The Wizard of Mars/Horrors of the Red Planet (1965)

The Wizard of Mars (1965)‘The meters are having convulsions; nothing I do will correct it!’

The first manned expedition to orbit the planet Mars runs into trouble, and the crew are forced to land on the surface. With only limited supplies, a desperate fight for survival begins as they trek across the desolate terrain in search of the main stage of their crippled spacecraft…

When cult films fans gather to discuss the much-debated question of the worst film director of all time, the name of David L Hewitt is not often a part of that discussion. That might be because of the scarcity of his output; just seven features (three of which were forgettable biker flicks). Or it could be because he delivered one halfway decent picture: ‘Journey To The Center of Time’ (1967). Whatever the reason, he’s rarely mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Edward D Wood Jr, Larry Buchanan, Jerry Warren, Andy Milligan, or Al Adamson. But Hewitt does deserve some consideration. How can the man behind ‘Dr Terror’s Gallery of Horrors’ (1967), ‘The Mighty Gorga’ (1969) and ‘The Lucifer Complex’ (1978) be ignored? And his ride to the bottom started right here with his debut film, and it wasn’t very far to go afterwards.

Mars Probe 1 has reached the orbit of its destination, courtesy of a series of cardboard cut-outs moving across photographs of the starry sky. It’s all systems go for handsome Captain Steve (Roger Gentry), wacky co-pilot Charlie (Jerry Ranow), wise old Doc (Vic McGee) and ‘Woman who looks through the Camera Scope and pushes some buttons’, Dorothy (Eve Vernhardt). Remember her character’s name, by the way, because it’s important. Unfortunately, there’s no happy landing for our fantastic four as they get hit by poorly animated ‘space lightning’ as soon as they get too close to the red planet. The cabin begins to fill with smoke, a conflagration initially realised by what looks suspiciously like someone lying just below the camera line and puffing furiously on a cigarette.

The Wizard of Mars (1965)

‘It’s alright! I brought my magic gun!’

Even activating ‘all operable rocket systems’ doesn’t work and Gentry is forced to jettison the craft’s main stage before they crash into the surface. It’s quite an impact too, judging by the speeding stock footage rushing by on the flight deck monitor. But, not to worry, in the next scene everyone is just standing around in their spacesuits, ready to disembark. I guess it looked a lot worse than it was. A serious conversation about their predicament follows. The food situation isn’t so bad. Vernhardt explains that ‘we have enough fortified liquid in our nutrient reserve to last us to two, maybe three weeks’. Considering the trip there took nine months, I’m not sure what they were expecting to eat on the way home, but I guess we’ll have to let that pass. Oxygen is a problem, though. They only have about 90 hours left in their suit tanks, but McGee suggests they may be able to supplement that with the oxygen in the Martian atmosphere. So far, so good.

After this intensive session of repeating themselves and stating the bleeding obvious, they form a plan: find the main stage of their ship and call from help from there. How they are supposed to survive for another nine months until relief arrives…well, I’m sure they’ll think of something. Perhaps the main stage contains plenty of food and oxygen. Yes, that must be it. I guess it wasn’t damaged at all when it crashed into the Martian terrain. At several thousand miles an hour. And McGee’s idea about the Martian oxygen works out too! Later on, they just open their helmets and breathe normally.

Anyway, they set out on one of the nearby canals in a couple of rafts following the signal being transmitted by their lost craft. Why an expedition that never intended to land happens to have a couple of dinghies in storage is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps they just packed a lot of equipment on the offchance? The existence of the canals was generally debunked years before, but the Martian surface wasn’t photographed until the same year Hewitt’s film came out, so I guess we’ll have to give him a pass on that. Just. After all, the waterways did appear in ‘Robinson Crusoe On Mars’ (1964) as well.

