by Steve Habrat
In the heyday of saucer men science fiction movies from the 1950s, most of the films saw the extraterrestrial visitors descending from the stars and roaming the dry landscapes of earth. They landed their shiny UFO right smack dab in the middle of Washington DC in the thoughtful The Day the Earth Stood Still and they sneakily attempted to turn American citizens into mindless clones in the chilling Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Heck, we even visited their home planets in such Technicolor classics like This Island Earth and Forbidden Planet. In 1959, director Spencer Gordon Bennet aimed to change the aliens-on-land mold with his low budget B-movie effort The Atomic Submarine, a serious-minded aquatic adventure that finds its spacemen seeking shelter and attacking earthlings from under the sea. While it certainly doesn’t rank with the classics mentioned above, The Atomic Submarine is still quite an impressive effort for a low budget science fiction outing. It features some heady political debates, some grand special effects that include underwater UFOs and a Cyclops alien complete with slimy tentacles, and a cast of veteran actors that keep the drama and tension high inside the cramped hallways of their Tigershark submarine.
The Atomic Submarine begins by explaining that a handful of ships and submarines have been mysteriously destroyed as they pass through the North Pole. In a frenzied attempt to halt the destruction, the authorities quickly close off the North Pole to any ships or submarines that may be passing through. An emergency meeting is called at the Pentagon between Commander Dan Wendover (played by Dick Foran), Secretary of Defense Justin Murdock (played by Jack Mulhil), and scientist Sir Ian Hunt (played by Tom Conway), who all begin debating how to handle the situation. A plan is devised to send the atomic submarine Tigershark out into the disaster zone and track down what is causing all the attacks. A crew is soon assembled, which includes Lt. Commander Richard “Reef” Holloway (played by Arthur Franz), Dr. Clifford Kent (played by Victor Varconi), and pacifist scientist Dr. Carl Neilson, Jr. (played by Brett Halsey). Shortly after setting out, the crew stumbles upon a saucer shaped underwater craft, which they quickly assume is an Unidentified Flying Object. The order is given to attack the UFO, but to the astonishment of the crew, the torpedoes that are fired do nothing to the ship. With no alternative options to bring the saucer down, the crew begins devising a way to destroy the ship, but their situation becomes even graver once they learn of the extraterrestrial’s plot to invade Earth.
Made with a measly $135,000 dollars, The Atomic Submarine is a science fiction film that doesn’t shy away from showing off for the viewer. The early sequences are minimal, with a group of guys stuffed into a room talking strategy with a bunch of flashing monitors and buttons behind them. Bennet will occasionally cut to the outside of the Tigershark as it glides proudly through a valley of icebergs. At times, it is glaringly obvious that Bennet is simply showing us a close-up of a child’s model submarine submerged in a swimming pool, but these close-ups do add a grand scale to the high tech piece of underwater machinery. As the film progresses, Bennet works up to a sleek UFO complete with a single glowing window on the top that leads the crew to nickname the ship ‘Cyclops.’ The UFO is unique in the sense that it is a living organism that can deflect bombs, a science fiction first! By the end of the film, the few members of the Tigershark crew manage to make their way inside the UFO and snoop around the inside of the ship. They are not met with alien monitors, neon lights, or other ornate decorations, but rather pitch-black open spaces with a single walkway cutting through the darkness and a weapon that can burn the guys to a crisp. Then there is the alien himself, which looks like a bigger version of the extraterrestrials that prowled the deserts of It Came from Outer Space. He truly is nifty and the filmmakers did manage to make him pretty intimidating.
What ultimately separates The Atomic Submarine from the rest of the other science fiction films of the 1950s is the slew of veteran actors gently guiding the film. Dick Foran is quietly in control as the no-nonsense Commander Wendover, a man ready to give the order to fire rockets straight at their extraterrestrial antagonist. Arthur Franz is the true star here as Lt. Holloway, the brave playboy who detests the pacifist Dr. Neilson and has a shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude towards the situation that they find themselves in. Franz also nabs the film’s best line when he comes face to, um, face with the alien menace at the end. Halsey is subdued as the young Dr. Neilson, the liberal-minded son of one of Holloway’s closest friends. Halsey is probably the youngest actor in the entire film and barely given the chance to save the day, strange considering that the fresh faced all-American is usually the one that is sticking it to the invading alien force in these types of B-movies. The other interesting aspect of The Atomic Submarine is the fact that there isn’t a damsel in distress anywhere near the action. In fact, there is barely a female face to be found outside of the blonde bombshell Joi Lansing. She shows up near the beginning as Lt. Holloway’s smoldering distraction for a drunken evening.
