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.

Poster.

Poster.

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

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R.I.P. John Hurt

Oh no! Not again!

Oh no! Not again!

One of my absolute favourite actors has left us. John Hurt was one of the first classically trained British Shakespearian actors to whole-heartedly embrace science fiction, as opposed, for example, to an Alec Guinness, who spent most of his life pissing on Star Wars fans. Many of Hurt’s finest roles were in sci-fi, of course who could forget the iconic chest-burster scene in Alien (1979), but he also did superb work in films like Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1984), Spaceballs (1987), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990), Monolith (1993), Contact (1997), Hellboy (2004), V for Vendetta (2005), Outlander (2008), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), and Snowpiercer (2013), and he is memorable also for his guest appearances as the War Doctor on Doctor Who.

John Hurt always brought a warm humanity to his roles, even making his fascist dictators seem human and frail. Never as celebrated as Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Richard Harris or Ian McKellen, Hurt was always working, always hugely respected as an actor, often in supporting roles where he lifted any movie he appeared in by making his co-stars look better. Oscar-nominated twice, for Midnight Express (1978) and The Elephant Man (1980), he received one Golden Globe and no less than four BAFTAs. He was awarded a special Teddy at the Berlin Film Festival for his outstanding performance in An Englishman in New York (2009), others may remember him for his voice work as Vincent van Gogh in Vincent (1987), or from films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the Harry Potter movies, The Naked CIvil Servant, A Man for All Seasons. He has played both Jesus and the devil, and long before Viggo Mortensen, voiced Aragorn in the 1978 animated film. I will always fondly remember him as the voice of the dragon in the British TV series Merlin. He is gone, but his art will never perish.

Janne Wass

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.

Poster.

Poster.

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.

Poster.

Poster.

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.

Poster.

Poster.

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

Timeslip

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(5/10) The last of actress Faith Domergue’s three science fiction movies of 1955 was a British quota quickie. Released as The Atomic Man in the US, it concerns two journalists investigating the case of a radioactive man who gets pulled back from death on the operating table and seems to be out of sync with time, all while his doppelgänger is involved with secret and potentially dangerous nuclear experiments. The sci-fi is underdeveloped, the science laughable and the script flawed, but entertaining and even exciting. Ken Hughes directs solidly and the acting is excellent.

Faith Domergue and Gene Nelson as reporters and lovers in Timeslip.

Faith Domergue and Gene Nelson as reporters and lovers in Timeslip.

Timeslip (1955, UK). Directed by Ken Hughes. Written by Charles Eric Maine. Starring: Gene Nelson, Faith Domergue, Peter Arne, Joseph Tomelty, Donald Gray, Vic Perry. Produced by Alec C. Snowden for Merton Park Studios.
IMDb score: 5.5/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

DVD sleeve.

DVD sleeve.

In 1955 science fiction still hadn’t really caught on with British movie producers. But the trend was pointing upwards. A change happened in 1953 when BBC made the live-aired TV series The Quatermass Experiment (review), in which an astronaut returns from space, and begins mutating into a dangerous alien life-form that he has been infected with. The series became a phenomenon, and soon thereafter British quota quickie companies started making cheap sci-fi movies, such as Spaceways (1953, review), Devil Girls from Mars (1954, review) and Stranger from Venus (1955, review). They were seldom masterpieces, but never complete turds, either. However, with the exception of The Quatermass Experiment (review), it feels like British producers weren’t quite sure about how to handle sci-fi, and often bungled the sci-fi element in favour of weak romantic plots or an over-emphasis on classic film noir trappings. Such is partly the case with Timeslip, which was released as The Atomic Man in the US, but it is nevertheless one of the better sci-fi quota quickies. 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.

Poster.

Poster.

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