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

It Came from Beneath the Sea

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(4/10) A giant radioactive octopus destroys San Francisco in Columbia’s stale rehash of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. This low-budget programmer is saved by a good leading cast and Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation. George Worthing Yates writes a strong part for scream queen Faith Domergue, giving it a feminist slant. The hero from King Dinosaur, William Bryant, is back in a bit-part, but this time it is sci-fi stalwart Kenneth Tobey’s turn to ”bring the atom bomb”.

The hexapus attacking the Golden Gate in the later colourised version of the film.

The hexapus attacking the Golden Gate in the later colourised version of the film.

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955, USA). Directed by Robert Gordon. Written by George Worthing Yates, Harold Jacob Smith. Starring: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis. Produced by Charles H. Schneer for Clover Productions.
IMDb rating: 5.9/10. Tomatometer: 67% Fresh. Metascore: N/A.

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Radioactive deep-sea dangers menaced the world in the mid-fifties, and it all started with the Warner-distributed The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review), which in turn was inspired by the immensely successful re-release of King King (1933, review) in 1952. King Kong showed Hollywood that stop-motion animation was still as effective a way for creating giant monsters as it had been twenty years earlier. King Kong, or course, was animated by legendary Willis O’Brien, as was its inferior slapdash sequel Son of Kong (1933). A much worthier follow-up was made in 1949, Mighty Joe Young, which gave O’Brien his only Oscar, although most of the animation was done by his apprentice, a young man called Ray Harryhausen, who would hone his animating skills on George Pal’s Puppetoons replacement animation film series. When producer Jack Dietz had the idea to make a giant monster film about a radioactive dinosaur wreaking havoc in New York, the call went out to Ray Harryhausen to create the creature in the stop-motion technique, and that film’s huge success spawned the inferior rip-off It Came from Beneah the Sea. Continue reading

Bride of the Monster

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(3/10) In 1955 legendary producer/director Ed Wood released the first film of his sci-fi trilogy, and to his great satisfaction was able to place aged horror icon Bela Lugosi in the lead. Often considered Wood’s ”best” movie, this low-budget schlocker has to be ingested with a good dose of good-will. The inaptly made film is good for a whole bunch of laughs, but Lugosi plays his mad scientist with great gusto and even has some touching moments, and the movie has a very distinct charm.

Bela Lugosi as Dr. Eric Vornoff in Bride of the Monster.

Bela Lugosi as Dr. Eric Vornoff in Bride of the Monster.

Bride of the Monster (1955, USA). Directed by Edward D. Wood Jr. Written by Alex Gordon and Edward D. Wood Jr. Starring: Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Tony McCoy, Loretta King, Harvey B. Dunn, George Becwar, Paul Marco, Dolores Fuller. Produced by Edward D. Wood Jr. for Rolling M. Productions.
IMDb raring: 4.1/10. Tomatometer: 45% Rotten. Metascore: N/A.

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The fifties were a golden age for filmmakers without money, time or any particular talent. If you could raise 30 000 dollars, conjure up a script and stick a monster in the film, you could almost bet that someone would pick up distribution rights and make their money back, no matter how bad the movie was. There were quite a few hacks who tried their hands at sci-fi programmers, such as W. Lee Wilder or Bert I. Gordon. Roger Corman, who was in truth a very good producer and director, made an art out of making films on almost no money. But for some reason the name that has gone down in history as the king of bad movies is that of Edward D. Wood Jr. or Ed Wood for short. Best known for his ”magnum opus”, Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), he did once produce and direct a film that had an actual budget and an actual script, and is often considered his best movie, and that is Bride of the Monster. Continue reading

Godzilla Raids Again

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(5/10) After the success of Gojira, Toho rushed its next Godzilla film into production, led by quickie director Motoyoshi Oda. Godzilla and Anguirus/Angilas battle it out in Osaka and Hokkaido, while special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya conjures up his own Japanese air force to take the monsters out. Not as thought-provoking or grim as the original film, nor as campy as the later kaiju movies, this money-grabber is still a well-made, though not very well written, transitional film.

