Sunday, 4 January 2015

B-Movie Weekender (03-04 Jan 2015)

Well, no sooner has the new year started than the good old British climate decides that I wont be going anywhere or doing anything, so in order to make practical use of the available time, I decided to sit and watch some old fillums, like you do.

The criteria for this was simple, any film made between 1950 and 1970 which wasn't (at the time) considered to be a massive big budget blockbuster (although these rules are flexible in some cases, lol).

So, supplies for this grand undertaking in hand (mostly stuff left over from christmas), I sat back to relax and enjoy...

The Earth Dies Screaming
(Lippert Films - UK, 1965)

This film, although its run time of 62 minutes barely qualifies it as such, comes from a time when the film industry in the UK imposed a quota on cinemas requiring them to show "home grown" films as well as American made films, and thus was born the phenomenon of the "quota quickie" (this explains the short run time of the film when you think about it).
Anyways, starring no one I've ever heard of, this low budget bit of celluloid combines sci-fi with a bit of good old fashioned cold war paranoia to create an interesting enough invasion film.
Simply put, suddenly one day people in 1960s Britain are all killed in what appears to be some sort of gas attack, and a small group of survivors try to figure out what happened and who the mysterious spacesuit wearing men they keep seeing are up to.

A good film, even by modern standards, even though the special effects budget must have been less than a tenner.

Invaders from Mars
(20th Century Fox - USA, 1953)

Long considered (at least by me) to be one of the definitive B-Movies, "Invaders from Mars" treads the much worn path of films depicting alien invasion.
In a nutshell, a martian spacecraft lands in rural America and begins abducting people in order to sabotage American efforts to perfect and mass produce deep space rockets equipped with nuclear weapons. The only witness to this landing is a young boy who struggles to get anyone to believe his wild stories about aliens and people being mind controlled.

Another film which clearly reflects the time when it was made, theres lots of talk about the then new sciences of atomic fission and rocketry, as well as mention made of "if any nation dare attack us" etc etc.
This film enjoyed so much cult status that it was remade in 1986, albeit with a drastically altered storyline.

Quatermass And The Pit
(Pathe - UK, 1967)

A feature film version of the BBC serial of the same name (cut down into a 90 minute feature from a 3 hour long TV series) again, this film is an alien invasion flick, however this time round theres a twist...
The film tells the story of a failed attempt by martians to escape their dying planet 5 million years ago by genetically engineering various earthly ape men to have characteristics similar to them, however this plan ultimately failed and the martians all died out.
5 million years later, one of the martian space ships is found buried underground while works are carried out on one of Londons tube stations, setting in motion a series of events which could finally see the martians grand plan succeed.
The film, carrying on from the TV series, handles the subject matter in an intelligent way and refrains from using any of the traditional "alien monster" movie cliches, it even manages to make various commentaries on human society and behaviour.

The Day Of The Triffids
(Rank - UK, 1962)

An adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel by John Wyndham, which takes the basic story as presented in the book and takes extreme liberties with it.
In a nutshell, most of the worlds population is rendered blind by a mysterious meteor shower, leaving the few who can still see to try and survive in a post apocalyptic world where giant walking carnivorous plants stalk humans as prey.

The film takes way too many liberties with the source material, for example, the main character, Bill Masen, is unexplicably changed from being a British scientist who specialises in Triffids into an American merchant navy sailor, and for some reason, the makers of the film decided that for their adaptation, the Triffids themselves would be easilly killed by being brought into contact with salt water.

Its an enjoyable enough film, provided you dont measure it against the standard set by the original book, or even the much more faithful 1981 BBC TV serial.

Robinson Crusoe On Mars
(Paramount - USA, 1964)

The two man crew of "Mars Gravity Probe 1" are forced to abandon ship  in orbit around the planet Mars after a near collision with a meteor exhausts all of their fuel. Christopher "Kit" Draper USN manages to survive his crash landing but his partner "Mac", played by Adam West, does not, thus, Kit becomes the first man to set foot on Mars, and at the same time finds himself stranded there, with only the ships experiment monkey "Mona" for company. "Kit" finds that he is able to survive and eke out a meager existence on Mars, however while exploring he finds that Mars has had visitors before.
Soon enough, Mars receives more visitors, this time alien, and Kit, along with an escaped slave he calls "Friday", have to hide and await rescue.

An enjoyable, if somewhat silly, film that gives a bit of a new take on an old story.

This Island Earth
(Universal Pictures - USA, 1955)

A nuclear scientist is approached by a secretive organisation to assist them in their goal of putting an end to war by the peaceful use of atomic power, however not is all as it seems when it turns out the group is actually a front for aliens.

Again, this is another piece of classic sci-fi that is essential viewing. I cant find fault with this film at all, it tells a good story and has decent special effects.

The Thing From Another World
(RKO Pictures - USA 1951)

Based on the short story "Who Goes There?" this film tells the story of a group of scientists who find a crashed flying saucer at the north pole, but to their horror, they find that one of the crew has survived!.

Another must see film in the sci-fi genre that combines elements of a "locked room" type mystery with a "whodunnit" style story, and adds an alien invader to the mix to create an interesting story.

Village Of The Damned
(MGM - UK, 1960)

 Another film based on the works of John Wyndham, this time round its "The Midwich Cuckoos" that get the film treatment.
The fictional village of Midwich is suddenly struck down by a mysterious force that causes all life within 5 miles to become unconscious. Despite numerous attempts by the army to penetrate the invisible barrier, no one is able to step more then a few feet inside its boundary without fainting.
Without any explanation, after 3 hours, everyone recovers, leaving scientists to wonder what actually went off, a mystery which is further perplexing when it turns out that all women of child bearing age within the boundary have suddenly become pregnant.
This understandably causes problems, as some of the now pregnant women are known to be virgins, and some of them are married, so infidelity is suspected. Nevertheless, all of the women give birth on the same day 9 months later, however, right from the beginning, it becomes apparent that these are no ordinary children.

A really good film and typical of Wyndhams works, which is reproduced almost faithfully to the original book.
A sequel film "Children of the Damned" followed in 1964 and a remake which changed the location and some of the details came along in 1995.

Horror Express
(Indipendant production - UK/Spain, 1972)

Its 1906, and Professor Saxton (Christopher Lee) is traveling to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Express. In the Trains freight car is the fossilised remains of an ape-man he found whilst exploring a cave system in Manchuria, a fossil which he hopes will provide the "missing link" and prove that the theory of evolution is correct once and for all. Unfortunately for him though, the fossil is far from dead, and just happens to harbour an evil force that has been on earth since prehistoric times, which then sets about killing people within the cramped confines of the train as it speeds through the desolate wasteland that is Siberia.

This film, although low budget and not made by any studio of any note, stars a surprising number of well known actors in the form of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas, not only that, but it manages to tell a decent story as well.


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