Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
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Selection from Cites & Insights 5, Number 14: December 2005


Offtopic Perspective

SciFi Classics 50 Movie Pack, Part1

Some of us make a distinction between science fiction and scifi. These are definitely scifi, when they’re even that (quite a few don’t qualify), but that’s what you expect at 50 movies for $26, all of them out of copyright or available royalty-free. Some of these movies are the sort that Mystery Science Theater 3000 immortalized. Some aren’t good enough for that treatment.

A different standard is needed than I applied to the first two megapacks. I’m not looking for classics. I’m looking for entertaining stuff, sometimes entertaining because of its earnest mediocrity or intentional badness—something to keep me on the treadmill.

As usual, if there’s a second timing in square brackets, it’s because the TreeLine version was at least one minute shorter (or longer) than the time shown at imdb. Assume sound and a VHS-quality print with minor damage unless otherwise noted.

Disc 1

The Incredible Petrified World, 1957, b&w, Jerry Warren (dir.), John Carradine, Phyllis Coates, Lloyd Nelson (in a minor role). 1:10 [1:03]

I suppose the diving bell (how could man ever hope to penetrate the depths of the ocean?) might count as scifi Diving bell on its first deep-sea dive breaks loose, four inhabitants presumed crushed at the bottom of the sea (or something), but they see light, and swim up  to…caverns, which have plenty of food and fresh water and air. Eventually, they meet a crazy old man who’s been trapped there—under a volcano—for 14 years. After spending most of the movie walking up and down sections of Colossal Caverns in Tucson, where this was filmed, they manage to get rescued by a rival diving bell. Losing seven minutes probably helps, but the flick is still awfully slow moving. The mediocre print does the film justice. $1 as a curiosity.

Queen of the Amazons, 1947, b&w, Edward Finney (dir.), Robert Lowery, Patricia Morison. 1:01 [1:00]

The Amazons, in this case, are in Africa, and consist of a bunch of beautiful white women whose parents survived a shipwreck a couple of decades before—and who are in cahoots with an ivory smuggler (but only too happy to help get him killed). They’re discovered by an expedition put together by a woman whose fiancé disappeared (on an expedition that started in India and wound up in Africa). After thrills, chills, locusts and lions, they discover that the fiancé is quite happy to stay with the Queen of the Amazons—which works out, since the woman hunting him has fallen for her guide. Oh, never mind. Cheap fun, and not terrible, although also not scifi by any stretch of the imagination. The print’s not perfect. Neither is the movie. $1.50.

The Robot Monster, 1953, b&w, Phil Tucker (dir.), George Nader, Claudia Barrett. 1:06 [1:02]

According to IMDB, this movie was “so universally scorned and derided by reviewers” that the director couldn’t get any more film work. He attempted suicide by shooting himself—and missed. It was originally in 3D, which might be why reviewers even bothered to deride it. The title (probably really dramatic in 3D!) appears over a montage of cheesy scifi and horror comics or magazines—not the good stuff (Astounding, for example). The early going makes no sense: First there are dinosaurs, then a kid’s chatting with some archaeologists—maybe unearthing dinosaur remains?—then, suddenly, we have a group of six people who are apparently the only people alive on earth (or maybe there are two others), thanks to Ro-man, a fearsome—well, slow-moving gorilla with a fishtank on his head, but he’s wiped out almost everyone to make way for the Ro-people (or robots, or whatever). He’s flummoxed by these six, although he manages to kill off two or three of them during this flick, before Ro-man’s superior on some other world decides to finish the job with dinosaurs and earthquakes. It’s all resolved when it turns out to be (work with me here!) A Bad Dream after the kid fell and hit his head: He winds up talking to the archaeologists. I couldn’t make this stuff up on a bet. At least it is scifi, at its worst. The TreeLine blurb gets the plot completely wrong, possibly because nobody would sit through the whole thing. Somehow, a gorilla suit and fishtank helmet never became the standard image of a robot; I can’t imagine why. The most remarkable thing about this movie comes at the end of the credits: Music composed and directed by Elmer Bernstein. Really? $1, again as a curiosity.

