Devil Goddess (1955)

Devil Goddess (1955)‘This land taboo! You go!’

Screen legend Johnny Weismuller is recruited by a scientist and his daughter to help find an old colleague who has been lost in the African jungle for seven years. Rumour has it that he is being worshipped as a god by one of the tribes deep in the interior, and that he is conducting experiments of a supernatural nature…

After turning in his loincloth at the MGM gates in 1948, it would have been no surprise if Johnny Weismuller had backed away from the movie business and gracefully retired. He’d enjoyed 17 years as the undisputed ‘King of the Jungle’ and he certainly was no actor. He proved as much when mixing it up with Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe in Cajun confrontation potboiler ‘Swamp Fire’ (1946), his one attempt at a different kind of role. Unfortunately, Weismuller had considerable financial commitments (four ex-wives may have been involved!) and so it was off to Columbia to star in a series of 16 pictures as ‘Jungle Jim’ with legendary skinflint Sam Katzman producing. By the time this final entry rolled around, Katzman had even lost the rights to the character’s name so Weismuller played exactly the same part…only as Johnny Weismuller!

Typically, this picture strays very little from the previous ones in the series; they had a formula and they were sticking to it. Weismuller is roped in to a mission by a beautiful woman (in this case Angela Stevens) which involves travelling to somewhere forbidden where the locals are aggressive but misguided, usually by superstition or the villain of the piece. There is always something valuable hidden nearby (it’s usually jewels but, almost as often it’s Nazi treasure) and there’s some faceless and unscrupulous white men out to get it. There’s some fisticuffs and a gunfight or two as Jim (sorry, Johnny!) tangles with them and everything is tied up just as the local Commissioner and his native troopers arrive.

On this occasion the natives are in thrall to Ed Hinton and his collection of smoke bombs as he lives it up as the local volcano god. He’s no longer playing with a full test tube, but does at least look after the string of nubiles that the local witchdoctor insists on providing, rather than using them as his personal harem. At least, we assume he doesn’t do anything untoward. Perhaps best not to go there. The film certainly doesn’t. Anyway, he has a few beakers on a bench in a cave so he must be doing experiments. Or something. Although there’s no evidence of anything supernatural, of course.

Devil Goddess (1955)

‘Wipe that stupid smirk of your face, you big ape!’

Production values aren’t high, which is no surprise on a Katzman picture, and the sacrificial ceremony bears an uncanny resemblance to the one carried out in ‘Voodoo Tiger’ (1952), the 9th film in the series (although it could have been lifted from something even earlier, I guess!) Johnny is assisted by chimpanzee Kimba (replacing Tamba in a crucial casting change), although it is fair to say that neither is fit to pick the fleas off Cheetah.

Hinton inevitably reminds the audience of ‘Tim the Enchanter’ from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (1975), even if he doesn’t possess such impressive headwear, and none of the library of wildlife stock shots are as deadly as the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.

Columbia had already moved into television by the mid-1950s and so the decision was made to relocate the character to the small screen. Katzman was not involved, so the rights to use the character’s true name were successfully renegotiated with King Features, and ‘Jungle Jim’ debuted a few months later, running for 26 episodes. When it was over, Wiesmuller finally called it a day and worked his celebrity into a long career of making personal appearances.

Oh, and the title of this film? Completely meaningless. Par for the course for a Katzman production!

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Voodoo Island (1957)

Voodoo Island (1957)‘You’ve no room left inside you to be a woman, think like a woman, feel like one.’

A millionaire is planning to build a hotel on a South Pacific Island, but the initial survey party meet a mysterious fate. Only one member returns, and he appears to be a zombie.

Pretty dismal B-picture featuring the master of menace himself, the legendary Boris Karloff. Here the great man is Professor Knight, a famous academic and debunker of myths and legends, who heads out to the island to put an end to all this voodoo nonsense. Along for the ride are his mousy assistant Beverly Tyler, company man Murvyn Vye, cynical blonde Jean Engstrom, nervy local businessman Elisha Cook Jr and bitter (but handsome) boat captain Rhodes Reason.

