Beware The Blob (1958)!

2-The-Blob-1958

To view The Blob click here.

The credits are Saul Bass lite. Different red shapes, blobby outlines, move forward on the screen while one of the great movie theme songs plays behind them. The song, “Beware the Blob,” performed by The Five Blobs (lead singer Bernie Knee) and written by Burt Bacharach and Mack David, is instantly singable upon one hearing. Finally, the title of the movie, in black surrounded by a glowing red outline, appears. And so begins the 1958 classic, The Blob, starring Steve McQueen in his first major film role (often credited as his debut when in fact he had done both movies and plenty of TV before). The Blob is often pigeonholed into the same category as any other low-budget sci-fi film from the 1950s that most people would now call “cult classics” but it’s actually a lot more than that and deserves better. Better treatment and better direction. It’s a frustrating mixture of all the right ingredients producing a less than optimal outcome but still showing enough promise that it’s a fascinating journey.

[...MORE]

Oh The Humanity: Dirigible (1931)

DIRIGIBLE (1931)

To view Dirigible click here.

Summer movie season is already upon us, with superheroes saving the world from various varieties of destruction. I’m turning back the clock to 1931 to look at a disaster film that uses the same playbook, Frank Capra’s blimp inferno Dirigible. (For the throngs of readers who have been following my Jean Renoir series, it is taking a month-long break, returning on July 18th.) Dirigible‘s thrills are premised on scale, on framing the enormity of these cruising zeppelins against the sky, and realistically rendering the chaos of such a behemoth coming apart at the seams. This was a million dollar production, with a lot of effort at authenticity, and much of the flying footage was shot on real Navy blimps with the compact Eyemo camera (cinematographer Joseph A. Walker says only two insert shots – of a train station and a sealing ship – were stock).  The movie alternates between these awe-inspiring feats of technological wonder and a rote love triangle that barely gets off the ground. This is a movie about the machines, not the people, which makes for dulling drama but stunning spectacle.

[...MORE]

jpg00007
October 18, 2014
David Kalat
Posted by:

I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords

So, in case you haven’t heard, there’s this movie called Phase IV. It’s a 1970s apocalyptic sci-fi thriller about killer super-intelligent ants, and it was directed by Saul Bass of all people. And instead of special effects, the killer ants are played by real ants, filmed in close-up by National Geographic photographer Ken Middleham.

Either that is enough to make you drop everything and go see it (or go see it again) immediately, or you’re one of those people whose tastes make no sense to me.

But the thing is, as deliriously entertaining as Phase IV is, it’s a singular creation that could only have existed when it did, and couldn’t be (re)made today. And therein lies this week’s story…

[...MORE]


KEYWORDS: Phase IV, Saul Bass
COMMENTS: 6
SUBMIT

Page to Screen with Soylent Green

Make_Room_Make_Room_f

Harry Harrison wrote Make Room! Make Room! in 1965. It was published a year later and in 1973 was turned into the feature film Soylent Green by Richard Fleischer, starring Charlton Heston. Harrison was clearly influenced by Malthusian theory, a stance that might be summed up by the 18th-century British cleric and scholar in one concise sentence: “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” Over the years, critics of Thomas Robert Malthus have found plenty of fodder with which to reject his dire premise, mainly because the models used by Malthus didn’t account for the many ways in which human ingenuity would make many resources more readily available, and at lower prices, to the growing number of people inhabiting the planet. Malthusian critics might also point to the divide between Harrison’s scenario, which envisioned life in the Big Apple circa 1999 as being multiplied by a factor of five, going from seven million people in the sixties to 35 million by 1999. That didn’t happen, not in NYC at least (Tokyo, on the other hand, has now surpassed that number). Today, the population of of NYC hovers under the nine million mark, perhaps held in check by the exorbitant price of a martini, not to mention the going rate for monthly rent. Fleischer, working in the 70s, decided to hedge his bets by extending the date for Soylent Green out to the year 2022. He also contributed powerful imagery not found in the book of people being scooped up by garbage trucks, which also made for a very compelling poster. [...MORE]

