Tag 1960s

Mysterious Island (1961)

Mysterious Island (1961)

A world beyond imagination! Adventure beyond belief!

During the siege of Richmond in American Civil War, a group of Union soldiers escape from a Confederate prison by overpowering the guard and flying off in a hot air balloon. In a terrible storm, they are carried miles off course and are eventually washed up on a remote Pacific island. Settling down to a life on the island, they are soon joined by two shipwrecked English women. Having to contend with the giant monsters that live on the island is one thing but the group soon realise that they share the island with the infamous Captain Nemo who is still plotting to rid humanity of war.

 

Mysterious Island was French writer Jules Verne’s follow-up to his acclaimed Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, one of the most famous science fiction stories of all time and one which has been turned into a number of films over the years, most famously with Disney’s 1954 live action version with Kirk Douglas and James Mason. Mysterious Island has also received a number of film adaptations though none have been truly revered like Disney’s version of Verne’s famous story. This 1961 version is arguably the most famous of the story, though it’s loosely based upon the book.

Mysterious Island actually works better when looked at as another Ray Harryhausen special effects showcase rather than a faithful adaptation of a book. That’s basically the draw here as Verne’s story is cherry picked for certain ideas and other elements are expanded to provide more of a spectacle. At least that was the theory. Mysterious Island is a decent timewaster but never fully manages to engage with its audience. It’s rather routine and episodic – a problem arises for the main characters, they have to solve it, they do and they move on to the next problem. There’s no real sense of overall story present, only that these characters have to escape off the island, and the various obstacles that they face are never anything more than mild diversions between achieving that goal. Captain Nemo doesn’t even turn up until the final third and seems to be more of an afterthought rather than a main focus.

What Mysterious Island lacks in true excitement and narrative, it makes up for in the special effects department. You can’t argue that some effort has gone in to making this film look good and Ray Harryhausen’s creatures look great, if lacking the real sense of awe and wonder that his more famous works have shown. The giant crab looks the most realistic and that’s because it was the real shell of a crab that he used for the armature. The battle with the survivors is enthralling and the animation and interaction between men and monster is superb. Sadly none of the other monsters ever come close to matching this. The dino-bird fight isn’t as good as it could have been as the monster looks a little daft, the underwater squid scene is something we have seen before and the giant bee, whilst looking good in its animated form, doesn’t do an awful lot.

Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack is excellent, providing a perfect accompaniment to the action, fantasy and mystery on the screen. This was Herrmann’s third collaboration with Ray Harryhausen and it shows how confident he was in bringing these fantasy worlds to life. Herrmann clearly borrowed some cues from this film and expanded upon them for his soundtrack to Jason and the Argonauts a couple of years later. The similarities are evident and whilst there’s no truly standout track here (unlike his classic Scherzo Macabre theme during the skeleton fight), the score certainly adds a lot to the action sequences and gives some of the fantasy and mystery elements a little more suspense.

As for the human cast, they always come second best in Harryhausen’s effects-driven films. The main characters are decent enough in their roles, if somewhat forgettable. Only Beth Rogan provides any sort of memorable impact but that’s only for her appearance in a man-made bikini that she dons when she washes up on the island. It was pretty risqué back in 1961! Late veteran actor Herbert Lom takes over the Captain Nemo role and, whilst he’s no James Mason, Lom does what he can with the role. His take is very much different: Nemo is older, less hostile to humans and more reasonable to deal with. It’s a shame that his elegant persona doesn’t arrive until late in the film, though he’s rather irrelevant to the overall story as it stands.

 

Mysterious Island provides solid fun without reinventing the genre. Due to the disjointed narrative, the film needs a regular injection of monsters to keep audience interest from going and it does that to various levels of success. Whilst the quality of the effects isn’t in doubt, it’s the manner in which they’re wheeled out that is the problem and the uneven flow of the film stops this from achieving a greater cult status.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dinosaurus! (1960)

Dinosaurus! (1960)

Alive With Thrills!

Whilst blasting the sea bed to deepen the harbour on a Caribbean island, Bart Thompson and his crew uncover two frozen dinosaurs which have been perfectly preserved for millions of years. The dinosaurs are removed from the water and placed on the beach to thaw out before being transported off to a museum. Whilst on the beach, the dinosaurs are struck by lightning during an overnight thunderstorm and are reanimated. With two dinosaurs unleashed upon the unsuspecting local population, matters are made worse with the reanimation of a caveman as well.

 

From the team of producer Jack H. Harris and director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. who had previously worked together on cult classic The Blob, Dinosaurus! comes with a bad reputation and most of it is thoroughly deserved. It’s a juvenile flick which has little redeeming quality but did the rounds quite often on television as a time filler many years ago due to its simplistic nature. Now it has faded into obscurity and that’s maybe for the best! Dinosaurus! came very late to the table after the giant monster fad of the 1950s. This would have worked better in black and white and about five years earlier where viewers may have been a tad more kind to it but in a new decade and in glorious colour, the bar was raised. The same formula which had worked so well in the past was well and truly worn out.

