The Gamma People

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(3/10) Future James Bond producer Albert Broccoli and Irving Allen masterminded this 1956 British genre mashup about two journalists fighting zombies and gamma ray cannons in a made-up European micro state. Individual parts work fine, but the balance between horror and comedy doesn’t gel, and too many different ideas and concepts compete for space and time. Features sex symbol Jocelyn Lane and Hogwarth’s Sorting Hat.

The boys of Gudavia getting Dr. Boronski’s gamma ray treatment.

The Gamma People (1956, UK). Written by John W. Gossage, John Gilling, Louis Pollock, Robert Aldrich. Starring: Paul Douglas, Leslie Phillips, Eva Bartok, Walter Rilla, Philip Leaver, Michael Caridia, Jocelyn Lane. Produced by John W. Gossage for Warwick Film Productions.
IMDb rating: 5.3/10 Tomatometer: N/A Metascore: N/A.

Poster.

This is a project that was long in the making and met a number of difficulties and should, perhaps, have been abandoned. However, the film finally came to fruition January 1956, and the result is one of the more bizarre science fiction films of the fifties. Set in a fictional European micro state, it follows two unlucky journalists uncovering the plot of a mad scientist creating his own private super race with the help of a radioactive ray. The concept of the death ray was almost old hat when Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi teamed up around it in The Invisible Ray (1935, review) twenty years earlier, and certainly must have felt archaic in 1956. It doesn’t help that the film can’t decide whether to be a comedy or a horror film. Continue reading

Day the World Ended

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(2/10) Roger Corman officially directed his first science fiction film in 1955. Seven people hole up in a secluded bungalow after total annihilation in a nuclear war. As personal tensions mount, it is a race to see if the blood-thirsty mutant prowling the valley kills them before they kill each other. Richard Denning leads a capable cast, but the film is done in by a 45-minute deadly boring stretch where nothing at all happens. Paul Blaisdell’s crude mutant costume is fun to look at, but as half the film is padding, there’s just no way of saving it.

Marty the Mutant carrying off Lori Nelson.

Marty the Mutant carrying off Lori Nelson.

Day the World Ended (1955, USA). Directed by Roger Corman. Written by Lou Rusoff. Starring: Richard Denning, Lori Nelson, Paul Birch, Mike ”Touch” Connors, Adele Jergens, Paul Blaisdell. Produced by Roger Corman for Golden State Productions.
IMDb rating: 5.4/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A. 

Poster.

Poster.

First of all, I’d like to dedicate this post to the memory of actor Mike Connors, who sadly passed away on January 27, 2017, at the age of 91.

Second, I feel I should address the elephant in the room, namely my low rating of this film. Of course, this can probably be partly chalked down to personal taste, but it is rather seldom that I wander 3.5 stars off the IMDb consensus. I have a feeling that some reviewers tend to bump up their assessment of this film based on a notion that it is a trailblazer, and thus should warrant extra points for its ideas, even if they are poorly executed. But this notion is false. Day the World Ended was not the first post-apocalyptic movie – but it was almost certainly the worst at the time it was made. Continue reading

Tarantula

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(6/10) This 1955 film marked Universal’s entrance into the giant bug market, and along with Them! it stands as one of the classiest examples of the subgenre. Sci-fi stalwarts John Agar and Mara Corday back up a good Leo G. Carroll in a rather anachronistic mad scientist role. The script is derivative and somewhat clumsy, but moves along at a good pace and avoids communist/nuclear hysteria. Occasionally flawed, but ultimately impressive visual effects make Jack Arnold’s fourth sci-fi picture a genuine classic.

The spider.

The spider.

Tarantula (1955, USA). Directed by Jack Arnold. Written by Robert M. Fresco, Martin Berkeley, Jack Arnold. Starring: John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll, Nestor Paiva, Eddie Parker, Clint Eastwood. Produced by William Alland for Universal-International.
IMDb rating: 6.5/10. Tomatometer: 92% Fresh. Metascore: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

1955 stood in the middle of a decade that marked the second Golden Age for monster movies. But unlike in the thirties, the monsters were no longer gothic undead ripped from the pages of literary classics and folklore. No, these were the monsters of the atomic age – mutants, radioactive giants and overgrown insects. The hugely successful re-release of RKO:s King Kong (1933, review) in 1952 spurred Warner to take a chance with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review), and the old masters of the monster genre, Universal, answered with Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954, review). Smelling success for science fiction in general, Universal splashed out with a big-budget space epic, This Island Earth (review) in 1955, and even if the film made back its budget, it wasn’t the hit they had hoped for. So, the studio decided, space rockets and far-off planets still weren’t the money-cows they needed, and for the rest of the decade decided to play it safe with an ever-declining line of mutated insects, arachnids and other critters. Tarantula isn’t the first time we’ve seen giant spiders on films, but it is the first time the spider has taken the size of a house. And this movie is without a doubt the best of Universal’s post-1954 sci-fi horror films. Continue reading

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

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

The Maze

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(5/10) In a nutshell: More an old-school horror movie than a science fiction film, this low-budget effort by the visual innovator William Cameron Menzies is an atmospheric mystery play with strong expressionist leanings and a Lovecraftian atmosphere. The female heroin of the piece travels to a remote Scottish castle to find out why her husband-to-be has broken off their engagement weeks before the marriage with a cryptic letter saying he must remain secluded in his family’s old mansion. Starring sci-fi cult actor Richard Carlson. The script stalls, the characters are flat and the ending is downright silly. 

