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.

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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

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues

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One of the last entries in the ever-declining line of sea monsters of the mid-fifties, this super-low-budget film was released by ARC as a B-bill to Roger Corman’s Day the World Ended. An incompetent spy whodunnit meets a ridiculously bad nuclear monster hunt. One of the worst scripts of the fifties, but the acting is surprisingly good. Stars later exploitation staple Kent Taylor.

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues!

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues!

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955, USA). Directed by Dan Milner. Written by Lou Rusoff. Starring: Kent Taylor, Cathy Downs, Michael Whalen, Helene Stanton, Phillip Pine, Rodney Bell, Vivi Janiss. Produced by Jack & Dan Milner for Milner Brothers Productions.
IMDb rating: 3.4/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A. 

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You may or may not remember that I recently gave 2/10 stars to Roger Corman’s post-apocalyptic snooze-fest Day the World Ended (1955, review). Well, that was American Releasing Company’s (ARC) top-billed film on a double feature that also included The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues. To be perfectly honest, I would like to give this film a 0/10 rating, just to clearly mark the distance in quality from Corman’s movie, that was at least competently filmed. But unfortunately The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues has a so-bad-it’s-good charm about it, that makes it impossible for me to give it a zero. This, by the way, was a quality that Day the World Ended sorely lacked in its grave melodrama. 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. 

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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.

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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

Ju jin yuki otoko

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(5/10) Known internationally as Half Human, this abominable snowman film is most famous for its unavailability. After complaints about how primitive villagers were portrayed in the film, Japanese studio Toho pulled it from circulation right after its release in 1955, and has sat on it since. A grainy print of Godzilla director Ishiro Honda’s movie is available internationally. The lead actors of Gojira are still stiff as ever, but Akemi Negishi is stunning as a mountain girl, the snowman is beautifully realised, and the cinematography impressive for a B movie.

Momoko Kochi as the female lead in Ju jun yuki otoko, having just been kidnapped bu the snowman.

Momoko Kochi as the female lead in Ju jun yuki otoko, having just been kidnapped bu the snowman.

Ju jin yuki otoko (1955, Japan). Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Shigeru Kayama and Takeo Murata. Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akemi Negishi, Nobuo Nakamura, Kokuten Kodo, Yoshio Kosugi, Fuminori Ohashi, Shoichi Hirose, Haruo Nakajima. Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka for Toho Company.
IMDb rating: 6.2/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

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From 1954 to 1958 there was yeti fever in the movie industry, ignited by the tales of abominable snowmen brought to the western media by mountaineers Eric Shipton in 1951 and Edmund Hillary in 1953. Shipton provided the press with photographs of giant humanoid footprints in the snow, and Hillary also told tales of huge footprints. The craze was further aided by sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s accounts of the old Nepalese folk-tales of the giant bear-man of the Himalayas, and his assurance that people he knew had seen the yeti with their own eyes. Continue reading

The Snow Creature

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(3/10) The first American yeti film is brought to you by Z-movie specialist W. Lee Wilder, brother of Billy Wilder. Like his earlier sci-fi movies, The Snow Creature is ineptly filmed and scripted. The yeti gets honoured with one of the worst creature suits in the history of cinema, and so little material is filmed that most of the film consists of people walking on a snowy mountain and one and the same shot of the yeti being used on a dozen of instances, sometimes freeze-framed, sometimes in reverse. Still fairly entertaining if you like bad fifties movies. Features sci-fi stalwart William Phipps and Lock Martin of Gort fame, as well as Bond villain Mr. Osato.

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The Snow Creature (1954, USA). Directed by W. Lee Wilder. Written by Myles Wilder. Starring: Paul Langton, Leslie Denison, Teru Shimada, Lock Martin, Rollin Moriyama, William Phipps. Produced by W. Lee Wilder for Planet Filmplays.
IMDb rating: 3.1/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

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I have pondered and deliberated much over whether to include bigfoot and yeti films on this blog, or rather: whether they should be considered science fiction or not, even in a very broad sense of the word. It is basically the same problem as with lost world films and movies like Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954, review). Are they sci-fi or fantasy? I have included The Lost World (1925, review) and King Kong (1933, review), as well as the Creature films, and therefore see no sensible reason not to include yeti movies as well. I guess one must draw the line somewhere, however, and after some consideration I have come to the conclusion that the clincher should be whether there is an attempt to explain the creature’s existence in a scientific manner. The yeti and bigfoot are both cryptozoologic creatures, rather than magical fairy-tale creatures such as dragons or trolls, which fall firmly in the fantasy section. Thus: welcome snowmen. Continue reading

Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä

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(5/10) The first film ever to feature an abominable snowman is a 1954 comedy from Finland, translated as Pekka and the Stump on the snowman’s trail. Loosely based on a comic strip, it features impressive visuals and a first-rate supporting cast, but the awkward and slow-moving script is a strange blend of traditional romcom and broad, blunt “we pull funny faces and fall over”-comedy. Culturally curious as an example of the so-called rillumarei genre.

