had as Phil Hardy states, ‘religious dimensions’ that accused us of bringing about catastrophic punishment because of our misdeeds and transgressions.

War of the Worlds Valley of Shadows

When Worlds Collide 6

H.G. Well’s view of Martian invaders created for the public consciousness the idea of destructive beings from another world. It was a great reflexive move for those science fiction films to portray aliens that were sympathetic, yet non-humanoid in appearance. Most Sci-Fi films show aliens as menacing, not only destructive but dangerous because they also wanted to keep us as captives, zap our resources and colonize our planet, sometimes even take our women, oh god no unhand Faith Domergue you pants wearing Mutant!

This Island Earth Metaluna mutant

invaders from mars b&w

Is that a fireball or something

“Is that a fireball or something?”

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INVADERS FROM MARTS MUTANTS WITH ZIPPERS

InvadersFromMars

invaders-from-mars-

Hollywood saw a trend later on in the 50s with Destination Moon 1950 when they came upon a story written by Harry Bates called The Return of the Master this became Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 which has remained one of the best regarded science fiction films of all time. This is one of the rare occasions when the alien Klaatu played beautifully like an intricate clock by the chiseled face, tranquil speaking Michael Rennie is benevolent, bringing with him a sincere and dire warning about earth people’s course and the future of their civilization if they don’t relent about the proliferation of atomic weapons. There were several well intended alien visitors who were met with hostilities as with, Klaatu (Michael Rennie ) in Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, and The Man From Planet X 1951.

The Man from Planet X

the-day-the-earth-stood-still

Day the Earht STood Still Klaatu solves the board 2

Day the Earth Stood Still Patricia Neal and GORT1951-

GORT

Many films, even the low budget excursions dealt with our primal fears of alienation, estrangement & loss of identity i.e.,(communism at it’s core, the ramifications of otherness) nothing hits home more than Invaders from Mars 1953, and the quintessential loss of self and individualism in Don Siegels’ Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

they would have changed into people who hate you

“They would change into people who hate you!”

Steven Spielberg talks about the impact of Invaders from Mars 1953, “It certainly touched a nerve among all the young kids like myself who saw that movie at a very young age. That you would come home and that you would not recognize your mom and dad they would have changed into people who hate you!”

I can attest to the persuasion these films could have over the burgeoning imagination of a child, especially one like me who felt very much like an outsider as a kid. One night, as sure as my name is MonsterGirl, I went home, looked at my parents, decided they had been switched by aliens and ran out of the house, walking around the block for at least an hour before I convinced myself that I was being ridiculous. Or was I? These themes did have a not so subtle impact on a young impressionable mind who could easily question the world around them. Who could you trust? Would would believe you anyway?

There is the outsider narrative, diminishing human forms as in Bert I. Gordon’s Attack of the Puppet People 1958 where obsessed and lonely puppet maker John Hoyt loses his marbles. Although mad -bad science has shrunk down people before the 1950s in The Devil Doll 1936 and in the hands of crazed Albert Dekker in Dr. Cyclops 1940.

Attack of the Puppet People John Hoyt and Agar

dr cyclops 1940

There is the quintessential existential crisis, the beautifully thought provoking film by director Jack Arnold starring the eternally transcending man Grant Williams in, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

the-incredible-shrinking-man-1957-

And of course there is the matter of GIGANTISM!

Earth vs the Spider

EarthVsTheSpider

THEM!

Monster_Challenged

The Black Scorpion

Giant insects, sea creatures and people who ran around half crazed and scantily dressed were a by-product of the atomic age!

50 ft Woman

The Amazing Colossal Man

George Lucas —“Out of that fear came I think a lot the monsters which you mess around with stuff and you’re gonna unleash this unknown monster!… it’s making tangible the unknown… A lot of that has to do with the mystery of this silent death that comes along with it that nobody knows exactly what it is or where it came from or can’t see it, can’t touch it. Well let’s make it easier to deal with by making it a giant monster.”

War of the Colossal Beast

Some films show the ascension from violence & hyper-masculinity, Women as professionals & bold heroines who didn’t shrink as hysterical victims. Female dominated civilizations (Cat- Women of the Moon 1953, Queen of Outer Space 1958, Missile to the Moon 1958, Fire Maidens from Outer Space 1956, that threatened to maniacally seduce & subsume male voyagers, dressed by 5th avenue they are outré chic. Wanton warriors & nubile space maidens who often never saw the male species before or wanted to destroy them altogether!

Fire Maidens of Outer Space

missile-to-the-moon-1958 directed by richard-e-cunha

A tagline reads “SEE-Astounding she-beasts of Venus!”

Queen of Outer Space

In Queen of Outer Space 1958 the masked disfigured Queen Yilana (Zsa Zsa Gabor) imprisons the men who crash land on her planet, intending to annihilate the earth with her beta disintegrator, though her beautiful subjects revolt in the name of love.

Mark Hamill –“We sometimes imagined other planets as paradises…. with girls!!! they looked more Hollywood starlets than space aliens, anyway they were eager to please. Their dancing their music their leotards were so Moderne! like Greenwich Village in outer space.” referring to Cat-Women of the Moon 1953.

Cat Women on the Moon May we serve you earth men?

“May we serve you earth men?”

Missile to the Moon-You're the first man I've ever seen.

“You’re the first man I’ve ever seen!” Carol Brewster as Alpha is mesmerized

missile to the moon

Step on it and don't spare the atoms! planets as paradise with GIRLS!!!

“Step on it, and don’t spare the atoms!” from Abbott & Costello Go to Mars (1953)

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“Their dance, their music, their leotards were so Moderne!”

KT Stevens as The Lido in Missile To The Moon

Missile To The Moon- Hollwood chorus girls

Missile to the Moon 1958

Missile to the Moon spider maiden

Missile to the Moon 1958

There’s nothing worse than a space Queen–The Lido (K.T. Stevens ) and one of her maidens in distress…

Mark Hamill who narrates the wonderful documentary written and directed by Richard Schickel Watch the Skies! Sci-Fi , the 1950s and Us presented by Turner Classic Movies also reminds us that “50s science fiction may have shot at the stars but the dialogue often remained earth bound tied up with the battle of the sexes.” Many prevailing sub-texts were also love stories, soap operas involving relationships between men and women.They would create love stories in space!

project moonbase 1953

Project Moonbase 1953 Donna Martell as Colonel Briteis (bright eyes?)

they would create love stories in space Lloyd and Osa in Rocketship X-M doomed to crash

Rocketship X-M (1950) starring Lloyd Bridges and Ossa Massen

Osa's character in Rocketship XM is brave in the end not hysterical-she sees her death as a new beginning

Cameron Mitchell plays Steve Abbott in Flight to Mars 1953, who tells Marguerite Chapman as Alita a fellow scientist/astronaut, “I think you’re a prize package and very feminine.”

Flight To Mars 1951

There is always time for romance in outer space!

flight-to-mars with scientist Margaritte Chapman

There were menaces from without, menaces from within. The ordinary world transformed into the monstrous. There were warnings from benevolent aliens and aggressive attacks by aliens who wanted to colonize our planet.

Sometimes the warnings or threats came from disembodied heads and brains, like Donovan’s Brain 1953, Fiend Without a Face 1958 and The Brain from Planet Arous 1957.

Donovan's Brain 1953

fiend WITHOUT A FACE

Gor from Planet Arous

The indie filmmakers introducing teenagers as both heroes & monsters. Many films were horror/sci-fi hybridizations. And by the end of the decade we were left a legacy of impressive productions that remain timeless masterpieces, the cult grade- B Sci-Fi picture with their indelible charm and kitsch emblems, and the true stinkers that are so bad there too good not to appreciate. Sublime, thrilling, provocative & yes campy!

Teenagers from Outer Space

I-Was-a-Teenage-Werewolf

There were collections of stylized works by Jack Arnold, Bert I. Gordon, Edward L. Cahn and one indie auteur who showed us how to make a memorable movie on a shoe string budget who also launched many a career, the inimitable and grand Roger Corman. And of course those guys at American International Pictures (AIP)

Within the 50s decade shedding the Gothic themes of the 30s & 40s, the poetic shadow plays of Val Lewton,1950s Sci-Fi films had a pre-occupation with the modern world and mostly all the central menaces were transformed into non-human threats that we not only couldn’t empathize with but were revolted against as dangerous, vicious, insidious and potentially nihilistic in vision, they were seen as only a threat to our humanity and ultimately would lead to our destruction.

It came from outer space Xenomorph close up

Within Sci-Fi there are so many films which are complex hybridizations of horror/science fiction /fantasy and have become too insurmountable to dissect or decipher all the nuances between the various free-floating genres. Writer critic historian Robin Wood in his Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan.—wagers that “the horror film’s radical potential lies in the fact that ‘the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses’ Jancovich states that the monster “must therefor be seen as a profoundly ambiguous figures which challenges social norms and so reveals society’s repressive monstrosity.”

