Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
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Selection from Cites & Insights 6, Number 12: October 2006


Offtopic Perspective

SciFi Classics 50 Movie Pack, Part 2

Disc 7

Two—make that three—movies with the same director and writer; two featuring some sort of missing link. No winners, but nothing truly dreadful either.

Killers from Space, 1954, b&w, W. Lee Wilder (dir.), Peter Graves. 1:11.

Nuclear scientist flying over A-bomb test crashes—and shows up later at the base. It's pretty clear he's spying, so they inject him with a truth serum, after which he tells a story of alien abduction by a bunch of huge-eyed folks living below ground, storing up power from the weapons to mutate insects and animals into huge killer beasts. Why? So they can set them free to kill everyone on Earth—after which the billion aliens (whose sun is dying) will invade Earth, wipe out the creatures, and take over. The scientist figures out that cutting off power in the area for a few seconds will cause the underground invasion place to explode because it’s storing so much energy. Not great, not terrible, mediocre print. $0.75.

Phantom from Space, 1953, b&w, W. Lee Wilder (dir.), Ted Cooper. 1:13.

Something has landed in Santa Monica and it’s causing radio interference, so the boys from the FCC set out tracking it. Turns out to be “something without a head” in something like a diver’s suit—that is, an alien who’s invisible in Earth conditions. It’s unclear that the alien has evil intentions, but it doesn’t matter much: He dies anyway. The picture’s very fuzzy much of the time, which doesn’t help the plot (lots of action, not much overall significance). $0.50.

White Pongo, 1945, b&w, Sam Newfield (dir.), Richard Fraser. 1:10.

Africa: An expedition sets out to find a legendary white gorilla that may be the missing link. The guide’s a bad guy; one of the guards is an undercover agent out to get him. Romance, conspiracy, deceit, humor, and of course it all works out—and they do capture the white gorilla. So-so, maybe a little worse. $0.75.

The Snow Creature, 1954, b&w, W. Lee Wilder (dir.), Paul Langton. 1:11.

This time it’s the Himalayas, where a botanist and his photographer sidekick are on an expedition to discover new plant species. Instead, when the head Sherpa hears his wife was kidnapped by a Yeti, the guide forces them to hunt the Yeti—which they find after lots of trudging around the mountains. They ship the surviving Yeti back to the U.S.A.—but Immigration isn’t sure whether it’s an animal or a man, and that delays things long enough for the Yeti to break out of its refrigerated cave, escape into drain tunnels, and kill a couple of people before the cops shoot him (or it?). I suppose that counts as a happy ending, but maybe not for the tall guy with the fur costume. $0.75.

Disc 8

Two of many “sons of Hercules” flicks (at least 60-odd, between Hercules and his hundreds of sons)—both “invincible” in the Italian originals—and two with Venusians as villains out to conquer the Earth, although in one case they’ve already failed. Pure B-movie goodness—but with badly damaged prints.

Son of Hercules: The Land of Darkness (“Ercole l’invincible”), 1963, color, Alvaro Mancori (dir.), Dan Vadis. 1:21.

It’s another Italian/French/Spanish Hercules flick, which means decent production values, lots of beefcake (but the women also wear short outfits) and a wacko plot involving Hercules or a son, at least one beautiful young woman in peril, probably evil royalty (and an evil beautiful woman), and of course Legendary Feats of Strength. This one was apparently Americanized into a two-parter, with chunks of other flicks dropped in here and there. Turns out there’s even a cheesy “Sons of Hercules” theme song, used over the opening montage and titles on both of these movies. Watchable. $0.75.

Devil of the Desert Against the Son of Hercules (“Anthar l’invicible”), 1964, color, Antonio Margheriti (dir.), Kirk Morris, Michele Girardon. 1:33.

See comments above—but this time, the continuity is pretty good. Unfortunately, for much of the flick there’s a white damage stripe down the center of the screen. If not for the damage, I’d give this one a higher value; the acting and plot are good as these things go. $0.75.

First Spaceship on Venus (“Der Schweigende Stern”), 1960, color, Kurt Maetzig (dir.), Yoko Tani, Oldrick Lukes. 1:19

East German, chopped by 16 minutes for American release. Quite well made, with good visuals and a workable plot, blaming the Tunguska explosion on a Venusian spaceship—which turns out to be the scout for a doomed invasion of Earth. Generally good color. A few too many blips in the print for a higher rating, but still quite watchable. $1.25.

Zontar, the Thing from Venus, 1966, color, Larry Buchanan (dir.), John Agar, Susan Bjurman. 1:20.