The film’s first act isn’t actually too bad, with Karloff giving his expert a touch more arrogance than was usual in his characterisations, and the production obviously competent and professional in the hands of experienced director Reginald De Borg. The first warning signs come when it becomes obvious that the film’s in no hurry to get us to the island, in fact it’s half way through before the expedition sets foot there. However, some plane trouble does serve to rope in a pre-stardom Adam West, who plays a weather station radio operator in his first ever film role.

By the time we (eventually) reach the island, the relationship dynamics of the principals are all fixed, and they are as tiresomely formulaic as you might expect. ln a less than riveting subplot, we already know that the nerdy Tyler is going to blossom into a major babe by the fade out, and will be resting comfortably in the arms of reformed drunk Reason who will happily quit the bottle to make for the usual Hollywood ending.

Voodoo Island (1957)

It was the morning after the night before for the production team behind ‘Voodoo Island.’

Apart from that, pretty much all that happens is a few half-hearted encounters with the deadly local flora and fauna. These mostly comprise of the female members of the cast writhing about with rubber branches and screaming at plastic crab things. The monster SFX are not impressive. lt’s also nice to see the women doing the cooking and complaining about the bathroom facilities, while the men go off on heroic quests like getting the supplies from the boat.

There’s also a nagging suspicion that the production ran out of money before the end of filming. There is simply no climax at all, and with the film running about 75 minutes, it may be that the intended finale was never filmed. Having said all that, De Borg was actually a capable director who had made some decent ‘B’ thrillers back in the day, including entries in the ‘lnner Sanctum’ series like ‘Weird Woman’ (1944), as well as some of Lon Chaney Jr’s academic ruminations on Egyptian mythology in ‘The Mummy’s Ghost’ (1944). But without the backing of a major studio, there’s little he can do to paper over the cracks of the half-baked story. Scriptwriter Richard Vaughan also gave the world the dire ‘Frankenstein 1970’ (1958), with Karloff again, but mostly worked on TV, writing episodes of ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’, ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, ‘Cannon’, and several others.

Actually, on closer inspection, proceedings don’t make a whole lot of sense either, with an isolated tribe on the island seemingly able to affect matters on the mainland despite being completely cut off from the world. It’s the power of voodoo I suppose, which is quite remarkable since the practice never got anywhere near the vicinity of the South Pacific!

Karloff gives a typically authoritative performance here, but really this project is simply not worth his time. Checking his films of the period, it does appear that he made decisions based on exotic filming locations, rather than the material involved, with this one being mostly filmed on location in Hawaii. Perhaps he simply enjoyed travelling! Reason top-lined Japanese Kaiju classic ‘King Kong Escapes’ (1967) and appeared on an episode of the original series of ‘Star Trek’ as well as plenty of other TV properties.

But please spare a thought for actor Glenn Dixon who plays the catatonic survivor of the first expedition. Almost his entire part consists of staring wide-eyed while remaining motionless. When he does get to do something it mostly involves standing up out of a chair, walking a few steps and then falling flat on his face. Still, it was a living I suppose.

A very minor entry in the Karloff catalogue.

Maneater of Hydra/The Blood Sucker/Island of the Doomed/La Isla de la Muerte (1967)

Maneater of Hydra (1967)‘It looks like a cucumber, but it tastes just like meat!’

