Bonus: The Monolith Monsters

Watched: December 16 2017

Director: John Sherwood

Starring: Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Les Tremayne, Trevor Bardette, Phil Harvey, Linda Scheley

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 17min

NOTE: At the time of watching (and writing) this, it was #155, but we see now that it has been removed from Mr Wright’s list. Still, it’s been watched and written, so we’ll just call it a bonus post and include it anyway, dammit! For details on numbering, read this.

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Meteors have been crashing into the desert in California, and geologist Ben Gilbert (Harvey) brings home a sample of the newly arrived space rocks. There is a storm, and the next day Dave Miller (Williams) arrives only to find his colleague petrified and his lab smashed, with lots of black rocks strewn around everywhere.

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“What a mystery! This calls for a huge sciency pot of sciency coffee and much pondering.”

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Meanwhile, Dave’s girlfriend Cathy Barrett (Albright) takes her class on a field trip to the desert and sends little Ginny (Scheley) home with another sample of the same rock. It ends badly.

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If you think pet rocks are a nice and safe alternative to an actual animal for your child, think again!

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Ginny’s fascination with shiny things kills her family, ruins their farm, and starts to slowly turn her to stone. Dave and Cathy start to investigate, together with a journalist, the police, and several medical doctors. They find that the mysterious rocks start to grow when exposed to water, and suck the silicon out of everything it touches when “activated.” Thank God it never rains in southern California!

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Just kidding. Of course it starts raining.

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With huge rocks making their way slowly and steadily towards the town, smashing everything in their way, it is up to Dave, Cathy, and Dave’s old professor Arthur Flanders (Bardette) to stop the advancing threat, save the town, and save the girl.

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But where to start? Why, by looking at maps and exchanging worried glances, of course.

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The Monolith Monsters is a silly, weird and fun sci-fi. The growing rocks are actually way more sinister than we would have thought possible, and while the premise of the movie is very silly, it is played straight. And it actually works.

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Evil killer rocks. We would have loved to be in that pitch meeting.

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The growing rocks are cool, we loved the newspaper man Martin Cochrane (Tremayne), and the film is a great mix between stupid (dat premise tho!) and serious. Very campy fun – thoroughly recommended if you like strange ’50s science fiction.

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It’s proving hard to find stills from this film, so here’s another picture of the titular “Monolith Monsters.”

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What we learned: Between Them! and this, the desert is no place for little blonde girls. Also, rocks are petrifying. Pun intended.

Next time: The Seventh Seal (1957)

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#154 The Incredible Shrinking Man

Watched: December 10 2017

Director: Jack Arnold

Starring: Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, Paul Langton, April Kent, Raymond Bailey, William Schallert

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 21min

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Somewhere at sea, a young couple are enjoying a day out on a boat. Louise (Stuart – who we absolutely adored), goes below deck to get Scott (Williams) a drink, and suddenly the man is enveloped by a mysterious, glittery mist.

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“Oh no! This must be one of those evil, communist, homosexual fogs that turn you gay!”

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Although he has no immediate ill effects, after a few months Scott remarks that all his clothes have become too big. Not by a lot, but definitely noticeable. A doctor’s appointment confirms that he is in fact shrinking, and together with medical experts the Carey’s start on their quest to save Scott from a terrible fate.

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“I’m not shrinking. We just underestimated the size of the new furniture we ordered.”

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As Scott shrinks, so does his self-esteem. He becomes angry and hostile towards his wife, with whom he no longer feels like the “man” of the household. He also grows increasingly pretentious as he tries to put his own existence into cosmic perspective. Or something. Oh, and he also has to go into battle with a house cat and a spider, which is less philosophical and more action packed.

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Exploring the usefulness of sewing supplies does not threaten your masculinity. Especially when you use said supplies to battle killer spiders.

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Based on a novel by Richard Matheson, The Incredible Shrinking Man explores identity, masculinity and fancy ’50s atomic science. Scott starts off as a normal, likable man in a happy marriage, but as he shrinks he becomes hostile and erratic. Then again, everything around him becomes increasingly dangerous, so you can’t really blame him for some of his attitude. Except for his anger with his adorable wife.

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“My stupid wife and her stupid cat!”

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It’s a great, old, classic science fiction film, and (most of) the special effects hold up really well even 60 years later. Scott isn’t a particularly likable protagonist/narrator, but it’s still a very entertaining watch, even if from the beginning you get a strong feeling that there’s no way this will end well.

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There’s a feeling of doom even before they bring carnies into the mix

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What we learned: To God there is no zero. Also, avoid being enveloped by mysterious fogs.

