Invaders From Space (1965)

Invaders From Space (1965)‘He is the creature made from the strongest steel. He is the creature who can disguise himself as an Earthling. He is the creature known as…Starman!’

The Emerald Men on the Emerald Planet send Starman back to Earth when they realise that mankind has been targeted by the evil Salamander Men of Kulimon. Their nefarious scheme is to decimate the human population with a mysterious plague and then claim the planet for their own…

We’re back in the company of Ken Utsui as ‘Starman’ in this feature cobbled together by Walter Manley Productions and Medallion Films from the Japanese children’s TV show ‘Super Giant’ from the late 1950s. He was the Far East’s version of Superman, complete with a silly costume and cape, super strength, and the ability to fly. He can also detect radiation using his Globe-Meter, a nifty piece of tech that bears an uncanny resemblance to a wrist watch. His bosses on the Emerald Planet look kinda familiar too, some having been seemingly assembled from old vacuum cleaner parts, others looking suspiciously like men dressed in stitched together bed sheets with coneheads. They communicate with each other by waving their arms up and down very slowly, which is nice.

Things are looking pretty grim for the hoo-mans by the time Starman makes the scene, with large numbers apparently dropping like flies due to this strange new disease. The scientists get together around the big table to sort it all out, as they always do, only this time there are only three of them and the table appears to be more suited to a small family’s intimate dining experience. But no matter! Chief Scientist Masao Takamatsu has the two main attributes that every top researcher needs in a world-threatening crisis: a beautiful daughter (Monaka Yamada) and a dashing, young assistant (Shozaburo Date). Unfortunately, even the addition of three adorable young moppets also fails to help, and actually might be seen as an annoyance by anyone of a less charitable disposition than myself.

Invaders From Space (1965)

‘Let’s do the show right here!’

But what elevates this production above the other entries in the series are the Salamander Men. These Kulimonians are superb villains with a brilliant plan to spread their deadly plague across the Earth through the medium of dance! Yes, they’ve got the technology to come halfway across the galaxy, but their first step to world domination is hiring a theatre and putting on a show! lt’s either genius or completely bonkers, or possibly both.

What does become abundantly clear is that they never miss an opportunity to shake their groove thang! They also have lightning bolt halitosis, wear suits and fedoras and flip more often than the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. One of the film’s highlights is an early fight with Starman, which looks more like a gymnastics contest than hand to hand combat! Their makeup and all over body suits are also a hoot.

By all accounts, this 75 minute feature is stitched together from 2 episodes of the TV show, and only 9 minutes of footage was cut. But, if that’s the case, why is our old friend VoiceOver Man on overtime here? He almost never shuts up with the exposition, which suggests a longer original runtime. Not surprisingly, there does seem to be a little bit of confusion as to which specific episodes were turned into the four mid-1960s features for U.S. release. Even the origin of the name ‘Super Giant’ is a bit of a mystery. After all, Utsui might have been a tall chap, but that’s going a bit far. There’s even a suggestion that the character was named after baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants!

If you’ve already familiar with ‘Starman’ then you know what to expect, but the deliciously evil Salamander Men raise it to a level that the other films in the series simply can’t hope to match.

Goofy fun.

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Morel’s Invention (1974)

Morel's Invention (1974)‘Why don’t we talk about the construction of the tennis court?’

A shipwreck survivor washes up on a rocky, barren island. The only sign of habitation is a group of strange buildings, which appear to have been abandoned years earlier. Later on, he sees couples dancing to an old gramophone on the edge of a cliff, but when he approaches one of the group, she simply ignores him.

Unusual Italian science fiction project directed by Emidio Greco and based on a novel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. From the very beginning, the film refuses to pander to the audience, providing no information to pinpoint the story location, time period, or the identity and circumstances of main protagonist Giulio Brogi. lt’s an approach that’s quite refreshing in an era where films often open with lots of exposition, provided either via captions or a narrative voiceover. Here, not a word of dialogue is spoken in the first half hour of this film, and it’s a tribute to Greco’s talent as a director that he keeps the audiences invested in our castaway’s plight.

