Fantomas/Fantômas (1964)

Fantomas (1964)Men Hunt Him Down…Women Look Him up!’

A tremendous jewel robbery is carried out by a thief disguised as a member of the English aristocracy. The press put the blame on a mysterious criminal named Fantômas gets a scoop by creating a fictional interview with the villain, but the real Fantômas is not impressed by his article…

The character of super villain and master of disguise, Fantômas was brought to life in a series of books by French authors Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain in 1911. Their work was such a runaway success that a series of five silent films followed, and there would probably have been more if not for the outbreak of the First World War. Amazingly, Gaumont Studios still held the rights to the character over half a century later and launched a new trilogy of films, bringing him firmly into the swinging 60s, via a technicolor world of secret agents, gadgets and beautiful girls.

Jean Marias is Fandor, an investigative journalist who senses a career opportunity when news of the jewel robbery breaks and Police Commissioner Juve (Louis de Funes) goes on TV to rubbish the notion of a master thief in their midst. With help from his photographer girlfriend Héléne (Mylene Demongeot), Marias creates some ‘fake news’ that gets the whole town talking and the real Fantômas (Marias, again) rather ticked off. It’s not long before the reporter finds himself in the villain’s hi-tech, underground lair with Demongeot trapped in a weird, trippy room next door that seems to be half real and half illusion.

At this point, it looks like we’re in for a real treat. Marias looks great as Fantômas in a bald, smooth-faced mask with devil ears, and his entry is accompanied by a little Lon Chaney on the pipe organ. The actor also creates a genuinely unsettling presence, hinting at his less than honourable intentions towards Demongeot with delicious glee. Unfortunately, the reporter manages to flag this up with jealous Lady Beltham (Marie-Hélene Arnaud), and she arranges for our heroic couple to escape. The character of Lady Beltham as the lover and partner in crime of Fantômas was integral to the novels but it’s peripheral here, and she never appears in the trilogy again. It may have been that there was an intention to develop a relationship between Fantômas and the Demongeot character, but, if so, it was never pursued.

But, more importantly, this is the moment where the film begins to slide seriously downhill. Within a short time, Fantômas is on the run and being pursued by Marias (as Fandor) and Demongeot, as well as de Funes and the forces of law and order. ln his flight, he utilises five different types of transport, which is a neat idea, but the chase is shot without any real dynamism or invention and soon begins to drag. As the film closes in on a finish, we realise that there is simply no story left and the audience is thrown back on the comic mugging of de Funes and some underwhelming action. Although it does have to be acknowledged that Marias obviously did his own stunts, including a leap from a moving train, which looks a fair way beyond the call of duty. The problem is that no real momentum is built, and the climax is almost non-existent.

It’s appropriate for the era when the film was made that director André Hunebelle ditches the serious approach of the character’s early days and aims for a more light-hearted, freewheeling approach, and it’s not the worst artistic decision ever made. However, it has done much to encourage the trilogy’s somewhat mixed reputation. This film does hit a fair balance between humour and action, but more of the latter would certainly have helped. Marias is excellent in both roles and it’s an interesting casting decision, perhaps prompted by the fact that the character’s true identity is never really established in the source material.

A decent slice of 1960s fun that runs out of steam around the end of the second act and never recovers. Marias is very good, but you just can’t help wishing he was in a much better film.

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Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)‘Thinking of taking another nap in the radar box, Droppo?’

The children of the planet Mars have forgotten how to have fun and spend too much time watching TV broadcasts from Earth. The Martian King decides to kidnap Santa Claus to remedy the problem, but a renegade official disagrees with the plan…

Dreadful Yuletide science fiction comedy, which has gained a significant cult following in recent years, in part due to that amazing title, but mostly because of its staggering banality. Yes, it is a children’s film and yes, it was made on a very low budget, but those facts do little to excuse the finished product.

