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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Atomic Rulers/Atomic Rulers of the World (1964)

Atomic Rulers of the World (1964)‘Starman, you should never have interfered with us. But you did. lt’s a shame. Because you will die. I’m going to throw this nuclear bomb in there with you.’

The Emerald Men of the Emerald Planet are concerned that nuclear testing on Earth is poisoning the galaxy. When the rogue nation of Magolia begins scheming to bring about a third World War, they send Starman to retrieve their doomsday device and put an end to their nonsense.

‘Supa Jaiantsu’ (aka ‘Supergiant’) was a series of nine children’s movies made in Japan in 1957 starring Ken Utsui. These were obviously inspired by the U.S. movie serials of the 1930s and 1940s, except these were shown in sets of two 40-50 minute episodes; in effect a film chopped in half. Medallion films and Walter Manley productions picked these up for stateside distribution, cutting the stories into 75 minute movies and releasing them with titles such as ‘Invaders From Space’ (1965), ‘Attack From Space’ (1965) and ‘The Evil Brain From Outer Space’ (1965).

This was the first of the films and it opens on the Emerald Planet where various robots, apparently cobbled together from household appliances, discuss what to do about the hoo-man problem, whilst a ringed planet sways gently in the background. (Obviously, that’s a visual anomaly caused by atmospheric conditions, rather than a cardboard planet on strings). Starman gets the gig, and heads Earthside, along with his Globe-Meter, which is obviously disguised as a wrist watch to help him blend in. What are his special powers? Well, he can fly, has super strength, can detect nuclear radiation and has a silly, white costume with a cape. So, not a bit like Superman, then.

The main mechanics of the plot revolve around a mysterious briefcase which everyone is after. Why? Apparently, it contains the Magolian’s nuclear device! During the course of events, it passes through the hands of various Magolian agents (most of them played by Western actors), and some pesky kids from the local orphanage. Of course, one of these brats gets himself kidnapped, and, once Starman’s rescued him, it’s the pretty nun who runs the children’s home who finds herself in the enemy’s clutches. So it’s off to the secret island base for the final showdown, via some wobbly model work and less than convincing flying sequences.

Atomic Rulers of the World (1964)

🎵’Ah! Ah! Ah! Staying’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive!’🎶

This was cut down from the two longest original films so there are noticeable narrative gaps, as more than 20 minutes of original footage is missing. But never fear, our old friend Voiceover Man is here, filling in the holes with his usual stentorian tones, convincing us just how damned important the whole thing is. Unfortunately, this is rather a dull experience, with enjoyment limited to the energetic fisticuffs, dodgy wire work and Starman leaping great heights as the film runs backwards.

Despite the overall lack of quality on display, it is necessary to bear in mind that this was designed as children’s entertainment, the Japanese equivalent of the Saturday Morning Matinee, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Utsui certainly didn’t see the joke, however. He was a serious dramatic actor in Japan and despised the role, the silly costume in particular, and refused to discuss it in interviews until the day that he died.

Undemanding, knockabout antics that often drag but provide some level of entertainment.

Flashman (1967)

Flashman (1967)‘I’m afraid you’re wasting your bullets. They only tickle.’

Thieves murder a professor for his invisibility formula and use it to help them rob a bank. Unfortunately, a lot of their ill-gotten gains had already been replaced with counterfeit notes by a gang of beautiful women and, worse still, the chief teller is actually crime fighter Flashman in disguise.

Painfully uninspired cross between a caper movie and a superhero flick, which struggles throughout to find a focus for its rambling storyline. ls it Paolo Gozlino’s ‘Flashman’, a hero with a silly costume and not much else? ls it Claudie Lange’s girl gang, who cosy up to bank staff at work and swap out real currency with funny money right under their noses? Or is it lvano Staccioli’s cigarette floating in mid-air and chair cushions sinking under his invisible arse? Well, it’s all of these things, and none at all, really.

We open with a swinging montage of bright, primary colours and the camera zooming crazily in and out on tinted stills from the film. Girlie singers sing the name of the movie. Yeah, it’s the Sixties, baby! This Italian movie tries desperately to mine that ‘anything goes’ vibe but fails miserably to capture the spirit of the age with a pedestrian, laboured script which is little more than a scribble on a table napkin.

