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Monthly Archives: August 2006

X the Unknown, 1956.

From the video case: British Commandos on maneuvers near a muddy marsh become ill with mysterious symptoms and horrific burns. Dr. Royston (Dean Jagger), an atomic scientist from a nearby research station suspects lethal radiation but is mystified by the cause. At a nearby hospital, the phenomenon reappears and engulfs more innocent people including a hospital orderly whose skin has melted away from his body.

Dr. Royston speculates that the unknown force is on a quest to absorb radiation and expands in size and range as it claims more and more victims. As time runs short, he becomes desperate to trap the force before its power overcomes mankind. (1956, b&w)

Mark says: Hammer Film Productions had such success with their first Quatermass movie, The Quatermass Xperiment (USA title: The Creeping Unknown) that they were eager to produce a sequel. However, the author/creator of the Quatermass character, Nigel Kneale, denied Hammer any unauthorized use of his creation.

Instead, Hammer employed first-time screenwriter, Jimmy Sangster (who would later become a regular Hammer scriptwriter) to pen a movie in the Quatermass tradition, without actually using Professor Quatermass’s name. The result was X the Unknown, with Dean Jagger (Revolt of the Zombies) playing the role of the Quatermass equivalent, Dr. Royston.

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956.From the DVD case: Something evil has taken possession of the small town of Santa Mira, California. Hysterical people accuse their loved ones of being emotionless impostors; of not being themselves. At first, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) tries to convince them they’re wrong, but they’re not.Plant-like extraterrestrials have invaded Earth, replicating the villagers in giant seed “pods” and taking possession of their souls while they sleep. Soon the entire town is overwhelmed by the inhuman horror, but it won’t stop there. In a terrifying race for his life, Dr. Bennell escapes to warn the world of the deadly invasion of the pod people! Remade in both 1978 and 1997, this chilling combination of extraterrestrial terror and anti-conformity paranoia is considered one of the great cult classics of the genre. (1956, b&w)

Mark says: I’d never commit myself to this, but Invasion of the Body Snatchers may be my all-time favorite sci-fi/horror film of the 1950s. I love the idea of society slowly being invaded by unfeeling creatures that look just like you and me. The story is based on a Collier’s Magazine serial by Jack Finney.

A lot has been said about the cold war symbolism in this movie, with the “pod people” representing either communists or McCarthyists. Because I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this aspect, let me quote Director Don Siegel’s take on this interpretation:

I think that the world is populated by pods and I wanted to show them. I think so many people have no feeling about cultural things, no feeling of pain, of sorrow. I wanted to get it over and I didn’t know of a better way to get it over than in this particular film. I thought I shot it very imaginatively. And I was encouraged all the time by [producer] Wanger. The film was nearly ruined by those in charge at Allied Artists who added a preface and ending that I don’t like.

The political reference to Senator McCarthy and totalitarianism was inescapable but I tried not to emphasize it because I feel that motion pictures are primarily to entertain and I did not want to preach.

Alan Lovell: Don Siegel. American Cinema. London 1975, S. 54

So there you go.

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Anne Francis in a promotional still for Forbidden Planet

From the video box: A dutiful robot named Robby speaks 188 languages. An underground lair provides astonishing evidence of a populace a million years more advanced than Earthlings. There are many wonders on Altair-4, but none is greater or more deadly than the human mind.

Forbidden Planet is the granddaddy of tomorrow, a pioneering work whose ideas and style would be reverse-engineered into many cinematic space voyages to come. Leslie Nielsen portrays the commander who brings his space cruiser crew to the green-skied Altair-4 world that’s home to Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), his daughter (Anne Francis), the remarkable Robby, and to a mysterious terror. (1956, color)

Mark says: Not many people would disagree that Forbidden Planet is one of the best sci-fi films that came from the 1950s. Produced by a major studio (MGM) and laden with stunning visuals and effects, Forbidden Planet is a true sci-fi classic.

But it’s not just the production values and special effects that give Forbidden Planet its classic status. The storyline and concepts are equally intriguing, giving this movie much more dimension than similar sci-fi pictures of the time. Here’s a terribly over-simplified synopsis:

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From the DVD case: Roger Corman’s tale of a chainsaw-toothed, Veggie-Monster from Venus with the ability to control human minds. The hilarious, floppy carrot monster is probably Paul Blaisdell’s most outrageous monster and it had some stiff competition! Starring Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef and Beverly Garland. (1956, b&w)

Mark says: It Conquered the World is rich with ideas, but is pure camp in its delivery. Director/Producer Roger Corman (The Wasp Woman, The Pit and the Pendulum) brings together many of his stock players to give us one of his most delightful quickies.

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From the DVD case: American reporter Steve Martin (Raymond Burr) is on the scene reporting on a 400-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex woken from undersea hibernation off the coast of Japan during atomic bomb testing. Now the “GODZILLA” has his sights on the destruction of Tokyo! (1956, b&w)

Mark says: Godzilla King of the Monsters is the Americanized version of the original 1954 Japanese film, Gojira. Ishirô Honda directed the original film, and Terry O. Morse (to make the story more palatable to an American audience) spliced in the scenes featuring Raymond Burr.

I enjoy this movie on two conflicting levels. First, I appreciate the camp aspect Raymond Burr brings to the movie. Because he was spliced in two years after the original film, Burr is reduced to narrating the story or standing around smoking a pipe and looking very serious. He plays his role very soberly, but because we know he is spliced in, it comes off as humorous.

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evfsFrom the video case: Featuring extraordinary special effects by cinematic genius Ray Harryhausen, the film pits earthlings against alien humanoids in a violent battle for earth’s survival! When the zombie-like aliens arrive at the U.S. army base in search of help for their dying planet, they try to make friendly contact with scientist Dr. Russ Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his recent bride, Carol (Joan Taylor). But the military greets their fleet of saucers with gunfire and the the aliens are forced to retaliate. Can Marvin invent the ultimate weapon in a deadly game of beat-the-clock to save the human race? (1956, b&w)

Mark says: Any film featuring the special effects of Ray Harryhausen (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms) is going to rank with me. The flying saucers are definitely the main draw here, and put this otherwise camp picture a peg higher. Stop motion animation will beat out CGI effects in my book any day.

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From the DVD case: The action is wet and wild in this sci-fi thriller that pits man – and woman – against a giant octopus. Submarine commander Pete Mathews (Kenneth Tobey) and scientists Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) and John Carter (Donald Curtis) battle an angry sea monster driven from the depths of the ocean by an H-bomb explosion. In search of non-contaminated food, this tentacled tyrant counts among its victims a fishing trawler and its passengers, a family sunning at the beach, several San Francisco skyscrapers and even the Golden Gate Bridge! A daring attempt by the scientists to destroy the monster while saving themselves is a gripping finale to this aquatic adventure. The riveting special effects were created by Ray Harryhausen. (1955, b&w)

Mark says: I love a good giant monster picture. And if that monster happens to be a giant octopus animated by stop-motion master, Ray Harryhausen (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers), well, that’s all the better.

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Bride of the Monster 1955

From the video case: Legendary horror icon Bela Lugosi stars as Dr. Eric Vornoff, who with Lobo (Tor Johnson), a crazed man-beast servant, is conducting flesh-burning radiation experiments on humans in an attempt to create a legion of atomic super-men.

Mark says: I have to admit a certain fascination with the films of Ed Wood. They’re more than schlocky; they’re windows into the mind of a very unusual writer/director.

Bride of the Monster is not quite as bizarre as Wood’s masterpiece, Plan 9 from Outer Space, but it is still full of strange dialog and peculiar characters. And let’s not forget the ridiculous storyline. Of course, these are the elements that make an Ed Wood film so entertaining.

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From the video case: Biochemist Leo G. Carroll has a plan to feed the world by using a growth formula on plants and animals. But instead he creates a spider of mammoth proportions with an appetite to match!

Feeding off cattle and humans, this towering tarantula has the people of Desert Rock, Arizona, running for their lives. Can this horrible creature be stopped? Or will the world succumb to this over-sized arachnid? Starring John Agar as the good doctor and Mara Corday as a student, and potential victim, of this science experiment gone awry! (1955, b&w)

Mark says: I’ve always been a sucker for big bug flicks, and this is one of my favorites. Strong direction by Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man) is enhanced by the B-movie star power of John Agar (Invisible Invaders, The Brain from Planet Arous), Mara Corday (The Black Scorpion), and Leo G. Carroll who plays crotchety Prof. Gerald Deemer.

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Killers From Space 1954

From the DVD case: In order to conquer Earth, a group of aliens overtake the brain of scientist Dr. Douglas Martin (Peter Graves). When Martin realizes what is happening to him and what is about to befall planet Earth, he vows to stop the evil attackers at any cost. (1954, b&w)

Mark says: Any creditability that the script for Killers from Space may have had is thrown out the window once the bug-eyed aliens appear. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can make you take the movie seriously after seeing these creatures.

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