Enemy From Space/Quatermass 2 (Hammer Films, 1957)
We start with two high-quality Brit flicks, both early excursions into SF by Hammer, segue to two related films of somewhat more dubious quality, and finish with the Stinker of the Month. Be sure to read to the end for the details of the first ever 19 Movies Giveaway.
Enemy From Space/Quartermass 2 (1957: 9+)
The second in the Quatermass series (hence the alternative title), wherein Brian Dunlevy again grumps his way through the Quatermass role. This time around he takes on an alien hive-mind that’s hellbent on turning the world into a giant slime pit.
Not only is this an excellent early Hammer effort, it’s arguably the best ‘50’s British SF film and the best of the ‘50’s blob movies. This time the aliens want our planet, but first they have to un-Terraform it, and they’ve insidiously infiltrated British government and society to do so. Hammer aficionados will recognize a young Michael Ripper in a small role.
[Cast and Crew: Val Guest, director and screenplay co-writer, also directed Mister Drake’s Duck (1951), The Creeping Unknown/The Quatermass Xperiment (1955 UK), The Abominable Snowman (1955 UK). Themes: UK setting, village. Alien: first contact, invasion, hive mind, blob. Mind-control. Peasants toting guns. Rocket attack. Police. Radiation. Scientist, rocket. Secret lab. Wandering planet, asteroid.]
I picked five random SF movies from the 1950’s across the quality spectrum to review this time around but while doing my due diligence research discovered that actually three of them had been directed by Bert I.. Gordon, so, not exactly random. But it’s too late to changer the line up.
Kronos: 1957 (8)
Interesting alien invasion flick, with some rather original concepts for the time. The aliens are energy creatures, though they do the thing many aliens do in these movies: take over human bodies via mind control. Sometimes the enslaved human manages to warn others, but, of course, no one actually listens until it’s almost too late.
This time around, the aliens want our electricity and atomic energy, so they send down this whopping big robot (although no one ever calls it a robot) from their flying saucer (though everyone, including the scientists who discover it, call it an asteroid for some reason) who then gobbles all the energy it can. The always dependable Jeff Morrow plays the astronomer who also has mad skills in nuclear physics or some damn thing, because he comes up with the plan to stop Kronos, despite all the best efforts of his hot girlfriend to get him to think about her for a change.
I’m doing something different this time around, a mini-concert of music videos to help ring in a new and hopefully better year. You don’t need me to tell you how all-around lousy 2020 was, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully the tunnel is not too much longer. All these videos are for one reason or another, important to me. Some are well-known, with millions of views, some are obscure. Some are both. (You’ll see.) I hope you all enjoy some of them as much as I have.
First up, BRRRUUUUCCCEE, with a fantastic live performance of NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER as kind a defiant send-off to last year, and also a hopeful anthem for the year to come. With some completely unexpected on-stage guest performers.
Next is a pair of videos that are in the way of public service announcements for fairly recent projects which should be called to your attention. One of the first movie posts I did mentioned a film called STREETS OF FIRE that I guess you’d say is something of a cult film. Shout Factory has done a recent Bluray release that has unsurpassed in clarity and quality. See for yourself.
We return to the golden age of Weird Tales to consider the eleven stories in the July 1936 issue. This time around we’re dealing with many familiar authors, led by the triumvirate of C. L. Moore, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard, one H. P. Lovecraft short of perfection. The big three present classic tales from their popular fantasy series (Northwest Smith, Zothique, Conan). The other familiar names deliver more of a mixed bag, but for the most part come through with decent offerings.
Edmond Hamilton, a prolific pulpster for WT and countless other genre magazines contributes one of his weakest efforts in a tale concerning germs from space. The August Derleth and Manly Wade Wellman stories are both decent, if slight, and the Arthur Conan Doyle reprint, for a change, rises above the level of curiosity.
Of the eleven stories, seven are contemporary (64%), three are set in the future (27%), and one in the past (9%), though it’s a little complicated because two stories use framing devices that cut across temporal periods. Six take place in the United States (55%), one starts in the US then goes off on a round the world tour (9%), two are in fictitious realms (18%), one in France (9%), and one on the Moon (9%).
Here’s thirteen movies in five groups suitable for double, or, if you have the stamina, triple feature viewing. Have a safe and fun Halloween!
We begin with two British films which couldn’t be more diverse in their approach.
Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon
One movie, with two titles, this 1957 film starring Dana Andrews was directed by Jacques Tourneur who also directed Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie. The U. S. version, (Curse of the Demon) is an 83 minute version of the original 95 minute British release, which is the better film.
Andrews plays an American psychologist who travels to England to attend a scientific conference and gets caught up in investigating the death of a colleague, possibly at the hands (or claws) of a satanic cult. Andrews is so superciliously smug that you may find yourself rooting for the cultists. The screenplay is based on the classic M. R. James short story, “The Casting of the Runes.” Commonly and cheaply available on DVD (one release contains both versions), the truncated version is also available to rent on Prime Streaming.