She Gods of Shark Reef, 1958, color, Roger Corman (dir.), Bill Cord, Don Durant, Lisa Montell, Carol Lindsay. 1:03

Another Corman “I’m on location anyway, let’s make another movie”—filmed in Hawaii (Kauai) as he was making Naked Paradise, then released as part of a prepackaged double feature. It’s not scifi by any stretch of the imagination. It is in color, sort of, with short Hawaiian outfits for the beautiful women (and only women are allowed on this island paradise, where all is provided by “the company” in return for pearls) and even shorter outfits for the two men on the run. Who are greeted when they wash up at the island by being told no guests are allowed—then escorted to the nicely furnished guesthouse. Just enough plot, most of it as sensible as that incident, to make it through the hour. Not enough skill to make the movie worth watching. Either the print’s not good enough to make the scenery worthwhile, or it was filmed badly. Not worth a dime.

The Amazing Transparent Man, 1960, b&w, Edgar G. Ulmer (dir.), Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy, James Griffith. 0:57

More IMDB trivia: Filmed back-to-back with Beyond the Time Barrier with a combined shooting schedule of two weeks. All things considered, this isn’t awful. Mediocre but not awful. They came up with a new way to get rid of the mad scientist’s lab in a remote house (or, in this case, the scientist forced to work for a mad ex-military man who wants to create an army of invisible soldiers to sell to the highest bidder, and who keeps the scientist in tow by locking his daughter away): Since the transparency process relies on radioactive materials (and reduces the lifespan of its subjects to, oh, two or three weeks from first invisibility), the lab disappears in a mushroom cloud shortly before the end of the movie. $1.

The Atomic Brain, 1964, b&w, Joseph V. Mascelli (dir.), Frank Gerstle, Erika Peters, Bradford Dillman. Original title Monstrosity. 1:04.

I can’t resist: IMDB sez, “If you like this title, we also recommend The Brain that Wouldn’t Die.” The difference between the two is that I was willing to watch this all the way through, maybe because it’s less competent as a horror movie. This time, exotic radioactive materials are used to make brain transplants possible, funded by an evil old woman who wants to put her brain in a beautiful young body. By far the best acting is the third-most-beautiful woman (three maids are hired, all with no relatives, you know the drill) after a cat’s brain has been transplanted into her skull: A truly feline performance. The narration (Bradford Dillman) seems to suggest that this sort of thing is going on in all sorts of labs run by mad scientists. Also not terrible, but close to it. $1.

After this lot, I’m certain that my decision to interleave SciFi and TV-Movies was the right one, for sanity’s sake if no other reason! Things get better.

Disc 2

Horrors of Spider Island, 1960, b&w, Fritz Böttger (dir.), Harald Maresch, Helga Franck, others you’ve never heard of. Original title Ein Toter hing im Netz (“A corpse hangs in the web”); also released in the U.S. as Body in the Web, Girls of Spider Island, It’s Hot in Paradise, The Spider’s Web. 1:29 (or 1:21 or 1:17). [1:14]

The IMDB trivia notes reveal a lot: This was originally released in the U.S. as an “Adults-only” movie, then trimmed of nude scenes for this version. It might make more sense with full nudity. A bunch of women are interviewed (which mostly involves showing off their legs) to join a dance troupe headed for Singapore. The plane crashes. After a few raft scenes, the women (and one man) make it to an island where they find a cabin with, gasp, a man suspended in the middle of a huge spider’s net. The man (not the already-dead one) gets bitten by a radioactive spider and turns into a furry-headed claw-handed monster—while the women run around in what’s left of their clothes. Two men arrive to help the uranium prospector (the dead guy), radio their ship to come back for the women, a couple of people die, and there’s lots of dancing. All accompanied by mild jazz/pop, much of it with a lag between sight and sound. A mess, but an amusing mess. $0.50.