John Agar: What more do you need to know? The calmly mad scientist, in this case helping Zontar to snatch a new research satellite (pulled from orbit to Venus, then back to orbit, in half an hour—but Zontar somehow needs that satellite to invade?), come to Earth, shut down all fixed and mobile power sources (including hand-cranked power and car engines, but not including gunfire), and send out growths to take over key people and control the Earth. (Agar’s fed up with being ignored, and believes the infinitely superior oversized vampire bats from Venus will bring peace on Earth, until his best friend argues him out of it.) Apparently done as a TV movie. The color’s badly faded in most of the flick, frequently looking like sepiatone. Lots of sound damage as well. Could be better, could be a whole lot worse. Agar does such a great job of playing John Agar, sci-fi-crazy! $0.75.

Disc 9

The Astral Factor, 1976, color, John Florea (dir.), Robert Foxworth, Stefanie Powers, Sue Lyon, Elke Sommer, Leslie Parrish, Marianna Hill, Cesare Danova. 1:36.

IMDB says The Astral Factor was a working title, with Invisible Strangler the final title. In any case, it’s an odd little movie with a cast better than it deserves. Foxworth is a detective; Powers is his girlfriend (there strictly as eye candy, unfortunately given that she’s a decent actress). The rest of the women…well, a prisoner at a state hospital has figured out how to turn himself invisible (and kill people with his deadly stare, but that’s secondary), escapes, and sets about killing the beautiful women who testified against him after he murdered his beautiful mother, with his insane conviction that all of the other women are also his mother. He also kills anybody who happens to be in his way, but does that with his magic stare (I’m guessing he has to be visible for the stare to work; the women, he strangles invisibly). The transfer-to-invisibility visual is like a low-budget version of Star Trek’s transporter effect. Elke Sommer, drink always in hand, survives; the rest don’t. The movie? Probably better with a couple drinks under your belt. Not the high point of anyone’s career. Damaged print brings it down to $1.

The Galaxy Invader, 1985, color, Don Dohler (dir.), Richard Ruxton and other unknowns, including several Dohlers. 1:19.

An alien (with green rubbery skin, a glowing white ball, and a white ray gun invisibly powered by the ball) lands in the woods near a drunken redneck and family. College student spots the landing, gets professor involved. Various shenanigans involving the redneck’s family (who hate him), his redneck buddy promising riches, the professor and student, grabbing the ball, grabbing the alien, freeing the alien, and running around in the woods. Awful acting (a cast that mostly shows up in other Dohler films, presumably all filmed with zero budgets), absurd screenplay, one decent special effect, and an ending that…well, “Independence Day” comes to mind, but probably not the one you’re thinking of. (Think country music, not scifi movies). And yet…I found this inept pile of trash likeable. Damned if I know why, although there is one tiny bit of good scriptwriting: The professor (in shirtsleeves, no tie) and student go to get something to eat at the dive/roadhouse that’s nearby. The waitress offers menus if they’d like them and takes drink orders. The prof asks whether he can get a vodka martini on the rocks, shaken, not stirred. Waitress: “No.” Prof: “How about a beer?” Waitress: “Sure.” That’s the highlight of the film… By any rational standard, not worth a dime; I give it $1, and can’t explain why.

Battle of the Worlds (Il pianeta degli uomini spenti), 1961, color, Antonio Margheriti (dir.), Claude Rains, Bill Carter, Umberto Orsini, Maya Brent. 1:24.

One reasonably favorable review at IMDB calls this “very similar to When Worlds Collide.” Sure, in much the same way that hamburger is very similar to a good porterhouse: They’re both beef. Battle of the Worlds is a dubbed Italian flick with one name star, Claude Rains (in apparently his last movie role) as a bitter old genius scientist who can figure out everything through equations. He recognizes that a planetoid (“the unknown”) isn’t going to hit the Earth (as it first appears) but is instead going to go into a slowly declining orbit. Pretty decent special effects for the time, a truly strange interior section on the planetoid/spaceship, and a thoroughly empty ending. Not wonderful, not terrible. $1.

Unknown World, 1951, b&w, Terry O. Morse (dir.), Bruce Kellogg, Otto Waldis, Jim Bannon, Marilyn Nash, Victor Kilian (uncredited). 1:14.