It does help that if you are trying to convince viewers of the idea of giant monsters of some kind, in this instance dinosaurs, then how you bring them to life should be the priority. The combination of tatty plastic model work and crude stop-motion animation will have you running for the nearest Ray Harryhausen flick. There are some awful special effects on show here, ranging from the clay T-Rex squishing a yellow toy bus full of passengers right down to the ridiculously unexciting finale featuring the T-Rex squaring off against a steam shovel on the edge of a cliff. The low budget and rushed production combination really show whenever these dinosaurs are on screen. The brontosaurus fairs a little better but that’s only because it’s not around as long as the T-Rex. You’d expect the dinosaurs scenes to more entertaining than the rest of the film and they are but only mildly.

The combination of green screens (or whatever they used back in the day), miniature sets and all sorts of other fancy camera tricks really shows up the cracks in the effects department at every possible opportunity. Hardly a scene goes by without some ropey special effect coming into play. Even the actors look like talking in front of huge projectors in specific scenes. Day-for-night photography ruins a lot of the night scenes and watching the dinosaurs interact with the humans is laughable – the first unlucky local who gets attacked by the T-Rex looks like he’s being tickled rather than eaten alive.

If the presence of two dinosaurs wasn’t enough to make the island panic, there’s also a caveman running riot. This is how the film deals its comedy hand – having the caveman be domesticated by the annoying child star. Watch as he tries eating with a fork, wonders what a mirror is and, in the film’s worst scene (and it takes some topping believe me!), the caveman tries on a dress. I’m being a little hard on this whole sequence to be honest. Gregg Martell does a wonderful job of portraying a man who has been taken out of his element and is struggling to cope with a world that is alien to him.

The problems extend to the rest of the film so don’t think that it just the effects that are stinking up the joint. The acting is really wooden right across the board with the exception of Martell (who just grunts anyway) and there’s a whole bunch of stereotyped characters waddling around the film from the corrupt local businessman to comic relief sidekick and straight-laced white man hero. The irritating child actor wines and whinges his way through every scene he’s in. You’ll be wishing he turns into dino chow at some point but films in the 60s weren’t that cruel. The narrative is a real slog to get through and the film doesn’t really do much in its running time when you look back on it.

 

Dinosaurus! is feeble 60s ‘entertainment’ at its most primitive and basic. It just about manages to tick off a couple of genre boxes within its running time and, despite being squarely aimed at the younger audience, even youngsters would find Dinosaurus! both boring and a laugh at the same time.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Destination Inner Space (1966)

Destination Inner Space (1966)

TERROR from the DEPTHS of the SEA!

A submarine commander is sent to the underwater research facility Aquasphere to investigate strange sonar readings which turn out to be the result of a UFO landing on the ocean floor. He takes some crew members out to investigate the spaceship and return with a strange pod about the size of an air tank. Back at base, the pod begins to grow in size before bursting open to reveal a strange amphibian-like alien which begins to terrorise the facility.

 

Ever wonder what would have happened if The Creature from the Black Lagoon had got it together with It! The Terror from Beyond Space? Thought not but just in case you had, then the offspring would clearly resemble Destination Inner Space. A low budget hybrid of the two films, Destination Inner Space is hokey 60s sci-fi at its most evident, generating more unintentional laughs than anything else.

Nowadays, we’d call this an underwater Alien clone like Leviathan but back in the 60s this was reasonably fresh material. However it’s clear from the first few awful miniature shots that this was never going to be given a chance to be anything more than a throwaway drive-in movie which presumably tagged along with a bigger budgeted production. Destination Inner Space is plodding, routine and rather dull, with only the odd moment of inspiration to keep it going. We all know the type of film: a by-the-book plot with a host of square-jawed American military heroes and dames trapped inside a confined space with something deadly after them. Space. Underwater. The Antarctic. Remote Pacific islands. It makes no difference. The manliest character will vanquish the beast, protect the girl and save the day.

Scott Brady is said manliest character. As Commander Wayne, he struts around in his uniform dishing out instructions to everyone. You never get the sense that he isn’t in control, even when he’s wrestling with the alien. Smart and tough in equal measure, he’s like an underwater John Wayne. He has wisecracks for everything and is never one to be left hanging during an exchange. Recognisable Asian-American actor James Hong pops up in a role as the only non-white member of the research team and he’s the cook no less. Talk about racial profiling! But Destination Inner Space isn’t exactly a film to get strung up on developing characters. There is slightly more than usual and it helps the film a little bit when the alien does start causing chaos. But only a little bit.

The problem with Destination Inner Space is that it’s so ‘meh.’ There’s no excitement, no tension, no suspense and little in the way of action. Fall asleep for ten minutes and when you wake up, you won’t have missed a beat. It’s that type of film. You watch it for the sake of watching, not because you’re curious as to what will happen. The underwater diving sequences are the best part of the film: bright, colourful and well-filmed and Destination Inner Space uses the aquatic setting to good effect. Though the interior sets look rather ramshackle, you do get the sense that these people are stranded underwater and running out of time and air. It’s a shame that nothing much happens with them.