Next time: The Monolith Monsters (1957)

Bonus: The Curse of Frankenstein

Watched: December 25 2017

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Valerie Gaunt

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 22min

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Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) is smart, ambitious, handsome, charming and rich. He is also an arrogant jerk. And imprisoned. He confesses to a priest and tells his unusual, and somewhat unbelievable, story.

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“It all started, as these things tend to do, with a dead dog…”

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Orphaned at a fairly young age, Baron Frankenstein hires his own tutor, Paul Krempe (Urquhart), to be his teacher and later partner. Together the two explore the world of science!

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That’s just normal glass – his eyes are really like that. If you don’t believe us, watch Top Secret (1984)

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Their greatest achievement, the reanimation of dead tissue, brings about different reactions in the two scientists. While Kempe’s initial reactions is “yay! This’ll make surgery so much easier and safer!”, Frankenstein’s first impulse is to go out and harvest body parts to make himself a new man-puzzle. Kempe finally starts to see the sociopath in his student, and they have a falling out.

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“It’s MY turn to reanimate the corpse!” “No, it’s MINE!” “Who’s the one paying for all this?” “Screw this, I’m out.”

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Things escalate when Victor straight up murders another intellectual to use his brain for his creation, and then uses his successfully assembled and animated creature (Lee) to kill his knocked up maid Justine (Gaunt) who threatens to expose his shady dealings if he does not marry her.

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“Sorry, sweetheart – you’re certainly not good enough for the likes of me. Think of what the children will be like??? No, I’m engaged to marry my cousin. Yay gene pool!”

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Meanwhile, Victor’s cousin Elizabeth (Court) has arrived to marry him, which adds another complication. With the death toll rising, a creature on the loose, a falling out between the friends, and a Fair Maiden innocently roaming the large house at night, how on earth will this end?

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Let’s face it: fancy, defenseless ladies roaming around castles in the night with only a small lamp for company are usually not indicative of happy endings…

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The Curse of Frankenstein is quite different from its early predecessor Frankenstein despite their many similarities. For one, the monster (or, in this case, creature) isn’t really all that important. As creepy and scary as Christopher Lee is in this, the focus is all on the Mad Scientist Victor Frankenstein.

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For such an unfortunate looking creature, he’s a surprisingly snappy dresser!

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Frankenstein himself is also very different. Personally, we feel that this take on the Baron is closer to the source material than many other incarnations – he really is an arrogant, egotistical, spoiled brat with a God complex in the book, no matter how bad he feels once everything falls apart. Cushing’s Frankenstein is particularly ruthless, and we love him for it. Well, not him as much as this version of events, we suppose. But we definitely love this film!

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…and this guy! #decompositionchic

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What we learned: If you’re going to stand up to a rich, insane, megalomaniac nobleman who doesn’t like being told what to do, you’d better have a contingency plan…

Next time: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

#151 Quatermass 2: Enemy from Space

Watched: December 16 2017

Director: Val Guest

Starring: Brian Donlevy, John Longden, Bryan Forbes, Sid James, William Franklyn

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 25min

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Small meteors keep falling near small British village Winnerden Flats, much to the interest of Professor Quatermass (Donlevy). Frustrated with the dried up funding for his lunar base project, the professor decides to look into the strange meteors, only to find a fully constructed lunar base right on the outskirts of the village.

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“Yes – exactly like my model! But bigger. Like, DD big.”

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The entire area is under military control, and when Quatermass’ colleague Marsh (Forbes) is injured by whatever emerges from the gas in the hollow non-meteors, the two are separated; Quatermass is escorted away and Marsh is sent to the base for medical attention.

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“‘Tis but a scratch!”

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With the help of an MP, our hero manages to score an invite to inspect the base, which is supposed to produce synthetic food. But what he finds there is far more sinister than GMOs…

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“My God! And they told me my diet was bad!”

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Like The Quatermass Xperiment before it, Quatermass 2 is the Hammer film version of a BBC series, and it’s a great little sci-fi adventure.

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Banners and gas masks. What a charming party!

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There’s Cold War paranoia, conspiracies, propaganda, brain washing, alien colonization, pretty blondes, and mystery – everything you could possibly wish for in a science fiction horror. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The World’s End (2013), people appear normal and as they’ve always been, but something profound has changed which is hard to pin down. Add to that military operations and creepy gas masks, and you’ve got yourself an uncanny little gem, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

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Did we mention the inflated trash bags?

A fun way to kick off the next 50 films!