The story follows Bomar and Girmar (‘Boy Martian’ and ‘Girl Martian’) played by Charles Month and an 8-year old Pia Zadora.  They are binge-watching Earth TV, specifically an interview with Santa (John Call) from the North Pole. They are so invested, in fact, that they no longer sleep or eat properly, which concerns their father ‘King Martian’ Kimar (Leonard Hicks). This is actually a curious foreshadowing of society’s viewing habits today, but it’s the only thing remotely interesting in the vapid, lifeless script. After all, we’ve already sat through Zadora dragging her nails down the chalkboard with opening song ‘Hoo-ray For Sant-y Claus’…

Enlisting the help of Earth kids Billy and Betty (Victor Stiles and Donna Conforti), our naughty extra-terrestrials snatch Santa and get him back to Mars, successfully sidestepping Tom Cruise, H.G. Wells and NASA public relations staff. Once there, the big guy is tasked with turning out some toys and is given the dim, but well-meaning, Dropo (Bill McCutcheon) as his ‘comedy’ sidekick. All round bad egg Voldar (Vincent Beck) hasn’t got time for all this nonsense, though, and plans to sabotage the operation.

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)

Robby the Robot’s Ketamine habit had really taken its toll…

But Voldar’s up against it, folks! You see, just being in the presence of Santa makes everyone ridiculously happy! Even cardboard box robot Torg no longer follows orders. And the Martians are soon convulsed with hysterical laughter at the old man’s wit. ‘What’s soft and round and you put it on a stick and toast it in a fire…and it’s green?’ The answer? A Martian-Mallow. You can see why it’s hopeless to oppose him, can’t you?

There are several other ‘delights’ on offer too. A man dressed up as a polar bear. McCutcheon’s hilarious idiot schtick as the ‘lovable’ Dropo. The US Airforce scrambling fighter jets (and a bomber?) to intercept the Martian spacecraft via the reliable old medium of lots of stock footage. A po-faced newsreader providing completely pointless commentary. The first ever appearance of Mrs Claus (Doris Rich) as a character on film. Endless talky scenes that don’t advance the ‘plot’ a centimetre. Oh, yes, and McCutcheon’s a riot as the hapless Dropo…oh, I already mentioned that, didn’t I?

The young Zadora went onto some level of notoriety in the entertainment world, particularly in America. After marrying a millionaire businessman, she got her first big break as a model in a national advertising campaign in the late 1970s. Never mind that her husband held a significant financial interest in the product concerned. From there it was a short step to the magic of Hollywood but headlining her first grown-up film in a cast that included Orson Welles and Stacy Keach was not a move commensurate with her acting experience. Despite (somewhat controversially) winning a Golden Globe as best ‘New Star’ for ‘Butterfly’ (1982), her performance was universally critically panned. She earned two Razzie awards that year, and more such ‘acclaim’ followed for next project ‘The Lonely Lady’ (1983). The award for ‘Worst Actress of the Century’ came her way at  the Razzies in 2000.

Elsewhere, most of the cast were minor Broadway performers and only McCutcheon ever achieved any significant level of screen recognition, appearing as Uncle Wally in episodes of TV’s ‘Sesame Street’ between 1985 to 1998. Director Nicholas Webster made an ill-advised return to the red planet four years later with the excruciating ‘Mission Mars’ (1968), a film so unutterably tedious that it should come with a government health warning attached. However, his career took an upward swing in the 1970s with gigs directing episodes of TV shows like ‘Bonanza’ and ‘The Waltons’, and as occasional writer-producer and director of TV’s ‘In Search of…’ hosted by Leonard Nimoy. He followed up in the same vein with cryptid documentary ‘Manbeast! Myth or Monster?’ (1978).

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)

‘Can’t you get on with it? The Merseyside derby’s on the box in a minute…’

The nature of what’s on display, together with Zadora’s reputation has led to the film’s growing reputation as a cult classic in recent decades. A remake was even planned in 1998 with Jim Carrey as Dropo, but it never appeared. However, there were various theatrical adaptations in 1993, 2006 and 2011, and a satirical novelisation of the story appeared in 2005.

So, here’s the obvious question; is it ‘so bad, it’s good’? The answer? Not really, no. It’s just too boring. A dull and dreary slog through a quicksand of cheapness and infantile banality. There aren’t even any bizarre quirks to alleviate the sheer monotony.

