Warning from Space

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(4/10) Uchujin Tokyo ni arawaru, released by Daiei in early 1956, is Japan’s first science fiction film in colour. Remembered for its wonky star-shaped aliens, the jumbled, illogical movie borrows from earlier sci-fi classics without managing to tie the themes together. Although beautifully filmed and decently acted, it moves along slowly and is way too talky. Occasionally brilliant, sometimes unintentionally hilarious, often numbingly stupid.

The mighty Pairans from outer space. Once seen they can never be unseen.

The mighty Pairans from outer space. Once seen they can never be unseen.

Warning from Space (1956, Japan). Directed by Koji Shima. Written by: Gentaro Nakajima, Hideo Oguni. Starring: Keizo Kawasaki, Toyomi Karita, Shozo Nanbu, Bontaro Miake, Mieko Nagai, Kiyoko Hirai, Isao Yamagata. Produced by Masaichi Nagata for Daiei Studios.
IMDb rating: 4.4/10 Tomatometer: N/A Metascore: N/A 

Poster.

Poster.

While still absolutely unknown in the West in the beginning of 1956, Japanese science fiction was rumbling onto scene. Movie studio Toho had released four sci-fi movies: the flawed masterpiece Gojira (1954, review), the invisible man film Tomei ningen (1954, review), Godzilla Raids Again (1955, review), and the ill-fated snowman movie Ju jin yuki otoko (1955, review), which the studio withdrew from circulation soon after its premiere. While Toho is the one of the Japanese Big Six studios that we (rightly) come to think of first when we talk about Japanese sci-fi, Daiei was not far behind. In fact, Daiei had originally beat Toho to the mark with its low-budget invisible man crime thriller Tomei ningen arawuru (1949, review). Now, however, Daiei decided to outdo Toho and make Japan’s first science fiction film in colour. And while it was probably tempting to enter the monster movie genre, the studio opted to not put all their eggs in one basket and try to beat Toho at their own game. Instead Daiei took on another challenge, and produced Japan’s first alien invasion movie – in fact this is the first Japanese movie to feature space flight, aliens UFO:s. Not content with this, they threw in a planetary collision as well, thinking they might get Japan’s first apocalypse film underway while they were at it. The result was 宇宙人東京に現わる (Uchujin Tokyo ni arawaru), literally translated as Spacemen appear over Tokyo, but anglicised as Warning from Space. The film premiered on January 29, 1946, before Toho’s colour film Rodan. Continue reading

Ucan daireler Istanbul’da

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(0/10) Flying Saucers over Istanbul is Turkey’s ”first” science fiction film, and quite possibly the worst as well. An unfunny comedy about belly dancing alien women who land their UFO in Istanbul to bring Earth men to their planet. Noted for featuring Turkey’s ”queen of disgrace and scandal”, belly dancing vamp and nude model Özcan Tekgül. And Marilyn Monroe. Sort of.

The robot Stelikami and the alien amazon women.

The robot Stelekami and the alien amazon women.

Ucan daireler Istanbul’da (1955, Turkey). Written & directed by Orhan Ercin. Starring: Orhan Ercin, Zafer Önen, Türkan Samil, Özcan Tekgül, Halide Piskin, Mirella Monro, Özdemir Asaf. Produced by Özdemir Birsel for Birsel Film.
IMDB Rating: 5.9/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

If you want to say something good about this film, translated as Flying Saucers over Istanbul, then it is that it has some historical value as the first Turkish film to deal with space flight, UFOs or aliens. In addition it is – maybe – Turkey’s first science fiction film ever. It is a toss-up between this film and Görünmeyen adam Istanbul’da (1955) or The Invisible Man in Istanbul, which I, unfortunately, haven’t been able to find online nor on DVD. I can’t find any release dates for either of the movies, but write-ups on the web seem to at least indicate that the invisible man film was released prior to the UFO film. I don’t think that Görünmeyen adam Istanbul’da has ever been released on DVD, whereas Ucan daireler Istanbul’da is available online with English subs, as it has fallen into public domain. Continue reading

R.I.P. John Hurt

Oh no! Not again!

Oh no! Not again!

One of my absolute favourite actors has left us. John Hurt was one of the first classically trained British Shakespearian actors to whole-heartedly embrace science fiction, as opposed, for example, to an Alec Guinness, who spent most of his life pissing on Star Wars fans. Many of Hurt’s finest roles were in sci-fi, of course who could forget the iconic chest-burster scene in Alien (1979), but he also did superb work in films like Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1984), Spaceballs (1987), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990), Monolith (1993), Contact (1997), Hellboy (2004), V for Vendetta (2005), Outlander (2008), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), and Snowpiercer (2013), and he is memorable also for his guest appearances as the War Doctor on Doctor Who.

