(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.
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
(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.
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.
”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
(5/10) In a nutshell: Clearly a passion project of sorts for director Chano Urueta, The Monster, as it’s been labelled with the US DVD release, was a pioneering Mexican medical sci-fi movie upon its release in 1953. Made with virtually no budget the movie is clunky and the script absolutely zany, but holds up thanks to strong acting and a well-built eerie atmosphere. The star name was the ill-fated Czech immigrant Miroslava, or ”the Marilyn Monroe of Mexico”.
El monstruo resucitado (1953, Mexico). Directed by Chano Urueta. Written by Adruino Maiuri, Chano Urueta. Starring: Miroslava Sternova, Carlos Navarro, José Maria Linares-Rivas. Produced by Sergio Kogan, Abel Salazar for Internacional Cinematográfica. IMDB rating: 5.8/10.
Miroslava as Nora and José Maria Linares-Rivas as the mysterious Dr. Hermann Ling in The Monster.
First of all, please forgive my long absence, I’ve been stressed out by my day job as a magazine editor and haven’t had the energy to do the blog well, and decided it’s better to not do it at all than to do it poorly. But now I’m back with yet another look at an obscure horror sci-fi film. With this last of my review of 1953 I’m tackling something of a cult classic with Mexican horror lovers – El monstruo resucitado, directed by Chano Urueta. It’s literal translation is The Resurrected Monster or The Revived Monster, and it’s been released on DVD in the US simply as The Monster. It is also sometimes referred to as El monstruo Dr. Crimen. Continue reading
(5/10) In a nutshell: Another decent, but not in any way brilliant, mad scientist film from Universal. This 1943 movie is one of the rawer of the horror films from Universal after the enforcement of the Hays code, and basically deals with temporary zombification. Good performances, good makeup, too much operetta, a low budget and a slim script puts this at the middle of the scale.
The Mad Ghoul. 1943, USA. Directed by James P. Hogan. Written by Paul Gangelin, Brenda Weisberg, Hanns Kräly. Starring: David Bruce, Evelyn Ankers, George Zucco, Turhan Bey, Robert Armstrong. Produced by Ben Pivar for Universal. IMDb score: 5.7
Poster from one of the creepier scenes from The Mad Ghoul.
The crowning achievement of Universal’s horror franchise was The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935, and after that the studio’s output slowly waned in quality. Despite the huge success of The Wolf Man (1941), the horror films were decidedly B movie fare in the forties, as Universal churned out one movie after the other without ever sinking to the abysmal depths of Poverty Row ripoffs, however. A classic example of a forties Universal horror sci-fi film is The Mad Ghoul from 1943. It is filled with modestly talented B actors and has decent production values, and even some original ideas, but still stumbles on the script department as the setup is already all too familiar. Continue reading
(4/10) A good black supporting cast led by comedian Mantan Moreland saves this 1943 film, directed by The Day of the Triffids director Steve Sekely. John Carradine sleepwalks through his second outing as a mad scientist, this time creating zombies out of his staff and even his own wife. The white heroes of the movie are really just killing time between Moreland’s comedy skits.
Revenge of the Zombies. 1943, USA. Directed by Steve Sekely. Written bt Edmond Kelso, Van Norcross. Starring: Robert Lowery, Mauritz Hugo, John Carradine, Mantan Moreland, Veda Ann Borg, Gale Storm, Bob Steele, Madame Sul-Te-Wan, James Baskett, Sybil Lewis, Barry McCollum. Produced by Lindsley Parsons for Monogram. IMDb score: 4.7
Sybil Lewis and Mantan Moreland are two of the good things about this 1943 zombie horror comedy.
Just off one Monogram picture, the abysmally bad The Ape Man (1943, review), starring Bela Lugosi, I jump right on to the next B cheapo. This time the villain is played by Lugosi’s and Boris Karloff’s successor as something of mad scientist royalty (although the title was hotly contested for in 1943), John Carradine. This was his second outing as a mad scientist, the first being Captive Wild Woman (1943, review). Continue reading
(4/10) In 1941 Universal still had a few good monster movie shots in it before it all went to hell in a handbag, but unfortunately Man Made Monster wasn’t one of them. The film is best known for introducing Lon Chaney Jr. some nine months before his smash hit The Wolf Man. Chaney gives some good and some bad performances in this lower-than-low budget movie that quickly runs out of steam in the script department.
