Archive for the 1950s Sci-Fi Films Category

FAREWELL TO RAY HARRYHAUSEN

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2013, 60s Movies, Giant Monsters, LL Soares Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Mythology, Obituaries and Appreciations, Special Effects with tags , , , , , on May 14, 2013 by knifefighter

(The following tribute to Ray Harryhausen is appearing both on my blog and here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.—Michael Arruda)

A Tribute to RAY HARRYHAUSEN
By Michael Arruda

Special effects master Ray Harryhausen with some of his creations.

Special effects master Ray Harryhausen with some of his creations.

Ray Harryhausen, the greatest stop-motion animator in the history of motion pictures, passed away on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.  He was 92.

I had the pleasure of meeting Harryhausen at a convention in the late 1990s, and the thing I remember most about the experience—besides the fact that he was a classy guy and that he brought many of his miniature creature models with him—was Harryhausen’s love for telling stories.  It wasn’t just about the special effects with Harryhausen.  It was about the story.  It was important for him that his creatures lived in a world that seemed real yet magical at the same time.  On the movies that Harryhausen worked, much time was spent hammering out background stories, imaginative settings, and exciting conflicts.

Harryhausen’s genius wasn’t only that he was a master of stop-motion animation effects, but that the creatures he created using these effects lived and breathed in stories that were as memorable as the creatures themselves.  Of course, it helped that he was a master animator.  His movie creations are like no others.  He gave them sculpted bodies, facial expressions and incredible movement, bringing them to life long before CGI technology.

To watch a movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen is to enter another world.

From MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), the first major movie he worked on, under the direction of his teacher and mentor, King Kong creator Willis O’Brien, to CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), Ray Harryhausen’s movie magic has no equal.  O’Brien may have created the most memorable stop-motion effects ever in KING KONG (1933), but by sheer volume alone, Harryhausen is king.  He dominated the special effects scene from the 1950s through the 1970s, and during these decades, no one else came close to achieving the consistency and quality of stop-motion animation effects.  Simply put, he was the best at it.

Harryhausen working on the model for MIGHT JOE YOUNG (1949)

Harryhausen working on the model for MIGHT JOE YOUNG (1949)

And the argument can be made that in a couple of his films his animation rivals O’Brien’s work in KING KONG, in films like THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) (arguably his best), and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1962).  The sword fight between Jason and his men and the army of skeletons in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS  is one of the most exciting and ambitious stop-motion effects sequences ever put on film.

Here’s a partial look at Harryhausen’s movies:

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949)—Other than Kong, Joe is the most remarkable giant ape in the movies. The fiery climax, in which Joe rescues children from burning building, is must-see cinema!

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) —rivals GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956) as one of the scariest prehistoric-beasts-on-the-loose movies ever.  Memorable conclusion involving Coney Island roller coaster.  That’s Lee Van Cleef as the marksman at the end taking aim at the monster. 

IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) —Ray Harryhausen destroys Washington D.C.!   See his alien spaceships attack the nation’s capital!

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) —Attack of the Ymir!  Yep, that extraordinary monster from Venus is one of my favorite Ray Harryhausen creations. The Ymir was unnamed in the movie, and only picked up the name “Ymir” later from fans.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) —My pick for the best Ray Harryhausen movie of all time.  It contains his finest special effects, one of his most memorable creations, the Cyclops, it’s briskly directed by Nathan Juran, has a phenomenal villainous performance by Torin Thatcher as Sokurah, the magician, and a rousing music score by Bernard Herrmann.

The Cyclops from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

The Cyclops from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) —That animated crab is the real thing!  Harryhausen used a real crab in the giant crab sequence, animating it like one of his models.

-JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) —My second favorite Ray Harryhausen movie.  The sword fight with the skeletons is spectacular!

FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964) —I’ve always loved this story by HG Wells, and Harryhausen’s effects here don’t disappoint.

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) —Harryhausen joins the Hammer Films family and animates dinosaurs that chase scantily clad Raquel Welch in this Hammer prehistoric adventure.

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) —in the subgenre of horror westerns, this film ranks among the best. 

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) —Harryhausen’s follow-up to THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is nearly as good and contains some of Harryhausen’s best special effects, including a great sword fight between Sinbad and the goddess Kali.

Sinbad vs Kali. One of the best scenes in 1974's THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

Sinbad vs Kali. One of the best scenes in 1974’s THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977) —Released the same year as STAR WARS (1977) it was criticized for having outdated special effects.  Suddenly, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation was passé. 

CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981) —Harryhausen’s last feature, one of my least favorites, yet still features some fine moments, including a very creepy Medusa sequence. 

In my family, we all know who Ray Harryhausen is, but it pains me that Ray Harryhausen is not a household name.  He should be.

For me, there are few moviemakers who have been as influential as Ray Harryhausen.  The movies he’s worked on have been some of the most imaginative innovative creative films I have ever seen.  They are the real deal.  Movies that captivate fascinate and entertain.

To watch a Ray Harryhausen movie is to arouse your imagination.

Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation, maker of movie monsters and fantasy worlds, of movies that will live in imaginations for years to come, thank you for sharing your genius with the world. 

You will be missed.

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

 *****

Ray HarryhausenRAY HARRYHAUSEN: SOME AFTERTHOUGHTS
By L.L. Soares

Harryhausen was one of the best. CGI may have made his style of effects seem outdated and quaint, but it wouldn’t exist without his pioneering stop-motion process. Back when it took incredible amounts of time and effort to create even a few minutes of film, Harryhausen had incredible reserves of patience and talent.

The cool thing about Ray Harryhausen was not that he just did effects, but that most of the movies he worked on REVOLVED AROUND his effects. How often did that happen, where the special effects guy was the dominant figure in movies? And not just flimsy plots to keep the action going, but decent storylines, that made his creations shine.

Michael has touched upon some of the highlights. I’d like to give my personal take on these as well.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) —I remember seeing this one as a kid and being blown away by it. Harryhausen’s dinosaur on the loose was remarkable and effective, especially to a child’s eyes. And this one featured a rare collaboration between the two Rays – Harryhausen and Bradbury – as the movie was based on Bradbury’s story, “The Foghorn.”

IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) —This was one of my favorites, involving a gigantic octopus that rose from the ocean depths to cause havoc on the surface world of humans. The way the octopus moved was uncanny, and convincing. A really underrated entry in the 1950s “giant animals” genre.

The giant octopus from IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

The giant octopus from IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) —Sure, it might look a little dated now, but it also is immediately recognizable as the work of Harryhausen. I still think that ten minutes of this movie is more visually interesting than all of the similarly themed  INDEPENDENCE DAY(1996)

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) – My favorite Harryhausen film. I loved the story that this movie told, as well as the monster at its heart. The Ymir was a vaguely humanoid, prehistoric-looking creature from the planet Venus. In this one, Harryhausen made us care about the monster, and believe in him. The scene where the confused Ymir fights an escape elephant remains a classic.