What we learned: Everything will be answered later.

Next time: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

#140 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Watched: October 5 2017

Director: Don Siegel

Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Larry Gates

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Dr Miles Bennell (McCarthy) has had a rough few days, and is trying to convince a psychiatrist that he is not crazy but that his home town really is at the centre of a large scale alien invasion. His story is then told in flashbacks and we see the invasion unfold.

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He has really cultivated that so-not-crazy-right-now-look

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Bennell, a small town doctor, has been out of town and very popular in his absence; half the town has been in to see him, but when he returns they are no longer as keen. He gradually finds that many of his patients seem to suffer from Capgras delusion – they think their loved ones are not themselves or have been replaced by impostors. They also suddenly snap out of their delusions without any treatment…

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The thick plottens when the protagonists find an unconscious man with no distinguishing features hidden in a friend’s basement

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Bennell, together with childhood crush Becky Driscoll (Wynter), starts to investigate and what they find is literally out of this world – a race of alien “pod people” who are taking over the entire town of Santa Mira by replacing its people with unemotional but otherwise perfect replicas.

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“Tired of your neighbour? Grow a new one in a greenhouse! Pod People – Replacing Non-Conformist Folks Everywhere”

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers shows a quiet invasion – alien beings who fell from the sky gradually take over friends, relatives and neighbours in their sleep. Those not yet taken grow increasingly paranoid and hysterical, especially since the change is hard to prove – it’s mostly just a feeling and an instinct that something is wrong.

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Until they start chasing you, of course. Then you know.

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This film is remade (or, the novel by Jack Finney is filmed) every other decade or so, sometimes under different titles (such as Body Snatchers or The Invasion), and each time the plot changes slightly based on the general zeitgeist. The original, from the fifties, naturally has clear undertones of McCarthyism and the communist scare.

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Though things have changed a lot since 1956, the tried and tested investigative method of poking stuff with a stick has fortunately survived.

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We’ve mentioned how we love old-timey sci-fi before, and this film is an old favourite which still holds up. We’re really looking forward to Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version now, to see the differences (we haven’t seen it in ages). Also, although the quality of the different productions vary a bit, we think they should just keep remaking the plot every twenty years or so. It’s a good indication of what people’s fears are at any given time, and important documentation for the ages.

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And it gives us shots like this.

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What we learned: If people around you start acting weird, they’re probably pod people and are out to get you.

Next time: The Bad Seed (1956)

#139 Forbidden Planet

Watched: September 29 2017

Director: Fred M. Wilcox

Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Robby the Robot

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 38min

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Commander Adams (Nielsen – before he became everyone’s favourite deadpan comedy actor) and his crew are travelling through space to a distant, Earth-like planet in order to rescue any survivors from a previous mission.

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Earth technology circa year 2300. Can’t wait!

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When they reach their destination they find only two survivors; the mysterious Dr Morbius (Pidgeon) and his young attractive daughter Altaira (Francis). They live alone with their robot Robby and a menagerie of wild animals while Dr Morbius explores the remains of an advanced ancient civilization which used to inhabit the planet. Also, there’s a killer monster roaming around, but the good doctor and his daughter seem somehow immune to it. Curiouser and curiouser.

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Must be her scandalously short dresses keeping them safe. Monster doesn’t want to seem too forward.

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The all-male crew start creeping on Altaira pretty quickly, leading to the commander berating her for her short dresses. ‘Cause, you know, it’s her own freaking fault. Naturally, the two then fall for each other, and Altaira decides to leave her home and father for Earth. This does not please Father, nor the monster…

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You silly girl. You must understand that your dress is distracting my crew and this is your fault and not a great opportunity for us men to reconsider our view of women and our capability to control our urges. Go change.

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Forbidden Planet is an awesome sci-fi adventure, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but greatly influenced by Freud as well. For its time, and genre, it had a big budget and is presented in colour and Cinemascope – quite rare for ’50s sci-fi.

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Not to mention Robby the Fanciest Robot!

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We’re suckers for old-timey sci-fi and so naturally we loved this film. Add to that Leslie Nielsen, mysterious monsters, ancient civilizations, action, a score of “electronic tonalities,” Freud, and incestuous undertones (again, Freud) and we have a winner.

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Also, Morbius the Creepy Science Guy

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Forbidden Planet has the honour of being the first film on the list where someone let us know when we started this project that they wanted to join us for the viewing, so we had a viewing party! Sort of… Well, three people and pizza constitute a party in our book. The next one which has sparked interest is Flash Gordon (1980), so we’re looking forward to that. In a few years. We don’t get out much.