Is it the worst film ever made about Mars? No, actually, I don’t think so. Director Webster’s own ‘Mission Mars’ (1968) is a whole different level of ghastly. And don’t even get me started on ‘The Wizard of Mars’ (1964)!

The Secret of The Telegian (1960)

The Secret of the Telegian (1960)‘Objects can be transmitted; sent through space, and all the world’s scientists firmly believe this is one of the greatest mysteries ever demonstrated by the advanced yogis in India.’

At the end of the Second World War, a small troop of Japanese soldiers are taking one of their top scientists to safety when they discover that he’s carrying a fortune in gold, as well as all his research materials. Not surprisingly, the boffin is never heard from again. Fifteen years later, the soldiers begin dying one by one…

Science-fiction murder-mystery that initially looks intriguing, before descending into a familiar, well-trodden formula. The action starts with a mysterious killing in the ‘cave of horrors’ at a low-rent amusement park. Witnesses seem confused by events, and the police aren’t much better off. Enter the local newspaper’s science correspondent Kôji Tsuruta, who teams up with policemen Yoshio Tsuchiya and Akihiko Hirata to try and crack the case. Tsuruta and Tsuchiya are old college buddies, which seems to give the journalist some kind of unofficial detective status, which turns out to be a good job, because….science!

Yes, our heroes go off to see old Professor Cliché to get the lowdown on the missing scientist and what he was working on. Turns out that it was matter transmission, which is all perfectly plausible ‘as space travel was thought improbable only a few years ago’ etc. etc. Although this old egghead does seem to believe that all the scientists in the world believe in telepathy, so he may not be the most reliable source of information. Anyway, Tsuruta is a bit distracted because he’s balancing his new police ‘duties’ with an awkward romance with pretty salesgirl Yumi Shirakawa. She works for a company that sell ‘cooling units’ and she’s had a visit from a very strange customer. Our intrepid hero suddenly realises that this is connected with the case, because…science!

From here, we’re treated to a mildly engaging mix of thrills and action, but with few surprises. Despite the central hook of murder using matter transmission, we’re firmly back in well-explored territory; specifically that of H G Wells’ Invisible Man. Only without the floating cigarette and the sinking seat cushions. He first arrived in Japanese cinema in ‘The Invisible Man Appears’ (1949), a film which is generally regarded as the nation’s first foray into science fiction. Similar projects played with the concept over the next decade, such as ‘Invisible Avenger’ (1954) and ‘Invisible Man Vs Human Fly’ (1957). However, this project returned to the concept’s roots; the madman using his unusual abilities  for criminal purposes. The drama is played completely straight, which is refreshing, but it’s not exactly original.

The Secret of the Telegian (1960)

HIs new tanning booth needed work…

The director was Jun Fukuda, cutting his teeth in the world of fantastical film before chumming up with our scaly old pal Godzilla in the 1960s and early 1970s. He was in the canvas seat for several of the Big G’s rumbles; including ‘Ebirah Terror of the Deep’ (Godzilla vs The Sea Monster) (1964), ‘Son of Godzilla’ (1967), ‘Godzilla vs Gaigan’ (1972) and ‘Godzilla vs Megalon’ (1973). He also delivered science fiction spies in ‘ESPY’ (1974) and worldwide apocalypse in ‘Virus’ (1979).

Several of the cast also had links to the giant lizard; Tsuchiya appeared in ‘lnvasion of the Astro-Monster/Monster X’ (1965), ‘Son of Godzilla’ (1967), ‘Destroy All Monsters’ (1968) and even ‘Godzilla vs King Ghidorah’ (1991) almost a quarter of a century later. Hirata was also a regular player, with roles in the original ‘Godzilla’ (1954), ‘Ghidorah, the 3-Headed Monster’ (1964) and several others in the series. Shirakawa, on the other hand, does seem to have avoided such shenanigans, instead going up against ‘The Mysterians’ (1967), another slice of everyday Japanese life from Toho Studios.

If this film has a problem, it’s that some things have been lost in translation. One of the main characters seems to have been brought back from the dead somehow (it’s never explained) and it looks like he hasn’t aged a day in 15 years. And what is a Telegian anyway? The English dialogue never even mentions the word, let alone explains it. I guess it’s supposed to be a term that describes the main villain and his special powers.