The "Ymir," one of Harryhausen's best creatures, from 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957)

The “Ymir,” one of Harryhausen’s best creatures, from 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957)

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) —I remember seeing stills from this one in issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine, and hoped I’d finally get to see it for real. Back when I was a kid, a lot of these movies showed up on television, but you never knew where or when. It wasn’t like video and Netflix where you just call it up and watch it. It was a crapshoot. I remember watching this movie on a Saturday afternoon on a tiny black and white television, with fuzzy reception, and being astounded by it. The amazing Cyclops became one of my favorite fantasy movie creatures, as well as the two-headed giant bird, the Roc.

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) —Like Michael, this is my second favorite Ray Harryhausen movie, too. It didn’t have the heart of a creature like the Ymir, but it featured some of Ray’s most iconic effects. The sword fight with the skeletons might just be Harryhausen’s most memorable scene ever. I bet this one influenced a whole generation who would grow up to give us the computer effects that replaced it. But this movie had to come first.

The unforgettable battle with the skeletons from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

The unforgettable battle with the skeletons from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) —Sure it makes no sense historically; dinosaurs and cavemen never existed at the same time—but this one is a classic, and was a pretty big hit at the time. The cool-looking dinosaurs almost diverted my attention away from the curves of star Raquel Welch. Almost.

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) – Long before COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011), there was this classic “Cowboys and Dinosaurs” film. Cowboys lassoing a Tyrannosaurus Rex never looked so good.

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) —I think I liked the story of this one even more than THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Not only did it feature such amazing creatures as the flying homunculus and the living ship’s figurehead, as well as the amazing Centaur and the Griffin (their fight is legendary), but it also starred such genre legends as the beautiful Caroline Munro and, arguably the best Dr. Who ever, Tom Baker, as the villain. The sword fight between multi-armed Kali and Sinbad is my favorite scene though, and is almost as iconic as the skeleton sword fight in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.

SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977) —Starring John Wayne’s son Patrick as Sinbad and another former Dr. Who, Patrick Troughton. It also features such Harryhausen creatures as the Troglodyte (a giant, fur-covered caveman with a horn on his head), a sabre-toothed tiger and a giant walrus. The Troglodyte model Harryhausen used for this one was used again (with slight changes) as Calibos in Harryhausen’s last feature, CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981).

Harryhausen was one of a kind. And as Michael said, he will definitely be missed by fans of science fiction and fantasy cinema.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: SHE DEVIL (1957)

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2013, 50s Horror, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Femme Fatales, Insect Horror, Lost Films, Mad Doctors!, Mutants! with tags , , , , , , , on April 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

SHE DEVIL (1957)

shedevilposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Kurt Neumann is the well-known director of one of the greatest mad scientist/monster movies of all time, THE FLY (1958).  We’ve all seen it, and we’ve all quoted the infamous “Help meeee!” line in a falsetto voice.  Neumann, however, was quite a prolific filmmaker, with many terrific little movies under his belt, including KRONOS (1957), CARNIVAL STORY (1954), ROCKETSHIP X-M (1950), and numerous Tarzan titles.  Yet, everyone remembers him for his creation of a bulbous, fly-headed human.  Far less known, is Kurt Neumann’s other insect/mad scientist horror movie, SHE DEVIL (1957), which he also wrote.  No, this isn’t the Rosanne atrocity, but a full-blooded, low-budget shocker that surely freaked out the drive-in crowds.

The film opens in glorious black and white – A Regal Film (a company that went bust just after the release of SHE DEVIL, which explains the obscurity of the title…also, the movie was shot in Cinemascope, and most theaters weren’t able to handle the technology).  We see a view through a microscope of an obviously hand-drawn fruitfly, which is what Dr. Scott (Jack Kelly of CULT OF THE COBRA, 1955 and FORBIDDEN PLANET, 1956,) is looking at when he gets a visit from his colleague, Dr. Bach, played by stalwart character actor Albert Dekker (who was in THE KILLERS,1946, THE FURIES, 1950, EAST OF EDEN, 1955 and THE WILD BUNCH, 1969, but who is probably best known to genre fans for his portrayal of DR. CYCLOPS, 1940,).  They discuss Scott’s new research, in which he is using the invulnerability of the fruitfly, which can heal itself through adaptation to its environment.  Since fruitflies are the most adaptive of all insects and produce the most neutons (?), he creates a serum that has worked wonders on lab animals.  “These guinea pigs were tubercular, and the serum cured them in three days!”  His leopard turns from spotted to black after taking the drug, and it grows very aggressive (uh-oh!).  He needs a human test subject, but, darn it, nobody wants to volunteer to ingest the serum during their final days.

Enter gorgeous Kyra Zelas, a dying woman in the final stages of tuberculosis, played by the lovely Mari Blanchard (ABBOT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS, 1953 and DESTRY, 1954).  She has no relatives or friends or money, and no hope of surviving.  The perfect subject for Scott’s serum!  They inject her, and in just six hours, she is doing much better.  In another day, she is fully recovered and admiring herself in a mirror.  Her hair was never so lustrous!  Dr. Scott starts to fall for Kyra, even after he can barely get a needle through her newly-strengthened skin.  Luckily, it seems it has also given her a Max Factor makeover that is permanently beautifying her face.

Dr. Bach (Albert Dekker) operates on Kyra.

Dr. Bach (Albert Dekker) operates on Kyra.

Dr. Scott decides she should be kept under observation in case there are any side effects, so when she is released, she will be living with the good doctor so he can, ahem, keep an eye on her.  When she heads to his house, she informs the men that “From now on, I’m going to do only what I want…everything I want.  I’m going to get everything I can out of life.  Everything I always wanted.”  She starts by going to an expensive boutique where she observes a sugar daddy buying stuff for his woman and flashing a lot of cash around.  She grabs the money, bashes the man over the head with an ashtray, and heads for a dressing room.  By shaking her hair out, shampoo-commercial style, she changes from brunette to blond, a really cool special effect for the time.  After changing into another dress, she fools everyone, even the police, and uses the stolen money to buy a new wardrobe.

Dr. Scott is easily fooled by the beauty, but Dr. Bach sees her for the conniving little tramp she is.  He discovers she hasn’t dyed her hair blonde; she is mutating!  His warnings fall on deaf ears as Scott throws a sort of coming out party for her.  This is where she meets insanely wealthy no-goodnik Barton Kendell (John Archer of DESTINATION MOON, 1950 and BLUE HAWAII, 1961) and his shrewish wife Evelyn (Fay Baker of NOTORIOUS, 1946 and THE STAR, 1952).  “Now, Evelyn, you know we never quarrel till our third drink.”