A group of half a dozen tourists take an organised sightseeing trip to a remote island. Their host is a Baron who is also a top scientist, whose particular field of expertise is the breeding of rare plants. Unfortunately, he is a little more enthusiastic about his hobby than is strictly healthy…

Slightly dreary Italian Euro-shocker from writer-director Mel Welles, who had appeared in Roger Corman’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (1960), and also directed part of that film uncredited. It obviously made quite an impression on him, as we have a similar setup here with mad Baron Cameron Mitchell up to all sorts of horticultural improprieties in the privacy of his own greenhouse. His motley crew of houseguests include feuding couple Rolf Von Nauckloff and Kai Fischer, clean cut George Martin, winsome Elsa Montés, middle-aged camera nut Matilde Munôz Sampedro  and nerdy botanist Hermann Nehlsen. Fischer is making a play for every guy in a pair of trousers, Montés faints a lot and Martin is generally very clean-cut. Yes, the script gives none of the actors anything on which to base a shaded performance, and all that remains for the audience is to guess in which order this roll call of ready-made victims will meet Mitchell’s little pet.

Despite the simplicity of the set up and plot, events also make little sense. Mitchell’s motivation in inviting paying guests is largely unexplored, beyond a passing reference to financial considerations made by a third party. However, in terms of his erratic behaviour and subsequent developments, it looks far more likely that the visitors were always intended to be on the menu. But there is some entertainment value in the atrocious English dub track, which seems to cover the entire cast, including Mitchell. Although Fischer is obviously playing a promiscuous character, the truly terrible voiceover work has her seemingly permanently on the edge of an orgasm, which livens up the rather slow proceedings a little.

However, carnivorous plants are nearly always good for a laugh, and the last 15 minutes or so do not disappoint. It doesn’t approach the hilarity of pictures like ‘The Woman Eater’ (1959), or the Ed Wood scripted ‘The Venus Flytrap’ (1970), but there’s still some excellent moments with various members of the cast thrashing about with rubber branches. But the only real reason to sit through this is Mitchell, who avoids eye-rolling histrionics but still delivers a consistently funny performance, although it’s hard to tell whether it was intentional or not. His best scenes are where he fawns over his creation behind closed doors in a strangely intimate way, which may go a long way to explain why he’s so obviously totally disinterested when Fischer manages to get him in a lip-lock. Which, when you think about it, is quite worrying…

Mitchell began as a contract player in films like John Ford’s ‘They Were Expendable’ (1945) before graduating to bigger roles in ‘B’ Westerns. He played Harry Loman in Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ on Broadway, and in the early 1960s he took a starring role in Mario Bava’s classic horror ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964). TV stardom followed in long-running Western show ‘The High Chaparral’, but his career in film had already faded into cheap Euro-Horrors and exploitation material by then. Throughout the next few decades, it seemed that he would take a paycheque for anything and everything, starring in projects like hilarious Italian Superman knockoff ‘Supersonic Man’ (1978), Jerry Warren’s notorious (and incredible) ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981) and stone cold bad movie classic ‘Space Mutiny’ (1988).

Maneater of Hydra (1967)

‘I don’t fancy yours much!’

The rest of the cast were mostly Spanish (Martin’s real name was Francisco Martinez Celeiro), but Fischer was a Czech, Von Nauckhoff from Sweden and Nehlsen was German. Montés had a featured role in Jess Franco’s awful ‘Sumuru’ picture ‘The Girl From Rio’ (1970) and Fischer was one of the leads in ‘The Goalkeeper’s Fear of The Penalty’ (1972), an early film from cult director Wim Wenders!

Welles directed a handful of films, including cult favourite ‘Lady Frankenstein’ (1971), but is better known as actor, with parts in ‘Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy’ (1955), ‘Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II’ (1989), ‘Dr Heckyl and My Hype’ (1980), ‘The X From Outer Space’ (1967) and midnight movie favourite ‘Attack of the Crab Monsters’ (1957).

Sadly, a poor script with almost no effort at character development, and precious little internal logic, means this one is rather formulaic and, at times, a bit of a chore. However, riding to the rescue are Cameron Mitchell and a ridiculous climax, which together almost make the journey worthwhile.

Thirst (1979)

Thirst (1979)‘An ancient evil is now a modern industry.’