Killers from Space

Killers from Space 1954

This theme is attached to McCarthyism that showed up as coded narratives in the more highly produced Sci-Fi films- “the myth of Communism as total dehumanization—accounts for the prevalence of this kind of monster in that period” -Mark Jancovich -Rational Fears- American Horror in the 1950s.

We can’t forget contributions made by the maestros in the visual effects department, direction, art direction and cinematography from George Pal, William Cameron Menzies and Ray Harryhausen.

Ymir4

20-million-miles-to-earth-creature-ymir and elephant-in-rome

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) Ray Harryhausen’s Ymir from Venus

it-came from beneath the sea

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) Ray Harryhausen’s The Kraken

Cinematographers who brought these visual narratives & landscapes to life- just to name a few!

Clifford Stine (It Came from Outer Space 1953,This Island Earth 1955, Imitation of Life 1959,Spartacus 1960) Sidney Hickox (Them! 1954, The Big Sleep 1946,Dark Passage 1947,White Heat 1949), John F. Seitz (Invaders from Mars 1953, Sullivan’s Travel’s 1941m Double Indemnity 1944, Sunset Boulevard 1950), Russell Harlan ( The Thing from Another World 1951, Red River 1948, Witness for the Prosecution 1959 To Kill a Mockingbird 1962) George Barnes (War of the Worlds 1953, Rebecca 1940, Spellbound 1945) Leo Tover (The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, Hold Back the Dawn 1941,The Snake Pit 1948, The Woman on the Beach 1947,The Heiress 1949, Journey to the Center of the Earth 1959) Ellsworth Fredericks (Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, Hold Back the Night 1956,The Stripper 1963, Mister Buddwing 1966)

And just as key to the atmosphere and attitude of the films were the musical contributions which defined that certain feel of chills and excitement, screwball antics and off-beat perscussion that filled up your head with pulsing visions of laser beams and other-worldly noises that ran up your spine like a finely coiled wire resonating the confluent sounds of the cosmos! Geesh that was a mouthful!

Invasion of Saucer Men bug eyes

There were composers who masterfully underscored some of the BEST films and even the worst!, Dimitri Tiomkin * Bronislau Kaper * Bernard Herrmann *Hans J. Salter and Henry Mancini to name a few.

Instrumentalist Clara Rockmore mastered the Theremin which had a cosmic, universal vibe that was, well out of this world!

The Theremin is an electronic musical instrument created by Russian inventor , Léon Theremin controlled by the performing thereminist who makes the dulcet eerie tones by manipulating the two metal antennas that respond to the hand movements which influence the oscillations or frequency with one hand and effecting the volume with the other hand.

Popular were the films that dealt with the hubris of science that ultimately manifested monsters. There were even pants monsters, yes! pants monsters…! The burning sun turned him into a hideous fiend, but he still had time to put on those Haggars casual men’s trousers!

THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, Robert Clarke (in doorway), Patricia Manning (second from right), 1959
THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, Robert Clarke (in doorway), Patricia Manning (second from right), 1959

There was a running sentiment —the notion of us against them, and even at times when not working together to fight a common enemy- you’d see the military vs science… And sometimes, though almost always male hero driven, there emerged some anti-damsels, all-powerful women who broke the cliched mold of the helpless hysterical female and arose as smart, intellectual (a socially constructed gendered male quality), mindful and fearlessly driven woman with guts and composure even if it was to hold off from laughing at Paul Blaisdell inside that cucumber monster from Venus.

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Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World (1956) The Venusian cucumber

Beverly Garland anti damsel It conquered the world

Just look at Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence in Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954, Joan Weldon as Dr. Patricia Medford in Them! 1954, Beverly Garland as Dr. Andrea Romar in Curucu, Beast of the Amazon 1956 & and her gutsy Clair Anderson in It Conquered the World 1956, Tina Carver as Dr. Terry Mason in From Hell It Came 1957 and Faith Domergue as Dr. Ruth Adams in This Island Earth 1955 & Prof. Lesley Joyce in It Came from Beneath the Sea 1955, and Lola Albright as Cathy Barrett in The Monolith Monsters 1957 .

Some sci-fi films were visually surreal landscapes or existential masterpiece such as William Cameron Menzies Invaders From Mars 1953 or Ib Melchior’s The Angry Red Planet 1959 and Jack Arnold’s magnificent adaptation of Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

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The Angry Red Planet (1959) The Rat Bat Spider puppet monster!

Incredible Shrinking Man Grant Williams in the atomic cloud

Grant Williams sails into the radioactive mist in The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957

Invaders from Mars awake from a dream

Invaders from Mars (1953) Jimmy Hunt awakens to a UFO crashing into the sand dunes

“To sleep perchance to dream”-Hamlet-William Shakespeare

This dream-scape is a visual masterpiece, with the appearance of the sublimely brilliant Finnish painter Hugo Simberg, ( I happen to get permission from The National Museum of Finland to use Simberg’s ‘At The Crossroads’ as the cover of my album Fools & Orphans) thanks to the art design by visionary William Cameron Menzies!

the surreal art design looks like a Hugo Simberg painting

A scene from Invaders from Mars (1953)

It is absolutely true about one thing— that it’s wholly complex to begin dissecting what makes a film solely and definitively Science Fiction and what constitutes it being a hybridization of horror & fantasy. There are way too many that fall right on the gray line that either exists in the middle or transects both themes at once.

The Tingler Vincent Price I"m stuck on you

Vincent Price can’t get that pesky Tingler off his arm in William Castle’s terrific horror/sci-fi extravaganza equip with buzzing chairs-The Tingler (1959)

For example, I am covering William Castle’s The Tingler 1959, because, while the central terror surrounds a monstrous ‘horror movie themed monster’ a creeping fiend that lives inside us all and grips our spines the moment we are in abject fear, it is discovered by scientific and medical research. One could say the film is also a crime drama. There are too many nuances and parameters that intersect. James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 1931 is called a Monster movie by Universal and by fans of all generations. But it falls into the deep well of hybridization as so much of it focuses on the very philosophical questions around scientific hubris, the creation of human life and the question of god, ownership of one’s identity, and what is monstrous?

Boris Karloff as The monster

“A lot of science fiction films are also horror films in which monsters are spawned by scientific experiments, but not all horror films are science fiction, because science fiction does not deal in the supernatural. Science fiction takes place in the realm of the not-yet; supernatural horror films operate in the realm of the impossible.” — “Cult Science Fiction Films” by Welch Everman

The enormous influence that Science Fiction cinema had long-lasting effects on the advent of television. Just look at Rod Serling’s Fantasy/Sci-Fi anthology series which aired on CBS from 1959-1964. The show came in on the end of the decade. Stories that were infused by the themes of the 50s and set the tone for future decades to come. The Twilight Zone was groundbreaking and thought-provoking, dealing with issues of war, class, race, it was a socially conscious program that constantly tried to remind us of our humanity. The decade of 1950s Science Fiction also bled into the mindfulness of my favorite early 60s science fiction anthology series The Outer Limits.

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The Zanti Misfits

The Zanti Misfits-one of the many fabulous Outer Limits monsters!

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to – The Orwellian Control Voice from The Outer Limits anthology television series aired from 1963-1965.

Mark Jancovich writes “Again and again, the threats which distinguish 1950s horror
do not come from the past or even from the actions of a lone individual , but are associated with the processes of social development and modernization. In this period, it is the process of rationalization which is the threat, and in this way horror texts were at least as concerned with developments within American society as they were with threats from without… Here rationalization is understood as the process through which scientific – technical rationality is applied to the management of social, economic and cultural life…

… this new system of organization was seen by many as inherently totalitarian system which both created conformity and repressed dissent.”

the last man_on earth zombies

Vincent Price fights off zombies from a plague that wiped out most of the human race in Richard Matheson’s adapted screenplay from his story I Am Legen- The Last Man on Earth (1964)

The outsider narratives– were illustrated as contrasting and conflicting to accepted norms, we see this with Richard Matheson’s writing (I Am Legend which became Vincent Price’s agonizing journey as The Last Man on Earth 1964, and later The Omega Man 1971 and Jack Arnold’s films involving “the reoccurring preoccupation with alienation, isolation and estrangement” -Jancovich- seen in Creature From the Black Lagoon 1954 and The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

Creature Black Lagoon

Grant Williams protagonist Scott Carey becomes engulfed in a glittery mist of atomic dust particles in The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957 the film exudes anxiety of his diminishing masculinity by not only losing his literal size, his physical height but he loses his maleness as a husband and as a regular man. This estrangement become a journey of his eternal soul and it’s place in the vast unknown other-world.

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Grant Williams is feeling ‘literally’ like such a small man.

shrinking sublime transcendance

There would be films that embrace the dystopia narratives, and curiosity with technical advancements like robots!

