Archive for the Cold War Chills Category

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Inhabits the REFUGE OF FEAR (1974)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2013, Cold War Chills, Lady Anachronism's Fallout Shelter, Post-Apocalypse Movies, Radiation, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns with tags , , , , , , on January 23, 2013 by knifefighter

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Inhabits the
REFUGE OF FEAR (1974)
By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Refugeoffear

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.

It’s hard to make a boring film about nuclear annihilation, but REFUGE OF FEAR (1974), which was also called CREATION OF THE DAMNED, makes surviving a nuclear holocaust seem like the dullest fate imaginable.

The bomb has already been dropped when we meet the two couples surviving underground in a sophisticated shelter. We witness the survivors—Carol (the lovely Patty Shepard) and her husband Arthur (Fernando Hilbeck), Margie (Teresa Gimpera), her husband Robert (Craig Hill) and their son Chris (Pedro Mari Sanchez) —playing billiards, chatting, and having impromptu striptease shows. There’s actually no full nudity, which means the first hour of the film is pretty boring.

Chris attempts to contact other survivors over the radio, with no initial success. The group watches a Geiger counter to see if the radiation levels go down enough to leave the shelter.

The group begins fighting, mostly over petty things. Boredom sets in. Arthur develops an addiction to pills. Carol starts taking her clothes off and dancing provocatively for the group’s entertainment.

The survivors discover their pet cat dead. Robert, being the strict military man he is, skins and cooks up the cat. They can’t afford to waste anything, he tells Arthur.

Meanwhile, Chris is able to find another faction of survivors over the radio. They keep him updated on the radiation levels. Knowing that others have survived is of little comfort. They’re unable to leave. The air is still poisonous.

Eventually, boredom and her husband’s whininess drive Carol to have an affair with Chris, who is much younger and much more studly than Arthur. Carol taunts Arthur that her period is late. Arthur puts two and two together and tells the whole group that Carol is pregnant with Chris’s child.

Things become extremely tense in the shelter, so Chris leaves for the surface. We get a brief glimpse of the impact of the bomb. Chris enters a home, only to discover the fried and decomposed bodies of the former residents. Chris succumbs to the radiation and drops dead.

Back in the shelter, Arthur dies. Robert is convinced he committed suicide over the news of Carol’s illegitimate baby. Carol thinks Robert killed him. She’s so convinced that he’s a killer that she ties him up and holds him hostage. His wife, Margie, doesn’t seem to mind any of this.

Robert escapes. The three remaining members of the group try to get along, but Robert murders Margie, leaving him alone with Carol. He tries to control her, even going as far as drugging and raping her.

Carol eventually fights back. She keeps hearing someone over Chris’s radio. The other faction of survivors comes over the airwaves to tell them that the radiation levels have improved enough for them to leave. Robert doesn’t want to leave. He’s afraid Carol will go to the authorities and tell them that he killed Arthur and Margie. He attempts to kill her, but she locks herself into a room. She finds a gun and shoots through the door, killing Robert.

In the final scene, which seems odd and out of place, we see the whole gang back before the bomb hit, having a barbecue and discussing the construction of the bomb shelter. It’s a bizarre way to end the film.

REFUGE OF FEAR drags on at times. The characters are forgettable for the most part. The film could have been about half an hour long, and it would have been much more effective. We do see some tension, but tempers never fully boil over, which would have made the movie more exciting. People mostly snip at each other and storm off. It’s almost like a feature-length Spanish soap opera.

The one interesting thing about REFUGE OF FEAR is that it is a Spanish film about a nuclear weapon striking the United States. It’s a unique choice. Other Spanish films have addressed a nuclear weapon striking Europe, including Leon Klimovsky’s far superior THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976).

Despite its failings, the film captures the very real paranoia of the United States during the Cold War. People did build underground bomb shelters. People did stockpile food and medications. REFUGE OF FEAR is a solid example of the fact that the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union troubled the whole world.

© Copyright 2013 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

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.)

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Makes Room for WHO? (1973)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Cold War Chills, Cyborgs, Lady Anachronism's Fallout Shelter, Science Fiction, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns with tags , , , , , on July 17, 2012 by knifefighter

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Presents:
WHO? (1973)
Movie Review by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

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.

It’s a scorching-hot summer, so it’s the perfect time to chill out with some Cold War concoctions.

Unless you’re a young whippersnapper, you probably remember a time when Americans feared nuclear attack from our most dreaded enemy, the Soviet Union. Communism was a threat that led to the construction of bomb shelters. Most schoolchildren participated in bomb drills that involved ducking and covering under their desks. Even into the 1980s, when I was in elementary school, there was a sense of dread that the Russians could attack at any time. Would we be able to retaliate? How much time did we have? Should we make the first strike? Espionage, intrigue, and fear made this a great time to make films or write books.