Our main man is Lord Burman, working undercover in his own bank to foil the counterfeiting ring, and then getting the blame for the more direct methods of the invisible bank robber and his pals. A quick exit is necessary through a convenient window, which leaves the guards flummoxed as he simply disappears! l guess it’s because he has a silly costume back in his closet at home. Also along for the ride is sister sidekick Ann Marie Williams, who contributes a series of silly outfits, outlandish makeup and little else. Flashman’s main squeeze is Micaela Pignatelli (from ‘Goldface, The Fantastic Superman’ (1967)!!), who ends up tied to the train tracks to the accompaniment of tiresome ‘comedy’ music (note the inverted commas).

Flashman (1967)

‘Something for the weekend, sir?’

No, the film doesn’t take itself very seriously, which is a bonus, so there is a fair bit of knock about humour, usually at the expense of ‘the man’, in the form of Police Inspector Baxter (Jack Ary). Sadly, it lacks, wit, style and any kind of madcap sensibility that might have provided some entertainment value. Instead, we have a succession of lifeless developments that really go nowhere, and painfully obvious pratfalls. ln the end, the film simply disintegrates into an extended climactic, chase sequence, which sorely tries the patience.

The only notable creative touch comes from director Ernesto Gastaldi, who sometimes favours close-ups so huge that we can only see part of the actor’s faces. But I guess we have to be kind and assume that it’s some kind of aspect ratio issue, rather than a testament to the amount of strange substances consumed on set.

Enough material for an unfunny comedy sketch does not make for a good film.

Valley of the Dragons/Prehistoric Valley (1961)

Valley of the Dragons (1961)‘The whole thing fairly boggles the mind.’

An Irishman and a Frenchman meet to fight a duel, but are interrupted when a comet strikes the Earth and sweeps them away into space. Deciding to work together to survive, they are staggered to find they now live on a prehistoric world…

Dreary B-Picture from writer-director Edward Bernds that bares a far closer resemblance to ‘The Lost World’ of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle than the Jules Verne novel ‘Off On A Comet’ on which it is allegedly based. Sadly, all the usual cliches are present and correct, including desperately unconvincing studio sets, monster stock footage and cave girls with perfect hair and teeth. Considering the brief 82 minute running time, the story drags from one padded scene to the next, providing no sparks of interest or creativity.

Our feuding heroes are Cesare Danova and Sean McClory, who are about to try and shoot each other over a woman when the world is hit by a large firework. Waking up after it’s all over, they find themselves in a strange world filled with potted plants and cardboard caves. A trip into the tunnels finds Danova attacked by a giant plastic spider, which looks remarkably similar to the prop featured in ‘World Without End’ (1956) which was also directed by the prolific Bernds. McClory saves the day and the two decide to forget their differences and team up. Later they are separated, but Danova ends up pitching woo with blonde cave girl Joan Staley from one tribe, and McClory makes goo-goo eyes with brunette Danielle De Metz from their hated rivals.

It’s fortunate for everyone that evolution has stopped on this comet, which is perfectly plausible if you examine the science (citation needed). This allows for an appearance by our old friends the fighting lizards from ‘One Million B.C.’ (1940); still going strong after over twenty years in the business, although forever typecast in monster roles. Their presence means that of course we get the smoking volcano which erupts barely a minute after making its initial appearance around the hour mark.

This is pedestrian stuff at best, which also throws in some brief footage of Japanese prehistoric bird ‘Rodan’ (1957), as well as Staley frolicking with Danova underwater in an animal skin bikini. The Italian leading man hit the big time within a couple of years, landing a major role in notorious Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor epic ‘Cleopatra’ (1963) and his subsequent career also included a role in Scorsese’s ‘Mean Streets’ (1973). After that, he made guest star appearances on countless US Network TV shows, such as ‘Cannon’, ‘Charlie’s Angels’, ‘The Love Boat’, ‘Gemini Man’, ‘Hart to Hart’ and ‘Fantasy Island.’ McClory fared less well but did appear in director John Huston’s final film ‘The Dead’ (1987).

