Friday, October 19, 2018

A Quick Look: FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965)


  One of the single greatest drive-in titles ever dreamed up was FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER. Unfortunately, the film attached to that title was rather more listless than it should've been. There's some good stuff in there, but the overall picture is shockingly bland! Frank is a NASA robot (who looks perfectly human) shot down by invading Martians. His electronic brain damaged, Frank becomes a killing machine and his creators are trying to track him down to repair him. Meanwhile, the Martians are kidnapping beautiful young Earth women to act as breeding stock to save their dying planet (yes, again). Notable bits of casting include James Karen, and Marilyn Hanold in a showy part as the Martian Queen. Again, though, none of this is as exciting as it should be. Such a pity.

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Quick Look: GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER (1959)


   GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER was the first Godzilla sequel. In a lot of ways, it's become the forgotten Godzilla movie, although a pretty great one. Although the Japanese version was churned out in '55, the American version wouldn't materialize until 1959. In between those years, there was an attempt to import the film as "The Volcano Monsters" with new footage written by Ib Melchior. Toho even provided a couple of monster suits for the project, but for whatever reason it failed to reach maturity. (Interesting trivia note: Bob Burns and Paul Blaisdell found themselves taking cover behind the crate containing the new Godzilla suit when an overzealous technician added too much gunpowder to an explosive miniature effect for INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN.) In the late 80's, a new video title, "Godzilla Raids Again" was tacked onto the film. Frustratingly, this title is now the only one under which the film is sold. Those with a good VCR can track down the old Video Treasures VHS to see the original movie (which is unfortunate as Video Treasures cassettes were usually cheap tapes, though the company had some wonderful titles in it's catalog). The plot concerned the discovery of a new Godzilla at war with another giant dinosaur, and how this battle impacted Japan -in particular the country's fishing community. Neat stuff.



Friday, October 12, 2018

A Quick Look at TV: THE OUTER LIMITS


   While The Twilight Zone was noted mostly for it's twist endings, The Outer Limits was known for it's literate scripts and dazzling special effects. An hour program with solid production values (despite the rushed shooting schedules of TV production), The Outer Limits attracted some of the best actors of the period -and featured some of the moodiest black and white photography you'll ever see. Early on, the producers stressed intellectual scripts. As is usually the case, though, the show quickly became known for it's monsters -and eventually it was demanded that the show include a new one each week. Unlike the usual spook anthologies, this show's hour format created the feel of a series of movies for the small screen. Popular episodes included Tourist Attraction (in which a prehistoric amphibian is discovered and captured for study/exploitation), Nightmare (in which a group of space soldiers are mercilessly interrogated by bat-like humanoids of a black planet), and Architects Of Fear (in which a team of scientists and military men think they can end war by giving the world a common unearthly enemy). My favorite may be The Hundred Days Of The Dragon, in which Oriental agents replace the US President with a look-a-like impostor. Still, the episode most will remember is the little number entitled The Zanti Misfits (pictured). In this one, beings from the planet Zanti make an arrangement with the US Army to house some Zanti criminals in the desert. When the prisoners revolt, it's classic B movie excitement as soldiers must fight off hordes of ant-like creatures with human faces! The show was popular, but boasted a higher budget than most such programs. When ratings began to slip in the second season, the network pulled it. The show grew in popularity over time, despite a relatively limited amount of exposure until TNT re-ran the series in the early 90's. Not long after that, HBO (?) created a new version of the series, which ran for several seasons. Back in the 60's, there was even a comic book tie-in and a set of trading cards. The cards used images from the show, but wrote new stories to go with the images. Admittedly, these could be just as imaginative as the show was. In the pantheon of spook anthologies, The Twilight Zone remains top dog. The Outer Limits is a very close second, all the others trailing distantly behind.

Monday, October 8, 2018

A Quick Look: THE HUMAN VAPOR (1962 - color)


   THE HUMAN VAPOR remains one of the more obscure Americanized Japanese films. It was imported and drastically re-edited (though reportedly to much improvement) and released in the early 60's. I'm not sure if the film ever saw much play on television, but it was issued on VHS in the 80's. That was the last anyone saw of this fine science fiction/crime thriller. In this one, a man who had his dreams of being an astronaut destroyed by shadows on an X-ray suddenly gets a second chance if he'll submit to an experimental procedure being performed by a mysterious scientist. The experiment instead changes his molecular structure, allowing him to become an invisible human mist. He uses these powers to rob banks and send the money to the woman he loves, an out-of-work dancer who dreams of making a come-back. Strangely touching romance story holds together mixture of police drama and science fiction in a character-driven piece that should be much easier to find. The only way to see it, though, is to own the VHS release -which fortunately is a great tape and still plays well if in good condition. Movies like this are how the rest of us visit Japan!

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Quick Look: THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975 - color)


   THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION remains the most well-remembered picture of Wisconsin-based director Bill Rebane. This is mostly due to it's being a giant spider movie, a genre people always enjoy. In this case, the film is another one of those cheapo quickie messes with a script about as grounded in scientific reality as Ernest P. Worrell. Still, it delivers the cheesy goods, and is a quintessential 70's drive-in movie. The plot involves a meteorite striking the rural farmlands of Wisconsin, and then releasing an army of tarantulas -some of which grow into giants. NASA's Steve Brodie and local scientist Barbara Hale join forces with Sheriff Alan Hale to investigate, while redneck slob Robert Easton plans to make a fortune with the tiny diamonds found inside the geodes which house the spiders. Leslie Parrish guest stars, as Easton's lush wife. As a director, Rebane seems to've kept up on the latest theories and fads, and was generally ahead of the pop culture curve. This film was probably the first feature to discuss black holes (which, of course, are inter-dimensional doorways which allow giant spiders to infiltrate our world). Rebane was also the first to capitalize on the renewed interest in inner earth theories during the 70's with INVASION FROM INNER EARTH. I liken that film to a soap-box derby car built by a young child. It's rough around the edges, but holds together well enough to keep us interested. Then, in the last reel, it turns down the hill and flies apart into a million shards. Other Rebane epics include the not overly memorable THE CAPTURE OF BIGFOOT and the ultra-obscure 80's gillman movie RANA: THE LEGEND OF SHADOW LAKE. They say every director has at least one masterpiece in them, though, and lest you think Rebane a terrible talent, I must make mention of THE ALPHA INCIDENT. It dealt with (on a very small scale) the release of an infectious microbe. If you get a chance, check that one out.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Quick Look: IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958)


   IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, basically functions as a feature version of a The Outer Limits episode. Marshall Thompson is the only survivor of a Mars expedition, claiming that the rest of his party was struck down by a monster. A second expedition arrives to shuttle Thompson back to Earth to stand trial for murder, as nobody is buying the monster story. Until, that is, the creature stows itself onto the ship, and the crew must combat the thing while floating through space. Another beast by Blaisdell, although the man in the rubber is famed cowboy and gorilla actor "Crash" Corrigan. It's been said for years that the basic story was remade as the visually impressive but ultimately hollow ALIEN in 1979. I suppose there's some validity in that, but the 50's film is far superior in terms of entertainment value.