Sci-Fi Horrorfest – The Monster That Challenged the World (1957)

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2018 Sci-Fi Horrorfest: The Monster That Challenged the World (1957)
Cast:        Tim Holt as Lt. Commander John Twillinger
Audrey Dalton as Gail MacKenzie
Hans Conried as Dr. Jess Rogers

Story by David Duncan
Screenplay by Pat Fielder
Directed by Arnold Laven

Plot: An earthquake in the Salton Sea releases prehistoric mollusks on the nearby Naval base and community. Can they be stopped before reaching the canal that would allow them to terrorize the world?

Richard’s Review: This isn’t one of the greatest giant monster flicks of the 50s but not one of the worst either. The giant mollusk doesn’t seem that threatening once out of the water but I’ll admit, it would terrify me underwater. The main lead of Lt. Commander Twillinger has to be one of the most unlikeable leading men at the start of the film. Thankfully, he softens up a little as the story progresses and he begins to romance Gail and win over her daughter. As with most giant monster flicks, it wraps everything up swiftly at the end. It’s definitely a nice afternoon matinee or late night movie choice.

Karla’s Thoughts: Once I was able to get past the impracticality of the giant mollusks, I actually enjoyed this one and would watch it again. It’s definitely a turn your brain off at the door type of movie but it worked.

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Trivia:

  • This is a great visualization of the boom years of the Salton Sea. Unfortunately, due to rising saline levels and pollution, much of the area is now a ghost town. Tourists now go to take a glimpse at what once was a thriving area. The Naval base was abandoned in 1978.
  • Charles Herbert (13 Ghosts) appeared as the boy with Morty’s cap.
  • Max Showalter, who starred as Dr. Tad Johns , was from Caldwell, KS and is known for a variety of character actor roles, including Indestructible Man (1956), The Music Man (1962) and his last, as Grandpa Fred in Sixteen Candles (1984).

Availability: The Monster That Challenged the World is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. There is an audio commentary from Tom Weaver but not much more. However, it’s well worth adding to your collection.

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Sci-Fi Horrorfest – Gog (1954)

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2018 Sci-Fi Horrorfest: Gog (1954)
Cast:        Richard Egan as Dr. David Sheppard
Constance Dowling as Joanna Merritt
Herbert Marshall as Dr. Van Ness

Story by Ivan Tors
Screenplay by Tom Taggart & Richard G. Taylor
Directed by Herbert L. Strock

Plot: The OS.I. (Office of Scientific Investigation) has built the supercomputer NOVAC to help research space travel but outside forces threaten the hidden underground base. Bodies are piling up, strange aircraft fly overhead and two troublesome robots named Gog and Magog make for a unique science fiction adventure.

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Richard’s Review: Gog is the final chapter in the O.S.I. trilogy and is somewhat of a mixed effort. Despite English not being his native language, Ivan Tors certainly knew how to write a lot of dialogue. Gog suffers from being very wordy with little action. And despite being heavy on science fact, the film struggles in several key moments, hurting the overall believability of the story. One such major mistake occurs when a doctor informs David and Joanna not to enter a room due to dangerous radioactivity. He is covered from head-to-toe in a protective suit but they aren’t, and they walk in anyway. They suffer no ill effects, which makes no sense at all. Moments like these, coupled with non-stop talking and a very low-key detective procedural type story, make for a slow-paced film that isn’t bad but not necessarily a must-see again and again classic.

Karla’s Thoughts: The science in this film, or lack thereof, really hurt my overall enjoyment. I thought the acting was good and the story wasn’t bad but it was more police drama and less science fiction. Several “real science” elements made no sense but should have even by 1954 standards. It just seems there was a lack of detail and thought taken when making Gog. However, I did like it enough that I would see it again but my brain would have to be turned off.

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Trivia:

  • Character actor William Schallert (Man from Planet X, Them!) appears as the ill-fated lab assistant Engle.
  • Gog and Magog weren’t actually robots but were props operated by midgets.
  • The 2016 home media release was the first time Gog was available commercially.

Availability: Gog (1954) is available on a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber in both 2D and 3D.

Sci-Fi Horrorfest – Riders to the Stars (1954)

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2018 Sci-Fi Horrorfest: Riders to the Stars (1954)
Cast:        William Lundigan as Dr. Richard Stanton
Herbert Marshall as Dr. Don Stanton
Richard Carlson as Dr. Jerry Lockwood
Martha Hyer as Dr. Jane Flynn

Story by Ivan Tors
Screenplay by Kurt Siodmak
Directed by Richard Carlson & Herbert L. Strock

Plot: The OS.I. (Office of Scientific Investigation) is in search of the mystery behind the composition of meteors in an effort to learn how strong pocket ships will need to be to survive in space. So the best of the best in scientific research are gathered at a secret base in the desert to determine who is strong enough to survive a mission in space to capture a meteor.