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Fritz Lang’s iconic robot in Metropolis (1927)

Forbidden Planet Robby Robot

Robby the Robot and Walter Pidgeon as Morbius in George Pal’s take on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest as Forbidden Planet 1956

These Science Fiction/Fantasy films have left a deep and abiding impression on so many of us. Whether you grew up actually seeing them for the very first time, or becoming a new fan who is excited to embrace the heart and soul of a genre that made you think beyond what if? Either way, Science Fiction is an exploration of our imaginations, both glorious and often terrifying but it’s a genre that is here to stay, and the 1950s in particular truly rang the alarm bell that is still reverberating today!

Added to the mix in many of these film favorites was the essential mechanism of ‘not being believed’ added to the fear and paranoia of the moment!

The Face of Paranoia

THE FACE OF PANIC_PARANOIA BODY SNATCHERS

Invasion Anxiety

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FEAR OF THE ATOMIC BOMB! The Atomic City 1952 trailer

I see you with my million eyes!

fly

Hey big fella got a light!

Godzilla King of the Monsters

The theremin ‘the dulcet tones’ that wavered throughout sci-fi and beyond!

clara rockmore theremin

‘The modern world’

1952

It’s intermission time! Head out to the snack bar for some 50s refreshments!

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LOST WORLDS AND SPACE TRAVEL

Destination Moon

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Directed by Irving Pichel and producer George Pal along with a screenplay by Robert Heinlein took a very documentary approach to the narrative and the landscapes. The film stars John Archer as Jim Barnes, Warner Anderson as Dr. Charles Cargraves, with Tom Powers and Dick Wesson. The film was a critical success an revived the Sci-Fi genre.

Destination Moon 1950 was an attempt to show a serious technical side to space travel. based on what science actually knew at the time. Actually it was in response to a spread that ran in Collier’s Magazine of series of paintings done by artist Chesley Bonastell of gleaming space craft.

Steven Spielberg had said of the picture, “DESTINATION MOON is a scientific attempt to create suspense based on no bad guys no villains and no aliens.

Similar to almost Apollo 13 (1995) or Marooned 1969)

George Lucas says “At the time it was a very provocative idea because nobody had ever seen anyone go to the moon.” 

Though it’s been called the precursor to 2001 Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick never admitted to having seen the movie. Which is highly possible, and given his genius we’ll take his word for it.
Destination Moon on the surface

In the midst of the Cold War, the film reflects America’s desire to conquer, and according to the generals in Destination Moon, the moon would be the ideal location for a strategic military base of operations. And thus the race for America to get there first. There’s also a conflict seen as there were those who would embrace the new technologies and those who saw the impending modernity as a threat or a ‘bad thing’.

Pichel and Pal wanted to situate this film farther away from the fantastical science fiction ‘soap opera’ serials of the 1930s. Physicists and astronomers were consulted in order to stay true to the realistic view Heinlein, Pichel and Pal desired as their vision of the future. They also used striking paintings by Chesley Bonestell to imagine the gorgeous lunar landscapes along with designer Ernest Fegte who create the realistic cratered look of the Moon.

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Destination Moon gear

The film features the first lunar landing that was envisioned as realistic and not melodramatic or surreal. The crew led by actor John Archer manage to land on the Moon but they run out of fuel, that they seem doomed to be stranded. They lose all the excess weight in order to get the ship space worthy again, but till they are over the weight limit. In a noble act of courage and sacrifice Dick Wesson (Tom Powers) figures that he can remove his cumbersome pressure suit and re-enter the ship a lighter and better man in order to save the rest of the crew…

destination-moon

Dr. Charles Cargraves: You can’t buck public opinion; I’ve tried. Have you seen this?
[Newspaper headline: MASS MEETING PROTESTS RADIOACTIVE ROCKET]
General Thayer: That isn’t public opinion – it’s a job of propaganda!
Jim Barnes: You’re almighty right it is. Manufactured and organized – with money and brains. Somebody’s out to get us.

The Flying Saucer

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The FLying Saucer 1950 saucer

Directed by Mikel Conrad, stars Mikel Conrad as Mike Trent, Pat Garrison as Vee Langley, Hantz von Teuffen as Hans, Lester Sharpeas Col. Marikoff Roy Engel as Dr. Carl Lawton and Denver Pile as Turner! Because we feared the Russians in the early 1950s much of the paranoia around UFO sightings were connected to those pesky Reds! When CIA secret agent Mike Trent tracks a flying saucer to Alaska he finds out that it is a ship built by scientist Dr. Carl Lawton who hopes to sell it to the Americans!

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The Flying Saucer 1950

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Pat Garrison and Mikel Conrad-50s cool!

Col. Marikoff: Mr. Trent, you’re giving us a great deal of trouble. Why didn’t you stay in New York with your drunken friends of the night club?

Mike Trent: I sobered up.

Prehistoric Women

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Laurette Luez

Laurette Luez as Tigri

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Prehistoric Women would find a resurgence in the 60s! Here’s British actress Martine Beswick in the 1966 movie with the same title!

Prehistoric Women (1950) Directed by Gregg C. Tallas Shown from left: Jo Carroll Dennison, Joan Shawlee, Laurette Luez, Kerry Vaughn, Mara Lynn (bending over), Judy Landon
Prehistoric Women (1950)
Directed by Gregg C. Tallas
Shown from left: Jo Carroll Dennison, Joan Shawlee, Laurette Luez, Kerry Vaughn, Mara Lynn
(bending over), Judy Landon

Directed by Gregg  C. Tallas, (Siren of Atlantas 1949) offers an adventure sci-fi fantasy film. Prehistoric Women stars Laurette Luez as Tigri, Allan Nixon as (Mesa of Lost Women 1953, Pickup 1951) Engor, Joan Shawlee as Lotee, Judy Landon as Eras, Mary Lynn as Arva, Jo Carroll Dennison as Nika, Kerry Vaughn as Tulie, Tony Devlin as Rulg, James Summers as Adh, Jeanne Sorel as Tana, and Janet Scott as Wise Old Lady.

As Bill Warren puts it in his wonderful series Keep Watching the Skies published by the awesome McFarland Press-Prehistoric Women “Were this picture not so naive, it would seem more sleazy than it does. It’s not good in any way, but has a certain daffy charm because of it’s unsophisticated unbelieveability.”

Prehistoric Women 1950 Engor and Tigir

Prehistoric Women Engor discovers fire

The Commentator:And Engor called it Firee, which was his word for Fire.”

The film is narrated documentary style because the cast are primitives who Amazonian cave-women and had little to no dialogue, it just adds to the laughable style and god awful Cinecolor production. I’d like to know how they got a turkey vulture to wear a mask poor thing, the film is so blurring it’s hard to tell what the hell is flying up in the prehistoric blue sky… scourge of the skies indeed! Still, prehistoric films, though considered mostly adventure stories seems to be included in books on the Sci-Fi genre. Though it could also easily be branded as a very cheap sexist exploitation romp!

Prehistoric Women 1950 the scourge of the skies

Look it’s a flying dragon the scourge of the skies!

Bill Warren cites a review from the Monthly Film Bulletin: “They assert feminine superiority ruthlessly, setting their captives to hard labour, clubbing them intermittently and cutting off their escape… {Engor-} (the intelligent troglodyte who invents fire) uses a flaming torch to destroy a giant winged dragon (a disguised turkey vulture they must have tortured off set by putting fake ears and beak on it) that threatens their encampment {and}the girls are stunned with fear and admiration and surrender unconditionally.”

Tigri and her clan hate men but realize that they are sort of needed for some things, so they capture a bunch of fellas and try to force them to become their mates. But when Engor, escapes and discovers fire gets re-captured and not only slays the “flying dragon the scourge of the skies” but uses the fire to fight off the ugly brute who threatens their lives Tigri has a change of heart and all is right with the primitive world again. The women start running around panicked and screaming hysterically and the men are once again in charge… it’s ludicrous.

This giant is a real 9 foot giant… named Guadi in the film is Johann Petursson The Viking Giant was the Tallest Man From Iceland and traveled with Ringling Bros. Circus!

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Prehistoric Women 1950

The Commentator: “Strangely enough, the swan dive was invented before the swan.

Rocketship-X-M

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GASP AT THE DARING COURAGE… AS THEY THUNDER BETWEEN PLANETS ON A RUNAWAY ROCKET!

Directed by science fiction story aficionado Kurt Neumann ( Secret of the Blue Room 1933, Half a Sinner 1934, Island of Lost Men 1939, a slew of Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan pictures, She Devil 1957, the outstanding Kronos 1957, and The Fly 1958 ) Rocketship X-M stars Lloyd Bridges as Col. Floyd Graham, Osa Massen as Dr. Lisa Van Horn, John Emory as Dr. Karl Eckstrom, Noah Beery Jr. as Maj. William Corrigan, Hugh O’ Brian as Harry Chamberlain, Morris Ankrum as Dr. Ralph Fleming, and Sherry Morland as the Martian girl.