Concerned scientists are sure that humanity’s about to blow itself up and want to find an underground refuge. They develop a “Cyclotram”—a nuclear-powered vehicle with a drill in front—and, thanks to funding from a useless young rich man looking for thrills, take off to seek out refuge. They start out at Mt. Nelee, an extinct volcano in Alaska, and just keep going down, with various perils along the way. They find their refuge at an absurd depth (you didn’t know that the earth’s basically just a honeycomb of tunnels with temperature about the same all the way down to 2600 miles below the surface?), but Something in the Air means test rabbits breed sterile. Some of the explorers make it back to the surface, thanks to a little-known portion of the ocean that’s 2600 miles deep. Most of this movie is actors walking around in Carlsbad Caverns, sort of like The Incredible Petrified World on disc 1. A bit boring, preachy and dull, but not terrible. $0.75.

Disc 10

All four in color (more or less, in one case)—with two featuring a form of prehistoric feminism. As I’m finding to be common, about half of the IMDB user comments appear to be from people who either didn’t actually watch the film or were stoned or drunk while doing so—which in some cases makes sense.

Blood Tide, 1982, color, Richard Jefferies (dir.), James Earl Jones, José Ferrer, Lila Kedrova, Mary-Louise Weller, Martin Kove, Lydia Cornell, Deborah Shelton. 1:22 [1:23]

This is an odd monster movie, if only because the monster (a vicious marine beast) appears for about four seconds total. Set on a remote Greek island (no telephones), where a young man and his new wife come by fancy yacht to seek out his sister. She’s busily uncovering older layers of a religious painting (finally uncovering the prehistoric beast). Meanwhile, you’ve got James Earl Jones as a cynical treasure hunter blowing up underground areas to find ancient coins and treasure (and maybe unleash the beast) while otherwise drinking heavily, various girlfriends and others acting strangely, virgin pseudo-sacrifice…well, lots of good actors, good scenery, and a plot that doesn’t really go much of anywhere. Generously, $1.25.

The Brain Machine, 1977, color, Joy N. Houck Jr. (dir.), James Best, Barbara Burgess, Gil Peterson, Gerald McRaney. 1:25 [1:21]

Strange psychological experiments—four volunteers in a sealed environment with a beautiful scientist/doctor, two scientists outside, lots of mainframe computer equipment, a hammock that can apparently not only read minds but insert visions into them (maybe)—and a second team that really controls the experiment on behalf of The General and The Senator, now that they’ve killed the scientist who Found Out The Truth about the experiment. The volunteers turn out to be a seedy lot, but still may not deserve their fate, either crushed by the walls of a computer-controlled chamber gone wrong or electrocuted as they try to escape. A little too realistic in the resolution: When the man supposedly in charge of both experiments asks his superior how he expects to cover this up, the superior shoots him. (Sorry if this spoils the movie.) Otherwise—well, “establishing shots” of a house and pool appear interminably often for no apparent reason, as does a seemingly-identical sequence with the Real Control Team. This has the feel of a 45-minute TV episode padded out to 85 minutes. Zero for the incoherent plot and really awful ending; $0.75 for some interesting B-movie acting along the way. $0.75.

The Wild Women of Wongo, 1958, color, James L. Wolcott (dir.), a cast of beautiful nobodies (only Joyce Nizzari has more than one other film credit, and her role doesn’t merit a character name). 1:11

As Mother Nature informs us in a voice-over, she and Father Time did an experiment 10,000 years ago that went wrong: They set up an island village Wongo, with beautiful women and “beastly” men—and, a few days’ walk away, another village with beautiful men (none with facial hair, all pretty boys) and not-so-beautiful women. There are also supposed apemen ready to attack everyone, but we only see two of them and they’re pretty pathetic. An alligator temple is also involved, with a mysterious revolving-stone entrance. When the son of the beautiful-men king comes to Wongo to ask the ugly men to go to the other village to fight off the apemen, the beautiful women go ape and prevent the ugly men from killing him. This leads to all sorts of hijinks, with beautiful women rounding up beautiful men, homely men finally meeting up with homely women, lots of winking in the temple of the alligator, and an apparently happy ending. There’s also a parrot who talks a lot, which is one of several clues that this movie was done as a lark. (All the prehistoric folk speak perfect English, but other than dress styles there are no obvious anachronisms—and we have to assume that women of 10,000 years ago were skilled in making fabric and preparing sundresses. I didn’t see any zippers, buttons, or seams; give them credit for this.) Not exactly serious anthropology, but harmless fun and fairly well filmed. Oh, and of course there’s one catfight: You expected that, right? $1.25.