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Richard’s Review: Last summer, I reviewed The Magnetic Monster (1953), the first of the O.S.I. trilogy. Despite having three films in the series, there is no solid connection between the films other than the presence of the O.S.I. and some of the same actors, albeit playing different roles. However, we thought it would be fun to wrap up the trilogy proper, so next up is Riders to the Stars (1954).

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I’ve wanted to see this movie for years but it’s never been officially released on home video and online copies have always been hard to find and of poor quality. Thanks to an airing on TCM several years ago, a print was recently uploaded to YouTube, making it possible to finally watch it. Unfortunately, as can sometimes happen, the wait is not always worth it and such is the case with Riders to the Stars.

I found it generally well-made and it features a fine cast. However, the science in the film, once considered fairly accurate and cutting edge, hasn’t necessarily aged very well. The movie is also very slow-paced with an 80 minute running time. I felt like they were hoping to make it feel like a grand space epic but the end results were underwhelming. That said, I still enjoyed the film for the relatively simple story it told, but the journey and the ultimate payoff seemed to be lacking.

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Karla’s Thoughts: This movie hurt my scientific brain. How they thought that snatching up a meteor in space would end well is beyond me. The process of picking the astronauts was bizarre but the acting was well done. However, the science simply hasn’t aged well as it came across as very dated. How were they were able to launch three rockets almost simultaneously? And why did the astronauts go insane as quickly as they did? I don’t think I’ll be rewatching this one any time soon.

Trivia:

  • Richard Carlson’s directorial debut, made in the same year as Creature from the Black Lagoon.
  • King Donovan, who starred as Dr. Dan Forbes in The Magnetic Monster, returns in this film as James O’Herli, the man in charge of rounding up the scientists.
  • James Best (The Killer Shrews) appears as Dr. Sidney Fuller.
  • Despite being filmed in color, many television prints were in black and white.

Availability: Riders to the Stars (1954) is only available on bootlegs for home media but can currently be found for free on YouTube.

Bela Lugosi Comes Down to Chinatown

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On August 16, 1956, we lost one of the true cinematic horror legends when Bela Lugosi passed away at the age of 73 after suffering a heart attack. His twilight years were filled with both a diminishing career and declining health. His final role of a mute servant in The Black Sleep (1955) was far removed from his performance as Count Dracula. However, he was clean and sober at the time of his death and, one would hope, happy with whatever work his relationship with Ed Wood would generate.

During the earlier part of his long career, Lugosi would often play characters of varying nationalities, including Asian villains. Of course, by today’s enlightened standards, this is politically incorrect and many of these early films rarely get shown on television or released on home media. They can sometimes be painful to watch but I’ve always believed they should be made available with appropriate educational material to ensure future generations see the mistakes we’ve made in the past so that we do not repeat them in the future.

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For Lugosi, one of these roles came in the character of a mad Eurasian scientist by the name of Victor Poten in the 15-chapter serial Shadow of Chinatown (1936). This serial was virtually forgotten by modern audiences until Alpha Video released it on DVD in the early 2000s. Essentially the story is about a trade war in Chinatown involving Sonya Rokoff (Luana Walters), known as the Dragon Lady, hiring Poten to put pressure on the Chinese merchants. Of course, he hates all races, white and Chinese alike, so he begins down a path of setting dangerous traps in the underworld, mostly set against Joan Whitling, a newspaper reporter, her boyfriend Martin Andrews (Herman Brix), his servant Willy Fu (Maurice Liu), and the local police.

Chapter serials were designed to be seen once a week over the course of 12 to 15 weeks with each installment lasting between 15 and 20 minutes, or the equivalent of two film reels. Every chapter ends with a cliffhanger that is usually quickly resolved in the next chapter. By the end, the villain has met his demise after what seems like a very long journey of chase scenes, fights and impossible situations. All that said, I love chapter serials but they are best viewed in multiple settings as they can get very repetitious quite quick. Such is the case with Shadow of Chinatown, one of only two chapter serial made by Sam Katzman’s Victory Pictures.