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We’re pretty sure this kind of thing is waiting for us out there, so we prefer to stay inside where it’s safe…

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What we learned: We’re all monsters in our subconscious, but we have laws and religion to keep us under control. Also, never trust the sole surviving member of an exploration party where everyone else died under mysterious circumstances.

Next time: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

#137 The Quatermass Xperiment

Watched: September 24 2017

Director: Val Guest

Starring: Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner, Margia Dean, David King-Wood, Thora Hird, Richard Wordsworth

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 18min

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As a young couple laugh randomly in a field, a rocket comes crashing down from the sky. Emergency services arrive shortly after but are unable to do anything with the space craft other than wait for it to cool down.

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Not a scenario covered in basic training for most British emergency services. Only a few.

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Enter Professor Quatermass (Donlevy) – a scientist with little patience, no respect for so-called authorities, and no time for nonsense. He is the brains behind the semi-successful space launch, and he is worried about the crew after they lost radio contact for 57 hours. And rightly so – when they finally open up the ship, two of the three astronauts have vanished, and the only remaining crew member is in a state of shock.

 

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“Not to worry, my dear. I suspect, if we put him in this dental chair and stick tubes in him, he’ll probably snap right out of it. Yes, that’ll do the trick!”

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The survivor, Victor Carroon (Wordsworth) is transferred to a hospital after he fails to make any progress, but his wife Judith (Dean) has the brilliant idea to kidnap her non-responsive, traumatized and possibly infectious husband and get him out of there.

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“We still don’t know what’s wrong with you or what happened to the rest of the crew, but what could possibly go wrong?”

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With their subject missing, Quatermass and Dr Gordon Briscoe (King-Wood) find out some ugly truths about his condition, and they must hunt Carroon down before he manages to kill and/or infect too many others. The future of the planet is at stake!

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He retains some of his humanity. Little girls with dolls are scary and must be avoided!

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We’ve never seen this one before, although we have seen the two surviving episodes of the 1953 BBC show on which is was based. It was good to finally get some closure and find out how this all developed.

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Answer: not that well…

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This is a great sci-fi horror, which obviously inspired shows like Doctor Who, although the effects are now a little bit dated (not that we care about that stuff – we are masters at suspending our disbelief!). The stages of Carroon’s transformation are still very good, and also very sad.

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Donlevy’s Quatermass is a bit more aggressive than Reginald Tate’s TV version, but we enjoyed him a lot.

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We can’t wait for the other two Quatermass films – we loved the shows they’re based on and can’t imagine the films being anything less than amazing.

What we learned: Outer space is scary.

Next time: Bigger Than Life (1956)

#130 Kiss Me Deadly

Watched: August 27 2017

Director: Robert Aldrich

Starring: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Maxine Cooper, Juano Hernandez, Cloris Leachman, Marian Carr, Nick Dennis

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 46min

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A barefooted girl in a trench coat is running along a road, desperately trying to flag down a car. When one finally stops, she is admonished for almost wrecking the car by driver Mike Hammer (Meeker) before he lets her in. The girl, Christina (Leachman), is unable to speak at first but accepts a ride and gets in the stranger’s car.

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You know you’re in trouble when getting into a car with a grumpy stranger whilst naked is the safest choice

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Mike is not exactly the nicest guy in the world, but he does get Christina past a police blockade looking for an escaped mental patient, which is more than you can usually ask of a total stranger. It turns out he is a somewhat dodgy P.I. with a history of two-timing his clients. However, luckily for the desperate Christina, he’s also the kind of man who doesn’t give up once he’s onto something.

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Even if he’s up against people who like to torture and kill helpless girls

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We say luckily, but for poor Christina there was no luck. The two are captured, tortured and dumped in their car over a cliff. Mike makes it, but his female companion does not. Offended by these events, the Private Dick starts to investigate with the help of his lover/assistant/secretary/bait Velma (Cooper) and various colourful characters. What was Christina running from? Who was after her? And what is important enough to kill for?

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What’s in the box? Spoiler alert: it’s not the soul of Marsellus Wallace.

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Kiss Me Deadly is a Noir, but there are clear influences from horror and sci-fi, with the runaway mental patient and the mysterious glowing box everybody’s after. We went in completely blind on this one and were drawn in from the beginning – the opening scene is great! We loved Nick and Friday, the Gothic and sci-fi elements, Mike’s extreme badassness (though he might be a bit of a sociopath), and the importance of Christina Rossetti.