Prehistoric Women, 1950, color, Gregg C. Tallas (dir.), Laurette Luez, Allan Nixon, Judy Landon, David Vaile (narrator). 1:14 [1:13]

This movie would be a lot more tolerable if “night scenes” (filmed in daytime with smoke machines running) weren’t so obscured as to be nearly unwatchable. This time around (also 10,000 years, and the whole story is told as an expansion of a cave drawing), the prehistoric folks speak unknown languages (mostly just names) and a really annoying narrator tells us what’s going on—including gems such as “swan diving was invented before swans” and a tendency to tell us what we just saw happen. One woman and some female children escape from a tribe where the women were really treated badly. The children grow up into beautiful young women in short cloth sundresses (with belts and purses of sorts, and in some cases strappy sandals, but few really egregious anachronisms), and dance themselves to exhaustion because—well, because they need men. So they capture some (wearing animal skins—I guess cloth is just for women) to use as husbands and slaves. The handsomest one escapes. On his way back to his tribe (in caves), he manages to discover fire. (Otherwise, it’s fair to say the men are…well, they can’t figure out how to pick up rocks and throw them back at the women who are slingshotting them, and they don’t seem to have progressed from clubs to spears. As Harry Belafonte would say, “That’s right, the women are smarter.”) He comes back to rescue the others, gets captured, various subplots with a nine-foot giant and a flying chicken—sorry, dragon—are resolved, mostly with this burning stuff (did you know that striking any two rocks together repeatedly will cause fire just when you need it?)…oh, and the men turn the tables on the women. There’s a catfight in this one as well. They discover cooked meat in the process, and I guess they all live happily ever after. The acting is nonexistent. Very generously, $0.75, if only as an early D-grade color curiosity.

Disc 11

They Came From Beyond Space, 1967, color, Freddie Francis (dir.), Robert Hutton, Jennifer Jayne, Zia Mohyeddin, Bernard Kay. 1:25.

I haven’t read The Gods Hate Kansas, the novel on which this flick is based, but it probably has a more coherent plot than the movie. That’s the only real problem: The plot doesn’t make sense. Aliens stranded on the moon manage to crash meteorites on earth that take over people with mind control—except for one immune scientist (he has a silver plate in his head). There’s a plague (actually a way to get apparently-dead workers to the moon), travel to and from the moon in under a day, lots of silliness and a warm ending: All the aliens had to do was ask for help. Well acted, well filmed (in Britain?), decent color…but the story needs help. $1.50

Warning From Space (Uchûjin Tokyo ni arawaru), 1956, color, Koji Shima (dir.), Keizo Kawasaki, Toyomi Karita. 1:27.

UFOs in the sky over Tokyo! Strange star-shaped aliens with a big eye in the center of the star reconnoiter. Finally, one gets transformed into a replica of a singing star, so she can warn a scientist that his new explosive formula is too powerful—and a meteor’s going to collide with and destroy earth. The aliens are from “mirror Earth,” the oft-used “planet exactly opposite Earth in the same orbit, so never visible,” but far ahead of us in most science. The world government won’t approve destroying the meteor with atomic weapons and it doesn’t work anyway—but after the climate goes crazy, the aliens manage to save the day with the formula they wanted to destroy. This is in semi-color: Inside, it’s nearly sepia; outside, it’s generally good color. For its time, not a bad little flick. $1.25.

The Phantom Planet, 1961, b&w, William Marshall (dir.), Dean Fredericks, Coleen Gray, Anthony Dexter, Francis X. Bushman, Dick Haynes, Richard Kiel. 1:22.

We’re starting to explore space from a moon base, but a couple of ships disappear. A third exploratory vessel lands on this “planet” (a big, oddly-shaped asteroid) with little people, and the captain shrinks down to 6" as soon as he breathes the local air. Lots of stuff about special gravity control, and a civilization becoming spoiled through too much technology that’s decided to go native (except when they need technology). And this self-controlled planet is being attacked by Solarians, doglike beings who travel in flaming spaceships that are not much larger than the aliens themselves and apparently almost entirely open. Lots’o’plot, no real sense. (Richard Kiel is a Solarian.) Not bad as a laugher. $1.

Planet Outlaws, 1953, b&w, Harry Revier (dir.), Buster Crabbe, Constance Moore, Jackie Moran, Jack Mulhall, Anthony Warde. 1:09.

This one’s truly strange. That first credit could be a tipoff: Buck Rogers in the 25th century, in suspended animation since 1938 (a dirigible crash) and instantly able to fly the aircraft/space ships of the Hidden City, trying to escape the domination of Killer Kane, evil ruler of… well, you get the idea. What this is, apparently, is a badly-edited reduction of a Buck Rogers serial, with a tiny bit of narration at the beginning and end trying to make it Important. Transitions don’t work—but boy, those sparking aircraft/spaceships sure do, apparently flying to and from Saturn in a few hours whenever convenient. There’s an invisibility ray too. Incidentally, Wilma (Constance Moore) is not along as a Hot Girlfriend: She’s clearly more capable than Buck and her outfit is pretty much the same as his. This is a mess, but a nostalgic mess. $0.75.

