Film Review: The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958)

Also known as: The Water Witch (working title)
Release Date: June 27th, 1958 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Will Cowan
Written by: David Duncan
Music by: Henry Mancini (uncredited)
Cast: William Reynolds, Andra Martin, Jeffrey Stone, Carolyn Kearney

Universal Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“[explaining why the branch fell on Linda] It must have been a evil wind!” – Gordon Hawthorne

The poster for this ’50s horror picture is much cooler than the film itself. But yes, there is indeed a severed head that gets carried around. Eventually, the head, that of an evil sorcerer, is reunited with a body. But even though the evil head’s evil plot is about getting put back onto a body, not much comes of it, as the sorcerer is then knocked off pretty easily.

While I watch a lot of schlock pictures, a lot of them have things that make them fun. This one doesn’t though. There is nothing endearing or charming and had this not been in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I doubt it’d be remembered today in any capacity.

Strangely, this was paired with the infinitely superior Hammer Films classic, Horror of Dracula. Now that’s a double bill with a massive contrast in quality.

The general premise for the movie sounds cool but the execution made me want to execute myself for sitting through it. But apparently, there is a Spanish film from 1972 that has a very similar plot and looks to be better based off of what I’ve read about it online. That film is called Horror Rises From the Tomb a.k.a. El espanto surge de la tumba. I can’t yet vouch for it, as I haven’t seen it.

But getting back to this film, it’s worth missing. Unless you’re an MST3K junkie like myself and feel the need to sit through hours of schlock just for a few laughs.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s and ’60s horror schlock that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: Terror From the Year 5000 (1958)

Also known as: The Girl From 5000 A.D., Cage of Doom (alternative titles)
Release Date: January, 1958
Directed by: Robert J. Gurney Jr.
Written by: Robert J. Gurney Jr., Henry Slesar
Music by: Richard DuPage
Cast: Ward Costello, Joyce Holden, John Stratton, Salome Jens, Fred Herrick

La Jolla Productions, American International Pictures, 66 Minutes

Review:

“In the year nineteen hundred and fifty-eight, Man launched the first satellite and pierced the space barrier.” – Narrator

Even for 1950s American International Pictures sci-fi outings, this is a giant turd. By comparison, it makes AIP’s other sci-fi films look great. But I guess this was used for an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a reason. But even then, this is the bottom of the barrel for the AIP movies used on that show.

The biggest problem with this flick is that it has no energy, it’s boring as hell and when you get to the big finale, it’s as if no one put any effort into it.

Now I can enjoy total schlock. In fact, most of the things reviewed on this site are just that. However, this bores me to tears, even when seen on MST3K.

However, I’m not sure how original the idea for the plot was at the time but this could have actually been ripped off for the basis of the Species film series. While the villain here isn’t an alien, it is a woman from the future who shows up to take men to breed with. There are definite similarities between the two movies besides them both being dull. Granted, Species is much, much better than this film.

The special effects are shit, the acting is boring and Mike Nelson and the ‘Bots are the only reason this motion picture didn’t put me to sleep.

But if I’m being fair, I’ve still seen many movies that are much worse than this one.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s schlock that was on MST3K like The Screaming Skull and I Was a Teenage Werewolf.

Film Review: The Space Children (1958)

Release Date: June, 1958
Directed by: Jack Arnold
Written by: Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on: The Egg by Tom Filer
Music by: Van Cleave
Cast: Michael Ray, Adam Williams, Peggy Webber, Johnny Washbrook, Jackie Coogan

William Alland Productions, Paramount Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“Slowly…and with horror the parents realized THEIR CHILDREN WERE THE SLAVES OF ‘THE THING’ FROM OUTER SPACE!” – tagline

This film has an incredibly low rating on IMDb. I mean, I guess I get it, as it’s not a good movie or even well made. However, I think it’s a bit better than a 3.7 out of 10.

The film is fairly imaginative, I actually liked the story and for a movie with a bunch of kids in it, they aren’t too annoying. Plus, ’50s alien sci-fi schlock is just a cup of tea that I like to sip on the reg.

The Space Children was showcased in one of the later seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and this certainly deserves that sort of treatment but it isn’t as bad as most of the ’50s sci-fi fare that they’ve riffed on the show.