Esa Pakarinen as Pekka Puupää, Vihtori Välimäki as the snowman and Masa Niemi as Pätkä,

Esa Pakarinen as Pekka Puupää, Vihtori Välimäki as the snowman and Masa Niemi as Pätkä,

Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä. Directed by Armand Lohikoski. Written by Reino Helismaa, Armand Lohikoski. Based on characters by Ola Fogelberg. Starring: Esa Pakarinen, Masa Niemi, Siiri Angerkoski, Anneli Sauli, Olavi Virta, Åke Lindman, Tuija Halonen, Vihtori Välimäki. Produced by T.J. Särkkä for Suomen Filmiteollisuus.
IMDb score: 5.6/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

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There are rare films and then there are rare films. This one isn’t rare in the sense that it is hard to come by – it’s been released on DVD, and you can buy from online retailers, but in the sense that very few people outside of its country of origin even know that it exists. Fans of snowman films generally credit W. Lee Wilder’s The Snow Creature (1954, review) with being the first snowman film ever made, but in fact Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä (Pekka and the Stump on the snowman’s trail) was released four months prior to the American movie, in July 1954. But even aficionados of monster movies can be forgiven for not knowing about this film. It’s a low-budget slapstick comedy that has never been theatrically released outside of Finland. And Finnish slapstick comedies don’t tend to have much of a cult following anywhere in the world. 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

Journey to the Beginning of Time

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(7/10) In 1955 ”the Georges Méliès of Czechoslovakia” directed an imaginative ”lost world” film in colour. With stop-motion puppetry and cutout animation, split screen techniques, mechanical puppets, suits and forced perspective shots, Karel Zeman gave life to the wonders of the prehistoric world. Although more ”edutainment” than drama, the film about four boys travelling backwards in time still manages to captivate its viewers with its innovative special effects, its naive and warm approach and the great performances by the young actors. Some special effects do feel a bit creaky.

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Vladimir Bejval and Zdenek Hustak inspecting a dead Stegosaurus.

Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955, Czechoslovakia). Directed by Karel Zeman. Written by Karel Zeman, J.A. Novotný. Starring: Vladimir Bejval, Petr Herrman, Zdenek Hustak, Josef Lukás. Produced for Ceskoslovenský Státni Film & Filmové Studio Gottwaldov.
IMDb rating: 7.5/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

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In 1955 American audiences were being wowed by Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation in films like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review) and It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955, review). But Europe had their own Harryhausen, who was much less known to American audiences, partly because he worked behind the iron curtain, and partly because the one film he made that got a wide release in the US, Journey to the Beginning of Time (Cesta do praveku), downplayed his contribution when studios tacked on a newly filmed American beginning and end when it was released overseas in 1966. This was Czechoslovak director Karel Zeman, one of the most brilliant, artistic and inventive animators in the history of cinema. Continue reading

Creature with the Atom Brain

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(4/10) Cult director Edward Cahn’s comeback film from 1955 has sci-fi favourite Richard Denning tracking nuclear-powered zombies. Screenwriter Curt Siodmak is back at his favourite subject – brains – but it’s not his best script. An exploitation cheapo with major studio backing, this was a gore-fest in the fifties. Today it seems flawed, but still entertaining and competent.

BRAAAAINS!

BRAAAAINS!

Creature with the Atom Brain (1955, USA). Directed by Edward L. Cahn. Written by Curt Siodmak. Starring: Richard Denning, Angela Stevens, S. John Launer, Michael Granger, Gregory Gaye, Linda Bennett. Produced by Sam Katzman for Clover Productions.
IMDb rating: 5.4/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

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”In a sense, this film’s title sums up the appeal of the science fiction/monster movies of the 1950s. It’s lurid, it’s to the point, and it deals with (a) monsters, (b) atomic radiation and (c) intelligence, all within a single exploitable phrase. Creature with the Atom Brain. Run that around your tongue for a while, and imagine yourself a 12-year old”. Thus writes Bill Warren in his fifties’ sci-fi bible Keep Watching the Skies about the film that this review concerns, a cheap exploitation affair from Sam Katzman’s Clover Productions, a subsidiary of mid-level studio Columbia Pictures. And for once, the title actually lives up to the film. Nay, it undersells the film – it should be in plural: CreatureS with Atom Brains!

Creature with the Atom Brain was produced by Katzman himself as the bottom half of a science fiction double feature (I have waited almost three years to get to write that phrase!), alongside Charles Schneer’s and Ray Harryhausen’s giant octopus film It Came from Beneath the Sea, which I reviewed just a few days back. It was written by Curt Siodmak, probably as a commission, and directed by Edward L. Cahn, an industry veteran known for his ability to shoot films fast but competently. In fact, this was his first brush with sci-fi, unless you count a short Our Gang effort from 1940, which involved a robot, but it certainly wouldn’t be his last. Continue reading