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

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The Thing from Another World (1951)
"Damnit! I told you: this is the Boys Club! No girls, godless commies or blood-sucking aliens allowed!"

“Damnit! I told you: this is the Boys Club! No girls, godless commies or blood-sucking aliens allowed….! Well, okay; maybe one girl’s allowed, but she’s hot!”

In 1951, science fiction movies took two booster shots to the arm and entered into the public consciousness on a scale so grand that, looking back on it now, it’s like watching a dam burst in slow motion. So much so that one can easily drown in the torrent of “creature features” America produced in the 1950s. All thanks to two films that defined the boundaries of their sub-genre, enlivening hoary old tropes by dragging them, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century.

One of those films, which we’ll consider in its own time, was The Day the Earth Stood Still. The other, released five months before, was The Thing from Another World. You can try and find a stranger pair of siblings…but I don’t really want you too. These two are all I need because they were all the genre needed at the time.

Prior to their release, science fiction was a joke, laughed at and bemoaned in turn by polite society, allowing it to become the sole province of nerds. The Thing irrevocably welded Sci-fi to Horror and saved both genres from their separate decline into self-parody and stupidity…as evidenced by another “great” film from 1951, Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man. The world was six years away from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the old monsters had lost their grip on the collective amygdilla. New monsters – in a comfortably Frankenstein-ish mode, to be sure, but still – were already moving back in the shadows, ready to pop through the first conveniently open door and take your head off with a casual swipe. Continue reading