The alien looks ridiculous but, with a whole host of old school innocence about its appearance, it’s impossible to be harsh on it. Staggering around with a gormless, open-mouthed expression on its face and a large fin which makes it look like a punk rocker, the costume is at least colourful and . Director Francis D. Lyon knows he can’t get away with hiding this thing for too long so goes for the jugular from the start. There’s no gradual reveal or keeping it off-screen because the audience would just laugh whenever they saw it midway through the film. Best to get it out of the way before it starts killing. The great thing about the costume is its practicality – the bulky fin I mentioned and the large head and ‘hunchback’ appearance is so that the stuntman could wear his breathing apparatus underneath. This lends the genuine underwater scenes a nice credibility. He’s certainly no Ricou Browning from The Creature from the Black Lagoon but Ron Burke is no slouch when it comes to gracing the monster with an aurora of the unhuman.

 

Largely unknown to all but die-hard sci-fi fans, I only found out about Destination Inner Space through a colourful trailers compilation on Youtube. The fact that it’s a load of rubbish makes its obscurity valid. The alien suit is worth a look for a good chuckle to see ‘how they did it in the olden days’ but anyone looking for a decent sci-fi flick best look elsewhere.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Konga (1961)

Konga (1961)

Not since “King Kong”…has the screen exploded with such mighty fury and spectacle!

After being presumed dead in a plane crash, Doctor Charles Decker returns to England where he proclaims to have found a way of growing plants and animals to enormous size. Using Konga, his pet chimp, Decker is determined to prove his naysayers wrong. But as Decker grows more determined and Konga gets bigger and stronger, he begins to send the simian out to kill those who oppose him.

 

Hokey sci-fi horror from the 60s, Konga is part-King Kong, part-Frankenstein and full-on cheese. Brought to the screen by American International Pictures, the studio behind infamous B-movies such as It Conquered the World, Invasion of the Saucer Men, I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Earth Vs The Spider, Konga was one of a number of British-made B-movies to stem from a partnership that AIP struck with UK-based studios. Now looking very dated, suitably campy and very silly, these films were head-and-shoulders apart from their American counterparts. Circus of Horrors, featuring Anton Diffring, and Horrors of the Black Museum, also starring Michael Gough, were a pale shadow of the Hammer horror output of the 50s and 60s but stood up reasonably well when compared to The Brain Eaters or Attack of the Giant Leeches. Konga joined the list in 1961 and though it’s no King Kong, it’s certainly better than War of the Colossal Beast.

Name-dropping aside, it’s hard to see which niche market they were aiming for with Konga. As I’ve said, it’s no King Kong. Save for the titular characters both being gorillas, there’s little similarity between the two. There are lots of the mad scientist tropes here too and the film does run like a proto-slasher with the gorilla acting as the masked killer. Whatever the aim, the eventual output delivers plenty of cheesy entertainment which lovers of B-movies would find right up their alley. The plot is the standard scientist takes his revenge story which is rather flimsily done from the start as Decker’s motivations for suddenly turning to murder are a step too far for even his character. But the shenanigans that ensues allows for plenty of diversity with what happens. Attempted rape. Man-eating plants. Some groovy 60s cats jiving to rock ‘n’ roll in the back of a van. You name it, it’s here.

Michael Gough was most likely a nice guy in real life and I have nothing personal against him but on screen across a number of his earlier films, he just oozes this hateable arrogance. It’s a testament to Gough’s ability as an actor that he manages to sculpt such obnoxious, devious and smarmy characters as Decker here or Bancroft in Horrors of the Black Museum. I really can’t stand the guy when he’s in this zone and the films are far the better for it. He’s in full-on rage mode, snarling and barking out instructions and commands to everyone around him. Gough plays it straight, which is puzzling given the nonsense going on, and the film works the better for it. Sadly the rest of the cast are nowhere near his level and he stands god-like over them, stealing every scene and dominating with every line of dialogue. This is Gough’s vehicle and he’ll be damned if anyone, even a giant gorilla, will upstage him.

Konga looks awful though, save for the early scenes when he’s actually a real-life chimp. Somehow in this enlarging process, Konga turns from a chimp into a gorilla but science and realism isn’t exactly this film’s strongest suit. The stuntman-inside-a-suit never worked on screen for anyone (think of those daft 50s films like Robot Monster or any time a gorilla showed up in a Three Stooges short) and this one is no exception. There’s something inherently daft about human eyes behind the mask which ruins the impression being attempted. Things go from bad to worse when Konga grows to gigantic proportions. Apart from some nifty miniature work when he breaks out of his house, the rest of the scenes of Konga stomping around London are ruined by a matte line around the gorilla which gives him some sort of radioactive glow. The less about the toy doll (Decker) that the stuntman is carrying around with him the better.

The film sells itself as some sort of King Kong pretender, with the art work depicting a rampage through London that would have Gorgo or Behemoth quivering in fear. When Konga does grow to gigantic size and escapes in the finale, you’d expect this to be so. Apparently standing around growling at bystanders is what classed as a rampage those days! Konga doesn’t do anything and in the climactic shots, stands in front of Big Ben. A ‘Kong climbing up the Empire State Building’ moment threatens but never materialises. The film ends on a whimper with no hint of any damage done to the capital.

