Tag 1960s

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.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gappa, The Triphibian Monster (1967)

Gappa, The Triphibian Monster (1967)

Even mightier than ‘King Kong’!

An expedition to a remote tropical island leads to the discovery of a baby reptile unlike anything seen before. Ignoring the protests of the natives, the expedition takes the monster to a zoo in Japan. This prompts the baby’s significantly-larger parents to go searching for their offspring leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

 

Japan’s oldest major movie studio, Nikkatsu, had decided to jump on board the ‘kaiju’ bandwagon of the 60s. This was an era in which Tokyo had been destroyed countless times by the likes of Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra and Rodan courtesy of the folks over at Toho and Daiei studios. Even London had received the wrath of Gorgo and Copenhagan had drawn the short straw with the laughable Reptilicus spewing its green goo all over the capital. Giant monster movies were all the rage, so why not get in on the act and potentially spawn a whole franchise of popular monster movies? Well the idea was good in theory but the execution is woeful. Gappa, The Triphibian Monster could well be one of the worst giant monster movies to ever come out of Japan and over forty years later, that still holds true.

Gappa, The Triphibian Monster (also known as Monster From a Prehistoric Planet, a title which makes no sense whatsoever as they’re not space monsters) is, to put it bluntly, a terrible entry in the kaiju cycle. It borrows heavily from Gorgo about a baby monster which is taken from its home and put on display only for its parents to come looking for it – well borrowing is a bit gentle, more like stealing. Unfortunately it also borrows Gorgo’s sluggish pace and even manages to slow that down. At the end of the day, it’s a film about giant monsters smashing cities which takes about three quarters of an hour to get them down to business. Even then, the action is quickly skirted over and is lacking in energy and passion. Kaiju films should never be this dull and insipid.

In the meantime, the film throws in a couple of human sub-plots to keep the monsters off-screen for as long as possible. There’s the obligatory scenes of the ‘cute’ baby monster, which is ugly as hell but it’s meant to be cuddly and stuff, in captivity and making the audience all gooey-eyed over it. Throw in one of the native kids who hitches a ride back to Japan (and who has, rather alarmingly in today’s politically correct world, been smothered in shoe polish to make him look ‘native’) and a greedy editor (of a magazine called Playmate – but alas it’s not the one featuring naked chicks) and you have enough padding to keep the Gappas off screen for as long as necessary. And believe me they’re off screen for a good deal of the running time. The lousy international dubbing doesn’t help matters either though I’m pretty sure that it’s the same voices as those behind the Destroy All Monsters dub and that added a goofy touch to the film. Unfortunately there’s no such added bonus with this one.

Let’s face it, the Gappa monsters sound good on paper – giant bird-like monsters that can fly (well they do have wings) and swim and they have Godzilla-like breath weapons. Once you see them on the screen, this positive image is completely thrown out the window with some of the worst monster suits ever designed. These are the type of suits that bring up the phrase “if you look carefully, you can see the zipper.” Not only do they look pitiful but the miniature cities upon which they unleash their wrath look exactly like miniature cities. When they start smashing the place up, they do like the men in suits that they are. Whilst not every Godzilla film managed to maintain this illusion, at least effort was made to portray the monster as real and not as a hokey special effect. Complaining about the special effects is a waste of time really. I wasn’t expecting much and it’s on par with the worst of the Godzilla and Gamera films as far as these go. It’s just that the effects are done without any hint of enthusiasm and the effects team look to be going through the motions at every opportunity.

 

Gappa, The Triphibian Monster is a clunker of a kaiju film, no better or worse than some of Toho and Daiei’s worst efforts, but a clunker nonetheless. The effects have become somewhat of a joke over the years, even appearing as stock footage monsters in a hilarious scene in BBC comedy show Red Dwarf where the characters mock the quality of the suits.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Phantom of the Opera, The (1962)

The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Out of the hell-fire of horror unimaginable rises the figure of terror incarnate!