The story is about this alien brain that comes to Earth and hides out in a cave on the beach. Nearby, the government has a nuclear weapons facility. Now the nuclear missile looks more like a space rocket but we’ll ignore that. Anyway, the alien brain takes over the minds of the children of the scientists working on the nuclear weapon. It uses the kids to sabotage the nuke and we later learn that other alien brains did the same thing to other kids in other countries so that no one had nuclear weapons. While it sounds over the top and cheesy, it’s still a fun plot that worked and this felt like a smarter movie than some run of the mill alien invasion picture.

It’s a really short film and there isn’t much to hate about it. Plus, it was directed by Jack Arnold, who did the first two Creature From the Black Lagoon movies, This Island Earth and other pictures in the sci-fi genre.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: really, any low budget ’50s alien sci-fi flicks.

Film Review: Earth Vs. The Spider (1958)

Also known as: The Spider, Earth Vs. The Giant Spider (Germany), Vengeance of the Black Spider (Italy)
Release Date: September, 1958
Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Written by: László Görög, George Worthing Yates
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Ed Kemmer, June Kenney, Eugene Persson, Gene Roth, Hal Torey, Sally Fraser, June Jocelyn

Santa Rosa Productions, American International Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Well, speaking of spiders – are you sure rifles are just the thing? Insects have a pretty simple nervous system, sheriff. You could plug holes in one all day and never hit a vital spot. If you want to be on the safe side, call the pest control people in Springdale and have ’em send out all the DDT they can find.” – Mr. Kingman

As bad as Bert I. Gordon movies can be, they get a much worse wrap than they probably deserve. Reason being, they all have some sort of charm to them and even if they are a clinic on how not to make a film, they are still pretty entertaining for what they are.

Earth Vs. The Spider is no different.

This is not a good film. It’s riddled with bad effects, bad acting, bad direction and a bad script. But if you love giant insect, reptile, amphibian or atomic disaster movies from the early Cold War era, then you’ll probably enjoy this on some level.

The sets in this actually weren’t bad for the time. The stuff in the cave actually looks good, even if the giant spider’s web looks like rope netting from a playground. The setting within the spider’s lair does come off pretty well for a ’50s low budget sci-fi picture.

A problem with this film, which is a problem with all the films within this weird but popular subgenre, is that it’s predictable and there aren’t any real curveballs thrown. But no one watches these flicks for intelligent storytelling.

This was one of many Bert I. Gordon movies that was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In fact, MST3K is how I originally learned of Gordon and came to have an appreciation for the poorer man’s Roger Corman.

I’d say that this is one of the better films in Gordon’s oeuvre. It might not seem like it has any merit at first glance but there is something about it that brings me back to it every now and again. But I also have a deep appreciation for old school schlock films.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other low budget, giant animal movies from the 1950s.

Film Review: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

Also known as: Blood of Frankenstein (working title), I, Frankenstein (alternate title)
Release Date: June 1st, 1958 (US)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: Leonard Salzedo
Cast: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, 89 Minutes

Review:

“It should have been perfect. I made it to be perfect. If the brain hadn’t been damaged, my work would have been hailed as the greatest scientific achievement of all time. Frankenstein would have been accepted as a genius of science. Instead, he was sent to the guillotine. I swore I would have my revenge. They will never be rid of me!” – Dr. Victor Stein

The Revenge of Frankenstein was the first sequel to The Curse of Frankenstein. It came out pretty quickly, as its predecessor was released just a year earlier. Also, 1958 saw the release of another major Hammer Films movie that also starred Peter Cushing: The Horror of Dracula. Just after that, in 1959, we got The Mummy. Both of of those films kicked off their respected franchises for Hammer. Basically, Cushing was the king of the Universal Monsters remakes in the UK.

Now this isn’t nearly as good as Curse but it isn’t the worst of the Frankenstein sequels either. I feel that the creative process was probably hindered by Hammer Films being spread too thin due to a bunch of films being developed at the same time.

The script is still pretty decent and the story works well in keeping Baron Frankenstein alive and his experiments going.

