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: This Island Earth (1955)

Also known as: Bloodlust In Outer Space (reissue title)
Release Date: June 10th, 1955 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Joseph M. Newman, Jack Arnold
Written by: Franklin Coen, Edward G. O’Callaghan
Based on: This Island Earth by Raymond F. Jones
Music by: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein (all uncredited)
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason

Universal Pictures, Universal International, 86 Minutes

Review:

“It is indeed typical that you Earth people refuse to believe in the superiority of any world but your own. Children looking into a magnifying glass, imagining the image you see is the image of your true size.” – The Monitor

Sometimes Universal lumps this film into their Universal Monsters franchise. This is mainly due to the alien monster the Metaluna Mutant, who is one of their most iconic creations. However, as much as I like the monster and this film, it doesn’t fit within the general Universal Monsters style. Plus, this is more sci-fi than horror. Really, it isn’t horror at all, unless for some bizarre reason you are actually scared of the big brained rubber suit alien. Also, unlike the other Universal Monsters movies, this one is in color.

Also, this film has the distinction of being the only film that Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed on the big screen, as it was the one featured in the MST3K movie. That film stars Mike Nelson and it came out between seasons 6 and 7, so it was devoid of TV’s Frank and hadn’t yet given us Pearl. But I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to talk specifically about This Island Earth. And to be completely honest, it is the film least deserving of getting roasted in the entire history of MST3K.

It’s not a bad movie for its time. It has hokey effects and doesn’t look as refined as some of the bigger sci-fi films of the time but it’s still imaginative and the effects work does its job for 1955.

The real highlight for me is the Metaluna Mutant but sadly, the monster doesn’t get much screen time. The bulk of the film deals with coming into contact with an alien society and then going into space to meet them. There is a sinister plot underneath it all but that doesn’t mean that every alien our Earthlings encounter is evil.

This used some pretty great matte paintings in several scenes and while it’s obvious, the art direction was really impressive and you do get immersed in this world.

I thought that the use of Technicolor was well done and it made this film flourish in a visual way that couldn’t have been achieved in standard black and white. The Metaluna Mutant certainly wouldn’t have looked as cool and its doubtful he would have become as iconic as he did without color. He probably would have just been filed away into the depths of old movie history with a slew of other black and white rubber aliens.

If you are into classic sci-fi from this great era, you’ll probably find this pretty enjoyable. It’s not the best film of its type but it is much better than average.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s alien threat movies: When Worlds CollideWar of the WorldsThe Day the Earth Stood StillIt Came From Outer Space and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

Film Review: Universal Monsters, Part VI – The Creature From the Black Lagoon Series (1954-1956)

I have reached my sixth and final series of Universal Monsters franchises to review.

Now let me state that this is my favorite series. I’m not sure why but the Gillman (a.k.a. the Creature From the Black Lagoon or just the Creature) is my favorite movie monster of all-time. Something about the prehistoric aquatic swamp beast just tickles my fancy.

While I don’t consider these films to be as good as the James Whale films for Universal, I do watch them more and find them to be more entertaining overall. But let me get into each film and elaborate.

Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954):

Release Date: February 12th, 1954 (premiere)
Directed by: Jack Arnold
Written by: Maurice Zimm, Harry Essex, Arthur A. Ross
Music by: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein
Cast: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva

Universal Pictures, 79 Minutes

creature_from_the_black_lagoonReview: 

This may just be my favorite classic horror film of all-time and it is rated “G”.

Creature From the Black Lagoon is a masterpiece. Is that a bold statement? No.

This film, for its time, was incredibly unique. Being a part of the Universal Monsters franchise, even though it came out more than a decade after that franchise peaked, this movie stands on its own and didn’t need other monsters sprinkled in to capture the public’s attention. In fact, this film was so successful that it spawned two sequels within two years.

Getting away from the standard Universal gothic horror style that was a staple in the Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolf Man series, this film brought us to the Amazon and gave us a creature from the depths of the swamp. And with that, we got a new formula. No mad scientists, no undead creatures, no supernatural horror. Instead, we get a prehistoric monster that is smitten with a girl and just wants to swim with her. Granted, he eventually wants to go one step further and kidnap her and take her to his cave so she can lay on rocks and look sexy all day.

I just love the tone of this film and I can’t necessarily say that it brings a level of terror and dread as some of its predecessors at Universal, but it is a fun film and the most adventurous one in the Universal Monsters catalog. Plus, Julie Adams is really nice to look at.

Revenge of the Creature (1955):

Release Date: March 23rd, 1955 (Denver premiere)
Directed by: Jack Arnold
Written by: William Alland, Martin Berkeley
Music by: Herman Stein
Cast: John Agar, Lori Nelson, Nestor Paiva, Clint Eastwood (uncredited – first role)

Universal Pictures, 82 Minutes

revenge_creatureReview: 

The first sequel in this series is the weakest installment overall but it is still a great film and really enjoyable.