This time we’re considering another early Weird Tales, the third issue, May 1923. This was one of the oversized bed-sheet sized issues and contained 21 stories by 22 authors. Astonishingly, fourteen of these authors were one and done, with no additional published stories in the sf/fan field. Another two have two stories listed at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.
The two most significant authors in this issue are Vincent Starrett, a long-time newspaper man who produced several out of genre books and a single slim collection of fantasy stories published by Arkham House in 1965. The other is Edward Bulwar-Lytton (yes, of a “dark and stormy night” fame), represented by a reprint that is more of a curiosity than anything else.
The other author worth commenting is Culpeper Chunn (a byline that screams pseudonym), whose real name was Seymour Cunningham Chunn (1889-1927). His two stories in Weird Tales are his only listed genre works, but if you google his name you’ll find repeated offers for his book Plotting the Short Story (it’s in public domain, so naturally it’s currently available in countless editions, even on Amazon) so he must have some kind of track record, somewhere. But that’s not why he gets a mention here. The protagonist of “The Whispering Thing,” co-authored by Laurie McClintock (who otherwise has left no trace in the written record), is Jules Peret, a French-born ex-policeman and current consulting detective, “a small, effeminate man with delicate features, small hands and feet,” given to uttering extravagant oaths. Sound familiar? The first Jules de Granden story appeared in Weird Tales in 1925. I have no explanation for this extraordinary coincidence.
The Mexican horror film is definitely an under-served genre when it comes to availability in the U.S. market. Many of these movies are hard to impossible to find subtitled (my preferred format) or even dubbed, which I usually find more problematical than subtitling. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I thought it might be useful to briefly cover a few titles you might not be familiar with. The following films are grouped chronologically rather than by quality.
Weird Tales, November 1934. Cover by Margaret Brundage (for “Queen of the Lillin”)
We’re back on more familiar ground with this issue of Weird Tales from its classic period. More familiar authors are represented, and although not every story is a classic the editors at least avoided any real stumbles this. The issue grades out to a 2.1, which all in all is pretty decent.
Both Howard and Lovecraft appear, although the Lovecraft tale is a reprint and the Howard is the last installment of a serial. E. Hoffman Price, Paul Ernst, and August Derleth, seasoned pulp veterans all, also contributed stories. Price tale’s is part of his Pierre d’Atois stories; , d’Atois, like another Frenchman who appears in a series of WT stories, is an occult detective. The Ernst is one of his slighter efforts. The Derleth is somewhat more unusual, although, as is common, also rather slight. We have to cover already trodden ground with two serials this time around. I’ve included the information on those stories for those who haven’t read all the posts in this series.
June 1923 was the magazine’s fourth issue, and it was still clearly a magazine in search of itself.
There are very few authors who had a major impact on the magazine appeared in this issue. The most notable name, of course, is Edgar Allen Poe with a reprint of one of his most famous tales (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”) and, secondarily, Otis Adelbert Kline, with a story largely forgotten today, but which I found to be a cut above many of his others, though ultimately somewhat slight. That’s about it. Two of the best stories were by authors totally forgotten today, Paul Ellsworth Triem and Loual B. Sugarman, with only the later tale having fantastic elements. In fact, only seven of the 18 stories in this issue had fantastic elements (39%), all were set in contemporaneous times (of course, the Poe story was written in the 1840s), and most (13 or 72%) were set in the United States.
On the whole, many of the stories were no better than mediocre, but really poor efforts were largely avoided (four 4’s and one 5). Also largely avoided were the overtly racist tropes too readily present in many early WT’s, with the Birch effort going all in on the Yellow Peril theme. Overall, this issue rated out to 3.00, which notably lags behind the classic early 1930s issues previously covered.
We’re going to do something a bit different this time and focus on a single movie, 1968’s (US release), Mission Stardust, starring sf’s longest continually published fictional character, Perry Rhodan.
I just discovered this film quite recently. It’s not like I’ve seen every movie ever made, or even every sf movie, but the fact that there was a Perry Rhodan movie in the 1960’s totally surprised me. First, though, a bit of a disclaimer. Detailed knowledge of the Perry Rhodan phenomenon entirely escaped me. I’ve never read any of the 126 books or so Rhodan books published in the U.S. Don’t know why, actually – it’s not like I was boycotting them, I just missed them. Part of the reason is that a good portion of the time they were on the bookshelves here (1969-1978) I was in college and grad school, and my sf reading was probably at the lowest point in my entire literate lifetime.
For those of you who might be unaware (and I was astonished by these figures when I wiki-pediaed them), Perry Rhodan is a German sf series that has been published weekly between September 1961 and February 2019 (when the wiki article was written) for over 3000 issues. Now, these are “booklet novels” usually sixty-six pages apiece, but still. This publication history makes my brain cramp. And that doesn’t even take into account the 850 spin-off novels of the “sister-series” Atlan or the 400 paperbacks and 200 hardcovers releases which I gather from the wiki article were in addition to the weekly series.