A poor composer, Professor Petrie, is angered when he finds out that the slimy Lord D’Arcy is stealing his work by printing his own name on the top of an opera he had composed. Petrie sets out to try and put an end to the printing but an accident in the press horribly burns his face with acid and he escapes into the sewers, forced into hiding. Years later, D’Arcy is about to start production on one of Petrie’s plays. But Petrie has not died and decides to terrorise the opera house to make sure that the play doesn’t go ahead.

 

Hammer struck gold with their reinventions of classic horror icons Frankenstein, Dracula and the Mummy so it was inevitable that the studio would turn to other famous literary characters to keep the bandwagon rolling. In their second wave of remakes, Hammer gave the Gothic treatment to the Wolf Man in The Curse of the Werewolf, Dr Jekyll in The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll and here with The Phantom of the Opera. Unfortunately this second wave was not as commercially successful as the first and these films tend to be overlooked within the Hammer canon. Most people will associate the Phantom with Lon Chaney in the 1925 silent film but the story and character has since gone on to become one of the most adapted works of all time. Would Hammer’s trademark Gothic spin make any difference?

Well Hammer didn’t exactly produce a dud with The Phantom of the Opera but the film falls way below the high expectations that it set itself with previous successes. I think it’s just because, as a character, the Phantom himself is never mentioned in the same top-billed breath as Frankenstein, Dracula and the Mummy (and even the Wolf Man too) and that instantly makes him become something of a second class movie monster. Perhaps this is made more so with the fact that neither Christopher Lee nor Peter Cushing star, the two names most synonymous with the glorious Hammer Technicolour horror revolution of the late 50s, were signed up to star and lend the film some much needed star power. Hammer rustled up some decent names for the film but none with the same marquis value as the two legends. Hammer’s most famous director, Terence Fisher, was once again tasked to breath new life into a Universal classic but even he can do little with the film. It looks good and flows perfectly fine but never really kicks into life like the earlier horrors did.

The film itself is one of Hammer’s more sedate films – its low on violence and gore (we don’t get a clear shot of the Phantom’s disfigured face which I had been hoping for) and it drags quite a bit in places as the plot unravels slowly. The focus is on melodramatic elements, not the horror aspects, and getting the audience to sympathise with the character of the Phantom, even though he isn’t given too much time on the screen. And as the film is based around opera, you’re going to have to sit through quite a bit of singing as well (though obviously not as much as any of the musical stage adaptations!). I just get the impression that Fisher and the production team were playing it safe here. Far from ground-breaking gore and Gothic flavour in The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, where Hammer took some risks which paid off, The Phantom of the Opera is too plodding to ever really set the world alight.

Herbert Lom is great as the Phantom and the script focuses a lot more on his psychological state. It doesn’t quite know whether to treat him as mad or misunderstood as he’s built up to be a villain throughout the film, only to show his true colours towards the end. As the actual ‘Phantom’ he doesn’t have an awful lot to do but in person there’s a lengthy flashback scene which shows us how he came to be in the state he is. His lair looks superb for a low budget set and is one of the best that Hammer ever designed. There is a sewer running through it as well as a massive organ as its centre piece and everything is sculpted around the rocks. Bond villains didn’t even get real estate as beautiful as this!

Michael Gough steals the show as the slimy Lord D’Arcy. I don’t know whether it’s just me but I’ve always thought that Gough looked a little sinister and creepy and this film really plays on it. He chews his scenes with glee, firing employees, lusting after female opera singers and, of course, stealing music. There are a whole host of other character actors on show including Thorley Walters, Patrick Troughton and Hammer cameo regular Michael Ripper makes an appearance too. It’s a solid cast and I wouldn’t expect anything else from Hammer. It’s just a pity that what they have to work with is so, well, lacklustre.