It is no secret that the science fiction films of the 1950s warned us of the dangers of the bomb, radiation, mutation, and the Reds while always reminding audiences to keep an eye on the sky. The Atomic Submarine is certainly no different than most of the other B-movies of this era in terms of coming with a message, but it seems to shake its head at some of the liberal mindedness that these films were remembered for. Midway through the film, there is a heady confrontation between Dr. Neilson and Lt. Holloway about how to approach the alien ship. Neilson argues that violence shouldn’t be the first response while Lt. Holloway is ready to bring the firepower. It is certainly a show stopping debate, but it’s especially interesting because it seems to be tapping into the tensions that were leading up to the counter culture movement, something that was only a few short years away. Overall, while it certainly won’t be remembered as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, The Atomic Submarine is without question one of the more unique, measured, finely acted, and thought provoking B-movies that filled out a cheapie double bill. Come for the impressive underwater UFO and stay for the unsettling final showdown.
The Atomic Submarine is available on DVD. It is available in the Monsters and Madmen set by the Criterion Collection.
by Steve Habrat
In the 1950s, moviegoers looking for a terrifying thrill were treated to some real flimsy basement efforts. There were science fiction films made with almost no money whatsoever, monster movies that featured atomic creatures with visible zippers up their side stalking a shrieking teenage girl, and then there were Ed Wood horror movies, which occupy a league of their own in the land of cringe-worthy B-movies. Wood is largely remembered for being one of the most incompetent directors of all time and the man who gave the world Plan 9 from Outer Space, a film that is widely considered the worst film ever made. Looking back on Plan 9 from Outer Space, we can now smile and acknowledge that this was a film made by a man who was determined to show the world his vision, even if they laughed it right off the screen. While casual horror fans may know Wood simply for Plan 9 from Outer Space, if you dig deeper into his catalogue of work, you will find another hidden gem in the form of 1955’s Bride of the Monster, an equally goofy, flawed, and downright hilarious attempt at being scary. Featuring lots of gothic castles, humid swamps, lightning flashes, giant rubber squids, and Bela Lugosi’s final speaking performance, Bride of the Monster manages to overcome the endless amount of flubs that comprise it and becomes a true labor of love that you just can’t resist, even if you desperately want to.
Bride of the Monster begins with two men, Jake (played by John Warren) and Mac (played by Bud Osborne), out in Lake Marsh when a nasty storm hits. Desperate to find shelter, the two men make their way to an old abandoned mansion that is rumored to house a monster. As they get closer to the mansion, Jake and Mac realize that the mansion may not be abandoned at all. As the men attempt to enter the mansion, they come face to face with Dr. Eric Vornoff (played by Bela Lugosi), who tells them to leave the property at once. When they protest, Dr. Vornoff’s mute assistant, Lobo (played by Tor Johnson), shows up and scares them away. In all the confusion, Mac falls into Lake Marsh and is attacked by a giant octopus and Jake is captured by Lobo and taken back to the old mansion where Dr. Vornoff begins performing a grotesque experiment on the terrified man. A few days later, police captain Robbins (played by Harvey B. Dunn) meets with Lt. Dick Craig (played by Tony McCoy) about the growing number of disappears in the swamp. Craig and Robbins decide to meet with Professor Strowski (played by George Becwar), who speaks of the Loch Ness Monster and claims to want to help with the situation. Meanwhile, feisty newspaper reporter Janet Lawton (played by Loretta King) grows tired of the slow response of the police and decides that she is going to do a little investigating of her own. It doesn’t take long for her to bump into Dr. Vornoff and Lobo, who slowly reveal their plan for world domination.
In true 50s fashion, Bride of the Monster is brimming with atomic paranoia, a staple of most horror and science fiction films of that period. Wood fills his picture with talk of an army of radioactive supermen, atomic bombs affecting the weather, and adds some out-of-place stock footage of mushroom clouds rolling into the atmosphere. One of these mushroom clouds can be found near the end, when one character shoots one of Vornoff’s attacking creatures. Conveniently, none of the characters are turned to ash even though they are extremely close to the blast. Wood clumsily attempts to send chills by using the fears of the day, but where he really excels is in the atmosphere, especially around Vornoff’s mansion. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to realize that he has outstanding stuff. The exterior shots outside the home are eerie and there are a few moments out in the swamp that show promise, but you have to wonder if the atrocious camera work wasn’t inadvertently lending a hand in creating a moody landscape for Wood’s mayhem. Though it’s hard to tell, the looming mansion appears to have a gothic touch and the looping lightning strikes call to mind Universal’s early films. Even his giant octopus is chilling in small doses, but naturally, Wood overdoes it and holds the shots for way too long, revealing the fact that it is just a giant rubber prop.