Valley of the Dragons (1961)

‘Why do you suppose we never get to do comedy?’

Bernds was a journeyman director on the lower rungs of the Hollywood ladder and was responsible for over a hundred pictures. This included camp classic ‘Queen of Outer Space’ (1958) with Zsa Zsa Gabor, which he refused to watch in subsequent years because it reminded him of working with the actress. There was also ‘The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters’ (1954), the halfway decent ‘World Without End’ (1956) and horror sequel ‘The Return of the Fly’ (1959) which also featured the lovely De Metz.

Amazingly, Bernds was actually nominated for an Oscar for his 1955 comedy ‘High Society’ (1955)! Unfortunately, the Academy had meant to honour the Bing Crosby-Grace Kelly musical of the same name!

No chance of this ‘epic’ winning any awards…

The Devil’s Man/Devilman Story (1967)

The Devil's Man/Devilman Story (1967)‘You are only as beautiful as I am ugly. Señorita, you want some chestnuts?’

A brilliant brain surgeon is kidnapped shortly after he arrives in Rome with his daughter. An American journalist agrees to work with her to track him down, but their investigations lead them into danger in the uncharted African desert.

It’s always a little tricky evaluating films made on foreign shores (Italy, in this case) that have been ‘adapted’ for release in US and UK markets. This one was quite probably pretty bad in the first place, but the attentions of an ‘overenthusiastic’ editor certainly don’t do it any favours, and leave us drowning in a sea of incoherence. The picture opens with a very brief pre-credit sequence of a man escaping from some kind of secret base guarded by desert tribesman. He isn’t properly introduced, and never appears again, although we do find out who he was supposed to be. But that’s an ongoing problem here; character identities are never probably established, and several of them don’t even get names, despite featuring quite prominently.

There is also some confusion as to the featured cast. According to the imdb, our brain surgeon is played by Giovanni Cianfriglia who, as Ken Wood, appeared as masked crimefighter Superargo in a couple of films around the same time. Cianfriglia filled out that superhero suit quite impressively with his athletic physique and muscular development. He was most definitely not a small, grey haired man approaching his sixties! Simiarly, imdb credits Euro-babe Diana Lorys as ‘Yasmin’ but, unless our friend with the ready scissors excised her role completely, she doesn’t appear either. So what gives? Well, it appears that the problem’s arisen because this film shares a lot of the same players as ‘Superargo and the Faceless Giants’ (1968). Both movies star Guy Madison (more familiar from US Westerns!), heroine Luisa Baratto and suppprting actor Valentino Macchi. Also both were directed by Paolo Bianchini (Paul Maxwell for US audiences). So, Cianfraglia and Lorys, who appeared in the ‘Superargo’ film, have ended up credited here as well.

Back at the story, once the opening credits have rolled, we join Professor Whatsisname (played by someone or other) and daughter Baratto (Liz Barrett for US audiences) as they disembark at Rome’s main airport. It’s a strange sequence. The Professor checks in with a passport that looks like a comic book, people wander aimlessly about the terminal for five minutes, a lounge lizard croons on the soundtrack and the camera tilts at some truly alarming ‘dutch’ angles. I guess it was supposed to be ‘style’ but it looks more like the camera operator had a few too many at lunchtime. There’s no other sequence quite like it in the film.

Once they’ve arrived at the hotel, the Prof is off for some scientific meeting, leaving Baratto to wander aimlessly about the streets of Rome for five minutes, being offered chestnuts by some ugly bloke and such like total irrelevancies. Eventually, she goes to see her father and finds him gone and his colleague murdered. Up pops reporter Guy Madison who stops her calling the police (they never get called) and persuades her to investigate her father’s disappearance with him as he’s found clues in the lab referring to ‘Dorothy’ and the initials ‘K.B.’ She goes along with this, despite never having met him before or knowing who he is. They catch a taxi outside, which he stops suddenly a few minutes later so he can go and meet ‘Dorothy’ on a bridge. She’s just there. Somehow. She doesn’t know ‘K.B.’ but the initials are on her key ring! Cut to Madison talking with some bloke. We gather this is supposed to be ‘K.B.’ He never appears in the film again. Neither does Dorothy. Who were they exactly again? Now, all this total incoherence begs an obvious question. If you have to edit a film down to 82 minutes from a longer cut, why would you reatin the lengthy scenes at the airport and Barrato being offered chestnuts and instead bin vital exposition scenes that might actually have helped the plot make some kind of sense? It’s a mystery that will probably never been solved.