 

Konga is innocent and inoffensive fun. It’s very talky, fails to deliver a satisfactory finale and smacks of cheap special effects. However there is something charming about watching a man in a third-rate gorilla outfit throwing dolls around miniature models of London. Worth a watch to see one of the UK’s most underrated actors, Michael Gough, chew the scenery as if he hasn’t eaten for years.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Monsters of mass destruction

Godzilla and the other giant monsters of Earth are being held on Monster Island, a virtual prison which allows them to live in peace but will not permit them to escape its boundary. But then suddenly the monsters start appearing all over the world, wreaking havoc on major cities from Beijing to New York. It turns out that aliens called the Kilaaks have taken control of Monster Island and are using the Earth’s monsters to destroy the planet.

 

Like Universal did when they ran out of ideas for their famous horror monsters back in the 40s, Toho studios turned to pitting their famous giant monsters against each other in order to bypass the creative drought that the long-standing series had suffered. With Godzilla having already destroyed Japan back in 1954, how many times could the giant lizard repeat the same trick without it getting repetitive? The answer was once because in the sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, the big G was pitted against Anguirus. From then on, Godzilla found himself competing against a slew of giant monsters from Mothra to Rodan and even King Kong. After a few lacklustre efforts, Godzilla’s popularity was on the decline and so Destroy All Monsters was dreamt up as an all-guns blazing swansong to end the series on a high. Ironically, the film made Godzilla more popular than ever before and it still ranks up there amongst many fans favourite Godzilla film.

I must admit that I’m one of those fans. Destroy All Monsters is not just the pinnacle of the daft 60s and 70s Godzilla films where the monster became Earth’s saviour but it’s also an entertaining sci-fi film which delivers a whole mix of light-hearted action, comedy and groovy special effects. But let’s cut right to the chase– there is one sole reason why this is one of the, if not the most, popular Godzilla films and that’s because of the massive roster of monsters that make an appearance of some kind here. Toho really pulled out all the stops for this one, assembling a gigantic cast of monsters from their vast catalogue of films. Not only do you get Godzilla, the monsters with their standalone films like Mothra and Rodan, and previous series baddie King Ghidorah, but you get appearances from Anguirus, Spiega, Minya, Gorosaurus, Varan, Baragon and Manda. Some have more to do than others: Anguirus and Gorosaurus play integral roles in the final battle whilst Baragon and Varan literally have blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos (due to how poorly-maintained the monsters suits both were). But the fact that they’re all here adds a uniqueness to the film that would not be replicated until Godzilla: Final Wars.

The vast array of monsters involved lends the film to all manner of destruction. Mothra attacks Beijing, Rodan does in Moscow, Godzilla takes on New York and they all converge on Tokyo for one of the series’ most impressive city-stomping scenes yet. Not one or two but four monsters unleash their rage upon Japan at the half-way point of the film. Director Ishirô Honda really puts on a spectacular show of destruction with the monsters first smashing Tokyo to pieces and then the army mustering whatever they can to try and stop them. This scene alone in Destroy All Monsters represents a high point for the Showa series of films (those made up until 1975) with its use of pyrotechnics and miniatures – the knowledge that had been employed in the previous Godzilla films all comes to fruition. All of the material is new and there’s no use of stock footage from earlier film, though ironically enough since the footage here was so good, it crops up again and again in future films.

These scenes of miniature city-mashing pale in comparison to the film’s finale, an all-out battle royale featuring the monsters fighting at the foot of Mount Fuji. Yes it’s just a bunch of guys in suits hitting each other but it’s the series’ most entertaining moment and something that the series really tried to emulate in later films to no avail. It’s a bit one-sided as the Earth monsters team up to fight King Ghidorah but the space monster holds his own. The editing during this scene is top drawer, there’s plenty of special effects flying around and the camera does a good job of capturing the mayhem and, as the news reporter covering the scene proclaims, the “monsters’ cries of horror and sudden death.” It’s a crazy fight which only takes up about six minutes of screen time but it’s the most memorable six minutes of the entire series.

You’ll be much more inclined to forgive the silly alien story when there is the promise of a massive monster mash at the end of the film but the plot about the Kilaaks trying to take over the Earth is one of the most charming of the series. Yes, the alien invasion plot had already been used in the previous film, Invasion of the Astro Monsters, and would go on to be a series’ stalwart over the coming years but this is the best incarnation of it. Its charming comic books antics pit long-time Godzilla actor Akira Kubo into the hot seat as an astronaut who leads his crew on the mission to put a stop to the Kilaaks’ plan. The aliens, whilst not displaying the greatest sense of fashion in the world, are slimy and cocky and it all adds up to a rousing sub-plot which enhances the monster action. The cast is filled with a whole array of regular Godzilla faces and they’re all great.

Series composer Akira Ifukube brings to life the film with one of his most famous scores. From the opening chords of the pumping title theme to the classic Rodan theme playing and more sinister musical numbers for the Kilaaks, Ifukube populates the film with some sterling music which accompanies the scenes brilliantly, enhancing the action with bombastic nature or underscoring the devious nature of the alien invaders. Say what you want about the nature of the Godzilla films but Ifukube’s work across the series is outstanding.