The Wasp Woman, 1960, b&w, Roger Corman (dir.), Susan Cabot, Anthony Eisley. 1:13.

Not bad. An eccentric scientist who’s supposed to be extracting royal jelly from bees thinks he can do better by extracting wasp jelly. The woman who founded a cosmetics company and always used her face on the products laments lower sales because she’s getting older. The scientist believes he can reverse the aging process with the wasp jelly. So he does—but she takes too much of it (without the mad scientist’s knowledge) and, after losing half her apparent age, starts turning into “wasp woman” every so often, killing and eating some of her staff. You can see how Corman managed to do this on the cheap: The wasp-woman makeup is effective, but her appearances on screen add up to two or three minutes and were probably all filmed in one day. Not a masterpiece, but a coherent story and competent Corman flick. Decent print and sound. $1.50

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, 1965, color, Curtis Harrington (dir.), Basil Rathbone, Faith Domergue. 1:18 [1:13]

A surprisingly good B scifi flick for its time, particularly given that much (most?) of the footage is Russian (obvious from a couple of brand names, but the lack of coherence between the spoken dialogue and lip movements in most scenes also makes one suspicious). Turns out this movie and the other one on Side B of Disc 2 are Roger Corman productions consisting of new American footage (the scenes with Basil Rathbone and, separately, Faith Domergue, almost always alone or with one other actor in a “space station” or “space ship” set) intercut with footage from a well-made Russian SF movie, Planeta Bur. Generally good print, decent sound. In a way, this is sad: The movie’s set in 2020, by which time we will have, of course, explored and colonized the moon and were ready to explore Venus with manned spacecraft. Or not. $1.50

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, 1968, color, Peter Bogdanovich (dir.), Mamie Van Doren. 1:18 [1:19]

Another Russian-American hybrid: New scenes of Mamie Van Doren and a bunch of others filmed by Bogdanovich blended with footage from the same Planeta Bur (provided by Roger Corman). Do not watch this picture within a week of watching Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet—unless you want to thrill at Roger Corman’s sheer gall. Not only is most of the movie the same Russian footage as in the other flick, the dubbed dialog is the same—which leads to a bizarro note that the command center for the Venus voyage was called “Marsha,” to cover for the earlier movie’s dialog between landed astronauts and Faith Domergue (Marsha) still out in space. Bogdanovich provides voice-over narration for this reconfigured version. The nine women in the new scenes, all in seashell tops and full-length pants, never speak. Their dialog is “telepathic” voice-overs. They don’t act much either, mostly providing a few minutes’ footage to make this a different movie. (They don’t provide much in the way of eye candy either, to tell the truth. They’re just there.) The color generally seems washed out; otherwise, the print varies from very good to damaged. There’s more of the original footage this time, including grand shots of space ships taking off (with a very obvious single red star on the rocket fins) and refueling at a space station (where, wondrously, the Cyrillic lettering on the ships in moving shots turns into unlikely English-language names such as “Typhoon,” just what you’d call an exploration ship). Good enough if you haven’t seen the 1965 version; otherwise, I’d pass. $1.

Corman scores: Even with the single movie recut and padded into two different releases, this is an enjoyable foursome. I wonder if Planeta Bur would be worth watching on its own (with subtitles)?

Disc 3

There’s a programming problem on side two of this disc—one that should become obvious as you read the mini-reviews. Other than that, this group is interesting: two good black-and-white movies, two mediocre color flicks, two with explicit science aspects, two “scifi” only in the broadest definition. I believe one or two of these appeared on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. What more could you ask?