The Wizard of Mars (1965)

‘Don’t call me a Flathead…’

Unfortunately, our heroes’ boat ride is spoilt by an out of control fog machine and an attack by some vaguely interested branches from some kind of half-awake aquatic plant monster. But they smash them with their oars, and Ranow’s shoots them with his rifle. It’s always good to see that someone has remembered to bring a firearm along on a space expedition. Especially one that never needs reloading. It’s also worth mentioning the soundtrack, a never ending accompaniment of strange electronic blips and squeaks. I guess it was supposed to be futuristic.

Let’s do some quick fast-forwarding through the rest of the so-called plot. Otherwise, this review will seem longer than the movie (if that’s possible). The crew float on an underground river through some caverns for five minutes. The crew wander through caves and see some lava (ten minutes). The crew wander about on the surface before finding the signal they were following is coming from an old space probe (five minutes). They sit around moping about it afterwards (seven minutes). Along the way, they stop now and then to state the bleeding obvious and moan a bit more. Conversational dialogue is supposed to provide insight into character and motivation; to give the audience a reason to care. Dialogue sample: Ranow: I wonder how far this goes. Gentry: I don’t know, we’ll soon find out.’ End of conversation.

Eventually, they discover a golden road in the sand, which has been almost completely buried for budgetary reasons. This leads to a fabulous, but deserted, city, where they don’t need to wear their spacesuits at all and meet the disembodied head of John Carradine! He appears superimposed on some photographs of galaxies and stars, and pontificates about evolution, time and other significant stuff. At one point he delivers a three and a half minute monologue in a single shot. McGee shines in this scene; simultaneously overacting and being incredibly wooden, which is quite an achievement.

So what’s it all about, Johnny? Well, the Martians stopped time by mistake, and are now trapped in the walls of their own city. They can never be released because that would involve replacing ‘the sphere within the mechanism’, a task apparently too complex for simple hoo-mans to understand. Of course, the crew go next door and find a globe sitting on a table and then locate the mechanism less than five minutes after that. It has a round hole in it.

The Wizard of Mars (1965)

‘I was in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ once, you know… and ‘Stagecoach’….

It’s difficult to convey in mere words the deadly monotony of the audience experience. Of course, some allowances can be made for the ultra-low budget and limited resources that Hewitt must have had at his disposal, but that doesn’t excuse the painfully thin script and lack of entertainment on offer. Dialogue scenes are slow and awkward, with some of the lines obviously just included to pad the running time. These conversations almost always take place in static settings as well. Perhaps Hewitt didn’t have the necessary expertise to film the cast moving and talking at the same time? The acting is also lifeless and bland, with Everhardt seemingly dubbed throughout and McGee a particular culprit. Carradine is good fun, of course, but there’s not all that much even he can do with a brief role where he appears as a floating head!

So why did I mention earlier on that Everhardt’s character name of Dorothy was significant? Well, Carradine is ‘The Wizard of Mars’, after all, and they do get to the ‘Emerald’ city along a ‘yellow brick road’. And I guess Everhardt’s three male companions could represent the lion, the tin man and the scarecrow, although I’ve no idea which is supposed to be which. The one Martian we do see was apparently modelled on one of the residents of Oz, though. Whether it was writer-director Hewitt’s initial intention to include more elements from L Frank Baum’s source material is unrecorded. If so, budgetary condierations likely precluded it, and the whole thing comes off as desperately half-assed.

Mars has been a cinematic graveyard for many filmmakers over the years, from Brian de Palma’s ‘Mission To Mars’ (2000) to Andrew Stanton’s mega-flop ‘John Carter’ (2012) and with many stops in between. Is Hewitt’s film the worst about the red planet ever made? Possibly, but there’s stiff competition for that dubious honour. Nicholas Webster’s ‘Mission Mars’ (1968) is truly excruciating, and be sure not to forget ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’ (1964).

An intergalactic snoozeathon of truly epic proportions.

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)!

Himmelskibet (Heaven Ship) (1918)

Himmelskibet_(1918)The Danes go to Mars!