This isn’t a bad film. The SFX are dated in some aspects, and the story gives up its secrets too early, but it’s a decent way to spend 90 minutes if you’re not too critical.

On the other hand, does the smoking volcano always have to erupt at the end of the movie?

Mechte Nevstrechu/A Dream Come True (1963)

Mechte Nevstrechu/A Dream Come True (1963)‘Cosmonauts and dreamers say that apple trees will be in flower on Mars.’

The first manned mission to Mars is just weeks away when strange signals are received from the planet Centuria, promising first contact with an alien civilisation. A space craft is detected entering the galaxy, but then crashes on Mars. The scheduled exploration flight becomes a rescue mission…

Serious Science Fiction speculation from the Eastern Bloc is always welcome, although this intergalactic effort from directors Mikhail Karzhukov and Otar Koberidze (who also appears as Cosmonaut Batallo) is rather more undistinguished than most. The film opens with our old friend VoiceOver Man, who gives us the usual song and dance about the immensity of the universe over the usual models of planets and stars. Then we switch abruptly to footage of chiselled young men water-skiing, diving and yachting. It’s a strange and sudden shift, but VoiceOver Man is quick to explain. These are the pioneers of the new frontier; cosmonauts in training, who inhabit the special scientific community behind the Mars expedition.

We focus on dreamer Andrei (Boris Borisenko) and his true love Tanya (Larisa Gordeichik), who is impatient for him to show her his new invention; a tiny ‘crystalphone’ which he uses to broadcast a song to the universe. Never mind that it’s a terrible dirge, it catches the ear of alien woman Etanyia (T. Pochepa) on Centuria and prompts her to come visit (maybe she’s a fan of heroic Soviet vocalising!?) But her jaunt ends in disaster and, back on Earth, there’s a difference of opinion in how to deal with the situation. Crusty old Dr Laungton (Nitolay Volkov) is suspicious of the alien’s motives, and advocates a ‘hands off’ approach, but the younger Cosmonauts shout him down and Gordeichik and Borisenko become part of a rescue team, along with Koberidze and the humourless Commander (Petter Kard).

So we’re Mars-bound on spacecraft the ‘Ocean’ for a mission of mercy. And here’s where we encounter one of the film’s major flaws. We are given no backstory on any of our main characters and no effort is made to get us invested in them. Even the love story between Gordeichik and Borisenko is placed so completely in the background as to be invisible, although it does surface again in the film’s final minutes. As a result, the film lacks any dramatic tension, and becomes admirable only for its technical achievements. These include some interesting, if dated, production design and spacecraft miniatures and SFX which are very good for the era when the film was made.

Mechte Nevstrechu/A Dream Come True (1963)

The ‘Drive-In’ had made a triumphant comeback…

The film’s ending is also unfortunate. It uses footage we’ve seen earlier and could justifiably be described as rather a large cop-out. It’s a pity too, as Gordeichik begins to shine in the final act, providing some of the genuine human drama that has been lacking throughout. There’s also an awful lot of VoiceOver Man throughout the proceedings, and his role is part of the original release, rather than being added on with an English dub track by an interfering US distributor.

Given the expository commentary, the abrupt non-climax and a brief running time of 64 minutes, it’s tempting to classify this as an unfinished project, perhaps plagued by financial problems and stitched together as best as could be managed. If it were an American film, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest that, but I have no idea how films were funded in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. Although, even if the project were state supported, it’s unlikely that the filmmakers were given endless resources.

The SFX did make it to Western screens, being bought up by producer Roger Corman to feature heavily in ‘Queen of Blood’ (1966). This vampire/alien mash-up starred an elderly Basil Rathbone in one of his last roles, along with young guns John Saxon and Dennis Hopper! Karzhukov and Koberidze received a writing credit for the film, even though beyond the central concept of rescuing an alien woman from her disabled spaceship, the two stories have almost nothing in common. It wasn’t the first time that Corman had cannibalised Karzhukov’s work either, he’d put the SFX from ‘The Sky Calls’ (1958) front and centre in patchwork job ‘Battle Beyond The Sun’ (1960), an early directorial credit for Francis Ford Coppola.