 

Hammer’s version of The Phantom of the Opera does contain a lot which is worth viewing. If you like your films a little more sedate (and with plenty of opera singing no less!), then check this out. It’s not a Hammer classic in the same vein as The Curse of Frankenstein but it’s still worth at least one viewing.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Devil Rides Out, The (1968)

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

The beauty of woman . . . the demon of darkness . . . the unholy union of “The Devil’s Bride”

The Duc Du Richleau and Rex Van Ryn arrive at the house of their friend Simon Aron for a long-awaited reunion. However Simon has forgotten about them and is instead holding a mysterious party for an astronomical society. Richleau then discovers that the society is a really a coven of Satanists led by the charismatic Mocata and the two men bundle Simon away to safety. That is the least of their troubles though as Mocata won’t let Simon go that easily and uses all of his black magic powers to claim Simon’s soul. Mocata had summoned the Angel of Death and it will not return to Hell empty-handed.

 

Having firmly established themselves as Gothic horror specialists in the 50s and 60s with their array of Frankenstein and Dracula films, Hammer‘s fortunes began to wane a little in the late 60s. There were only so many times that audiences could watch Frankenstein fail again or see Dracula staked before it got repetitive. So the studio decided to dabble in the black arts and looked for other literature that they could bring to the screen. Dennis Wheatley’s 1934 novel, The Devil Rides Out, seemed like a perfect fit with its tales of black magic, ritual sacrifices and shady good versus evil dynamics which Hammer loved. In fact an adaptation of the novel had first been proposed by Hammer in 1963 but with the subject matter proving controversial (even on its eventual release) it was put on the back burner until 1967 when censorship had become a little more relaxed and this finally went into production. The studio pulled out all of the big guns – their top director Terence Fisher, composer James Bernard and the legendary Christopher Lee – to make sure that this was a hit. It has since become one of Hammer’s most celebrated films and whilst its slow pace is a product of its time, it is a film which lingers long in the mind after viewing.

The Devil Rides Out pulls out the dark, sinister undertones almost right from the beginning as both the scholarly Du Richleau and sceptical Rex go to visit Simon at his party and realise something is not right. There is a constant sense that something terrifying is lurking around waiting to be unleashed. Nowadays this would be replicated with a bombardment of special effects but this is old school horror and the power of the film lies in suggestion rather than visuals. Wheatley knew his occult down to very fine detail and every shred of knowledge is crammed into the screen in some form either by visuals in the form of the lavish ceremonial sets or through dialogue (much of which is spoken by Christopher Lee which instantly makes it sound credible – more on him later though) in which we get to know things like the exact amount of people that need to be present at one of these ceremonies and so forth. If you don’t know anything about the occult, chances are you’ll have picked a few things up afterwards.

The piece-de-resistance of the film is the scene in which Du Richleau, Marie, Reggie and Simon stay inside a protective circle chalk-drawn out on the floor and must survive the night as Mocata sends all manner of black magic forces against them including the Angel of Death and a giant tarantula. It sounds a lot more epic than it turns out and the quality of the special effects varies between enemies (they do age the film considerably) but the scene is more about atmosphere and tension and that it manages to nail.

Rather more alarmingly is the scene in the woods for the first attempt to baptise Simon into the cult. As the cultists chant and sacrifice, a goat-headed figure appears representing the Devil himself. Even though it is blatantly a guy in a mask, the entire scene is rather unsettling for its intent than any outright shock. The less said about an early scene in which Du Richleau and Rex are greeted by the sight of a demon arising from a hidden pentagram (simply a cross-eyed black guy – someone call the politically correct brigade!) the better. I guess what I like about the film is that it believes in itself. Rex is asked to buy into the existence of black magic at the start of the film by Du Richleau and in effect he’s asking the audience to buy into it as well. The scene with the Devil in the woods is presented almost as matter-of-fact with hardly any focus on the goat-headed apparition perched on a rock watching the ritual. This makes it all the more terrifying.

Whilst the film plods along when it isn’t conducting black magic rituals and the less-than-subtle Christian messages get a little too sickening towards the end, it is the performances which make this a true Hammer classic. Christopher Lee has often stated that out of all of the films that he’s starred in, this was his favourite and it’s easy to see why from his viewpoint: he gets to star as the good guy for a change! If see you ‘starring Christopher Lee’ in a title, you assume that he’s the bad guy such as his typecasting over the years has dictated. But whilst his sinister moustache and beard lends itself to images of Satanic priests, Lee’s usual pomp, grandeur, intensity and directness make for an interesting choice of hero. It’s one of Lee’s best performances, certainly more energetic and committed to the script than I can recall from other films (and I’ve seen a lot of Lee’s films).