Barton flirts shamelessly with Kyra, who encourages his attentions, but when Evelyn says she wants to leave the party, Kyra does her head-shake again, turning her blond hair brown (there’s a Crystal Gayle song in there somewhere.)  Then, she kills Evelyn in the garden by using her super-strength to strangle the older woman.  She’s spotted, but everyone is looking for a brunette, and she’s reverted back to blond again!

Scott and Bach decide to create an anti-serum in case Kyra gets out of hand.  They are too late, however, and she’s had a taste of freedom.  She allows the black leopard in the lab to claw her, and the bloody wound heals in seconds.  She can’t be injured, no matter how badly she is attacked.  They try to drug her, but she wakes up and threatens them before departing for richer shores.

She marries the smitten millionaire Barton Kendell, but she grows bored with him quickly and their marriage turns sour.  “Stop pawing me!” she cries out.  On a drive, she spins the car’s wheel, sending the car over the cliff with Barton and herself inside.  “Stop it, Kyra, you’ll kill us!”  “Not US, Bart.  Not US!” (The car crash footage is from a Robert Mitchum movie, ANGEL FACE, 1952).  At the bottom of the cliff, she emerges unscathed from the wreckage and walks back to Dr. Scott, who welcomes her with open arms, even though he knows how evil she is!

She devil Kyra meets the leopard.

Blonde she-devil Kyra meets the leopard.

Will Dr. Bach convince Scott of what a monster Kyra has become?  Will she succeed in taking out Bach and living with the man who loves her?  Can they operate on her to restore Kyra to normalcy (in other words, not a murderous, thieving witch with fabulous hair)?

SHE DEVIL is loaded with bitchy, fun dialogue (“I’m not creating a scene.  You are.”  “Oh yeah?  I’m not the one necking with this trollop!”  SLAP!  “You don’t want a divorce; you might actually have to marry one of your girls.”).  Sometimes, the script gets a bit too talky for its own good, but when the words coming out of the characters’ mouths are so tasty, who cares?  The crisp cinematography is by the great Karl Struss, who worked on SUNRISE (1927), Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940), and ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932), before moving on to trashy greats like THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE (1959) and Neumann’s own THE FLY.  The acting is fine, if a bit over the top, with Mari Blanchard standing out as the murderous, monstrous, indestructible femme fatale.  She gyrates and whispers and is sex personified.  Plus, that hair trick is awfully cool.

On a side-note, co-star Albert Dekker, the star of so many terrific, Oscar-nominated films, is also the victim in one of Hollywood’s most notorious death scenes.  In May of 1968, he was discovered on his knees, dead in a bathtub with a noose around his neck, hand-cuffed, a ball gag in his mouth, blindfolded, with sexual words written on his body in lipstick!  The coroner declared the death was “accidental”, and he was cremated.  Today, he is remembered more for his sexually kinky death than his body of work, and that’s a sad thing.  We at Bill’s Bizarre Bijou loved the guy’s over the top performance in SHE DEVIL, as well as his nuanced portrayals in other, more mainstream films.

Kyra as a brunette.

Kyra as a brunette.

SHE DEVIL is a fun sci-fi/horror hybrid with an unforgettable female lead and more than a few memorable moments.  Plus, Olive Films has released a stunning Blu-Ray of the film which looks absolutely beautiful.

I give SHE DEVIL three fruitflies out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Studies The CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2012, Atomic Accidents, Atomic Supermen, Cold War Chills, Drive-in Movies, Gangsters!, Grave Robbing, Lady Anachronism's Fallout Shelter, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns with tags , , , , , , , on December 13, 2012 by knifefighter

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter
CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955)
By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

CreaturewithAtomBrainPoster

Pull up a chair, pass around some rations, and get comfortable. Here at Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter, I’ll take you back into time, when Atomic Age cats and dolls fretted over the Bomb and visions of alien invaders flickered on the big screen at the local drive-in. Technological or political developments may have made these films obsolete, but I hope you’ll join me in rediscovering forgotten Cold War-era cinema.

Radiation is one of those givens in many films from the 1950s. You can bet your bottom dollar that the radiation is going to make something either really big or really strong. In the CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955), a misleading title since there are multiple creatures here, radiation is used for the latter purpose.

The film opens with a bald man with stitches across his head walking zombie-style down the street. The man looks alarmingly like Ed Asner. In the next scene, he’s driving a car, which is a little disorienting, since he’s originally seen walking. He drives to a business where a man named Hennessey and his employees are closing up for the night.

Hennessey is putting the day’s cash away in a safe when Ed Asner’s twin smashes through a window and begins speaking in a robotic voice. He claims to be Buchanan, but Hennessey tells him that he doesn’t look like Buchanan. The creature assures him that he may not look like Buchanan, but he is, and he’s come back to see Hennessey die. The creature then picks up Hennessey and snaps him in two like a twig. Hennessey’s employees shoot at the creature, who lumbers away quietly, unaffected by the bullets piercing his body.

The scene cuts to a man talking into a microphone, commanding the creature to get in the car and drive back home. The creature doesn’t seem to get the message, so an egghead scientist with a bad German accent takes over and gives the commands. Turns out, the scientist is a former Nazi scientist named Steig (Gregory Gay), and Buchanan (Michael Granger), the man behind this whole operation, is a gangster who wants to exact revenge using these atomic creatures to do his dirty work. Why didn’t I think of this? The two are able to see everything the creature sees on a television screen in their laboratory.

The man who murdered Hennessey leaves behind luminous blood. After Chet Walker (Richard Denning), director of the police laboratory, conducts some experiments on the blood, he discovers that it is actually a chemical compound – and a radioactive one at that.

Hennessey was killed, according to Walker, by a creature with “atom rays of superhuman strength, and one that cannot be killed by bullets.” The journalists hanging around for the scoop are in such disbelief, they threaten to misspell the poor guy’s name. The nerve!

Buchanan and his Nazi scientist have an entire arsenal of zombies. Ed Asner’s twin is retired, and another guy is brought in to take out the district attorney, a man named McGraw. D.A. McGraw is also cracked in two by this superhuman dead guy.

By now, the police lab chief and his partner, homicide detective Dave Harris (S. John Launer), have figured out the fingerprints lifted from the original crime scene belong to a man who died weeks earlier. As it happens, the fingerprints lifted from the D.A.’s murder scene also came from a dead man.

Walker and Harris put their police noggins together and determine that there’s a connection between the two murders. The D.A. and Hennessey both worked together to get Buchanan deported to Rome.

Walker gets the military involved in this operation, as the military always seems to get involved when radioactive dead men roam the streets, wreaking havoc.