 

Destroy All Monsters represents the pinnacle of what the Godzilla films came to embody and has rarely been matched for its popularity since. Holding itself firmly on the right side of the camp border and delivering some of the series’ most memorable set pieces, for sheer spectacle alone this one has never been topped. It’s essential viewing for not only Godzilla lovers but fans of kaiju the world over.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Gamera (1965)

Gamera (1965)

An unnamed jet carrying a nuclear bomb is shot down over the Arctic, exploding upon impact and melting the ice. In doing so, it releases the giant monster Gamera from an icy tomb and it proceeds to head straight for Japan to destroy it. A team of scientists and military personnel must find a way to stop it before it’s too late.

 

After Godzilla‘s monstrous success, It was only a matter of time before another Asian studio decided to try and ride the coat tails by producing their own giant monster movie. Toho had dominated the kaiju market with their array of giant monster movies conquering the cinemas including Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra. Not to be outdone, Daiei Studios gave the world Gamera. Bizarrely enough, Gamera found a fan base in Japan and become a hotly-contested rival to Godzilla’s crown. Gamera eventually went on to star in his own series of films both back in the 60s and early 70s and then in the more recent 90s and 00s. The recent revival gave Godzilla a big run for his money.

I’ve already mentioned Godzilla a few times already. You see, It’s hard not to make the comparisons between Gamera and Godzilla since Gamera only exists due to the other’s success. Both consequences of atomic radiation (though Gamera was awakened by it, not created by it), both reptilian monsters than can spew deadly breath, both head to Tokyo for a spot of city-smashing, both seem impervious to the army’s attempts to stop them and both are seemingly killed off only to re-emerge a few years later in the sequel. But whilst Toho aimed their franchise towards the adult market, Gamera is solely directed towards the kids.

Later in the series, Gamera would always become friends with a little human Japanese boy who would call on him for help whenever another monster arrived to take over. There are few signs of this infantile approach in Gamera but likewise there are no signs that this was geared towards a more mature audience. There are no pretensions about atomic testing here. Godzilla had been there, done that and was now Japan’s protector rather than his destroyer. Gamera has some thinly-veiled messages to fire off about the Cold War between America and Russia but they seem forcibly added to the film to give it some more gravitas.

Gamera is an interesting design but not in a positive sense. He’s not just a giant turtle but one with a jet-powered shell that can make him fly. He can retract his limbs just like an ordinary turtle but then blasts fire out of each hole, sending him rocketing through the sky like a UFO.  Not only does Gamera look daft but he acts daft too. He’s not the primal force of nature that Godzilla was but rather a dorkier monster with a goofy face. The scenes of him smashing up the miniature cities are average at best, made worse by the ridiculousness of the monster suit.

For budgetary reasons, Gamera was filmed in black and white and whilst this does cover over a lot of the obvious cracks in the special effects, it proves to be a feeble contrast when you look at other films released the same year. Over at Toho in 1965, Godzilla and Rodan were doing battle with King Ghidorah in glorious colour in Invasion of the Astro Monsters. Gamera’s quaint black and white approach pales in comparison and gives it a much older look – you’d quite happily buy into it being a mid 50s sci-fi film. The step-down in quality from the Godzilla films is amazing and whilst the crew who worked on Gamera weren’t as experienced at producing miniatures, the gulf in class is amazing. They don’t vary the scenes of destruction and it gets tiresome watching Gamera pummel the same buildings over and over again. On the plus side, Gamera might just well be the first kaiju film to show humans being incinerated by the giant monster.

The human characters don’t add anything to the story either. All they do is stand around in between monster attacks and discuss what they can to stop Gamera. It’s a good job that there are plenty of attacks because they’d run out of conversation pretty quickly otherwise. There’s a fair selection of stock characters on offer but you’ll never remember who half of them are by the time the film finishes. Their eventual solution to the Gamera problem, trapping him and launching him into space, must rank as one of the most idiotic ways of all time to dispatch a giant monster. Better off launching the film reel with him.

 

It is the only real Asian rival to Godzilla but unfortunately Gamera doesn’t even come close to beating Toho’s all-conquering radioactive monster. Gamera arrived at the monster party ten years too late and is out-gunned by his kaiju counterparts in every aspect.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Day of the Triffids, The (1962)

The Day of the Triffids (1962)

Man eating plants! Spine chilling terror!

A once in a lifetime meteor shower illuminates the skies across the world which is unfortunate for Bill Masen, a sailor who is in hospital with his eyes bandaged after an operation. When he wakes up the next morning, Bill removes his bandages to find out that everyone who witnessed the meteor shower is now blind and London is in total chaos. What’s worse is that the meteorites brought with them triffids – giant, carnivorous plants which now prey upon the helpless population. Gathering together a group of survivors who can still see, Bill heads off across Europe to rebuild civilisation and fight off the triffid menace.

 

Although apparently a demolition job of the book by John Wyndham upon which this is based, I can only judge a film on its merits and I’ve got to say that The Day of the Triffids comes up a little short of being an outright sci-fi classic. It’s sinister in parts, dull in others and there’s a general sense that too many people had input into the final version of the film. But it’s still a celebrated dose of early 60s British sci-fi from an era fuelled by paranoia about the Cold War and does a fair job of spelling out the end of the world, even if it all feels very low scale.