Charles Gray, more famous for his appearance as Blofeld in James Bond flick Diamonds Are Forever, stars opposite him as Mocata and though Gray’s more feminine persona and foppish voice does detract slightly from the character, his smarm and arrogance slices through the screen and more than adequately gives him a creepy edge. His quote “I will not be back. But something will, tonight” is delivered with devilish relish as he warns Marie of the night they’re about to face and smirks at the thought of their suffering. Mocata and Du Richleau are set up as binary opposites to each other, much like Dracula and Van Helsing were in the Dracula films or even Professor X and Magneto in the X-Men films (to use a more recent example). With equal powers and equal knowledge of the other, the tense stand-offs between the two smacks of intellectuals playing chess with human pawns. Its sterling work and credit must also go to writer Richard Matheson for crafting such enthralling characters. The rest of the cast don’t make nearly as much of an impression but when you’re in the shadows of Lee and Gray on this form, there’s no shame in that.

 

The Devil Rides Out is a stand-out film in Hammer’s massive film library. Without Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster in the film, the studio showed that they could deliver classic horror films and this is certainly one of their best efforts despite it not doing all that well when it was released. It has since found much respect and with a towering, near career-best performance from Christopher Lee at its core, The Devil Rides Out is classic horror at its most daring.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Navy Vs The Night Monsters, The (1966)

The Navy Vs The Night Monsters (1966)

All-Devouring Carnivorous Trees That Move On Their Own Roots!

A scientific expedition to the deep Antarctic discovers unusual tree specimens and they are to be shipped back for further study. But the plane carrying them is involved in a mysterious crash on Gow Island, home to a small US naval weather station, and the trees are accidentally introduced to the soil there. The ‘trees’ soon reveal themselves to be acid-spewing monsters that live by night and soon the garrison on the island find themselves under attack.

 

A weird cross between The Thing from Another World and Day of the Triffids, Navy Vs The Night Monsters has rightfully been heralded as laughable camp but taken into consideration the troubled shoot that it endured, the end product isn’t as outright terrible as it should have been. Co-writer and director Michael A. Hoey got into disagreements with the producer during filming and extra scenes were shot and added by other directors as a result, leading to a jarring juxtaposition of tones and themes. In some instances, Navy Vs The Night Monsters plays the laughs for all it can with some ill-thought out comic relief. At other times, the film tries to be deadly serious with its gory content. You can tell that this was a film with more than one director as the film is all over the shop.

Part of the problem with Navy Vs The Night Monsters are the overly colourful sets and costumes which turn the film into a constant visual eyesore. The island (some unconvincingly small sets) is very garish and bright, adding an unnecessary level of loudness which makes it all the more cheerful and happy even when people are being killed. Hark back to some of the cheesier 50s sci-fi flicks like The Monster That Challenged the World and Tarantula which were all filmed in black and white and you get the impression that this may have worked better by ditching the colour to keep it serious.

Who am I kidding? This wouldn’t have worked in black and white either. The script is terrible, the film is slower than the walking foliage and the acting is more wooden than the trees. The cast of characters assembled are just bland military types whose names you’re likely to get mixed up, science guys who are there to provide the token explanations and a huge-chested nurse (the voluptuous Mamie Van Doren) to add some sex factor to the film as well as the requisite love triangle with two suitors vying for her affection (like they had anything else but her chest on their minds). It’s dull exposition but when you’ve got a low budget, you need to pad it out as long as possible before your money gets sucked out by special effects.

Killer plants aren’t exactly top of anyone’s ‘most feared’ lists but they’re an underrepresented enemy in the horror and science fiction genre and can be quite effective if used properly. You get the feeling that there was potential here but with the film only being shot in ten days, it was always going to be up against it. The acid-spewing plants like to dissolve their victims so there are plenty of scenes of corpses with melted skin and in the finale, one unlucky chap is melted away by wrestling with one.