Despite being made in 1936, its limited dialogue and soundtrack seem reminiscent of an early talkie. The script, written by director Robert Hill (Tarzan the Fearless), seems way more convoluted than it needed to be. The Asian characters are very difficult to watch, especially Willy Fu, as they are so one-dimensional. Even Lugosi’s character offers very little beyond a stereotypical Asian villain. However, for Lugosi, this was work at a time that horror movies weren’t being made. It wasn’t his first chapter serial or his last. Unfortunately, it is one of his lesser efforts and a real struggle to get through with a running time of over four hours.

If you’re a Lugosi completest like me, put this towards the bottom of your viewing list. It’s fallen into the public domain, so you can find it very cheap or, better yet, for free on YouTube or archive.org. Save it for a rainy weekend and break up your viewing over at least four or five settings. Better yet, watch the condensed feature film version. It won’t improve the poor quality but it will at least make the bitter pill a little easier to swallow.

Sci-Fi Horrorfest – Deluge (1933)

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2018 Sci-Fi Horrorfest: Deluge (1933)
Cast:        Peggy Shannon as Claire Arlington
Sidney Blackmer as Martin Webster
Lois Wilson as Helen Webster
Matt Moore as Tom
Fred Kohler as Jepson
Edward Van Sloan as Professor Carlysle
Samuel S. Hinds as Chief Forecaster

Based on the book by S. Fowler Wright
Screenplay by John Goodrich & Warren Duff
Directed by Felix E. Feist

Plot: Earthquakes destroy the Pacific coast, resulting in tidal waves that destroy much of the United States. In the aftermath, Martin and Claire meet and enter the new world while danger lurks around every corner.

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Richard’s Review: I have been aware of Deluge for many years and immediately purchased a copy when Kino Lorber released it on Blu-ray last year. I have long heard about have impressive the special effects were for the time. I wasn’t disappointed, even though some of the super-imposed shots of people running haven’t aged very well. Unfortunately, there is virtually no build-up to the excitement as the movie starts right with the action. I was hoping for a little more story or background but none is given. You have to shut off your scientific brain to enjoy this one as the aftermath is just as puzzling as the disasters.

Character development is also very sparse with familiar faces Edward Van Sloan and Samuel Hinds getting very little screen time. I was also disappointed with how flippant Martin appears after losing his wife and children. No time frames are explained but it doesn’t appear to have been long, which makes it odd as he seems to fall in love quite quickly with fellow survivor Claire.

Being a pre-code film, there are some intense sequences revolving around Jepson and the rape gangs. A bit surprising even for the day but very realistic to what a post-apocalyptic landscape would look like. Unfortunately, everything is wrapped up rather quickly, especially the love triangle Martin finds himself in when he discovers his wife and children are still alive. I’m glad I saw it and it’s not a bad film but not quite the classic some have made it out to be.

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Karla’s Thoughts: I really enjoyed Deluge despite the fact that I had to turn my science brain off right away. I get that earthquakes cause tsunamis but there is no way the tidal waves would flood everything. However, I really enjoyed how they explained the survivors trying to rebuild, something The Walking Dead could learn a thing or two about. The acting was good enough but I found it unbelievable how quickly Claire went from being a strong character to fighting with Helen over Martin, let alone her decision at the end of the film. I still enjoyed the movie and would watch again.

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Trivia:

  • For many years, Deluge was considered lost until a dubbed Italian print was rediscovered by Wade Williams in 1981. It was released on VHS with sub-titles but soon went out-of-print and became quite rare again. It wasn’t until an English language negative was discovered in France in 2016 that the movie was properly restored by Lobster Films and finally released on official home media by Kino Lorber in 2017.
  • Edward Van Sloan was quite busy in the early 30s starring as Professor Van Helsing in Dracula (1931), Dr. Waldman in Frankenstein (1931) and Dr. Muller in The Mummy (1932).
  • Samuel Hinds is best known for his role as Pa Bailey in the perennial Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life (1946).
  • Despite a budget of $171,000, it was still considered a B-movie.
  • Some of the destruction footage was later seen in other films, including King of the Rocket Men (1949).

Availability: Deluge is available on Blu-ray at Amazon from Kino Lorber.

Classic Horrors Club Podcast – Bela Lugosi Lives!

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This month on episode 21 of the Classic Horrors Club Podcast, Jeff and I take a look at three films from the legendary Bela Lugosi, First, we journey back to 1932 for Murders in the Rue Morgue. Then, it’s on to the classic Return of the Vampire (1944) before wrapping it up with Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster (1954)!

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Next month on episode 22, we get a house call from Dr. Moreau!