A brotherhood of vampires kidnap a successful young businesswoman because she is the direct descendant of the notorious Countess Elizabeth Bathory. At first she refuses to embrace her deadly heritage, but they isolate her at their secret facility and try to persuade her otherwise…

Unusual Australian cocktail of blood sucking and science fiction that never really develops beyond its intriguing initial premise, which was quite original for the time. These vampires have adapted to the modern world, running an isolated ‘Blood Farm’ to ensure a constant supply via live donors, and testing the quality scientifically to ensure they only get the finest vintages. This cutting edge approach is combined with a suitable reverence for tradition, with organised rituals and an obsession with their unholy lineage. This last matter is actually a little bit of a problem here as the real life Elizabeth Bathory was most definitely not a vampire, despite Ingrid Pitt’s appearance as the character in the misleadingly titled ‘Countess Dracula’ (1970). Instead, she merely bathed in the blood of virgins in an effort to retain her youth. Which is obviously far more reasonable.

Although this isn’t an insurmountable problem, it does highlight the film’s main weakness: the script. The whole story revolves around the brotherhood’s efforts to turn Chantal Contouri to the dark side, but we never really find out why. There’s some references to ‘reuniting two great houses’ but that’s as far as it goes, and if the original intention was to bring Dracula into the mix, it never happens. So there seems little motivation behind events, and the underdeveloped characters are simply one note ciphers. These include British actor David Hemmings as the strangely sympathetic lead scientist and U.S. ‘rent a villain’ Henry Silva, who appeared memorably in mainstream hits like ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (1962) and ‘Oceans Eleven’ (1960). He was also pretty much a fixture on the cult movie circuit, thanks to films like ‘Alligator’ (1980), ‘Bronx Warriors’ (1983) and the disastrous ‘Megaforce’ (1982). There were also many TV roles in shows such as the original 1960s version of ‘The Outer Limits’, ‘Mission: Impossible’, ‘Buck Rogers In The 25th Century’ and ‘Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea’.

Thirst (1979)

Do you come here often?’

The film actually does have some good points, with the scenes of the ‘blood cows’ lining up to make their regular donations being particularly effective. There’s also a very good performance from Shirley Cameron as the sadistic head nurse who is determined to break Contouri’s resistance by any means necessary.

Unfortunately, events play out in a rather unconvincing manner, and there’s not much of a climax. Even with a couple of crude shocks and some bloody scenes, the whole thing has the feel of something made for television, rather than the big screen. There’s also a terrible stunt double in a helicopter sequence, which is so silly that it’s more comedic than horrifying.

After a long career in Australia, director Ron Hardy packed his bags for Hollywood in the 1990s where he ended up working extensively in television, helming episodes of ‘The X-Files’, ‘Supernatural’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ (the new incarnation) and ‘Doll House.’ He also brought us ‘Nick Fury: Agent of Shield’ (1988), the TV movie that featured David Hasselhoff as the title character, long behalf he joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the person of Samuel L Jackson.

A passable horror with a few interesting ideas, but with characters that lack depth and a story that’s never fully developed.

Spy In Your Eye/Bang You’re Dead (1965)

Spy In Your Eye/Bang You're Dead (1965)‘Someone’s Crazy! This is the third body in a month with the eyeball removed!’

After the death of a top research scientist, his daughter becomes the target of international spies after a secret formula. An American agent is sent to break her out of captivity on the other side of the Berlin Wall, but his boss has had a secret TV camera implanted behind his eye during what he believed was an operation to cure his sight.

Lacklustre Italian Eurospy doings that are most notable for a featured performance by ex-Hollywood leading man Dana Andrews. He’s the section chief responsible for this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ Brett Halsey, a handsome American actor who never really hit the big time back home. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get to run around glamorous European capital cities, or wrestle much arm candy, although he does get to spend a little time in a hay barn in heroine Pier Angeli. In terms of gadgets, we do get a murderous waxwork of Napoleon, and a colleague who carries out a Quasimodo-like masquerade just so he can sometimes attack enemy agents with an unconvincing knife that comes out of his hump. The main villain’s lair also doubles as a doctor’s operating room, via an impressive mechanical set.