The Maze (1953). Directed by William Cameron Menzies. Written by Daniel B. Ullman. Based on the novel The Maze by Maurice Sandoz. Starring: Richard Carlson, Veronica Hurst, Katherine Emery, Michael Pate, John Dodsworth, Hillary Brooke, Lilian Bond. Produced by Richard V. Heermance, Walter Mirisch for Allied Artists Pictures. IMDb score: 6.0/10

The Maze - Its only a model.

The Maze – Its only a model.

The Maze is a science fiction film only by a very narrow margin, thanks to revelation in the very final scene in the movie, which I won’t reveal, since it would destroy the viewing pleasure for all involved. But I’ll try and give it a short run-down without giving too much away. The plot follows young Kitty Murray (Veronica Hurst) who is engaged to the dreamy Gerald MacTeam (Richard Carlson). During a holiday in France Gerald suddenly gets called to his old family castle in Scotland, and several weeks later sends a short letter telling Kitty that their engagement is off – pressing matters demand his presence at the castle, and they are never to meet again. Distraught, Kitty decides to travel to the castle, and her stern aunt Edith (Katherine Emery) insists on tagging along. Continue reading

The Quatermass Experiment

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(6/10) In a nutshell: Only two out of six episodes remain of this hugely influential British TV mini-series written by Nigel Kneale. Spawning three feature films, three more series, a number of ripoffs and laying the ground for a whole new subgenre, this series changed how TV was made in Britain. The execution is quaint and a bit stuffy today, but that doesn’t take away from the awesome impact of Kneale’s highly original writing and the story and the themes of an astronaut carrying a lethal danger within his body to Earth are still as strong today as they ever were.

The Quatermass Experiment (TV mini-series, 1953). Directed by Rudolph Cartier. Written by Nigel Kneale. Starring: Reginald Tate, Isabel Dean, Hugh Kelly, Paul Whitsun-Jones, Duncan Lamont, John Glen, Ian Colin, Frank Hawkins, Oliver Johnston, Katie Johnson, Christopher Rhodes, Peter Bathurst. Produced by Rudolph Cartier for BBC. IMDb score: 7.4/10

The alien plant of The Quatermass Experiment.

The alien plant of The Quatermass Experiment.

This is one of my rare TV reviews. Although I tend to stick to films, there is a broader point behind this blog, which is to create an Encyclopedia of sorts of the history of sci-fi films, and in that regard some TV series are simply too influential to be left out. One such as this is the BBC production The Quatermass Experiment, which was really the first TV serial aimed at an adult audience. Continue reading

Invaders from Mars

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(6/10) In a nutshell: This Hugo-nominated 1953 film by William Cameron Menzies is delightfully whimsy and disturbingly surreal, balancing between pure camp and serious psychological questions about adolescence. In a dreamlike reality (or a realistic dream) 10-year old David’s parents and friends are body-snatched by Martians who have landed in his backyard. It’s a race to see if David and his confidantes can blow up the UFO before the aliens have infiltrated the whole town.

Invaders from Mars (1953). Directed by William Cameron Menzies. Written by Richard Blake, John Tucker Battle, Arthur Gardner. Starring: Helena Carter, Arthur Franz, Jimmy Hunt, Leif Erickson, Hillary Brook, Morris Ankrum. Produced by Edward L. Alperson for Edward L. Alperson Productions. Tomatometer: 82 %. IMDb score: 6.5

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Publicity poster for Invaders from Mars, Luz Potter as “Martian Intelligence”.

1953 was the year when the floodgates finally opened for what we would call ”fifties camp” in science fiction – only three films into the year, I have already reviewed Robot Monster, and now we get to another cult classic: Invaders from Mars. While the former is an entity in and of itself, the latter also has some claim to uniqueness: it was the first alien film in colour. Rushed into theatres in April to beat the premiere of George Pal’s Magnum Opus The War of the Worlds (review), the movie is one of the more bizarre, and beloved, entries in fifties science fiction canon. Continue reading

Tales of Tomorrow

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(6/10) In a nutshell: Tales of Tomorrow aired on ABC in the US from 1951 to 1953 and was the first exclusive science fiction anthology series. Adult, intelligent and genuinly unsettling scripts are intermingled with more staple mystery and sci-fi fare. The live broadcast sets limits for direction, but genius camera work and editing sometimes surpass these limits. Leslie Nielsen dominates the cast, and watch out for the masterclass in method acting between Rod Steiger and James Dean.

Tales of Tomorrow (1951-1953). Created by Mort Abrahams and Theodore Sturgeon. Directed by Don Medford, Charles Rubin, et. al. Written by Man Rubin, Mel Goldberg, Frank de Felitta, Alvin Sapinsley, David E. Durston, Max Ehrlich, Gail Ingram, Theodore Sturgeon, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, et. al. Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Cameron Prud’Homme, Walter Abel, Edgar Stehli, Theo Goetz, Olive Deering, Edith Fellows, Bruce Cabot, Rod Steiger, Gene Lockhart, Una O’Connor, Boris Karloff, Eva Gabor, Veronica Lake, Joanne Woodward, James Dean, Lon Chaney Jr, James Doohan, Paul Newman, et. al.  Produced by George F. Foley Jr, Mort Abrahams, Richard Gordon for George F. Foley, distributed by ABC. IMDb score: 7.4

Opening credits for Tales of Tomorrow.

Opening credits for Tales of Tomorrow.

I’ve been reviewing a lot of television lately: there was the first televised sci-fi series, Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949, review), the first anthology series featuring science fiction, Lights Out (1949, review), but now we get to the third one, and the last one I’ll be reviewing in a while: Tales of Tomorrow, which ran on ABC from 1951 to 1953. This has the distinction of being the first television anthology series to feature exclusively science fiction, foreshadowing legendary TV shows like The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) and The Outer Limits (1963-1964). Continue reading