Cinematographer Karl Struss   (Sunrise 1927, The Great Dictator, 1940, Limelight 1952, The Fly 1958) and art direction by Theobold Holsopple create at times a sublime and beautifully desolate landscape using matte paintings, miniatures among the technical effects. For all the scenes on Mars, the film is tinted a pinkish sepia tone (filmed partly in The Mojave desert). Struss lenses an landscape that is eerie and atmospheric.

Rocketship X-M was a B picture designed to beat DESTINATION MOON in the movie theaters, and even with it’s grim ending, it actually did better at the box office. Director James Cameron called it an ‘Anodyne answer to Destination Moon 1950.’ It was a cautionary tale about how we will not be able to control this new technology. It’s a warning about too much hubris surrounding this powerful technology that sometimes ‘precedes a tragic fall’-Mark Hamill.

The crew finds the remnants of a Martian Civilization that was destroyed by it’s own technology much like the revelation in Ridley Scott’s Alien 1979.

The film though with it’s bleak message is quite a surprisingly interesting science fiction tale about a trip to the moon, by way of Mars that is interesting because of it’s earnestness and visual style. And to be honest a lot more interesting and characters more full of life than with it’s predecessor in 1950 Destination Moon.

Rocketship XM Staffing Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Berry Jr. You heard this year's Oscar Winner for Best Actor credit his father for his acting career. Well here he is folks. Third from the left: Lloyd Bridges.
Rocketship XM
Staffing Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Berry Jr.
You heard this year’s Oscar Winner for Best Actor credit his father for his acting career. Well here he is folks. Third from the left: Lloyd Bridges.

Rocketship XM Osa and Lloyd and deep thoughts

Rocketship XM the crew inside their ship

rocketship-x-m on Mars

Rocketship XM the crew investigates the landcape

Rocketship X-M sepia exploring

Rocketship X-M

German director Neumann came to Hollywood in 1925 and became best known for his work on The Fly. (1958) Rocketship X-M is a sober and beautifully filmed piece of science fiction realism blended with romance and crisis. Like Destination Moon ,it features the first manned rocket-ship to the Moon that winds up knocked off course winding up on Mars, stranded on the bleak landscape where the crew led by Dr. Karl Eckstrom stumble upon a dome-shaped structure and an odd metallic mask. They deduce from all the radioactivity that there must have been a superior race of intelligent beings who had once inhabited the planet but fell victim to some kind of atomic catastrophe, leaving only a few mutant savages to forage the bones of the now desolate planet.

Rocketship XM the surving race

These crazy looking bald Martians sort of remind me of Pluto in The Hills Have Eyes 1977

Rocketship XM attacked by the Martian savages

The crew is eventually besieged upon by the remains of that once thriving Martian race, which in a shocking reveal shows Sherry Moreland the Martian girl to have a lifeless stare as she is blind. The Martian trogldyte attackers kill Dr.Eckstrom, and Maj. Corrigan, wounding Chamberlain. Col. Floyd Graham and Dr. Lisa Van Horn make it back to the ship, but don’t have enough fuel to get back home. In a very intense and poignant scene as the two hold each other and embrace their inevitable fate with a transcendent fatalistic sense of hope, much like Grant Williams at the end of The Incredible Shrinking Man, the lovers watch through the view finder as they plunge toward Earth to their deaths, in a darker film ending– as they crash. Rocketship X-M seems to have brought the warning not to earth in the form of Klaatu the benevolent, but has placed us on a hostile planet much like Planet of the Apes that gravely warns us that our future could very well wind up the same way if we pursue atomic weapons.

Rocketship XM the Crash landing

Lloyd Bridges holds Osa Massen It ends badly for everyone. As they look out the porthole “it’s only seconds now, try not to be afraid” She clings to him-Suddenly she is not afraid anymore. She feels like something is lifting them up and holding them right before they crash…

Osa Massen sees her tragic end as a new beginning she sheds her fears and finds a courageous way to embrace their impending death. It’s a rather poetic scene when they hold each other and look out at the view finder and watch as life rapidly escapes them. It’s a very dark ending.

Doomed to crash and burn Floyd and Lisa cannot control the technology. There is a conflict with the machines and mechanisms we build that can either annihilate  us or set us free to explore and thrive.

‘Their last desperate hope is for transcendence”

ROCKETSHIP X-M — Director John Cameron calls it a ‘dualistic dance’ with technology -referring to the end being so nihilistic potentially– then the head of the program says they’ll start construction tomorrow.

Already on Earth they are planning another mission called Rocketship X-M2!

Rocketship XM no gentlemen the X-M was not a failure tomorrow we start on the construction of the X-M2

PROGRESS MARCHES ON-“No gentlemen the X-M was not a failure tomorrow we start on the construction of the X-M2”

 

Floyd: I’ve been wondering, how did a girl like you get mixed up in a thing like this in the first place.

Dr. Lisa Van Horn: I suppose you think that women should only cook and sew and bear children.

Floyd: Isn’t that enough?

[Floyd and Lisa comfort Eckstrom, who was mortally wounded by a Martian’s axe]

Floyd: Murdering savages!

Dr. Eckstrom: No Floyd. Poor fear-crazed despairing wretches. Pity them. Pity them!

STAY TUNED FOR MORE-coming up! 🚀 The Year is:

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The Changeling (1980) “How did you die, Joseph…? Did you die in this house…? Why do you remain…?”

The Changeling 1980 wheelchairs are scary

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Here’s a blogathon that will enlighten you about many truly wonderful artists, actors, & filmmakers who proudly hail from the Great White North country of Canada! Kristina of Speakeasy  and Ruth of Silver Screenings are paying tribute to Canada… So this New Yorker is doing her part to join in with a classic ghost story that will give you the ‘pip and the whim whams!’ After all even Martin Scorsese thinks this film is one of the 11 scariest films he’s ever known!

I’m always grateful when I’m asked to join in on one of these marvelous celebrations, and my gratitude continues, so without further ado…

Door Opens Changeling

O Canada & The Changeling — IMDb trivia tid bits- The house seen in the movie in real life doesn’t and never actually did exist. The film-makers could not find a suitable mansion to use for the film so at a cost of around $200,000, the production had a Victorian gothic mansion facade attached to the front of a much more modern dwelling in a Vancouver street. This construction was used for the filming of all the exteriors of the movie’s Carmichael Mansion. The interiors of the haunted house were an elaborate group of interconnecting sets built inside a film studio in Vancouver.

The name of the history group was the Seattle Historical Preservation Society. The name of the campus where Dr. John Russell ( George C. Scott ) taught music was the University of Seattle though interiors set there were filmed at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada.

Though predominantly filmed in Canada, the picture was set in Seattle, USA where establishing shots were filmed. These included the Rainier Tower, the SeaTac Airport, the University of Washington’s Red Square, and the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge. Some location filming was shot in New York. Most of the movie was filmed in Vancouver and its environs in British Columbia with Victoria in the same Canadian province also used. Interiors set at the university were shot in Toronto in Canada’s province of Ontario.

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THE CHANGELING (1980)

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Minnie Huxley: “That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.”

The Changeling was produced by Lew Grade who tried to start up his own production company that never quite made it, however during this time he was responsible releasing Boys From Brazil 1978 and On Golden Pond 1981 and our featured ghost story The Changeling. The story is by Russell Hunter and the screenplay was written by William Gray and Diana Maddox. Directed by Peter Medak (The Ruling Class 1972, The Krays 1990, Romeo is Bleeding 1993)

Director of Photography John Coquillon (The Impersonator 1961 The Conqueror Worm 1968 Cry of the Banshee 1970, Straw Dogs 1971, Cross of Iron 1977, Absolution 1978, The Osterman Weekend 1983) Coquillon has a magical touch of creating environments that seemed closed in whilst surrounded by the a vast natural world. Because the players are about to implode from too much twisted pathology & secret sin eating, his camera work translates a tense universe on screen so well, that it elevates the narrative to a more uncomfortable level.

WHEELCHAIR CHASE

Rick Wilkins is credited for the film’s stunningly haunting score, but that effectively poignant yet eerie music box theme was composed by Howard Blake as part of a work called Lifecycle which is a collection of 24 piano pieces using only 24 keys.

The film stars George C. Scott as John Russell as a tragic figure of loss, Trish Van Devere as Claire Norman, Melvyn Douglas as Senator Carmichael, Jean Marsh as Joanna Russell, Barry Morse as the Parapsychologist, John Colicos as Captain DeWitt, Madeleine Sherwood as Claire’s mother, and Ruth Springford as the Historical Society’s creepy secretive Minnie Huxley.