However, despite these implausible trappings, this is a much more grounded spy adventure than you would expect. It is more Sean Connery Bond, than the outlandish Roger Moore era. Unfortunately, it’s these gimmicks which are the only thing of interest in the film, and they are fairly peripheral to say the least. What we get instead is a hopelessly dreary 90 minutes of kidnappings, assassinations, cross and double cross, a few scenes with a helicopter and lots of men in suits talking in rooms.

Andrews gets a reliably authoritative performance, but he’s the best thing here by a long way, as none of the rest of the cast are able to invest their characters with any real personality. Similarly, director Vittorio Sala fails to bring a level of tension to the proceedings, and there is a complete absence of style or dynamism in his work. Andrews’ top line credentials were established with big studio hits like ‘Laura’ (1944), ‘The Best Years Of Our Lives’ (1946), ‘Boomerang’ (1947) and, later on, the genuinely creepy ‘Night of the Demon’ (1957). Unfortunately, problems with the bottle accelerated a career decline which found him with an icebox full of Nazis in ‘The Frozen Dead’ (1966). But he cleaned up, went into real estate, made a fortune, and lived to the age of 83.

Blonde hero Halsey got his start in supporting roles at Universal in the late 1950s, even graduating to the lead in horror sequel ‘Return of the Fly’ (1959). But, by the 1960s, he’d decided to try his luck in Europe and spent the next decade in ltaly, appearing in projects like this and the similarly themed ‘Espionage In Lisbon’ (1965). He returned to the States in the 1970s and rounded out his career with many guest appearances on Network TV shows and the occasional character role in features, such as ‘The Godfather Part III’ (1990).

Spy In Your Eye/Bang You're Dead (1965)

‘Be careful! You’ll have someone’s eye out with that!’

Angeli was an Italian whose big break came opposite Paul Newman in ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ (1956), and was an early girlfriend of both James Dean and Kirk Douglas. Unfortunately, she could never capitalise on her initial success and ended her career, and her life (via barbiturate overdose), on the set of no budget monster snooze-athon ‘Octaman’ (1971).

Sala’s most noteworthy credit is probably ‘Colossus and the Amazons’ (1960) simply as it was the next film released starring Rod Taylor after his career making turn as H.G.Wells’ hero in ‘The Time Machine’ (1960). In the supporting cast, it’s always a pleasure to see Italian character actor Luciano Pigozzi, here appearing in a thankless role as a spy who plays both ends against the middle. If you’re interested in cult European cinema through the 1960s to the 1980s, you could do worse than check out Pigozzi’s filmography. He appeared in everything from ‘werewolf in a girl’s dormitory’ shocker ‘Lycanthropus’ (1961), to disasters like the idiotic ‘Devilman Story’ (1967), several appearances for horror maestro Mario Bava, including ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964), to classic guilty pleasure ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983).

If I’ve talked a great deal more about the careers of the major players here than the film itself, that should tell you all that you need to know. Dull, anonymous spy shenanigans with a few bizarre touches that turn out to be just window dressing and nothing more.

Darkest Africa (1936)

Darkest Africa (1936)‘Joba? You mean the hidden city beyond the mountains of despair?’

Clyde Beatty, World Famous Animal Trainer, meets a wild boy when he’s on safari in the African Jungle. The youngster has escaped from the hidden city of Joba, where his sister is being held captive by the evil high priest. Beatty agrees to help free her from his clutches…

Although Republic Studios were experts in producing low budget Westerns during Hollywood’s Golden Age, they’re more likely to be remembered now as leaders in another cinematic form: the movie serial. These cheap, action-packed adventures played over 12 to 15 weekly episodes to a juvenile audience, typically on a Saturday morning. This particular example was their very first such production, and even though it was only the mid-1930s, many of the staples of the genre were already present and correct.

