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

Warning from Space

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(4/10) Uchujin Tokyo ni arawaru, released by Daiei in early 1956, is Japan’s first science fiction film in colour. Remembered for its wonky star-shaped aliens, the jumbled, illogical movie borrows from earlier sci-fi classics without managing to tie the themes together. Although beautifully filmed and decently acted, it moves along slowly and is way too talky. Occasionally brilliant, sometimes unintentionally hilarious, often numbingly stupid.

The mighty Pairans from outer space. Once seen they can never be unseen.

The mighty Pairans from outer space. Once seen they can never be unseen.

Warning from Space (1956, Japan). Directed by Koji Shima. Written by: Gentaro Nakajima, Hideo Oguni. Starring: Keizo Kawasaki, Toyomi Karita, Shozo Nanbu, Bontaro Miake, Mieko Nagai, Kiyoko Hirai, Isao Yamagata. Produced by Masaichi Nagata for Daiei Studios.
IMDb rating: 4.4/10 Tomatometer: N/A Metascore: N/A 

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While still absolutely unknown in the West in the beginning of 1956, Japanese science fiction was rumbling onto scene. Movie studio Toho had released four sci-fi movies: the flawed masterpiece Gojira (1954, review), the invisible man film Tomei ningen (1954, review), Godzilla Raids Again (1955, review), and the ill-fated snowman movie Ju jin yuki otoko (1955, review), which the studio withdrew from circulation soon after its premiere. While Toho is the one of the Japanese Big Six studios that we (rightly) come to think of first when we talk about Japanese sci-fi, Daiei was not far behind. In fact, Daiei had originally beat Toho to the mark with its low-budget invisible man crime thriller Tomei ningen arawuru (1949, review). Now, however, Daiei decided to outdo Toho and make Japan’s first science fiction film in colour. And while it was probably tempting to enter the monster movie genre, the studio opted to not put all their eggs in one basket and try to beat Toho at their own game. Instead Daiei took on another challenge, and produced Japan’s first alien invasion movie – in fact this is the first Japanese movie to feature space flight, aliens UFO:s. Not content with this, they threw in a planetary collision as well, thinking they might get Japan’s first apocalypse film underway while they were at it. The result was 宇宙人東京に現わる (Uchujin Tokyo ni arawaru), literally translated as Spacemen appear over Tokyo, but anglicised as Warning from Space. The film premiered on January 29, 1946, before Toho’s colour film Rodan. Continue reading

Una movida chueca

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(4/10) Comedian Clavillazo stars in this Mexican 1956 underdog sci-fi comedy about a man who gets an injection which makes him predict the future in his dreams. While a decent comedy for the first half, it grinds to a halt halfway through. Inconsequential cardboard characters produce talking heads in static framing, and the production values are poor.

Yolanda Varela and Antonio "Clavillazo" xxx in Una movida chueca.

Yolanda Varela and Antonio “Clavillazo” Espino in Una movida chueca.

Una movida chueca (1956, Mexico). Directed by Rogelio A. Gonzáles. Written by Fidel Ángel Espino, Carlos Orellana, Manuel Tamés hijo, Pedro de Urdimalas. Starring: Antonio Espino (Clavillazo), Yolanda Varela, Raúl Ramirez, Dolores Camarillo, Óscar Ortiz de Pinedo, Luís Aragón, Arturo Soto Rangel, Pedro de Aguillon. Produced by Gregorio Walerstein for Filmex.
IMDb rating: 5.9/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

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Although Mexico has never been one of the main exporters of science fiction movies, the country had up until 1956 produced a number of sci-fi films on low intensity since the thirties, starting with Los muertos hablan in 1935 (review). By 1956 the country had produced two sci-fi comedies, the dreadful Buster Keaton vehicle Boom in the Moon (1946, review) and the much better El supersabio (1948, review), starring Mexico’s biggest movie star, comedian Cantinflas. Yet another one came along in the early days of January 1956, this time with a fellow called Clavillazo in the lead; Una movida chueca.

The film doesn’t seem to have a designated English title, but ”movida” means ”a move” or movement, and ”chueca” can apparently mean a number of things, but seems to be used to describe something that is crooked or twisted. ”Movida chueca” is, according to one source, used in the same way as ”monkey business”, so I would suppose that Monkey Business would be a fitting name for the movie. It’s an imprecise, almost nonsensical title that has a sense of comedy about it. Continue reading

Ucan daireler Istanbul’da

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(0/10) Flying Saucers over Istanbul is Turkey’s ”first” science fiction film, and quite possibly the worst as well. An unfunny comedy about belly dancing alien women who land their UFO in Istanbul to bring Earth men to their planet. Noted for featuring Turkey’s ”queen of disgrace and scandal”, belly dancing vamp and nude model Özcan Tekgül. And Marilyn Monroe. Sort of.

The robot Stelikami and the alien amazon women.

The robot Stelekami and the alien amazon women.

Ucan daireler Istanbul’da (1955, Turkey). Written & directed by Orhan Ercin. Starring: Orhan Ercin, Zafer Önen, Türkan Samil, Özcan Tekgül, Halide Piskin, Mirella Monro, Özdemir Asaf. Produced by Özdemir Birsel for Birsel Film.
IMDB Rating: 5.9/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

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If you want to say something good about this film, translated as Flying Saucers over Istanbul, then it is that it has some historical value as the first Turkish film to deal with space flight, UFOs or aliens. In addition it is – maybe – Turkey’s first science fiction film ever. It is a toss-up between this film and Görünmeyen adam Istanbul’da (1955) or The Invisible Man in Istanbul, which I, unfortunately, haven’t been able to find online nor on DVD. I can’t find any release dates for either of the movies, but write-ups on the web seem to at least indicate that the invisible man film was released prior to the UFO film. I don’t think that Görünmeyen adam Istanbul’da has ever been released on DVD, whereas Ucan daireler Istanbul’da is available online with English subs, as it has fallen into public domain. 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

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.

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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