The Changeling (1980) is one of those rare masterpieces that fall into the cerebral tale of otherworldly & supernatural torments that are defined as ‘intimate drawing room’ ghost stories. Much like The Uninvited (1944), Dead of Night (1945), The Innocents (1961), The Haunting (1963), Ghost Story (1981), Lady in White (1988),  and The Others (2001) 

Abject sadness

The Changeling is a SUPERIOR ghost story permeated with a moody angst, atmosphere and some of the most chilling moments in classical haunting/ horror cinema. It is said that the movie is based on actual events that took place at a mansion called the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion not in Canada but in Denver Colorado. Writer Russell Hunter claims he witnessed these events while living in the house during the 1960s. IMDb trivia tells us that ‘The Chessman Park neighborhood in the movie is a reference to Cheesman Park in Denver, where the original haunting transpired.’

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I saw The Changeling upon it’s theatrical release in 1980 and believe me when I say that those ‘frightening’ jarring moments are as effective as they were 36 years ago, they can still cause that jump out of your seat reflex!. The house used in The Changeling is as imposing and chills inspiring on it’s own. “The house was totally created by set designers and you won’t forget its eerie corridors, stairway, and dark rooms.” -John Stanley from Creature Features Movie Guide. As Stanley figures, this memorable ghost story operates on 3 though I count 4 different levels.

1) as a pure ghost story 2) as the journey of John Russell’s struggle with loss 3) as a morality tale about good vs evil. And 4) a tale of murder, power and greed.

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George C Scott plays John Russell a concert pianist/ music professor is haunted by the vision of witnessing both his wife (Jean Marsh in a tiny flashback role before she is killed) an daughter die in a freak car accident. The film opens with this tragic event, in order to set the pace for Russell’s unbounded grief and inconsolable trauma. Russell decides to pack up the Manhattan apartment, including little Kathy’s red rubber ball and moves to Seattle (Canada) where he has taken a new teaching job. The atmosphere is grim and rainy, cold and alienated as we understand how heartbroken John Russell is. Waking in the middle of the night sobbing, he cannot fathom, living in this world without his beautiful wife and daughter. John needs a large house that is removed from everything so that he may compose without being bothered by neighbors. The realtor Clair Norman (Trish Van Devere- Scott’s wife at the time. This would be their 8th film together) who is an agent for the Historical Preservation Society shows him the old Chessman Park House which has been unoccupied for twelve years.

the hearse
Trish Van Devere appeared in her own ghost story, the more toned down surreal The Hearse (1980)
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Van Devere in outre creepy The Hearse 1980

John is curious about the reasons behind the house being empty for so long, but Claire being fairly new to the society can’t give him an answer, except that the society hasn’t tried to find a new tenant for the house. Curiouser and curiouser. She also explains that there had once been plans to renovate the house and turn it into a museum. She thinks the house would be a perfect place for John to compose because of it’s sizable music room. So John moves in and begins teaching at the university, his classes become a big hit, with students accepting the SRO conditions.

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John Russell: “It’s my understanding… that there are, uh… twenty-three students registered… for this series of lectures on advanced musical form. Now, we all know it’s not raining outside, and unless there’s a fire in some other part of the building that we don’t know about, there’s an awful lot of people here with nothing better to do.”

As John gets settled in, he is invited to a cocktail party/fund raiser for the Historical Society where he sees Claire again, also meeting Mrs. Norman her mother played by Madeleine Sherwood. Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas) who is on the board and one of the Historical Society’s biggest donors is making a speech…

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At six a.am. Russell is aroused from bed by a loud pounding noise echoing through the house, reminiscent of the sonic assault that Clair Bloom and Julie Harris experienced in The Haunting 1963. It is one of the first moments that clue us in that something is wrong with the house. John assumes it’s the old pipes and so forgets about the incident.

John has a quartet of students over to work on a chamber piece. After they leave, he hears what sounds like dripping water, or someone taking a bath. The kitchen sink tap is running, so he shuts it off, but he can still hear running water from somewhere in the house. He follows the noise up to the 3rd floor. In a truly frightening moment. In the bathroom he sees a tub filled with water and the faucet still running. As he shuts off the water, he sees for a brief second the face of a little boy peering up at him from under the water… It is still one of THE most frightening scenes that I can recall.

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John sits at the piano working on a beautifully simple melody that he is recording on his reel to reel tape recorder. One of the keys is sticking, and with John not being able to find the rest of his new melody yet, stops playing.

The handyman Mr. Tuttle (C.M. Gamble) comes in to tell John that he’s got a replacement water heater for the one that’s been banging on the walls with cannon balls, John leaves the piano and sees to the job. the lone key that would not depress while John was playing intones as if an unseen finger has pressed it. This eerie moment is the second cue that John is not alone in the house

Claire comments while John is listening back to his composition that it sounds like a lullaby. She also finds the little rubber ball that was Kathy’s. A token of her John chooses to keep as a reminder of his little girl. Claire realizes that this has hit him hard, and so invites him to come horseback riding with her since it’s a lovely day.

John has flashback nightmares of the day his wife and daughter were killed. He wakes up sobbing. But what is peculiar that it is once again at 6am and the eerie pounding is reverberating through the house once more. Mr. Tuttle is once again called in to look the boiler over again, it’s most likely trapped air in the pipes. Tuttle tells John, “A furnace is like anything else. It’s got habits.It’s an old house. It makes noises.”

John is now drawn into the mystery of the house, the noises and the vision of the little boy. He visits the Historical Society in order to find out if there have been accounts of ghostly sightings with previous owners. Clair chalks up John’s anxiety to the trauma he’s been through losing his family believing it to be all in his head. But Miss Huxley (Ruth Springford) one of the eldest Society members pulls John to the side and lays it on the line. He should never have been allowed to rent that house, and that Claire had business circumventing the Society’s rules. “That house is not fit to live in. No one has been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people. “ Huxley just confirms John’s suspicions that there has been something tragic connected to the house and it is indeed haunted.

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While John pushes all his weight against the door, it will not budge. Once he steps back, the door opens with ease as if by unseen hands

There is a scene afterwards where John is leaving the Chessman Park house and a tiny stain glass window blows out from the inside leaving the shards on the ground in front of him. Something is definitely trying to get his attention and hold it. So he goes back inside back up to the third floor and opens a door that at first seems to be merely a linen closet.
But he discovers that the shelves are covering up a hidden bedroom. The ungodly pounding begins once again while John hammers at the lock until it breaks, Pushing his weight against the door, he cannot open it. Once John gives up, the door creaks open on it’s own leading into a darkness that exudes a fowl shadowy heaviness.
He walks up a decrepit cobwebbed staircase that leads to a time-forgotten dust covered attic room. There he see an old fashioned wooden wheelchair small enough to be a child’s. The wheelchair seems to embody a kind of foreboding terror. Why?

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John finds a dusty old music box. Also the red glass that burst outward onto the grounds in front is subtly shown missing from the stain glass panel from this attic’s window

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Aside from the fact that everything in this child’s attic room seems petrified, the wheelchair acts as a symbol of a child who might have suffered in that house. For whatever primal spark the chair ignites in us fear chills. John finds a child’s desk with a notebook dated January 1909, which have the initials C.S.B. There is also a music box, that when open mysteriously plays the exact melody John has been wrestling with at the piano. Like an old tune he’s heard before but can’t remember the rest of the notes. He has been directed to this room, by the pounding, the window pane shattering, the vision of the little boy in the bathtub, and from the beginning the melody that underscores Johns consciousness. All trying to lead him to a dark secret that needs to get out and be exposed to the light of day.

John plays the music box lullaby for Claire swearing he had never heard the melody before in his life then he proceeds to show her his reel to reel recording of the song he thought he was composing. The two are identical… it is a poignantly creepy moment, as it somehow binds John to the house in a way that feels precious and imminent- showing how the house is influencing him in much the way certain events controlled Eleanor (Julie Harris) in The Haunting.

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Claire tells John “I agree it’s a startling coincidence” John swears he’s never heard that melody before

While the co-incidence isn’t necessarily frightening…  All the while it gives me the ‘pip and the whim whams’ ( heard David McCallum use that line in an episode of Marcus Welby. Been waiting to find a place to use it…)

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John meets with a Parapsychologist at the University played by the wonderful Barry Morse

Claire has researched the house back to 1920 but can find no record of anything significant happening that would make sense of the experiences John is having. He begins to realize that the house isn’t trying to drive people out, more importantly something or someone it is trying to reach out for help.

John shows Claire the attic room. Then the two go to the Historical Society to look up any records of the immense yet lonely house. They find out that the last people who occupied the house left there after only two years. back in 1967. That’s when the Society took control of the old Chessman Park House with a grant bestowed by the Carmichael Foundation representing Senator Carmichael ( Melvyn Douglas) Oddly, there are no files for the house prior to 1920, they are missing! So John and Claire ask Miss Huxley about the records of who lived there around 1909. She tells them that a man named Bernard lived there with his son and daughter but sold the house a year later after a terrible tragedy.