Forgotten city hidden deep within the jungle? Check. A cast pointing at things happening offscreen? Check. Native bearers running off because the land is taboo? Check. Dastardly high priest on a power trip? Check. Fabulous diamonds that attract the attention of unscrupulous white men? Check. Plenty of stock footage of exotic wildlife sourced from a local film archive? Check. Rumbling volcano? Check. Yes, it’s pretty much business as usual, with some familiar names behind the camera as well, including directors B Reeves Eason and Joseph Kane, and screenwriter/production supervisor Barney Sarecky.

But the serial does have some definite points of interest, and those mostly revolve around the cast. As billed on the title screen, star Clyde Beatty was the ‘World’s Most Famous Animal Trainer’ and was actually the first man to appear as a lion tamer in a circus. At his peak he shared the cage with 40 lions and tigers, both male and female. He was a household name, and enjoyed a big screen career that lasted for over 20 years, even though his dramatic appearances weren’t numerous and he always played himself. How is he as an actor? Not too bad actually. At least he exhibits some screen personality, which goes a long way in the world of the movie serial, where audiences could be forgiven for having difficulty identifying the leading man when he was standing next to a tree.

Co-starring with Beatty as jungle boy Baru, is someone else moonlighting from his day job. So what is the decidedly not so athletic 13 year old Manuel King doing facing off against the wild cats? Well, like Beatty, no stunt double was required because, as the billing cheerfully informs us, he’s the ‘World’s Youngest Wild Animal Trainer’! His casting may have also been assisted by his father, who happened to own the animal compound in Brownsville, Texas where a lot ol the interiors were filmed. Still, you can’t argue with the kid’s guts as he holds off lions with just a large tree branch. You might want to question his dad’s parenting skills though…

Darkest Africa (1936)King also has a sidekick in the shape of large ape Bonga who is rather brilliantly billed 5th in the cast under his own name. Of course, he’s actually a man in an ape suit and, unsurprisingly, it’s our old friend Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan, a stuntman and sometime actor who mostly played cowboys but had a nice side line in gorillas because he owned the costume.

Corriagn also took the lead in hilariously over the top Lost Atlantis serial ‘Undersea Kingdom’ (1936) and rented his ranch out so often to film crews that he eventually opened it to the public as well, calling it ‘Corriganville’. As well as still being used as a regular film location, he staged regular wild west shootouts and shows for tourists. Also finding his way to the hidden City of Joba is the reliably despicable Wheeler Oakman, who managed 287 credits in a career spanning almost 30 years, many of them in movie serials.

So, apart from the interesting cast, what is the serial actually like? Well, once our heroic trio (don’t forget Bonga!) arrive in the hidden city, it’s pretty standard stuff for the most part. Lucien Prival fails to make a great deal out of his role as the villain of the piece and his solution to every situation is to ‘release the hunter lions’ so the script can contrive various ways to bring Beatty into contact with them in time for the cliff hanger. Prival’s motivation for keeping blonde Elaine Shepard a permanent captive as the local Goddess is thin to say the least, especially when you hear about it in all the early chapters in almost identical conversations between her and the keeper of the law, Edward McWade. Similarly, the same footage of Bonga swinging through the trees gets quite a regular airing. I also had a sneaking suspicion that some of the local Tiger Men playing the jungle drums were white men in blackface.

Darkest Africa (1936)

Atomic batteries to power! Turbines to speed!

The best aspect of the whole enterprise are the Bat Men who guard the hidden city. They’re obviously a steal from the Hawk Men in ‘Flash Gordon’ (1936) and seem to fly by simply gliding everywhere. They also dress like Roman soldiers and wear ridiculous helmets, which must have severely restricted the actor’s field of vision. There’s also an excellent moment at one cliff hanger where one of them seems confused about which end of his spear to use!