Kong Island, 1968, color, Roberto Mauri (dir.), Brad Harris, Esmeralda Barros, Aldo Cecconi. 1:32 [1:24]

The original title is Eva, la Venere selvaggia and this was made in Italy. The sleeve title (and the way it was promoted in the U.S.) is King of Kong Island. The sleeve description is also pretty far off, as it involves a “descendant of King Kong.” Mad scientists implanting control devices into gorillas to create an unstoppable army; group goes hunting for a fabled sacred monkey, who turns out to be an “ape girl” (always topless, with hair that stays strategically in place); way too much plot ensues. Not great, not terrible. The “Italian disco” music (as an IMDB review puts it) is, well, interesting for this movie. Unfortunately, either the print or the digitizing stinks: soft colors, fuzzy images. $1.

Bride of the Gorilla, 1951, b&w, Curt Siodmak (dir.), Raymond Burr, Barbara Payton, Lon Chaney, Jr. 1:10 [1:05]

Raymond Burr plays the foreman of a jungle plantation who doesn’t exactly kill the owner but causes his death, then marries his beautiful widow. A crone servant places a curse on him (by sneaking him drinks laced with hallucinogens, as far as I can see) that causes him to run into the jungle believing he’s turned into a monster gorilla. Filmed cleverly: You never really know whether Burr is turning into a monster or just believes he is. Things end badly. The IMDB review is savage; I thought it was a modest little psychological thriller, with (an obviously much younger) Burr doing a great job as a heavy. Siodmak, a fine writer, also wrote the script. Decent print with some gaps. $1.

Attack of the Monsters, 1969, color, Noriaki Yuasa (dir.), Christopher Murphy. 1:22 [1:20]

The original title here is Gamera tai daiakuju Giron, and that may tell you a lot about the film: Gamera! The plot is—well, there’s a lot of it. After a Japanese scientist explains why there can’t be life anywhere else in the Solar System, three kids spot a flying saucer. Two of them get in and it takes off—flying them off to counter-Earth, a planet in the same orbit but on the other side of the Sun. Gamera, who at this point is “the good monster turtle who loves kids and defends Japan from bad monsters,” comes along part way, partly in his flying-saucer mode. The kids are convinced that people on this other planet must be very advanced, with no wars or accidents (“accidents” may be an odd translation), but they’re wrong. All that’s left are two women who want to eat the kids’ brains so they can return to Earth with all the knowledge they need to pass as humans. (I said there was a lot of plot.) Counter-earth suffers from a few monsters of its own, with the Ginsu Monster acting as a defender for the evil women. (His name’s Guiron, but his power is that his nose is a huge knife, and he attacks by whacking at things just like a big Ginsu Knife.) Gamera, of course, saves the day. The scientists and cops, who cannot accept the possibility of a flying saucer (small enough for Gamera to carry it back to Earth in his mouth), find Gamera’s appearance entirely normal. The problem here is that Gamera is a Good Guy in this movie, as opposed to… Decent print, and apparently 1:20 is the full U.S. release time. $1.

Gammera the Invincible, 1966, b&w, Sandy Howard (dir. for U.S. portion), Brian Donlevy, Albert Dekker, Diane Findlay. 1:26.

Two “m”s or one? IMDB says two (for this movie), the sleeve says one. This comes off as a U.S.-Japanese coproduction, but apparently is one of the more elaborate cases of adding U.S. footage to an existing Japanese monster flick, presumably Daikaiju Gamera, the first in the series (1965), changing the plot as needed. Smoother than most such cases, but I do wonder about the Japanese ambassador who, alone among the dubbed voices, has an absurdly extreme case of “sounding rike some berieve Asians rearry talk.”

Gamera/Gammera is no hero in this flick, in which the jet-propelled/fire-breathing/fire-eating turtle emerges from 200 million years’ hibernation under the ice when U.S. jets shoot down a Russian jet over Alaskan airspace that’s carrying a 4 megaton atomic bomb (which goes off immediately upon impact when the plane’s shot down, presumably triggered by being shaken up badly…) Gamera cuts a swath of destruction through Japan, saves one kid’s life (from destruction the turtle caused), and winds up shot off to Mars in a rocket. What happens between this flick and the first on the side? Well, the movies aren’t good enough for me to bother finding out…but this one’s a little better than I expected. Very good print. $1.50.