Part of the credit for this has to go down to the ‘look’ of the film and its technical accomplishments. The Maltese location is quite striking and its timeless quality is emphasised by the superbly crisp photography of Silvano lppoliti, whose long career involved projects for directors such as Riccardo Freda, Sergio Corbucci and Tinto Brass, including the notorious ‘Caligula’ (1979). Whether the buildings were constructed specifically for the purpose of the film or already existed is unclear, but they are certainly impressive and credit should also be given to Amedeo Fago for the production design of the interiors.

As the film progresses, Brogi becomes more and more bewildered, the island’s occupants seeming to be a weekend party who dress in 1920s fashions, look right through him, and carry on the same conversations over and over again. They even dance to their gramophone in the middle of a rainstorm. All the while, he is falling for the beautiful Anna Karina, who also seems to be the target of their host, the steely Morel (John Steiner).

After some time and no further story progression, the audience can be forgiven for suspecting that nothing is going to be resolved and what they are witnessing is an exercise in pretension, which will need intellectual film critics to explain. But this is not the case. The answer to the mystery does come, and it is surprising and quite original. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really leave the story with many places to go afterwards.

Morel's Invention (1974)

The Ritz had gone downhill since his last visit…

Greco was undoubtedly aiming for a very slow burn and, while the film has a strange fascination, it doesn’t really have enough story for its 110 minute length, and some judicious tightening would have helped. The lack of information about our leading man (we don’t even find out his name) and a low key performance from Brogi makes emotional connection with him a little difficult, and that’s crucial considering the film’s last act.

Karina was famous as a muse for 1960s ‘new wave’ film director Jean-Luc Goddard, appearing in ‘Alphaville’ (1965), ‘Bande à Part’ (1964) and several of his other films. Steiner was an English actor based in Italy and has an incredibly diverse filmography, credits including the afore-mentioned ‘Caligula’ (1979), horror maestro Mario Bava’s last film ‘Shock’ (1978), Dario Argento’s ‘Tenebrae’ (1982), and many ‘direct to video’ projects in the early 1980s. He also stole the show as the over the top villain in the wonderfully ridiculous ‘Sinbad of the Seven Seas’ (1989) with ‘Incredible Hulk’ Lou Ferrigno.

An intriguing setup and some memorable images make this one well worth seeking out. However, the slow pace means it’s certainly not for everyone.

Voodoo Tiger (1952)

Voodoo Tiger (1952)‘Breaking Voodoo’s Savage Spell!’

Jungle Jim teams up with the local authorities in pursuit of a suspected Nazi war criminal who has been running a trading post deep in the jungle. Other parties are also interested, as he is the only person who knows the location of priceless art treasures hidden by the Nazis at the end of World War II. Meanwhile, local natives have become obsessed by a voodoo cult, centred on the totem of a tiger…

Johnny Weismuller dons the safari suit once again to battle bad medicine, angry natives and conniving crooks in the depths of darkest California, sorry, I mean Africa. This 9th entry in the film series produced by Sam Katzman is burdened with a story that’s little more than a series of awkward plot contrivances, but is surprisingly more entertaining than most of the series. This was probably due, in part, to the no-nonsense direction of Spencer Gordon Bennet, the so-called ‘King of Movie Serials’ who gets in, gets the shot and exits via the final credits with some haste.

Here the story setup is brilliantly random, the script by Samuel Newman (a veteran of the series) presenting us with a native tribe who make human sacrifices to a voodoo tiger god (or a tatty imitation from the prop department, to be precise). The voodoo religion did flourish in West Africa as well as the Caribbean, so we can give Newman a pass on that one, but a tiger god in Africa? Not all that likely. But Newman isn’t finished there; introducing a real tiger as one of the group of survivors of a convenient plane crash, which also includes our fleeing Nazi (Michael Fox)! Yes, he’s one of those pesky SS men, who spent their time hiding treasure in the jungle when on the retreat from the Allied Forces. What they were doing having treasure with them in the first place is one of history’s greatest mysteries. l would have thought ammunition and weapons to be a tad more useful in the circumstances.

