TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953)

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WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953)

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Classic 1950s science fiction flick is based on the equally classic novel by H.G. Wells. It has a meteorite crashing into the California mountains near a small rural town. Scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) is nearby and heads there to investigate. When he arrives, he meets pretty Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), who joins him and soon they discover that the meteorite is actually a spacecraft with a trio of hostile Martian war machines inside. With more of these craft landing all over the world, the military surround the Martians in hopes of stopping them. The Martian technology is too advanced and our most modern weapons…most modern for 1953, that is…are no match for the invaders. As the Martians begin a wave of global destruction, Forrester and Sylvia begin a desperate attempt to find some way to stop them, before the planet falls to this seemingly indestructible enemy.

Film is directed by Byron Haskin for legendary producer George Pal. The screenplay is by Barré Lyndon based on H.G.Wells’ 1898 novel. The film takes some liberties with Wells’ book, such as with the design of the Martians and their weaponry, but most by way of simply updating the story to the 1950s and moving it to the United States. The basic tale is still there. It’s the original Independence Day and is a far superior movie, aging much better over a longer period of time. The SPFX may seem antiquated by today’s CGI heavy standards, but the wire-work, models and visual FX were quite impressive for the time and still have impact even today. The sound effects and Leith Stevens’ epic score are also very effective and add atmosphere. The battle sequences are intense and Barry and Robinson make a very good hero and heroine and have nice on-screen chemistry. The film is filled with gung-ho military types and strong religious overtones, as was typical of films of this era. It is very strong dramatically, even a bit scary in some of the earlier sequences, and has some pretty devastating scenes of city destruction and the panic and terror of the citizens within. It is simply a great movie and tells a lot of story and accomplishes a lot in it’s economic 85 minutes without ever feeling overcrowded, or it’s main characters shortchanged.

Overall, this is simply a great flick that still resonates almost 70 years later. The SPFX were impressive at the time and are still powerful today, even if the techniques have become outdated and antiquated. The Martians and their war machines are made scary and the film is populated with some fun characters that are stereotypical of this era of science fiction films. The leads are endearing and well performed and the narration from Sir Cedric Hardwicke adds atmosphere and dramatic intensity. A classic movie that has aged far better than a lot of more contemporary films with similar premises. War of the Worlds is currently available on a wonderfully restored blu-ray special edition from the Criterion Collection.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Martian war machines.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957)

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THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957)

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Giant insect movies were quite popular in the 50s and The Deadly Mantis is among the best. While many of the giant pests were the result of atomic testing, this six legged critter is a prehistoric insect melted out of the polar ice caps by the effects of an erupting volcano. Once free, the hungry beast snacks on military personnel and Eskimo natives on it’s way to warmer climates. The giant insect is pursued by scientists and the military as it stops for snacks in Canada, Maryland, Washington D.C. and even battles the U. S. Air Force over Newark, N.J.! This all leading to a finale confrontation in the Big Apple inside the Lincoln Tunnel (dubbed The Manhattan Tunnel for the film).

Fun flick is directed by Nathan H. Juran, who also directed classics like 20 Million Miles to Earth and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, from a story and script by William Alland and Martin Berkeley. Juran takes the material very seriously, as does his cast, and it helps make the silly scenario very entertaining. The pace is brisk, with a lot of action, the traditional romantic sub-plot and the usual drama and humor, evenly mixed by Juran. There are some cheesy SPFX and stock footage as the military wages war on the mantis, but there is also a very impressive animatronic mantis puppet that is very effective when mixed with miniatures and given a monstrous roar by the sound FX folks. The acting is decent for this kind of movie and that helps the cheesy dialogue and silly science work well enough to keep us from laughing at the wrong times…though we nostalgically now do anyway.

This is one of the best giant bug movies from this era. A Universal picture, The Deadly Mantis takes it’s silly subject very seriously and is surprisingly well made, probably the result of being a major studio film. The cast take the material as seriously as the director and it maintains the illusion that we should be concerned about a massive prehistoric insect eating it’s way across the United States. A fun and very entertaining 50s science fiction epic. Charming cast includes, William Hopper as the handsome Dr. Ned Jackson, Craig Stevens as smooth military officer Col. Joe Parkman and Alix Talton as sexy journalist/photographer/love interest Marge Blaine.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) mantis.

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959)

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BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959)

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Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is a busboy at The Yellow Door, a coffee shop for beatniks and bohemian artists…what we would call a Starbucks today…and wants to be revered like many of the artistic types that frequent there, especially in the eyes of pretty co-worker Carla (Barboura Morris). In a series of unfortunate events, Walter kills his landlady’s cat Frankie and hides the body in some clay that he intended to use in a sculpture. He brings the cat to the shop and everyone becomes infatuated with it, especially Carla. Now Walter has discovered a way into Carla’s heart and it will only take some clay and a few corpses to do it.