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Once John and Claire go through library newspaper records they find a story about  a Dr. Walter Bernard, whose seven year old daughter Cora died from injuries sustained by being hit by a coal cart. Could the initials C.S.B. stand for Cora Bernard? John and Claire then go to the family cemetery to visit the graves of Cora, her brother and parents. John wonders if Cora is reaching out to him, because he lost his own daughter and she sees him as a kindred spirit. Claire encourages John to leave the house no matter what the reason. That his suffering is linked to the house now.

John reminisces about his lost wife and daughter by looking at old photographs. Suddenly the pounding begins again. When he goes to investigate, he see’s Kathy’s little red rubber ball, bouncing down the long staircase, thump thump thump thump. This moment is yet again, one of THE most frighteningly memorable scenes in classical horror history. On the outward level because it is inexplicable, yet it is also heart breaking because it tears at the wound John is already bleeding from about losing his little girl. Terrifying and sad is a potent combination and makes for a superior ghost story.

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John takes the little ball and drives to a near by bridge and throws the tiny object into the water below. But… when he returns home, the little red ball which is now wet from the river, bouncing down the long staircase yet again!!! The scene just amplifies the shock from the prior scene and does so in a way that isn’t cliché

The wonderful character actor Barry Morse plays a parapsychologist form the university who sets up a séance with mediums Leah and Albert Harmon (Helen Burns & Eric Christmas) Once at the house they already sense a presence there, which leads Leah who is psychic up toward the creepy attic room.

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CapturFiles_57 “You’ve suffered a cruel loss John Russell. you’ve lost a wife and child. The presence in this house is reaching out to you through that loss"
“You’ve suffered a cruel loss John Russell. you’ve lost a wife and child. The presence in this house is reaching out to you through that loss.”

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They begin to hold the séance John, Claire and her mother and the Harmons. Leah Harmon begins to ask questions of the spirits. She begins doing automatic writing by scribbling on a piece of paper, hoping that messages will appear through the written scrawlings. “The spirit is that of a child not at peace.”
But it is not Clara who had been killed by the coal cart. It is that of a young boy named Joseph. who died in that house and is begging John to help him. Leah keeps repeating the question, “Did you die in this house? Did you die in this house, how did you die?

Leah is in a deep trance, asking the little boy how he died with no audible answer. The camera swings around the house leading from the third floor down the staircase following the invisible presence as it moves toward the gathering. It’s an effective use of camerawork as what is unseen to us is made quite palpable. A glass and a few other trigger objects such as the tin tube that are on the table, fly into the air across the room and shatters to pieces.

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Once everyone leaves, John listens back to his reel to reel tape recording of the séance and begins to hear the faintest voice of a child answering Leah’s questions. Words are imprinted on tape like -‘ranch’ ’Sacred heart”  ‘well’ ‘Can’t walk’ and “medal.” John psychically connects with past events, he sees the vision of the boy and how he came to an end in the house. A little boy is being drowned in his bathtub by his father in that attic room. The music box is playing the song until he succumbs and the box is turned over. The source of the pounding is now represented by the boy’s little fists pounding against the tub as he struggles against drowning. The last words John hears on the tape recording is “My name is Joseph Carmichael.”

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Claire listens to the tape and cries. She recognizes Sacred Heart as an Orphanage that used to operate in the area. Claire is frozen in terror, as she looks upstairs. When John goes to look, we see the child’s wheelchair at the top of the stairs. Yet another chilling moment well paced and placed.

The secretive and nefarious Miss Huxley fills Senator Carmichael in on John and Claire’s nosing around the house’s past. He’s afraid they will find out that he was born in the old Chessman Park house in 1900, his mother dying during child birth.

There is a great mystery, tragedy and evil deeds surrounding the Senator, the little ghost child Joseph. If I give away too much of it, it would spoil the story and ultimately the climax.

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LIttle Girl:Boy in the well

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Without giving away too much, another frightening sub-plot is when John and Claire track down the ranch house belonging to a Mrs Grey (Frances Hyland) whose daughter had frightening visions that same night as the séance.
She dreamt of an impish boy, almost wicked in his appearance as he tried to reach up through the floor boards and staring at her.

Mrs. Grey worried about her daughter Linda’s night terrors. She starts sleeping in her mother’s room, so she allows John and Claire to dig up the bedroom floor, which sits atop an old well. Until a few nights later, Linda in a somnambulist’s state wanders into her bedroom and sees the image of the little boy floating under the water staring at her. The Changeling continues to employ moments that are starkly frightening. John digs up the floor down to the bottom of the well, where he not only finds a little boy’s medal that comes up from the dirt like a flower shoot popping out of the mud. John also finds the bones of a child.

John and Claire call the police but only give them limited information of how they knew to look under the floorboards of Mrs. Grey’s house, and they have no suspicions as to the identity of the skeleton.

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John tries to talk to Senator Carmichael on his private jet, the police take him away thinking he is a crazy protester.
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Senator Carmichael-Melvyn Douglas is more than a bit worried
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Actor John Colicos plays police Captain DeWitt who is a personal friend to Senator Carmichael, and impresses upon John to leave the Senator alone… or else!

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John Colicos plays Captain DeWitt a friend of Senator Carmichael and who is dauntless in his investigation to get to the truth behind John and Claire’s meddling and what the connection between the skeleton in the well, an old medal and Senator Carmichael who thinks they are trying to blackmail him.

I’ll leave the rest of this phenomenal ghost story/murder mystery for those who haven’t seen it yet. But perhaps I’ll add just this last bit of shock treatment to entice those who aren’t faint of heart…

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written by Don Sumner for the section on The Changeling (1980) in Hidden Horror edited by Aaron Christensen and William Lustig.

“It is interesting that The Changeling should be a Hidden Horror rather than a recognized household classic. The film swept the Canadian Genie Awards, winning Best Picture, Actor, Actress and several technical awards, and returned fair U.S. box office receipts $12 million against it’s approximately $600K CAN production budget. Still, it under-performed when compared to other 1970s Canadian horror efforts and remains lesser known. than its brethren to this day… For example, that same year’s Prom Night had the benefit of rising scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis while David Cronenberg’s Scanners featured a game-changing head explosion. “

As far as I’m concerned The Changeling will forever remain one of the most captivating cinematic ghost stories that has retained it’s haunting quality after all these years.

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This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying ‘It’s been a ball’

 

Halloween treats with no tricks!: Obscure 40s Horror!

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Frenzy aka Latin Quarter (1945)

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Derrick DeMarney as Charles Garrie & Joan Greenwood as Christine, a Ballet dancer/artist’s Model star in this rare ghost story about a Bluebeard type mad sculptor Manetti (Beresford Egan who’s hair style & beard is frightening enough!), and his beautiful wife Christine who haunts her lover Charles in order to get at the truth! Very atmospheric and creepy obscure horror, including a séance!… thanks to director Vernon Sewell (Black Widow 1951 Ghost Ship 1952)

The Seance

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House of Darkness (1948)

A very young Laurence Harvey is the greedy and twisted pianist Francis Merryman who wants the family inheritance and the house all to himself! When he murders violinist father John Merryman (Alexander Archdale) it seems to place a curse on the house in particular over Francis who descends into madness! The film also co-stars Leslie Brook. Directed by Oswald Mitchell of the Old Mother Riley series. Very nice touches that makes this a pleasing little dark tale of greed and things that go bump in the night!

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The ghost of John comes back as a shadow on the wall, his accompanying Francis on Violin! Well done, Spooky stuff!

The Vampire’s Ghost 1945

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“Slave of the bloodlust!”

Director Lesley Selander (The Fatal Witness 1945, Catman of Paris 1945) In a small village near an African port, John Abbott  plays a 400 year Vampire Webb Fallon who runs a seedy bar and scares the hell out of the surrounding villagers. This is a very well paced and viable contribution to the vampire archetype. Charles Gordon is Roy Hendrick who falls under his control… the film also co-stars Peggy Stewart and Adele Mara as Lisa

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Catman of Paris 1946

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Another taut and well done tale of horror/suspense directed by Lesley Selander. There’s a vicious killer stalking Paris in 1896. Is he insane or can it truly be a supernatural cat that turns into a man with fangs and claws?

Meow!!!! Lenore Aubert (Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein 1948) plays the incredibly beautiful Marie Audet in love with writer Charles Regnier (Carl Esmond) who has just returned from his trip where he might have picked up something supernatural along the way… When the Ministry of Justice bans his book and winds up shredded to death, the Inspector Severen (Gerald Mohr) and Fritz Field playing the Prefect of Police turn to Regnier as their lead suspect!

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Prod DB © Republic Pictures / THE CATMAN OF PARIS directed by Lesley Selander 1946 USA

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Hope we’re scaring up some good treats for you this Halloween season!

Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl

 

Sunday Nite Surreal: Daughter of Darkness (1948) & Carnival of Sinners (1943)-The Right Hand of God/The Left Hand of the Devil

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Carnival of Sinners 1943

Directed by the silent film era auteur Maurice Tourneur, (father of Jacques Tourneur Curse of the Demon 1957, Cat People 1942, I Walked With a Zombie 1943, Out of the Past 1947 ) this fantasy- horror film creates a tumultuous Mephistophelean voyage of surreal and striking imagery.  This film has fast become one of my favorite fantasy/horror films….

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Carnival of Sinners or La Main Du Diable (The Devil’s Hand) is a brilliant and hilariously dark morality play about being careful what you wish for and what is the meaning of life and the pursuit of physical pleasure and earthly desires, if you must lose your eternal soul in the end.

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With an incredible score by Roger Dumas, that lends a magical sound track to the story!

Based on Gérard de Nerval’s novel, the film creates a hallucinatory world of monochromatic imagery, with noir like edges & shadows, Gothic & theatrically macabre masks and a gruesome narrative about a disembodied charmed left hand. Palau’s amiable little grinning devil is perhaps one of my favorite portrayals of Old Nick as he reveals himself to others as a mild mannered civil servant in a bowler hat, when he is actually on a duplicitous mission to abscond with the soul’s of desperate men.

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As synchronicity often rears it’s playful head when I do companion posts Carnival of Sinners also frames a gathering of people, much like the later post’s ‘angry women villagers’ who set the tenor for both films as something fantastical

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It opens with a small village tavern filled with people who have been detained by an avalanche. These characters are comical and colorful as they all want to eat, and are suspicious of Roland, who we haven’t been introduced to yet. As they wait to be fed, a strange man dressed in black carrying a wrapped package under his left arm, his immovable hand gloved in stiff black leather storms into the tavern with a gust of secrets and urgency at this back. They immediately have mistrust of this man, as he is not amiable and does not wish to mix with them at all. He acts as if he is being pursued by the devil himself.

Well maybe he is… hhm. He is called to the phone by someone asking for him by name. Once at the phone, the lights go out, and when they come back on and the chaos settles, the package is missing. He panics of course.

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As it is a tradition at this tavern to be told unbelievable stories by Monsieur Notary. They plead with Roland Brissot to tell them what has brought him here. And so he begins to relate an incredible story…

Pierre Fresnay  (The Man Who Knew Too Much 1934, Le Corbeau -The Raven 1943) is french artist Roland Brissot, who can’t get the girl or sell a painting until one night after Irène (Josseline Gaël) storms out of the little cafe frustrated with him for not being a success and a bore,  Mélisse the cook (Noël Roquevert ) brings over a bottle of wine and offers to help the down and out painter. He tells Roland that he possesses a Talisman that he’d like to sell him for merely one sous. That it would bring him great riches, love and success!

When Roland follows him up to his room, he shows him a small wooden box, inside the curious box is an animated severed left hand. Mélisse explains to Roland that he purchased the Talisman a while ago, but he fears going to hell, and wants to save his eternal soul, so he must pass this gift onto another man who is willing to buy it full knowing the contract. Desiring to make Irène his own, and stop doing portraits of dogs. Roland agrees and pays the sous to the cook. At that moment, Mélisse’s left hand is severed and mysteriously wedded to Rolands left forearm, and he is now the new owner of the Talisman. Of course all his wishes come true and Irène comes back in total awe of her man. He becomes a great renowned painter and has riches beyond his wildest dreams. But with all these cautionary fables there is a kink in the chain. A chain that I will get back to in a short while.

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Brissot goes to a palm reader who immediately sees that he is damned… She insists that he leave… never to return

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A peculiar little man (Le petit homme– who is wonderfully enacted by Palau (Children of Paradise 1945, The Devil in the Flesh 1947, Le Corbeau 1943) is actually the devil himself who has been offering this deal for quite a while now and since it has been a year to the day that Roland made the wager of his immortal soul for the Talisman, he has come to collect.

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From the moment Roland obtains the Talisman, women flock to him, his dog runs away in fear, and Irène cannot resist him to the point that he no longer can stand her smothering love by the end.

The little man shadows his every move, playing little tricks on Roland so that he couldn’t possibly buy back his soul. He changes the time on the clock, he steals money so that Roland must scramble to put the fee together which doubles with every day that it’s come due. His life falls apart, his wife becomes less desirable to him and they become strangers, and all he wants is to be free of his left hand which is the harbinger of doom for him.

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Will Roland Brissot find the next sinner to buy the Talisman from him… or will the Devil get his due?

As the he relates his story, it unfolds like a marvelous dark fairytale, lensed with visual splendor dipped in a wonderful folkloric narrative and marvelous characters… including the other souls who lost their left hands and formed a special chain in the links of fate.

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We, the links in the chain-Joined like the fingers of a hand.
We, the links in the chain-Joined like the fingers of a hand.

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Roland’s journey is whimsical and harrowing, beautifully filmed by Arman Thirard  who photographed such masterpieces as Henri Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique 1955 and The Wages of Fear 1953 two of the best thrillers of all time!

Carnival of Sinners 1943 belongs with some of the great fixtures of ‘wagering your soul to the devil’, with William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941, and F. W. Murnau’s Faust 1926,

Roland has an enormous painting of Goya’s nightmarish diversion into hell hanging in his palatial mansion. It is the one of Colossus devouring his son. You would have to watch this film several times to catch all the wonderful details and devilish black humor!

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Continue reading “Sunday Nite Surreal: Daughter of Darkness (1948) & Carnival of Sinners (1943)-The Right Hand of God/The Left Hand of the Devil”

Horror Hotel / City of the Dead (1960): A Devilish Lovecraftian Nightmare Shrouded in Smoldering Shadows and Fog

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” The basis of fairy tale is in reality. The basis of reality is fairy tales.”-Professor Alan Driscoll

 HORROR HOTEL (1960) or The City of the Dead

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“Religion. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.” – Ambrose Bierce

“Religious superstition consists in the belief that the sacrifices, often of human lives, made to the imaginary being are essential, and that men may and should be brought to that state of mind by all methods, not excluding violence.”- Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

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“300 years old! Human blood keeps them alive forever”

“Horror Hotel, next to the graveyard”

Remake of City of the Dead due 2013
Remake of City of the Dead due out some time in 2013?

Horror Hotel (US) or The City of the Dead (British) (1960) is directed by John Llewellyn Moxey who eventually emigrated to America and became in my opinion one of THE best directors of fantasy, horror and suspense films made for television. (The House That Would Not Die 1970, The Night Stalker 1972, A Taste of Evil 1971, Home For the Holidays 1972, The Strange and Deadly Occurrence 1974, Where Have All The People Gone 1974, Conspiracy of Terror 1975 once again about a secret cult of devil worshipers this time in the suburbs of California, Nightmare in Badham County 1976, Killjoy 1981 and Desire, The Vampire 1982 not to mention contributing to numerous outstanding television series, and other films too many to list here.)

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Darren McGavin as Kolchak The Night Stalker produced by Dan Curtis and directed by the great John Llewellyn Moxey

With a screenplay by George Baxt (The Shadow of the Cat 1961, Strangler’s Web 1965, Vampire Circus 1972 (uncredited) and his really awful mess, Horror of Snape Island 1972) he was also the scenarist on Sidney Hayer’s Circus of Horrors (1959) Baxt went on to do another witchcraft themed film co-scripted with prolific writers Richard Matheson’s (The Legend of Hell House 1973, Trilogy of Terror 1975) and Charles Beaumont’s (The Intruder 1962 , Roger Corman’s Masque of the Red Death 1965) The other screenplay was based on Fritz Leiber’s 1943 novel Conjure Wife , which turned into yet another film directed by Sidney Hayer, and was an equally moody and unnerving piece in the trope of black magic themed films entitled Night of the Eagle or it’s alternative title best known as Burn Witch Burn (1961)

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Burn Witch Burn

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Night of the Eagle I do Believe

Horror Hotel or City of the Dead is also a story co-scripted by Milton Subotsky an American émigré who relocated to England and eventually took over as the head founder of Amicus the only true rival to Hammer Studios Gothic series of films at the time. Horror Hotel was their first film made by the company then called Vulcan Productions. Subotsky was also the uncredited producer on the film. Released in the states with the title Horror Hotel the film used the inane catch phrase “Just Ring For Doom Service” which is unfortunate as it downplays the truly profound artistic quality of the film’s visual narrative. The film also marks the first appearance of Christopher Lee in the Satanic Cinema genre. Then Lee appeared in The Alfred Hitchcock Hours quite interesting occult themed sequence rather than Hitch’s usual mystery methodology, an episode entitled, The Sign of Satan (released May 8, 1964 from Season 2 episode 27) where Christopher Lee plays the mysterious foreign actor Karl Jorla in a episode that also dealt with devil worship.