In this one, the Gillman is captured and brought to an oceanic park in Florida to be treated crappier than the orca in Blackfish. The Gillman doesn’t like it, the Gillman gets pissed, the Gillman escapes and tears up the oceanic park, flips a few cars and goes off into the ocean to leave humans behind.

Except there is that new girl he is smitten with who isn’t as cute as Julie Adams but is still cute. The Gillman stalks the leading lady like an aquatic swamp pervert should. He eventually gets her and then carries her around for the rest of the film until the heroes show up to save her.

The plot moves a bit slow, as a big portion of the film deals with the scientists interacting with the Gillman while he is in captivity. It is worth mentioning though that this is Clint Eastwood’s film debut and his role is somewhat bizarre.

I should also mention that this film in the series is featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956):

Release Date: April 26th, 1956
Directed by: John Sherwood
Written by: Arthur A. Ross
Music by: Henry Mancini
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason, Leigh Snowden, Don Megowan

Universal Pictures, 78 Minutes

the_creature_walks_among_usReview: 

So what do the logical and ethical human scientists decide to do to the Gillman in this film? Well, they think it is a good idea to give him surgery in an effort to make him better fit in with humans. By surgery, I mean they cut off parts of his face and body and pretty much butcher him alive. Yeah, the plot is bizarre and insane and makes little sense but we don’t watch these films for logic and sometimes crazy equals awesome.

This film and the others in this series all have a consistent vibe and even though there is some experimentation with the plots in each sequel, they all feel like they belong to the larger series’ narrative. And the experimentation is kind of refreshing in this series, as each movie has its own identity. We’re not subjected to a string of rehashes of the same film like the Mummy and Frankenstein series.

This film also explores the humanity of the monster – does it exist, who is the Gillman, what motivates him, can he be human? It also explores what it means to be human and are we really just monsters ourselves. There is a lot of psychology at play in this film which makes it a pretty special experience for a horror film of its era.

And at least in this movie, the last shot of the film isn’t a beaten and bloodied Gillman sinking to the bottom of the river assumedly dead. This time the disfigured and biological tampered with monster just wants to get away from humans and go home and after all the horrible things that have been done to him, he at least gets back to his familiar environment.

Compared to the other two films in this series, this one really connects the audience to the creature on an emotional level and that is what makes this movie special.

Film Review: Boss Nigger (1975)

Release Date: February 26th, 1975 (USA)
Directed by: Jack Arnold
Written by: Fred Williamson
Music by: Leon Moore
Cast: Fred Williamson, D’Urville Martin, William Smith, R.G. Armstrong

Dimension Pictures, 87 Minutes

boss-niggerReview:

A controversially titled film, sure. But it was rated PG in the 1970s when people weren’t pussies.

Plus, it is fun as hell and if you love old blaxploitation flicks, this one is certainly worth your time. It stars Fred Williamson, who is perfect in everything he does, and it is a blaxploitation western, which there just aren’t enough of.

The film follows Williamson’s Boss and his sidekick Amos (D’Urville Martin) as they make themselves the law in a mostly white town in the Old West. They are bounty hunters in pursuit of an outlaw and bide their time in the small town, as they chase women and make the bigots pay for their bigotry.

The dialogue in this film is over the top and hilarious. The blatant racism is actually refreshing, as this film exists in a world where political correctness hadn’t infected the guilt-ridden, humorless minds of society. And the blatant racism isn’t just there for shits and giggles, it is a reflection of the times when this film was made and enhanced by the historic times it represents. There is a definitive purpose for its inclusion, as it is at the heart of what drove many blaxploitation films of the 1970s – not to mention regular films and television of that era. Hell, something like All In the Family or The Jeffersons would never fly today on prime time network television.

Boss Nigger capitalizes on the vibe and attitude during the height of the Black Power Movement. It shows black characters in a role of superiority and exploits the paranoia held by many whites during this time of social change. In fact, it uses the social struggles of blacks in the post-slavery era of America as a cultural bridge to the 1970s, following the changes brought about by social reform and the battle for black civil rights. The film makes the viewer identify with and cheer for the hero, who is challenged by the rules and societal norms of a racist white America.

Fred Williamson has never not been a complete bad ass and this is him at his best. D’Urville Martin is fantastic as the comedic relief and despite its over the top blaxploitation shtick, it is a good movie on par with many of the low budget spaghetti westerns of its day. It plays like a parody of the more famous Leone westerns but has its own raw and gritty style.

It is backed by a great soundtrack that employs a lot of soul and funk, which was customary with the blaxploitation genre.

If you want to have a damned good time for 87 minutes with a bit of comedy, creative social commentary and a gun-waving bad ass, then this is your movie.