Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on September 1, 2015
In 1956 the hip new fad was past life regression, thanks to the story of Bridey Murphy. In Colorado, amateur hypnotist Morey Bernstein had been experimenting his craft with Virginia Mae Morrow, who claimed to have died in Ireland in 1864, when she was known as Bridey Murphy. The story was reported in the Denver Post, and then published as a best-selling book authored by Bernstein in 1956, The Search for Bridey Murphy. It was briefly on everybody’s lips, with the New York Times reporting, “there were Bridey Murphy parties (‘come as you were’) and Bridey Murphy jokes (parents greeting newborns with ‘Welcome back’).” Hollywood wanted to cash-in on the craze while it was still relevant, so Paramount rushed their official adaptation of The Search for Bridey Murphy, starring Teresa Wright, into production. It was released on October 1st of 1956. American International Pictures worked a little quicker, cranking their past life regression monster movie The She-Creature (1956) out in nine days, and getting it into theaters on July 25th. Though beset by casting troubles and budget restrictions, The She-Creature manages to create an atmosphere of voluptuous dread, aided by Paul Blaisdell’s insectoid creature design and efficient direction from bargain basement king Edward L. Cahn.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on August 11, 2015
In April of 1959 Edgar G. Ulmer was given an impossible task. Toiling in Dallas for Miller Consolidated Pictures, a short-lived B-picture studio, he was assigned to shoot two features in eleven days. These turned into Beyond the Time Barrier (1960) and The Amazing Transparent Man (1960). Most of the limited time and money was spent on Beyond, since its leap into the future required more elaborate set design and a larger cast. What remained for him to use for The Amazing Transparent Man was a house on a hill, five actors, and an improbable tale of a mad Major experimenting with nuclear radiation to create an army of invisible warriors. From these meager resources Ulmer spun a dark, despairing tale of Atomic Age breakdown. Each character nurses a private tragedy, egged onward to self-annihilation. For most of its life the film has been an object of scorn — it was the subject of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode — but seeing a 16mm print projected at Anthology Film Archives (in their series on American International Pictures) was something of a revelation.
In case you missed the listings, TCM is screening Fritz Lang’s Metropolis this week—and users of the splendid TCM smartphone app can stream it at their leisure. I have a very fond spot for this film, beyond its significance as a masterwork of world cinema. I was a student at the University of Michigan’s Film and Video Studies program in the early 1990s when a previous restorations effort was unveiled at the Michigan Theater. In 2010 I was asked by Eureka’s Masters of Cinema to contribute to the UK Blu-Ray edition of the newest restoration, and got the special privilege of being one of the first people to see it.
Earlier this summer, the Chicago Symphony’s CSO at the Movies program screened the film with live accompaniment by the symphony, and I had the pleasure of taking my daughter Ann to see it with me. She had not seen the film before, and came out of the screening full of energy and enthusiasm for what she’d just experienced. It occurred to me that given that she’s blogged here before in my place, I should once again hand the keyboard to her to let her share her perspective. Click the fold below and I’ll let Ann take over from there—
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on June 2, 2015
The “It” in It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) is a lumbering thing, a slow-footed creature from a Martian lagoon terrorizing the crew of a rescue ship returning to Earth. Despite his violent blood-sucking tendencies, “It” is a lovable sort, blundering about in the spacecraft’s engine room with the stunned and disoriented gait of a medicated mastiff. Under the rubber suit was a soused Ray “Crash” Corrigan acting in his final film, a former serial adventure star battling alcoholism, the pathos of his performance pouring out his pores and through the mask designed by Paul Blaisdell. The human crew is less sympathetic, a slickly Brylcreemed group of technocrats who leave each other to die with nary a second thought. This efficient, vulgar, and remarkably suspenseful film was directed by Edward L. Cahn (one of his five 1958 credits). Once a promising director of high-toned genre fare for Universal in the 1930s (see: Afraid to Talk (crime), Law and Order (Western), Laughter in Hell (chain gang)), he descended the ranks at the studio to short subjects until he landed in 1950s B-pictures with independent producer Robert E. Kent. It! The Terror From Beyond Space is their first and most famous film together, since screenwriter Dan O’Bannon lifted its scenario for use in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). And now it is the first Kent-Cahn movie to reach Blu-ray, thanks to Olive Films. It! The Terror Beyond Space should be more than a footnote in Alien oral histories, though, as it stands on its own as a resourcefully relentless scare flick.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on May 14, 2015
Today (May 14th) TCM has programmed a batch of entertaining and inventive British science fiction films beginning with THE TUNNEL aka TRANSATLANTIC TUNNEL (1935) in the early morning hours of 5:45 AM EST/2:45 AM PST followed by FIVE MILLION YEARS TO YEAR aka QUARTERMASS AND THE PITT (1968), VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1961), THE COSMIC MONSTER aka THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X (1958), THE GIANT BEHEMOTH aka BEHEMOTH, THE SEA MONSTER (1959), FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964), THESE ARE THE DAMNED aka THE DAMNED (1962), X THE UNKNOWN (1956), and SATELLITE IN THE SKY (1956). In an effort to entice viewers and rouse the imaginations of the most sedate classic film fans I thought I’d showcase some striking film poster art for these surprisingly imaginative films. The timid among us might be put off by the bold graphics, eye-popping layouts and outrageous claims they make but my fellow adventure seekers should relish the opportunity to dream bigger and embrace the improbable. So without further ado, I bring you British Science Fiction Films: A Poster Gallery.