A young aviator builds a spaceship and flies to Mars, despite opposition from the scientific establishment. As the weeks pass, his crew threaten to mutiny, and when they arrive on the red planet their actions aren’t too clever either. Luckily, it takes more than a few crude earthlings to upset the indigenous population.

At a length of approximately 80 minutes, this Danish picture is quite possibly the first full-length feature ever made that portrays space flight and landing on another planet. Inevitably, the science is pretty wonky with our vehicle looking like a cross between a shed and a sea plane and likewise horizontal flight to escape Earth’s gravitational pull is rather quaint. The interior of the ship resembles a submarine, which is understandable given the technology of the time, and at least there is some effort to make it look functional with various dials and switches.

Our young, ambitious hero Avanti Planetaros (Gunnar Tolnæs) recruits his father to help out with his interplanetary project as somewhat conveniently he happens to be a scientist/astronomer. His sister’s boyfriend is also one of the white-coated brigade, and is happy to come along for the ride. Unfortunately, the rest of the crew are a motley bunch of volunteers and includes Dan the Dane, who’s a big, rough looking chap who likes his ale. I couldn’t help but wonder what his actual duties were on the ship. Anyway, our Earthbound villain is Professor Dubius, who is err… a bit dubious about the whole thing, and doesn’t mind letting people know about it, both at meetings and in the newspapers.

Despite all these problems the expedition finally reaches its goal, helped over the last few yards by the Martians themselves. These prove to be a bunch of insufferable old hippies, who hang around in flowing robes and carry tree branches. Mars is a utopia (’Heaven’ possibly?) where no one actually does any work and the young girls do the ‘Dance of Chastity’ (stop sniggering at the back, it’s actually rather cute). Scenes of this rural idyll are intercut with scenes of life back on Earth, mainly featuring drinking, violence, inappropriate dancing, and other sinful pursuits. ‘Love is what you call God’ the Martians sing, making us quite grateful that this is a silent movie.

But, despite all this loveliness (or perhaps because of it) the crew want to go back home. This Martian utopia looks all well and good, but of course it’s not exactly a thrill a minute. Our hero has fallen in love with the Headman’s daughter (the angelic Lilly Jacobson) which complicates things a tad, until she decides return with him to spread the word of the Martian’s creed of love and peace. Good luck with that!


‘For God’s sake, reconfigure the lateral sensor array!’

This film is actually most interesting for its pacifist stance. Produced towards the end of the Great War in Europe, the slaughter in the trenches must have had a profound effect on society; so much so in fact that everyone waited a whole 20 years before doing it all over again. But, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve and the Danish filmmakers do it unapologetically here. It may seem a little naive and dated to a modern day audience though.

As a drama this is so-so stuff, but it does have some noteworthy aspects. And obviously meteors had yet to infect interstellar space in the overwhelming numbers that were present during the 1950s.

Worth a look if you are interested in the early evolution of cinematic science fiction.

A Trip To Mars (1910)

A_Trip_To_Mars_(1910)The first American Science Fiction movie…

A scientist discovers a substance in his laboratory that reverses the effect of gravity. Covering himself with it, he floats off into the sky, eventually reaching the planet Mars where he meets its giant inhabitants.

This 10 minute short is America’s first ever science fiction film, courtesy of Thomas Edison’s studios. It was released in the same year that they gave the world the first ever cinematic interpretation of ‘Frankenstein’ (1910). Unsurprisingly, it’s heavily influenced by the pioneering work of French filmmaker Georges Méliès, with whom everyone active at the time really has to be compared. The basic plot also borrows from H.G. Wells to some extent, with the magical anti-gravity material reminiscent of ’Cavorite’ from his novel ‘The First Men In The Moon’ which was published 9 years earlier.

The effects and design are acceptable, given the vintage of the film and the primitive techniques employed. However, it does lack the Gallic charm of Méliès’ best work, especially if it was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek fantasy in the same mould. That seems likely as it’s hard to credit the finished film as serious science fiction speculation, given that the hero simply floats off to another planet. We don’t see a lot of the red planet actually, save for the giant plant-like creatures that live there, one of which picks up our hapless hero for a closer inspection.