Disc 4

This disc combines one of the strangest “scifi” pictures I’ve ever seen, a typical cheaply-done B-grade flick, and two films derived from the 1954 syndicated TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, which—according to the sleeve—“was cancelled after a single season because the costly special effects made it unprofitable.” Three films have characters named “Winky”—reason enough to group them on the disc. In all four films, the people on other planets speak English—in the first case, because they watch Earth TV, in the second because it’s convenient, and in the others with a “but it’s so foreign” overlay and no really good explanation. (In the fourth, people on one planet that can’t possibly support human life also speak their own language.) I believe one or two of these were on MST3K. The first is on IMDB’s “100 worst movies” list.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, 1964, color, Nicholas Webster (dir.), John Call, Leonard Hicks, Pia Zadora. 1:21

The print is good—good color, decent VHS-quality appearance, good sound, very little damage. Now, about the picture… Martian kids are unhappy because they’re treated like grownups from birth, so a group of leaders goes to Earth to kidnap Santa Claus from his workshop at the North Pole. They do, they build him an automated workshop, and much strangeness ensues. Pia Zadora is presumably the big-name star in an entirely forgettable role. The theme song (“Hooray for Santa Claus,” with “Santa” consistently pronounced “Santy” even after it’s spelled out), repeated at the start and end of the film, was almost enough to send me running screaming from the treadmill. Only “scifi” because there’s a rocket (and a tickle-gun, and a freeze-ray) involved. You get Wernher von Green, head of the space program; Mrs. Claus “positively identifying the kidnappers as Martians” (you can tell because they have olive skin and wear hoods with antennas); and a subplot about spaceships attempting to retrieve Santa that is dropped immediately. They don’t get much stranger than this. I can’t imagine watching it a second time, but it gets $0.75 for sheer novelty value.

Teenagers from Outer Space, 1959, b&w, Tom Graeff (dir.), David Love, Dawn Bender, Tom Graeff (who also produced and wrote). 1:25.

The blurb says, “The Martians are coming to Earth to raise the Gargon Herd, an unstoppable torrent of giant lobsters.” They aren’t identified as Martians,and there’s no attempt to make them anything but pure human—from some planet where kids don’t know their parents, there is no joy or love, and there’s a need for a planet to raise the Gargons as a reserve food supply. Why? Because the Gargons start out tiny, then grow to a million times the size, into enormous, vicious lobster-like creatures. They’ll kill everything on Earth, of course, but “what concern are foreign people to the supreme race?” One crew member (a teenager who turns out to be the son of the Great Leader, of course) objects to using a planet with intelligent life, and escapes. There’s a weapon that eliminates all flesh from living things (skeletal special effects—or, rather, one skeleton reused several times). There’s lots of life in the 1950s. It’s silly, but it’s not a bad B movie. Decent print quality. $1.

Crash of the Moons, 1954, b&w, Hollingsworth Morse (dir.), Richard Crane, Sally Mansfield, John Banner. 1:18 [1:12]

As cheap TV serials go, this one’s pretty good, with extensive sets and simple but adequate space stuff. The blurb notes “Rocky’s scantily clad assistant, Vena Ray” (Sally Mansfield), but she seems clothed in the women’s fashion of this near future—loose-skirted minidress with cape, neither particularly scanty nor at all shocking. The science doesn’t bear scrutiny—for example, the “moons” in this case are twin “gypsy moons,” connected by a band of atmosphere and both fully capable of supporting human life, at least until one of them crashes into a planet whose female ruler doesn’t get along with the federation of planets. Good simple fun, including an amusing sidekick (Winky), the stalwart hero (Rocky Jones, Space Ranger), and a kid. Decent print with some damage. $1, as long as you don’t expect credible scifi.

Menace from Outer Space, 1956, b&w, same director and cast (without John Banner). 1:18.