Horror/comedy is directed and produced by Roger Corman from a script by Charles B. Griffith, who also wrote the original Little Shop of Horrors. It’s not the first collaboration between Corman and leading man Miller, but it is one of their most famous and one of Miller’s few leading roles. It also unleashed a slew of cameos by Miller playing characters named Walter Paisley in the films of up and coming Corman alumni years later. The flick is a comedy of errors with Walter making his first kills by accident, but as his “sculptures”, are getting him the attention he wants, he soon starts killing his subjects to be immortalized in clay. Obviously, things will get out of hand for the bumbling Walter.The satire may not click today as it specifically targets the beatnik culture of the 50s, but one may still appreciate the dark humor of Walter’s newfound art and the art crowd’s overwhelming reaction to it. It’s not a long movie at only 66 minutes and the jazz infused score by Fred Katz is quite nostalgic. On a production level, the film was shot in true Corman style for AIP on a budget of only $50,000 and in 5 days on the sets from another movie.

There is a small cast. Miller is likable and sympathetic as Walter. He’s abused by his boss Leonard (Antony Carbone) and ignored by those he wants attention from. Even when he starts to kill for his newfound hobby, he remains more tragic than unlikable, only becoming downright creepy in the last act. Barboura Morris is pretty and charming as Carla. She’s sweet and seems to always like Walter, though he doesn’t see it. Carbone is slimy as Leonard, who is benefiting financially from the art community’s new prodigy. Even when he discovers Walter’s gruesome secret, he chooses to profit until guilt finally overcomes him. The film also has a small role from 70s game show host and TV icon Bert Convy as an ill-fated undercover cop.

This early Corman production may be dated at this point, but it is still fun and it made Dick Miller a movie fan household name. Miller rarely had lead roles and this one would earn him a long career of character parts and cameos that lasted for sixty years. A perfect example of early Corman thriftiness and one of Dick Miller’s most famous roles.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) sculptures surprisingly titled “dead cat”.

 

Farewell and RIP Dick Miller (1928-2019)

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: STRANGE INVADERS (1983)

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STRANGE INVADERS (1983)

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In 1958 a ship from another world lands in Centerville, Illinois and the entire town’s population disappears. Twenty-five years later, entomologist Charles Bigelow (Paul Le Mat) travels to Centerville to find his ex-wife Margaret (Diana Scarwid) who traveled there for the funeral of her mother. When Charles gets there, he finds the citizens don’t seem to like strangers, they’ve never heard of his ex-wife or her mother and he is chased out of town by something that can only be described as otherworldly. But whatever inhabits Centerville has followed him back to NYC and has targeted his young daughter, Elizabeth (Lulu Sylbert). Now Charles teams with a tabloid reporter (Nancy Allen) to try to save his daughter from these beings from another world and whatever purpose they have in store for her.

Fifties alien invasion movie homage is written and directed by Michael Laughlin and does have the feel of an old school sci-fi flick, though is also still very eighties. It’s a bit goofy at times, though that seems deliberate and the FX are delightfully cheesy, which gives it a certain charm. There are some amusing sequences of otherworldly action and Laughlin does capture the flavor of what he is paying homage to. If the film falters in any respect it is in that, much like his Strange Behavior, the flick is very slow paced and feels much longer than it’s 90+ minute running time. Strange Invaders could have used a bit more steam in it’s stride, though wisely plays it straight and doesn’t make an outright joke out of the proceedings, which fondly evokes camp classics like Invaders From Mars and Invasion of the Saucer Men. A fun enough movie that doesn’t quite hit the mark straight on, but gets enough of the target to be an entertaining time.

The cast all perform in that fifties sci-fi flick dramatic monotone, on purpose of course. Le Mat makes a fine every-man hero and plays the nerdy scientist type well. Nancy Allen makes a spunky, sexy leading lady as the tabloid reporter who at first scoffs at Bigelow’s tale, but slowly starts to believe him…and fall for him as is tradition with these flicks. Louise Fletcher is fine as a government official that knows more than she’s letting on, though Scarwid is a little unconvincing in her role as ex-wife and extraterrestrial. Maybe she didn’t get the material. Michael Lerner appears as a man who encountered the invaders years before, while femme fatale Fiona Lewis and fifties sci-fi flick legend Kenneth Tobey are appropriately campy as aliens in human form.