‘Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name…’

Facially, the Martian somewhat resembles a satanic caricature, and it’s possible there may have been an intention to draw a religious parallel concerning the inadvisability of space travel (and meddling in things that man should leave alone). Of course, it’s impossible to be sure about that over 100 years later, although that general theme was the cornerstone of nearly every fantasy film to come out of Hollywood in the ensuing decades. The Martian dispatches our hero on his way, and he returns to Earth perhaps a wiser and less adventurous man.

Of course this is all very basic stuff; baby steps in the early days of science fiction. But, based on this evidence, it does appear that the Americans had some serious catching up to do, Méliès work had far more flair, visual sense and invention than that displayed here. Narrative films of greater length had already been created in the U.S. by the time of this production; some to massive box office success such as ‘The Great Train Robbery’ (1903). But science fiction was a latecomer to that party, to some extent inevitable with the technical limitations of the time.

A Message From Mars (1913)

A_Message_From_Mars_(1913)The world’s first feature-length Science Fiction movie.

Produced in the U.K. shortly before the outbreak of World War I, this is basically a simple re-telling of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843), but with a Martian instead of the ghost of Jacob Marley.

Our Scrooge character is the well-to-do businessman Horace, played by famous English stage actor Charles Hawtrey. No! Hang on! Charles Hawtreyl? That weedy bloke from all those ‘Carry On’ comedies?I It can’t be him, surely! Well, no, actually it can’t. The two weren’t even related, although the 1960s comedy star deliberately adopted the name and often claimed to be his grandson. Very naughty. What would matron think?

Inevitably there is a level of theatricality to the proceedings; these are stage actors after all, and the finished product often resemblances a filmed play, especially when the action is located in Horace’s front room. There are some exteriors though, and we do get a couple of slow panning shots, so the camera isn’t completely static. There’s also an intriguing mixture of horse-drawn vehicles and ‘new- fangled’ motor cars on the street, one of which sideswipes a cast member in a less than convincing example of early stunt work.

Back at the story, Horace begins as a good little capitalist, viewing everything in terms of financial gain and money, alienating everyone around him. I feel a certain amount of sympathy for grumpy old git, actually. He tries to get some innocent amusement by watching a puppet show in the street, and is hassled by beggars. He wants to spend a quiet night in by the fire and gets interrupted by his fiancée and her mother who want to go to a dance. A hooray Henry friend of the family turns up to offer everyone a lift. A tramp knocks on the door because he wants a job, and then this bloody Martian turns up… After a few ineffectual attempts to persuade Horace to mend his ways, the Martian turns him into a beggar, which eventually alters his perspective on things somewhat. It does seem an unnecessarily harsh thing to do to a sour old man really; it’s not as if he’s actively persecuting the poor like a politician or a banker.

The storyline and resolution are very simplistic, of course, and the old grouch’s transformation into a kindly soul is a little overdone at the end. Not only does he save a poor family from a house fire, he takes them into his own home afterwards!


Nights out down the pub with the Martian always ended in tears before bedtime.

SFX are of the Georges Méliès’ school of ‘stop the camera, put the actor in the shot, start the camera again’ variety but there is an intriguing moment when our Martian hero strikes the hapless Horace. The entire picture seems to flex. It may possibly be a deficiency of the surviving print, but it looks intentional and, if so, is the best thing in the film. Mars looks like an empty stage with a painted backdrop, and the Martians wear tights, and flowing, hooded jackets (with tails!) The Egyptian Ankh is their symbol of brotherhood.

The print I saw is in beautiful condition, thanks to the tireless efforts of the British Film Institute, and the hour length suits the subject.

A fascinating relic of a bygone age.

Mission Mars (1968)

Mission_Mars_(1968)‘A large ball-like thing has just materialised about 50 yards in front of us.’