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A thorough knowledge of classic poetry is as important as a leggy dame, an attitude, a quick wit and a gun when it comes to investigating

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Poetry is important.

What we learned: Don’t pick up hitchhikers. Or, actually, do. Add some spice to your life! Also, breaking records is a surprisingly effective interrogation technique.

Next time: Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

#124 Them!

Watched: June 29 2017

Director: Gordon Douglas

Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness

Year: 1954

Runtime: 1h 34min

Them

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Police pick up a shell-shocked little girl in the New Mexico desert. They also spot an abandoned car and trailer, and when they check them out they find a war zone sprinkled with sugar. What on earth could have happened?

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Nothing good, that’s what!

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As more similar crime scenes appear, Police Sergeant Ben Peterson (Whitmore) investigates with the help of his trooper, who quickly becomes another victim of the unseen threat. FBI Agent Robert Graham (Arness) replaces the dead trooper, and with their only clues being strange tracks, sugar, and huge amounts of formic acid in the victims’ bodies, the investigators call in some experts. Dr Harold Medford (Gwenn) arrives, accompanied by his daughter, Dr Patricia Medford (Weldon). The two of them have some crazy theories.

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Surprise! The crazy theories were spot on and there really are enormous killer ants running around in the desert!

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The culprits are giant ants, mutations made by radiation from nuclear bomb tests in New Mexico (see “Godzilla: Bombs are Bad“). The team manage to destroy the nest, but realise that three queens have managed to escape. Now they must track them down and destroy them before they destroy all of humanity.

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Pretty much the most fun you can have with nuclear mutation mistakes

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As mentioned, we watched this as a double feature with Godzilla, and they really are a perfect match. Atomic monsters threatening major cities who must be destroyed by scientists and the military working together, with a sprinkle of romance and humour. We loved them both, although Them! seems the slightly sillier version of the same general idea.

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Giant dinosaury sea monsters beat giant animatronic insects in terms of fright factor, in our opinion. The insects win for fun factor, though.

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A cult classic which is surprisingly tense given the premise, Them! is a great film if you’re a fan of creepy creature features with slightly dated effects but otherwise great performances and lots of eerie sounds. We loved both Doctors Medford, and had a great time watching this.

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Who you gonna call? Antbusters!

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What we learned: Get the antennae! Also, not all nuclear explosions lead to superheroes.

Next time: All That Heaven Allows (1955)

#120 Godzilla/Gojira

Watched: June 29 2017

Director: Ishirô Honda

Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata

Year: 1954

Runtime: 1h 36min

Godzilla poster

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Godzilla – King of the Monsters! Hydrogen bombs off the coast of Japan have awoken the mighty beast from its oceanic slumber and it is coming for Tokyo. Send in the army, sacrifice your daughters, and RUN!

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Not sure how a girl is supposed to placate this beast, but for a while that was the only viable plan

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As Godzilla, a dinosaury creature of local legend, wreaks havoc on the shores of Japan, scientists and military personnel work to pacify and/or kill the monster. Some, such as Dr. Yamane (Shimura), are convinced they should let the rare specimen live.

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It just wants to play! And it’s so cuuuuute!

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Others, particularly the military, but later also Yamane’s daughter Emiko (Kôchi) and her two boyfriends (it’s complicated) Hideto and Serizawa (Takarada and Hirata, respectively), begin to realise that their only course of action is to destroy it before it destroys all of Japan and possibly the world.

Emiko (Momoko Kochi) witnesses the horrifying effects of the "At
“Kill it! Kill it with……oxygen..?”

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Godzilla is a legendary creature feature which has spawned countless sequels, remakes, and reboots. However, none of them have quite managed to capture the magic of the original. Sure, there have been more advanced special effects in some other Godzilla-films, but the original man (technically men; Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka) in the monster suit is strangely effective.

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It might be an advantage to the overall effect that the movie is quite dark and a lot of details are slightly obscured

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It’s atmospheric and intense, with a dramatic score, great performances and real threats. We watched this as a part of 1000filmblog’s Atomic Double Creature Feature Night™ together with Gordon Douglas’ Them! (#124) from the same year, and it was a fantastic combination. As we’re going through the fifties and sixties, we’re looking forward to more atomic/space-agey horror and sci-fi – we love us a good monster movie and a good atomic scare!

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We’ll leave you with the poster for the American edition of this Japanese classic – now with added Americans!

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What we learned: Hydrogen bombs are bad. Also, when Godzilla emerges, we might have to give up a girl as sacrifice.

Next time: Magnificent Obsession (1954)