The evil duo’s plan goes a little tilt when the Nazi scientist gets a little thirsty and stops into a local tavern for a beer. When a solider stops into the bar to check the radiation levels, the scientist flees out the back door, leaving his beer and his change behind.

Apparently, dealing with radioactive zombies tends to cause one to become radioactive. The Geiger counter the solider is using goes off as he waves it around the stool on which the scientist sat. The ten dollars the scientist left behind is also radioactive, a fact that deeply disappoints the bartender, who was certain the money would be his.

A lot of strange, catastrophic things start happening. Things explode, giving us the perfect opportunity to view some stock footage.

Then something exciting happens again. Det. Harris is killed and turned into one of these zombies. Steig does something special for the good detective. He tinkers with his vocal chords, giving him the ability to use his own voice rather than Buchanan’s.

As might be predicted, Harris is used to find Walker. Walker sees his friend and gets into his car. Despite his medical degree, Walker doesn’t notice the stitch marks all over his friend’s forehead, the same stitches seen on the other creatures. The two speed off, but Walker jumps out of the moving car before Harris can take him back to Steig and Buchanan.

The car crashes, draining Harris of his energy. Walker and some other police officers notice that Harris seems to be heading mindlessly toward the source of his energy. After getting the military involved, they follow him to Buchanan’s hideout.

In one of the most half-hearted fight scenes in cinema history, Buchanan sets his atomic creatures on the military, telling them to kill, which apparently means walloping them gently with their limp arms and tossing them around like ballerinas. The soldiers’ guns are useless against the creatures.

Harris, meanwhile, comes to the hideout to regain his power. Walker happens to be there at the same time, trying to thwart Buchanan. For reasons that are never explained, Harris attacks Buchanan instead, giving Walker the chance to destroy the machinery keeping the creatures alive and saving at least some of the soldiers doing battle outside.

CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN is a cute film, but it’s hard to take it seriously. It’s difficult at times to discern whether the filmmaker (Editor’s Note: it was directed by Edward L Cahn, whose other films include THE SHE-CREATURE, 1956, INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, 1957, and  IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, 1958)  was going for a cheeky laugh or a serious scare. If you’re looking for a nostalgic chuckle, this film will suffice.

© Copyright 2012 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  The bi-weekly column “Transmissions to Earth” returns in two weeks.)

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2012, Aliens, American Internatonal Pictures, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Low Budget Movies, Monsters, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , on November 8, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

American International Pictures, providers of fine drive-in fare for more than 25 years.  Formed in 1954 by James Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff (sounds like a mad scientist, doesn’t he?), AIP produced movies on the cheap, movies that would appeal to the teenagers flocking to the outdoor theaters.  The company was infamous for developing a poster and then having somebody (who worked cheaply) to write a script around the ad campaign.  Surprisingly, this worked out well for everyone concerned.  The producers made money, the kids were happy to see babes and monsters and hot rods in between make out sessions, and the films were so much fun it’s hard to complain about their lack of budget or home-made special effects.  Whether it was THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (1954, and the first AIP feature) or Roger Corman’s Poe Cycle of films or I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (1957), these movies were fun.  Also in 1957, came a new, completely crazy sci-fi film INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, directed by Edward L. Cahn (IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, 1958, VOODOO WOMAN, 1957, DRAGSTRIP GIRL, 1957 and ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU, 1957. 1957 was a big year for Cahn!).

Our story begins with a book entitled ‘A True Story of a Flying Saucer.’  A male hand turns the pages, showing the economically created credits while music plays that sounds suspiciously like Loony Toons accompaniment.  Instantly, we meet, via voice-over, our hero, Artie Burns (Lyn Osborn, Cadet Happy on the SPACE PATROL show) who talks about his hometown, Hicksburg, where there isn’t much for the young people to do except suck face in cars at lover’s lane.  Joe, Artie ‘s partner, played by Frank Gorshin (the Riddler on the 1960s BATMAN TV series), is a jive talking hustler looking for a woman to pick up.  They live together in a boarding house, but after striking out with a diner waitress, Joe decides to find some action somewhere else.  Instead, he spots a UFO landing in a nearby field!  He rushes back to the boarding house to let his partner in on what he’s seen.

Meanwhile, Johnny (Steve Terrell of TEA AND SYMPATHY and RUNAWAY DAUGHTERS – both 1956) hangs out with his buddies, waiting to pick up his girl Gloria (played by Gloria Castillo of REFORM SCHOOL GIRL, 1957 and TEENAGE MONSTER, 1958).  They plan to elope later that night, but first they stop at Lover’s Point for a few beers and some nik-nik.  After their tryst, they run over a little man with a huge head, killing it, but its hand (with an eye on the back of it) crawls away, grows sharp nails, and punctures the teens’ tires!  They run to Old Man Larkin’s house to call the cops, but the old man is missing.  They barge on in to his place and use his phone, but the police don’t believe their reports of little green men.  “It’s Saturday Night,” the policeman says.  “It’s official.”

Johnny and Joan’s plans to elope get sidetracked by the INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN!

Meanwhile, the UFO is being investigated by the military—well, two men from the military, who don’t seem to do much other than stand around and worry.  Colonel Ambrose and Lt. Wilkins call in the engineers!

Driving back to the field, Joe finds the hand-less corpse of the big brained saucer man.  After he takes a snort of bourbon, he packs the creature into his car.  He calls his partner and tells him to clean everything out of the refrigerator.  “What I’m bringing home is perishable!”

Old Man Larkin returns and he thinks the kids are drunk.  “You tell yer friends not to park on my property, or they’ll get a backside full a’ rock salt!”  So, Johnny and Jean tromp back to the car to fix the flat and discover the creature’s body is gone.  Joe is attacked by several of the little bastards, who stab him with hypodermic fingers dripping with liquid.

Johnny and Jean find one of the saucer men using a little jack-hammer on the bumper of their car.  They decide to just walk back to town.  They’re stopped by the police, who take their statements.  The stupid kids tell the truth, but they are given a drunk test and locked up, instead.    “In my day, we were content with pink elephants,” the sensitive officer says.  That’s what happens when you report little green men traipsing about the countryside.

The Saucer Men ATTACK!

In the meantime, the military is getting nowhere trying to contact the space men . . . probably because they’re all out of the UFO bashing up teenager’s cars and shooting up The Riddler with happy juice.   They accidentally blow the ship to pieces.  Yep, that’s our best defense at work.