The Devil's Man/Devilman Story (1967)

‘Didn’t you think I was good as Superargo?’

Anyway, the trail leads to the African desert, where they have absolutely no trouble in getting a line on this ‘secret base’ and the ‘Devil Man’ who rules the local region. On the way they are suddenly attacked by a huge tribe of desert nomads who look like they’ve arrived from another movie entirely and, given that less than a half a dozen share the frame with our heroic couple, they probably have.

Then it’s off to the base where our ‘Phantom of the Opera’ villain has recruited the Prof to help transfer an electronic brain into his head (or something like that). On his staff is veteran Italian character actor Luciano Pigozzi, who is always good value, and is fondly remembered from other such ‘guilty pleasures’ as ‘Lycanthropus (Werewolf In A Girls’ Dormitory’) (1961) and ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983). Anyway, Madison throws punches at guards, fires a gun, the desert tribesmen attack (at least I think it’s them, it’s all a bit dark!), and everything blows up. In fact, it all blows up so violently that either the SFX team had some dynamite they had to use up or explosion footage from other films was on sale that week (probably the latter).

This was probably not a good film in any version, but the US cut is quite the trainwreck. Highly recommended.

Zeta One (1969)

Zeta One (1969)‘lt’s a simple enough process, though I doubt if I could explain it to you.’

A secret agent recounts the story of his latest mission; an adventure involving an alien queen, her hypnotised army of kidnapped Earth women and a sinister aristocrat who has vowed to defeat them by any means necessary.

Terrible British science fiction sex comedy from Tigon Studios starring James Robertson Justice, Charles Hawtrey and Robin Hawdon. The latter is special agent James Word (l suppose his word is his Bond, or something?) who, returning home, unexpectedly finds a sexy blonde (Yutte Stensgarrd) in his apartment. Rather than being in the shower (as per usual with spy flicks from the 1960s) she’s in the kitchen instead; tidying up and cooking coq-au-vin (yes, there are some jokes about that). She’s only too ready to fall for his charms, of course, but seems more interested in hearing about his latest escapade than getting between the sheets. Both things happen (after an interminable game of strip poker), and most of the rest of the film is made up of this extended flashback. Anyone familiar with bad movies will be hearing alarm bells ringing already. The scene lasts almost 20 minutes; a fifth of the films entire running time!

Yes, what we have here is obviously a ‘troubled’ production. The history of it may be lost but it’s easy to take a guess at what probably happened. About 50 minutes of footage was shot with the main cast and then the money ran out. Our alien queen is Zeta (Dawn Addams) who is seen only in her retro-headquarters interacting with some of her minions and the kidnapped Wendy Lingham. Adams is from the planet Angiva which (in case you hadn’t noticed) is an anagram of ‘Vagina’. Robertson-Justice and Hawtrey are seen mostly in a manor house and the surrounding grounds and, although both have a scene with Lingham, they never meet with Addams. Hawdon only interacts with Stensgaard and another blonde, Anna Gaël, who plays one of Zeta’s agents. Gaël does have a scene with Robertson-Justice and Hawtrey but they never actually share the frame. It’s patchwork filmmaking at its finest, courtesy of producer Tony Tenser and director Michael Cort.