Three astronauts go to Mars on the first manned U.S. rocket. The Russians have already launched a spacecraft, but rumours from behind the Iron Curtain suggest that it’s gone missing. Back home, the astronaut’s women worry and the Mission Commander tries to hold things together.

Mars has been a graveyard for many filmmakers over the years, from the famous to the infamous. From Brian De Palma – Mission to Mars (2000) – and John Carpenter – The Ghosts of Mars (2001) to David L Hewitt – ‘The Wizard of Mars’ (1964) and Larry Buchanan – ‘Mars Needs Women’ (1967). So what chance Nicholas Webster with his micro-budget epic starring Darren McGavin and Nick Adams? Well, none at all, really.

The film opens, fairly inevitably, with that long-standing friend of low budget science fiction: rocket launch stock footage. At least by the late 1960s, V2 missiles had turned into Saturn V rockets and black and white had changed into colour. It all turns out to be a nightmare anyway, as McGavin’s wife (Heather Hewitt) frets about his imminent trip into space, but feels better once the two of them go all ‘From Here To Eternity’ on a nearby beach. But McGavin is off to the stars all too soon; captaining a three man crew comprising impulsive geologist Nick Adams and bland George de Vries. Adams also has a worrying wife/girlfriend back home and the two ladies spend a lot of time talking about their worries with Mission Controller Michael DeBeausset. De Vries doesn’t get a ‘woman who waits’ so we all know what’s going to happen to him!

Ironically, the film actually comes up with some probable realism during the transit between planets. Yes, the cabin is far too big; yes, there’s complete artificial gravity; yes, they are hit with the inevitable meteor shower (that looks like electrical sparks from a welding torch), but what it does get right is the sheer tedium of it. By the time our dreary heroes reach their destination, it truly feels as if the audience has been cooped up with them for months on end. McGavin provides fascinating voiceover facts by reading out of an encyclopaedia (probably)! Adams navigates by looking out of a porthole and using a sextant (no computer for him!) The worrying women back home watch television and worry! The mission controller chews out some colleagues who worry about their sums! The worrying women talk to the Mission Controller! Again! Adams eats a pastrami sandwich! And so on…and on. It’s all so dull and lifeless that brain cells begin to disengage and die slowly.


Hell’s Astronauts head for their Moon Sickles…

Arrival on Mars is followed by more pulsating action. Adams digs rocks and the others inflate balloons that float into the camera. Adams finds a frozen Russian. There’s a hole into the supply module. Eventually, our heroes encounter a multi-limbed statue thing that flashes bright lights at them. In accordance with reasonable first contact protocols, they blast it! (If science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s has taught us anything it’s that firearms are essential equipment for space exploration).

All of this takes place on a tiny cardboard set that doesn’t resemble the model landscapes. But we do have to cut the filmmakers some slack here. Apparently, the original sets were destroyed by bad weather the day before filming and had to be rebuilt in a hurry in a nearby basement! Similarly, the film is probably best known for the motorcycle helmets that the astronauts wear on Mars. Worse than their obvious origin is the fact that these are ‘open face’ helmets, leaving a wide gap beneath the visor. Again, there were mitigating circumstances. The original custom-made headwear apparently didn’t meet McGavin’s high standards and he smashed his against the set, necessitating some last minute replacements from a local store!

McGavin went on to find lasting cult fame as ’Kolchak: The Night Stalker’ on U.S. TV and many supporting roles in big budget films; usually as a shady authority figure. Adams made only two more films before he was found dead from an overdose at the age of 36. It was probably an accident, but both murder and suicide have been suggested over the years. Although successful in a late 1950s/early 1960s TV show called ‘The Rebel’, Adams was most famous for his friendships with both James Dean and Elvis Presley. He went to Japan to take the American lead in Toho Studio’s ‘Frankenstein Conquers The World’ (1965), but it’s clear his career was not in good shape by the time he made it to the red planet.