Keeping the trees confined to attacking at night was a smart move too simply because they’re only men in tree suits and look every bit as silly as they sound. But, in one of the most brutal things I’ve seen for the era, the plants do get to rip one unlucky soldier’s arm right from out of his socket. The special effect is pretty pathetic but it’s the intent which is the shocking thing – I didn’t think these old school films showed that level of brutality! Plus the trees make this eerie whistling noise when they are nearby, adding a little bit more suspense to some of the scenes of the characters walking through the jungle.

 

Made ten years earlier, Navy Vs The Night Monsters might have gotten a pass by fitting in with the other 50s sci-fi monster movies. But this is one of those films where you’ll sit and keep watching in the hope that something good happens. Apart from the odd moment of brutal inspiration, nothing good happens. For 1966, this is too daft, incompetent and above all, dull, for it to work.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Son of Godzilla (1967)

Son of Godzilla (1967)

Japan’s Greatest Foe Delivers an Heir!

Radiation experiments on an island create giant preying mantis and humongous spiders to come to life. The scientists there also discover a giant egg, which hatches and is revealed to be the son of Godzilla. With lots of nasty monsters lying in wait, it’s up to Godzilla to protect his son.

 

Most critics signal the juvenile low budget antics of Godzilla in the 70s as his lowest ebb. The likes of Godzilla Vs Megalon were cheap, full of stock footage and suffered from an overriding sense of camp and live action cartoonery. But in my opinion, he was never at his more obvious least when he had to play the role of dad in both Son of Godzilla and Godzilla’s Revenge, the two films which are the nadir of the Godzilla series in my eyes.

In an attempt to make the Godzilla series more appealing to younger viewers, Toho introduced the world to Minya (or Minilla depending on which film you see him in), the annoying son of Godzilla. Thus was born one of the worst outings ever for the big monster as instead of destroying Tokyo with anti-atomic sentiments or saving the Earth from alien invaders, Godzilla now had to play the protective parent and keep his son from being harmed by other monsters. This is not a serious entry in the slightest and the camp and jokey nature of the film is actually embraced by everyone in it.

Godzilla is more of a cartoon character in this one instead of the ferocious beast he once was. The fights between Godzilla and Kamakiras (the giant preying mantis) and Kumonga (the giant spider) are comical and it’s like watching the Three Stooges eye-poke and knuckle shove each other in monster suits. Though Kamakiras outnumbers Godzilla three to one, they’re no match for the Big G and he smashes them to pieces before squaring up against Kumonga in the finale. Surprisingly, the introduction of these new monsters means that no stock footage is re-used from earlier films and all of the action (and there is a fair amount, signalling that the budgets were still decent at this time) is newly shot, although the footage of these new monsters would be re-used in following films. This at least gives the film a fresher film even if director Jun Fukuda keeps Son of Godzilla looking a little too much like his earlier Ebirah, Horror of the Deep at times with the jungle and island setting.

Despite the ludicrous sight of Godzilla and his son embracing at the end, it’s still quite an emotional scene and one of the only times in the entire series that I can recall Godzilla showing some true sign of emotion. It does get a little too ‘cute’ and sentimental for its own good, notably in the earlier scene where Godzilla tries to teach his son how to blow the radioactive breath and Minya just blows out smoke rings.

Like the majority of the Godzilla series, it takes some time before the big monster shows up and without any city-stomping antics it means that the human characters and the story have more time to fill up. The plot is simple padding, keeping things ticking over until Godzilla finally turns up and never really threatening to do anything except keep the film going from A to B. Without Godzilla smashing Japan to pieces again or aliens trying to take over the world, the plot is actually one of the more original in the entire series and there is no strict formula for it to follow. The cast is made up of a batch of actors who had appeared in numerous Godzilla films over their career, including Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara and my particular favourite, Akira Kubo. Energetic to the end, though suffering from bad dubbing, the characters are entertaining enough if the plot never threatens to do anything serious with itself.