A disappointing effort. It has decent SFX, but little else to engage an audience.

Santo El Enmascarado De Plata Vs. ‘La lnvasion De Los Marcianos’/ Santo Vs The Martians (1967)

Santo El Enmascarado De Plata Vs. ‘La lnvasion De Los Marcianos_: Santo Vs The Martians (1967)‘It detects brain waves and l can adjust it to the mental vibrations of the Martians.’

Concerned about mankind’s experiments with the a-bomb, a team of Martians come to Earth in a spaceship to put a stop to our aggressive ways. Their plans bring them into conflict with legendary silver-masked wrestler, Santo, who is determined to thwart them at all costs.

Good afternoon, grapple fans! We’re back south of the border in the company of El Santo, who is facing off against an extra-terrestrial threat, rather than the usual gangs of enemy agents, vampires, werewolves and mad scientists. Sadly, there’s no Blue Demon to help him out here, but he does have backup in the form of genius egghead Professor Ororica (Manuel Zozaya) whose various inventions of a transistor radio-compass and a Martian detecting cigar box prove to be quite the ticket. And everyone’s favourite luchador is going to need all the help he can get this time!

You see, these Martians haven’t just got lots of space technology stuff on their side, they’re also just so with it, baby! The guys dress in silver wigs, silver hats with a third eye, silver shorts, silver boots, and silver cloaks that fasten at the throat to show off their bare, muscly chests. The gals are real space babes too; what with their skimpy silver gear and mean go-go dance moves, which they use when they kidnap the old Professor from a dinner being held in his honour. Helpfully, their glorious leader Wolf Ruvinskis decrees they will all speak Spanish for the duration as it’s the language of the country they are travelling to. They picked Mexico as their destination due to its reputation for seeking world peace and disarmament.

So what exactly are they up to? Well, the first thing they do is take over all TV broadcasts to explain it. Basically, they don’t trust us! They think we are an aggressive species who need to be taken in hand. What they propose is to dissolve all national boundaries, create a world government under one language, impose global peace and foster a brotherhood of man. A dastardly plan, to be sure, and completely against the principals of a free market, capitalism, war for profit and manifest destiny that we all enjoy today. Luckily, everyone thinks they’re joking (and no wonder!) so they determine to use more convincing methods.

The Martian’s next move is to interrupt random stock footage of sporting events by sending one of their number to disintegrate a few random bystanders using his ‘Astral Eye’. This doesn’t go down well with our silver-masked hero who is busy nearby, teaching kids wrestling moves and imparting important life lessons. Of course, our Martian visitor is no match for Santo when it comes to grappling and is forced to use his belt to dematerialise when in the big man’s grasp. Which is interesting, because throughout the rest of the film the aliens abduct people in just that way, by being in physical contact and using their belts. But it never works on our main man. Maybe he’s just too muscular and heroic to be affected by science!

lt’s after tangling with the masked man that the alien’s mission statement goes awry. They seem to forget about all this pinko commie ‘world government and peace’ malarkey and start kidnapping random people instead, starting with a typical family who spend all their time watching TV. Why? So they can take them back to Mars. Why? Well, l’m sure they have their reasons. Ruvinskis also decides that his crew’s appearance is having a detrimental effect on the mission because it frightens the earthlings (rather than making us laugh!) so orders everyone into the ‘Transformation Chamber’. A little dry ice later and they emerge in left over costumes from a toga party. As a result they can’t become invisible anymore or use the disintegrating powers of their ‘Astral Eye’. Instead, Ruvinskis gives them all the names of famous characters from Greek Mythology! It’s an interesting tactical decision to be sure. Where are the authorities in all this? No idea.

Santo El Enmascarado De Plata Vs. ‘La lnvasion De Los Marcianos_: Santo Vs The Martians (1967)

The Bangles weren’t sure about their new stage costumes…

Up until now, there’s been one other noticeable absentee from proceedings: wrestling. So it’s time to head over to the gym and catch Santo in training. The Martians observe on their scanner (there’s a lot of watching TV in this film!) and send over two sexy space babes to hypnotise his opponents. Their charms don’t impress Santo, of course, although one of them does unmask him later on, only his back is to the camera and it’s all a hallucination anyway.