This is really a quite dreadful experience; a slow, pitiful crawl through one cliché after another, culminating in a planetary exploration as one dimensional as it is brutally dull. But one question remains. Is it the most boring film about Mars ever made? The obvious answer would be ‘yes’ if not for the existence of David L Hewitt’s ‘The Wizard of Mars’ (1964). I’d have to watch both back-to- back to make a decision but, you know what? You’d have to pay me. A lot.

The X From Outer Space (1967)

The X From Outer Space (1967)‘Doctor, whatever the origin, it’s heading for Tokyo!’

Half a dozen manned spaceflights to Mars disappear under strange circumstances. A joint Japanese-German(?) mission rocket follows, the crew hoping to both land on the Red Planet and solve the mystery of what happened to the previous expeditions.

Several other Japanese film studios tried to emulate the international achievements of Toho Studios and their monster movies in the 1960s. The most successful of these were Daiei with their ‘Gamera’ series but there was also Nikkatsu with ‘Gappa, the Triphibian Monster’ (1967) and Shochiku, who presented ‘The X From Outer Space’ (1967).

In a nod to the international market, the boffins on the ground here include Franz Gruber as a fuel expert who assists headman Eji Okada, an international name after appearing in ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ (1960). We also get blonde Peggy Neal as the space crew biologist, although she’s very poorly dubbed, her accent sometimes German, sometimes not. Neal already had experience with Japanese monsters, her previous role being in Kaitei Daisensou (‘Terror Beneath the Sea’) (1966), which featured mutant cyborg fish men.

After a mission briefing explaining things you would have thought the crew should already know, our zeroes head off to Mars but are intercepted by a UFO that looks like a large orange pie. After this unexciting close encounter, they land at Moonbase, where they dance, jump around in the low gravity and take Jacuzzis with synthesised water that isn’t real (eh?). This is obviously far more important that investigating mankind’s ‘first contact’ with alien life. Back in space, the ship is hit by the inevitable meteor shower, a circumstance for which they are pitifully unprepared considering it had happened to every cinematic spacecraft in the previous couple of decades. Another encounter with the alien pie ship leaves their capsule covered with a strange substance so they decide to call it a day and head back home for tea.

The X From Outer Space (1967

Guilala nailed the audition for ‘Super Size Me 2’

Whilst having a knees-up at their ‘welcome back’ shindig, our gormless astro-naughts find out that the strange intergalactic substance they brought back has escaped from the lab and metamorphosed into a giant, gnarly space chicken.

This fine example of intergalactic poultry goes on a rampage, shooting flame from its mouth and wading through sets of tiny skyscrapers. The military and the scientists get round the big table to try and sort it all out (as they usually do) but they don’t have any ideas. They do name the creature though (‘Guilala’) so that’s all sorted then. Later on they reject the idea of a nuclear strike and decide to use toxic soap suds from the moon as their ultimate weapon instead.

Ultimately, the films plays like a poor photostat of a Toho Production, devoid of both technical artistry and fresh ideas. The spacecraft models aren’t that badly done (although they are still obviously models) but it’s the miniature sets in particular that come up short. And the monster itself, of course. It looks like a bloke in a silly suit on his way to a primary school to teach kids some aspect of health and safety.

After the Nikkatsu studio folded, Shochiku announced a ‘Gappa vs Guilala’ movie but it never happened. Not such a bad thing in my opinion…

Buy ‘The X from Outer Space’ here

Flying Disc Man From Mars (1950)


Martians have been monitoring our communications for years and they don’t like what they see and hear!

So much so that they send an immense army to conquer mankind, only they’re can’t be bothered to show up so we get the ‘Flying Disc Man From Mars’ (1950) instead. His mission: to bring the world under the watchful rule of the Supreme Dictator of Mars! The red guy is simply not chuffed with our wars and use of nuclear weapons. So maybe it’s not such a bad idea really… only this 12-chapter serial was made shortly after the end of the World War II and our Martian speaks in a distinctly German accent!