 

You’ll be hard-pressed to take anything from Son of Godzilla except a strong hatred of the title character. Minya would pop up as a main character again in Godzilla’s worst outing, Godzilla’s Revenge, and then be re-imagined for the later 90s films. His debut here is not the worst of the series though if it hadn’t been for the fact that it doesn’t follow the usual Godzilla formula and structure, it would have been a close run thing.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Earth Dies Screaming, The (1964)

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

Who… Or What Were They… Who Tried To Wipe All Living Creatures Off The Face Of This Earth?

An astronaut returns to Earth to find that it has been ravaged by some unknown force, killing virtually everyone. No one knows what has happened and a small group of survivors in an English village band together to find out more. When they see a couple of men in space suits walking through their village, they assume that it is the Air Force and they are here to help. What they find is more terrifying than they could have ever imagine – these ‘men’ are actually killer robots.

 

The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula sent the name of Hammer sky-rocketing to the top of the horror genre and the man sitting in the director’s chair for both, Terence Fisher, was hot property. But after making a few more Hammer horrors, Fisher and the studio fell out over creative differences and he briefly left for a rival studio that persuaded him to helm a trio of science fiction films for them. At Planet Film, Fisher clearly found himself a little out of his comfort zone. Horror he was able to handle with ease – science fiction seemed a bit of a task. And without the other creative geniuses behind the original Hammer films (the talented writers, composers, producers and actors), it wasn’t a case of Fisher being found out (since he was a good director) but more a case of him being isolated without help. The Earth Dies Screaming was the first of the three films he made – the others being the fantastic Island of Terror and the underrated Night of the Big Heat – and whilst I have extremely fond memories of it as a kid (and scary memories too), upon further viewing as a mature adult, it’s nowhere near as good as you’d like it to be.

It’s was always going to take something special to live up to a title such as The Earth Dies Screaming so it’s no surprise that this doesn’t even come close. I’m not quite sure whether the idea to shoot in black and white was for budgetary reasons or whether it was designed to be more of a throwback to early 50s sci-fi films but whatever the reason, it is for the best as it looks and feels a lot older than its 1964 release. The biggest issue facing The Earth Dies Screaming is that it doesn’t go anywhere. From the apocalyptic opening scenes of trains crashing and planes falling out of the sky, everything gets rather low-key and very quickly. The group of survivors do what the English do best and hole up inside a pub to figure out what is going on and pretty much stay there for the next forty minutes. The robots turn up. Some of the dead humans begin to rise as zombies. And that’s about it.

With only a short running time of just over an hour, the story ends no further forward than it was when it started. We have no idea what caused nearly everyone to die, no idea what the robots were, what they wanted, why they reanimate the dead and so on. There’s no resolution to proceedings. There’s no closure. I’m not sure whether there is any film missing, whether they ran out of money and had to end when they did or whether they planned to do a sequel. It’s a highly unsatisfying ending which renders the rest of the film almost worthless.

Terence Fisher tries to keep the suspense up to compensate but after the promising opening and first appearance of the robots, the film loses steam quickly. There are too many inconsistencies with the way the robots and the zombies work for them to come off as serious threats – for convenience sake it seems the robots only occasionally attack people. The robots knew where the survivors were all holed up from the start so for them to just ignore the pub completely is a bit silly.

The robots remind me of the Cybermen from Doctor Who – back when the Cybermen were in their prime and bad ass, not those mindless drones in the new version. These robots apparently pre-date the Cybermen but I’m not one to argue that case. They’re too slow to be menacing and seem to have a lot of trouble walking (I’m not surprised with those gigantic moon boots they wear) and the script must take liberties in some scenes in order for them to appear more deadly than they are by having the characters react extremely slowly or just have them stand there in fear. The zombies are just as bad. Their purpose in the film is not explained and flimsy at best – for all intents and purposes, I think they were just put in as replacements for the robots in some scenes because it would have been too expensive or too fiddly to film those cumbersome robots walking up the stairs in the pub. Take them out of the film and the script would have run almost the same.