The same hostile female ruler (planet Officious? Ophecia?) is involved here as well, but mostly it’s about strange crystalline rockets being fired at Earth, apparently from a moon known to lack metals and clearly incapable of supporting life. Except, of course, that it does: Entirely human life on a planet where everything’s crystal-based. Spies, intrigue, general nonsense, and (as in Crash of the Moons) a kindly elderly professor. $0.75—the plot’s neither quite as ridiculous nor quite as interesting as the other one.

Disc 5

Hercules! Legendary strong man, son of Zeus, beefcake for the ages, played by a different mortal in each of these movies—four of some 40 Italian and Italian-French productions with titles including “Ercole” or “Maciste” (son of Hercules?) or “Sanson” (Samson, but who’s counting?), not including TV movies and the Disney cartoon.

These movies have a lot in common besides Hercules as protagonist. They’re all color. They’re all Italian. They all feature evil or semi-evil (sometimes deranged) women rulers or co-rulers who swoon over Hercules (and try to keep him around with drugs and implied sex). They all have lots of young women in short “Hellene”/Theban/whatever outfits to match the lightly clad Hercules and other beefcake.

Oh, and they’re all fairly well made movies. Sure, they’re fodder for MST3K (at least two of these four were on that show). Sure, the plots make as much sense as most mythical tales, less than some. But they have good production values—sometimes remarkably good production values—and good cinematography, staging, and the rest. These are legitimate B flicks. Hear that snap and crunch? The snap is the thread of connection to “SciFi” breaking completely free. The crunch is Hercules tossing huge statues into groups of attackers or otherwise showing his superhuman strength. (Why not? He’s born of gods.)

Hercules Against the Moon Men, 1964, color, Giacomo Gentilomo (dir.), Sergio Cianti (“Alan Steel”) as Hercules, original title Maciste e la regina di Samar (Italian-French production). 1:30 [1:27]

From the opening titles, you might think this was black and white. It’s not, although the color’s a little faded. More damage than in the other films, but still a watchable print. The plot involves the city of Samar, where children are being sacrificed to a mountain—which is where the moon men live, and they have an alliance with the evil queen. Too much plot, and for some reason the U.S. agents felt it necessary to have an “American” star, thus “Alan Steel” for the actor Sergio Cianti. I give it $0.75, mostly because the print’s damaged.

Hercules and the Captive Women, 1961, color, Vittorio Cottafavi (dir.), Reg Park as Hercules, original title Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide (Italian production). 1:41 (original), 1:33 (U.S.). [1:34]

Too bad they didn’t use the Italian title, since this is really about Atlantis—and now we know how that island disappeared! Hercules, setting out from Thebes for some reason, kills a demon/demigod, freeing a captive woman (singular: there’s only one) who’s partly trapped inside rock, and they go back to Atlantis, where…oh, never mind. The immortal race of Atlantis men all look the same, they want to be shrouded in fog, they mistreat regular folks, and thanks to Hercules, the whole island gets blown up and deep-sixed. Good color, some print damage, certainly watchable. $1.

Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon, 1964, color, Domenico Paolella (dir.), Peter Lupus (“Rock Stevens”) as Hercules, original title Ercole contro I tiranni di Babilonia (Italian production). 1:30 (orig.), 1:26 (U.S.) [1:25]

He’s been hanging out, preventing Babylonian troops from capturing more slaves to take back to their empire ruled by two brothers and a sister (all a bit deranged). He finds that the queen of the Hellenes has been captured, so off he goes to the rescue. The tyrants don’t know she’s one of the slaves. Lots of stuff ensues. The climax involves the highly probable scenario that the female ruler has had all the buildings in downtown Babylon attached by chains to a huge underground winch, so that, at her command, a hundred slaves can turn the winch, thus destroying Babylon so she can rule from the other major city. Need I say that Hercules has the strength of a hundred? Peter Lupus is probably the best actor of the four Hercules on this disc and this episode may be the least over-the-top in acting. $1.25.