Jean’s father is the city attorney, who picks her up at the jail.  But, boy, he doesn’t like Johnny or his slick ways.  The kids are accused of running over Joe, and the coppers have the body to prove it.  That’s why they were jack hammering Johnny’s car, to frame the kids for murder!  Smart little monsters.  Joe is dead from alcohol poisoning, and he is not a little green man.  The cops go to the boarding house to speak to his “friend.”  Whenever someone talks about Artie, Joe’s “roommate,” they say it as though in “quotation marks.”  Hmm . . .

The kids steal Jean’s father’s car and head for the field again to prove their innocence.  The woods are crawling with the big-headed creatures.  And the military just leaves the wreckage of the UFO in the field!  And that hand is still crawling around!

The kids go back to town and fetch Artie, telling him how his “roommate” has been killed.  The saucer men skulk around the bushes of the woods, one finally attacking Old Man Larkin’s prize bull with injections of alcohol from its fingers, but the inebriated bull has other ideas, goring the creature right in its bugged out eyeballs!  The bull bucks and stabs at an obvious dummy, flinging the stuffed saucer man all over a field.

Jean’s father’s car has a huge spotlight on it, which she claims she uses as a mirror.  Lucky for them, because when the saucer men are caught in the bright lights, they blow up real good.  Finally, a way to kill the little jerks!  It’s up to all the amorous teens at Lover’s Point and their hot rods to rid the town of Hicksburg of the interstellar menace!

Frank Gorshin takes a break from tormenting Batman as the Riddler to face off with horrifying aliens in INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN!

If all this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you saw the TV remake, THE EYE CREATURES (1965) directed by the hack Larry Buchanan.  It follows the plot point by point, copies dialogue word for word, but misses any of the fun from the original.  Even the creatures pale in comparison, burlap sack covered people with hundreds of ping pong eyes sewn on.  Really.  I’d much rather watch the midgets with giant veiny heads, bugged out eyes, sharp teeth, and long hands that have magical liquor in their fingers.  Now, that is a party monster!

INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN is, by no means, a good film.  It is, however, a lot of fun if you’re in the right frame of mind . . . like the constant frame of my mind.  And certainly yours, dear reader.  With funny hipster dialogue, crazy situations, bad acting, and the silliest looking monsters in ages, it is a lot of fun.  I bet the teens in 1957 ate it up, cheering on the brave, cool kid heroes and hissing at the stupid adults who just won’t listen to them.

I give INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN three little green men out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Screaming Streaming! Presents: THE MANSTER (1959)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2012, B-Movies, Bad Acting, Deformed Freaks!, Evil Doctors!, Mad Doctors!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Scientific Experiments, Screaming Streaming with tags , , , , , , , on November 2, 2012 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Movie Review:  THE MANSTER (1959)
By Michael Arruda

One of my favorite things about streaming video is the wide selection of older titles readily available.  I’m having fun catching up with movies I’ve never seen before and obscure oddball gems I haven’t seen in ages.

Today’s feature falls into the latter category, although I hesitate to call it a gem.  It isn’t.

It’s THE MANSTER (1959), a film that’s been on my mind since Craig Shaw Gardner mentioned it this past summer after reading my review of THE INCREDIBLE TWO HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971).  He pointed out that along with TRANSPLANT and THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972) it made up the full complement of two-headed men monster movies.

I hadn’t seen THE MANSTER in years, so I was happy when it turned up on my streaming video menu.

THE MANSTER takes place in Japan and opens with a weird ape-like creature on the loose, the result of an experiment gone wrong by a certain Dr. Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura). Suzuki promptly destroys his creature, but like all good mad scientists, vows to try again.

Enter American reporter Larry Stanford  (Peter Dyneley), about to conduct his final interview before returning home to the States to spend some much needed time with his wife Linda (Jane Hylton).  His last interview subject—unfortunately for him— is Dr. Suzuki.

Dr. Suzuki privately tells his female assistant Tara (Terri Zimmern) that the reporter is perfect for their next experiment.  And so, while Larry is interviewing Suzuki about his work— some crazed notion about harnessing rays from outer space which, when aimed at animal life, cause changes in evolution, resulting in a new species of life— yeah, doc, whatever—Suzuki slips Larry a drug in his drink which knocks him out.

When Larry awakens, he has an aching shoulder, and soon things grow much worse.  His personality changes, he’s suddenly ignoring both his job and his wife, and he’s spending his evenings enjoying the Japanese night life, getting drunk and hooking up with other women.  And, oh that pain in his shoulder keeps getting worse!  It leads to the best image in the movie, when Larry looks at his shoulder and sees a monstrous eye sticking out of it gazing up at him.

“Someone’s watching me! I just know it!”

Eventually, Larry sprouts a new head (I guess this is that new species Suzuki was so excited about!) and soon afterwards Larry becomes a homicidal two-headed maniac, killing people left and right.  Ultimately, the head grows into an entire body and splits apart from Larry, making it easier for the police to chase the monster and leave Larry alone, conveniently enabling his wife to rescue him from all this madness.

The significance of THE MANSTER is that it featured a two-headed man monster long before its two-head cousins from the 1970s, THE INCREDIBLE TWO HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971) and THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972).  Other than this, the movie is just okay.

The acting is pretty good.  Peter Dyneley isn’t bad as American reporter Larry Stanford.  He has a “Lon Chaney Jr.” thing going, as there’s something about his look in this movie which reminds me of Chaney.   Dyneley plays Larry as more than just a wise-cracking American reporter.  He gives him a sincerity not often found in these roles.  Dyneley would go on to provide many of the voices for the popular 1960s TV show THUNDERBIRDS, which featured some pretty cool puppetry.

“So what do you think of this movie?”
“Be quiet, I’m sleeping.”

Dyneley’s real-life wife, Jane Hylton, appeared in many movies with him, and she’s on hand here as his wife Linda.  She’s pretty awful, unfortunately.

Tetsu Nakamura fares much better as Dr. Suzuki.  Nakamura makes for a very smooth mad scientist and gets to deliver lines Bela Lugosi would have been at home saying.  Nakamura appeared in a decent amount of Japanese monster movies, including THE MYSTERIANS (1957) and MOTHRA (1961).

Directors George P. Breakston and Kenneth G. Crane include the one memorable scene of the eye emerging from Larry’s shoulder, but other than this, there isn’t much to remember about THE MANSTER.

The two-headed “Manster” is pretty fake looking, but doesn’t look any worse than the 1970s incarnations.  Dr. Suzuki keeps mutants imprisoned in his lab, the results of previous experiments gone wrong.  These mutants are kinda creepy, but ultimately they’re a disappointment, as the make-up job on them is pretty bad.

Director Breakston also received story credit, and as monster stories go, it’s a pretty good one, but the screenplay by William J. Sheldon is not so good, as most of the dialogue in this one is plain awful.

I first saw THE MANSTER as a teenager on late night TV, and I remember liking it a lot.  I’d seen it a couple of times since, but not in a while.  Admittedly, the movie doesn’t hold up as well as I remember it.