When I was a kid, Ted Turner’s Superstation WTBS ran this thing practically every week. It became as comforting as an old blanket, as familiar as my own skin.
Eventually, as an adult, I revisited the world of Japanese giant monster movies. I wrote a couple of books, gave some lectures, recorded some audio commentaries, blah blah blah. And along the way I came to recognize this film about a doomed dinosaur is basically a doomed dinosaur itself.
In so many ways it prefigured the future: Rodan boldly leaps into full color, introduces one of Toho Studio’s most enduringly popular monsters and introduces one of the studio’s most enduringly prolific movie stars (Kenji Sahara). But for all it innovates, it’s the last gasp of what was then a dying way of making giant monster flicks. This approach to storytelling was almost instantly rendered obsolete.
There’s an argument to be made that Five Million Years to Earth (AKA Quatermass and the Pit) is the best science fiction film of the 1960s. By “best” I mean: coolest, weirdest, most lunatic, sharpest, most clever. Not necessarily the best known or most iconic.
The films that do claim the title of most iconic SF of the 60s (2001, Planet of the Apes) generally owe no small share of their success to having tapped into something in the zeitgeist. They weren’t just SF Films of the 60s—they were Films of the 60s, and concerned with nuclear war, race relations, the space race, the culture wars, drug trips, and so on.
Five Million Years to Earth (pay attention to that odd title—“years” not “miles”) isn’t really specific to the 1960s. It’s about the military-industrial complex and a mentality of total war, and the story pivots on the politicization of science, in which facts are spun (or changed) to suit political expediency. In other words, it’s a film as much of our time as theirs.
You really need to set your DVRs for this treat coming up on Wednesday—it’s a taut and utterly modern-feeling SF thriller with a serious bite.
So—later this week, TCM will be running Night of the Lepus. It’s been on TCM before—but usually relegated to the late night TCM Underground slot. This Wednesday it’s on at 6pm Eastern where decent folk might stumble across it unawares. Which is awesome.
There are few films as mocked as Night of the Lepus. You only have to mention the premise (attack of the giant bunnies!) and the derision sets in on its own. It’s a wonder the whole genre of horror didn’t just curl up and die in embarrassment. Legions of film critics, genre fans, and innocent bystanders have set up their tents in the let’s-make-fun-of-the-dumb-bunnies camp—all sharing the assumption that the problem here was the choice of monster. How could killer rabbits ever be scary?
But if it is self-evidently obvious that rabbits can’t ever be a scary monster… then what would motivate a motion-picture institution run by responsible adults to invest in a thing like this? What were they thinking?
Come on—click the fold and find out. I know you want to. I promise the answer will surprise you.
Let’s stipulate that Silent Running was not Joan Baez’ best single. I’m not a Baez fan—that era of folksy music isn’t my thing, but somehow Silent Running and its B-side Rejoice in the Sun manage to be even more shrill and more silly than usual. Which isn’t all that odd, when you consider the songwriter was Peter Schickele. For those who haven’t gotten the joke yet, Schickele’s main career was under the stage name “P.D.Q. Bach,” the Weird Al Yankovic of classical music.
But wait… why did the producers hire a musical satirist to write the score to a serious SF drama? Well, it seems a few years back, Baez’ producers were ginning up a Joan Baez Christmas album and wanted her to sing one in the style of an 18th century carol, and based on P.D.Q. Bach’s expert musical parodies figured he was the guy to fake an old timey carol. The makers of Silent Running saw his name on the album credits and didn’t do any follow-up research before signing him on.
Which is exemplary of the kind of gloriously half-assed creative decision making that colored the 1971 eco-thriller in space Silent Running. By equal measures benefitting from serendipity and faltering over oddball missteps, this is a film that exemplifies what can happen when you don’t bother to follow anything through and just go with the flow. It is a completely singular sort of thing, and almost critic-proof because too much of it seems accidental.
If most filmmaking is the perfect crime, this one is manslaughter—an effect devoid of intent, caused only by reckless circumstance.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on December 11, 2014
Today TCM is airing a batch of great fantasy and adventure films produced by Hammer starring some of the studio’s most memorable leading ladies including the exotic brunette beauty Martine Beswick in PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1967), blond bombshell, Ursula Andress in SHE (1965) and the ravishing redhead, Raquel Welch in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966). ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. is undoubtedly the most popular and widely seen film of the bunch thanks to a lucrative distribution deal with 20th Century Fox and financing from Seven Arts Productions that allowed Hammer to hire the up-and-coming Welch and procure the services of special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen. The bigger budget for ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. also allowed Hammer to shoot the film on the exotic Canary Islands where the rocky volcanic landscape and lush beachfronts made for a surprisingly believable primordial setting. The plot was based on the similarly titled 1940 Hal Roach film starring Victor Mature, Lon Chaney Jr. and Carole Landis that was nominated for a number of Academy Awards. The Hammer remake didn’t receive any award nominations but it did become the studio’s most commercially successful film and it made Raquel Welch an international star.
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