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

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.

Poster.

Poster.

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. 

Poster.

Poster.

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

Gojira

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(7/10) Inspired by King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Gojira gave birth to the massive Japanese kaiju movie industry, and more or less single-handedly brought science fiction into the country’s mainstream. Eiji Tsuburaya pushed Japan’s severely under-developed special effects industry forward by a mile, but the quality was still a far cry from Hollywood at its best. Despite its clumsy rubber monster and the under-developed characters, Gojira is a tremendously gripping and stark allegory for Japan’s experiences during WWII, and director Ishirô Honda elevates Gojira above its B movie roots with his beautifully grim visuals and his relentlessly intimate focus on the casualties of war.

Gojira/Godzilla (1954, Japan). Directed by Ishirô Honda. Written by Ishirô Honda, Takeo Murata & Shigeru Kayama. Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Kokuten Kôdô, Haruo Nakajima. Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka for Toho Film.
IMDb rating: 7.5/10. Tomatometer: 93% Fresh. Metascore: 78/100.

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Gojira destroying Tokyo.

In 1954 a horror was unleashed upon the world that resonates to this very day. Few movie monsters have the distinct honour of impacting our culture so that it actually changes our language, and becomes a concept in and of itself, even for people who have never seen the films they appear in. We talk about ”the King Kong of” some product, Frankenfood, the Governator and of course Bridezilla. The list could perhaps be made slightly longer, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find many more monsters, or indeed film concepts, that resonate so strongly throughout the entire world. Godzilla is one of those rare creatures that everybody in the world can conjure up an image of, regardless of age or geography. And like most great movie concepts, the reason for Godzilla’s timeless appeal is a number of happy (or unhappy) coincidences. Continue reading

Them!

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(8/10) The first true giant bug movie, Them!, was released in 1954 and set the template for years to come. However, few, if any, giant insect films have come close to the cinematic quality of the original. Giant mutated ants appear in New Mexico and threaten to wipe out humanity. Only Science and the American Way can stop them! Good acting, a smart script, well-held suspense, well-placed comedy, superb full-size giant ant puppets and a fifties Ellen Ripley. Watch out for Leonard Nimoy’s cameo.

Them! (1954, USA). Directed by Gordon Douglas. Written by George Worthing Yates, Russell S. Hughes, Ted Sherdeman. Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness, Sandy Descher, Fess Parker, Leonard Nimoy, William Schallert. Produced by David Weisbart for Warner Bros. IMDb rating: 7.3. Rotten Tomatoes: 100% Fresh. Metacritic: N/A.

Joan Medford flees the giant ant in Them!

Joan Medford flees the giant ant in Them!

On the site Gary Westfahl’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Films, the author writes: ”Although there were several strange and striking films in the early 1950s that demonstrated in various ways what science fiction films of that era might have become /…/ there was one film that precisely exemplified what science fiction film in the 1950s actually became, and that was Them!” And I would agree. While there were quite a few noteable exceptions, like George Pal’s ambitious space film Conquest of Space (1955), the claustrophobic social drama Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and the Shakespearean space opera Forbidden Planet (1956), Them! set the template for the latter part of the fifties. This was the first actual giant bug film, and, many would say, the best. Continue reading

Monster from the Ocean Floor

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(4/10) This 1954 shoestring-shocker is the first ever film produced by the king of B movies, Roger Corman. Despite a non-existing budget, Corman and director Wyatt Ordung are able to cobble together a film that looks like it was produced by decent Poverty Row studio. Lead actress Anne Kimbell’s warm and sympathetic portrayal of a tourist hunting a mutated sea monster in a Mexican cove does much to raise the film above its meagre production values. A surprisingly entertaining film that is perfect for a few laughs and a bowl of popcorn.

Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954, USA). Directed by Wyatt Ordung. Written by Bill Danch. Starring: Anne Kimbell, Stuart Wade, Dick Pinner, Wyatt Ordung, Inez Palange, Jonathan Haze, David Garcia, Roger Corman.. Produced by Roger Corman for Palo Alto Productions. IMDb rating: 3.3/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

Anne Kimbell exhausted after having encountered the monster from the ocean floor.

Anne Kimbell exhausted after having encountered the monster from the ocean floor.

This blog has chronicled the history of science fiction cinema from its humble beginnings with Georges Méliès’ groundbreaking extravaganza A Trip to the Moon (review) in 1902 through the pioneering work of masters like Fritz Lang (Metropolis 1927 review, Woman in the Moon, 1929, review) and the creators of the Universal monsters to the fifties. Beginning with George Pal’s ambitious Destination Moon (1950, review), the early fifties marked the beginning of nearly every subgenre now found in science fiction movies of today, whether it was the alien invasion (The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951, review), the alien monster (The Thing from Another World, 1951, review), the post-apocalyptic world (Five, 1951, review), the colonisation of space (When Worlds Collide, 1952, review) alien duplicates (Invaders from Mars, 1953, review), the futuristic war (The War of the Worlds, 1953, review) or the atomic monster (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, 1953, review). Continue reading

Killers from Space

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(2/10) In a nutshell: The second sci-fi film by Billy Wilder’s less talented brother Willie mashes up a cold war spy yarn with an alien abduction story and nuclear fright. The underlying story is a sound one, but it gets messed up by a thin script and a shoestring budget that relies on stock footage for filling time and has some of the most profoundly silly-looking aliens in film history. Future TV star Peter Graves of Mission: Impossible fame lends the film some dignity in the leading role, but it doesn’t help to save this ineptly produced and directed oddity. A must for lovers of bad B-movies, though.

Killers from Space (1954, USA). Directed by W. Lee Wilder. Written by Myles Wilder and William Raymond. Starring: Peter Graves, James Seay, Steve Pendleton, Frank Gerstle, John Frederick, Barbara Bestar, Shepard Menken. Produced by W. Lee Wilder for Planet Filmplays. IMDb: 3.1/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metacritic: N/A. 

Are these not the most terrifying killers you have ever seen?

Are these not the most terrifying killers you have ever seen?

This here is something of a cult classic with lovers of bad movies – mainly because of the hilarious look of the aliens. Once seen, they can never be unseen. First of all, there’s the ridiculous jumpsuits. But most of all, what we remember are the eyes – the wonderfully wacky ping pong ball eyes. This 1954 film was supposed to be serious – and the aliens were supposed to be frightening. And then they stuck ping pong balls on their eyes. It’s wonderful! Well, in fact, they are not ping pong balls at all. Director Willie Wilder had suggested ping pong balls, but makeup artist Harry Thomas thought that wouldn’t really look realistic, so he went to an actual optical shop to ask for glass eyes, that he could cut in half. But they cost 900 dollars apiece, which was probably more than Thomas’ entire makeup budget. John Johnson’s book Cheap Tricks and Class Acts quotes an article in Filmfax, where Thomas is interviewed. Thomas describes how after being turned down at the opticians’, he stayed up all night wrestling with the problem of the aliens’ eyes, and how to make them realistic, so he wouldn’t have to settle for Wilder’s idea with the ping pong balls: ”I was almost completely discouraged when I opened up the refrigerator to get something to drink, and there was my answer: a white plastic egg tray.” So there you have it. In your face, haters, those are not ping pong balls, they are very realistic egg tray bottoms. Good on you, Harry Thomas! Continue reading