Forget the idea of the killer plants for the time being. Day of the Triffids works best when it’s not churning out monster movie clichés. The strongest part of the film is its first half when you’re not entirely sure what is going on, in particular the scenes of total chaos in London: trains de-rail in stations, planes fall out of the sky and ships crash into docks with their pilots, crews and passengers all blind and unable to do anything to prevent their deaths. The shots of Masen walking throughout the deserted streets of London will be familiar to anyone who has seen 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle clearly borrowing from this startling introduction with his similar post-apocalyptic opening salvo.

At first Masen’s selfishness and reluctance to help any blind person he comes across seems brutally cold-hearted but the realisation that he’s one of only 1% of the world’s population who can still see puts this into context – he literally can’t save everyone. The blindness itself is chillingly introduced into the story, with Masen testing his doctor’s vision for him before the poor chap makes a suicidal leap out of a window, unable to cope with his new situation. It’s a bleak scenario and the film does a great job of conveying this post-apocalyptic feel with its minor budget.

But then the novelty value of this scenario soon wears thin when the film runs out of ideas and simply begins to repeat itself. Once Masen and his new-found schoolgirl friend, Susan, head across the channel to France, the film begins to struggle as they go from situation to situation involving blind survivors and triffids. Speaking of which, the killer plants are arguably the weakest part of the film. I guess the notion of killer plants isn’t a particularly easy sell but the special effects do them no favours at all. They’re a classic case of Papier-mâché monsters being pulled along by wires. Their design is pretty unique and their appearance is sinister as long as they aren’t moving.

The triffids are introduced in London during a pair of well-handled sequences involving a dog that gets too close for its own good in the first instance and that age old chestnut sequence of a “car stuck in the mud whilst monster is closing in” comprising the second. But once in mainland Europe, the triffids don’t do an awful lot, save for a decent mansion assault scene, and are generally relegated to background duty for the rest of the film. It’s a real shame because, as ridiculous as the triffids look, they at least manage to convey an element of danger and the scenes involving them stalking and attacking their prey are at least tense and effective. Without hungry vegetation clogging up the screen, there’s little else to hold your interest levels. Characters are poorly-written and there’s not that many of them either – only Masen and Susan connect with the audience in any way.

After initial filming had finished, the running time ended up being woefully short of hitting that of a full length feature film so horror director Freddie Francis was drafted in to film extra scenes for a simultaneous story about two survivors being menaced by triffids whilst stranded in a lighthouse. This gives the illusion that there two different films battling for supremacy and neither one wins. The two stories never gel together well and are virtually unrelated save for a token scene at the end when they merge. The eventual resolution to the triffid menace seems contrite and ridiculously tacked on to give audiences some feeling of hope – despite the blatantly obvious fact that the majority of the people in the world are still blind.

 

Day of the Triffids might be considered a classic but it falls well off the mark in trying to accomplish that feat. It’s too talky, too muddled and too low scale to do justice to the post-apocalyptic scenario that is desperately trying to break free. You do get subtle hints of what may have been and there is still enough action and suspense to appeal to fans of old school sci-fi.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966)

Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966)

Dr Who and his accomplices arrive on Earth in 2150 to find that the population has been enslaved by the evil Daleks who are using humans to mine the Earth’s core. Can Dr Who and the human resistance groups stop the Daleks before Earth is destroyed?

 

Doctor Who is a British institution. First broadcast back in 1963, the series has become one of the longest-running and most popular science fiction programmes not only in the UK but across the world. Though it has seen its fair share of ups and downs, Doctor Who has become part of popular culture for its imaginative stories and creative low budget special effects, bringing to life a variety of aliens, planets and situations that science fiction literature has come to recognise as some of the most iconic images in the genre.  One such iconic image is that of the Dalek, a mutant alien race who live inside rather unique pepper pot-shaped tank-like machines and are bent on universal conquest and domination. First seen in the Doctor Who‘s second serial, The Daleks, they quickly his most famous and deadly enemies, causing a generation of children to hide behind their sofas whenever they came on.

A pair of non-canon Doctor Who films were made by Amicus Productions in the 60s to capitalise on the phenomenal success of the TV series, with bigger budgets and production values that the TV episodes could only dream of. Both starred legendary actor Peter Cushing as The Doctor and both featured the Daleks – this was the height of a phenomena in the UK known as Dalekmania. The first film, Dr Who and the Daleks, based itself around the story for The Daleks. The second of the films, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., sees the producers return to the TV series once more, this time basing their script around the more iconic serial of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It was the first of the TV serials to utilise location shooting and the sight of the Daleks powering across a devastated London and emerging from the Thames have become engrained in UK TV history.

The better of the two big screen Doctor Who adventures, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. sees the campy and garish nature of the previous film being ramped up a couple of notches. It’s definitely a product of the swinging 60s and unquestionably both looks and sounds dated. Visually, the film was head and shoulders above the TV series for the time. You can only imagine how much more vibrant and innovative the skilled artists at the BBC would have been able to make the series had they had this sort of budget. But not only that, this film manages to hold its own really well against any other 60s science fiction films. The production team have really gone to town on this one, delivering a futuristic vision of a destroyed London on a low budget in stunning, colourful detail. The effects work is a mixed bag – some decent model work, some not so good. Shots of Dalek spaceships flying over London look good but then the miniature sets don’t look all that good either.