Willard Parker is the token American hero, no doubt cast to appeal to the US market. But he’s devoid of any charisma or charm and is a pretty unlikable lead it has to be said. Thankfully there are a few decent character actors propping up the supporting cast with Dennis Price as the shifty Taggart and Thorley Walters in his trademark role of a bumbling fool.

 

The famous line “they don’t make them like this anymore” completely sums up The Earth Dies Screaming. It had everything you wanted from a 60s B-movie: robot alien invaders, zombies, a remote village, group of survivors banding together, etc. This rating is probably an extra mark higher than it should be given that it scared me to death when I was a kid. Its effect has worn off considerably over the ages and now looks like the tepid 50s/60s sci-fi horror effort that it really is.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera Vs Barugon (1966)

Gamera Vs Barugon (1966)

An expedition to retrieve a huge opal goes wrong when it is revealed that the opal is in fact the egg of a giant monster called Barugon. This beastly brute has a deadly tongue and a rainbow beam and begins to destroy Japan. Only Gamera, the giant turtle with flame breath and rockets in his shell can save the day.

 

Gamera has always been seen as a poor man’s Godzilla (at least during the original series of Gamera films, not the more recent 1990s versions which kicked ass) and you can see why. With the same sort of ideas as the Godzilla series but clearly with one half of the budget and talent behind the camera, the Daiei studio made these films look like knock-off versions made by kids. As with the Godzilla series, heck any monster series, there’s only so many monster versus human plots you can do before people get tired of it. Universal started the trend in the 30s when they began pairing off Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman to try and revive interest once their individual series began to wane. Toho did it with Godzilla. So Daiei took the same route and gave Gamera an opponent to fight instead of just having him smash up Tokyo.

Gamera Vs Barugon is a pretty feeble effort to say that it’s only Gamera’s second cinematic outing and they looked to have run out of creative ideas already. Barugon looks pathetic – like a lizard/dog hybrid. He crawls on all fours and therefore doesn’t physically interact with Gamera as a two-legged opponent would during the fight scenes. His tongue-weapon is so terrible that it has to be seen to be believed. How can the studio get away with this as a special effect? Despite sharing the name with one of the monsters that inhabit the Godzilla films, this Barugon is a totally different monster – except it isn’t. The name wasn’t copyrighted so Daiei seem to have created exactly the same monster to trick people into thinking it is.

Back in the good old days of low budget films, the cheap monsters were usually kept off the screen as long as they could be because they look rubbish. Yet Barugon is on screen a lot. In fact I think he has more screen time in this one than he did in the entire Godzilla series. As for Gamera, we see very little of him and therefore hardly any giant monster battles ensue. The idea of a jet-propelled flying turtle with flame breath doesn’t lend itself to credibility but Gamera lives up to the ridiculousness of it. The battles that do commence are short and quite uninspiring. The level of fighting in these Daiei films compared to their Toho rivals is extremely disappointing. At least the Toho monsters with Godzilla and co. got down and dirty monster of the time. These monsters look like they’d disintegrate if they made contact with each other.

In fact the best fights in this film are between the human actors. There are two decent fight scenes and although they are ruined by some truly woeful dubbing, they are still the highlight of the film (pretty sad considering the film is about giant monsters fighting each other). As always the human sub-plot is equally uninteresting. This time we are given a moral story about getting greedy….blah blah. If the studio had cut out some of the unnecessary characters they could have spent more money on the monsters. But alas this did not happen and as a result we are left with a very poor kaiju film.

The Gamera films also lacked a decent music score. Akira Ifukube scored most of the Godzilla films before his death and he created some awesome signature music for Godzilla and some of the other monsters. The fight music was always rousing and Ifukube’s talent always seemed to be wasted doing these films when he could have been scoring serious films. Here the music is lacklustre and doesn’t add to the ambiance at all. It’s not exciting and its blandness adds to the dull, uninspiring affair that the rest of the film tries to maintain.

 

Gamera Vs Barugon is a lot worse than some of Godzilla’s lesser attempts and he saw some pretty dark days. With this only being the second instalment in the series, it was obvious things were about to get worse! Avoid unless you are a total Gamera nutcase.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