Sure, the two main players, Dyneley and Nakamura, turn in professional performances and make their characters believable, but they’re surrounded by lesser performances.  The fright scenes are few and far between, and I guess that was my biggest disappointment seeing this movie again.  The Manster scenes really weren’t all that exciting, nor were they campy enough to make me laugh out loud.  And the murder scenes were rather lame as well.  I remember this one having more of an edge to it.

When you come right down to it, THE MANSTER is really just a mediocre B monster movie.  While it does contain a novel concept, really, at the end of the day, there’s nothing that makes it head and shoulders above the rest.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

THE THING (2011)

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2011, 80s Horror, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, LL Soares Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Prequels, Science Fiction, Sequels with tags , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE THING (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

 

(THE SCENE: Army barracks in Antarctica. Wind is howling and snow covers everything outside. MICHAEL ARRUDA comes in from the cold, covered in layers of clothes and a ski mask)

MA: LL, are you here?

(LL SOARES is lying on a hammock in a darkened storage room. MA enters the room and turns on the light)

MA: What are you sleeping for? You said you were going to meet me when I arrived on this base.

LS: What, and interrupt my nap? I don’t think so.

MA: Nap? What happened to the guy who was all excited and eager to see the new movie THE THING?

LS: Well, I finally saw it……

MA: Your tone smacks of disappointment. Do tell.

LS: If I have to. (Rubs sleep from his eyes)

THE THING (2011) has the same name of John Carpenter’s 1982 film THE THING, and yet it is a prequel to Carpenter’s film. If it’s a prequel, how about giving it a different name? That just seems stupid to me.

MA: Well, you’re right that it is a prequel, since the events in this movie do occur before the events in Carpenter’s film. However, it’s a rather lame prequel. It’s shot as if audiences weren’t supposed to know it was a prequel, because it’s doesn’t make a direct connection to the 1982 movie until the very end, which comes off as if it were supposed to be a surprise, and honestly—had it been a surprise—it would have been really cool. The problem is, it’s not a surprise, because everyone and their grandmother knew beforehand it was supposed to be a prequel!

The other problem is, since audiences are going in already knowing it’s a prequel, they’re looking forward to some direct connection to the Carpenter film, and it’s just not there until the very end, and so it comes off, or at least it did to me, as a major disappointment.

Eric Heisserer could have done so many creative things with this concept, but he doesn’t. I found THE THING devoid of creativity and imagination, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since Heisserer also wrote the screenplay for the remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010) and FINAL DESTINATION 5 (2011), two other sub-par movies.

Here’s one example: how about some footage from the original film? Wouldn’t it have been cool to see Kurt Russell step out of the helicopter at the end? This movie just didn’t take advantage of its connection to the Carpenter THING and its fans.

LS: In Carpenter’s film, about an expedition in Antarctica, they find a spaceship stuck in the ice, and its strange passenger – an alien creature that can replicate whatever it comes into contact with. At first it starts with sleigh dogs and eventually starts imitating the people on the base, to the point where no one can tell if anyone else is really the alien. It was a brilliant study in claustrophobia, paranoia, and just plain scary monsters. In Carpenter’s film, it was mentioned that there was a Norwegian expedition before them, but they were wiped out. The American team, led by Kurt Russell, was there to investigate what happened.

Which brings us to the new movie called THE THING. This one is about that missing Norwegian expedition, and what happened to them.

The movie begins with some guys in a snow tractor thingie, traveling over the ice and trying to locate a signal coming from beneath the surface. When they find the location of the signal, they stop, and suddenly crash through the ice below. Which is how they discover a gigantic space craft under the ice and snow.

They also discover a frozen life form, presumably the occupant of the space ship and they are eager to study their finds. Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) is called in to check it out. He brings along his assistant Adam (Eric Christian Olsen, who sometimes looks like a second-rate Brad Pitt) and paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the girlfriend from SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD). They arrive just in time to help the Norwegian scientists figure out what the creature in the ice is. A tissue sample is extracted from the block, and of course, some idiot lets the thing defrost (isn’t anyone concerned it might rot and be useless to them?). It turns out, the thing is not dead. It was only sleeping.

Like Carpenter’s film, the monster then goes about imitating other people in the research party, killing and replicating them one by one, like a distant cousin to the pods from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. In Carpenter’s film, you could determine who was the Thing by taking a blood sample. In this version, the Thing is unable to replicate metal, which means if you have fillings or any other metal accoutrements, they will fall out when you become “replaced.” So Dr. Lloyd is able to determine who is the bad guy by making everyone “open their mouths” and show her their fillings.

MA: A crude, very unscientific method, and cinematically speaking, nowhere near as exciting as the blood sample scene in the Carpenter film.

LS: I dunno. I thought it made sense, given the urgency of their situation. They didn’t really have time to take blood tests.

In this movie, they catch on to the alien’s tricks pretty quickly and there’s no gradual understanding of what it can do, like in Carpenter’s film. Also, there seemed to be several times where the monster revealed itself when it didn’t have to. In Carpenter’s film, the replicated people revealed their true alien form when discovered. In this version, they seem to reveal themselves at the drop of a hat.

So one by one, people reveal that they are really the monster, and then their bodies start changing and twisting and they turn into creatures that look rather Lovecraftian with big teeth and tentacles, and I have to admit, the effects here are really good, and the creatures look just as good as in Carpenter’s movie, and, in a couple of scenes, even better.

MA: Definitely have to agree with you here. If there’s anything I really liked about this movie, it was the special effects and the look of THE THING. I would agree that at times, it looks better than the one in Carpenter’s movie.

LS: As many people know, the story of THE THING has a long history. It began as a story by John W. Campbell way back in 1938 called “Who Goes There?” For you literary history buffs, Campbell is best known as the editor of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, which was prominent from the 1930s to 1950s. Campbell had an incredible eye for talent and he single-handedly discovered most of the writers who are considered the masters of old school science fiction, from Isaac Asimov to Theodore Sturgeon to Fritz Leiber. But he wrote fiction as well, and this particular story has had some incredible staying power.

In 1951, the director Howard Hawks made a movie version of Campbell’s story called THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. Hawks was probably best known for westerns (like 1948’s RED RIVER and 1959’s RIO BRAVO) and screwball comedies, like the classic, BRINGING UP BABY(1938). But I think THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD was his only science fiction film. It’s good film, and above-average for the science fiction films of the time, due to a solid script and good acting, but nothing mind-blowing. In that version, James Arness (Marshall Dillon from the classic series GUNSMOKE) was the monster, made up to look kind an outer space version of Frankenstein’s monster.