It’s Not Too Late to Start Again (Virus 1980)

The late 1970s and early 1980s were lousy with disaster flicks, a sub-genre to which Virus unquestionably belongs.  Apocalypse thrillers have always been in vogue, but they do tend to shift in tone with the cultural zeitgeist. But there was something about the Cold War era that gave rise to some wonderful end-of-the-world movies the likes of which we don’t really encounter anymore.  The bizarre illogic of the Cold War was somehow more conducive to nightmare poetry: two superpowers armed with enough firepower to destroy life on Earth countless times over, where in order to preserve the peace they each must threaten total war.  The only thing keeping those nukes in their holsters was the promise of Mutually Assured Destruction (quite appropriately, MAD).  Edward Albee couldn’t have thunk up any better.

And Virus, mind you, is the gift that keeps on giving.  It’s a rip-snorting good movie that packs in not just one apocalypse, but two.

virus

[...MORE]

It’s the End of the World and I Feel Fine

If you are reading this, then the world didn’t end. I never put any stock in that whole Mayan calendar silliness–if I had, I wouldn’t have spent any time writing this. And so it is with absolute confidence in the continuation of the world that I am writing this, marking the non-pocalypse by paying tribute to some of my favorite end-of-the-world movies.

Let’s start by noting that in most cases, what we really mean by end of the world movies are not movies about the literal destruction of the planet. Every once in a while you get a Beneath the Planet of the Apes, where the world is actually blown to smithereens, but those are the exceptions. The real point is to explore the end of the world as we know it, that is, the end of civilization.

In my mind, you can divide these movies into three sub-categories, and I’ll offer an example of each.

jpg00007

[...MORE]

I don’t have a clever title for this one, it’s about King Kong

The late 1970s was a period in film comparable to the present day: Hollywood developed a fixation on geek culture, turning out comic book movies and remakes of older sci-fi productions, while Lucas and Spielberg created new versions of well-worn pulp forms. Part of the leading edge of this trend was Dino DeLaurentiis’ 1976 King Kong.

Time Magazine cover [...MORE]

The Night the World Exploded (Then and Now)

Sci-fi films of the 1950s and 60s tended to envision an apocalyptically awful future.  Thank heaven, the world they predicted never came to pass.  Nuclear radiation didn’t engender giant monsters; we weren’t conquered by invading armies of space monsters; scientists experimenting with medical technology didn’t turn injured people into monsters; the advancements in computer science haven’t produced a sentient digital monster. . . basically, no monsters of any kind.  But there was a film—a low-budget disaster flick from 1957 mostly forgotten today—that had an unusually prescient idea: a massive earthquake so catastrophic that the Earth itself was shifted on its axis.

The thing about THE NIGHT THE WORLD EXPLODED, though, is that now that this very thing has come to pass, we can see that even the most nightmarish vision of sci-fi has fallen far short of real-life horror.

[...MORE]

Buggin’ Out

TCM’s spotlight on Hammer Horror this month gives me the opportunity to give a special shout-out to one of my personal favorites: Five Million Years to Earth (aka: Quatermass and the Pit, 1967). It screens later this month on TCM (Friday evening, October 22nd). I first saw it as a kid back in the seventies in a creaky and dilapidated auditorium that was constructed in the late 1800′s atop a steep hill adjacent the mountains – a favorite spot for star-gazing and hopeful U.F.O. sightings. Inside the auditorium the uncomfortable wooden chairs were falling apart and there was no air-conditioning or cooling system to grant us a reprieve from the lingering summer heat. The cavernous ceiling was so porous that pigeons and bats could be heard and seen flying about the rafters. Adding to all this awesomeness was the fact that I was watching a 35mm print of a film that was about the scare the pants off of me and create a long-lasting impression.  [...MORE]

Highlights from the Telluride Film Festival

A scene from THE ROAD.Last week I talked about the exceptional Red Riding trilogy the debuted at the 36th annual Telluride Film Festival. Now that the festival can be seen receding in my rear view mirror, it’s time to reflect on some of the other films that were also screened there. Let’s start with The Road[...MORE]

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.