And You Thought It Was Safe(?)


This Island Earth (1955)
The exposed brain makes him more powerful. It's not a weakness in any way whatsoever.

The exposed brain makes him more powerful. It’s not a weakness in any way whatsoever.

…is another sci-fi film eclipsed in fame by a fragment of it’s own iconography. “Everyone” “knows” the image to your right; you’ll have “seen” it in a thousand places. Possibly a thousand-thousand if you go to any decent number of sci-fi conventions. But can you name that man-in-suit monster without resort to Wikipedia? I couldn’t, until I watched the film again for the first time in far too long…and remembered why it’d been so long in the first place.  I’ll take it over Lady and the Tramp or fucking Oklahoma! any day, but as paragons of its era go, it’s no Day the Earth Stood Still. Or Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Technical movie nerds remember it primarily as one of the last films to use three-strip Technicolor, but as far as technicolor SF goes, War of the Worlds will give you more bang for your buck (literally). So what is it about This Island Earth that I like so much? All the pretty, pretty colors? Am I that shallow?

Cameras that printed color on one strip of film were available as early as 1941, which is where Ken Burns found all that color battlefield footage from World War II. If you watched The War you probably noticed how grainy and soft-focus everything looked. It took almost fifteen years to refine that out of the process, but it happened. That’s why movies from before 1954 look the way they do – all the colors are brighter – they “pop” at you – and I’m willing to bet that was this movie’s primary selling point. It looks, in almost every detail, like a parade of pulp magazine covers. Continue reading

Advertisements


The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)
Apt Visual Metaphor Theater Presents: The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Self-Immolating.

Apt Visual Metaphor Theater Presents: The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Self-Immolating.

Of all the disappointing third acts in all the trilogies of film this is my measuring stick. Let others pitch a bitch about Ewoks, Bruce Wayne’s mysterious teleportation powers, or whatever the hell it is you hate so much about Godfather III. I always come back The  Creature Walks Among Us, a film almost as depressing as the era that created it. Made for the sole purpose of matching Revenge of the Creature‘s million dollar take, Walks Among Us isn’t the worst third act of a trilogy I’ve seen…but it is the shoddiest, the least-thought-out, and the most mind-bogglingly off-putting. The kind of movie that makes you shout, “What idiot signed off on this?” A movie that dares you to find something good about it, making the presence of a few genuinely good things almost painful. If they weren’t there I could hate the movie outright and maybe then it would stop haunting me.

Sure, 1956 was the year Godzilla first came to America, but most cinephiles choose to remember it (if at all) as the year of The King and I or The Ten Commandments. Big, loud, annoyingly long epics were the blockbusters of their day and it’d be seven years before Cleopatra finally proved their day was done. Everyone else’s budgets shrank to accommodate their excesses and Universal’s monster movies were no exception. The studio that basically built Horror as a genre now contented itself releasing stuff like The Mole People…and this. Demonstrating they’d learned nothing from the 1940s.

Once again: a rushed production plus a reduced budget equals a bad movies. A string of bad movies equals a franchise no one remembers, save as a punchline. The problem’s exasperated when your title character is so one-note, even compared to his elder brothers in the Universal stable. Dracula usually wanted blood. Werewolves usually want cures. Mummys usually want some artifact or the reincarnation of their dead girlfriend. Frankenstein’s monster just wants to be left alone…something he and the Gillman have in common. All of Gilly’s movies hinge on invasions of his domain by hairy man-animals and their hot girlfriends…but unlike Frankenstein’s monster, you can’t keep bringing the Gillman back to life. Continue reading