MA: I always loved THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, and I consider it one of the best science fiction/horror movies from the 1950s, up there with THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) and THEM! (1954). There’s a sense of creepiness in the film that really makes it a lot of fun to watch, and it’s also notable for its rapid fire dialogue, a pace that made it more realistic than the dialogue in other science fiction films of the period.

LS: Yeah, it was good. But then it was remade in 1982 by John Carpenter as simply THE THING, and as fans of the Carpenter version can tell you, this is one of the rare instances where a remake actually improved on and surpassed the original. And the monster is 100 times more interesting and visually exciting this time around.

MA: I’m not going to disagree with you because I like the 1982 film so much, and it certainly holds up better today than the 1951 version, but that old creepy black and white flick is still pretty darned good!

LS: Which brings us to the present, and the new version of THE THING.

(THE THING from THE FANTASTIC FOUR shows up.)

THE THING: What about me, you jokers? It’s CLOBBERIN’ TIME!

LS: You’re not part of this movie’s history, Mr Grimm.

MA: Come back to us the next time we review a new Marvel movie.

THE THING: But it’s called “The Thing.” How can it not be about me?

LS: I’m sorry Ben, but it’s not.

THE THING: Can I at least break some heads?

LS (points to MA): You can break his head, but wait till after the review.

MA: Uh..I hear the Hulk is hanging out with the Norwegians down the road. Why don’t you tangle with him?

THE THING: Really? Thanks for the tip. He owes me some money. (THE THING exits— making a giant hole in the wall.)

LS: The new remake—I mean, prequel— is not a completely awful movie, but it does have several problems.

MA: Yes, it does.

LS: To begin with, because the Norwegians are not very fleshed out, the language barrier is even more pronounced (most of them talk in Norwegian with subtitles, but a lot of them also speak English, so they alternate). Unlike Carpenter’s version with real, distinctive characters, nobody in the new version stands out except for Winstead. So problem number one right off the bat is that you don’t really care about these characters much.

MA: Yep, I would have to agree. That was one of the best parts of Carpenter’s THE THING, that it was filled with quirky, memorable characters, and this movie just doesn’t give us that.

LS: Yep.

MA: I also agree that Winstead’s character, paleontologist Kate Lloyd, is the best character in the movie, and Winstead delivers the best performance. I like Winstead a lot, and I want to see her in more movies.

On the other hand, as good as Winstead is, and she is good, she’s no Kurt Russell, and so this new version of THE THING also lacks a strong main character.

The rest of the characters are just OK, and the acting simply serviceable. Joel Edgerton is likable as helicopter pilot Braxton Carter, but ultimately he’s not that effective a hero.

I did like Ulrich Thomsen as Dr. Sandor Halvorson, and I liked his cold professor character, the guy who’s all about the discovery and not so much about the value of human life. He reminded me a lot of the professor character in the 1951 version, Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), both in the way he looked and acted. We saw Thomsen earlier this year in SEASON OF THE WITCH (2011).

I also liked Jorgen Langhelle as Lars. Lars was one of the Norwegians who didn’t speak English, but this doesn’t stop him from being a memorable character, and he plays a key role in the story.

LS: Then, there’s not much to the story. There is really nothing here that wasn’t already covered in Carpenter’s classic.

MA: Exactly. If THE THING were a TV show, this movie would have been just an average episode, which you can get away with in a TV series, since you’ve got more than one episode to work with. But it’s not a TV show. It’s a movie, a one-shot deal, and all I kept thinking was, this is your one shot, and this is all you come up with? To me, the story was a definite disappointment.

LS: The plot is pretty much a retread of Carpenter’s film, but with a different team, and there really isn’t much that this film adds to the concept. As I sat through this movie, I kept thinking this was a chance to maybe try out some new ideas, take things in a different direction, but no, it’s the same old stuff we already saw.

MA: I’ll say! There were so many different directions this tale could have taken, yet it settles for the retread.

LS: Winstead takes charge of things pretty quickly and is calling the shots, making everyone show her their mouths and stuff. But once she takes charge, for the rest of the movie, nobody once questions her and asks her to open her mouth. Everyone just does what she says. I guess you could say this happens because she’s the only person in the movie with a distinct personality, but that’s really not a good enough reason.

Also, the movie is rated R, and yet there is absolutely no reason for it to be rated this way. There is no swearing, no nudity, no extreme gore. There are human bodies twisting and cracking open and turning into weird monsters, but I really didn’t think it was shocking enough to warrant an R rating. I think the MPAA is being just a little too sensitive these days. If something is rated R, then I want it to earn it. As is, a typical episode of any TV show on HBO or Showtime has more “adult content” than anything we see in this movie.

MA: I disagree with you here. I thought the THING scenes were sufficiently disturbing, more so than the THING scenes in the Carpenter version. I thought the effects here were the best part of the movie, so much so, that those scenes you mentioned, of bodies twisting and cracking open and turning into bizarre monsters, were very disturbing.

The most disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen? No. But I wasn’t sitting there thinking “These effects suck, and these creatures look cheesy.” No, I was thinking this is some pretty horrific stuff, and what I liked about it, is it took stuff we saw in the Carpenter version, and made it even more graphic, in terms of how clearly we saw things. So, I liked these scenes, and I think because of them, the movie earned its R rating.

LS: I thought the monsters looked pretty cool, but “very disturbing?” I don’t know.

There is also a certain monotony to the whole thing. Winstead and the others determine who the monster is. They blast it with flame throwers. It turns up as someone else. They burn that person, and then someone else is the monster. How does the creature keep moving around if they keep burning it? They just can’t seem to kill this critter. Also, there are scenes where there appear to be three or four different monsters. Someone’s arm turns into a centipede type thing, another one combines with another body to create a two-headed freak, etc. I thought there was just one monster, but there appears to be a bunch. No wonder the team never seems to be able to get a handle on things.

MA: Well, the creature replicates, and so yeah, there’s more than one THING because it keeps making more of itself. It was like this in the Carpenter movie as well.

The problem I had was with some of the logic behind it, and I seem to remember having similar questions with the Carpenter movie as well. If this thing can replicate and hide in a human’s body, why doesn’t it just stay hidden? That way it can escape to somewhere else.

But this thing replicates left and right, and it’s like you said, as soon it does, they see it and burn it, and so it keeps getting destroyed. It doesn’t seem all that smart, which begs the question, is this THING an intelligent alien, or just a mindless murderous monster? In this movie, where it replicates without seeming to know it’s about to be killed, the THING comes off as a mindless brute, whereas my memory of the Carpenter film, it came off as a smart intelligent alien. Doesn’t it build a ship in the Carpenter film?

As much as I liked the look of the THING in this movie, I didn’t really like the interpretation of the THING.