Voodoo Tiger (1952)

‘I’l get this flea collar on you if it’s the last thing I do…’

Jim is accompanied on this adventure by the usual group of faceless lawmen in pith-helmets, Tamba the chimp and Jean Byron on assignment from the British Museum. Although you might think the jungle is rather large, they quickly catch up with Fox, James Seay’s crooked gang, and the other survivors of the plane crash. Unfortunately, they are all captured by the natives, led by headman Mombulu (Charles Horvath), and sentenced to die in praise of the now very real tiger god.

Luckily, the big cat defers to nightclub dancer Shalimar (Jean Dean) as he was part of her act (see, it all makes sense really!) and execution is stayed, provided Jim can defeat a sleepy lion in unarmed combat.

This is all hopelessly cheap and cheerful, of course, as everyone expects from a Sam Katzman production, but having said that, it’s certainly not a dull watch. Sure, the head-hunters look more Hispanic than African (and Horvath was born in Hungary), but it is fun to see them discover that worshipping a real tiger instead of one of the stuffed variety is actually a rather challenging proposition. Byron ends up making goo-goo eyes with square-jawed Major Robert Bray, rather than our jungle hero, but that was always the way. Jim never got the girl. Perhaps it was Weismuller’s numerous marriages and subsequent alimony bills that put him off!

This was Byron’s film debut, and she joined Weissmuller again in rather silly later entry ‘Jungle Moon Men’ (1955), having already faced ‘The Magnetic Monster’ (1953) and the ‘Serpent of the Nile’ (1953). She was also the female lead of cult classic alien horror ‘Invisible Invaders’ (1959). But she was to find her greatest recognition on television in the 1960s, starring in over 100 episodes of ‘The Patty Duke Show’ as the heroine’s mother. She also played Major Linseed’s wife on the Adam West ‘Batman’ TV show.

Another production line jungle adventure, but the left-field plot developments help to make a slightly less painful experience than most of the series.

The Island At The Top Of The World (1974)

Island At The Top Of The World (1974)‘You did some very interesting work in Greenland.’

1907: A rich industrialist looking for his son bankrolls an Arctic expedition in a giant airship. After braving many dangers, they discover a volcanic island at the pole, which turns out to be occupied by a lost tribe of Vikings. Unfortunately, their high priest is not that keen on visitors…

Big budget, high concept, boys’ own drama from Walt Disney studios that attempts to tap into the long tradition of family friendly ‘lost world’ adventures. Wealthy blowhard Sir Anthony Ross (Donald Sinden) has driven son David Gwillim away with unreasonable expectations and the lad is now missing in the frozen wastes near the North Pole. Sir Anthony finances a rescue mission using the airship of eccentric Frenchman Jacques Marin, recruits archaeologist David Hartmann to help, and picks up native guide Mako along the way.

lt’s a potentially interesting setup, with the unusual location providing a welcome break from the more familiar jungle setting usually encountered in this sort of enterprise, although it does mean the film bears a passing resemblance to the ‘The Land That Time Forgot’ (1974) from the same year. Unfortunately, we’re aware only too soon that we’re in the bland, safe territory of a Disney production (nothing changes there, eh?) with airship captain Marin the stereotypical, ‘wacky’ Frenchman, who brings his dog along for the ride. What breed of dog is it? A poodle, of course, because obviously Frenchmen don’t own any other kind of dog. What’s it’s called? Why, Josephine, of course, what else?

Sadly, the plot develops on the same, predictable lines, with no real surprises in store at any stage. What the film does have going for it is the production design and sets, which were nominated for an Academy Award. Yes, the backgrounds often resemble the matte paintings that they are, but they still display a degree of creativity and invention that is sorely lacking elsewhere. Having said that, it’s painfully obvious that most of the time we’re in the studio, rather than the great outdoors. The SFX are a seriously mixed bag by today’s standards, although things have moved on a bit since Vincent Price took to the skies in his giant airship in ‘Master of the World’ (1961).

Island At The Top Of The World (1974)

‘I wondered why this budget airlines were so cheap…’

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect is the Vikings themselves. They do little but throw a few spears and scowl, and there is little interaction between our heroes and the villainous old priest. Instead of speaking Old Norse, they converse in a variety of Scandinavian languages, depending on where the individual actors came from!