However, this actually plays more like a drama than a horror film. Sure, there’s a monster but he’s hardly scary and then there’s a man who has been experimented on by Frankenstein and goes mad, dying in the doctor’s arms, yelling his name in front of a bunch of people at a party.

While Baron Frankenstein now exists as Dr. Stein and practices in another town, the yelling of his true name, combined with his likeness, makes the townsfolk very suspicious.

Frankenstein’s assistant in this film is much more on his side than the previous movie and he assists the doctor in faking his own death, once again, so that he can escape, move somewhere else and continue his work. I actually love the final scene in this movie and it firmly establishes that this film isn’t just a sequel but that it’s now an ongoing franchise.

This is an interesting and well crafted chapter in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, even if it is short on terror. It’s carried by the great performance of Peter Cushing, who seems more comfortable in the role and looks like he’s really enjoying the character, which is probably the best role he’s played over his long career.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is a solid outing by Hammer and another good performance by Peter Cushing. I also really enjoyed the performance by Michael Gwynn as a victim of Frankenstein’s work. Gwynn worked in other Hammer films, as well and is probably most recognized as the priest from Scars of Dracula.

Additionally, Francis Matthews was great as Frankenstein’s sinister assistant Dr. Hans Kleve.

In the end, Terence Fisher directed a pretty good sequel to his predecessor that built off of it and set the stage for the chapters after this one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: Teenage Caveman (1958)

Also known as: I Was a Teenage Caveman, Prehistoric World, Out of the Darkness
Release Date: July, 1958
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: R. Wright Campbell
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Robert Vaughn, Darah Marshall

Malibu Productions, American International Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“In a wonderful and strange world, before women knew shame.” – marketing tagline

Being that I am a big Roger Corman fan, I’ve seen most of his ’50s and ’60s stuff multiple times over. This film, however, I have only seen in the form of it’s riffed version, courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000,

I probably should buy this for my Corman collection and actually give it a watch without the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots.

But anyway, I just revisited this, as I’m trying to work through all the MST3K featured films for review purposes.

The only real highlight is the terrible dinosaur battles that is comprised of stock footage of lizards fighting. And they’re scenes you’ve probably seen in similar films already, as Corman tends to recycle stuff that doesn’t cost money or is very cheap to obtain.

I guess the fact that Robert Vaughn is in this is also a highlight. He’s fairly charming but this is a production that his presence can’t save.

Now while I love a lot of these bad Corman cheapies, this one lacks the magic of some of the others and it isn’t as endearing in its weirdness.

Still, it’s not terrible and if you have the right kind of mind and stomach for Corman cheese, it’s worth a glance.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman sci-fi movies of the later 1950s.

Film Review: Daddy-O (1958)

Also known as: Out On Probation (working title), Downbeat
Release Date: March, 1958
Directed by: Lou Place
Written by: David Moessinger
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Dick Contino, Sandra Giles, Bruno Vesota, John McClure

American International Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Couldn’t help ya if I wanted to, fella. Gym policy.” – Bruce Green

Daddy-O is really only notable for two things.

One, it was the first motion picture scored by movie music maestro John Williams.

Two, it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Other than those two things, this would probably have been lost to time, an ancient relic forgotten and swallowed up by the massive trash heap of terrible movies that’s buried somewhere deep, underneath Hollywood.

The film stars accordion maestro Dick Contino and a lot of bad ’50s styled pop tunes. It features youth trying too hard to be counterculture, a badly filmed car race and dancing that looks more like mental patients having a party in the seizure ward.

The humor is dry and terrible, the dialogue is atrocious, the direction is ineffective and the cinematography is so basic that it has an app that sends push notifications when it’s pumpkin spice latte season.

Daddy-O, for all its faults, isn’t the worst movie ever featured on MST3K but it is still tough to get through on its own. Like most MST3K movies, it’s best watched within the framework of that show because there’s too much material to riff on and you’d be bored senseless otherwise.

However, I did actually like the music that John Williams contributed to the film. But when the opening credits of booming Williams tunes to the sight of a car wheel spinning is the highlight of a film, you’re left with a long strip of celluloid that would have been more useful cut into 4 inch strips for bookmarks.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other terrible excuses for old school youth movies: The BeatniksUntamed Youth, Catalina Caper and The Choppers.