Disc 12

Colossus and the Amazon Queen, 1960, color, Vittorio Sala (dir.), Rod Taylor, Ed Fury, Dorian Gray, Gianna Maria Canale, Alberto Farnese, Adriana Facchetti. 1:30 [1:23].

This one’s strange: Another Hercules-style cheesecake-and-beefcake spectacular (more cheesecake than beefcake, since the Amazons are all great looking warriors in typically minimal outfits)—but played for laughs, almost certainly in the original Italian as well as the dubbed version. Light jazz as background music, ridiculous plot twists, you name it. $1.

Eegah, 1962, color, Arch Hall Sr. (dir.), Arch Hall Jr. and Sr., Marilyn Manning, Richard Kiel. 1:30.

Remember Richard Kiel? Jaws? Moonraker? Put him in animal skins, give him a club, have him living in a cave near some Southern California beach town—and you have Eegah, the last of an oversize race of slightly pre-human folks, good at cave drawings but not so much at language. It’s all downhill from there, with a truly untalented teenager, his girlfriend, and the girlfriend’s scientist dad as the main characters. The teen has a tendency to pull out an acoustic guitar, start strumming, and suddenly there’s a group of background singers and instrumentalists for his lame ballads. Other than Kiel, lame is the right word across the board—but watchable in its own odd way. $0.75

War of the Planets, 1977, color, Alfonso Brescia (dir.), John Richardson, Yanti Sommer, Katia Chrstine, Vassili Karis. 1:29.

The seventies? This one should come from the sixties, as only lots of drugs during the screenwriting, filming, and editing could explain this mess. There’s a mixed-gender spaceship crew (all wearing identical skintight costumes). Whenever they get in peril and manage to escape—which happens a lot, because they seem to be incompetent—all of them jump out of their chairs and start joyously jumping around and embracing. I would try to describe the plot, but that’s nearly impossible. I could suggest that the reels got scrambled during the transfer, but I suspect the movie wouldn’t make sense under any circumstances. $0.75.

Destroy All Planets, 1968, color, Noriaki Yuasa (dir.), Kojiro Hongo, Carl Craig, Toru Takatsuka. 1:30.

By all rights, the 50th and final flick on this set should star Gamera and one of the Sons of Hercules in a spaceship flying from a jungle full of unknown beasts to some hidden planet. As far as I know, Gamera and the Herculesians never starred in the same film, so we’ll have to settle for Gamera. This time, evil conquerors out to conquer the Earth and destroy all earthlings (not the planet) figure to outsmart Gamera by snatching two mischief-prone little boys. After all, Gamera (you know—the jet-propelled turtle/flying saucer with a really bad breath problem) just loves little kids, so he’ll do anything to protect these two. Even destroy Tokyo, presumably killing a few hundred thousand kids along the way—well, hey, nobody said Gamera was good at complex reasoning. Neither, apparently, is the U.N. Security Council, which—given an ultimatum—unanimously votes to surrender Earth to the aliens rather than attacking the spaceship and possibly killing two kids. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. This film marked a new level of cost savings for special effects in Japanese monster movies: The discursive alien computer can read Gamera’s mind, and decides it’s important to show what Gamera’s done in the past—by showing twenty minutes of footage from previous Gamera movies, some of it in glorious black and white. Now that’s clever filmmaking. $1.

Worth It?

Absolutely, as a way to stay on the treadmill. If I use a cutoff of $1 as a movie that I might watch on its own if I was under the weather, almost half of these qualify. I count $22 total “estimated value” for this half of the set, with one bottoming out at $0.50, half mediocre at $0.75, six OK at $1, four pretty good at $1.25, and one good at $1.50.

Compared to the first half, there are fewer I’d rank as good or OK—but also fewer truly rank flicks. Overall, it looks as though I might find 10 of the 50 worth rewatching (that is, $1.25 or above), and another 19 that might be amusing to revisit. I’ll stand by the $45.50 estimated “viewing value” for this set, which was $25 when I bought it but now goes for $16 or $17. Don’t expect undamaged transfers. Don’t expect stellar movie-making; most of these aren’t even solid Bs. Still, some decent flicks and laughs.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 6, Number 12, Whole Issue 82, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at OCLC.

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