The Doomsday Machine (1967/1972/1977?)

The_Doomsday_Machine_(1972)‘You know, without your glasses, you’re a very pretty doctor.’

Just before takeoff the first manned spaceflight to Venus has half of its crew replaced by presidential order. The new astronauts are all women and one of them is even a Russian! Could this sudden change of plan have anything to do with the pesky Chinese and their new apocalyptic weapon?

Like many low budget movies, this has a chequered and slightly obscure history. It began life as screen story called ‘Armageddon ‘75’ written by Henry Blum. It began filming under that title with producer Fred Long and director Harry Hope. There was a fairly small but recognisable cast. Mission leader was Grant Williams (‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ (1957) himself!) and in the crew was comedian Bobby Van; a few years before big-budget musical horror ‘Lost Horizon’ (1972). The rest of the performers may not have been names but they did have previous credits and give professional turns, despite somewhat one-dimensional characters.

The climax of the film was supposed to take place on Venus. David L Hewitt, the filmmaker who gave us the incredible ‘Dr Terror’s Gallery of Horrors’ (1967) gets credit for the SFX but that may have just been because footage was reused from his dire movie ‘The Wizard of Mars’ (1964), a film about people wandering around in spacesuits until they find the disembodied head of John Carradine. The rest of the effects are from various sources, including Japanese monster movies like ‘Gorath’ (1962). Obviously, the recreation of an alien planet would have been a costly business so this wasn’t filmed and the movie was instead previewed without it at a length of approximately 65 minutes, probably with the intention of raising funds.

All aboard the Ghost Train!

All aboard the Ghost Train!

What happened next is fairly obscure, with the film sitting on the shelf whilst it was tied up in some kind of litigation. Producer Long lost control of the project and it eventually passed to director Lee Sholem. In 1972 or 1977 (accounts vary), Sholem completed the film by shooting a new scene set on another spaceship. This allegedly featured two of the original cast of characters but they remain in spacesuits throughout and they have different voices!

This extra 10 minutes is interminable and even features some repeated shots as the two figures fanny about in the ship, allegedly talking to the original crew. Then Deep and Important VoiceOver Man suddenly takes a hand and it’s all over bar the credits.

This is passable low budget space opera; relentlessly talky and fairly predictable. Interaction between the characters follows well-established lines, with the one bad apple putting everyone at risk and the wisecracking joker deciding to make the supreme sacrifice. There is extensive use of clipboards (cutting edge technology in 1967), a spaceship so roomy they could have held a barn dance, the obligatory motorcycle helmet headwear and Mission Control staffed by one cheerful guy sitting in front of a process screen showing some men in lab coats. But, for all that, it’s reasonable enough until the mishandled ‘ending’.

1972 or 1977 for the extra footage? Hard to say but it is handy to know that in our shiny space age future, radiation shielding will consist of hanging up a piece of tarpaulin. Fact.

Buy ‘The Doomsday Machine’ here


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