 

WHO? (1973)—which was also called ROBO MAN—is based on the phenomenal 1958 Algis Budrys novel “Who?” The film opens with two cars driving along, one of which seems to be pushing the other off the road. There’s a horrific crash. We discover that the lone survivor of this crash was an American scientist named Lucas Martino (Joseph Bova), who has sustained severe injuries. The Soviets save his life. His skull was crushed, necessitating a metal helmet-type apparatus over his cranium and face. A chest plate keeps his heart beating, and a metallic arm was used to replace the missing limb.

A group of American government agents are then seen waiting outside of a gated area, discussing Dr. Martino’s return to America. As Martino is led to the Allied outpost, the men discover, to their horror, that Martino is now a metallic man. His facial features are obscured by this mask. FBI agent Sean Rogers (Elliott Gould) is unconvinced that the metal man is really Martino. He believes his archenemy, Colonel Azarin (Trevor Howard), is handing over a Russian spy instead.

Unless you’ve read the novel (and maybe even if you have), the opening sequences of this film are confusing. The film deviates from the book substantially in that Martino is disfigured in an explosion while working on his secret K-88 project in the novel. This gives the Soviets a more plausible motive for wanting to keep Martino alive. The film version of Martino is also working on a secret project called Project Neptune, but there seems to be no connection between the automobile accident that nearly killed him and that project. There’s no solid explanation given for why Martino’s car was pushed off the road.

Martino is not immediately returned to the United States. Instead, he (and the audience) endures endless interrogation. Rogers keeps him in a small room in an Allied facility to learn his true identity. He’s convinced that Azarin either sent a Russian spy in Martino’s place or brainwashed the real Martino into spying for the Russians. This film (and the book, for that matter), would have been extremely short and pointless today. Even if the Soviet Union still existed, DNA testing would solve this matter quickly. Fingerprinting was certainly a widely used identification method even in the 1950s, but this is dismissed by Rogers. He’s so skeptical that he believes Martino’s one natural arm might be someone else’s.

In flashbacks, we get glimpses of Martino’s interrogation by the Soviets. We also learn about his early life, his loves, and his brilliant mind. Bova does the best he can with the material he’s given. He manages to give emotion to Martino, a man whose own expressions are veiled in mystery. Being able to emote under a ridiculous metal mask is a remarkable feat, but sadly one that couldn’t save WHO? from being a snooze-fest.

Even so, WHO? could have been an amazing film. Budrys’s novel is a thrilling, fast-paced mystery, despite the obsolete circumstances. Even though we know that the Soviet Union no longer exists and DNA testing would clear up any doubts about Dr. Martino’s identity, Budrys was such an amazing storyteller that even a modern reader wonders right up until the end about the man beneath the metal helmet. After an hour of insisting that he’s really Martino, viewers of the film will probably stop caring. Too much time is given in the film to interrogation and Rogers’s own skepticism. The real suspense in the novel comes when Martino is finally released back into society. Had they released a spy? The FBI had to keep tabs on this man because they believed him to be a real threat. It’s to the film’s disadvantage that it focuses on questioning rather than exploring the real fear of unleashing a potential enemy upon the populace.

About an hour into the film, something interesting finally happens, something unintentionally hilarious. A car chase, complete with bass- and guitar-heavy 1970s-style car chase music, ensues just before Martino is put on a plane to return to the U.S. Some bad guys of unknown and unexplained origin start shooting at the plane. This chase feels tacked-on even by 1970s car chase standards. I won’t ruin the one interesting part of WHO? for you, but I will tell you that it really doesn’t advance the plot of the film.

Martino makes it back to America, Miami to be exact. In the novel, Martino lived in New York. New York seems more appropriate. The metal-headed man seems oddly out of place among the palm trees. If a cyborg could blend in anywhere, it would be New York City. He wants to go back to work on Project Neptune, but he’s being tailed by the FBI and isn’t cleared to go back to work.

One of the many problems I have with the film version of WHO? is the fact that several major plot points and the twist that Budrys spent a couple hundred pages setting up are kind of tossed together in the last 30 minutes. The first hour is boring and repetitive. The last 30 minutes feel as if the filmmakers remembered that they had to wrap this thing up, so they slapped some elements of the novel into the movie. Without the proper setup, however, it seems choppy, sloppy, and confusing.

If you’re looking for a refreshing taste of Cold War paranoia while relaxing on the beach this summer, pick up a copy of the book. It will make a lot more sense and keep you on the edge of your beach chair. The film is great if you’re ready for a nap.

© Copyright 2012 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel