Last Update 3/31/13


Hands of Steel (1986)  

Another awful Italian SF martial arts movie. A nasty businessman decides to use a cyborg soldier to assassinate the head of a troublesome environmentalist group. Unfortunately, the cyborg has second thoughts and overrides his programming and spares the man, then goes rogue. The rest of the movie is pretty much a race between the goons and the authorities to catch the fugitive, who beats the crap out of anyone within reach while learning to find his soft side.  Unconvincing and uninteresting. I only got to the end because I was too lazy to get up and switch to another disc. 3/31/13

Ferocious Planet (2011) 

This Sci-Fi Channel movie gets confusing right from the outset. The head of security for a scientific research project greets visiting dignitaries in a camouflage suit, although he appears to be a civilian who was cashiered from the army after supposedly disgracing his uniform and causing severe damage to the country. To compound the confusion, the other guards are apparently regularly army, also in camouflage suits. Then later it appears that he is still in the army after all, which makes no sense because he would have been court martialed and discharged if that were the case. The researchers have simultaneously discovered cold fusion and a way to look into parallel worlds which latter, we are told, has been confirmed by peer review even though the device has never been operated until that moment. Since peer review involves replication of the experiment, this is patent nonsense. We’re told that pictures are all that are possible, but we hear the sound of an animal passing by. Then there’s the inevitable power spike and the humans and a small chunk of building are transported into an alternate jungle world with lots of CGI monsters. Now I can accept that the emergency lighting would still work, but where are they getting power to operate some of their equipment? The actors are clearly mugging much of the time, which suggests they have no more respect for this miserable script than I do.  It gets deliberately silly after a while but not funny enough to be interesting. And if the building was originally three stories beneath the ground, why does it have exterior windows?  3/30/13

Galaxina (1980) 

This silly space adventure would probably be completely forgotten if the Playboy Playmate star , Dorothy Stratten, hadn’t been  brutally murdered by her husband shortly after the film was completed. It opens with a parody of the Star Wars opening. Galaxina is a female robot capable of emotions and who is employed by the galactic police force. The whole movie is a spoof but the jokes aren’t really funny, probably because they are so badly done. An encounter with a mysterious unidentified spaceship leads to complications but they’re so simple minded and badly conceived that there’s no point in explaining them. Stratten shows no talent for acting and the rest of the cast struggles with the dreadful script. There are pokes at Dark Star, Star Trek, and Alien among others but none of the jokes work 3/29/13

Roadkill (2011) 

A group of relatively unobnoxious young adults are touring Ireland in an SUV when they run afoul of some nasty gypsies who put a curse on them. The results is a kind of cross between Pumpkinhead and Thinner, with a giant and rather fake looking scary bird pursuing them. Since this is supernatural, we are spared the usual lame explanations that the Sci-Fi Channel is prone to including. Even horror has to have some logic though. In this case, things start to look pretty stupid when the tourists initially escape the gypsies by locking them in their store. How many stores have a deadbolt on the OUTSIDE of their front doors?  During their escape, they accidentally run down an elderly gypsy woman, compounding their problem. They pass through a fog bank after which they cannot find any other people no matter how far they drive, and naturally cell phones don’t work. The silly looking giant bird claims its first victim and the rest engage in inane dialogue for what seems an interminal period. How’s this for scintillating dialogue: “If we want to survive this, we have to stick together.” Mostly the movie is just boring after that, waiting for the next victim to get out of the SUV and die.  The plot begins to disintegrate as well. They run into the gypsies again, and discover that they bought an amulet that protects them from the bird. But then they send out a diversionary party in an attempt to make a phone call, ignoring the fact that they could all just walk to the phone with the amulet to ward off the creature. The acting in this is actually pretty good, particularly the chief human villain, but it’s wasted. The final scenes, which seem endless, are murky and even contradict the movie’s premise. 3/28/13

Horror High (1974) 

I watched Return to Horror High a long time ago, but this was my first exposure to the original, and the connection is tenuous to the point of nonexistence. A nerdy kid is picked on by the jocks and beautiful people so he decides to have his revenge. What an original concept! Need I point out that the teenagers are all in their mid-twenties?  The evil teacher is essentially a cartoon character, the nerd is a walking stereotype, the nice girl has no depth, and the rest of the characters are just placeholders. Vernon concocts a potion that transforms him into a monster in which form he begins killing off his enemies – and almost everyone is an enemy – in gruesome if low budget ways.  The makeup for the monster is so minimal and the lighting so bad that the character doesn’t look any different. Oddly watchable despite its many faults. 3/27/13

Portrait of Jennie (1948) 

Having reread the book, I realized I had never seen the movie version, which has now been rectified. The book is about a man who encounters a mysterious woman at various stages of her life, with a trace of romance at the end. The voiceover prologue is full of mysticism and pseudo-science and is a bit treacly. Joseph Cotton is an unsuccessful artist when he first encounters Jennie as a child, which scene is not done well, frankly. Jennifer Jones looks far too old to be even a teenager and she’s supposed to be much younger than that.  The treatment is interesting at times but the pacing is dreadful with far too much voiceover narration. The movie flopped when it first appeared. Part of the reason is probably because it takes longer to watch the movie than to read the entire book. Has its moments, and the cast is stellar, but it falls short of being a classic. 3/26/13

Behemoth (2011) 

I could have told you this was made for the Sci-Fi Channel within minutes. There are major earth tremors and geysers and people falling over each other, but not a branch in the forest stirs and none of the loose equipment sitting around so much as jiggles. It’s almost a trademark for the cheapies they specialize in. It gets worse really fast. There’s another tremor and the male lead announces that it’s clearly not an earthquake. But it is, in fact, and even if it wasn’t, how would he know? And then a technician monitoring seismic equipment declares a volcano extinct even though it has been experiencing tremors for more than a decade. The retired professor tells us that whenever a society is on the brink of destroying its environment, an outside force intervenes to stop it. Tell that to Easter Island. The professor is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and I’m tempted to suggest the screenwriter shares the malady, but the truth is that adherence to actual historical facts is a rarity in films of this type. The writers figure either the viewers won’t know the difference, or won’t care. The acting is competent at first but the script becomes so bizarre that the cast has trouble making it plausible. The professor rants that we’re destroying the world, the female seismologist insists that there’s a three foot layer of carbon dioxide coating the mountain, the sheriff doesn’t see a problem even though one man has been asphyxiated and he’s seen a near death at close hand, and the protagonist stumbles through his apparently broken romance with the seismologist. The professor is also having visions of a Mayan monster that lives underground waiting for the day of reckoning, which is obviously what is actually going on, at least as close to it as the script can manage. Then we’re told that the seismic evidence for the past several days suggests that the mountain should have exploded, which makes one wonder why they didn’t warn the townspeople, but it didn’t because it’s just a “geothermal anomaly” which is a catchall for “we didn’t want to actually have to do any research on the subject, just borrow selectively from Dante’s Peak.”  Meanwhile our hero, who also knows about the deadly gas, doesn’t interfere with his younger sister’s camping trip in the middle of the dangerous area. Coincidence is also a major plot element. There’s a government agent looking for a team that was monitoring the mountain – the government knew about the tremors and for some reason decided this should be a military operation! – and he gets the male lead to bring her to a remote and difficult to reach location on the mountain. The seismologist, who for some reason panics AFTER a tremor, promptly turns up at the same place even though she started out near a road only a few minutes earlier. Later the hero is on an entirely different section of the mountain looking for his sister when he runs into the government man, whom we have just been told has gone to a much more difficult area elsewhere. The two characters trapped when a diner is swallowed up in a sinkhole keep talking about finding a way out, but instead of looking they just sit down and talk. The group on the mountain find a ranger station that just happens to have a fueled, flight ready, but unaccompanied helicopter sitting on a landing pad. The case they recovered from the dead monitoring team just happens to have the only weapon in the world that can destroy the monster – a bazooka. The seismologist conveniently knows how to prep a helicopter for takeoff and the hero used to be a pilot. There are also instances where characters know something that happened without being told. At least the scenery is pretty. How anyone can foist this mess on the public is beyond me. This much stupidity almost has to be intentional. 3/25/13

Robo Vampire (1988)

Whenever I think I’ve seen how inept a movie can be, someone makes another that proves me wrong. This one features oriental vampires who hop like kangaroos and have toxic breath (as well as bad makeup) and they eat flesh rather than drink blood, so they’re actually modern zombies rather than vampires. Awful dubbing and a nearly incoherent plot about a drug agent who is killed, then revived as a cyborg to fight the vampire agents of the drug lords. The comic relief sequences aren’t as funny as the scenes designed to be taken seriously. At times – quite often actually – it is impossible to figure out what is going on. Why does coffin dust make vampires disintegrate? Why do labels make them quiescent? There are jumps in the action that look like scenes were deleted, so there’s no causative relationship from one to the next. Wretched. 3/24/13

Spiders (2013)

This was a pleasant surprise for a while. Although it’s no prize winner and there are more than abundant clichés, the acting is competent and the special effects are better than average.  A Russian satellite is hit by a meteor and a fragment carrying mutant spiders crashes in New York City. The spiders are fast breeding, poisonous, and capable of growing to monstrous sizes. There’s a subplot about the transit authority manager who is being divorced by the health inspector which is dull but okay. There’s another about the spiders actually being a secret weapons project that is not only old hat but completely implausible. The script starts to veer into weirdoville once this subplot gets underway, with the army seizing people and breaking laws right and left. The colonel in charge is such a comic book villain that he’s not remotely believable. At one point we are told that the female lead’s cell phone battery died so she can’t be traced by GPS, except that they ARE in fact tracking her, until her husband removes the battery from HIS cell phone. But they were tracking TWO signals. For that matter, how can they hope to cover up the fact that much of the subway system has been overrun by five foot tall spiders?  Not to mention that the strike unit is in the right place within minutes of the crash, even though fragments of the satellite have fallen all across North America. 3/23/13

Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, composed by Bear McCreary, 2013 

I’ve listened to a lot of the music from the revived version of Battlestar Galactica, all of it composed by Bear McCreary, and almost without exception I have enjoyed every cut on each CD. The styling is eclectic, there’s far less repetition than I normally see in soundtracks, and the music is genuinely interesting as music rather than just as an adjunct to the screen – and in fact I’ve never seen a single episode, though I’ve picked up some of the DVDs to watch at some point. This newest feels a bit quieter and introspective than the earlier ones, which probably has to do with the script as much as anything else, although sometimes a quiet beginning soon gives way to a more energetic finish.  My favorite cuts this time include “The Last Battle of Osiris,” “Emergency Landing,” “Ski Lodge Battle,” and “Husker”. Worth a listen or two or maybe more. 3/22/13

Danger Man/Secret Agent Set 5 (1965)

Eight more episodes of the British spy show, opening with a very good episode, “The Outcast”, in which Drake tracks down an AWOL radio operator who may know something about a dangerous leak. Drake has to investigate an old friend in “To Our Best Friend”, which starts out strong but wavers a bit on the way to the end, wherein the solution is obvious well in advance.  He has to rescue a suspicious doctor in “Judgement Day”, which involves a disabled plane and a spell stranded in the desert. There’s an effort to present a nuanced case for extra legal remedies to war crimes but it is necessarily truncated.  Drake is suspicious that the apparent death of an enemy agent was faked in “Say It With Flowers” and naturally he’s right. One of the best episodes.  Drake is framed as a traitor in “Man on the Beach”, which has horror legend Barbara Steele as a guest star, and it’s a pretty good episode. “Someone Is Liable to Get Hurt” is a bit slow. Drake pretends to be an arms dealer and becomes a prisoner of his prospective client. Drake rescues a captured agent and discovers the man has gone insane in “The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk.” This was one of the few episodes I didn’t like.  Finally there is “Dangerous Secret” in which a man develops a dangerous new gas, goes to France to avoid the government’s heavy handed efforts to control him, and nearly falls prey to foreign agents. It’s not bad but I don’t think French hotel security can deport people. 3/20/13

Raiders of Atlantis (1983)   

This is a really bad Italian/Filipino action film in which efforts to raise a Russian submarine release radioactivity into the ocean, which for some reason causes lost Atlantis, still inhabited, to rise from the ocean floor. A bunch of thugs from Atlantis battle with our heroes on an island devastated by the tidal wave their re-emergence precipitated. It’s worse than it sounds, if you can imagine such a thing, ineptly dubbed, ineptly shot, and just generally inept in every way. Sometimes there is dirt on the camera lens so there are artifacts swimming across the view. Some of the characters act completely randomly or out of character, and one of them turns out to be an agent of Atlantis – which makes no sense since he’s been around since before the island returned. But since the plot doesn’t make any sense either, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. The Atlanteans ride motorcycles and vintage cars with blades attached to their hubcaps. Appalling beyond description. 3/20/13

The Bat (1959) 

I hadn’t seen this movie in at least fifty years but I remembered Agnes Morehead distinctly as the detective writer who rents a creepy old house in an area terrorized by crimes committed by the mysterious Bat.  The movie is based upon the play and novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart, the latter of which I also remember reading. At the same time, there has been a major embezzlement from the local bank. The embezzler wants to convince his doctor, Price, to fake his death in return for half of the take, which is hidden in a concealed room in the mansion. Price kills him instead but then he has to find the hidden money. There’s a regular parade of intruders, the embezzler’s nephew, the Bat himself, a suspicious burglar, the doctor, and even a suspicious policeman. As the bodies pile up, the list of suspects grows shorter. Although low budget and primitive by current standards, this one holds up very well and is genuinely suspenseful. 3/19/13

Hansel & Gretel (2012)  

Another one of those teen movies where most of the actors are well into their twenties and look it. This should not be confused with two other movies of the same title recently released. This is the one with Fivel and Booboo Stewart in the title roles.  And it’s really, really dull. The twins are sent to a posh private school where they stumble onto a coven of witches. Fortunately, they are descended from a long line of witch hunters, so after some uncertainty, they dispatch the head of the coven and save the day. Bad acting, lots of clichés, and the cover art – which suggests they don costumes and become superheroes of some sort – is a complete lie. Neither are there any swords anywhere in the movie. The continuity also descends to comedy. Sometimes an actor is wearing two different sets of clothing in the same scene!  3/18/13

Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971) 

Also known as Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, in which he battles a superpowered creature generated from toxic waste. Godzilla had become the good guy at this point, although he would later be reverted to a menace. It was obviously more of a kids’ movie, following Son of Godzilla, which was in much the same vein. There are even cartoons embedded in the film. A giant tadpole is sighted off the coast of Japan in a series of incidents. It turns out that there are multiple creatures but they can merge into a single entity which is sometimes just a big blob. A rather dopey looking Godzilla shows up when Hedorah comes ashore and the usual rubber suited battle sequences follow. Then we discover that the actual spark of life came from “a sticky dark planet far away.”  Okay.  Anyway, Hedorah learns to fly leaving toxic fumes in its wake. Really bad science. Really preachy bits about pollution. In response to the crisis, a group of people decide to have a party on top of Mount Fuji and play bad rock music. Eventually Godzilla wins, but only with human assistance. When Hedorah tries to fly away, Godzilla discovers he can fly as well! Silly mostly. 3/17/13

Vacancy 2 (2008)

This is the prequel to Vacancy which I haven’t seen and am not likely to ever even look for. It’s set in a hotel run by three young men who spy on young couples with concealed cameras until they witness a murder and get inspired to make money by killing visitors and selling snuff films. The  plot is straightforward and only marginally silly, but the execution – pun intended – is well below the quality level where I could maintain any real interest. The main victims are not as obnoxious as is usually the case in this kind of movie, but they’re not particularly inspiring either. And since we know that they were around to kill 200 people by the end of the first movie, we know that they aren’t going to get caught – although apparently the actors, their names, and even the motel are different. Not bad enough to be funny, not good enough to be fun. 3/16/13

Destroy All Monsters  (1968)

Godzilla, Mothra, etc. have all been exiled to an island called Monster Land, where they are imprisoned by various means. There is an attack on the island during which someone “jams” the image to the telescope at Moonbase. The various monsters are then scattered around the world where they attack various cities – and the special effects are somewhat better than in the earlier movies. “There are many small planets moving between Mars and Jupiter” and that’s where the villains come from. Battles and intrigues follow on Earth, under Earth, and on the moon. The monsters have little more than cameos. The villains – all women this time with sparkly white robes until they transform into blobbish things – are defeated by the superior ingenuity of the Japanese. The monsters are eventually under control of the human side but the villains bring in Ghidorah. Despite bad science and corny dialogue, this is one of the best of the early Godzilla movies.  3/15/13

Game of Thrones Season 2 (2012) 

The first season of this adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series blew me away and the second season doesn’t disappoint either. In addition to the superb work by the cast, the dialogue is amazing and the conveyance of complex plot twists in a few short scenes is even more impressive. I am still impressed by the younger actors, and Peter Dinklage is great as always. This is the season in which the Red Woman appears, the only character I didn’t like in the books because her powers make her too powerful and they seem at variance with the way the world was established. There are some minor changes from the book, mostly character names, but Rob Stark has a love interest created for the show and there are a couple other noticeable variations.  The battle for Kings Landing is quite well done and the appearance of the White Walkers is very impressive. Can’t wait for season 3. 3/14/13

Reptile  (1966)

This is a surprisingly effective Hammer horror film. When a man offends a cult of snake worshippers, they transform his daughter into a reptilian humanoid with a poisonous bite. After she claims her first victim, a brother and his wife move into the dead man’s house, thus presenting themselves as prospective victims. The supporting characters carry this a lot better than the stars, who are rather bland.  The cursed father over plays his part rather badly.  There would have been a fair degree of mystery if the cover of the dvd hadn’t made it obvious what was going on. Great sets and moderately good special effects. 3/13/13

Halo 4: Forward into Dawn (2012)   

I almost gave up on this one after ten minutes. It opens with a series of excerpts from interviews with cadets training to help the UN hunt down insurrectionists and it is trite, boring, repetitive, visually soporific and it is interspersed with shots that suggest the grandstanding of the Nazis. This is followed by a mostly incomprehensible sequence in space which is designed to suggest that we have suddenly run into hostile aliens, and then a training exercise – although we don’t realize that – in which the highly trained and highly disciplined cadets refuse to follow the orders of their superiors, which is the second point at which I almost stopped watching.  There are suggestions that the insurgents may be justified but we never find out enough to decide either way. The pro-military stuff is sometimes effective, sometimes trite. Four cadets survive the initial attack and are joined by a soldier in super armor who leads them to an evacuation point after a series of underlit, chaotic, and pretty boring encounters with the enemy. Not incompetently bad but very boring. I have not played the game but I have read some of tie in novels, and the backdrop here seems very different. 3/12/13

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965)  

A very minor space adventure despite the presence of Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue, both of whom deserved better.  It concerns the first expedition to Venus “where so many physical conditions are like our own.” Well, not really, not even in 1965. Meteor strikes, sounds in space, and the other usual scientific ineptitude of the genre. It was a Soviet production and is often paired with First Spaceship on Venus so most of the dialogue is dubbed – and the Russian actors all appear under western sounding pseudonyms for some reason. There’s also a moderately silly looking robot. As the title suggests, the planet is inhabited by dinosaurs and man-eating plants. Some of the dinosaurs are men in rubber suits, which gives you a good idea of the quality. Not worth watching. 3/11/13

Dream House (2011)

A new family moves into a home in New England only to discover that the last residents were all killed – except the husband who survived and whom the locals blame for the other deaths, although there is no real explanation of why they think that. Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, and Rachel Weisz head a pretty good cast and there are moments of genuine suspense, but also several rough spots where people seem to over react or under react to what’s going on.  They started to lose me when after multiple incidents of a prowler on the property, they still haven’t said anything to the police. SPOILER ALERT. There’s a nice twist, or it would be if it stood up to examination. It turns out Craig is in fact the surviving father from the first family but doesn’t know it. When he does learn the truth, we discover that his new family is also imaginary. If that’s true, then almost everything we’ve seen previously is also illusion, but some of it must be real because he interacted with others and they remember it. I also find it hard to believe that the state would release a homicidal psychopath with recurring delusions without at least some form of supervision. As he emerges from his delusions, he decides to find out the truth – whether he or someone else was actually the killer.  A good cast struggles with a sometimes faltering script. 3/10/13

The Terrornauts  (1967)  

The second movie taken from a Murray Leinster novel, and an even worse adaptation than the first. This is supposedly based on The Wailing Asteroid, which was the first Leinster I ever read. The investigation of a mysterious signal from the asteroid belt reveals an automated fortress designed to repel an alien invasion, in the book anyway. In the movie our heroes are kidnapped by a flying saucer and taken to an orbiting base operated by robots. The blurb is “The virgin sacrifice to the gods of a ghastly galaxy”.  In one scene, there is an explosion but the two moons in the sky are an overlay so the rising smoke goes BEHIND one of the moons. The robots are pretty silly, resembling Daleks from the Doctor Who show. Their spaceship is even sillier, a kind of squarish tea kettle. The alien creature is so badly done that it makes Doctor Who look like a special effects extravaganza. There’s a brief, laughable adventure when they go through a matter transmitter to another planet and run into the primitive remains of the alien culture. They just happen to find an important artifact during this trip, which makes absolutely no sense. Ends with the dumbest looking space battle of all time. 3/9/13

The Navy vs the Night Monsters (1966)  

This is a mildly disappointing but reasonably loyal version of Murray Leinster’s Monster from Earth’s End, which is one of my favorites. It involves the discovery of predatory and ambulatory plants in Antarctica, which run loose on a small Pacific island where a handful of people try to stay alive until help can come. The cast is competent if undistinguished – Anthony Eisley and Mamie Van Doren star – and the screenplay isn’t quite awful, although the special effects should have been much better. The clumsy efforts at comic relief are misplaced and badly done.  The novel deserves a much better translation but I don’t see that ever happening. The plot starts to go bad when one of the people on the plane tries to jump out and fall to his death rather than face the suddenly animated cargo. This is the old driven-mad-by-sight-of-the-monster syndrome which I absolutely hate. If it was a valid plot element, then the other characters would have a similar reaction later, and they never do. Predictably the menace is ended by an aerial bombardment. 3/8/13

Nightmare Castle (1965)  

A bad Barbara Steele horror film, which almost goes without saying. A man finds his wife and lover in compromising circumstances and kills them horribly. Years later he has remarried but the two ghosts want revenge, particularly since their blood was the basis of the killer’s scientific experiments. Some of the visual effects are done well for their time, which is probably the movie’s biggest asset, but the story is trite, the dialogue flat, and the continuity is ragged. I have heard that this is a drastically cut version of the original European version, which is viewed much more favorably by critics. 3/7/13

2 Headed Shark Attack (2012) 

Okay, I knew this was going to be bad before I opened the package, but I underestimated how bad it could be, even for Asylum. A bunch of oversexed “students” are on what is supposed to be an educational cruise when they enter the hunting grounds of a mutant two-head giant shark that can swim faster than a speedboat. Carmen Electra – the ship’s doctor - stands around being self consciously statuesque. The CGI shark has more personality than anyone in the cast. The ship collides with a dead shark and then decide they’re “taking on water” even though no one ever actually checks to see if that’s true. The captain, who wears a bikini, says she can fix the hull but it might take a while, which is interesting since no one has yet even inspected the damage. She then suggests they might sink in front of the assembled passengers by saying so in a clearly audible stage whisper to the professor, who is clearly an idiot. Their radio mast breaks for no discernible reason and they are unable to use the radio without it, for no discernible reason since it receives perfectly clearly, and it never occurs to them to use the cell phone which we know is on the boat. Fortunately they have an emergency beacon. Unfortunately, the emergency beacon can only be activated by sinking the ship! So they decide to land the students on a deserted atoll while they make repairs. Supposedly they are in the middle of nowhere, but we can occasionally see other boats and even buoys in the distance.  One of the students is terrified of the water, which makes us wonder why she’d be on a sea cruise on a small boat in the first place. Anyway, the mutant shark kills the captain but no one knows for a while – and a pool of blood does not remain stationary and intact for over an hour in a relatively heavy sea. The students explore a deserted village, supposedly looking for scrap metal to patch the hull – which when we see it has no damage whatsoever. Even though the shark is big enough to eat boats, it somehow can conceal itself completely in hip deep water! There’s some gratuitous nudity and lots of gratuitous near nudity, and other shots are repeated  to save money. During the scenes in which the atoll is shaken by powerful tremors, the people all stagger around a lot but nothing else moves, not the trees, items sitting on a table, or even ripples in the water. The shark attacks are almost comically bad and they’re still more convincing than the interpersonal reactions, which are often jaw droppingly awful. The anchored boat varies dramatically in distance from the island, which is not surprising considering that the island looks radically different and clearly has different shapes and sizes in different shots. Remember the woman who is terrified by water? Even though she has never used scuba gear in her life, she’s the one who dons the scuba gear in order to re-weld the hull. Oh, and she’s never used welding equipment either. But that’s okay because once again we see that there is NO damage to the hull where she’s working. Did I mention that the atoll is sinking? Or the tidal wave that comes out of nowhere?  Or the giant waves crashing on the beach except that when we get a close up the survivors are running from perfectly calm water? I’ve seen better student films. In fact, I can’t recall seeing a student film this bad. 3/6/13

Invasion of the Astro-Monster  (1965)  

This one is also known as Godzilla vs Monster Zero and variants thereof.  A spaceship is en route to explore Planet X with Nick Adams in his most forgettable role. At one point he discovers a slight error in the orientation of the ship – 180 degrees! Planet X is hidden behind Jupiter, apparently. They land and the inhabitants tell him that their planet has been ravaged by Monster Zero (aka Ghidorah) and that is why they are forced to live under the surface.  They tell the humans that they wish to borrow Godzilla and Rodan to use as weapons against Ghidorah, but you can never trust anyone who lives on a place called Planet X.  Surprise! After defeating Ghidorah, the monsters are put under radio control and used in an attempt to conquer Earth.  A couple of interesting special effects, less rubber suited monster action and more plot than usual, but still pretty bad. 3/5/13

Seeds of Destruction (2011) 

A godawful made for television movie about prehistoric seeds that spawn a fast growing CGI plant that threatens to engulf the entire world.  I knew it was going to be bad two minutes into the film when the scientist lights up a cigarette to create carbon dioxide so that an experimental plant will react, demonstrating that the screenwriter didn’t know we exhale carbon dioxide. The plant sucks it all up, creating “pure air”, whatever that’s supposed to be.  By growing fast I mean they are miles long in a matter of minutes, which is obviously absurd, and they follow highways just like earthquakes do in all of those stupid disaster films. It turns out the seeds were stolen by Adam from the Garden of Eden!  Note to writers: giant plants are not a geological phenomenon and botanists do not conduct archaeological digs.  Fully informed government agents show up to draft a botanist into the crisis team within MINUTES of the outbreak! Archaeologists have NOT found evidence that the fabulous events described in the Bible actually took place. And if the government is monitoring a rogue scientist’s communications from his secret laboratory in Nevada, then they certainly DO know where it is, contrary to what we’re told here.  But later on the writers forgot that they said this, and it turns out the government does know where the lab is. But when they notice that the lab site has been bypassed by the growth, they don’t see anything significant about that. The air force tries to bomb the leading edge – which is chasing two environmentalists in a pickup truck for some reason – and announce they have a visual fix, which is interesting since it is underground and not visible even if you were on the ground at the time. It’s doubly stupid because the plant is expanding along a front of more than thirty miles and they only bomb a section a few meters wide. And then there’s the decision not to evacuate Reno because they don’t have time to get everyone out, so they don’t bother to get anyone out. The botanist provides detailed descriptions of the seeds’ properties even though she has never seen one. The supposedly benevolent lab has guards armed with machineguns who shoot intruders “on sight”. Other than all of this and the bad acting, bad dialogue, bad special effects, it’s not a bad movie. Unfortunately, that only lives the opening and end credits worth watching. 3/4/13

Death to the Daleks (1974)  

My favorite Doctor Who, Jon Pertwee, takes on the Daleks again in this, one of the very last serials to come out on DVD.  The Tardis crashes on a bleak planet where two other ships, one full of humans, the other full of Daleks, are similarly stranded.  The humans and the Tardis have lost all power, even from batteries. The Doctor is almost immediately captured by a band of cloaked figures but escapes in short order. Sarah Jane, predictably, wanders around on the surface after being chased out of the Tardis and finds a mysterious building. Then he gets attacked by the human crew for no good reason, then joins them. Fortunately, the Daleks don’t have any energy to operate their weapons. Not the best of screenplays. The Doctor and Sarah separate in the deep dark tunnels despite menacing sounds on the flimsiest of excuses. Everything works out but I didn’t wonder why a ship propelled by telekinesis would have an exhaust blast. This is an interesting serial in part because of the very unusual soundtrack, performed by a saxophone quartet.  3/3/13

Barricade (2012)

A recent widower and his two children take a winter vacation in the remote cabin his ex-wife loved as a child. Almost immediately they begin to see strange shadows and experience other events suggesting that there is some supernatural presence nearby. I had a very mixed reaction to this right from the outset. The acting is fine and the dialogue is okay.  Some of the scenes in the dark are too dark to see anything and even those during the daylight are consistently underlit.  Some of the scary parts work and others do not. The real problem I had was that the interactions among the three characters never were inconsistent and sometimes had me shaking my head.  It seemed as though the writer never really decided on their individual personalities. It was pretty obvious that this was a series of delusions fairly early though, which drained most of the suspense away. 3/2/13

The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965)

One of a handful of teen movies mixing bikinis with beasts. This one even has a soundtrack by Frank Sinatra Jr.  The monster is hilariously bad, as is the script, the acting, and just about everything else. There’s a kind of horrid fascination about things like this and The Horror of Party Beach, both of which feature older actors pretending to be teenagers, and pretending that they can actually dance. Parts of the dialogue are dubbed for some reason so ambient noises don’t always match the background.  The humanoid monster, which has streamers of confetti glued to its body, kills several women at the local beach. A local scientist insists that the surfers are criminals and potential killers but his son suspects that a mutant fish is responsible.  The young hero decides to give up his career in science to become a surfer because he has just realized that surfing is much more important than science. No kidding – I’m not making this up. A sculptor who did a nude model of the first dead girl decides to give the statue to the family to remember her by!  Amusing if at all for the wrong reasons. 3/1/13

Patient Zero (2012) 

Although this is sort of a zombie movie, it is not based on the Jonathan Maberry zombie novel of the same name. A secret laboratory working on a virus that causes insane rage has a leak and some of the staff are contaminated. A military squad is sent to kill everyone in the building to prevent a spread of the contamination. There’s a common horror movie problem in this one; the military does not have authority to impose martial law or supersede civilian police, which the local sheriff would certainly know. That aside, while the acting isn’t bad, the dialogue varies from good to clumsy, and the special effects are subpar. Predictable and not very exciting mayhem follows, leading to a very unsatisfying ending. 2/28/13

The Reign of Terror (1964) 

Doctor Who and his friends find themselves in revolutionary France. They are promptly taken prisoner and scheduled for execution by guillotine. Naturally everything works out in the end, after a rather dull series of adventures. This was the first Doctor and the stories weren’t particularly sophisticated, although they did try to give some of them, like this, an historical flavor. Since two episodes of this serial have been lost, they are replaced by cartoon versions which are fairly well done. Not one of the better early serials. Too much standing around talking and not enough actually doing anything. 2/27/13

Fear Island (2009) 

The set up for this television movie about young people on an island with a killer is a little shaky. The sole survivor has amnesia which unwraps selectively to keep us guessing but isn’t really convincing. The early flashes back and forward are more distracting then suspenseful or informative. There’s the usual plot facilitator – no cell phone coverage on the island.  The psychologist assigned to interview the survivor doesn’t ring true either, and the police detective who interviews his prime suspect without a lawyer present on multiple occasions, even after it is determined that she is probably not in her right mind is even more bogus, particularly since he has a written order not to do so. The movie would have benefited from straightforward chronology rather than this convoluted mess.  There’s no real effort to make us like any of the victims, and several of them are actively unpleasant. A further problem with the narrative format is that the amnesiac eventually remembers events that she never knew about in the first place!  Worst of all in a suspense movie – this one is incredibly dull. 2/26/13

Secret Agent/Danger Man Set 4 (1965) 

Eight episodes of a British secret agent.  “Sting in the Tail” has Drake trying to track down a professional assassin. Some nice twists in this one.  “Loyalty Always Pays” is a nice, though mildly depressing, story in which Drake traps a civil servant in a position where he can be blackmailed into helping uncover a plot within the government of an African nation.  There is a particularly clever blackmail ring to be outwitted in “The Black Book”.  “English Lady Takes Lodgers” is one of the better episodes. A boarding house in Portugal is the center of an espionage ring. “Are You Going to Be More Permanent” involves a series of disappearances of agents in Austria. Similar but better is “Parallel Lines Sometimes Meet” in which scientists involved in nuclear research are disappearing. “The Mercenaries” involves a plot by a mercenary leader to precipitate a war and it’s about average. Finally we have “A Very Dangerous Game.”  Drake has to infiltrate a Chinese intelligence agency. Good but unexceptionable. This is one of the most reliable shows I can recall. Very few episodes vary in quality either way. 2/25/13

Godzilla vs Mothra  (1964)  

A violent storm ends with the appearance of a gigantic egg floating off the shore of Japan. A nasty businessman buys the egg from some fishermen and turns it into a tourist attraction, but the tiny twin girls who frequently accompany Mothra show up and try to talk them out of it. It’s actually a good egg, with another Mothra, but Godzilla shows up as well. Our heroes talk Mothra into fighting Godzilla, but the good creature is old and tired and the battle is lost until junior (2 of them actually) hatches to tip the balance the other way. This isn’t actually as bad as it probably sounds. The miniature twin sisters are cute and there's a bit more to the plot than in most of the other early Godzilla movies.  2/24/13

Rise of the Zombies (2012)

Lots of zombies, gore, and battles but not much logic in this one. A group of survivors are on Alcatraz Island trying to find a cure, but a horde of zombies walks beneath the water and attacks the installation – which apparently never considered this possibility or posted guards. The odd thing is that the zombie virus apparently makes it possible to walk underwater without getting wet because all of the attacking zombies have dry clothing! The acting is leaden; some of the zombies do a better job than the survivors. In some of the shots of the supposedly empty city, we can see traffic moving. It appears that the rest of the country is unaffected, although there’s no sign of outside intervention, and naturally none of the characters has a cell phone. The chief scientist – Levar Burton – dissects  infected tissue without a mask and sometimes without gloves. Even the car crash is bad CGI, but the CGI grenade is nifty. You can explode one in the middle of a crowd and all the zombies die but none of the living people are even wounded. There’s no plot, just a series of zombie attacks after each of which there are fewer characters left alive. The zombies sometimes act as a team, which is more than you can say for their victims. And finally, even though enough time has passed for food to rot and the city to be evacuated, a dog locked in a car without food or water is alive and frisky when someone opens the door. Pitiful. 2/23/13

Push (2009)  

This is almost a pretty good SF movie. The premise is that there are numerous people with psi powers – mind control, telekinesis, prescience, the ability to scream at dangerous high frequencies, etc.- and that most of these are controlled by governments who imprison and experiment upon their captives. Dakota Fanning is a prescient – whose abilities only work when convenient to the plot – and Chris Evans a telekinetic, whose powers are erratic as well. They’re on the run from the government as well as a group of psi powered thugs, and they’re trying to acquire a mysterious container that is connected to another fugitive, a mind controller or pusher, who may have received a breakthrough to greater power. There’s a tactical and a strategic problem with the story. By claiming that this has been happening since 1945, they make the premise implausible because it could not have been kept secret by multiple world governments and many mutants for all that time. But there’s also a problem with how the talents are used. Why destroy an entire bazaar with sonic screams to kill one man when you could just shoot him? Why attack him in the first place if their tame prescient knows that they have to let him go?  If the pusher can force one thug to murder his partner, why didn’t she do it or something similar back when they originally apprehended her?  There are inconsistencies. One of the characters can read the future by interpreting intentions, so they act randomly and impulsively so she can’t track them. But then one character acts completely randomly and impulsively and she’s easily tracked. The end has some surprisingly twists, but doesn’t follow logically. 2/22/13

King Kong vs Godzilla  (1962)   

Japanese and American giant monsters clash in this fairly silly early addition to the Godzilla saga, third in the series. Researchers want to harvest a rare berry from a Pacific island whose inhabitants claim to fear a giant god who lives in the interior. It’s King Kong, of course, and the first time Godzilla appeared in color. Great line: “Find me a genuine monster if he exists or not.”  Elsewhere an American submarine finds Godzilla thawing from an iceberg.  It’s two men in rubber suits plus a lot of breakable miniatures. At one point they are clearly puppets. The native set on Kong’s island is particularly cheap looking, although some of the other special effects are passable for their time.  The giant land crawling octopus that King Kong battles early on is actually the most convincing of the three creatures. Anyway, both end up in Japan and since they’re “natural enemies”, they battle it out. Eventually Kong swims away and Godzilla disappears, although we never know whether it was a victory or a draw. 2/21/13.

Mimesis (2011)  

This is a surprisingly good zombie film in which a handful of people attending a horror movie convention wake up dressed as the characters from the original Night of the Living Dead, trapped in a farmhouse that looks very similar to the set as well. Their characters are even fairly close – and the blonde looks like she could be the sister of the original actress. With a couple of exceptions, the acting is quite good and the zombies are effectively done, if a trifle understated. There are some minor problems. At one point they conclude that there are three zombies, but they were just looking out the window and saw four of them together.  They aren’t actually zombies, predictably, just a group of sadistic thrill seekers out for a night of fun. Their victims – who seem incapable of acting cooperatively – kill three of them before discovering the truth. Not entirely successful, but interesting even where it fails. 2/20/13

Varan the Unbelievable  (1962) 

A rubber suit monster movie from Toho studios featuring an unlikely looking flying dinosaur whose career was rather short – I think he returned in one Godzilla movie as an adversary.  The title calls the monster Varan but the subtitles all refer to him as Baradagi during the first half of the movie, one of the extinct Varan. Two researchers looking for a rare form of butterfly visit a primitive village in a remote part of Japan where the locals refuse to speak to them. There’s an apparent earthquake and the two are apparently killed. It’s not clear how but there are rumors of a monster in the area. There are some inconsistencies. The first group drives to the village but the second group has to travel by narrow paths since there are no roads. Sometimes Varan walks on two legs, sometimes four, and sometimes he flies. This is the Japanese version, which differs enormously from the US, even though it’s the US title rather than the Japanese one, Giant Monster Varan.  2/19/13

Film Music 2012 by City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, Silva Records, 2013

This is a selection of music from movies released during 2012, several of which I have not seen. There are quite a few SF related titles including Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman, Spider-Man, The Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, and arguably Skyfall and Madagascar 3.  The first cut is from Ted, which I haven't seen, and it seems a big generic, but nicely so. The cuts from Madagascar, Snow White, and Lincoln were kind of bland, but the one from Brave is quite good.  The Batman piece is pretty good but not good enough to make me interested in the film. I really liked the selection from The Avengers but the Spider-Man choice did nothing for me. The Hunger Games was another bland one, but the Skyfall song is the best on the CD. More than half of this is quite good and a couple are exceptional. 2/18/13

Season of the Witch (2010)   

Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman are disgruntled deserters from the Crusading armies who are dragooned into escorting an accused witch to trial. The journey takes them through dangerous territories, but since we know that the witch really is possessed of dark powers, there’s not much mystery in that part of the plot. Given her powers of illusion, it’s rather puzzling how she allows herself to be caught so easily when she escapes in the middle of a forest. That aside, it’s a fairly exciting adventure story and the acting is good throughout, even if the plot is less than stellar. The surprise ending wasn’t all that startling. 2/18/13

Reptilicus  (1962)   

This is a dinosaur on the rampage story filmed in Denmark and dubbed – not very well - in English, which is odd because the cast is obviously speaking in English to start with. A drilling team brings up tissue which is believed to be from a frozen dinosaur. Eventually they recover the tip of the creature’s tail, which they keep frozen until something inevitably goes wrong. (The frozen tail is the consistency of gelatin, so it was never actually frozen in any case.) The tail then begins to grow a new body – even though there are no nutrients available! There’s an obnoxious American general whose presence is never really explained, a kindly old scientist and his flighty daughter, a female scientist, and a handsome some Danish soldier to provide the structure for the plot, such as it is. There’s a long interlude for a travelogue and a pretty bad night club routine. Apparently they couldn’t figure out how the creature would walk, since the lower part of his body is always hidden from the camera. They chase the monster into the ocean, where it eventually attacks shipping, but they can’t blow it up because all the pieces would regenerate entire creatures. It also spits green slime which kills those it touches. Eventually it attacks Copenhagen and is finally killed. Despite bad animation and bad dubbing, this is actually watchable. 2/17/13

Downton Abbey Season 3 (2012) 

The third season is naturally well done, but I found it annoying at times. Matthew’s dithering about his inheritance made him look like a sanctimonious prig, I’ve never liked Mary in the first place, and the subplot about Bates in prison is distracting at best. I do like the feud between Thomas and O’Brien, Shirley Maclaine was a hoot, and Sybil and Tom have an interesting relationship with the family, until she dies. Edith’s aborted wedding plans were unconvincing from start to finish. Maggie Smith is superb as always. The insistence in having a major crisis for every character is, I think, a tactical mistake, but the evolution of society after the first world war is reasonably well done. Mary, whom I never liked to start with, comes across as a near villain for much of this season.  I had anticipated the shock ending, which I won’t reveal here, but the fourth season should take a very different course. 2/16/13

Panic in the Year Zero  (1962)   

Ray Milland stars in this nuclear war cautionary tale based on a pair of short stories by Ward Moore. He, his wife, and a pair of teenagers are off on a vacation trip when the war starts, and presumably quickly ends. Civilization and order quickly disintegrate and Milland is forced to use increasingly violent tactics to keep his family alive as looters and even worse run rampant. They didn’t have a very big budget, but the story is more about the way people act than about the war itself.  It’s a little dated but the base premise remains valid. Rather depressing, but reasonably plausible. Loosely based on a couple of short stories by Ward Moore. 2/15/13

Spirit of Vengeance (2012)   

The second Ghost Rider movie, based on the Marvel comic. The protagonist, Nicolas Cage, sold his soul to the devil so he transforms into a flaming demonic figure at times, even though he’s generally on the side of the good guys. Our hero is recruited to save a young boy from the minions of the devil, a pretty basic story that never really comes to life. Things move too fast, the characters have no depth, and there is no real suspense at any point in the movie. At times the plot makes no sense. Things happen with no clear cause and effect and the time scale is so confused that it’s hard to tell what’s happening. The villains frequently stand around and do nothing when they could win simply by shooting their weapons. The first movie was tolerable but minor; this one is just a waste of time. It’s bad in so many ways that it almost defies description. Cage, who can act, is ludicrous in this one. Did I mention bad soundtrack, bad special effects, bad camera work, and pretty much bad everything else? 2/14/13

The Manster  (1962) 

A Japanese version of Jekyll and Hyde, dubbed and with a few American actors. A mad scientist has created a number of  distorted humans, one of whom goes on a killing spree until the scientist – his brother – kills him and destroys his body.  A reporter comes to interview him and becomes his latest subject after being drugged.  Over the course of the next few days, he begins to change. One hand becomes covered with fur and he is prone to violent seizures, during which he kills several people. Eventually a second head begins to grow out of his shoulder. This is actually not awful despite the absurd premise. A rampage follows, the now repentant scientist injects him with a serum which will make him physically split into two persons, and one is good and one is evil. The good one kills his furry twin and they live happily ever after. 2/13/13

Outpost: Black Sun (2012)

Nazis surviving into the present have developed a machine that makes their soldiers invulnerable as long as they are within range and they’ve started expanding from their base in eastern Europe. The protagonists are a man who wants the machine destroyed rather than just captured by another government and the woman is a Nazi hunter with a personal grudge. This is rather better than I expected since it looked like just another movie blending Nazis with zombies. It’s also the sequel to Outpost (2007), which I don’t believe I have ever seen. The acting is pretty good, and the only major plot hole I noticed was that NATO sends in patrols with EMPs (which could turn the machine off) rather than just send a drone in and detonate one in the air over the target.  The lighting is terrible, even in scenes when it’s not necessary to obscure the zombie makeup. There were times when I couldn’t tell which character I was watching. The end is an obvious set up for another sequel. Watchable but sometimes irritating. 2/12/13

First Spaceship on Venus  (1962) 

This is an East German film from a story by Stanislaw Lem, dubbed in English but not very well. Despite the generally subpar special effects and other difficulties, this story of an expedition to investigate the origin of fragments of a spaceship found on Earth. For some reason, a nuclear physicist is considered the greatest expert on the subject, but since he makes wild assumptions without any evidence, it’s hard to figure out why. Then, still with no evidence, they conclude that it came from Venus so they send an international team of experts.  Some of this may be bad translating. As usual, there’s a near miss with a storm of meteors. They eat special food designed for no gravity, but the ship has artificial gravity throughout the voyage, rendering this unnecessary. Too much of the movie is spent merely getting to Venus. They discover that the Venusians were planning to invade Earth but also that they wiped themselves out in some kind of catastrophic conflict. The Venuscapes are fake looking but interesting and the sequence where they are trapped by a rising tide of lava is effective. Has a few other good moments but not a lot of them. 2/11/13

Remains (2011) 

As zombie apocalypse movies go, this one is pretty dreadful. It’s based on a graphic novel in which an experiment designed to make nuclear weapons cease to work actually turns most of the world into cannibalistic zombies. We see this from the points of view of several people trapped in a casino in Reno, Nevada. First off, something was wrong with the sound as though the bass was turned way up and played through an echo chamber. Second, the dialogue is so lacking in character or zest that it could make even the best zombie attacks dull, and trust me, the attacks herein are not among the best. The special effects are minimal and sometimes fake looking. Worst of all, none of the male characters is able to put any emotional content into their faces or voices. They reel off sentences that should have been dripping with horror as though they were in a remedial reading class trying to pronounce difficult words. The female protagonist is slightly better but only because the contrast is so obvious. And even if they were good actors, their characters are so repulsive that I was cheering on the zombies. The function rooms and restrooms in the casino all seem to lock from the outside, which I believe would be a major fire code violation, though it is convenient for confining zombies. Skip this one. 2/10/13

The Day the Earth Caught Fire  (1962)   

Global warming, fifty years ago. Simultaneously nuclear tests throw the Earth out of its orbit and send it toward the sun. The climate starts to change but the governments are keeping everything secret. This last wouldn’t work today and probably not in the 1960s either. Too many clues. This is an excellent film that centers on a bitter divorced news reporter who falls in love with a switchboard operator while trying to find out the truth. The disasters aren’t really central; the story is more about the characters, which is why the movie succeeds so well.  Snappy dialogue and excellent editing don’t hurt any either. An excellent and mostly underrated movie. 2/9/13

The Hole (2009)   

Here’s an unambitious but effective thriller about two brothers and the girl next door who discover a bottomless hole in a basement. I did raise my eyebrows early on. One does not normally buy a completely empty house that has a basement almost filled with the previous owner’s belongings. That bump aside, this is pretty good although most of the scares are pretty familiar – the evil clown doll lying on the bed, the hatchway door mysteriously opening in the darkness, etc. And naturally the high school girl is actually in her twenties. There are some inconsistencies. If the hole can move heavy objects to open, or cause nails to undo themselves, why couldn’t it cause padlocks to unlock, particularly when the keys were right there?  For that matter, if padlocks will hold it, why don’t the kids just buy some new ones?  And why don’t the kids tell any adults, even when there is no question that something supernatural is happening? If the darkness from the hole cannot manifest itself in the light, how does it show up beside the swimming pool in the middle of a bright sunny day?  If it can materialize in a restroom at a restaurant elsewhere in town, why does it have to lure the young boy into the cellar to get him? This reminded me an awful lot of the 1987 movie The Gate. Fun but not well thought out. 2/8/13

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die  (1962)   

Another classic bad film, this one about a scientist who keeps the head and brain of a young woman alive. The science is hilariously bad and the supposed tension between the mad scientist and his father are awkward and implausible. The woman is his girlfriend. They are in an auto accident and he wraps her severed head in his coat and carries her to his secret lab to restore her to consciousness. Of course, that means he has to find a loose woman to kill in order to give the girl he loves a new body.  Bad and funny for a little while but boring in the long run. 2/7/13

War of the Planets (2003) 

This stinker, also known as Terrarium, should not be confused with the 1965 movie of the same name, which was also pretty bad, but not in the same class as this turkey. That was the movie I thought I was buying, as a matter of fact.  At a news conference, an astronaut announces that weight is not a problem for launching a spaceship because once they reach orbit they will be weightless! A team of astronauts is off to visit Tau Ceti, and they’re bringing seeds so they can grow their own food when they arrive. They’re in suspended animation chambers when they crash land upon arrival, trapping them all in their individual chambers, lying flat on their backs. Although they are conscious, there is no provision for manual override to release the hatches. They see someone standing nearby and assume it’s a man – Why? – but instead it attacks and kills one of them.  Since most of the movie consists of them lying there waiting to die, this clearly is not an eye catcher.  All of this is conveyed through terrible dialogue, bad acting, abominable special effects, and really awful photography and sound. And what does the title have to do with anything? 2/6/13

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) 

One of the more popular, though scientifically illiterate, of the SF films of the early 1960s. A supersubmarine has to take a dangerous voyage to save the world when the skies are ignited, threatening all life on Earth. Naturally there’s a saboteur on board to supplement the natural problems they face. This inspired a television series, got novelized by Theodore Sturgeon, and remains popular for reasons that never were clear to me since I have always found it fairly boring, completely unconvincing, and subpar even of its type. My opinion did not rise with another viewing. 2/5/13

Red Riding Hood (2011)   

The fabulous sets sometimes steal the show in this dark interpretation of the classic fairy tale. The wolf in this case is a werewolf who violates a long truce and attacks a human from a small village. Red Riding Hood is a young woman caught in a romantic triangle who discovers that she has a strange connection to the wolf. A high ranking church official arrives with his thuggish retinue, and Red eventually is imprisoned as a witch because she can understand the werewolf’s speech. I guessed wrong about who the werewolf actually was and many of the plot twists took me completely by surprise. I was mildly disappointed by the ending but overall this was very good indeed. It does suffer from the generic problem of almost all werewolf stories - the plot hinges on discovering the identity of the werewolf, which often leaves us with a sense of deja vu. The unique setting in this ameliorates that somewhat. 2/4/13

Phantom Planet  (1961) 

A spaceship on Earth is forced to land on an uncharted asteroid, except that they call it a rogue planet, which is even sillier since it’s not much bigger than the ship. Two previous spaceships have disappeared, apparently having crashed there. The usual bad science – sounds in space, gases not dispersing properly in weightlessness, ships changing direction randomly without propulsion, etc. The planet is inhabited by tiny humans who speak English – how convenient – and our hero promptly and inexplicably shrinks to the same size – also convenient. He is captured and put on child – the jurors are dressed as cheerleaders! – and sentenced to become a citizen, forbidden to ever leave. Silliness prevails for some time without much of anything happening. Then another race attacks – Richard Kiel who played Jaws in some James Bond movies is the villain – and our hero helps save the day, sort of. Then he escapes, without the beautiful girl, but no one believes him. Neither do I. 2/3/13

The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (2000) 

This is a SF show I never caught when it was on whose premise is that Jules Verne’s novels were based on his actual adventures. Phileas Fogg and his sister are working for the British secret service. Verne is a young student thrown into their company. The opening episode is “In the Beginning”, which introduces everybody, establishes that Verne has prescient visions of future technology, and shows us an evil and apparently malformed nemesis.  Although it’s an interesting idea, the lighting is so bad that the first episode is almost unwatchable, and the villains are so exaggerated that they’re funny. In fact the acting in general is substandard. The second episode, in which assassins use a burrowing machine, is no better, with implausible plotting and constant over acting. Really bad acting, aggressively so. The steam mole however is not badly done. The third episode opens with the same problems inherent in the first two – it takes a considerable period of time before the viewer understands what is going on. The basic pattern continues throughout the remaining episodes, with occasional interest special effects, repetitive plots, stiff acting, and indifferent pacing. It was good enough to watch to the end but I wasn’t sorry it lasted only a single season. 2/2/13

After Dusk They Come (2009)  

Following a promising opening, this horror film deteriorates pretty quickly, although it’s more boring than actually bad. Five young adults, four of whom are unlikeable and one of whom is a flake, are shipwrecked on an island after ignoring their GPS.  The island, as we know from the prologue, is home to something that kills people, and there’s an early hint of this shortly after they reach the beach. The dialogue alternates between silly and just awkward.   Note to copy writers: If a nonhuman species eats people, you can call them predators, carnivores, or maneaters, but they aren’t cannibals unless they eat each other. There are some small problems with the plot – how could they carry off a man sleeping with his arm around a woman without disturbing her and why did they then leave him alone to recover consciousness in the middle of the jungle? And they let the female lead escape easily some time later.  Then comes the one that threw me completely out of the movie. Three tents which we saw in the prologue from 1922 are STILL STANDING in 2009 on an uncharted (!) Caribbean island.  A large uncharted island in fact. And what’s with the title, since most of the attacks come in broad daylight?  And what happened to the rescue boat that was supposedly only a few hours away? And how did the writing in sand on the beach survive several high tides?  2/1/13

The Little Shop of Horrors (1961) 

I hadn’t watched this campy classic in a long time and barely remembered it. Jonathan Haze stars as the nerdish protagonist who raises a strange plant that likes to eat meat – “Feed me!” – preferably alive. The narrator is a police detective whose lines are a parody of the form. Haze works at Mushnick’s Florist Shop, where he waits on a variety of wildly exaggerated minor characters. Jack Nicholson has a great supporting spot as the dental patient who enjoys the pain and Dick Miller is the customer who buys flowers so that he can eat them. Obviously played for laughs but most of them work even now despite the really low production values.  1/31/13

Konga  (1961) 

A low budget giant ape movie with Michael Gough as the not quite mad scientist who has infuriated his wife by paying attention to a younger woman. Gough survives in the jungle for a year following a plane crash, then returns to civilization with a young ape. He also brought back a plant whose extract can cause extraordinary growth and he uses it on the ape.  The plant, however, is carnivorous (and silly looking) and big enough to eat people. The ape grows dramatically within a few seconds – no idea where the mass comes from. When he is gorilla sized, he is used as a killer to eliminate his master’s enemies. There is no explanation about how he becomes intelligent enough to follow sophisticated instructions. Eventually it turns on its master and both are killed.  Ho hum. Gough, who is a very fine character actor, eats the scenery this time, but the screenplay is partly to blame. 1/30/13

Journey to the Seventh Planet  (1961)   

There’s a very optimistic prologue to this one. By the year 2001 war has been outlawed, there’s a united world government, and the solar system has been explored all the way to Saturn. An expedition is launched to Uranus (not sure why they skipped Neptune). When they arrive, they are frozen by the mental command of something alive on the planet which creates illusions based on their memories. The dialogue is dubbed, adequately, but the characters and script are terminally stupid. There are also some silly monsters, supposedly taken from the humans’ memories, although that’s impossible given that they aren’t anything real.  They frequently complain about their air shortage, but they never close their helmets! Not one of the film industry’s finer hours. 1/29/13

The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)  

A notoriously bad movie about a scientist exposed to a nuclear blast that turns him into monster, the same plot as The Amazing Colossal Man, but not done nearly as well. And that takes some doing. A good deal of the film is people talking but with the sound turned off, a narrator telling us what’s happening. The first dialogue is thirteen minutes into the movie, and it’s dubbed.  The dialogue and narration are so awful that I can’t possibly convey its flavor. The other elements are as bad or worse. The gunfight with the Russian spies early on is laughably bad.  They wander into the test area – there are no fences or warning signs – and only the scientist survives, after a fashion. For some reason, he now roams the countryside killing everyone he encounters. Even the background music is completely inappropriate. Mystery Science Theater did a spoof of this one, but I can’t imagine how they could have made it funnier than it actually is. 1/28/13

Assignment Outer Space (1961)  

A really dumb space adventure made in Italy. A spaceship takes off for Galaxy M12, whatever that is, to check an “infra-radiation flux”, whatever that is. The crew are in suspended animation in order to survive the break from Earth’s gravity, which was dumb even in 1961. The funniest sequence is when the spaceship blows up and since they had no budget for explosions they substituted footage of a car blowing up in a parking lot, clearly visible in the shot!  Meanwhile, back in the story, there’s another spaceship malfunctioning and it will destroy the Earth - not clear how this could happen - unless they save the day. Which they do, not surprisingly, but not very inventively either. Boring from beginning to conclusion. 1/27/13

Gorgo (1960) s241 

The director of Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth goes to the dinosaur on the rampage plot one more time. It opens with an undersea quake that leaves peculiar dead fish floating on the ocean off the coast of Ireland. The protagonists run a salvage operation whose ship is not seaworthy and who becomes suspicious when they are ordered out of port – which strikes me as so obviously illegal that I’m surprised they didn’t find a different plot device. A diver dies after being “scared to death”, which is a plot point I hate in horror movies, since no one else is ever scared to death once the monster is revealed. It’s a giant dinosaur, bigger than any dinosaur could possibly have been, but wait – his mother is even bigger, as the cast discovers when they take the baby to London to exhibit. The creatures are even less convincing than in the two earlier movies, which I assume resulted from a lower budget. It appears to be a rubber suit rather than stop action and the scenes of destruction are more monotonous than anything else.  The inability of tanks, bombs, etc. to injure the creature never fails to annoy me. This is perhaps the only case where I read a novelization before I saw the movie, and the book by Carson Bingham was far superior. 1/26/13

