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Monthly Archives: August 2006

Them!

From the DVD case: Them! is a landmark movie about giant radiation-mutated ants that gets better with age and boasts remarkable, Academy Award-nominated special effects. Starring James Whitmore, James Arness and Edmund Gwenn, Them! begins in New Mexico with a child wandering in shock, a ransacked general store and a battered corpse full of enough formic acid to kill 20 men. It ends with an epic struggle in the 700 miles of storm drains under Los Angeles, where the insect hordes are beaten. But they’re not conquered because they spawned a generation of films about radioactive creatures. Some approximate the terror but few have equaled the artistry of Them! (1954, b&w)

Mark says: Them! rates at least a few notches higher than your standard giant bug flick for its intelligent dialog and above par acting. It’s also the original radiation-mutated monster movie. Today, many aspects of the film seem cliche, but that’s only because Them! has been emulated so often.

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Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954

From the video case: Scientists drug and capture the creature, who becomes enamored with the head scientist’s female assistant (Julia Adams). The lonely creature, “a living amphibious missing link,” escapes and kidnaps the object of his affection. Chief scientist (Richard Carlson) then launches a crusade to rescue his assistant and cast the ominous creature back to the depths from where he came. Well-acted and directed, and with Bud Westmore’s brilliantly designed monster, Creature From The Black Lagoon remains an enduring tribute to the imaginative genius of its Hollywood creators. (1954, b&w)

Mark says: When I hear the term, “creature feature,” this is the film that comes foremost to my mind. As a boy growing up in the 60s and 70s, there was no scarier monster than the gill-man.

Richard Carlson (It Came from Outer Space) has always been one of my favorite B-movie heroes. In this film he plays the sympathetic scientist who, like us, feels a certain compassion for the monster. His love interest, Julia Adams, has been my favorite “scream queen” since viewing this movie as a preadolescent boy. She is not only lovely, but an intelligent researcher who is both feminine and strong-willed.

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Poster for Target Earth, 1954.

From the video case: A large city is ordered to be completely evacuated as an army of robots, believed to be from the planet Venus, organize a city-wide attack in search of planetary domination. As the army and a group of scientists seek a means of destroying the robots, the few people left in the city run for their lives.

Nora and Frank are two strangers who happen to later meet Vicki and Jim having a private party in a cafe. The two couples manage to escape the robot patrols and take refuge in a large hotel. There they confront a new danger, however, in a psychopathic killer named Davis. (1954, b&w)

Mark says: Target Earth has a promising start, but falls flat early on.

Nora King, played by Kathleen Crowley (Female Jungle, Curse of the Undead), wakes up from a suicide attempt to find the city deserted. As she wanders the empty streets we perceive an eerie sense of isolation (these scenes were filmed in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday mornings to get the desolated effect). It’s a enticing premise and we feel we may be on the threshold of a finely-crafted science fiction adventure.

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Invaders from Mars 1953

From the DVD case: A young boy is awakened during a storm to witness a flying saucer land in the field behind his home. No one will believe his story as, one by one, the townspeople are captured and put under the control of sinister forces from the planet Mars.

Brilliantly created by visionary set designer and director William Cameron Menzies (designer of Gone with the Wind and H.G. Wells’ Things to Come) with a haunting musical score by Raoul Kraushaar. Surreal imagery brought to terrifying life in a Cinecolor world just beyond our nightmares! (1953, color)

Mark says: The great thing about watching Invaders from Mars as a kid is that the story is told from a child’s point of view. David (Jimmy Hunt) doesn’t just stand around while the adults battle the aliens. Instead, he tips off the adult world to the invading presence; he’s right there when important military strategies are discussed, and he even works the alien blaster ray when the army is trapped in the underground caverns. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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The Phantom from Outer SpaceFrom the DVD case: A mysterious UFO crashes near Los Angeles and unleashes an invisible alien from an unknown planet. “The Phantom” goes on an unwitting rampage of death and destruction as it struggles for survival in a strange new world. A group of valiant scientists race against the clock to find the creature before further disaster ensues.This remarkably serious film noir documentary-styled science-fiction epic was directed by W. Lee Wilder (Billy’s brother) who was also responsible for such similarly sober “masterpieces” as The Snow Creature (1954) and Killers from Space (1954). (1953, b&w)

Mark says: When I first watched Phantom from Space, I didn’t think much of it. In fact, I still don’t think much of it, but I have cultivated some fondness for the movie with repeated viewings.