John Hurt always brought a warm humanity to his roles, even making his fascist dictators seem human and frail. Never as celebrated as Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Richard Harris or Ian McKellen, Hurt was always working, always hugely respected as an actor, often in supporting roles where he lifted any movie he appeared in by making his co-stars look better. Oscar-nominated twice, for Midnight Express (1978) and The Elephant Man (1980), he received one Golden Globe and no less than four BAFTAs. He was awarded a special Teddy at the Berlin Film Festival for his outstanding performance in An Englishman in New York (2009), others may remember him for his voice work as Vincent van Gogh in Vincent (1987), or from films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the Harry Potter movies, The Naked CIvil Servant, A Man for All Seasons. He has played both Jesus and the devil, and long before Viggo Mortensen, voiced Aragorn in the 1978 animated film. I will always fondly remember him as the voice of the dragon in the British TV series Merlin. He is gone, but his art will never perish.

Janne Wass

The Quatermass Xperiment

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(7/10) Released in the US as The Creeping Unknown, this British 1955 sci-fi horror film is a landmark of the genre. Based on a popular TV series, it was Hammer Films’ first horror movie and their first major hit film. American heavy Brian Donlevy stars as Quatermass, a bulldozer of a rocket scientist trying to solve the mystery of a returned astronaut being transformed from within by an alien life-force that threatens to release its spores all over London. A dark, unsettling sci-fi thriller that still resonates today.

The crashed Quatermass rocket.

The crashed Quatermass rocket.

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955, UK). Directed by Val Guest. Written by Val Guest & Richard Landau, based on the TV series The Quatermass Experiment, written by Nigel Kneale. Starring: Brian Donlevy, Richard Wordsworth, Jack Warner, Margia Dean, David King-Wood, Lionel Jeffries, Maurice Kaufmann, Thora Hird, Jane Asher. Produced by Anthony Hinds and Robert L. Lippert for Hammer Films and Exclusive Productions.
IMDb rating: 6.8/10. Tomatometer: 92% Fresh. Metascore: N/A. 

Blu-Ray sleeve.

Blu-Ray sleeve.

Ah! Young love. A starry summer night on the rural outskirts of London. A playful couple on their way home from a night on the town tease and giggle as they fall into each other’s arms in the hay. But that’s all the romance and peace we have time for in this movie. Because just as the young lovers settle into an embrace, something comes roaring across the night sky, and from there on this 80 minute movie never once lets up it relentless pace. ‘

”What is that?” asks the boy.

”Is it a jet?” replies the girl.

”That’s no jet!” exclamates the boy, then points to the sky, horrified.

”Look!”

Fear-struck the couple race for safety, getting called into a house by a frightened farmer. ”Dad!” shouts the girls as the trio ducks for cover. There’s a tremendous roar and a crash outside. The roof of the house collapses. All are fine, but dad grabs his rifle and decides to have a look outside, only to be stopped with a dumb-struck look on his face. The camera cuts to his field, where flames and smoke rise, and in the middle of it a huge rocket has crashed nose first into the ground. Continue reading

King Dinosaur

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(0/10) Forget Plan 9 from Outer Space, that charmingly childish fantasy from Ed Wood. Bert I. Gordon’s super-cheap directorial (solo) debut King Dinosaur is a much better contender for the title of worst film ever made. This story of four scientists battling a T.Rex on an unknown planet is inept in every single department and doesn’t even have a redeeming amateurish charm to it. The most interesting aspect of the movie is probably the life story of one of its stars, a jazz singer who kickstarted fashion guru Mr. Blackwell’s career and almost caused a diplomatic incident in Argentina.

Douglas Henderson and Patti Gallagher flee a "Tyrannosaurus Rex" in a promo photo. The actual effects of the film never look this good.

Douglas Henderson and Patti Gallagher flee a “Tyrannosaurus Rex” in a promo photo. The actual effects of the film never look this good.

King Dinosaur (1955, USA). Directed by Bert I. Gordon. Written by Tom Gries, Bert I. Gordon, Al Zimbalist. Starring: William Bryant, Wanda Curtis, Douglas Henderson, Patti Gallagher, Marvin Miller. Produced by Bert I. Gordon for Zimgor Productions. Executive producer: Al Zimbalist.
IMDb rating: 1.9/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

Note the dissimilarity between the lizard in the photograph above and the one on the poster.