Events unfold in the usual ridiculously accelerated way as Disc Man makes his base in an active volcano (can’t help thinking that’s not a great plan), recruits a local boffin with a dodgy accent (who did ‘something’ in the war – uh-oh) and hires a couple of goons to do the heavy lifting. Unnatural disasters follow as Disc Man tries out his arsenal of nasty gizmos and there isn’t a cop or secret agent in sight. But no worries, the security of Earth is down to the ‘Fowler Air Service’ – a kind of private security company who use planes to fly over factories and other stuff no doubt just as useful. They’re an impressive outfit too – at least 3 planes and the same number of staff, including a secretary who’s pretty good at shuffling papers.

This never happens in the movie.

This never happens in the movie.

Every encounter between our square jawed hero and the crooks descends into a fist fight. It doesn’t matter that one of them is holding a gun on the others – fisticuffs will ensue. Especially if we’re near the end of a Chapter. There is also the obligatory ‘recap’ episode for budgetary reasons: ‘Do you remember when they attempted to fly the uranium out from the deserted airfield?’ (Insert clip) ‘Yes, that was interesting but there was also the time they tried to use that missile to blow up the bridge…’ (Insert clip) etc, etc.

If all this sounds rather familiar then you’ve probably seen ‘Zombies of the Stratosphere’ (1952). This was a remake by the same studio, only 3 years later. That time they threw in the flying suit from ‘King of the Rocket Men’ (1949)!

And who said Hollywood executives never have any original ideas?!

Flight To Mars (1951)


‘For many years we have picked up your radio broadcasts!’

Even the lesser Hollywood players jumped on the bandwagon after the runaway success of ‘Destination Moon’ (1950). Suddenly, space exploraion was big box office. The budgetary-challenged Monogram studios took a shot at it with ‘Flight to Mars’ (1951) and their effort was actually in colour!

The story focuses on the first manned expedition to Mars (as you may have guessed from that subtle title) and we have the usual assortment of dull boffins and standard romantic intrigue between the young journalist along for the ride and the sole woman on the crew. For a change she’s not the ship’s doctor but a scientist, albeit an assistant. The journo is played by Cameron Mitchell, at the beginning of a career that would include such gems as ‘Supersonic Man’ (1979) and ‘Nightmare in Wax’ (1971). All he gets to do here is be handsome and sulk.

Arrangements on the mission are cheerfully slipshod, with some of the crew arriving in the capsule at the last minute with their hats and coats still on! The scientists smoke pipes, the acceleration couches resemble bunk beds and everyone talks a lot as the minutes speed by like… well, hours really. The usual minor crises occur during the flight – I was waiting for the meteorite storm to hit and it duly arrived to knock our heroes off course.

When they finally reach Mars, it’s a crash landing but our crew emerge without a scratch thanks to their use of some advanced technology that they call mattresses. Right out the porthole is some pretty clear evidence that ‘we are no longer alone’ and, sure enough, the Martians all live underground after ruining their own planet. Their subterranean city is a bit like the one in ‘Metropolis’ (1926) – only funded by Poundland. Still, the natives seem friendly enough and their living arrangements are pretty cool. Our female scientist shows a particular enthusiasm for all the kitchen gizmos (groan)!


Do you come here often?

The Martians speak perfect English as they have been monitoring our broadcasts for some time (as per usual). Actually, I feel a bit sorry for any aliens out there in the cosmos who are monitoring our TV broadcasts at the moment. Is it any wonder they don’t come down and say hello and swap mobile numbers? I should think one look at the Jeremy Kyle Show would be enough to send them hurtling toward the other end of the galaxy. And imagine what exposure to ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ could do to them… we’ll probably be in an interplanetary war before we know it.

Anyway, back at the movie, some of the Martians aren’t as nice as they appeared to be at first but some of them still are and Cameron Mitchell still fancies the lady scientist but she doesn’t want him although she just may change her mind now that chief boffin has hooked up with his new alien girlfriend and there are problems with repairing the rocket but the boffins get round the table and invent some new thingamajig that might just work and… well, that’s about it really.