Tron Uprising soundtrack by Joseph Trapanese, Walt Disney Music, 2012 

This is the soundtrack for the Tron television series, evolving from the Tron movies. I didn’t even know the program existed, which shows you how little I know about current television.  Although none of the cuts are bad, there is a similarity to most of them that I found annoying after a while. They almost all sound like they could have been used as the backdrop to the same action sequence, and while the melodies differ, the instrumentation and pacing are quite repetitious. The exceptions like “Tron’s Promise” seem superior but part of that might simply be that they are different enough to stand out. Only a few really seem as though they could stand on their own as a piece of music, although they undoubtedly did what they were intended to do when matched with the visuals. 1/26/13

Village of the Damned  (1960) 

For many years John Wyndham was my favorite writer and this was made from one of his more chilling novels, The Midwich Cuckoos. A town is cut off by a force field for a day, after which every woman in the community is pregnant. Eventually blonde children are born who all look as though they’re related and we assume correctly that they are half alien and half human. They also have extraordinary mental powers and, despite their childishness, it is clear that they are a threat to the entire human race. George Sanders is the kindly man who manages to find a way to destroy them before they gain full use of their abilities.  A classic, better than the sequel or the remake. 1/25/13

Dinosaurus (1960)

I have a soft spot for this very silly movie about two dinosaurs and a cave man revived from suspended animation in order to wreak havoc on a small island. I’m not sure why, possibly because I saw it in a theater and it was the first dinosaur movie I’d ever seen. The two dinosaurs continue a fight that immersed them in tar in the first place and predictably they, as well as the comic relief cave man, return to obscurity. There’s a cute kid, a villainous overseer, lots of natives running around screaming, a square jawed hero, and almost every cliché in the book. The animation is dreadful. But I still enjoyed it once again. 1/24/13

12 to the Moon (1960)   

This is one of the stupidest SF movies of all time, following the adventures of an international expedition to the moon. They are constantly beset by meteors – four separate incidents – but win through. They include a comic book Russian and the son of a Nazi war criminal, as well as the predictable Israeli bitter about the Holocaust. They encounter a cloud of “meteoric dust” so they fire a missile which makes a hole in the dust.  Huh? Anyway, once on the moon’s surface, two of the scientists are detailed to ‘search for signs of air”, which is pretty stupid except that they wander into a cave which has atmospheric pressure, so they assume it’s air and take off their helmets. Fortunately they are correct. Not surprising given that the moon’s surface is obscure by mist and rising clouds of steam! More meteors hit the moon but they are protected by their “magnets”, whatever that means. At one point they find an unusual glowing stone which one of their number proclaims is “beautiful but evil”.  The moon people then cause all of North America to freeze solid thanks to an implosion bomb, whatever that is, but the spaceship can save the day by dropping atomic bomblets – whatever they are – into a volcano to thaw things out!  I was shivering with excitement by this point. Did I mention that the moon people want cats? Or that the crew has to return to the ship periodically because of the “necessity to normalize our body functions”?  Beyond bad. 1//23/13

The Time Machine (1960)  

George Pal’s adaptation of the excellent H.G. Wells short novel really impressed me when I was fourteen. It has lost some of its appeal over the years but remains watchable and occasionally engaging. After stopping to see three world wars briefly, the time traveler moves 800,000 years into the future, where he finds an idyllic but decadent human society, the Eloi, and later the underground offshoot of the race, the hideous Morlocks who eat the Eloi. After various adventures he destroys a Morlock installation and escapes back to his own time, an adventurous outcome that Wells would probably have taken amiss. I also find it hard to believe that people would still be speaking contemporary English. Despite the somewhat upbeat ending, the fate of humanity is a decided downer. 1/22/13

The Atomic Submarine  (1960) 

This is one of those movies I liked when I was a pre-teen well enough that even now I can ignore some of the clumsiness and the cheap special effects.  An undersea flying saucer begins attacking cargo and passenger submarines passing through the Arctic ocean. An advanced submarine with experimental equipment is sent to investigate. Eventually they discover that their torpedoes won’t penetrate the saucer’s defenses, so they ram the saucer, but are unable to reverse and pull free. A team goes aboard the saucer with torches to try to clear the impediment. They conclusion that they killed the inhabitants of the saucer proves to be premature. The creature – there’s only one – is a unimpressive Cyclops but its telepathic dialogue is the low point of the movie. Still very watchable despite its many faults. 1/21/13

Midnight Movie (2008)

Although the acting, camera work, and even dialogue in the opening scenes of this horror movie are surprisingly good, there are problems right from the outset. A violent mental patient is escorted by two male interns to an interview room where he is to be shown a movie which apparently is central to his obsession. But then they leave him alone to watch the movie, unobserved in an unlocked room, where the first few frames move him to violent psychosis. We don’t see anything but we find out that everyone in the ward – seventy of them – were slaughtered, although since their bodies are missing it’s not clear how anyone knows this. We then jump five years into the future when the same film, which stars the psycho, is about to be shown at a rundown movie theater for a small audience of mostly young adults. There’s a movie within the movie – an obvious imitation of Texas Chainsaw Massacre – and a detective obsessed with finding the missing psycho. Pretty soon characters from the two realities begin to crossover in what is actually quite well done despite a few glitches of no real importance and occasionally indifferent acting. 1/20/13

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)  

Gangsters force a scientist to develop a ray that makes people invisible so that they can steal items from vaults with impunity. There is dissension among the ranks, however, in part because the subject doesn’t know that he has been exposed to a potentially lethal dose of radiation. The head gangster’s girlfriend has wandering loyalties and even the protagonist, an escaped criminal, undergoes something of a redemption by the end, although he’s still a pretty miserable character. Minimal special effect and actually minimal story as well.  Boring and predictable. 1/19/13

Shada (1980)  

This is the episode of Doctor Who that was interrupted by a strike and never completed. Tom Baker provides summaries of the missing scenes. The Doctor and Romana are visiting another Time Lord who is a Cambridge professor. The professor is having memory problems but appears to have lost a book that is the key to the location of the lost prison planet of the Timelords. There’s also a rude man in a silly looking silver cloak running around, and he has an invisible spaceship. He’s after the book and he’s armed with a sphere that reads memories and saps will. He gets the book but can’t read it, and the Doctor won’t cooperate.  The usual running around, captures and escapes, ensues including the silly recreation of one of the characters who died - reconstituted inadvertently by a process the Time Lords know about, so that either the Doctor or Romana could have done it earlier. The Douglas Adam script is lively but not as well thought out as it might have been. 1/18/13

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey soundtrack by Howard Shore, Watertower Music, 2012 

This soundtrack is very much in the style of that heard in the Lord of the Rings movies, which should surprise no one. Most of it is very lush and some of the melodies are particularly memorable, as in “Old Friends”. There’s a hint of the Scottish or Irish in “Blunt the Knives”, “Erebor”, and “Misty Mountains.” Although occasionally a track is specific to an event in the movie, the music almost always stands on its own and would be enjoyable even with no experience of the visuals. In fact, I was rather surprised at how much I liked this. Presumably what was happening on the screen kept me preoccupied at the time. Another plus is that unlike many soundtracks, there is virtually no repetition. “Song of the Lonely Mountain” is particularly good. Overall the best soundtrack I’ve heard in a long time. 1/17/13

Teenagers from Outer Space  (1959)  

This one almost makes Mars Needs Women look good. A flying saucer full of teens arrive secretly on Earth and utter some of the most inane dialogue of all time. One of the teens rebels when he discovers the planet is inhabited, but the captain and the other teens all drip evil. They want Earth as a breeding place for their gargons, which will grow a million times their original size within a single day! The aliens apparently can’t speak in contractions either. Some of the humans don’t either, apparently under the misapprehension that this is acting. The good alien escapes and the others begin to search for him – fortunately they all speak flawless English. “You are not familiar with the focusing disintegrator ray?”  Frequently funny but never intentionally. The monsters, incidentally, are actually just the shadow of a lobster. 1/17/13

Gangsters, Guns and Zombies (2012)  

A group of bank robbers find their getaway complicated by the eruption of a zombie apocalypse in this inconsistently funny zombie spoof. Their indifference to the walking dead in the early going is amusing and the acting varies from good to bad, but the bad doesn’t matter as much when no one is taking things seriously in any case. Their escape is interspersed with zombie attacks – a bunch of clowns, a wedding party, a track team, a medievalist group, etc. – some of which are nicely done, others not. One of their number has been shot, so there’s an obvious crisis coming when he dies.  Predictably another gets bitten in a zombie attack but conceals the wound.  The special effects and gore are pretty basic and not impressive at all. Obviously this isn’t going to be an instant classic, but it’s considerably better than a lot of other direct to video horror films. 1/16/13

The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)  

This is a routine monster movie, featuring a humanoid reptile resembling very faintly the one from the Black Lagoon, which has been protected by an eccentric lighthouse keeper who feeds it scraps. There's never any real explanation of why it occurred to him to do this. When he misses providing a meal, the creature begins beheading the locals and eventually menaces the keeper's daughter. Silly looking monster, a mixed bag of acting, a plot that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and some continuity problems, including a door that is a single hinged on one side but a pivoting double door on the other! Watchable, but just barely, and without much suspense even if you try hard to feel some. Not as awful as I expected but certainly one of the lesser monster movies of its time. 1/15/13

Downton Abbey Seasons 1&2 (2011-2012)  