This homage to the great alien invasion movies of the fifties may not have fired on all cylinders, but did connect enough to be a fun time. It’s both delightfully fifties and nostalgically eighties and is enjoyable even if it does move a little too slowly for it’s own good. Sadly this film flopped at the box office and Michael Laughlin directed one more movie before leaving the director’s chair to focus on writing.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) strange invaders.

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (1957)

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ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (1957)

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1957 was a busy year for producer/director Roger Corman and this is another of his cult classics. This flick finds a group of scientists and navy men going to a deserted island to study the effects of H-bomb test fallout. One of the side effects of the nuclear dusting is some of the crabs have mutated to giants the size of Cadillacs and with the power to absorb the minds of their human food. Can this group survive as the colossal crabs decimate their number and steal their brains?

Giant mutated crabs would have been enough for most filmmakers during the 50s nuclear age cinema, but Corman had to give them the ability to absorb and use peoples minds, too. The sheer audacity of it alone may explain why this was a big hit for the producer. This was another movie Corman directed from a script by frequent collaborator Charles B. Griffith and once again he takes his subject matter seriously even though our main attractions are giant talking, brain sucking crabs. Corman gives this one a fairly fast pace, it is legitimately spooky at times and has a healthy does of intensity. The serious tone from both director and his cast…including future “Professor” from Gilliagan’s Island, Russell Johnson…helps the audience take our crustacean bad guys more seriously. As for the creatures, they actually don’t look that bad considering this is a low budget film and Corman keeps them hidden till the last act. As silly as the plot may sound, this is actually a decent horror flick despite the outrageous plot elements and Corman’s thrifty style makes good use of minimal sets and outdoor locations. There is also a bit of a charming cheese factor, but it’s a lot better than one might think and about the best a talking giant crab movie may ever get. One of Corman’s better low budget black and white efforts.

I was very amused by this one upon the revisit. It wasn’t as silly as it could have been and Corman took his audacious plot and ran with it. By the time we meet our villains they have been given enough of a threat factor to make them work, despite they are talking paper mache crabs. A fun and surprisingly effective atom age monster movie from Roger Corman.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 crabs pre-atomic mutation.

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) and THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959)

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This segment of Tomb Of Nostalgia takes the form of a double feature I watched this weekend…two personal favorite, old-school monster flicks!


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beast from 20000 fathoms

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THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

One of the all time great 1950’s creature features directed by Eugène Lourié with another classic monster from SPFX master Ray Harryhausen. Flick is based on a Ray Bradbury short story titled The Fog Horn and features genre favorite Kenneth Tobey. The story starts with an atomic bomb test in the Arctic which frees a prehistoric dinosaur from it’s icy grave. The creature wreaks havoc all down the coast as it heads toward NYC and a showdown with the military. Adding to the already aggressive nature of the beast is that it carries a bacteria in it’s blood that is unknown to today’s medicine and is quite lethal. Can it be stopped!?

Beast is the first of Lourié’s three classic monster movies (The Giant Behemoth and Gorgo being the others) and is directed in his serious and intense tone. The cast all take their roles seriously, too and it helps make this monster movie the classic it is. Obviously, the FX from Harryhausen are top notch and the Rhedosaurus is one of his most famous creations. Climax in New York is still thrilling even by today’s standards and is far better then the 1998 American Godzilla which was more a remake of this film then it was of the Japanese monster icon.
MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: Keep you eyes peeled for the army sharp shooter at the climax played by a then unknown Lee Van Cleef.

-MonsterZero NJ

4 Rhedosaurus.

beast rating

 

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giant behemoth

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THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959)

Basically a retread of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms but set in England. Behemoth also has the same director, Eugène Lourié, who brings a serious tone to the proceedings as with his other monster movies. It is his taking the material seriously and having his cast do the same that makes this as effective as it is. The difference between this and Beast is this creature is dying from the radiation poisoning received from atomic tests, making it twice as vicious and it’s ability to emit radioactive waves from it’s body like an electric eel, make it twice as lethal. The effects of it’s radioactive condition on some of the characters is quite disturbing, even for a film of this era. A giant monster movie with a bit of a nasty edge. The FX are delivered, this time, with contributions from the great Willis O’Brian (King Kong) and there is some nice intensity as this creature, driven mad with pain, rampages through the streets of London destroying and killing anything in it’s path. Nostalgic charm is ever present with the combination of stop motion animation and black and white photography. Also amusing to watch London get leveled, giving New York and Tokyo a much needed break, although the ominous ending may suggest that break may not be a long one. Well done and intense monster movie. For my Eugène Lourié’s third giant monster flick, Gorgo click HERE.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 behemoths

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