Man Made Monster. 1941, USA. Directed by George Waggner. Written by George Waggner, Harry Essex, Sid Schwartz, Len Golos. Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, Lionel Atwill, Anne Nagel, Frank Albertson, Samuel S. Hinds. Produced by Jack Bernhard for Universal. IMDb score: 6.3
Lon Chaney Jr. literally shines in Man Made Monster from 1941.
While the Frankenstein saga was still holding up its head with the last film, The Son of Frankenstein, stacking up giant box office numbers in 1939 (review), Universal introduced yet a new monster in 1941, and again considered putting Boris Karloff in the lead. But for one reason or the other, perhaps that Karloff had been seen so frequently in the recent string of Columbia mad scientist films, the idea was scrapped. Instead, a new star with an old name was on the rise in Hollywood, by the name of Creichton Chaney, better known by that time by the stage name borrowed from his prematurely deceased father, Lon Chaney. This was Lon Chaney Jr’s first horror film, a film that led him to be cast in his most famous role ever later the same year, The Wolf Man. Continue reading
(7/10) In a nutshell: Dracula and Freaks director Tod Browning’s sci-fi/horror/comedy The Devil-Doll from 1936 is an accomplished special effects reel concerning shrunken people. Despite the feel that Browning recycles his old themes, this moral play is one of the best sci-fi films out of USA in the late thirties – and Lionel Barrymore in drag is absurdly fun.
The Devil-Doll. 1936, USA. Directed by Tod Browning (uncredited). Written by Tod Browning (uncredited), Garret Fort, Guy Endore, Erich von Stroheim, Richard Schayer. Loosely based on the novel Burn, Witch, Burn by Abraham Merritt. Starring: Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O’Sullivan, Frank Lawton, Rafalea Ottiano. Produced by Tod Browning, E.J. Mannix for MGM. Tomatometer: 100 %. IMDb score: 7.0
Grace Ford as the shrunken assistant Lachna in The Devil-Doll from 1936.
Here’s one that got away. I always assumed, based on the title, that The Devil-Doll had more to do with black magic or voodoo than science fiction. Turns out I was wrong, and boy am I glad I watched it. The film was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1936, one of the big five studios who jumped the sci-fi horror bandwagon after Universal’s five years of almost supreme reign over the genre. The film followed the release of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935, review), a film that toyed with the notion of miniature people. What was a throwaway moment in Bride becomes the whole premise for The Devil-Doll, directed by the man that started the whole horror shebang by directing Dracula in 1931, Tod Browning. Continue reading
(6/10) In a nutshell: Screenwriter H.G. Wells, producer Alexander Korda and director William Cameron Menzies take us on an epic journey through the future in this pompous 1936 social prophesy. The most expensive film ever made in Britain in 1936, Things to Come boasts incredible sets and miniatures, great effects, high quality filming and a team of great actors. But ultimately the movie trips on its clay feet, which is the impossibly stiff script, lacking in emotion and real dialogue. Wells is using his biggest sledgehammer to pound in his message, and prevents the audience from doing any thinking for themselves.
Things to Come. 1936, UK. Directed by William Cameron Menzies. Written H.G. Wells, based on his own novel The Shape of Things to Come. Starring: Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Cedric Hardwicke. Music: Arthur Bliss. Produced by Alexander Korda for London Film Productions. Tomatometer: 92 %. IMDb score: 6.8
In the future the world will be ruled by stiff philosophers decked out in gowns and big shoulder pads.
Things to Come was Great Britain’s most impressively epic science fiction film to date – without even a close rival – when it came out in 1936. It had a budget of about 350 000 pounds, equal to about 21 millions today; an absolutely astounding amount of money to put on a film back in that day. And thus it would remain all the way to 1968 when Stanley Kubrick made 2001: A Space Odyssey in London. Penned by the 70-year old sci-fi master H.G. Wells from his own 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come, it was however more an ideological treatise and a futuristic prophesy than a dramatic film. Although time has conjured up a good deal of latter-day apologetics who hail Wells’ vision and – rightly so – praise the production design, the simple truth of the matter stands: Wells was an awful screenwriter. Continue reading