Director Gordon Flemyng was back on board and, seeing where the faults lay in the first film, manages a better all-round pace, cramming in plenty of action set pieces and lots more Dalek action, as well as holding back on some of the sillier escapades. It’s still kitsch as anything and the Daleks will never really convince you of their evil intentions due to their absurd design (I always preferred the Cybermen anyway). They get way more screen time than they really should. After all, the TV series scrimped and saved on them because they were just too costly to make and so you only ever saw a few Daleks on screen at once. The bright and gaudy look of the Daleks in the film here is a bit of a surprise, turning them into fashion hazards from an era of hippies. They come off looking like they’ve lost a battle with a couple of toddlers and a few cans of paint. But they’re in the film a lot and there are some entertaining battles between them and the human resistance to keep things ticking over.

Peter Cushing makes for an interesting selection as the Doctor. Just like in the previous film, the character is not written as a mysterious alien but rather a kindly man who has managed to build a time machine (as you do). Cushing plays him as a doddery old gent, very grandfatherly and without any hint of malice or hidden intentions. It’s an eccentric performance which shows the great range that Cushing had and would have been good to see Cushing actually get the chance to play him on a regular basis in the TV series. Strangely, despite his iconic status as a veteran British actor who regularly played villains or scientists, Cushing never appeared in the TV series.

Bernard Cribbins takes over from Roy Castle who was unavailable to return and, though there’s an ill-advised and overlong sequence of him trying to be one of the robo-men, he stops the character from becoming too bumbling and farcical. Cribbins would go on to appear in the TV series in 2007 – a massive gap of forty-one years!

 

Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. is cheap and cheerful, silly and fun. Made for kids who were fascinated with the Daleks back in the 60s, the film does what it sets out to do. If you grew up on a diet of barnstorming sci-fi films like Aliens, this may be a bit too childish and quaint for your tastes. But fans of the series will find plenty to enjoy.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

One Million Years B.C. (1966)

One Million Years B.C. (1966)

MEN AND MONSTERS BATTLE TO RULE THE EARTH!

Tumak is banished from the savage rock tribe and finds temporary refuge amongst the more gentle shore tribe. Here Loana, one of the females, takes a liking to him but his savage ways are too much for the gentle tribe who eventually banish him as well. Faced with a dilemma, Loana decides to go with him and the two must face the prehistoric world of dinosaurs by themselves.

 

Not the sort of film you’d expect to see from legendary horror studio Hammer, One Million Years B.C. was one of their many attempts to diversity their output in the 60s and 70s away from the classic Gothic horrors that they had become synonymous with and into any new niche genre that they could capitalise on. They tried swashbuckling action with The Devil-Ship Pirates, exotic adventure in She and fantasy islands in The Lost Continent to name a few but nothing caught on. However, they struck gold with One Million Years B.C. and proceeded to make a handful of prehistoric ‘cave girl’ films within a five year period from 1966. One Million Years B.C. was the first of these and the best, becoming a huge international hit upon its release.

Billed as the ’100th Hammer Film’ and evidently sold on its two main selling points (or should that be three….) of Ray Harryhausen’s wonderful special effects and the absolutely stunning Raquel Welch in a skimpy fur bikini, One Million Years B.C. is a fun exploitative prehistoric romp. There’s little pretence of story. There’s no real narrative to the film. Dialogue is virtually non-existent. It’s just a series of encounters between dinosaurs and aggressive cave men. And that bikini. The film quickly boils down to its lowest denominators and sticks to it until the end. It knows its strengths and plays to them.

Director Don Chaffey was no stranger to making these big budget fantasy epics, having helmed the classic Jason and the Argonauts a few years earlier, but he bites off a little more than he can chew here, expanding the film to a whopping one hundred minutes – a long time when you haven’t got a story or script to keep everything together. Granted most films featuring Ray Harryhausen’s special effects were little more than set piece-driven spectacles but at least they had a story and dialogue so that you at least knew what was supposed to be happening. This one plods from dinosaur to dinosaur, with not even talky filler scenes to bolster the running time.

I could give the film top marks on Raquel Welch alone. Simply put, Welch looks amazing in this, sizzling in every scene that she is in. If anyone ever wanted to see just how drop dead gorgeous one of cinema’s most famous sex symbols was in her prime, then show them this. She only has three ‘lines’ but the shot of Welch in her fur bikini has become one of the most famous images to come out of the 60s.

Apart from strutting around in very little (and doing a super job of it too!), she has nothing to do in the film. None of the actors do. The only real words are spoken by the narrator – the rest of the script consists of grunts and groans as the cavemen communicate with each other in primitive fashion. I suppose it’s authentic but hell, if you’re going to slap a hot red head with perfect hair and make-up and pretend she’s a legit cave girl, why not have them talk to each other? There are loads of famous faces hanging around such as John Richardson, Percy Herbert, Martine Beswick and Robert Brown so why not have them talk to each other. It seems like a real waste of talent to me.