Godzilla and Anguirus battling it out in Godzilla Raids Again.

Godzilla and Anguirus battling it out in Godzilla Raids Again.

Godzilla Raids Again (1955, Japan). Directed by Motoyoshi Oda. Written by Takeo Murata, Shigeaki Hidaka, Shigeru Kayama. Starring: Hiroshi Koizumi, Setsuko Wakayama, Minoru Chiaki, Mayuri Mokusho, Masao Shimizu, Yukio Kasama, Takashi Shimura, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Haruo Nakajima, Katsumi Tezuka. Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka for Toho Company.
IMDb rating: 6.0/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metacritic: N/A. 

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In 1954 Toho studio released Gojira (review), a film that went over budget and that the studio hoped would make back production costs. Nobody at the studio could anticipate the enormous success of this stark, frightening allegory of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, represented by a giant, radioactive dinosaur. Despite mostly bad reviews from the press and accusations that the filmmakers were profiting on a national trauma, the audience turned up in droves. The film’s box office earnings almost tripled its cost, making it the eighth most viewed film in Japan in 1954. It was supposed to be a one-off, as Godzilla died in the end, but as soon as producer Tomoyuki Tanaka saw the lines to the ticket vendors, he decided there had to be a sequel – and fast. Almost as soon as the opening night of Gojira was over, Toho went into high gear to produce Godzilla Raids Again (ゴジラの逆襲, Gojira no gyakushû, literally: Counterattack of Gojira, released in the US as Gigantis: The Fire Monster). Continue reading

Revenge of the Creature

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(4/10) The creature from the Black Lagoon returns in Universal’s inferior sequel to the 1954 hit movie. Producer Alland and director Arnold also return, but they are unable to create magic with a crappy script and a small budget. Cult actor John Agar does his first of many sci-fi leading roles, a bland actor playing a bland character opposite a bland Lori Nelson. The creature still looks awesome, there are good action scenes and moments of visual brilliance, but the film has too much padding and too little plot. It is best known today for a 30-second appearance by Clint Eastwood in his first film role.

Lori Nelson struggles in the grip of the creature from the Black Lagoon.

Lori Nelson struggles in the grip of the creature from the Black Lagoon.

Revenge of the Creature (1955, USA). Directed by Jack Arnold. Written by William Alland and Martin Berkeley. Starring: John Agar, Lori Nelson, John Bromfield, Nestor Paiva, Ricou Browning, Ginger Stanley, Tom Hennessy, Clint Eastwood. Produced by William Alland for Universal International Pictures.
IMDb rating: 5.5/10. Tomatometer: 25% Rotten. Metascore: N/A.

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After the classic monster movie franchise collapsed in the mid-forties, Universal studios had sort of been floundering a bit without a line of movies they could make for a fairly short buck, and would be sure to draw a big juvenile audience and make for great advertising. Science fiction had exploded onto the scene in the early fifties, but by 1953 the vast majority of the sci-fi films were being churned out as cheap exploitation fare by Poverty Row studios or as independent productions. Initially the big studios weren’t quite sure how to handle this new age of space explorations, flying saucers and visitors from other planets. Twentieth Century-Fox made the big-budget splash The Day the Earth Stood Still (review) in 1951, but then stayed away from sci-fi. Paramount was one of the standard-bearers for the genre with George Pal’s expensive colour epics, but Universal, a ”minor major studio” didn’t have the muscle to compete with such movies. But then in 1952 two things happened. One: Arch Oboler released the first 3D movie, Bwana Devil with enormous success. Two: RKO re-released King Kong (1933, review), and swept the floor with all major studios. For Universal this was an epiphany: people wanted monsters again, and if Universal could give it to them in 3D, they would have a winner on their hands. Continue reading