Alfred Hitchcock Hour The-Sign-Of-Satan with Christopher Lee as Karl-Jorla

Horror Hotel was filmed on a sound stage in England, with an all British cast, yet the plot was set in an obscure village in America’s provincial Massachusetts for it’s historical relationship to the Salem Witch Trials and the mystique of the witchcraft frenzy that was so pervasive during the Puritanical 17th Century.

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1692 in Salem Village, 185 people were accused of witchcraft, 156 were formally charged, 47 were pressured into confessions and 19 victims were ultimately executed by hanging. It remains a shameful phenomena in colonial American history. More women than men were accused and executed. Illustration by Douglas Grundy / Three Lions / Getty Images

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With a haunting bit of cinematography by Desmond Dickinson (Olivier’s Hamlet 1948, Horrors of the Black Museum 1959, the noir classic The Frightened City 1961, A Study in Terror 1965, one of my guilty pleasures which is Beast in the Cellar 1970, Who Slew Auntie Roo 1972 with my one of my favs Shelley Winters and Beware My Brethren 1972) and art direction by John Blezard and Original music by Douglas Gamley.

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The cast includes Christopher Lee as Professor of Demonology Alan Driscoll, Dennis Lotis as Richard Barlow and Venetia Stevenson as avid student Nan Barlow. Interestingly enough, it’s quite shocking that the script actually kills off the supposed heroine Nan within the first 30 minutes of the film, much like Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho 1960.

Patricia Jessel as Elizabeth Selwyn

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Patricia Jessel is the imposing Elizabeth Selwyn/Mrs.Newlis an obvious anagram for the 300 year old witch much like name switcheroo used by Sidney Blackmer’s Roman Castevet in Rosemary’s Baby 1968. Tom Naylor plays Bill Maitland Nan’s prowess boyfriend. Betta St. John is Patricia Russell the granddaughter of the blind Reverend Russell played by Norman Macowan. Ann Beach has an impish sort of Patty Duke like quality to her as the poor mute Lottie a slave under Mrs. Newlis’ iron grip and Valentine Dyall (love him as Dudley the caretaker ‘all you city people’ in Robert Wise’s The Haunting ’62) plays Reverend Jethrow Keane also resurrected from those by gone days of witch burnings.

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Rosemary Woodhouse figures out through a little game of scrabble the true identity of her kindly old neighbors

Bill Maitland brandishing the cross

I’m not sure why this absolute gem has been so overlooked, when it’s still such a genuinely frightening and effectively creepy contribution to the classic horror genre. It’s moody and saturated with an unearthly fog that blankets the town and exudes an impending sense of doom and dread. The film is almost impressionistic with it’s tonality of the macabre which permeates the landscape with the undead specters walking amidst the fog soaked night, and we as spectators know of the looming arcane rites of the ritualistic blood sacrifices held by ambiguous figures in monkish robes.

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The camera work is startling at times, and surprisingly cerebral for a low budget film, as in the opening sequence when they are executing Elizabeth Selwyn, the camera closes in tightly on several grotesquely puritanical, pious and unrelentingly exaggerated expressions of hostility and hypocrisy as the villagers call out with their blood lust to burn the witch, their fever for punishment, lacks any godliness, as they are framed more hideous than Elizabeth Selwyn who is tied to a stake and set on fire. Only a quick glance at a little girl’s face read in panic as Selwyn evokes the power of Satan and a darkness washes over the villagers like a paint stroke of black light. The use of shadow is almost reminiscent of Jacques Tourneur’s thoughtful psychological terror plays of the 40s, (Cat People 1942, I Walked With A Zombie 1943, noir classic Out of the Past 1947 and Curse of the Demon 1957) While not in the same league as the master of shadow and light the great Val Lewton or Tourneur, there are some elements with the added sphere of paranoia that creates an atmosphere filled with uncanny dread and unknowable spaces and devilish premeditation, that evokes some of the same type of moodiness.

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Jacques Tourneur’s beautifully visually impressionistic masterpiece of Val Lewton’s
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Jacques Tourneur’s Curse of the Demon 1957 starring Dana Andrews
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The mysterious Reverend Jethrow Keane lurking in the ghostly mist in Horror Hotel aka City of the Dead

Again, not being hindered by the restraints of a small budget, the film appears as a beautifully eerie Lovecraftian fable, filled with an entire village inhabited by listless cult followers dedicated to the worship of Satan. They haunt the streets swathed in ritual robes shrouded in shadows and fog, wandering through swirling mists, and an ominous sweep of fog that obscures these undead spirits of the night, soulless, dressed in robes or outdated clothing. The entire village is vexed by black magic reigned over by the resurrected witch Elizabeth Selwyn who was burned at the stake more than 300 years before in 1692. While it’s obvious that the degenerating, decomposing village of Whitewood is a sparsely designed set on a humble sound stage, John Llewellyn Moxey manages to infuse this little city of the dead with a very disquieting ambiance. Dickinson lights the inhabitants of Whitewood and the hazy mysterious village itself using very enigmatic black and white compositions.

SYNOPSIS:

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“WITCH!!!!!!!!!”

The film opens as the fog shrouded village of Whitewood is at first an empty frame consumed within a smokey cloud of air except for a giant iron fire pit blazing to the left of screen. Like specters emerging through the deathly fog, several villagers move closer into focus until they are upon us in mid screen. They are thirsty for the blood of the declared witch Elizabeth Selwyn who has brought about the death of Abigail Adams. They decree that she should be put to death as a witch, and so they converge on her little cottage, dragging her out and tying her to a large wooden stake. As she faces her accusers it seems as if she is emitting a hissing sound like a serpent. A pilgrim woman slowly grinds out the words, “Wiittcch!!!! as Elizabeth Selwyn contemptuously spits on her.

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‘Help her Lucifer, Help Her’

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The camera closes in on a villagers face, a grotesque caricature.

The elders and the crowd of villagers scream out for her death. To burn the witch. The pyre is set on fire, but as she becomes engulfed in the purifying flames, she declares her devotion to Satan. Meanwhile Jethrow Keane secretly still an acolyte of Elizabeth pretends to deny that he has consorted with the witch, privately begging “Help her Lucifer, Help Her.” As the fevered villagers watch Elizabeth burn, she cackles and laughs her unspoken vow to come back and wreak revenge on the descendants of Whitewood. She has made a pact with the devil for eternal life in exchange for providing him with human sacrifices, which she manages to procure by luring unsuspecting visitors to her rustic Raven’s Inn.

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It’s modern day… the village is now left in desolation and gripped in an eerie pal that hangs over everything with it’s deathly fog. Now 1960 Professor of Demonology Alan Driscoll is relating the story of Elizabeth Selwyn, demonstratively narrating to his class the lurid story, ending with the same chant the villagers had been shouting,  “Burn Witch Burn, Burn Witch Burn…” An intense look occupies his deep and darkly riveting eyes. While most of the class is bored and distracted, Nan who is consumed with the legend of witchcraft and Elizabeth Selwyn’s legacy, stays after class to continue talking to Professor Driscoll, much to the dismay of her hunky boyfriend Bill.

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Nan looking for some good material for her thesis asks Driscoll for some guidance. He informs Nan in a very grim manner that the myth of human sacrifice isn’t just a story, that it still exists, and that it is said that Elizabeth Selwyn still walks the murky streets of Whitewood. So Professor Driscoll sends Nan Barlow to Whitewood, Massachusetts to conduct her research about the local prevailing myth that witchcraft is alive and well and still being practiced by a coven in the decaying old New England village. Nan goes willingly to uncover the truth behind the rumors of sightings of Elizabeth Selwyn believed to have come back from the dead.

Professor Driscoll is not just an avid academic of the occult, he is also an ancestor of Whitewood and a practicing Warlock in cahoots with Elizabeth Selwyn now having taken the name of Mrs.Newlis who has in fact been resurrected from the grave and now runs the claustrophobic and infernal Raven’s Inn, equip with trap door that leads to the subterranean primitive altar where blood sacrifices are held, and shadowy figures come to dance cheek to cheek to smokey jazz music by the flickering light of the fireplace at the Raven’s Inn.

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Of course Nan’s brother a scientist, is not thrilled with Nan going on a witch hunt, but thinks that she should be allowed to pursue her academic dream. However boyfriend Bill is not happy at all by the news that his girlfriend is about to take a road trip to some small village out of the way chasing ridiculous nonsensical theories.

Nan gets in the car and begins to drive. Passing by a gas station she asks if she’s headed in the right direction, and of course the attendant gives a worried look when she tells him that her destination is the town of Whitewood.

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Continue reading “Horror Hotel / City of the Dead (1960): A Devilish Lovecraftian Nightmare Shrouded in Smoldering Shadows and Fog”