The obligatory face off in the ring finds him pitched against alien ‘Hercules’ who is disguised as ‘The Black Eagle’ (for some reason). But the Martians’ main problem is that their spaceship has ‘the big lever that blows everything up’. lt’s a strangely common design flaw in extraterrestrial craft and secret laboratories throughout cinema history.

This was one of the last ‘Santo’ pictures to be presented in black and white and, ridiculous as the whole enterprise might be, at least a little more care and attention has been devoted to the project than on later entries in the series. Ruvinskis was one of Santo’s real-life rivals in the ring, already familiar to Mexican cinema audiences as heroic wrestling superhero ‘Neutron’ in a short series of rival films, including ‘Neutron Contra El Dr Caronte’ (1963).

Fed up with the current world situation? Wish we could have world peace and brotherhood? Well, just remember. We’d already have it if it wasn’t for El Santo!

The Beast From The Beginning of Time (1965)

The Beast From The Beginning Of Time (1965)‘Darwin be damned! This is the new anthropology!’

A small archaeological expedition digs up a prehistoric man out in the remote wooded wilderness. The find is so important that the Professor in charge decides to keep it a secret from their employers at the museum so he can claim independent credit later on and make a fortune. However, the discovery has ideas of its own…

Littered through cinema history are a very small, and exclusive, group of filmmakers. The Non-Professionals. Guys and gals who somehow managed to scrape up enough small change for a budget, camera and cast to bring their vision to the big screen. But once, and once only. No career (of any kind) followed in the film business. The most famous example is obviously fertilizer salesman Harold P. Warren whose iconic film ‘Manos The Hands of Fate’ (1966) is so terrible that’s it’s the benchmark by which all other bad movies are judged. Other films come and go in the IMDB Bottom 100 movies of all time but Manos always remains.

Step forward writer-director Tom Leahy Jr. Scrounging $10,000 from KARD TV in Wichita, Kansas (and perhaps some camera equipment into the bargain!), he created this tale of a bad tempered 60 million year-old fossil which comes back to life and goes on a low-budget rampage in Smalltown USA. Obviously, the template is Universal’s ‘Mummy’ series from the 1940s, with lightning taking the place of mumbo-jumbo and Tana leaves, although it would be nice to think that Leahy Jr had a passing knowledge of our old friend the Aztec Mummy from south of the border.

Credits on the movie from sources other than the film itself are somewhat limited, but we do know that the irasicble, misguided Professor Maury is played by Dick Weisbacher. For a man with no social graces and seemingly obsessed with his scientific work, he’s only to happy to target the profit motive when his two-man expedition strikes archaeological gold. Things go south after a rainstorm and the foreman of the work gang is killed with a shovel. Blame falls on the Professor’s assistant who is certified as crazy after he insists that the nasty neanderthal (Leahy Jr again apparently, pulling triple-duty!) is the responisble party. The museum pick up the find, everyone goes back to town and things are all tickety-boo until the weather takes a turn for the worse…

The shock here is that the film is not that bad. Of course, if you’re only familiar with big Hollywood productions playing at your local multiplex, you will no doubt think so. On the other hand, if you’ve spent a lot of hours watching no-budget independent cult films, you will have a different perspective. Yes, the premise and story are totally unoriginal and the dialogue is laboured at times. On the other side of the coin, most of the cast are surprisingly natural with Weisbacher the pick of the bunch, although some of the supporting players are very stilted. The action is limited and, despite the brief 63 minute running time, there are too many talky scenes and proceedings drag a little.

The Beast From The Beginning Of Time (1965)

‘Has anyone got any money for petrol?’

However, Leahy Jr knows not to show too much too soon and gives us scenes with basic virtues like camera movement, cross-cutting and close-ups. Although these are things that we take for granted, they have eluded some directors in the low-budget arena, the obvious example being bad movie legend Jerry Warren. He seemed to be under the impression that just pointing the camera at his actors, turning it on and then presumably going off to lunch and leaving them to it was the way to make a movie.

The film isn’t very good, but given the obviously very limited resources and experience available, it really shouldn’t be judged too harshly.

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.