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From the DVD case: H.G. Wells’ chilling novel of a Martian invasion of Earth becomes even more frightening in this 1953 film adaptation that’s widely regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time. An Oscar winner for Best Special Effects, The War of the Worlds delivers eye-popping thrills, laser-hot action and unrelenting, edge-of-your-seat suspense. No one who has seen the film’s depiction of the swan-shaped Martian machines – ticking and hissing menacingly as they cut their path of destruction – will ever forget their ominous impact. (1953, color)

Mark says: It would be hard to estimate how many times I’ve watched The War of the Worlds. This George Pal production was not only a favorite when I was a kid, but it still holds its charm these 50 plus years later.

Gene Barry plays the male lead, Dr. Clayton Forrester, a scientist on the scene when the first spacecraft lands. Ann Robinson plays pretty Sylvia Van Buren, the love interest. I’m still amazed that Miss Robinson was only seventeen years old when this movie was made.

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Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

From the video box: Deep in the Arctic Circle, a hardy band of scientists conducts an atom bomb test. Their fearsome experiment disturbs the sleep of a giant rhedosaurus encased in ice for over 100-million years and sends it southward on a rampage of destruction and death! (1953, b&w)

Mark says: I always get a warm feeling while watching this movie. Ironic, considering the opening scene is set at the North Pole.

I think it has something to do with the familiarity of the story: A prehistoric beast is unleashed on the world while scientists conduct an A-bomb test. The beast eventually makes its way to a major city (in this case, New York City) and wreaks havoc.

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It Came From Outer Space

From the DVD case: Amateur astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) and his fiancee Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) are stargazing in the desert when a spaceship bursts from the sky and crashes to the ground. Just before a landslide buries the ship, a mysterious creature emerges and disappears into the darkness. Of course, when he tells his story to the sheriff (Charles Drake), John is branded a crackpot, but before long, strange things begin to happen, and the tide of disbelief turns. (1953, b&w)

Mark says: This is one of the first sci-fi films I remember seeing as a boy, and still one of my favorites. Richard Carlson (Creature from the Black Lagoon) and Barbara Rush (When Worlds Collide, Moon of the Wolf) are the quintessential 1950s sci-fi couple as Ellen Fields (the pretty school teacher) and John Putnam (the astronomer who is not afraid to state his beliefs).

One of the elements that endeared this movie to me as a child is the juxtaposition of John Putnam the “star gazer” against the simple-mindedness of the sheriff and the townsfolk. It is the classic battle of a man with imagination struggling with the comfortable perceptions of the populace.

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From the video case: In the wicked performance that made him the gothic master of the macabre, Vincent Price is Prof. Henry Jarrod, a renowned wax sculptor plunged into madness when an arsonist destroys his life’s work. Unable to use his flame-scarred hands, Jarrod devises a new way of restocking his House of Wax. Aided by Igor (Charles Buchinsky, better known as Charles Bronson), he dips his hapless victims in wax! (1953, color)

Mark says: This is a wonderfully theatrical remake of the 1933 film Mystery Of The Wax Museum. It was originally filmed in 3-D. Though the 3-D effects are not too distracting on video, there are at least two scenes where they do not translate well (the paddle ball barker and the can-can scenes).

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From the DVD case: Arctic researchers discover a huge, frozen spaceling inside a crash-landed UFO, then fight for their lives after the murderous being (a pre-Gunsmoke James Arness) emerges from icy captivity. Will other creatures soon follow? The famed final words of this film are both warning and answer: “Keep watching the skies!” (1951, b&w)

Mark says: It would be difficult to find a vintage sci-fi movie enthusiast who doesn’t rate this film as one of his favorites. Not only is it a fantastic story (based on John W. Campbell Jr’s Who Goes There?) but it is supported with capable acting and excellent overlapping dialog that keeps the plot moving. The Arctic setting gives the film a powerful sense of isolation, even more than the desert motif used in many later films of the genre.

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