Not surprisingly, the film can’t overcome these difficulties and, even if it had been completed as intended, it’s hard to believe it would have been anything but dreadful. The humour is inane, the script weak and, although the presence of lots of bare-breasted lovelies may have attracted a certain crowd, it’s not one noted for its love of quality filmmaking. Tenser and the Tigon Studio had enjoyed commercial and critical success with the brilliant ‘Witchfinder General’ (1968) starring Vincent Price, and went onto the highly regarded rural horror ‘Blood On Satan’s Claw’ (1970). It’s unclear if the success of that first film convinced Addams and Robertson-Justice to get involved here. It may have been that their footage was actually older, and that it was a couple of years before Hawdon, Stensgaard and Gael were brought on board to bring things up to (barely) feature length.

Zeta One (1969)

‘You mean, there’s actually a script?!’

What we do know is that Robertson-Justice was ‘deeply ashamed’ of appearing in this production, although whether it was the large amount of nakedness on display or the quality of the film that bothered him is unrecorded. Hawtrey, who has almost nothing to do, had previous in the British science fiction arena with his appearance in hilariously inept ‘The Terrornauts’ (1967) and quickly returned to the ‘Carry On’ series after this.

Stensgaard and the statuesque Valerie Leon went onto be Hammer heroines in ‘Lust For A Vampire’ (1971) and ‘Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb’ (1971) respectively. The only thing of note in this film is the appearance of a bad-tempered elevator, whose vocal complaints might be said (at a stretch) to foreshadow the talking appliances of ‘The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’, among many others.

If you think this film might be good for a bit of harmless titillation (a-ha ha ha!), then you can pretty much forget it. The only stiffness you’ll get from this is the kind that comes with boredom. But that’s enough bad puns about sex. If you want to know why the British film industry fell into the doldrums in the 1970s then you’d be hard pressed to find a better answer than this.

How To Make A Doll (1968)

How To Make A Doll (1968)‘All my life I wished l could have a bunny of my own. Even a stuffed one became important.’

A nerdy college professor has spent his whole life with his head buried in books and taken no interest in women. When he decides to get involved, he has no appropriate social skills, and is forced to team up with an old research scientist to create robots to satisfy his dating needs. But the experiment is too successful and he gets more than he bargained for!

Science Fiction sex comedy from cult director Herschell Gordon Lewis! Yes, the king of splatter takes a break from disembowelling and dismemberment to try his hand at this lightweight soufflé of blondes, slapstick and general buffoonery. He was never happy with the finished product, blaming the lack of budget, but he really should have been pointing the finger at the laugh-free script and a story so slight it almost disappears entirely. Unfortunately, it hangs around for 80 minutes instead.

Our hero is Robert Wood, an actor with only one other credit; Lewis’ excruciating biker flick ‘She-Devils On Wheels’ (1968). He mugs shamelessly as the naive academic, delivering a performance lurching wildly between overdone social awkwardness and overdone lechery. His partner in crime is mechanical genius Jim Vance, who, rather than stick around to enjoy the ample charms of the half dozen girls created by his machine, prefers to merge with his computer instead (shades of Johnny Depp in ‘Transcendence’ (2015)!) and live vicariously through Wood’s memories which he downloads every night via a hairdryer contraption.

How To Make A Doll (1968)

Scientific research could be very tiring.

Not surprisingly, this is all pretty sexist stuff. The robot women step out of the machine already dressed in bikinis, and have no personalities at all. ‘Real’ heroine Bobbi West is little better, even if she is required to actually deliver the odd line of dialogue. I know this is a lightweight piece of fluff filmed almost half a century ago, but it was the late 1960s, a time of radical attitudes and forward thinking. Little of that on display here.

A lot worse than the dodgy views on gender, is the sheer boredom of the piece. The sound mix is so atrocious that it’s pretty obvious there was no budget for looping dialogue in post-production, and most of the action is confined to one, almost empty set. The acting is terrible across the board with Wood narrowly winning the contest for the most aggravating performance. The humour is dreadfully laboured with Vance’s machine producing an endless series of ‘wacky’ noises in lieu of any actual jokes or humorous developments. It all makes for a truly painful audience experience, likely to induce comas or serious medical complications even in the hardiest of bad movie fans.

If you’re a Lewis completist, then, of course, you’ll have to track this down and watch it. If you do, let me know and I will pray for you.

Quite frankly, one of the worst films I have ever seen.