This was Beatty’s 3rd time in the movies, and later parts included a role in Abbott & Costello comedy ‘African Screams’ (1949). His final film was ‘Ring of Fear’ (1954) and featured his own troop, the Clyde Beatty & Cole Bros Circus, as well as Mike Hammer author Mickey Spillane, who was also playing himself! Beatty closed out his screen career with numerous appearances as a guest on TV panel shows, and died in 1965. Of course, the tide of public opinion has turned against his ‘profession’ in recent years, but it’s hard to withhold at least some admiration for a man who went into a cage with big cats, whatever the circumstances. The Cole & Beatty Circus dropped both trained animal acts and his name in 2003 and Beatty faded quietly into the history books, where he lies pretty much forgotten.

A fun serial in certain ways that becomes very repetitive after the first half dozen chapters, but remains of some interest to aficionados of the genre.

Teens In The Universe/Otroki vo vselennoy (1975)

Teens In The Universe (1975)‘Who can tell a pulsating homunculus from a twinkling octosaur?’

An expedition from Earth lands on one of the planets in the Cassiopeia constellation to investigate an emergency distress signal. The ship was expected to take 27 years to reach its destination, but an accidental diversion through hyperspace means that the crew are still the teenagers they were when they left Earth, rather than the adults they were supposed to be…

Rather than a sequel to Russian science fiction film ‘Moscow-Cassiopea’ (1974), this is instead essentially the second half of that story, no doubt filmed at the same time.  Boy genius Sereda (Misha Yershov) and his half dozen crewmates are now approaching their destination after the hardcore trials and tribulations of the first film, most notably establishing the identity of the girl who passed him that romantic note in class before they left. Of course, the whole point of having such a young crew in the first place was they would be in their early 40s by this point, but due to hilarious madcap stowaway Lobanov (Vladimir Basov MI) sitting on the main control panel by mistake, they’ve taken a diversion through hyperspace and arrived 26 years early.

Back home Earthside, crew member Aleksandr Grigoryev’s family are busy holding his 40th birthday party, which is promptly gatecrashed by the mysterious A.S.A. (Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy). Like in the first film, he seems to have the ability to materialise and dematerialise at will, something which doesn’t seem to faze his hosts in the slightest. It’s also convenient for the audience as we get a recap of the story so far and an explanation of Einstein’s theories on time dilation.

Teens In The Universe (1975)

Buying glasses over the internet wasn’t always a great idea…

Eventual planetfall finds Lobanov suggesting a game of football (he’s so wacky!) while Grigoryev and Olga Bityukova carry out more serious enquiries. A couple of the locals make the scene; strange grey men in black PVC with very large flares who communicate by whistling. These are representatives of the planet’s robot overlords whose only aim is to make everybody happy.

So everything seems tickety-boo for our trio of space pioneers. They get to laugh hysterically while sitting on bouncy chairs and get free fruit juice. All a bit of a change of pace for the uptight Bityukova who wasn’t even happy earlier when Yershov decided to name the planet after her! It all seems great, except what they don’t know is that the robots’ plan for their permanent happiness involves robbing them of all human emotions and desires. Meanwhile, the last few survivors of the robot’s final solution contact the rest of our heroic crew to explain what’s going down and mount a rescue mission.

There’s far more going on in this second film than in the first part of the story, and so far less time for inane romantic complications and painful comedy. Yes, it’s still a little juvenile, but it was aimed at young teenagers so some of the lamer plot developments can be forgiven. These include robots that find riddles a fatal pastime, and a ‘nanny bot’ complete with apron and pram. On the plus side, some of the visuals are quite surreal, although the silliness of certain aspects do make it hard to take the drama seriously. A strange climax sees the reappearance of the mysterious A.S.A. Who exactly is he supposed to be, and why does no-one ever seem to question his presence? The character’s name seems to differ according to various sources as well! Something lost in translation perhaps.

It would be easy to take a hard line against this project; it’s dumb, a little puerile and never properly explores any of the dramatic possibilities inherent in the storyline. But it was designed as an entertainment for kids and, although that’s not a sufficient reason to forgive all its shortcomings, it does serve to mitigate criticism a little. The greatest point in its favour is that it’s far less aggravating than the first instalment of the story.

Not the finest example of 1970’s Soviet Science Fiction though…