Does it have an agenda? In the Carpenter movie, the characters were worried that if it reached civilization, it would wipe it out. Is this THING interested in invading earth? It doesn’t seem to be in this movie. It only seems interested in survival.

LS: And if that’s the case, then why reveal itself in scenes when it doesn’t have to? When it has everyone fooled already?

MA: It’s also hinted at early on that perhaps the THING isn’t the original occupant of the crashed ship, and I thought this was a neat idea. One of the characters questions why a ship’s occupant would land his ship in the ice and then flee the ship only to freeze to death? Why not stay in the ship? The implication being that the occupant may have been trying to escape, or perhaps even kill the THING by killing himself, but this concept in never revisited or explored.

LS: I agree. They never explore this enough. One scene that really bugged me took place inside the space ship. The ship is gigantic—too big, I thought, it looks like the size of a small town—and yet it only has one occupant? Why the hell is it so big? It certainly doesn’t have to be. There’s no logic to it.

MA: Which reinforces what I was just talking about. The ship was gigantic because it might have held an entire crew, a crew that was wiped out by the THING, but I’m only speculating here because the movie dropped the ball and didn’t follow this up with any degree of satisfaction. They throw out that brief hint in one bit of dialogue, and then never go back there.

LS: Yeah, they dropped the ball on that.

And a showdown with a monster inside the ship reminded me an awful lot of the end of SUPER 8, which came out earlier this year and had a better story than this movie, even if THE THING has a cooler-looking monster.

I saw the trailer for THE THING something like ten times over the past few months. They kept hyping this one, and frankly it looked good to me. But I was mostly let down by the actual movie itself. It takes its time in the beginning, moving at a slow pace as it sets up the storyline. Once the action begins, it seems kind of repetitious, as I mentioned, and then the ending is kind of dumb.

The monsters look great, but it wasn’t enough to save this movie. I was disappointed. It was better than last week’s REAL STEEL, but not as good as some movies we gave three knives to. So I have to give this one at least two and a half knives out of five. But man, it could have been so much better than this.

MA: It could have been a helluva lot better than this!

To me, the fault lies with the director of this movie, Matthis van Heijningen Jr., and the screenwriter, Eric Heisser, because the biggest problem with THE THING is it lacks creativity and imagination…

LS: Starting with the completely poorly thought out title.

MA: …and oh yeah, scares. Guess what, folks, your movie looks pretty good, but guess what you forgot to include? Scares!!! How about making this one scary, huh? Not happening.

I was really excited to see THE THING—really into it! I kept thinking, I can’t wait to see how this will be tied into the John Carpenter movie. And I even enjoyed the beginning of this movie, as I was into its storyline, and I was enjoying its characters, and later, once the THING makes its appearance, I enjoyed that too.

LS: Since Carpenter’s movie, the THING itself has become kind of a cult monster. It definitely has its fan base, and I think there was bound to be another movie about it eventually —and here we have it. If nothing else, I hope this movie does well, just so that they expand on THE THING franchise, and maybe hire better talented directors and screenwriters if they make more movies, to take this concept into more interesting directions. Because it has a lot of untapped potential.

MA: As the movie plodded along, from one unimaginative non-creative scene to the next, I realized, this really isn’t going anywhere, and this really isn’t all that creative. I’ve seen this all before, and better, in the John Carpenter movie, and so, slowly, things began to go downhill, and they continued to go downhill, tumbling all the way down to its conclusion, which you so correctly described as dumb!

If this had been released a couple of years after the original, it would have been easily dismissed as an inferior sequel, or “prequel.” Right now, the best thing it has going for it is its connection to the 1982 movie, and the excitement surrounding it, but the problem is there’s barely a connection, and so it’s one more reason not to like this movie.

The other thing really missing from this film that worked so well in the Carpenter version is the sense of paranoia the characters go through— who’s the THING? Who’s human? These questions, and the fear that went with them, dominated Carpenter’s movie. The characters— grown men— were scared shitless about this.

In this movie, we hardly get that sense of paranoia at all. Towards the end, it gets a little better in the paranoia department, but not much, and the characters never seem as terrified here as they were in the Carpenter movie.

At the end of this movie, someone in the audience shouted, “That sucked!” which is never a good sign, and at the very end when we finally hear Ennio Morricone’s music from the Carpenter version, someone else shouted, “Now, that’s what I’m talking about!”, and that about says it all. We wanted a connection to the 1982 film and didn’t get one until it was way too late.

LS: One more thing. After the end credits start, stick around for a bit, because there’s an “extra” scene during the credits.

MA: I give this new version of THE THING two knives, and I give it that much because I liked the special effects and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the lead role, but the story and all-around creativity behind this one aren’t very good.

Well, that’s that.

LS: Yes it is.

MA: Can we go someplace warmer now?

LS: Yep, but first— (LS’s body suddenly explodes, as a tentacle, toothy monster breaks out of his body.)

MA: Oh my God, you were really THE THING all along!

(THE THING’s tentacled head and body suddenly explode, and after some strange contortions, becomes LS again.)

MA: I think THE THING just met its match. Are you okay?

LS: Never felt better! Let’s go get some snow cones.

MA: Okay, folks, we’ll see you again next week, and hopefully we’ll be in a warmer climate. See you then!

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE THING (2011) ~ two knives

L.L. Soares gives THE THING (2011) ~ two and a half knives


Quick Cuts: What’s Your Favorite GIANT BUG Movie? (Part 5 of 5)

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2011, Giant Insects, Giant Spiders, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Quick Cuts with tags , , on July 22, 2011 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS (Part 5 of 5)

Summer is here, which means the bugs are back.  So, this time on QUICK CUTS, we’re asking, What’s your favorite giant bug movie?

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Our final answer comes from

MARK ONSPAUGH:

For me, THEM! (1954) is king… But I also love BEGINNING OF THE END (1957), a Bert I. Gordon wonder with Peter Graves (the entomologist) and Peggy Castle (the journalist). Together they find that an experiment to grow huge grain has also given a steroid boost to… grasshoppers!  Naturally the big fellahs are carnivorous, and have a creepy screech they make when attacking… One particularly grisly scene involves Frank, a deaf mute (Than Wyenn) silently screaming as he is attacked and devoured by a leviathan named Jiminy.

A “highlight” of the many low-budget effects is the use of postcards to stand in for the city of Chicago, where seemingly huge grasshoppers crawl up skyscrapers before being lured out into Lake Michigan to drown…

Also fun is THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957) from director Nathan Juran and featuring Craig Stevens (TV’s PETER GUNN) against a giant praying mantis that was frozen in the Arctic… The giant puppet mantis is actually pretty scary for the time… Until he flies – then he looks like some errant Rose Parade float with tiny, fluttering wings…  1957 was a banner year for bugs!