Legendary stop motion effects wizard Ray Harryhausen provides the special effects here and it is this reason alone why One Million Years B.C. stands head and shoulders above virtually every other dinosaur film made up to this point. The dinosaurs he brings to life have more character and personality about them than the cast does. The scene with the pterodactyl swooping down and attacking Ms. Welch by the lake is one of his most complex and riveting action sequences and the fight between the T-Rex and the triceratops is classic Harryhausen.

But maybe it’s because we’re only dealing with dinosaurs here that the effects don’t stand out as some of his best. There’s no skeleton fight here, no Talos or cyclops to get the pulse racing or a Medusa to scare the pants off us. The dinosaurs look good but they fail to generate that extra excitement factor that his more well-known fantasy monsters do. We’ve all seen dinosaurs before and they’re common coin in cinema. Not all of the dinosaurs are animated too and, in some scenes, a normal lizard and a tarantula have been blown up to gigantic proportion and super-imposed on the screen. It mixes up the special effects somewhat but just goes to remind everyone how good Harryhausen was at his day job. This was one of his last films and he would only make four more after this.

 

One Million Years B.C. is a tad hokey but it’s hard not to get worked up over Ray Harryhausen’s special effects and the stunning Ms Welch. For these reasons alone, the film has garnered much more praise than it deserves and they do paper over a lot of the obvious cracks.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Frankenstein Conquers the World (1966)

Frankenstein Conquers the World (1966)

He rolled the Seven Wonders of the World into one!

During World War II, the Germans steal the immortal heart of Frankenstein’s monster from a lab in Europe and take it to their Japanese allies. Here, the heart is caught in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and is exposed to radiation. The heart slowly mutates and grows into a full body which then escapes into the countryside. Years later, the now-grown feral boy is captured by scientists who want to study it. But the boy keeps growing until he is over 20ft tall. Escaping from captivity once more, the giant is blamed for the destruction of a mountain area near Mount Fuji. But in reality this is the work of a giant reptile named Barugon which has come out of the centre of the Earth. Frankenstein and Barugon cross paths and fight to the death.

 

Jeez that was a long-winded plot summary but I could have gone on for hours trying to explain Toho’s Frankenstein Conquers the World, one of their many standalone kaiju flicks which didn’t feature Godzilla or Mothra but instead, rather bizarrely, tries to draw influence from Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic novel Frankenstein. What follows is one of Toho’s most unique films, in every sense of the word. Who would have though a literature classic would find its way into the world of kaiju eiga?

Toho roped in long-term Godzilla main man Ishirô Honda for the directing duties but there was no way that even he would be able to get a grip on the subject matter. The plot is bonkers: the script has loads of ideas (using the original script from King Kong Vs Godzilla which had Godzilla fighting Frankenstein instead) but once Frankenstein has grown to full size, there’s literally nothing left for him to do except follow the kaiju formula by squaring off with another giant monster. These scripts don’t lead anywhere else except to a giant fight at the finale and this is no exception. So what you basically get is a lot of filler and padding out before the fight.

I guess Toho finally ran out of monster ideas for this one and simply had a grown man stomping around on the miniature set instead of designing a suit or even some half-decent make-up for the actor to wear. We know that the monsters in these kaiju films are just guys in suits anyway but the illusion is ruined at the sight of a normal guy doing the stomping. He’s given a flat top skull piece to wear, some really goofy buck-teeth and an overlarge, soiled nappy to wear. Hardly the stuff of nightmares! Frankenstein is little threat to Japan, let alone coming close to living up to the title of conquering the world.

What little money was left over (and I must be talking pennies here) was ‘invested’ into the Barugon suit. When I say invested, I mean that it was probably found in a bin somewhere. Barugon (not to be confused with the creature of the same name who did battle with Gamera) looks like something the pet dog of a five year might wear on Halloween. Definitely one of those “you can see the zipper” monsters. Barugon shows up for literally no other reason than to provide Frankenstein with something to do once he reaches ‘giant monster’ status. Given that he’s flesh and blood, a full-fledged assault by the usually-toothless Japanese military might have actually paid dividends for a change. But Frankenstein has to make do with Barugon to fight – Godzilla would have made for a more memorable opponent.

Come to mention it, apart from the giant monster side of the film, the Frankenstein elements work quite well. Whilst Mary Shelley’s work is uncredited, the source material is reasonably followed – this is a monster who is not naturally violent or aggressive but misunderstood and only reacts the way he does because of the way he has been treat. He only kills when he has to do and manages to get some sympathy and pity from the audience. Sadly, as I’ve already stated, the film gives the monster little to do and instead saddles the bulk of the screen time with the scientists who look after him but are not interesting enough to hold together the film. American actor Nick Adams was decent enough in Invasion of the Astro-Monsters but he can’t save this mess on his own, relegated to almost commentary-duty as he and the others watch the giant monsters fight it out. Admittedly, the fight between the two monsters isn’t the worst you’re ever going to see in one of these films but only for the pure camp value of seeing a man wearing a nappy fighting another man in a moth-balled lizard suit on a crumbling miniature set!

 

Toho’s script is an interesting failure where the best elements are those which have been inspired from the Gothic novel and the worst ones have been lifted from every other kaiju film out there. Frankenstein Conquers the World tries to work the two together in a very mis-matched way but which was somehow successful and popular enough to spawn a sequel.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