Note the dissimilarity between the lizard in the photograph above and the one on the poster. The poster also as five people in it. That’s more than the entire cast of the film.

I had just finished my one-star review of The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), and thought it probably couldn’t get much worse, when King Dinosaur came along and proved me wrong. It seems that 1955 was the turning-point for sci-fi cinema in the sense that filmmakers realised that by running a shrewd marketing campaign promising monsters and babes, they could really film almost anything that had a fleeting resemblance to the poster, create a script that had a beginning and an end, and preferably some padding in the middle, and get the film released. And since the movies probably didn’t cost more than 30 000 dollars, a profit was almost inevitable. Continue reading

The Beast with a Million Eyes

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(1/10) Perhaps Roger Corman’s worst movie of the fifties, this slow-moving super-cheapo really has no redeeming qualities, despite a somewhat clever idea. A group of B-actors run around the Coachella valley trying to look afraid of the friendly animals that are supposed to attack them, controlled as they are by an evil hand-puppet from space, created by Paul Blaisdell for combined material costs of 200 dollars. Love triumphs over the evil that apparently traverses space in a tea kettle.

The monster hand-puppet from The Beast with a Million Eyes, designed by Paul Blaisdell. Never seen this clearly on screen.

The monster hand-puppet from The Beast with a Million Eyes, designed by Paul Blaisdell. Never seen this clearly on screen.

The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955, USA). Directed by David Kramarsky, Lou Place, Roger Corman. Written by Tom Filer. Starring: Paul Birch, Lorna Thayer, Dona Cole, Dick Sargent, Leonard Tarver. Produced by David Kramarsky & Samuel Z. Arkoff for American Releasing Company. Executive producer: Roger Corman.
IMDb rating: 3.4/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A. 

Poster.

Poster.

Let’s jump right in with the plot on this one. There really is no point in describing it in detail, so here’s the long and the short of it: an incorporeal alien arrives to Earth in a spaceship with the plan of taking over the minds of all its inhabitants. It will start with the animals and then move to feeble-minded humans. Through its host’s eyes it will see everything, and that is why we shall come to know it as THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES! This is not a spoiler. This is what the alien itself tells us even before the title sequence. Continue reading

This Island Earth

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(7/10) Dishing out the best visual effects in US sci-fi up until 1955, This Island Earth is the smartest sci-fi film of the fifties all the way to the middle of the movie, when the two hack screenwriters deviate from author Raymond Jones’ novel, and we plunge into comic book territory. However, this first space opera remains one of the best sci-fi films of the decade, despite a clumsy mutant and the fact that the writers forget to add any actual plot once we get to a distant planet. Features the first ever Miss Finland.

Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason and Lance Fuller watching Earth from afar.

Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason and Lance Fuller watching Earth from afar.

This Island Earth (1955, USA). Directed by Joseph M. Newman & Jack Arnold. Written by Franklin Coen & George Callahan. Based on the novel This Island Earth by Raymond F. Jones. Starring: Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason, Faith Domergue, Lance Fuller, Russell Johnson, Douglas Spencer. Produced by William Alland for Universal International Pictures.
IMDb rating: 5.8/10. Tomatometer: 71% Fresh. Metacritic: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

In first half of the fifties, primarily three major studios dabbled in science fiction. Paramount was the front runner, thanks to the lavish Technicolor sci-fi epics of George Pal. Warner got in it for the money when they realised there was a profit to be made from giant radioactive monsters like those in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review) and Them! (1954, review). Universal was probably the one that made the most interesting pictures, because of their range and their quirks. And in 1955, the studio made their most expensive science fiction film to that date, This Island Earth, an ambitious space opera in Technicolor with impressive effects and artwork.

Continue reading

Target Earth

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(5/10) Based on a short story by Paul Fairman, Target Earth is one of the first empty world movies of the fifties. Best remembered for its clunky robot and its opening shots of an empty city, the film stumbles on bad dialogue and a low budget. Good actors like Richard Denning and Kathleen Crowley give the film gravitas, but ultimately the film’s ingredients are too thin to elevate it above B movie status.

Target Earth (1954, USA). Directed by Sherman A. Rose. Written by William Raynor, James H. Nicholson, Wyatt Ordung. Based on the story Deadly City by Paul W. Fairman. Starring Richard Denning, Kathleen Crowley, Virginia Grey, Richard Reeves, Robert Roark, Arthur Space, Whit Bissell, Steve Calvert. Produced by Sherman Cohen for Abtcon Pictures and Herman Cohen Productions. IMDB rating: 5.7/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

Kathleen Crowley and Richard Denning fighting the invader robot.