This popular British series is essentially a classy soap opera set between 1912 and 1920 at the estate of the Earl of Grantham, who has three daughters and a full set of servants to deal with. The death of the presumed heir apparent – the estate is entailed so the daughters cannot inherit – leads to the discovery of a distant cousin, who turns out to be well liked by all. The two seasons follow them through the first world war, killing off two of the regulars in the process. The high points are the production values and acting, and most of the time the writing. I have two problems with it in general, however. At times, it descends into mawkish sentimentality and contrived reasons for the various romantic pairs to be prevented from being together. The other is the insistence that every character have some kind of ongoing crisis. This leads to the inclusion of pointless subplots like a brief visit by someone impersonating the dead heir, the earl’s flirtation with one of the maids, and a few other side issues. It’s most interesting part for me is the illustration of how the war changed the attitudes of the world, leading from the Victorian age to what we think of as modern times. 1/14/13

The Tingler (1959)  

I saw this in a theater when it first came out and found it very scary. It’s a gimmick movie about a creature that grows inside your body if you are frightened and don’t scream, so it comes with a warning to the audience to scream if they feel tense. It grows in the spine, hence spine tingling fear = the tingle. Vincent Price stars as the doctor trying to prove his theory, perhaps by scaring to death a deaf mute woman who obviously cannot scream. We are led to believe that he is responsible for a series of frightening events that drive her to hysteria but ultimately we discover that someone else is responsible. The tingle is essentially a giant earwig. Another gimmicks is that the blood is in color, but nothing else. I consider this one of the classic horror films but it seems to have fallen into relative obscurity.  1/13/13

Creep Van (2012)  

This is another movie that feels like a student project, although it has moments of interest if not brilliance. A psychopath has rigged his van out with deathtraps which impale, decapitate, and otherwise mutilate prospective thieves, hitchhikers, and so forth. The hero is a bit of a buffoon who gets involved with a woman where he works, then with the homicidal van. The acting is mostly dreadful although every once in a while a character works. The writing is pretty bad, except every once in a while it has a clever touch. The camera work is okay, although every once in a while it stumbles. The best part is the soundtrack, which isn’t good enough to make me ever want to watch it again. 1/12/13

The Hideous Sun Demon (1959)   

Inspired by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, according to the makers, the movie rather than the book. A scientist becomes exposed to rays which sensitize him to the sun. When exposed after that, he reverts to a kind of reptilian human vaguely similar to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, although this isn’t nearly as good. His transformations are no secret; everyone knows moments after his first experience and they hope to find a cure. He reverts in the dark and is okay so long as he isn’t exposed to sunlight. Everything is okay until he falls asleep on the beach one night with a girl he just met, which eventually leads to a confrontation with gangers.  I did wonder why he just didn’t carry a tarp around to throw over himself but I guess that’s too low tech. Unconvincing acting and a substandard script. 1/11/13

The Giant Gila Monster (1959)

Hotrodders vs an overgrown lizard in this one. I understand this was remade this year and the star of the original has a cameo in it. Two teenagers are killed in the opening scene and the sheriff is looking for them, half convinced they eloped. The acting is pretty primitive but the script actually has some life. The subplot about the rock and roll singer is less than thrilling and the crippled sister is a bit much. The gila monster is real, just posed to make it look disproportionately large. This was recently remade for television and the star of the original has a cameo in it. 1/10/13

The Giant Behemoth (1959)   

One of the better giant dinosaur movies although the creature always seemed to me to be slightly off in its proportions. It’s also one of those  warning that nuclear testing is dangerous because of its potential effect on living creatures, and the science is at best dubious. A fisherman is found burned to death by radiation on the coast of Cornwall. There are lots of continuity errors – I spotted several and looked on the Internet Movie Database to see if they were mentioned, only to discover I’d missed at least half a dozen more. The helicopter carrying the scientist actually becomes a different kind of helicopter from one scene to the next, for example. The creature’s size also varies considerably. One incident after another leads the investigators to suspect the truth but we don’t actually see the behemoth until very late in the movie, thanks to a low budget.  They kill it very similarly to the way the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms dies, a torpedo filled with radium. Surprisingly good despite its handicaps. 1/9/13

The 4D Man (1959)   

Robert Lansing stars in this above average SF movie about a man who can walk through walls, which he believes results from use of an amplifier of brain waves, although it turns out he can do it unassisted. He is also insane, either from the process, resentment of his employer, or anger at his brother for stealing his fiancé. In any case, he discovers that he can kill people by touching them – which somehow makes them age instantly for some reason – and it’s obvious that he is headed for disaster as his mental deterioration continues. The end was ambiguous but they never made a sequel. Proof that you don't need a big budget to create a modest, well told story. 1/8/13

Beast from Haunted Cave  (1959)  

This cheapie, made when another movie finished early and the crew and cast had time on their hands, shared me silly when I was a kid and, despite very cheap and minimal special effects, it’s still pretty creepy. A gang of crooks draft a ski guide into helping them escape across a snow covered mountain, during which they stay briefly at a cabin which is, unfortunately, in the vicinity of a mysterious creature. The monster is vaguely spiderlike but was put together on a budget of about fifty cents so we never get to see much more than shadows and waving appendages.  The dialogue rarely rises above the mediocre and the acting is only slightly better.  There’s some running around, some muted screaming, and a final confrontation in the cave of the title. Despite all of its faults, this one has staying power. 1/7/13

First Man into Space (1959)  

Yet another astronaut brings something back with him when he returns to Earth. During the first flight into space, an astronaut is exposed to meteorite dust. The astronaut is an insolent, insubordinate man who would never have been allowed in such a position in the first place, but that’s typical of Hollywood – look at the recent Battleship for example. The wreckage of his capsule is recovered but there is no sign of its occupant initially. He’s covered with tiny craters and steals blood from blood banks and people. He’s also got super strength for some reason. The army and the police search the countryside for him as he kills people for their blood. Eventually he dies of his affliction rather than through the efforts of others. Minor. 1/6/13

The Alligator People (1959) 

After he miraculously recovers from an accident – thanks to an experimental serum derived from alligators – a man deserts his wife, who pursues him to a remote estate in Louisiana. There she discovers the truth, that the treatment is slowly turning him into a hybrid human/alligator. The title sort of gives this away.  There’s some good footage of alligators sprinkled through this. Lon Chaney is an oddball with a hook thanks to his having come to close to one of them.  The woman, played nicely by Beverly Garland, suspects what we quickly know for certain, that there is a secret laboratory and several closely guarded patients. Determined to know the truth, she refuses to leave and eventually accumulates clues about the conspiracy. This is a surprisingly good film despite the low budget and melodrama and dubious science.  1/5/13

The Angry Red Planet (1959)

Another implausible but fun space exploration movie. The first expedition to Mars went missing until the ship shows up back near Earth, incommunicado. The ship is brought down by remote control and a survivor emerges – “the girl!”. She is suffering from a peculiar kind of amnesia that she can reverse by starting from the beginning, which segues into the actual story of them arriving at the planet Mars, although half an hour passes before they actually land. I loved the oxygen gauge, which had only two settings – normal and excessive. “We’ve landed at the equatorial belt. If there is any native intelligence, it must be in this area.”  When they can’t pick up any sound from the exterior, they decide it must be “intentional”. This was a gimmick movie – there’s an annoying red filter for all of the scenes outside the spaceship on Mars. Why would the sky be bright red? They walk into the jungle (jungles on Mars?) and eventually encounter malevolent Martians including a giant bat with spider legs and carnivorous plants. Despite all the critters, this is actually slow moving and boring. Most of the settings are drawings, some of cartoon quality.  Not a classic. 1/4/13

Mars Needs Women  (1967) 

Disney star Tommy Kirk stars in this outstandingly silly SF movie, which I had actually never seen until now. Women are mysteriously disappearing into thin air and no one knows who is responsible.  A military base then deciphers an alien message as “Mars needs women”. It is, of course, impossible to decipher any message from three words, let alone an alien language. Shots of amateurish UFOs follow.  The acting is astoundingly bad. The premise is equally absurd. Even if Mars had inhabitants that resembled humans, they would not be able to interbreed. The government wants to dismiss the message as a glitch in the communications system! The Martians traveled for 70 days at 25 thousand miles per hour to cross from Mars to Earth. Neat trick that.  Kirk materializes and says they only want volunteers – but they already seized some women by force. And they can only carry 5 passengers, which isn’t going to make much of a difference to a planetary population. The antics of the Martians – who kidnap a stripper among others – are unintentionally funny. We also learn that Martians abandoned the use of neckties “generations ago”. A classic, but for all the wrong reasons. 1/3/13

The Flesh Eaters (1964)  

I’d never even heard of this so I had no idea what to expect. A young couple are killed by something unseen in the water. Then a woman hires a private plane to fly her and a friend to Provincetown on Cape Cod. So far, so good. The acting is a bit stiff but not unwatchable until the second woman starts to talk – she’s awful. The plot labors a bit more – for one thing there aren’t a bunch of uninhabited islands off the coast of Cape Cod.  Because of a storm and mechanical problems, they land on one of the islands and shelter with a mildly sinister marine biologist. The creatures turn out just to be lights in the water, although they eventually evolve into a giant crab. There’s also a comic book hippie on a raft. It moves rapidly from mediocre to absurd and never recovers. No wonder I’d never heard of it. 1/2/13

The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963)   

When the first successful probe lands on Mars, it is promptly destroyed. Duplicates of the chief scientist and his family pop up on Earth, causing confusion.  He and his wife become aware that something very strange is going on but decide they can’t tell anyone else without looking like idiots. Then the daughter’s boyfriend dies in an accident caused by one of the duplicates in a badly designed scene that spoils some genuinely suspenseful bits that precede it. Eventually they call rather tentatively for help, but the slow pace of the second half of the film dissipates the earlier tension. This could quite easily have been much better. 1/1/13