Hercules Unchained, 1959, color, Pietro Francisci (dir.), Steve Reeves as Hercules, Primo Carnera, original title Ercole e la regina di Lidia (Italian-French production). 1:34 (original), 1:45 (U.S.) [1:36]

This seems like the biggest production of the four, and the print’s in the best shape. Thebes has problems because King Oedipus is blind and in exile and his sons, who are supposed to alternate on the throne, don’t: The first on the throne is crazy as a loon and won’t yield power. Hercules ends up on a diplomatic mission, drinks from the well of forgetfulness and is seduced by Queen Omphale—who wears a catsuit in the opening sequence, remarkable for a film set in ancient times. Lots of plot. This time Hercules is married and his new wife is in danger. (Primo Carnera? Heavyweight champion, and even bigger than Steve Reeves; he’s in the movie for maybe two minutes, but it was his last hurrah.) Spectacular. $1.

Disc 6

The Lost Jungle, 1934, b&w, David Howard and Armand Schaefer (dir.), Clyde Beatty. 1:08

This is the “feature version” of a serial with the same name which ran roughly four hours total. Maybe the four-hour version had a more coherent plot. The short version is mostly wild animal “training” and capture with a jungle-rescue plot added. Clyde Beatty may have been the “good” animal trainer, as opposed to a vicious underling portrayed in the movie, but we’re still talking about removing proud predators from their native environments, “training” them with whips and other methods and putting them on display. I’m no PETA person, but I am an HSUS member and I couldn’t watch the movie without disdain and discomfort. Different times, I guess. Also weakly acted with an erratic plot. $0.

Mesa of Lost Women, 1953, b&w, Ron Ormand and Herbert Tevos (dir.), Jackie Coogan, Lyle Talbot (narration). 1:10 [1:09].

Mad scientist creating giant immortal women and stunted little men—and giant spiders as a byproduct—within a remote Mexican mesa. Thrills! Chills! Absurd plot and endless guitar strumming! Exotic dances! Portentous narration! Another amusing mess. Sometimes-damaged print. $0.50.

Assignment Outer Space, 1960, color, Antonio Margheriti (dir.), Rik Von Nutter, Gabriella Farinon, David Montresor. 1:13

A newsman gets assigned to a space station whose commander doesn’t really want him there, and there’s an Earth-threatening emergency almost immediately (a space ship gone derelict that emits a sun-temperature field surrounding it for hundreds of miles is about to enter Earth orbit and destroy all life—we do like to launch ambitious projects, don’t we?). Classic B sci-fi and there’s a female crew member who almost immediately falls deeply in love with the reporter. Maybe one reason they had trouble with the spaceships is that the navigational instruments are obviously audio distortion meters. Decent production values, somewhat faded color, nothing great but watchable. $1.

Laser Mission, 1990, color, BJ Davis (dir.), Brandon Lee, Debi A. Monahan, Ernest Borgnine, rated R. 1:24.

How do you get a 15-year-old movie with major stars on a cheap 50-movie pack? This one has to be in copyright. Yes, it is that Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son—and how many Ernest Borgnines do you know? Excellent color, no signs of print damage, at least full VHS quality, good production values. Unfortunately, it’s meretricious tripe: A story about a mercenary who takes great delight in slaughtering as many “enemies” as he can, occasionally with martial arts but mostly with rapid-fire weaponry. He’s the hero. There’s a “science” twist: a diamond the size of a golf ball with which an aging scientist (Borgnine) can, after the rock’s stolen, be coerced into building a “super laser weapon that creates atomic explosions” or something like that. The villains appear to be ex-Nazis in South America. Debi Monahan (a looker, of course) is supposed to be the scientist’s daughter—which certainly seems believable as she whips out her thigh-mounted pistol and outshoots Lee. I could only watch it by treating the violence as cartoon violence: The body count was in the hundreds. I can’t recommend this one even as high camp. $0.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 5, Number 14, Whole Issue 70, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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