Even worse, this involves endless translating of what they say, which really bogs the film down in the middle third. Ok, it would have required a major suspension of disbelief to accept them all speaking English, but it would probably have been preferable in terms of pacing and entertainment value.

The film was based on a novel by James Vance Marshall (writing as Ian Cameron) called ‘The Lost Ones’ but the action was switched from modern times to Victorian, and the mode of the expedition’s transportation from helicopter to dirigible. The reason is pretty obvious; after big box office success with ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ (1954) and ‘In Search of the Castaways’ (1962), Disney were going for that ‘Jules Verne‘ vibe again. The screenplay was actually the last by veteran scribe John Whedon, whose grandson Josh reached a marginally higher level of notoriety with his work on TV’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and Marvel’s ‘Avengers’ franchise.

A sequel was planned, but rapidly abandoned after the poor box office returns of this effort. However, a replica of the airship is on display at Disneyland Paris so it wasn’t a complete washout.

Completely disposable, but an adequate time passer if you’re in the mood.

Menace From Outer Space (1956)

Menace From Outer Space (1956)‘My gosh, it would be a dirty trick if my comet landed on top of us.’

What appears to be a rogue meteorite falling to Earth turns out to be a rocket sent from a civilisation on one of Jupiter’s moons. The United Worlds of the Solar System send top space ranger Rocky Jones and his crew to investigate, but when they arrive they find a renegade Earth scientist who is up to no good…

Yes, we’re back in the cardboard world of mid-1950’s American TV with three early episodes of syndicated series ‘Rocky Jones, Space Ranger’ combined into a full-length feature. The programme ran for two seasons with 39 episodes in total and was just about as ‘apple pie’ as only a show from that era can be. Rocky is played by hunky Richard Crane with a twinkle in one eye and a ready flash of his pearly whites. His crew consists of ‘wacky’ sidekick Winky (Scotty Beckett), token ‘girl’ Vena (Sally Mansfield), old scientist Professor Newton (Maurice Cass) and annoying moppet Bobby (Robert Lyden).

This time around they’re off to Fornax (one of the lesser known of Jupiter’s moons) where leader Zoravac (Walter Coy) is preparing to wage war on Earth at the prompting of rogue scientist Professor Cardos (Nestor Paiva). He’s been filling Cory’s head with all sorts of nonsense about Earthmen but one grin from Rocky and the king realises the error of his ways. Paiva then attempts to align with galactic villainess Cleolanta (Patsy Parsons) but how can they possibly prevail against Rocky and his brave crew?

Almost inevitably, to a modern audience, these ‘features’ are far more a reflection of their times than actual entertainment. Unfortunately, this has fewer points of interest than most of the ‘Rocky Jones’ entries. Yes, there is actual location filming (almost five minutes’ worth!) which is a bit of a shock to the system, but elsewhere it’s the usual static, relentlessly talkie drama in poorly dressed, interchangeable sets. The gloriously wicked Parsons only gets one scene (booo!), and Vena is also mostly side-lined, which means there’s little opportunity for Rocky’s usual brand of hilarious sexism.

Menace From Outer Space (1956)

‘If you want, I can show you some other designs’.

Having said that, gravity on Fornax is twice that on Earth and, although it doesn’t seem to affect the crew in any way (other than getting a bit tired), it does allow our square-jawed hero to make some witty comments about Vena’s sudden weight gain. Pleasingly, she’s completely confused by the whole concept. Women, eh? On the bright side, she does get a new dress on Fornax, which makes her look like she’s auditioning for a low-budget movie opposite Sinbad the Sailor.

Some of the technology is impressive, though: the Visiograph allows our hero to watch scenes happening elsewhere in the imperial palace (and I thought it was just for communications), and there are some lovely comfy chairs and seat belts to counteract the G-forces during blast off. There’s also a fair amount of rather silly technobabble and, combined with the fact that Rocky works for the United Worlds of the Solar System, leads us to one inevitable conclusion. This show was the inspiration for ‘Star Trek’!

