Last Update 12/31/12

 

The Lost World  (1960)  

The Irwin Allen production of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel. Claude Rains is an excellent Professor Challenger, and I could watch Michael Rennie in almost anything. I can accept the feisty woman who arranges to go with the expedition, but the poodle is a bit much. The time frame is updated a bit; instead of scaling the plateau they land in a helicopter. There’s also a subplot in which the helicopter pilot has a grudge against Rennie, who is somewhat of a cad. The dinosaurs aren’t authentic looking; they’re actual lizards made to look oversized. Eventually they get captured by the local natives, then escape from the plateau. Okay, but not a lot actually happens and what does happen isn't very surprising. 12/31/12

The Cosmic Man (1959) 

This is another story of an alien visitor on Earth, thematically similar to The Day the Earth Stood Still. It opens with another common problem of cheap SF movies – the assumption that an unusual report would be investigated by the military instead of the police. The spaceship is a white, featureless sphere, so it didn’t strain the budget. Based on zero evidence, they decide it’s from another star system. Even then, civilians are able to wander into the site almost at will. The military decides it’s a potential weapon; the science guy pontificates about the misuse of technology.  Some of the dialogue is pretty bad – the soldiers all act like children. A semi transparent figure is spotted in the area – another very cheap special effect. Eventually the visitor shows up in a human disguise. There’s a precocious kid who drove me nuts, some bogus science, and a pointless subplot about tension between two of the characters. Star systems aren’t galaxies! Annoying and boring. 12/30/12

Dead Heat (1988)

This is actually a zombie movie, a police procedural, and a comedy. Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo are partners who are present when a pair of jewel thieves ignore dozens of bullet wounds, which leads to an investigation that has some unusual twists. Since I’ve always liked Treat Williams, I was ready to like this even before I saw it, and I was suitably rewarded.  The twosome discovers a secret laboratory with a zombie in residence, but Williams is killed during the ensuing battle. Piscopo and a friend use the machine to bring him back to life. Since the effect only works for 12 hours, he decides to find the mastermind behind the plot – and quickly. Most of what follows is played for laughs – particularly the animated butcher shop scene – interspersed with more straightforward action. With small roles by Vincent Price and Darren McGavin.  Cute joke – Williams’ name is Roger Mortis. Get it?  Not classic movie making but fun. 12/29/12

The Lost Missile (1958)  

This is another early SF movie I had never seen previously, and this one stars Robert Loggia, whom I’ve always liked, though this is not one of his best efforts. Not that there is much of a story. An apparently alien rocket is circling the Earth, incinerating everything in its path. The missile looks corny, the disaster effects are almost nonexistent and are totally unconvincing, and the actors sometimes appear to be sleepwalking. The romantic subplot is ludicrous and the motivations of the various characters make no sense at all. The soap opera scenes are particularly embarrassing. The sequence about civil defense preparations feels like a documentary spliced into the movie. It might have been better if I still hadn’t seen this one. 12/28/12

The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey (2012) 

The lukewarm reviews of this lowered my expectations, which may be why I liked it more than I expected to. There’s no question that it is a bit bloated. The battle in the goblin city went on entirely too long, as did the impromptu dinner party at Bilbo’s house. The nature of the story means that there are going to be a great many characters, too many for us to get to know them very well as we did in the Ring movies. Christopher Lee and Ian McKellan are as good as I expected and the rest of the cast does well. Scenery and special effects are also quite good. I suspect that if people had not already seen the Ring movies they would have liked this better, but it necessarily invites comparisons that are going to be less than kind. 12/27/12

The Woman Eater (1958)  

A very politically incorrect horror movie about a scientist who brings back a man eating tree from the jungle. Actually, as the title suggests it only eats women for some reason. Back in civilization, he feeds women to it because the plant holds the secret of a serum that brings the dead to life, or at least so he thinks. He is also obsessed with a young woman, which ultimately leads to his downfall. The acting is better than you might expect and the script is fairly lively despite the silly premise. Low budget but reasonably good despite that. 12/26/12

Return of the Mummy (1996)

Attack of the Mutant (1996)

Each of these consists of three episodes of the Goosebumps television show. It was designed for kids so there's not much sophistication to the plots, which are often silly. Some of them are bad even by those standards with plots that make no sense, no cause and effect relationships, random events, unexplained motives and plot twists. The title story of the first is particularly bad, although the other two are among the better episodes, particularly "You Can't Scare Me" which pits a too smart student against two envious rivals. The second has two related episodes about a comic book character coming to life which are easily the worst of the lot. The third is a version of The Phantom of the Opera that is too rushed and unfocused. Some of the child actors are reasonably good, but most come across as awkward and self conscious. 12/25/12

Night of the Blood Beast (1958)  

An early Roger Corman which I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before. After a really bad opening sequence involving a crashing astronaut, we discover that an alien life form has somehow infected his now dead body. The search crew for the downed ship consists of two people in a jeep! The entire installation only has half a dozen people and their radio isn’t working – for some reason they don’t have a telephone. While the body refuses to deteriorate, a bearlike creature is sighted outside the facility. Bogus science – they decide they’re surrounded by static electricity, which creates a magnetic field and shorts out all electrical devices. One of the scientists is killed, after which the supposedly dead astronaut becomes animate again. Enter a very silly looking monster who wants to infect humans with its young. There’s so much nonsense after this I won’t bother to list the plot holes, contradictions, and confusion. I can’t believe this got many favorable reviews on IMDB. 12/24/12

The Screaming Skull  (1958)

A gimmick movie – anyone who died of fright in the theater was guaranteed a free burial. Not much chance they’d have to pay off. A newly married couple arrive at the man’s late wife’s home, after which she begins to see strange and frightening things. Suspicion is supposed to fall on the gardener, who is not quite right mentally, but we all know it’s the husband who is responsible. Bad special effects, bad acting, mediocre script, and worst of all it’s actually rather boring until quite near the end. A very low budget film – the cast consists of five people and there’s really only one set, so don’t get your hopes up. 12/23/12

Quatermass and the Pit  (1958)  

The third Quatermass movie was originally a television serial, much longer than the theatrical version, which I have seen on VHS but which has not to my knowledge ever appeared in DVD format. A strange artifact is discovered beneath London which turns out to be a Martian spaceship which, despite the death of its Martian occupants, is still capable of affecting human minds within its range, causing the bulk of the population of London to turn on the minority which does not conform. It’s the best of the series despite some less than satisfactory special effects. The longer BBC serial version is also available on videocassette but is hard to find. I think it's slightly better than the theatrical release.12/22/12

I Bury the Living (1958)  

Although this is a very low budget movie, it’s one that scared me when I first saw it and which I have enjoyed several times since. Richard Boone is managing a cemetery where the empty and occupied plots are represented on a map by different colored flags. When he accidentally puts a dead flag on a live grave, the prospective occupant dies that night. He thinks that it’s a coincidence, but when he tries again, the same thing happens. His run through the graveyard is very nicely done and I never suspected what was actually happening.  This is a minor classic that I think has been consistently underrated ever since it appeared. Overt gore and special effects are not necessary to have a really creepy product. 12/21/12

Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958)   

This was an attempt to update the Frankenstein story to modern day California. A scientist (with no acting ability whatsoever) has hired an obnoxious lab assistant who is actually a descendant of Frankenstein who has been conducting experiments of his own, which result in severely deformed women. He has also constructed a body out of dead parts, but he needs a head. The head can’t act either. In fact, almost no one has any talent, and the ones who do have to repeat lines so inane that they must have felt foolish. The villain gives injections to our heroine which make her change into a hideous monster, but he fortunately has an antidote to bring her back before the police can catch her. Bad enough to be funny at times.  At one point he sews on the new head with a needle and thread, assisted by the gardener. It also has one of the all time best chauvinist lines. “Now we know that a female brain is conditioned to a man’s world and will take orders where the other one didn’t.” At one point one of the actors pops his blood capsule BEFORE he gets injured. Fun, but for the wrong reasons. 12/20/12

The Flame Barrier  (1958)  

A very dumb and low quality SF movie. An experimental spaceship loses “its gravity” so is presumed to have disintegrated.  Meanwhile a woman approaches an American in South America about finding her husband, lost on an expedition into the jungle to find the space capsule, which her husband thinks may have crashed there. The local natives are uneasy; something strange is happening in the jungle. The first half of the movie is a mediocre jungle adventure of no particular merit. Eventually they find the camp of the original expedition, but there’s no one around, and one of the natives spontaneously combusts! They find the capsule, which was contaminated with life from outer space which is growing and emitting a dangerous field. They destroy it with one of the cheapest special effects ever seen. Really bad. 12/19/12

Forget Me Not (2009)  

Another story of a group of teenagers menaced by malice of a person they injured in the past, eliminated one by one until the truth is revealed. As is usually the case, all of the high school kids are played by older actors, although for a change three of them are 19 or less. On the other hand, at least two others are 24 and don’t look the part even remotely. There’s an orgy scene that not only doesn’t seem like high school students, it doesn’t seem to be human beings. People just don’t interact that way – although obviously they do have the capacity to be entirely unconvincing actors.  Despite the copious sexual activity throughout the movie, there is no nudity – the female characters wear clothing even while having sex. The plot does have an interesting embellishment. The people who are eliminated are immediately forgotten by everyone except the protagonist. What little character development there is only made me consider the characters repellent jerks, so there was no chance of any emotional involvement when they begin to die. At one point they even shoplift a convenience store. On the other hand, the acting is well above par and some of the camera work is very impressive during the scare sequences. I didn’t like the ending particularly but my attention didn’t wander at all after the first half hour. 12/18/12

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

This one – the first sequel to the original movie - is also known as Gigantis the Fire Monster. The dvd I have contains both the original Japanese version with subtitles and the American version, dubbed in part by George Takei, which uses the music from Kronos for some reason. The plot, such as it is, consists of Godzilla and Anguirus, a spiky dinosaur type, fighting their way through the Japanese countryside and laying waste to a city. Technically “anguirus” is the collective term for all the fire monsters, including Godzilla.  The dialogue and science as presented in the US version are laughably ignorant and silly. There’s a subplot about some escaped convicts but that’s more of a distraction than a contribution. 12/17/12

The 27th Day (1958)

From the novel by John Mantley, his only published fiction as far as I know. Aliens come to Earth and kidnap a selected group of people. Each of the five is given a capsule that could wipe out a major part of the human race. The aliens want to occupy Earth but have moral qualms about conquest, so they decide to let us do it ourselves. The aliens are completely human and the spaceships are actually scenes from Earth vs the Flying Saucers.  Despite the low budget, this is surprisingly good though a bit slow, with a good cast, an interesting premise, and a reasonably good script. The five are from different countries including the US, Soviet Union, and Communist China. To make things difficult, the aliens announce to everyone on Earth the names of the five people and details about the power they possess. It’s a little preachy and the villainous Russians are a bit over the top, but it’s surprisingly entertaining. It does, however, ignore an obvious point. The Russians threaten to attack the US unless Europe is evacuated. The obvious response is to move the alien weapon in American hands to an undisclosed location outside North America, which would counter the threat. The ending, however, is sappy and annoying. 12/17/12

Stay Alive (2006)

The killer video game gets a slight twist in this one. If you die playing a new video game, you die similarly in real life. A group of people playing this multiplayer underground release – which looks a lot like Silent Hill – discover that they have to solve the secret without losing their player lives. The game story involves a distorted version of Elizabeth Bathory, the woman who bathed in the blood of virgins, but it’s set in the US for some reason. The acting is well above average and the suspense sequences are generally very effective. Unfortunately, the plot leaves something to be desired. None of the six players are bothered by the fact that the game responds to spoken commands during the opening sequence or that objects in the world around them are physically moved by causes within the game! There’s also a problem with the soundtrack, which is so indistinct that there were several places where I couldn’t tell what the characters were saying. One point in the movie’s favor is that most of the characters are neutral to likeable rather than the self centered semi-villains that populate most recent horror movies of this variety. At one point the characters know that the first victim was hanged (hanged not “hung”) in the game just before he died, but there’s no way they could have known that since he didn’t tell anyone while he was alive. At another point, they state that five people have died after playing the game, but it is actually six at that point. Plot problems notwithstanding, this is pretty good and there are a few clever bits toward the end. 12/16/12

I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) 

Tom Tryon runs into an alien who takes his place – shapechanging - on his wedding day.  There are some logic holes. If the alien has all of the protagonist’s memories, than why doesn’t he know what thunder is? A year later the wife still has no clue that things are not what they appear to be. A second alien shows up at that point, taking over another body. It turns out other people are being taken as part of a secret invasion. The wife finally discovers that something is wrong and observes one of the aliens and their spacecraft. No one believes her. No surprise there. Not awful, but not a lot going on and the special effects are trivial. The aliens seem capable of violating the law of conservation of mass and energy, and they’re immune to bullets. They’ve come to Earth hoping to find a way to impregnate human women and perpetuate their dying race. Almost fell asleep during this one. 12/15/12

Men in Black 3 (2012)   

The third in this series is much like the first two, although perhaps a bit darker in tone. An alien killer has traveled back through time to kill Tommy Lee Jones, thereby preventing the establishment of a shield that protects Earth from an alien attack. Will Smith is sent back to foil his plans and meets the younger version of Jones, played by Josh Brolin to absolute perfection. We also learn some secrets about the past of both characters that are nicely worked into the plot. The special effects are great, of course, but it’s the dialogue and the interaction among the three main characters that really carry the movie. The villain isn’t bad either. A worthy continuation of one of my favorite franchises. 12/14/12

Fiend Without a Face (1958) 

I never liked the title of this one but it’s one of my favorite B movies. Something invisible is attacking villagers in a remote part of Canada near an air force base. The creatures, manifestations of a reclusive scientist’s experiments with mind projection, eventually become visible. They are essentially human brains and spinal cords that move like inchworms and eat the brain of their victims. Great sound effects in this one as well as above average acting. Among the more original monsters from the movies, although this is actually based on a story from Weird Tales by Amelia Reynolds Long, published back in the 1930s. Ages quite well. 12/14/12

The Crawling Eye (1958)

A not entirely bad monster film that opens with a mountain climber being mysteriously beheaded in the Bavarian Alps. Janet Munro is a telepathic tourist who has strange visions connected to the mountain. An American investigator is has been asked to investigate by a local scientist. He learns that there have been several disappearances on the mountain, which the authorities ascribe to accidents but the populace at large suspects have a more sinister explanation. There’s also a radioactive cloud that seems to move purposefully. Another man is killed and his companion becomes a homicidal maniac. The alien consists of a gigantic eye and some very unconvincing tentacles when it finally attacks a small group of humans openly, including our heroes. Despite the minimal and clumsy special effects, the last half hour of the movie is genuinely creepy. 12/13/12

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

I decided to take a break from bad movies and watch a better one. Katie Holmes stars in this creepy haunted house variation. She’s the girlfriend of an architect restoring an old house in rural Rhode Island when his ex-wife sends their young daughter to stay with him. As we know from a brief prologue, something in the house steals children, and it isn’t long before she’s hearing whispered voices, finds a walled up basement, and is blamed for vandalism she didn’t commit. The critters are a kind of cross between rats and gnomes and there are a lot of them. The father turns out to be pretty much a cad but his girlfriend discovers the truth in time to save the day. A couple of minor plot problems – no one seems to pay attention to the fact that the groundskeeper has multiple stab wounds; they just refer to it as an accident. Some of the night scenes are so dark it’s impossible to see what’s happening. It falters toward the end; even after Holmes is convinced that something really is after the girl, she repeatedly leaves her alone in the house. Although supposedly set in Providence, the sprawling library is not to be found anywhere in the state and in fact I doubt you could find any place as rural within the city limits. This reminded me of The Boogens, which I haven’t seen in years. Tense and generally well done. 12/12/12

The Brain from Planet Arous  (1958) 

John Agar saves the world again in this pretty silly minor alien invasion film. He’s exploring strange radiation readings when he encounters a mysterious cave inhabited by a disembodied flying brain with eyes! Agar is possessed by the evil alien but fortunately his wife becomes host to a benevolent one which wants to save the Earth from domination by its ambitious fellow creature. The good alien spends most of his time possessing the body of the family dog. Not as bad as it might have been, but since it might have been far worse, that’s not much of a compliment. The evil brain’s dialogue is particularly bad and Agar’s acting is below even his usual standards. I’m surprised there was any scenery left at the end considering how much the actors ate during the filming. The aliens have extraordinary powers – apparently including an ability to turn the script writer into a blithering idiot.  12/11/12

Cosmic Monsters (1958)   

Also known as The Strange World of Planet X.  This one takes a long time to get going. An experimental station is having unusual problems with its equipment, which sometimes seems to operate even after it has been turned off. Then a strange man shows up in the area, obviously an alien. The clumsy and unconvincing romantic subplot is, as is usually the case in movies of this type, totally unnecessary. Eventually there are some mysterious deaths but we don’t see who or what is responsible. The alien visitor wants to warn people that the experiments have allowed cosmic rays to penetrate the atmosphere and create giant mutant insects. Real insects are superimposed to create the very bad special effects.  Minor, and rather dull. 12/10/12

Alien Armageddon (2011) 

Another movie bad enough to be funny although it goes on too long. It's one of a recent spate of movies about an alien invasion. In this case the Nephilim have bombarded the earth for 44 days, destroying every city except Los Angeles – although for some reason the radio and television service has not been interrupted.  California’s governor capitulates and L.A. is established as their capital, surrounded by a wall. Some of the early visuals are almost convincing but most of them are so bad that they are laughable. The aliens eat their captives but we don’t taste good so they’re trying to genetically modify us. All of the individual elements are atrocious – acting, script, science, special effects, sound recording, etc. There are a few gross out shots, lots of explosions and gunfights, and that’s probably why audiences didn’t fall asleep. 12/9/12

The Blob (1958)   

The best of the blob movies, although the remake with Shawnee Smith was pretty good too. This one has the great theme song and a good cast as well. Steve McQueen is the teenager, who tries too hard with his rather too innocent to be true girlfriend, when they see a falling star. They try to find it but instead run into an injured man with a big glob of jelly on his arm. When they take him to a doctor, the doctor gets eaten as well, so there’s no one to corroborate their story to the skeptical police. So the local teens have to take things into their own hands. The climax at the movie theater is great. The special effects aren’t anything special, but in this case they don’t need to be. The no one believes us plot has been used many times since and has become a cliché but this is one case where it works. 12/8/12

The Brain Eaters (1958) 

A quasi-ripoff of The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein, with Leonard Nimoy (as Leonard Nemoy).  Parasites take control of various people in a small town after an alien object that looks a lot like a spaceship appears in the woods. The soundtrack is both thematically inappropriate and too loud. The object is described as fifty feet high but when a man is shown standing beside it, clearly it’s much shorter than that. Much of the story consists of people moving their mouths while a narrator tells you what they said. That’s actually a plus since the acting is so bad.  Bad science, poor logic, and primitive special effects are the final nails in the coffin. There’s no sense of how to tell a story, build suspense, or generate a realistic situation. 12/8/12

Invasion of the Saucer Men  (1957)   

A sometimes humorous teenagers vs the aliens movie. A flying saucer lands, after which two teenagers run down an alien by accident late one night. It’s not actually dead and its detached hand wanders off by itself. The police won’t belief them – of course not – and the only adults who know the truth is a ne’er do well whom no one trusts. The jokes are mostly obvious and silly. The aliens replace their dead comrade with a human, the kids get arrested, break jail and steal a police car that happens to have the animated hand in the back seat. There’s even a battle between an alien and a cow. It all turns out all right at the end. The aliens’ poison is actually just alcohol and their victims are drunk, not dead. Mildly amusing. 12/7/12

Project Moonbase (1953)  

The screenplay for this very short film was co-written by Robert A. Heinlein which means that it has reasonably good science although the comic book communist spies are laughable. The President and the first person in space are both women. The US has built a space station but the enemy wants to sabotage it. To that end, they have recruited duplicates of three hundred leading scientists who might be sent to the station, hoping to replace at least one of them. Eventually they do place a ringer, hence the story.  The special effects are really bad – the model spaceship wiggles from side to side during takeoff.  The spy gets aboard a flight to circumnavigate the moon and tries to take control, presumably so he can crash it into the space station – killing himself in the process. This results in an unplanned moon landing. Since they don’t have enough fuel, a rescue mission is underway but they are ordered to consider themselves the first moonbase. Silliness, chauvinism – the female pilot acts like a child throughout and the male lead gets promoted past her for no discernible reason, and kind of flat. 12/6/12

The Deadly Mantis  (1957)   

A giant bug movie, as if you couldn’t figure that out without my telling you. An oversized prehistoric mantis thaws out when the ice is disturbed in the Arctic. It eats a bunch of soldiers before heading south for better hunting grounds. A paleontologist, a magazine editor, and the military team up to identify and track the menace. Special effects are not awful except during the flying sequences. Eventually it shelters in one of the tunnels to Manhattan and our hero leads a squad that uses poison gas to kill it. A good if typical example of its type, and it’s nice to see Craig Stevens outside his Peter Gunn role. 12/5/12

The Tall Man (2012)  

Although this is marketed as horror, it’s not, it’s a thriller with some really nicely done twists that unfortunately make it hard to review it without giving too much away. The setting is a dying town in rural Washington state where children have been disappearing, supposedly taken by the Tall Man. There are a few minor plot problems but for the most part the story is well conceived and laid out, although it leaves a lot of questions unanswered and poses some ethical questions that I think have a pretty definite answer, even though the film tries to make them ambiguous. It’s a very dark thriller that is intense without gore or sex but it falls short of being great in part because it’s so depressing, and in part because it doesn’t have a clear axis of good and evil, which can be effective in some situations but isn’t in this case. 12/4/12

Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957)  

This sequel really isn’t. Although the original is in a thematic sense a werewolf story, this one claims to be one overtly and states that Jekyll was framed, and as a werewolf not his own evil alter ego. A young woman discovers that she is the now dead scientist’s daughter and she begins to have hallucinations – or are they? – that she is a werewolf herself. The similarity to She Wolf of London was apparently almost immediately. She also discovers that her uncle and guardian is not rich after all, that the money is all hers. So it’s obvious who would benefit if she were to die or be declared insane. Except they don’t understand werewolves either, because we are told that the only way to kill a werewolf is to drive a stake through its heart.  There are numerous plot problems throughout. This goes steadily downhill, and there wasn’t much uphill in the first place. 12/4/12

Snowmaggedon (2011)  

I like even mediocre disaster movies. This wasn’t that good, and in fact verges on the bad enough to be funny category. A sinister snow globe anticipates earthquakes, volcanoes, etc. besetting a small Alaskan town. I was already dubious because of the lousy special effects during the first earthquake, but when the police officer tells people to back up a few feet because of the danger of aftershocks, I almost choked on my lunch.  Then we learn that an experienced charter helicopter pilot doesn’t know which frequency to use to send out a distress call when a peculiar ice storm arises. The special effects occasionally rise to the level of the competent. Then a crashed helicopter, dismantled and strewn across a mountainside, spontaneously catches fire – from the outside – several minutes after the crash and with no source of combustion. Then there’s the two women freezing in the cold who never put the hoods up on their parkas. Need I say that the teenage daughter is actually 26?  And where did the title come from, given that there is no snow in the town at any time in the movie? The town, incidentally, consists of about ten people.  The final blow is that we never learn what the snowglobe was, who sent it, or why. 12/3/12

I Was a Teenage Frankenstein  (1957) 

You can probably come up with a pretty good summary of the plot of this one even without having seen it. Dr. Frankenstein is a visiting professor whose theories of reanimation meet with skepticism, prompting him to prove them by conducting a dramatic and forbidden experiment. A fortuitously fatal automobile accident involving a teenage boy provides the opportunity.  Although the mad doctor shows his human side at times, he deliberately uses pain to condition his subject and is clearly interested in power and prestige rather than scientific advancement. He also keeps an alligator in his basement for disposal of extra parts. The body which he stole has major injuries so he resorts to grave robbing to fill in the gaps. So the monster has the hands of a wrestler and one leg from a football star. “Speak. You have a civil tongue in your head. I know because I sewed it back myself.”  The monster is essentially just a man with his head wrapped in bandages until halfway through when we see a rather silly mask. The monster escapes, mayhem results, the creature eventually turns on his master and is subsequently destroyed.  For some reason, the last minute of the film is in color. Yawn. 12/2/12

I Was a Teenage Werewolf  (1957)   

Michael Landon stars in the title role of this above average teen monster movie. He’s a teen with an anger management problem. He and his friends – who are all actually in their twenties – aren’t even a good simulation of teens of the 1950s, with some really bad pretend rock and roll music. He goes to a psychologist who decides to perform a dangerous experiment in regression therapy to bring out the boy’s primitive side. He succeeds all too well. A sudden sound triggers a transformation into a fairly convincing werewolf mask, but he’s immediately identified and becomes a fugitive. Predictably he returns to kill the man responsible before meeting his own semi-tragic doom – regular bullets do just fine in this case. Actually not bad, though minor. 12/2/12

It Conquered the World (1956)   

This bad horror film has a good cast, Peter Graves, Beverly Garland, and Lee Van Cleef, but they can’t save a doomed project. Van Cleef is a disgraced scientist who claims that launching satellites will bring down alien wrath upon the world. It turns out he is in communication with an alien from Venus, who temporarily steals the satellite and uses it to come to Earth. Van Cleef thinks the alien is benevolent, but of course it isn’t. The alien is a kind of cross between a crab and a turnip and somehow it brings all mechanical activity to a half around the world. It also generates batlike things to take control of key people. Although I haven’t seen this since high school, I remembered it as being badly done and simple minded. My memory in this case was excellent. 12/1/12

The Barrens (2012)  

It’s surprising how quickly you can decide that some horror movies aren’t worth watching, usually just a couple of minutes. Then there are those which start out competently enough that you don’t know what to expect. This was one of those latter, opening with two campers finding a pile of viscera and a dying deer before the opening credits, a sequence genuinely creepy without being over the top. The story after the credits did not start well. An obviously mentally troubled man takes his wife, son, and daughter on a camping trip in the wilds of New Jersey. Alas, I didn’t find any of them particularly interesting, I didn’t think they could act as well as the first two, and the sound turned fuzzy and indistinct. The daughter reads about the Jersey Devil, which the father ridicules. What follows is mostly ambiguous. Is he being stalked by the Devil or is he having a breakdown?  Did the other camper run into a bear, the Devil, or did the protagonist kill her during a blackout?  There’s also the suggestion that a dog bite has given the man rabies. The seventeen year old girl is played, not very convincingly, by a 24 year old.  This should have been better than it was; it never quite came together for me even though the individual elements are well done. It definitely went on too long; I got very tired of watching people stagger, run, or crawl through the woods. And too much of the plot relies on people not telling people things they should have. Why, for example, would a man be bitten by a dog foaming at the mouth, but not tell his wife or seek medical help even though the wound is large and bleeding, for at least two weeks. Lousy end as well. 11/30/12

Creature with the Atom Brain (1955)  

A scientist has developed a way to animate dead bodies, but he is under the power of a gangster who wants revenge against his enemies including rival crooks and the prosecutor who went after him. Richard Denning is the star, so this wasn’t a total loss. The police figure out who is behind the killings and try to protect the other potential targets. Predictably the fugitives decide to target one of the police investigators in order to find out where the police have concealed the last two intended victims, but only after instigating a reign of terror that causes multiple deaths. You can tell how bad the villains are; they pull a little girl’s doll apart. Supposedly the operators can see things through the eyes of their zombie servants, but sometimes the camera angle is clearly external. 11/29/12

Greystone Park (2012)

This one claims to be based on a true story, which is almost certainly a lie even though the supernatural element is ambiguous. It follows the pattern of the Blair Witch Project, without the good parts, and I didn’t think there were any good parts in BWP.  Three film makers break into an abandoned mental hospital – what a clever idea! – where they are startled by a strange noise. They walk around and are startled by a strange noise. They run around and are startled by a strange noise. They begin to wonder if they are imagining it or if it is something paranormal, and are startled by a strange noise. And so forth and so on. I can’t imagine anyone involved with this production taking any pride in their work. I’d wear a bag over my head and use an assumed name. 11/28/12

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955)  

The phantom of the title is one of the hokiest rubber suit monsters of all time, but I can make allowances for that. It lurks in the waters near a maritime institute, one of whose scientists is acting strangely, and there are traces of radioactivity in the water. Where have I heard this plot before?  The murky plot involves the development of a working death ray from an undersea deposit of radioactive materials which also cause mutations. The creature lives just a few seconds dive below the surface so the title is, shall we say, an exaggeration? There’s actually more about the spies and their intrigues than the monster. “Nature has many secrets that man mustn’t disturb. This was one of them.”  Nonsense.  11/27/12

The Snow Creature (1954)

An expedition sets out to the Himalayas to study rare forms of plant life. Much of the earlier part of the film is narrated and has no dialogue. The wife of their guide is kidnapped by yetis, although the westerners initially don’t believe it. Eventually they capture a male of the species and send it back to the United States in an ice cooler, but the authorities cannot decide whether it is a person or an animal so it hovers in limbo long enough for the creature to make its escape. The sherpas all speak Japanese among themselves, which suggests where this was actually filmed. The yeti costume – this was probably the first film in which one appeared – is hideously bad. It looks like a man wrapped in a rug. It probably was.  Horrid acting, but that’s almost a given. This one is of historical interest only. 11/26/12

The Beast with a Million Eyes  (1955) 

The spoken introduction to this dud, which I had never seen before, is laughable. A discorporate alien intelligence wants to conquer Earth by occupying the bodies of every animal on the planet, including presumably humans. The human protagonist owns a failing ranch in the tropics – although since he doesn’t seem to have any livestock or grow any crops, this isn’t very surprising. The production crew saved money on sound equipment by letting him narrate some of the scenes, dubbing many others. Even the dog’s barking is dubbed. The hero’s wife is such a miserable character that there’s no chance of sympathizing with her. There’s also a jump in the story suggesting they left out a scene because they refer to events we haven’t seen. The time frame also seems to be screwed up. The hero also finds it amusing that the hulking hired hand follows his teenage daughter surreptitiously to watch her swimming. I was also distracted by the fact that the daughter has the same voice as Rocky the Squirrel. The animal attacks are hilarious – the animals appear bewildered rather than angry, we never actually see an attack, nor do we ever see any of them after they’ve been killed – off camera. I’ve seen better student films. 11/26/12

Four Sided Triangle  (1953)  

From the pretty much forgotten novel by William F. Temple, adapted by Paul Tabori, who also wrote some SF novels. The film opens with one of the characters addressing the audience directly, introducing characters and presenting some background. Two men, close friends, are in love with the same woman. Together they develop a new machine that allows matter to be exactly duplicated and when the inevitable happens and the woman is forced to choose between them, one decides to make a duplicate of her so that they can both be happy. Predictably, however, she has the same feelings as the original, so instead of a happy solution, there are now two women in love with the same man, and two of them are left frustrated.  Barbara Payton, who plays the two women, was well into her tragic decline by this point and her acting is notably cruder than that of the other cast members.  The frustrated scientist erases the duplicate’s memory, but during the operation there is a fire and the original is killed, though there is an element of uncertainty about it at the end. 11/25/12

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) 

I played this to entertain my grandchildren the other day but found myself watching as well.  A comical sloth “adopts” three dinosaur eggs and ends up being carried off to a vast underground world full of dinosaurs. Lots of running around and roaring. His friends – mammoths, sabre tooth tiger, etc. – are able to rescue him with the assistance of an occasionally deranged weasel, but only after a series of adventures. The animation is superb, the scenery pretty, and the chases are particularly well done.  For kids of all ages. 11/25/12

Night of the Living Dead Reanimation (2012)

Although this zombie film is meant to be funny, the humor is inconsistent and the serious parts aren’t done well enough to be interesting. A funeral home director is concealing a secret; some of the bodies he processes are returning to life. For no particular reason, he keeps them locked in his crematorium, then bashes their heads in with a shovel when they become active (although he keeps a baby zombie in his office refrigerator). Several oddball characters including his prodigal brother enliven the story, no pun intended, but not much. Everything is a bit off. The sound isn’t quite right and sometimes I couldn’t make out the dialogue. The pacing is terrible, with long pauses. The minimalist soundtrack is nevertheless intrusive. The special effects are reasonably good but all too familiar by now. The acting is sometimes competent but sometimes awkward and self conscious. 11/24/12

Red Planet Mars  (1952)

This is a surprisingly low key SF movie in which Peter Graves plays a scientist who receives messages from Mars which claim that the planet is inhabited by Christian Martians who have achieved a Utopia through hard work. Obviously it’s rather preachy and not much happens, but most of the production values are pretty high otherwise. It’s more of an interesting anomaly than anything else. The Russians are thuggish and evil, which is not surprising given that this was the McCarthy era. There’s also a contradictory indictment of science that is offensive and ignorant, but alas it wasn’t that uncommon in the 1950s, though rarely so brazen. Some of the revelations from Mars are absurd, and some of the reactions by humans are implausible. The coal mines, for example, would not instantly close just because the Martians claim to have a more efficient energy source. This could have been handled intelligently but the treatment is superficial and unrealistic. The surprise ending is almost clever, but not enough to salvage what went before. 11/23/12

The Killer Shrews (1957)

One of the more forgettable SF monster movies from the 1950s. A group of scientists experimenting with genetic manipulation of shrews are stranded on an island by a hurricane. A pack of giant shrews – laughable dogs with bad makeup – menace them and a pair of visiting seamen. Bad dialogue, bad acting, and bad science are all prominent in this one. Even the sound sounds like it was recorded in an echo chamber. A cheap production that was probably done in less than a week, with a cast of unknowns. Even in a nostalgic mood, I couldn’t enjoy this one. 11/22/12

The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) 

Despite some leaden acting and barely adequate special effects, this is one of the better movies of its type. A species of gigantic seaworm has mutated in the Salton Sea, a salt water lake in California, and the creatures are also capable of moving on land. A naval commander aided by scientist Hans Conreid helps track down the creatures and destroy them, including an egg that hatches in a laboratory to threaten an overly cute kid and her mother. The monsters aren’t the kind who shed bullets and they actually don’t have much screen time. On the other hand, there’s a genuine storyline and the pacing and editing are very well done. One of my favorites in the giant monster category. 11/21/12

The Victim (2011) 

Although this features Michael Biehn and Jennifer Blanc, it has the feel of an amateur production. The lighting is often inadequate and the sound is slightly off. Worst of all is the editing. Some scenes of no importance seem to go on endlessly – the drive to the cabin, Biehn reading, Blanc wandering through the woods. Some are shot using quick flashes that act like a strobe which works in some suspenseful situations but not in these. The plot involves a woman seeking refuge from two men who have abducted and killed a number of women including her friend. She takes refuge with Biehn, who is an unlikely hero at best. Quirky characters, no real suspense, and clunky dialogue are the final nails in the coffin. 11/20/12

Quatermass 2 (1957) 

One of the best alien invasion movies. A remote English town and a government project are taken over by aliens who can possess human bodies. Quatermass stumbles upon the secret by accident but cannot convince the authorities, largely because the authorities have been taken over. The alien plans are disrupted by a group of angry laborers who storm the gates allowing Quatermass to change the gas mix to three large domes, each of which is occupied by an enormous bloblike creature. When they are destroyed, their many minions regain control of their bodies. Brian Donlevy excels as Quatermass. The script by Nigel Kneale is fast paced from the opening scene to the end. 11/19/12 

Fright Night (2011)   

This is a remake of one of my favorite films and it doesn’t have Roddy McDowall, so it was competing against long odds.  It follows the general plot of the original but it uses adults to play high school kids who don’t look like high school kids. The vampire is not nearly as convincing or creepy or as suave as Chris Sarandon, and the girlfriend lacks the innocent appeal of the original Amy. Charlie Brewster is the skeptic instead of the first believer and the only cast member nearly as good in the role. Nor do the authorities seem to be concerned when numerous local kids and their families disappear without notice! The lighting is so bad that sometimes the camera jumps to something that is supposed to be significant, but I couldn’t tell what it was. And the police would not respond to reports of a woman screaming at a house, and then leave without speaking to the woman. Not only is this not up to the original, it’s not even particularly good. 11/19/12

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (2012)  

Fortunately, I didn’t expect much from this, because that’s what I got. Lincoln’s mother is killed by a vampire so years later he tries unsuccessfully to kill the man responsible, which is when he discovers that the man isn’t human. He is rescued and trained by a professional vampire hunter, which is easy since Lincoln has supernatural strength and other abilities which are never explained. Vampires have established an empire in the South, helped by the fact that they have adjusted to daylight, although most of the action sequences are shot at night with inadequate lighting so we can’t tell what’s happening half the time. They are also allergic to silver, which is werewolves not vampires but who’s counting?  The individual scenes are so short that while the story moves fast, it feels as though important scenes were omitted and there is virtually no effort to establish any of the characters. The romance is perfunctory and the chief villain never has time to be really villainous. This might have worked if there had been at least some sense of humor in the script, but there isn’t. There’s no attempt at even minimal historical accuracy; Lincoln was not an abolitionist, Mary Todd suffered from dementia, and Lincoln’s closest adviser was not a Black man. His son Willie did die in 1862, but there is no mention of his other children. There is one really good though brief scene as Lincoln approaches the waterfront in Louisiana, but the rest is boring, superficial, and just bad film making. 11/18/12

Rodan (1957) 

This is my favorite Japanese rubber suit monster movies, the story of two giant prehistoric birds which can fly at supersonic speeds after it they are hatched from eggs preserved near a volcano. It has more story than most of its rivals, but still some silliness which might be the fault of the English dubbers. At one point a couple disappears leaving behind a single shoe. The investigators determine from the position of the shoe on the ground that its owner was running at the time she lost the shoe.  How’s that work? They destroy a couple of cities, are impervious to artillery, but eventually one is buried by an induced avalanche and the other joins it, preferring to die rather than survive alone.  Fun. 11/17/12

Parasitic (2012)

Not awful special effects cannot redeem this unrelentingly bad movie. A meteorite brings a parasitic lifeform to Earth. It gets inside a fish eaten by a night club employee and the rest of the movie is the creature emerging from her body to kill other people in the club. The lighting is bad, the sound quality is actively awful, and the dialogue reads like it was written by an eight year old. The nudity is gratuitous but it’s so dark that it doesn’t amount to much even as a porn flick. There is no suspense, what little we know about the characters does not make us like them or care if they survive, and there are lots of little plot holes. A complete waste of time for the viewers, not to mention the actors and production crew. 11/17/12

Horror of Dracula (1957) 

Although this smartly made production with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing claims to be based on the original Bram Stoker novel, the plot varies wildly from the original. Harker comes to Dracula’s castle already knowing the Count is a vampire, and Van Helsing follows shortly afterward, having been cooperating with Harker in investigating vampirism. Harker is also engaged to Lucy rather than Mina, which makes no particular sense to me. Mina is married to Holdwood, who is Lucy’s fiancé in the book. The latter part of the movie is closer to the book. The cast for this is much older than that suggested by the story line, making this sort of a geriatric version. And one big blooper. At the end, Dracula returns to his castle from England – by horse and buggy!  What happened to the English Channel? 11/16/12

Conquest of Space (1955)   

An early special effects laden story of space exploration based in part on a nonfiction book by Willy Ley and Chesley Bonestell. The first expedition is sent to Mars – but it was a secret until they were actually about to launch – but their commander is a martinet whose religious obsessions begin to convince him that humans don’t belong in space, that it’s an affront to God. For its time, the sets and backdrops were spectacular, and they aren’t all that bad even now. The plot tends to plod now and then. The characters aren’t very well developed other than the commander. Some of the medical discussion is nonsense but the science is basically sound for its time. There’s a stowaway – of course – and a near collision with an asteroid, but the story line is pretty lightweight. Its reach exceeded its grasp, but it’s still worth watching. 11/15/12

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (1989) 

Sylvester McCoy is Doctor Who in this, one of the last serials before the long gap preceding the show’s reincarnation. Despite the usual poor effects, this is almost up to the level of the earlier serials. The Doctor and Ace arrive on a planet where the psychic circus has instituted a reign of terror over anyone who falls within their grasp. There are evil clowns, of course, and a batty interplanetary explorer, and a handful of other quirky characters. On the other hand, the Doctor seems extraordinarily stupid this time around. 11/14/12

Stranger from Venus (1954)

A cheaply made SF film that opens with a common mistake, identifying a possible meteorite as a comet. It’s really a spaceship, of course. The alien looks completely human, but speaks perfect English though in an artificial manner. For some reason, we never see his face during the opening scenes; he is always positioned so that we see the back of his head. He is suspected in the disappearance of a local woman because of his suspicious comments, but she shows up and he eventually convinces people he is a visitor from Venus. The government decides to seize his spaceship when it returns to take him home, so he warns it off and essentially commits suicide. Despite a good cast that includes Patricia Neal, this is dull and slow moving. I’d never even heard of this until recently, so apparently my opinion is widespread. 11/13/12

The Creeping Unknown (1955) 

Also known as The Quatermass Experiment, this introduced Brian Donlevy as the determined scientist who deals with alien threats, in this case an energy being that possesses the body of a returned astronaut. The infected man wanders through London, slowly changing into a kind of giant starfish, killing whoever it encounters. The climax comes when the creature is cornered in Westminster Abbey just as it is about to reproduce. There are a few minor plot problems but basically this is a well conceived and very well executed low budget SF horror story, based on the television production. It has some of the feel of a Doctor Who serial, not entirely surprising. 11/12/12

Bless Me Ultima soundtrack by Mark Killian, Lakeshore, 2012

Soul of the Ultimate Nation soundtrack by Howard Shore, Howe, 2012

Assassin's Creed 3 soundtrack by Lorne Balfe, Ubisoft, 2012

Bless Me Ultima is a marginally fantastic movie set during World War II in New Mexico, involving a healer and the battle between good and evil. The soundtrack is vaguely Spanish at times, although I might not have noticed if I didn't know what the movie was about. The composer uses flutes and what I believe is a xylophone, as well as guitars and other more traditional instruments. Most of it is understated - no crashing brass or thundering drums. The best cuts include "Ultima Saves", "Harvest",  "Antonio Runs", and "Sowing Seeds". There's a bit of repetition but not fatally. An above average soundtrack. Soul of the Ultimate Nation is an online fantasy game about which I know nothing. Most of the music on this one sounded pretty generic to me, suggesting rousing scenes and broad landscapes. None of it was unpleasant but there was very little that I would be particularly interested in hearing again. Assassin's Creed III is also a computer game, which I know a little about because of all of the recent advertising.  The music is more distinctive in this one, although it is not that dissimilar overall. A good deal of repetition in this one but more of the individual bands stand out. There's more variation as well but I imagine you don't want a game soundtrack that distracts the player too much from what's happening on the screen. "Modern Assassin", "Fight Club", and "Beer and Friends" are the best cuts. 11/11/12

Skyfall (2012) 

The third Daniel Craig James Bond movie is easily the best. Someone from M’s past is out to get her and sabotage MI6, using advanced computer techniques and lots of thugs to get things done. The villain is quite good and naturally the action sequences and chases are elaborate, a bit over the top, but exciting. The aging Bond trope has been done before but it ties in with the overall theme this time. The supporting cast does an excellent job and both Q and Moneypenny show up this time around, along with at least one other surprise – although I guessed what was going to happen very early – that will affect future movies in the series. Looking forward to the next. 11/11/12

The Flying Saucer (1950) 

A pretty bad SF film involving sightings of a flying saucer and efforts by American and Russian agents to discover its secrets. For reasons never explained, our hero is sent to Alaska, even though the sightings were in Miami and Idaho. He’s a subtle agent – upon arriving he asks the bellboy if he’s seen any Russian spies or flying saucers recently. Surprise! The bellboy is the Russian agent. The dialogue is so stilted it hurts to listen, the acting is not much better, and so little happens that you’ll have trouble staying awake until the end. It turns out the saucer was invented by a reclusive American inventor, but the bad guys are in the lead to capture the technology. A really ludicrous fist fight follows. Bad by any set of criteria you could imagine. Oh, the good guy wins. 11/10/11

Kronos (1957)   

I’ll give this one credit for an interesting menace, a giant alien machine that sucks up energy, but it fails in almost every other way. The writers don’t understand trajectories – a near miss on New York City would not crash off the west coast of Mexico. They don’t understand how asteroids work – the change of course would be a dead giveaway to everyone that it is a powered ship, not just one scientist who can’t get anyone to believe him. Nor are they saucer shaped and glowing. Nor would the glow show up on radar. Nor would an explosion on radar cause the screen to emit potentially dangerous light. The writers also apparently believe that energy is a distinct commodity; the fear is that the aliens will take all of earth’s electricity and leave us with no power. We are also led to believe that psychiatrists and other scientists routinely have exposed high voltage lines in their offices which can electrocute people if they are touched.  At one point we are told that the inhabitants of Los Angeles are fleeing the city while watching footage of relatively light traffic, but the traffic going into the city is just as heavy as the traffic coming out!  They destroy it by dousing it with omega particles which, as we all know, causes a reversal of polarity and subsequent destructive chain reaction. I vaguely recall liking this when I was 13. Shame on me even then. 11/9/12

Invasion of the Star Creatures (1962)

There are movies that are so bad they are funny, and then movies that intend to be funny that are so bad they are unwatchable. This one, which looks like it was filmed by a bunch of random people with time on their hands and a fondness for Three Stooges type jokes is one of the latter. Two badly scripted soldiers investigate a cave at a nuclear weapons site. They find beautiful aliens who plan to conquer Earth with an army of plants.  They thwart them. Boring, silly, semi-literate dialogue, incredibly bad acting, minimal sets, no special effects, bad lighting, and I’m probably forgetting a lot of other things. I’m trying to expunge it from my mind. 11/8/12

Piranha DD (2012)   

This sequel to Piranha 3D did not look promising. It’s set at a water park whose staff consists in large part of strippers and there’s a good deal of nudity, particularly early on. To my surprise the piranhas are actually much better done than in the first movie and although most of the characters are either jerks or idiots or both, the story is surprisingly suspenseful during the first half. Christopher Lloyd has a great cameo and a good line. He puts a frog in a tank as bait for a piranha and when someone protests, he apologizes. “The pet store was out of puppies this morning.” Gary Busey and David Hasselhoff also have small parts. The plot starts to unravel pretty quickly though. Despite having found a piranha in the water, the female protagonist goes swimming at night alone to see if they’re there. The policeman she calls apparently doesn’t notify his superiors because no one seems particularly concerned that maneating fish who have killed dozens of people at a nearby lake have reappeared.  The director couldn’t decide if this was serious or a comedy, and the gross out scenes are predictable and silly. Has a few moments, but only a few. 11/7/12

World Without End (1956)

Satellite in the Sky (1956)  

I remembered the first of these as being incredibly bad. I was right. An expedition is leaving the orbit of Mars when it accelerates unexpectedly and crashlands. They theorize that they are on Mars since it was “closest” but since it has a breathable atmosphere, they realize they’re wrong!  Even though they were never supposed to land, they happen to be stocking cold climate clothing and sidearms and sleeping bags so they go exploring. Their discussion of celestial mechanics is full of howlers. They promptly run into some hilariously funny plastic spiders but escape. Next up are cavemen. Eventually they realize they are on Earth in the future and stumble upon an underground city.  There’s a clumsy romantic triangle, evidence that the last humans may be on the verge of extinction, treachery, and so forth. Dreadful.  The second title was new to me. The plot is no great shakes – it’s about the first manned flight into space – but the acting is okay and the sets and some of the special effects are surprisingly good. A female news reporter skeptical of the program ends up as a stowaway. Subplots involve a secret bomb test, a frustrated wife, and arguments about whether pure research is worthwhile. Some of the storyline makes little sense but it ends up with the bomb changing course in space even though it has no propulsive system at the time. There’s a celestial mechanics problem to shape the climax, but since the writers don’t understand how it works, it’s all bogus. 11/6/12

War of the Colossal Beast  (1958) 

Earth vs the Spider (1958) 

The first of these is the sequel to The Amazing Colossal Man, and it’s a mild improvement only because the first was so dull. The opening suspense, such as it is, derives from the tired and implausible trope of having a witness driven insane by what he saw, making him unable to tell anyone what it was. The colossal man’s size varies from one shot to the next. The plot never makes sense and the scientific doubletalk is ludicrous. The second title involves yet another creature, in this case a spider, although with none of the charm of Tarantula. The protagonists are mostly high school students – played by people in their mid-twenties. They’re looking for the female lead’s father, who was taken into a pretty nice cave by the spider. They spot the spider, but naturally the sheriff refuses to look into the matter until a teacher talks him into checking things out.  Even then they don’t bring lights even though they’re in an extensive cavern. Sheriffs, incidentally, can’t decide cause of death for the coroner. They spray it with DDT and it appears to be dead, but the movie isn’t even half over so obviously it’s not. The teacher convinces the authorities to let him move the body to an exhibition hall, and naturally it’s only a matter of time before it becomes animated again. The plot’s not too bad until the supposed teenagers convince the janitor to let them into the auditorium where they stage an impromptu dance. It’s downhill from there. 11/5/12

Monster from Green Hell (1957)   

More giant bugs! A nest of wasps is sent into outer space, irradiated by cosmic rays, and crashes in the African jungle, growing to monstrous size. So cheaply done that some of the mundane views outside windows are painted backdrops. The model wasps are superimposed on shots of wildlife and aren’t very convincing. Much of the footage is a routine jungle adventure, with hostile tribes, wild animals, and rugged terrain as investigators try to figure out what’s happening in the interior. The human efforts to kill the creatures fail but a fortuitous volcano erupts and destroys the whole nest. Pretty boring and completely unconvincing. 11/4/12

The Spy Next Door (2010)

This Jackie Chan action movie is really for kids and the plot is simple and obvious but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. He’s a spy who has fallen in love with the single mother next door. He is left to babysit the three kids – who don’t like him – when they all get caught up in an adventure involving some comic book Russian spies. Although Chan has to supplement his antics with camera tricks, much of it is still his trademarked acrobatic style. The kids are pretty good as well and of course we all know that things will work out all right in the end. Not his best but certainly not his least and there's an atmosphere of good humor that is missing from most action movies. 11/3/12

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

The Ray Harryhausen special effects make this one enjoyable despite the chauvinism of the script, some klutzy dialogue, and a complete misunderstanding of international maritime law.  Nor does the Navy have police powers in the US mainland, and I doubt very much that a submarine captain would be the liaison with the scientific division, although this is a shortcut that is used in a large number of similar movies, to keep the cast as small as possible. Disturbed by nuclear testing, a giant octopus starts feasting on surface vessels. Pursued by the navy, it finally comes ashore in San Francisco for some excellent sequences including it climbing the Golden Gate Bridge. 11/2/12

Secret Agent/Danger Man Set 3  

Eight random episodes from the popular spy series. “That’s Two of Us Sorry” has Drake investigating the theft of documents with fingerprints of a man who has been dead for twenty years. This has a particularly clever ending. “A Man to Be Trusted” involves the murder of agents in a small Caribbean nation, with a touch of voodoo, but it’s not one of the stronger episodes. He infiltrates a school for assassins and uncovers a rightwing plot in “Such Men Are Dangerous.”  “The Affair at Castelevara” is set in a Latin American country where an aging rebel becomes the focus for a complicated set of intrigues, until Drake threads his way through the lies and reveals the truth about the past. A good episode, except that Latin American countries cannot join NATO as far as I know. An agent is suspected of being a double agent in “Don’t Nail Him Yet” but Drake has his doubts so he conducts an undercover operation. One of the best episodes. He follows a woman who is being blackmailed into espionage in “Have a Glass of Wine.” There’s a bicycle chase in this one and one of the more intricate plots, with Drake framed for murder and forced to become a fugitive, then has to play the part of the dead girl as a courier to fool a French agent.  Clever dialogue. Very nice episode. “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” is all a dream in which Drake imagines he is suspected of gambling, and during which he meets death personified. The actor who played Q in the James Bond movies is the doorman. I hate dream sequences. Finally we have “You’re Not in Any Trouble, Are You?” in which Drake arranges for his own murder in order to unravel a murder for profit agency.  A good episode in part because of the find supporting performance by the annoying woman in his hotel. Overall a very high quality selection. 11/1/12

From Hell It Came (1957)  

This slow moving and sometimes irritating horror movie is set on a Pacific atoll where a power struggle among the natives results in the murder of a young man who vows to return as a legendary tree monster. To the consternation of the American scientists on the island, a tree promptly sprouts of the grave, a tree with a human heartbeat and capable of movement, though one of them refuses to take it seriously until it escapes! The monster kills the three people primarily responsible for his death, then for some reason kidnaps an American woman who wasn’t even on the island at the time before being destroyed. The characters are miserable people, poorly portrayed, and the conversations are frequently inane.  The monster is vaguely impressive while it’s fixed in place but becomes merely silly once it starts to walk around on obvious human legs. 10/31/12

The Ambassadors of Death (1970)  

This Jon Pertwee Doctor Who adventure was the very first episode I ever saw, the story of returning astronauts from mars who are no longer human. There is also a mysterious group of humans on Earth who are apparently cooperating with whatever intelligence is responsible. And even within that group, there is a smaller contingent with plans of its own.  The villains are actually quite well organized for a change although eventually the Doctor and his friends outwit them. This is one of the longer serials in the series, and one of the best written as well. Creepy at times too. A little bit of bad science – a spaceship lifting from Earth will not be in a fatal orbit around the sun within fifteen minutes. 10/30/12

The Black Scorpion (1957)  

I completely missed this giant bug movie until only a few years ago. It stars Richard Denning, one of my favorites, and is set in Mexico where a new volcano forms, followed by mysterious attacks on local people and livestock. It turns out one of the fissures has allowed a bunch of giant scorpions to emerge. The best part of the movie involves the descent into the fissure – which also hosts giant worms and trap door spiders – but the story is very formulaic and they use the same few shots over and over and over.  The biggest and last scorpion is killed in the Mexico City coliseum in a sequence which reminded me of Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. 10/29/12

Beginning of the End (1957)  

Another giant bug movie – grasshoppers this time – marred by terrible special effects and frequent plot holes, despite a good cast including Peter Graves and Peggie Castle. They ate some radioactive plant food and at least several hundred of them occupy a forest in Illinois when they are discovered after they destroy a small town. Graves is apparently clairvoyant. After seeing one of them, he concludes there are hundreds and describes their size variation. After seeing three of them, he can tell that there are probably at least a thousand. The authorities are, despite the evidence, skeptical of the danger.  The effects are so cheap that at the end, the grasshoppers are climbing across obvious photographs of the buildings.  10/28/12

The Krotons (1969)  

The second incarnation of Doctor Who arrives on a planet where the humans have been enslaved by the robotic Krotons, who claim to be benevolent but are actually trying to develop slaves smart enough to power their starship. After various of the usual adventures, including a division among the human population, the Doctor is able to figure out how to destroy the Krotons and free the world. A bit claustrophobic and the special effects are silly even for this show, but the story isn’t that bad and it’s still quite viewable. This was the pattern for almost half of the subsequent serials up until the show went into suspended animation for many years. 10/27/12

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)  

This is actually a somewhat older film by Joss Whedon that was delayed for a couple of years. A group of friends visit a creepy old cabin in an opening that is a direct takeoff of The Evil Dead, and in fact the movie is soon revealed to be a spoof of the horror genre. Unbeknownst to them, they are being monitored by an elaborate installation which – mild spoiler – turns out to be the modern equivalent of a human sacrifice to propitiate giants creatures living under the Earth. The ritual must be followed precisely despite the appearance of randomness, and when the geek doesn’t die on schedule and the virgin turns out not to be a virgin, things get a little hairy for the secret masters. Then their menagerie of horrors escapes and eventually all Hell breaks loose – literally. There’s a good deal of very twisted humor in this one, plus a good cast and decent special effects. My only complaint is that a good many of the scenes are so dark that I couldn’t tell what was happening. 10/26/12

The Astounding She Monster (1957)  

Incredibly bad movie about a bunch of gangsters who kidnap a woman and take her to a remote cabin, where they encounter a sexy female alien who can kill with a touch. The bad guys get killed off in rapid succession and the alien dies as well, leaving the woman and her geologist romantic interest as the only survivors. Bad acting, boring sets, ludicrous special effects, inane plot, and the same sequences of events get repeated until the allotted time is filled after which everything comes to a quick and merciful end. Even by the standards of its time, this was a complete disaster produced by people who had no idea what viewers found interesting in a story.10/25/12

The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)

Glen Manning survives a plutonium blast, but recovers overnight. Unfortunately, he is now growing several feet taller with each day that passes. How he manages to accumulate the mass necessary is never explained, nor how he manages to stand erect on bones that could not possibly support that weight. His girlfriend wrings her hands while the doctors scratch their heads. Manning becomes unhinged by the experiment and goes on a rampage. Not much of a rampage actually. This is overall a pretty boring movie, but it must have done reasonably well because there’s a sequel. Special effects are minimal and pretty bad, acting is mediocre except for the star, who is dreadful.10/24/12

Planet of Giants (1964) 

One of the earliest Doctor Who adventures and one of Hartnell’s best. The Tardis malfunctions when it returns to Earth and is shrunk so that its occupants are only one inch tall. They get separated and involved with a murder while dealing with the disparity in their size. Some of the effects are done with camera tricks and aren’t very good, but several of the sets were actually built to the proper scale and these are much more effective – although the insects all look pretty silly. This may be my favorite Hartnell despite some really clumsy dialogue at times which suggests they were improvising from general guidelines as they went along.  Or just forgot their lines. 10/23/12

Taken 2 (2012) 

A mildly disappointing sequel. Liam Neeson rescued his daughter from Albanian white slavers in the first, killing a score or so in the process. Now the relatives of the dead are back for revenge, kidnapping him and his ex-wife but underestimating him, of course. So he escapes with his daughter’s help, returns to rescue his ex-wife, and knocks off a whole bunch more Albanians. There’s even less real story than the last time and I didn’t think the acting was all that great this time around either. I also doubt very much that after killing a Turkish policeman and wrecking several police cars in Istanbul, then seeking refuge in the US Embassy, that our hero would be allowed out to wreak more havoc within a matter of hours.  Okay but not very plausible. 10/22/12

The Abominable Dr. Phibes  (1971)  

One of my all time favorite movies. Dr. Phibes, who has been horribly mutilated in a fire, blames the nine surgeons who were unable to cure his late wife. Accompanied by the enigmatic woman Vulnavia, he sets out to kill each of them in the style of the ten plagues of Egypt, reserving the last – darkness – to symbolize his own suicide in hopes of being reunited with his dead wife – who appears only in photos but who is played by Caroline Munro. Joseph Cotten is the last of the surgeons and the only one to survive after outwitting the madman. Vincent Price is Phibes in one of his most famous roles. Great sets, some really dark humor, and a cast that includes Hugh Griffith and Terry Thomas. One of the true horror classics. 10/21/12

Seaquest Season 2 (1995)   

The new Seaquest is nearing completion in the two hour opener of this season, “Daggers.” Stacy Haiduk, Stephanie Beacham, and several others left the cast. New characters include a wiseacre with gills, the first genetically engineered human, and a new romantic interest for Captain Bridger. Darwin, who was mechanical in the first season, is both mechanical and animated this time. There’s also a colony of genetically enhanced supersoldiers imprisoned on an island prison, although it’s never really explained how they can justify imprisoning fifty people who haven’t committed any crimes. The story begins to disintegrate early. One of the supposedly sterile prisoners is quite obviously pregnant and who would put a lieutenant in charge of a high security prison in the first place? In fact, a sergeant commands it for part of the time. The mutants, called Gelfs, can also operate highly sophisticated equipment without training. The intransigence of the authorities is so implausible that it squanders what might have been an interesting setup. The science, needless to say, is silly. Spontaneous evolution in a single generation? It’s also a very small ocean – the Seaquest tracks down a rogue sub in minutes! And it’s nuclear, not nucular! A bad beginning to a season that would go for weirder plots in a bid for more viewers, but which had the opposite effect. 

“The Fear That Follows” is so bad that I almost stopped watching the show when it was on television. The government discovers that Bridger’s dolphin is communicating with aliens. The plot and dialogue are so stupid that it is painful to watch. Whenever I thought the story line had reached the bottom, it plummeted further. One of the worst television episodes of all time. Among other things, the officer in charge of alien relations and security is a lieutenant. The writers also don’t understand what galaxies are. “Sympathy for the Deep” is so bad it’s embarrassing; an undersea colony is affected by a plague that causes violence, hallucinations, and infects the crew when they come to investigate. It turns out that a scientist has found a way to distill evil. Really awful. “Vapors” is about various relationships among the crew and it varies from treacly sweet to absurd. Terrible episode. “Playtime” takes the ship into the future, accompanied by some of the most ignorant scientific doubletalk I’ve ever heard. At one point a team is sent onto land where they announce that there are no lifeforms within a hundred miles, while we hear birds in the background. They can also hear a radio broadcast with their ears.  

“The Sincerest Form of Flattery” is about a robot submarine captained by a hologram copy of Bridger that runs amuck after possibly the dumbest things-go-wrong sequence ever filmed. “Oh no, you opened the memory bank during a download!”  This is followed by one of the worst CGI missile attacks ever filmed and one of the most inane scripts of all time. The telepath can read the computer version’s mind! Another tearjerker as well. “By Any Other Name” opens with a distress call from a horticultural colony which brings the crew to an installation plagued with aggressive plants. Pretty awful. We see some scenes from the point of view of the plants, which doesn’t make sense, and why are the plants shy around our heroes when they openly attack the hundred or so staff members – leaving each as a pile of dust on the ground. What about their clothing and equipment? A vase of cut flowers explodes when the flowers grow to many times their original size – despite the lack of nutrients – eventually becoming a tree, that roars! There’s also a variant lecture about things humans shouldn’t know or learn to do. The squad sent into the installation, whose environmental controls could solve the problem, decide to try for the control room one man at a time rather than go in force. The plants, incidentally, are immune to lasers and explosives. Of course they are.  

“When We Dead Awaken” involves a woman revived from suspended animation and a subsequent attempt by parties unknown to murder her. She turns out to be the mother of one of the regulars, still suffering from a fatal disease but determined to see her son. The security procedures aboard the ship are a joke; an assassin waltzes aboard as part of a scientific team. Not as dreadful as some episodes, but still pretty bad. “Special Delivery” is much better than average. The genetically engineered crew member is accused of murder because no one knows he has an evil twin.  Three crew members get trapped in an undersea cavern in “Dead End”.  Might have been a good episode, but then a giant worm shows up with flame throwers mounted around its mouth and it devolves into nonsense. “Meltdown” features a prehistoric crocodile, and is actually not bad.  “And Everything Nice” should have turned out to all be a dream, which is how it was set up, but it’s not. It’s awful. Everyone acts out of character and since Lucas is a minor, he couldn’t resign from the service under any circumstances, let alone to be with a girl. She turns out to be a terrorist. He thwarts her. Blah! 

“Dream Weaver” takes scientific illiteracy to new limits. The Seaquest is assigned to recover a comet that is going to hit the ocean, except it’s not a comet, it’s a meteor, and it doesn’t heat up going through the atmosphere, and they pin point its landing spot within a few meters in advance even though it’s an irregular, tumbling shape. But then it dissolves in water because it’s actually some kind of alien probe. They wanted the comet because it was the key to intergalactic travel – they don’t know what a galaxy is either. How?  A local scientist has pinpointed the exact second the universe was born and has charted every system in the galaxy. Really?  He must be thousands of years old. A malevolent alien comes aboard and is eventually destroyed. They can tell it’s a baby when they first find it through some intuitive process never explained to us. And the alien is silly looking. It’s an obvious ripoff of Alien, the first movie. Except this alien can contain another human being within its own body for a time, without any change in mass. The script falls very short of being criminal negligence. 

“Alone” focuses on the psychic crewmember – whose abilities are flexible depending on plot requirements. A mysterious and very bad actor appears magically, armed with apparent supernatural powers, and the psychic has sensed his presence in the world. The plot makes no sense either. The government decides that the villain is a psychic, so they intern all the psychics in the world! Except our hero of course. Includes a bad poetry recitation.  It’s almost unwatchably bad. Among other things, the office put in charge of responding to a world threatening crisis is a colonel. In “Watergate” we discover that the crew (and writers) don’t know that all islands are the tops of land masses. I guess they thought they floated.  They discover an anomalous structure under the sea. “If I had to put a date on it, I’d say it predates time.” Turns out they’ve stumbled into Neptune’s domain. Laughable. Very bad animation as well. 

Having evoked Nepture, making the series fantasy instead of SF, it now turns to horror as an ancient box holds a demon, until someone lets it out in “Something in the Air.”  One of the scientist insists that “what is tangible is a matter of opinion.”  No, it’s a matter of fact, even if it hasn’t been determined yet. The scientists admit they haven’t been able to decipher the letters on the box, but they have a theory about what’s inside.  Upon what do they base this theory?  There’s also a butt ignorant speech that science is meaningless unless you can believe in God. “Dagger Redux” has robots breaking an enhanced human out of prison as part of a plot to destroy the Seaquest. Bad dialogue, bad motivation, bad story, corny villain, awful science – insect bodies provide the secret of cold fusion.  The dagger makeup has become much less convincing since they were first introduced. 

“The Siamese Dream” is a not awful but rather boring story about a renegade psychic. All of a sudden people know when a telepath is reading their mind. That hasn’t been true all season. "Splashdown" features another escaped convict and some really dumber scientific doubletalk. It's also a ripoff of Predator in part.  "Blindsided" continues the story from "Dream Weaver" and has still more scientific doubletalk. The Seaquest is transported to another planet this time after an astronaut who went off to the stars with an alien sends a distress message. Season 2 overall is a good example of how you can take a mediocre television show and make it really terrible.10/19/12

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)  

Even as a kid, I found this Roger Corman film silly and confusing. One actress who is supposedly a member of the second expedition to an uncharted atoll – the first expedition disappeared –also appears to be part of the first expedition, seen in a brief clip at the start of the film. We only discover later that it was a flashforward. The giant crabs can imitate human voices – probably telepathically – and the characters don’t find anything strange about wandering off in the darkness looking for dead people calling their names. There are strange booming sounds on the island from time to time, and the expedition finds a pit that opened up “only twenty minutes ago” but which already has plant life growing out of its sides! At one point they find a box of grenades on the beach and after saying how important they might be for their survival, they walk off and leave them there. Later two of the men are trying to follow streams back to their source, but they travel consistently downhill rather than up! 10/18/12

Safe (2012) 

I’m a Jason Statham fan so I was predisposed to like this movie. The story is actually rather ugly. A young Chinese girl with an eidetic memory gets caught between Chinese mobsters, Russian mobsters, a corrupt mayor, and an equally corrupt police force. Statham, a reformed killer whose life has been ruined and who is considering suicide, ends up being the girl’s protector in a series of chases and battles across New York City that leave literally dozens dead before he finds out what the secret is that the girl possesses, thwarts both groups of mobsters, arranges the deaths of most of the corrupt police, and derails the governor’s plans as well. The premise for Statham's character is nonsense. The little girl is very good although she isn’t in the film very much. Not up to the Transporter movies but better than several of his more recent efforts. 10/17/12

20,000,000 Miles to Earth  (1956)

One of my favorite Ray Harryhausen stop action monster movies, although in this case the monster never hurts anyone unless it is attacked. An expedition to Venus crashes off the coast of Sicily. Only one crewman survives and a local boy recovers an egg they were bringing back, which hatches into a quite neat humanoid reptile. The creature grows at an astonishing rate – defying the laws of conservation of mass and energy – but is eventually captured and taken to Rome where, predictably, it escapes again.  It finally meets its doom atop the Colisseum. Although all the soldiers are Italian, for some reason the surviving astronaut is in charge of them, and even fires the crucial rpg that sets up the creature’s demise. Simple plot, well done overall. 10/16/12

X the Unknown  (1956)  

This is a British blob movie that is quite good despite minimal special effects and some bogus science. A really likeable cast certainly helps, and other than the scientific doubletalk the dialogue is good as well. A mysterious explosion in Scotland leaves several soldiers with radiation burns. More oddities follow after which a scientist theorizes that an energy based creature from beneath the earth’s surface is searching for radiation.  It just happens that he’s on the verge of perfecting a device which neutralizes radiation of course. Suspenseful, well paced, and almost plausible. I was reminded of the Quatermass movies. It's a relatively minor movie, but surprisingly entertaining. 10/15/12

 A Game of Thrones (2011)  

I’d been putting this off until I had the leisure to watch it closely because I knew that there were so many characters and plots that I wouldn’t be able to do so casually, particularly since I read the novel almost twenty years ago. The first episode was every bit as good, and complex, as I anticipated with the death of the king’s hand forcing Ned Stark to take his post despite his misgivings, ending with the shocking death of his ten year old son at the hand of one of the Lannisters, the chief villains in the piece. The acting and production values were excellent and I was hooked.  By the fourth episode, I was so immersed that I’ll undoubtedly being see this actors in my mind when I read the next book in the series. The sets for the wall were exactly as I had pictured them reading the books. Even the opening credits are remarkably well done.  I thought some of the nudity and gore were gratuitous, although they certain reflect the nature of the story, and even though I knew what was going to happen, I still found myself liking some of the characters well enough to hope they could be spared. Of course they aren’t. If television was consistently this good, the movie industry would be in big trouble. 10/14/12

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)  

The classic Red Scare movie is still as unsettling as it was fifty years ago, based on the very fine novel by Jack Finney. A doctor is puzzled by the number of local people who insist some member of their family is an impostor. Then a friend shows him an enigmatic body, a version of the friend, which disappears mysteriously when separated from the man it’s trying to replace. More instances follow but at first he is dissuaded by a psychiatrist who convinces him that it was all an hallucination. Everything happens very quickly after that, and I wondered why the doctor didn’t just drive out of town when he realized what was happening rather than just drive back and forth and then hide in his office. This still has a very chilling impact and while the Donald Sutherland remake is technically better, it is no more effective. 10/13/12

Godzilla/Gojira (1956)

This is the original Japanese version, with subtitles and without Raymond Burr. There’s a great deal of footage not available in the US version and the story makes more sense. The monster is, of course, totally implausible, a survivor from the Jurassic who is disturbed in his undersea world by a hydrogen bomb and surfaces to destroy Tokyo with his big feet and breath of fire. Actually the first third of the movie is the best, when we see little of Godzilla as he terrorizes shipping and a remote island. Although I don’t think this was the best of the rubber suit Japanese giant monsters movies – Rodan is far better – it’s still a classic and it spawned a couple of dozen sequels. 10/12/12

The Forbidden Planet (1956)   

This classic SF movie ages extremely well – even the special effects are reasonably good. A human spaceship – actually a flying saucer – visits Altair IV where a scientific expedition disappeared. They find Walter Pidgeon and his daughter Anne Francis, along with Robby the Robot, alone and telling a story of a mysterious menace that killed the other colonists. Pidgeon warns the crew to leave but they remain and are visited by an invisible monster that sabotages their equipment and then begins killing the crew. Pidgeon shows them the underground power plant of the Krell, a race that vanished in a single night, but he doesn’t realize that the terror is actually “monsters from the id”, subconscious fears made physically present by the immense power of the Krell technology.  Good from start to finish.10/11/12

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) 

Still one of my favorite alien attack stories, whose admittedly primitive special effects still hold up pretty well.  Something has been destroying satellites launched from Earth. Richard Carlson hears this just after he and his wife have a close encounter with a flying saucer that they try to dismiss as an hallucination. Then a saucer lands at a military base, protected by a force field. Technically, the army fires first, although they’ve obviously responsible for the satellite failures. They also have a disintegration ray, which hardly seems fair. Apparently they planned to meet with Carlson but weren’t smart enough to make their message intelligible. Carlson eventually gets to meet them and discovers their intentions are not benevolent. Meanwhile humans have developed a sound weapon, but the aliens try to destroy it before it can be put to use.  The scene where they are running through a forest fire – actually on a treadmill – is rather silly. The climactic battle in Washington is naturally the best part of the movie. 10/9/12

The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)   

Cowboys vs dinosaurs, featuring Guy Madison and Patricia Medina. Although the later Valley of Gwangi is much better, this one has its moments. Madison is a rancher who thinks ordinary predators and rustlers are stealing his cattle and scoffs at rumors of a cursed area. We know better of course, and soon he does as well when a stop motion animated dinosaur shows up. There’s a beautiful girl, the mandatory cute kid, and various supporting characters who are all pretty much stereotypes like the comic drunk.  It takes a while before we see anything since the plot involves a love triangle that results in an elaborate fistfight and other machinations.  The dinosaur is pretty primitive by contemporary standards but it was also, I believe, the first time stop action had been shown in color. 10/8/12

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)  

The third and weakest of the Black Lagoon movies. Although the creature was assumed dead at the end of the first, a new expedition is launched to capture it. The creature has taken up residence in the Everglades. The team wants to fit the creature with lungs to demonstrate that it is possible to alter humans to live on other planets. The logic of this escapes me completely. After surgery, the creature escapes, much to the consternation of his captors, but is recaptured because he can no longer breathe in the water. Efforts to tame the creature come to naught when it witnesses a murder. Good cast – Rod Taylor and Rex Reason – but uninteresting plot and clichéd character development. 10/7/12

Revenge of the Creature (1955)   

Middle title in the Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy. A second expedition to the Amazon seeks to capture the creature, succeeds, and brings it back to the US.  There a young Clint Eastwood has a cameo as the comic relief.  A pair of scientists try to study him and get into and out of trouble a couple of times. Not much happens for most of the movie in fact. Eventually it escapes but for some reason it is obsessed with the female scientist and makes off with her. She is eventually rescued and the creature disappears to set up the third and last in the series. Although there are a few good moments, this was a very disappointing follow up to the first class original. 10/6/12

King Dinosaur (1955)   

This monster movie gets off to a shaky start with a new planet appearing in the solar system from out of nowhere, very close to Earth although it causes no problems with gravity or such. An expedition is fitted out to visit it and, as you might guess from the title, they find it dominated by dinosaurs. The first few minutes are details about the technology of the spaceship, all nonsense and totally unnecessary to the story, but there’s lots of stock footage so it was cheap. The female geologist is shown on a dig, wearing a dress and jewelry! Of course they conclude immediately that the atmosphere is breathable and that there is no reason why they can’t get rid of their spacesuits. They also see deer, rattlesnakes, owls, alligators, and bears, not surprising since 60% of the bacteria are the same as on Earth. They even decide to bathe in the nearby lake without testing the water. They also didn’t bother to figure out in advance how long the local day is. They decide the time on the alien planet is “prehistoric”, which could hardly be otherwise. They also plan to spend only a single day on the planet despite a trip that took months – although this is later contradicted, and when they go exploring, they fail to make provisions for finding their way back to the ship. Then there’s a giant bumblebee but the mortally injured member of the expedition makes a miraculous recovery in time to kill it while his female companion screams a lot. In fact, that’s what she does most of the time.  Eventually they go to explore an odd looking island that they previously decided they weren’t going to approach, with no reason given for the change in plans. That’s where they find dinosaurs – actually iguanas made to look giant size. Fortunately they brought an atomic bomb with them and are able to outrun its blast! The worst sin of all, though, is that it is boring from start to finish. 10/5/12

Target Earth (1954)  

This routine but sometimes interesting SF film is based on a Paul Fairman story.  A handful of people wake up in a deserted city with no idea what may have happened to the rest of the population. I’m not sure I believe that anyone could have slept through this, or that a complete evacuation could have been organized and carried out within a few hours, but once the premise is established, the first part of the movie is actually quite effective other than the complete lack of debris in the streets. Inevitably the explanation is something of a letdown. An army of alien robots invades the city.  The military thinks the invaders are from Venus “assuming that they are human beings like ourselves.” The story deteriorates rapidly from that point on. The fugitives conclude the same thing because Venus is the only planet with an atmosphere similar to ours! The army decides to attack with atomic artillery. When the thug shows up to threaten our heroes, the dialogue and plot plunge even further. 10/4/12

Them (1954)  

The best by far of the big bug movies. A little girl is found wandering in the desert, obviously in a state of shock. Investigators find the trailer where she lived, torn apart and with no other bodies. James Whitmore and James Arness are the primary investigators, along with a father and daughter scientific team who correctly guess what happened before the giant ants are actually seen. The first nest is wiped out fairly easily but two queen ants have escaped. One of them is killed when it tries to nest aboard an anchored cargo ship but the other makes it to the sewers under Los Angeles. That’s where the final battle takes place. For its time, the special effects were quite good and the story and acting are both well above average. 10/3/12

Dead Season (2012)  

Another low budget zombie movie with lots of gore but not much plot or acting. Two survivors of the plague take refuge on an island only to find that it is occupied by a cabal of living people more evil than the walking dead. Despite the zombie sequences, this is actually very slow moving and although I was glad to see an effort to develop the characters, the execution is flat and uninspired and they really don’t have any more depth than those found in less thoughtful variations. Not that it really attempted to do anything original with the main plot, which is just as predictable as you would expect it to be.  Only interesting if you have nothing else to do. 10/2/12

Killers from Space (1954)  

Continuing my viewing off cheapie SF flicks from the 1950s.  Even Peter Graves couldn’t save this one. He’s a scientist who disappeared when his plane crashed, abducted by aliens who brainwashed him, then reappeared at a military base with no memory of what happened.  The aliens look like Marty Feldman in black hosiery. Various lizards and spiders are shown magnified as weapons of the aliens but there’s no interaction of them with the environment. The chase through the tunnels goes on forever but the rest of the plot isn’t any more lively. The science is meaningless doubletalk. 9/26/12

Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954)

Another cheapie complete with cute kid, an orphan, and a leaden, unimaginative script. The boy tells a woman that a sea monster killed his father but she doesn’t believe him. It’s directed by the man who did the script for Robot Monster, a strong contender for worst movie of all time.  Some of the sounds were re-recorded; dialogue on an open boat has an echo. The woman teams up with a scientist who has a one man submarine. The scientist is trying to develop a way of growing surface crops on the ocean floor – apparently he doesn’t know that photosynthesis requires sunlight. Anyway, the monster is a giant squidlike creature with a single glowing eye. The monster is silly and the underwater photography is murky at best. 9/24/12

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)  

The last addition to the classic Universal Monsters, and my favorite, the story of an expedition to the Amazon that discovers that a prehistoric gilled creature still exists – although why there would only be one of them is never explained. There are some goofs – the female lead describes details of a photograph she has not yet seen – but otherwise the script is well done and the underwater sequences are exceptional, particularly the sequence in which the creature shadows the swimming Julie Adams. Like the other Universal monsters, the creature is not entirely to blame, having been attacked by humans prior to killing them. One of the very best of its type. 9/24/12

Devil Girl from Mars (1954) 

 One of the silliest invasion stories from the 1950s, a kind of counterpart to Mars Needs Women. The Devil Girl has come to Earth to grab a bunch of males to help rejuvenate her race. She dresses like a dominatrix, has a raygun, and is aided by a funny looking indestructible robot. The human characters are so dull that there is no suspense and since there’s not much plot, special effects, or originality, there’s really no reason to watch this one at all. Hammer and other studios would eventually produce some good British SF films but this certainly doesn’t measure up to them. It’s also relentlessly chauvinistic despite the aggressive title character. Perhaps the suggestion is that assertive females are inherently evil. The ship lands near a remote inn whose guests include a recently released convict, a pair of reporters, and some uptight locals. This is really awful. 8/23/12

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1953)  

The Disney classic starring James Mason and Kirk Douglas. Captain Nemo is destroying warships under the guise of a sea monster, although it’s actually a submarine. Douglas and company are among a few survivors from one vessel taken aboard and kept as virtual prisoners. Lots of very nice underwater photography and the sets within the Nautilus are also impressive. Mason portrays Nemo as a man driven insane by what he has suffered so that he has lost perspective on life and death, even though his motives are on some level admirable. The fight with the giant squid, though dubious in its authenticity, is nevertheless impressive, and the encounter with cannibals is also nicely done.  The best adaptation of a Jules Verne novel. 9/21/12

Spaceways (1953) 

A not particularly successful British SF film based on a radio script by Charles Eric Maine which he later novelized. Howard Duff is a scientist whose wife is having an affair with a man who turns out to be a spy. The couple disappear and Duff is suspected of having murdered them and disposed of their bodies by shooting them into space. He has to launch a mission of his own to examine the satellite and disprove the police theory. There’s a particularly inept undercover agent complicating matters. With minimal special effects, much of it stock footage, and the very slow pace of events, this is a sleep inducer rather than a sleeper classic and well below the usual standard for early British SF films. 9/20/12

Blade  Runner 30th Anniversary soundtrack by Vangelis, BuySoundtrax Records, 2012

Music from the Batman Trilogy by London Musicworks, Silva Screen, 2012

Super Themes, Silva Screen, 2012

Looper soundtrack composed by Nathan Johnson, La-La Land Records, 2012 

These four recent CDs of movie music provide a noticeable variety of sounds. I almost always enjoy Vangelis, so it almost goes without saying that I would like the soundtrack to Blade Runner – although it’s sobering to realize that the movie is thirty years old. Where does the time go?  Unlike most SF movie soundtracks, this isn’t a succession of rousing pieces suggesting battles or astronomical wonders. There’s an element of strangeness but the lush sounds provided an interesting contrast to the starkly urban visuals. My favorites from this were “Bicycle Riders” and the main titles.  

The second CD draws music from the last three Batman movies. I always liked “Vespertilio”, the opening cut from Batman Begins, even though I never cared for any of the Christian Bale Batman movies particularly.  The other four cuts are noticeably subdued, except for “Molossus”, and less interesting musically. “Antrozous” is the exception, and probably my second favorite of those included here. The selections from The Dark Knight struck me as being too similar to one another although they’re otherwise not bad. There are five cuts from The Dark Knight Rises, which I’ve already reviewed, and two of my favorites are here – “Rise” and “Imagine the Fire.” 

The third has a couple of overlaps with other recent CDs I’ve heard but most of it was new to me.  The music is drawn from the Batman movies, Superman, X-Men, Transformers, The Rocketeer, and even Danger Mouse. There were several I liked, including the main titles from Batman and Robin, the theme from the television show, and the great end titles from Batman Returns. “Avengers Assemble”, which I think is from an animated version, is pretty good as well. The Superman music is good and I particularly liked the theme from Smallville. The Spider-Man selections are okay but less impressive. Also of interest are the suite from Judge Dredd, the theme from Heroes, and the theme from Danger Mouse

I haven’t seen Looper yet, obviously, so I can’t judge how well the soundtrack works with the visuals.  The songs here are often quite unusual and a couple don’t work as separate music, but most of them are capable of standing on their own, although they’re sometimes very short, as in “A Day in the Life.”  Also liked “Hunting the Past”, “Mining for Memories”, “City Sweep” and “Closing Your Loop.”   Johnson’s compositions are sufficiently untraditional that they may put off some listeners.  With the exception of the exclusively Batman CD, all of these are worth listening to.

Science Fiction Theater (1955-1957)  

I used to watch this way back when it originally aired but hadn’t seen an episode in over fifty years until now. As far as I know, it was the only show to shoot its first season in color but switch to black and white for the second and final season. Truman Bradley, the host, often demonstrated scientific principles before an episode.  In fact, it’s more like modern SF than other SF anthology shows, with little melodrama, no monsters, and an attempt at scientific accuracy. The opening story, “Beyond,” is about a pilot’s encounter with a UFO. Like most of those that follow, it is simple, cheaply done, but surprisingly effective.  “Time Is Just a Place”, based on a Jack Finney story, is about an odd neighbor who turns out to be from the future. Nicely done.  “Out of Nowhere” speculates about the possible future use of focused sound waves. Interesting, even though they script assumes that bats are birds.  “Y.O.R.D.” is a forgettable piece about a message from space that makes several people telepathic. They “decipher” the message – which is only about forty words long – by analyzing the patterns in it. Silly. DeForest Kelley is in it. “Stranger in the Desert” is just as bad. Prospectors encounter a man who turns out to be from another planet. 

“No Food for Thought” is very implausible. The entire staff of an experiment with food supplements subjects itself to the substance without proper testing, and all are doomed by the process. The science is hokey too. “The Brain of John Emerson” assumes that IQ tests are meaningful. After brain surgery, a police officer becomes much more intelligent; it turns out the doctor copied some of his own knowledge during the operation. The plot isn’t very plausible. “Spider Inc.” is dreadful. A man invests all of his money to purchase a bit of fossilized amber in an attempt to figure out how to make synthetic oil.  “Death at 2 A.M.” is a murder mystery involving an experiment to increase physical strength.  “Conversation with an Ape” is based on pseudoscience, the possibility that animals have telepathic links to humans. Even without that it’s a terribly written story. A woman with a phobia about all animals marries an animal psychologist. “Marked Danger” has one of those plots that only works if people act consistently stupidly, plus hokey silence. Mice placed in orbit develop plant elements in their biochemistry, which spreads to humans. Also, if the small capsule was airtight, the mice would have suffocated long before they landed. The script is also openly misogynistic and it never does explain what happened to the mice. 

“Hour of Nightmare“ is a rather silly and uninteresting bit about encountering UFOs. “100 Years Long” opens with the host presenting an untenable premise, that we live shorter lives as societal pressure increases. Obviously we actually live longer, though that’s not cause and effect. A man admits that he’s more than a century old thanks to a rare herb. The conclusion that since he escaped from an asylum in 1845 the law requires that he be sent back is just silly, particularly since they know it’s a death sentence. “The Strange Doctor Lorenz” is about the curative power of royal jelly produced by bees. “The Frozen Sound” is ludicrous, even for its time. A bizarre case of espionage is investigated in a very unrealistic fashion. A crystal is used to record sounds.“The Stones Began to Move” claims that the so-called Indian rope trick is real and that the Egyptians neutralized gravity to build the pyramids.  

“The Lost Heartbeat” anticipates the development of artificial hearts but the story is pretty dull. “The World Below” deals with deepsea exploration. An experimental dive discovers an undersea city, or does it? This one’s pretty good. “Barrier of Silence” is an interesting but not convincing story of a man brainwashed by being isolated from all sounds. There’s a super computer in “Negative Man” and an accident with a technician transforms the man into an organic supercomputer with super acute senses. Not very good. “Dead Reckoning” is dull and is about navigating in a magnetic storm. “A Visit from Dr. Pliny” is a badly written and totally implausible story about alien visitors. “The Strange People at Pecos” is about teleportation and telekinesis and it’s terribly written. A radar operator at a classified missile project exhibits superhuman powers. The writer thought that lightyears were a measure of time. By far the silliest episode of the show to date. There’s suspended animation in “ Dead Storage.” A frozen mammoth baby is thawed out; interesting premise, lousy script. 

“The Human Equation” is an interesting speculation about an accidental discovery that alters human personalities for brief periods of time. “Target Hurricane” is a very dated story about a super hurricane. Silly mistake. The camera recording events in a weather plane shows external shots of the plane itself. Silly dialogue as well. An attempt at irrigating deserts results in murder in “The Water Maker”, one of the better episodes. “The Unexplored” is a fair story of clairvoyance but contrary to what the introduction says, telepathy is not an established scientific fact. “The Hastings Secret” is also pretty good. A scientist trains termites to eat clay, which makes them into cheap mining tools. “Postcard from Barcelona” is a very badly written episode about aliens secretly observing us. The death of a scientist is followed by the appearance of a previously unsuspected daughter, but the police honor her claim with no proof of her identity.  It’s also impossible to send a long message in digital code on a postcard. The intro to “Friend of a Raven” oddly enough claims that balance is the sixth sense. Never heard that one before. Another badly written one about a deaf and dumb child who develops other senses through contact with animals. There’s a total lack of understanding of how custody laws are conducted. “Beyond Return” is based on a Stanley Weinbaum story (although I can’t figure out which one). The premise is that humans can be treated so that they will regain miraculous healing powers forgotten along the evolutionary path. Some bad spots in the script. There are not several dormant human glands in the human body. The first subject develops unusual strength and other abilities, along with a ruthless personality. This would have been okay except that the woman playing the part is one of the worst actresses I’ve ever seen. 

“Before the Beginning” has dueling stereotypes as a scientist tries to reproduce the conditions that led to the first life on Earth. The science is awful and the story isn’t much better. In “The Long Day” an orbiting light source malfunctions and foils an effort by three bigots to divest a family of their home, causing them to reform. Corny. “Project 44” features an introductory interview with R.S. Richardson, who wrote two SF novels as Philip Latham back in the 1950s. The story is about a project to create the first manned mission to Mars. The training group is only eight before the testing, and the crew is supposed to be eight, which means they have no breakup. The scene in which a woman on the staff goes on a rant against the project is embarrassingly bad. “Are We Invaded?” is a mildly cute UFO story that has a good demonstration of the mundane causes of many sightings. “Operation Flypaper” stars Vincent Price. It poses a fascinating mystery. A number of technological advances are stolen during incidents in which everyone involved is suspended in time for up to an hour.  “The Other Side of the Moon” opens with an obviously fallacious assumption that any dark markings on a space ship would cause the sun’s rays to destroy the vessel. The story is about a new kind of astronomical camera that indicates something is happening on the dark side of the moon. Turns out aliens are using the moon to store radioactive waste. Bleah. 

“Signals from the Heart” is forgettable and badly constructed. Doctors cannot be held responsible for physical problems that cannot be detected by tests. A disgraced doctor develops a way to monitor hearts from a distance. “The Long Sleep” is an okay episode about the use of suspended animation as a medical treatment.  “Who Is This Man?” is a bad story about hypnosis revealing a kind of reincarnation is real. “The Green Bomb” deals with efforts to resist the effects of radiation. The plot is unusually stupid for the program, and a good cast struggles to sound plausible. A scientist tries to use nuclear power to create fertile land in the okay “The Green Bomb.”  “When a Camera Fails” opens with a scientist using a new form of microscope to discover that crystal sometimes contains images as though it had functioned as a camera. No one but the discoverer can see the images, however, which raises the question why he didn’t print out any of the pictures. Implausible from beginning to end. Ditto for “Bullet Proof”, which posits a new kind of metal but has a plot that makes enormous and unsupportable leaps of logic. “The Flicker” is better, suggesting that strobe lights might induce hypnosis in susceptible people. “The Unguided Missile” posits that microwaves might also allow thought transfer. 

“Mind Machine” follows an experiment in reading messages from the brain. Dull. “The Missing Waveband” is a predictable bit about radio signals from outer space that help advance western science. “The Human Experiment” is a rather stupid and scientifically illiterate story about using insect enzymes to turn mentally disturbed people into useful, if not sane, individuals. The scientist commits breaking and entry, theft, assault, and kidnapping instead of calling the police. Offensive as well as badly conceived.  “The Man Who Didn’t Know” is ok, a man is fitted with a transmitter without his knowledge and becomes a security leak. “End of Tomorrow” is insultingly dumb. The country agrees to inject everyone in the country – in a single day – with a new serum, without testing it or investigating charges that those injected have no male offspring. A complete ignorance of science doesn’t help any. The second season of this show was decidedly inferior to the first. “The Phantom Car” is better, dealing with an automatic radar controlled car that goes haywire, running people down. “Beam of Power” gets off to a bad start. A secret installation which has no telephone service, nevertheless has telephones in the offices, and a crisis starts when one of them rings. It gets worse. Aliens are assassinating human scientists. “Legend of “ is also annoying bad, about a group of children with superhuman mental powers.  Terribly bad script. 

In “Living Lights” a scientist experimenting with mimicking the atmosphere of Venus inadvertently creates a living ball of light. Implausible but not awful.  “Jupitron” on the other hand is pretty bad. A scientist and his wife are briefly kidnapped to one of Jupiter’s moons. Deadly dull.  “The Throwback” speculates about the possibility of memory being transferred through chromosomes. The science is atrocious this time as well, and the dialogue is nearly as bad. Even if it were true, it wouldn’t work the way it is described here. They even claim that the memories are linked to the fact that the descendant has the same name – which is determined by the parent, not the individual. Nor is the marital status an inherited trait. Nor can it affect the actions of other people.  “The Miracle of Dr. Dove” is pretty good. A doctor develops a method of restoring a semblance of youth to people. On the other hand, a plainly marked door with a doorknob is not a “secret room”.  The plot of “One Thousand Eyes” involves murder and a revolutionary type of camera. The solution is obvious but it’s well done.  “Brain Unlimited” speculates about enhancements to the brain, but it’s not very well thought out. They also can’t add. The number of possible combinations of 200 factors is a lot more than 10,000. Someone finds a way to fake fingerprints in “Death at My Fingerprints”, which is one of the better episodes. It even has a female scientist who solves the mystery.  The science in “Survival in Box Canyon” has been outrun by events. A computer is used to predict where a plane crash may have occurred. 

“Facsimile” has a shaky premise. Scientists working on a new transistor “catch” physical problems from a nearby hospital. The conclusion that two people working in the same department could not develop serious physical ailments the same day within the bounds of reason is nonsense. And scientists never believed that cosmic rays were “bombarding the earth with viruses from outer space”.  A patch of ground exudes a deadly gas in “Killer Tree”, which is okay but dull.  “Gravity Zero” is a pretty inept bit about the discovery of anti-gravity.  “The Magic Suitcase” is a kind of cute story about an alien visitor who leaves a new power source to tickle human imagination. “Bolts of Lightning” is pretty pointless. Investigation of an explosion reveals the discovery of a new heat source. “The Secret Lodger” is another alien living secretly among us to study our culture stories, okay, but repetitive.  A spy uses a sound weapon in “Sound That Kills”, which isn’t bad but relies on coincidence. 

“The Voice” is an awful story about a paralyzed man who develops telepathy.  Dreadful from beginning to end. “Three Minute Mile” is about a secret experiment to develop super strength in humans. A little naïve but not badly done, although the ending is dumb.  “The Last Barrier” is another dreadful episode. A new rocket is designed which draws energy from outer space so it doesn’t need fuel or reaction mass. Clearly someone didn’t know how rockets work. The writing is otherwise bad as well. “Signals from the Moon” opens with a diplomat being assaulted because of a very implausible security system. To save him, a surgeon transmits instructions that are bounced off the moon. Not bad. “Dr. Robot” is a mildly interesting story of a man who uses an experimental computer to make a medical decision. "The Human Circuit" is an implausible story about clairvoyance. "The Miracle Hour" is a ridiculous tear jerker about a blind boy who is treated by phototropism. Finally, we have a story of a search for the secrets of how ancient civilizations  the power of the sun in "Sun Gold", which is pretty boring. Overall, this was a surprisingly good series, particularly the first season, more hard science in the Analog style than wild adventures. The writing was rarely more than competent and occasionally dreadful but as a whole it was a surprisingly well done show. 9/18/12

Phantom from Space (1953) 

A real cheapie about an invisible alien who lands on Earth. Its spacesuit, unfortunately, is not invisible and it kills a man shortly after landing. Leaden acting and some really dumb dialogue as no one seems to suspect an alien is responsible despite having tracked a UFO that interferes with radio signals and eye witness descriptions of the alien’s suit. Despite the rapid pace of the plot, this one is a snoozer. The alien is just a human in a diving suit and they reuse the same footage of more than one occasion. It leaves human footprints and when its hand becomes visible, it is also completely human. Unimaginative and badly done. 9/17/12

Invaders from Mars (1953)

Despite the visible zippers on the suits for the Martians, this thinly veiled Communist fifth column paranoia movie about invaders from Mars scared the pants off me as a kid and I still feel a little shudder when people drop out of sight at the end of the fence in the empty field.  A young boy sees a flying saucer land but no one believes him, and pretty soon some of the local people begin acting strangely after visiting the field. The Martian invaders have a colony under the ground and use tiny devices on the neck to control the people they capture. The aliens get defeated, of course, and then we discover it was all a dream, except that we see things that the boy presumed to be the dreamer could not have witnessed. And then he wakes up and it starts to happen all over again. Despite some plot problems, and the fact that the script is clearly directed toward kids, this has some very creepy moments early on, though it becomes silly later. 9/16/12

It Came from Outer Space (1953)   

Richard Carlson sees a spaceship land with an alien passenger, but it is buried in a landslide and no one will believe him. The alien is pretty silly looking for the plot is fairly suspenseful. The local townspeople begin to act strangely, as though they are being influenced by an external force, which of course is exactly what is happening. Although this is one of the “classic” SF movies of the 1950s, I’ve always considered it near the bottom of the barrel. The aliens are relatively benevolent; they capture humans but don’t harm them, just use them to repair their disabled ship. The aliens are somewhat ambivalent, neither particularly evil nor particularly good, which is pretty much my opinion of the movie as a whole. 9/15/12

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) 

I believe this is the first movie about atomic testing awakening a prehistoric creature, ancestor of Godzilla and many others. A nuclear test in the Arctic thaws a sea traveling dinosaur that wrecks ships and a lighthouse before coming ashore in New York City to trample people, gobble up cars, smash through buildings, and finally die in the middle of an amusement park. The writers avoided the invulnerable to bullets problem by making the creature a carrier of a deadly disease which would be further dispersed if it was blow apart, a dubious but palatable explanation. The heroes use a sharpshooter to inject it with a radioactive isotope which does the job instead. I suspect there’s an in joke in this one because one of the characters asks Kenneth Tobey if he’s sure flying saucers aren’t real. Tobey led the effort to kill the alien from the flying saucer in The Thing from Another World two years earlier. I do have to point out that the beast is not from 20,000 fathoms; it's just frozen in the ice. 9/14/12

House of Wax (1953)   

Vincent Price excels as a slightly nutty sculptor of wax figurines whose business partner wants to fake an accidental fire for the insurance money. Price, who is horribly disfigured in the fire, survives and kills his ex-partner. Now insane, he kills a woman but is seen by another, whom he unsuccessfully chases. Price then reappears as a crippled businessman who cannot walk or sculpt, but who has a normal face – no surprise that it turns out to be a wax mask. He is now determined to open a chamber of horrors, using real people as his models. Coincidentally, he becomes obsessed with using the female witness as the model for a new Marie Antoinette. The unraveling of his plans is quite predictable but still makes for an excellent story. One of the best early horror movies. 9/13/12

Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies (2012) 

This is an obvious joke ripoff of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer. I bet you didn’t know that Lincoln’s father committed suicide after his mother became a zombie. Years later, as President, Lincoln hears rumors of the walking dead at a strategic fort held by the Confederates so he personally leads a squad of twelve agents on a commando mission to recapture the fort and learn the truth. They outnumber (!) the defenders, who are led by Stonewall Jackson himself. That’s odd because Jackson was accidentally shot by his own soldiers earlier that year and died of pneumonia. The dialogue and acting had me laughing out loud. The soundtrack is tinny and while some of the scenery is nice, the color is so washed out that it all seems drab. Teddy Roosevelt and Pat Garrett have cameos. 9/12/12

When Worlds Collide (1951) 

The novel by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer was brought to the screen in this ambitious effort, which is supposedly going to be remade by Stephen Sommers sometime in the not too distant future. For its time, the special effects are very good up until the really silly painted backdrop at the end. With a rogue planet en route to destroy the Earth, a small band of people build a spaceship with which to evacuate to another planet. They have to overcome financial and political obstacles, and eventually a rebellion by workers not chosen to go on the trip.  I wasn’t entirely convinced that some of the background would really have happened that way, but the movie is otherwise as good as I remembered. 8/11/12

Nazis at the Center of the Earth (2012) 

How could I possibly pass up a cheesy title like this?  Actually, it has nothing to do with the center of the Earth, although it does have Nazis. Exceptionally bad acting make this one almost funny. Dr. Mengele survived in a secret base in Antarctica where he is assisted by a squad of zombified Nazi soldiers whose flesh has to be replaced periodically by grafts from captives. A scientific expedition finds the entrance to the base and every member descends leaving no one on the surface and taking no radios with them, but it's all a plot of the head of the project, who is in league with Mengele. The Nazis also have Hitler’s head, which they install in a robot body aboard their flying saucer, which is armed with death rays and disintegration rays, as well as missiles filled with flesh eating bacteria. It has a handful of conventional gun turrets which make it impregnable (!) to modern aircraft and missiles, but one of our heroes sabotages it from within. The CGI Hitler robot makes Robot Monster look good. This is so bad that it must have been intended to be funny.  I watched it to the end because I was too stunned to turn it off. 9/10/12

The Thing from Another World (1951) 

Although this adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.’s “Who Goes There?” bears only a passing resemblance to the original story (the John Carpenter version is much closer) it is still a classic SF film. Scientists in the Arctic encounter a crashed spacecraft, inadvertently revive the frozen pilot, and then have to defend themselves as it sets about trying to reproduce itself and conquer the world. The dialogue in this one is crisp and realistic as well as intelligent and despite the relatively disappointing monster – James Arness in makeup -  the movie is very suspenseful and convincing. Although the cast has no big name stars, everyone turns in a fine performance. An excellent film overall and not dated at all. 9/9/12

The Man from Planet X (1951) 

I was very impressed when I saw this on television back in the 1950s but it doesn’t hold up well. The science is even worse than usual. A new planet enters the solar system headed for Earth, but no one seems particularly concerned. A reporter is called to a remote island by an astronomer friend, and when he arrives, the rustic fishing village is actually a painted backdrop, a ridiculously cheap way to avoid location shooting. This British island, complete with moors, is supposedly the spot on Earth that will be closest to the approaching planet, which makes no sense at all. A small space capsule is found which is clearly of extraterrestrial origin according to the professor, but when his daughter reports that she has seen a spaceship on the moor, he characterizes it as “fantasy”.  Competent acting can’t elevate a stupid script. The alien turns out to be benevolent but there’s also an evil scientist who attacks the visitor in hopes of extracting secrets of an advanced technology. 9/8/12

Flight to Mars (1951)  

This is another cheaply made, scientifically illiterate story of the first spaceflight, this one heading to Mars with Cameron Mitchell and others. The rocket doesn’t move in the opposite direction of the drive thrust for one thing. Three members of the crew don’t belong there – a journalist with nothing to contribute, a scientist who believes from the outset that they’re all doomed, and the female member who is more interested in pouting about her boyfriend’s indifference – he’s also in the crew – than in doing her job. And the chief scientist launches into speeches about scientific theories that are patently nonsense. They crashland on Mars and find a completely human underground civilization which pretends to be friendly although the government actually intends to steal the ship when it is finished and use it to invade and conquer Earth. How they expect to transport an army in a ship with a capacity of five people is never explained. Horrible dialogue makes an already bad story even worse. 9/7/12

Rocketship X-M (1950)   

Unlike Destination Moon, this early SF thriller is scientifically illiterate. Radio still operates outside the earth’s atmosphere despite what you’ll see here, and when you jettison your tail section, it does not suddenly begin moving faster and almost hit your ship. There’s a meteor storm, which make sounds as they go past, and weightlessness is intermittent and gradual. Worst of all is the incredibly chauvinistic script, directed at the brainy female member of the crew who eventually learns to be soft and feminine. Due to a malfunction, they miss the moon and are knocked unconscious for “several days” but then awaken perfectly all right, not even thirsty, to find that they have reached Mars. They land during a thunderstorm! Although the film has been black and white to this point, there’s a red filter for all the Martian scenes. The crew leave the ship for several days even though they only have one tank of air each, and for some reason they brought a rifle and a sidearm along, which is helpful since the Martians who survived a nuclear war have become barbarian savages who attack them. Atypically, everyone dies in the end.  9/6/12

The Hunger Games (2012) 

The first volume of the YA trilogy by Suzanne Collins comes to the screen in pretty loyal fashion, but it’s even more reminiscent of Battle Royale than the books were.  The first half, in which two dozen teenagers are chosen for the elaborate duel to the death are chosen, trained, and marketed, is quite well done, if you can accept that such a civilization – which has futuristic trains and buildings and can manipulate matter into the form of ravenous dog creatures – could exist on such a one sided basis. The battle scenes in the second half are more muted than I expected, which was actually a good thing, and the only difficulty is that with only a couple of exceptions we don’t learn enough about the characters to care when they die. The biggest problem for me was the shaky, handheld camera which I found enormously distracting – the picture jumps up and down and back and forth constantly. I suppose this was supposed to be arty but it comes across as just annoying. 9/5/12

Destination Moon (1950)  

The first realistic portrayal of a trip to the moon on screen, from the screenplay by Robert A. Heinlein, brought to life by George Pal. Although Chesley Bonestell’s vision of what the moon’s surface might look like turned out to be wrong, this still holds up surprisingly well. The story is straightforward and involves some of Heinlein’s usual hang-ups – a preoccupation with fifth columnists and saboteurs as well as conviction that private industry, not the government, should manage space exploration. “The government always turns to private industry when it’s in trouble; it has to.”  Great special effects for its time and a reasonable solution to the problem that arises when they discover they have insufficient fuel to escape the moon’s gravity. A classic. 9/4/12

The She-Wolf of London ((1946) 

The mother from both Lassie and Lost in Space, June Lockhart, believes herself to be a murderous werewolf in this rather silly horror film unrelated to the other Universal werewolf movies, supposedly set in London although it’s transparently not England at all. She is also engaged to be married and dogs hate her. There is also the too-good-to-be-true aunt, who isn’t really an aunt. The truth about what is really going on is apparent almost from the outset and there’s no actual supernatural content despite appearances to the contrary. Boring and implausible rather than actively bad. Even the climax is flat and unsatisfying. 9/3/12

House of Dracula (1945) 

John Carradine takes over as Dracula in this very inferior addition to the series, which has Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster and Lon Chaney as the Wolf Man. Dracula wants to be cured of his bloodlust. He appeals to a doctor whose attitude towards vampirism is inconsistent. The Wolf Man shows up a bit later, also looking for a cure. They promptly find the monster in a cave. All of this plays out with dialogue that is often stilted and sometimes silly. The scientist gives Dracula a transfusion and becomes infected and increasingly evil. Chaney gets cured, the monster burns up, and Dracula goes about his business. Minor. 9/2/12

The Mummy’s Curse (1944) 

Lon Chaney takes over as the mummy in this one, but he can’t bring the final title in the original series to life. Lots of flashbacks from the previous movie in this one, padding it out. The mummy and the reincarnated princess survived sinking into quicksand and are freed by a construction project to wander around and scare the populace once again. A few effective scenes sprinkled among much dull footage. Tiny budgets and minor supporting casts inevitably show up when a franchise is heading downhill and this is a prime example. Few chills and no thrills. 9/1/12

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