Kathleen Crowley and Richard Denning fighting the invader robot.

1954 was a year in sci-fi that gave us some of the great classics, like Creature from the Black Lagoon (review) and Them! (review), but also movies infamous for their cheap camp, like Killers from Space (review) and Devil Girl from Mars (review). But then there are also the pictures that, justly or unjustly, are more or less forgotten today by most except us aficionados, because they were neither good nor bad enough to become either classics nor cult films. One of those is Target Earth, an independently produced cheapo that one wishes would have had a little more time, a little more budget and a little better screenwriters. In a way it is a film that you would like to like a little more than you actually do, because there is an unfulfilled potential in the movie. Continue reading

Stranger from Venus

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3/10 Patricia Neal, the star of The Day the Earth Stood Still, reprises her role in in this cheap British knock-off from 1954. The film was the brainchild of eccentric ufologist, WWII pilot, occultist, writer, filmmaker and electronic music pioneer Desmond Leslie, and didn’t even get a theatrical release in the US. Confined to a British inn, the movie is plodding and derivative, but still manages to hold the viewer thanks to a decent cast and some interesting script quirks.

Stranger from Venus (1954, UK). Directed by Burt Balaban. Written by Desmond Leslie & Hans Jacoby. Starring: Patricia Neal, Helmut Dantine, Derek Bond, Cyril Luckham, Willoughby Gray, Marigold Russell, Peter Sallis. Produced by Burt Balaban & Gene Martel for Rich & Rich Ltd. IMDb rating: 5.4/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

A Title Card Screen for the movie: Stranger From Venus (1954)

A Title Card Screen for the movie: Stranger From Venus (1954)

By 1954 the British had entered the science fiction market again after some trepidation, although it was still a genre reserved for cheap knock-offs. However, the hugely popular live TV-series The Quatermass Experiment (1953, review) had left the British public hungry for more. Hammer and small outfits like Gainsborough had started dabbling in the genre with mixed results. 1954 had already seen the campy romp Devil Girl from Mars (review), a film in which a superwoman in S/M gear comes to dominate Earth’s men, and mistakes a small Scottish pub for London. Stranger from Venus is a similarly low-budgeted movie, which also takes place in a British inn (or is it British?). Continue reading

Devil Girl from Mars

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(4/10) In 1954 British filmmakers took advantage of ten days of studio time left over from a TV show that finished early. The result was this ”Dracula from Space” film, remembered for its latex-clad dominatrix in the title role. It’s a hilariously campy romp played (with some skill) completely straight, and has a surprisingly good technical polish for a non-budget film. Unfortunately the script, whipped together in a matter of days, is disastrous from beginning to end. Features two Hammer horror scream queens.

Devil Girl from Mars (1954, Great Britain). Directed by David MacDonald. Written by John C. Mather & James Eastwood. Starring: Patricia Laffan, Hugh McDermott, Hazel Court, Peter Reynolds, Adrienne Corri, Joseph Tomelty, John Laurie, Sophie Stewart. Produced by Edward & Harry Danziger for Danziger Productions. IMDb score: 5.0/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

Joseph Tomelty and Patricia Laffan in Devil Girl from Mars.

Joseph Tomelty and Patricia Laffan in Devil Girl from Mars.

It’s funny how history changes things. Described by ”serious” critics as the low-point in Scottish director David MacDonald’s career, Devil Girl From Mars is the one film he is remembered for today, a film that is loved by science fiction fans and friends of B movies all over the world, and one that inspired both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Sure, this ridiculous science fiction yarn probably wasn’t quite what MacDonald had in mind as his legacy when he worked as an assistant producer in Hollywood for Cecil B. DeMille on films like Cleopatra (1934) and The Crusades (1935). After returning to Great Britain in the late thirties, MacDonald made a number of so-called quota quickies, and made himself a name as comedy director. During WWII he directed and/or produced a number of acclaimed morale-boosting documentaries, and his career seemed to be looking upward when he returned to feature film with the well-regarded thriller Snowbound in 1949. Unfortunately when it came time for his final breakthrough, the big-budget historical epic Christopher Columbus (1949), everything fell apart. The film was ridiculed by critics and audiences alike, and almost killed star actor and Oscar winner Frederic March’s career. Described by The New York Times as ”an uninspired succession of legendary but lifeless episode of tableaux”and later by Britmovie as ”a long and extraordinarily tedious affair”, this would have been his legacy unless Devil Girl from Mars would have come along, because nobody remembers any of the other low-budget movies he made after that. Continue reading