A couple of casting changes were forced on the show at the end of the first season. Cass died of a heart attack and was replaced by Reginald Sheffield as Professor Mayberry. Beckett, once a child star, had a reputation as a serious drinker and a gambler who refused to pay his debts. Given that Mansfield had a ‘morality’ clause that didn’t allow her to get pregnant (weren’t the 1950s an enlightened time?!), it’s no surprise that Beckett soon got his marching orders. Various run-ins with Johnny Law followed, including fraud, carrying a concealed weapon, drunkenness, drink driving, possession of controlled substances, drug smuggling, and shooting it out with the Mexican police. He died in 1968 after being severely beaten, although it’s unclear whether that caused his death or it came from a suicide cocktail of drink and pills. He was only 38 years old.

One of the duller entries in the ‘Rocky Jones’ universe, which ticks all the expected boxes. And that can’t be a good thing.

Bloodthirsty Butchers (1970)

Bloodthirsty Butchers (1970)‘Did you know that Mary Ann’s mother has an incurable disease?’

Barber Sweeney Todd specialises in providing close shaves for patrons with money and little chance of being missed. The corpses go to local baker, Mrs Lovett, who makes them into pies, which are popular with the unknowing locals. But their business arrangements come under threat when Sweeney’s drunken wife becomes suspicious of his relationship with a young singer…

Andy Milligan was a notorious low-budget filmmaker, famous (in his fashion) for hopelessly amateurish productions, usually shot in New York or on Staten Island. The horror film was his preferred playground, and a trunk of tatty, old theatrical costumes meant a Victorian period setting was almost inevitable for all of his films. So, the fictional story of the demon barber of Fleet Street was a perfect fit for him and the result was this film, which was one of five he released in 1970.

Milligan’s take on the old ‘penny dreadful’ (first published in 1846) differs in a few ways from other cinematic versions, mainly due to his limited budget. Rather than have Todd (John Miranda) pull a lever to send his victims to the basement, which connects with the pie shop of Mrs Lovett (Jane Hilary), he simply polishes them off in the barber’s chair instead, closing the curtains first to guarantee that no one accidentally walks in on his bloody deeds. Lovett’s establishment now includes an invalid husband (Jonathan Holt), a sinister assistant (Berwick Kaler) and a pretty young shop girl (Annabella Wood) who’s too busy thinking about her sailor boyfriend (Michael Cox) to worry that clumps of hair (and other body parts) are turning up in customer’s groceries.

All in all, it’s not a hopeless setup, but what distinguishes the film is the sheer incompetence of Milligan’s direction, and the complete absence of any production budget. For a start, Milligan chooses to frame his shots in awkward, partial close-ups with the cast sometimes so close to the camera lens that they throw shadows across it! Editing within scenes is also hopelessly clumsy, although its obvious some of the cuts are necessary to hide the non-existent gore effects. Camera movement is often a little odd too, as if shaking the camera so much is actually the result of some kind of nervous medical condition. There’s no lighting so some scenes are played in semi-darkness and the sound is simply what was recorded at the time of filming. Music is obviously sourced from a library, but there are some bizarre choices with ‘renaissance fair’ strains playing almost throughout (l thought this was supposed to be Victorian London, not King Arthur’s Camelot).

Bloodthirsty Butchers (1970)

Roger McGuinn’s solo career hadn’t really worked out since he left The Byrds.

Leaving aside the dreadful technical deficiencies, you would be forgiven for expecting an appalling collection of cod English accents, but actually most of the performers were British, and they are a good deal more naturalistic than Milligan’s usual players. It appears that some of the film was actually shot in London, something shared by several other of Milligan’s projects of the time. I would initially be a little sceptical about that, of course, but the presence of actors from this side of the pond seems to bear it out.

The dual locations may also go to explain some of the eccentric framing and shot selection; perhaps certain of the dialogue exchanges were actually pick-up material filmed back in New York and Milligan had to mask the fact that it didn’t match the original settings. Or perhaps I am giving him too much credit.

Most of the cast did get other acting work (for a change) and native New Yorker Marina probably reached the peak of his career with his role as ’2nd Garbageman’ in ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’ (1986). Others, like Todd’s wife Linda Driver and lover Susan Cassidy never acted outside a Milligan project, which is perhaps just as well.

This is a truly woeful effort, which it’s even difficult to enjoy on a ‘so bad, it’s good’ level. The pacing is completely random, and the dreary script often seems merely to consist of characters endlessly whining and then choosing to solve all their domestic difficulties with a meat cleaver.

Like one of Mrs Lovett’s pies, it’s a bit hard to stomach.

Outer Touch/Spaced Out (1979)

Outer Touch/Spaced Out (1979)‘The ones with the flat chests have these strange appendages…’

Three alien women are forced to land on Earth due to their malfunctioning spaceship. They kidnap the four individuals who witness their landing and take them into space. Complications arise when it turns out that three of them are men, a species with which the aliens are unfamiliar…

Lame British Science Fiction sex comedy from low-budget director Norman J Warren, whose next foray into outer space turned out to be the somewhat infamous ‘lnseminoid’/’Horror Planet’ (1981). Luckily, we’re spared any gory alien glove puppets here, our extra-terrestrials coming in the much more acceptable form of leather clad Skipper (Kate Ferguson), pretty navigator Cosia (Glory Annen) and quirky engineer Partha (Ava Cadell). They’ve been running freight across the galaxy but have come a cropper, due to Cadell’s rather cavalier attitude towards repair and maintenance. Meanwhile bespectacled square Oliver (Barry Stokes) is trying hard to get it on with whiny fiancée Prudence (Lynne Ross), but she’s more interested in carpet samples and wallpaper patterns. Along with these two live wires, our sexy space aliens hoover up Jack-the-Lad dog walker Cliff (Michael Rowlett) and seven stone weakling Willy (Tony Maiden). lnevitably, hilarity and hi-jinks follow.

Except they don’t. The main thrust (ooo-err) of the plot finds the space babes carrying out in-depth biological investigations (ooo-err again) into these strange, flat-chested beings they’ve acquired and, yes, of course that means sex. In typical repressed British fashion, none of the action is strong enough to take the film into porno territory, proceedings being just slightly naughtier than the later ‘Carry On’ films, with a bit more nudity of the bare breasted variety. Indeed, the film has little else to offer than that, with predictable one-note characters, a joke free script and cheap sets that look like they’ve been rejected by the local school disco and were probably left over from another film anyway. Sure, it’s not as big a disaster as ‘Zeta One’ (1969), the UK’s previous stab at the genre, but it’s simply stuck on the launching pad with little more than the basic technical expertise to get the film in the can.

The cast deserve some credit for putting in a brave innings, but fame and fortune in the thespian arena was not forthcoming. This is Rowlett’s only film credit and Maiden appeared just once more, eventually jumping from a tall building to his death in 2004. Stokes and Annen, who both appeared in Warren’s earlier science fiction project ‘Prey’ (1977) and give the strongest performances here, carried on for a few years before quitting in the mid-1980s. Ferguson’s career followed a very similar trajectory. The one exception to this roster of disappointment is Cadell, but her path to fame and fortune was not as an actor. Appropriately enough, she became a Hollywood sex therapist, going on to found the Lovelogy University and make numerous appearances on U.S. Network Television.

Outer Touch/Spaced Out (1979)

‘It’s not what you think, I buy it for the Sports coverage…’

One curious aspect of this enterprise is the SFX. The spaceship model shots look like they were produced on ten times the budget of the rest of the project put together. Which obviously means they’re from a different source entirely. Commentators have speculated that these are leftovers from Gerry Anderson’s ‘Space: 1999’ TV show and that may well be the case, but I’m inclined to believe they may originate from another Anderson project.

After the first series of those TV adventures had wrapped, Anderson launched a pilot for another show, presumably in case the former was not renewed. ‘Into Infinity’ (aka ‘Day After Tomorrow’) (1975) featured Nick Tate (Eagle Pilot Alan Carter from ‘Space: 1999’) taking his wife and kids on an interstellar mission on the orders of Brian Blessed, who had also dropped into Moonbase Alpha for tea and biscuits on one occasion. Now I could be wrong, because it’s been a few decades(!), but the space babes transportation looks a lot like Tate’s family vehicle to me.

A very cheap and cheerful UK sex comedy that doesn’t raise many laughs but may have raised something else with a certain demographic.