Surprisingly, Bride of the Monster features some above average performances, a shocker considering that this is Ed Wood we’re talking about. The standout is Bela Lugosi, who really lays his Lugosi-ness on thick here as Dr. Eric Vornoff. In his last starring role before his death, Lugosi whips out all his old Dracula tricks and puts them on full blast. He contorts his fingers into hypnotic claws and he bulges his eyes for Wood in extreme close-ups. He savors every single cheesy line of dialogue that Wood hands him and in one of the film’s shining moments, appears to almost forget the name of his character. Tor Johnson is a perfect fit for the lumber beefcake Lobo, the mute muscle that brings Vornoff his test subjects. This is a far better role for the Swedish wrestler than the police inspector one that he was given in Plan 9 from Outer Space. McCoy seems like the routine good old boy as Craig, an average guy out to protect his ladylove from the comic book evil that lurks out in the swamp. Early on, King is a ball of energy as the determined newspaper reporter Janet, but by the end, she is stuck on an operating table and struggling to look scared. Dunn largely remains behind a desk with a bird on his shoulder as the dry police captain and Becwar is forgettable as the suspicious Professor Strowski, who has a plan all his own.
Just like Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster is chock full of hilarious one-liners that are meant to be taken seriously and mistakes that you just can’t turn a blind eye to. The film is flatly shot, a stationary camera positioned to pick up the entire set as the actors fumble around in poor lightning. The sets that Wood has here are infinitely more convincing than anything you will see in Plan 9 from Outer Space (absolutely NOTHING beats that airplane cockpit and the cardboard graveyard in Plan 9 from Outer Space), but they are by no means perfect. It is also clear that Wood was settling on the first take of each scene, as characters stumble through certain lines of dialogue and at times, almost seem to be chuckling to themselves over the poor writing. One could almost fill a book with the amount of clunky lines of dialogue that the characters fire off (“There is always something suspicious going on in a swamp!”). But it really boils down to the amount of passion that Wood puts into his vision. He is pouring his blood, sweat, and tears into the project and simply relishing the fact that he has a camera in his hand. Overall, Bride of the Monster never hits the lows that Plan 9 from Outer Space does (I say that in the most lovingly way possible), but this is still an amateurish and confused effort from a man who simply wasn’t born to make movies. Yet it is ultimately Wood’s belief in his own imagination, his off-screen enthusiasm, and Lugosi’s final bow that makes Bride of the Monster truly something special and permits it to be a seriously entertaining hour and ten minute ride.
Bride of the Monster is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
For a science fiction film about a giant gelatinous blob from outer space, Irvin Yeaworth’s 1958 chiller The Blob is an awfully tedious film. Sure, it is a goofy concept and the idea of it makes it a film that would be great for a campy sleepover double feature but it is a surprisingly disappointing experience. The main attraction of The Blob is the drive to see something that is the true definition of cheap. Shockingly, the special effects sequences in The Blob are not nearly as primitive as you would hope they are. Believe it or not but The Blob is played pretty straight, another science-fiction film from the Cold War that uses a big red consuming mass to mirror the fears of communism spreading throughout the United States. All that is missing is a giant yellow hammer and cycle stamped on the side of the blob! In my opinion, there are more 50’s and 60’s science fiction/horror films that mirror the times better than The Blob, but you’d think The Blob would put a slight creative and fun spin on the subject matter. Oh well, at least it stars a young Steve McQueen and has a pretty awesome theme song!
The Blob picks up in July 1957, with teenager Steve Andrews (Played by Steve McQueen) and his girlfriend Jane Martin (Played by Aneta Corsaut) enjoying a romantic evening parked at Lover’s Lane. Suddenly, they see a meteor streak across the sky and land somewhere close to where they are parked. Meanwhile, an elderly man (Played by Olin Howland) hears the meteor land near his home and he ventures out into the woods to investigate. When he finds the meteor, he pokes the space rock with a stick, which causes it to break open and reveal a strange gelatinous substance that attaches itself to his stick. The goo quickly slithers its way up the stick and attaches itself to the terrified man’s hand. Steve and Jane stumble upon the old man and quickly take him to the local doctor’s office. They show the man’s hand to Dr. Hallen (Played by Stephen Chase), who quickly determines that he will have to amputate the man’s arm. The blob hastily gobbles up the old man and everyone else working at the clinic, leaving Steve and Jane running to the local police station to inform the authorities about what they have seen. The authorities dismiss their story but soon, more people begin mysteriously disappearing and the blob begins growing to a devastating size.
The Blob is the furthest thing from spooky, scary, or thrilling, which I guess shouldn’t surprise anyone considering the monster is essentially rolling Jell-O. Director Yeahworth makes fairly decent use of small town America under attack and he does construct one memorable sequence in a movie theater. The movie theater sequence is probably the most iconic scene from The Blob, the one that is the most effective in making us feel helplessly claustrophobic and making our skin crawl. It also helps that we get to see the blob in color, allowing us to really get a good look at all the nastiness of the alien antagonist. The Blob does get by with what it is saying underneath the reddish surface, making it smarter than you ever thought it would be. The blob itself becomes a metaphor for consuming communism and increasing fear of the atomic age, as the blob literally consumes any poor sap that happens to be in its path. At the same time, The Blob gets lost in the other science fiction films of the time, most of which were intellectually superior.
For those of you dying to catch a glimpse of a younger Steve McQueen (or Steven McQueen, according to the opening credits), The Blob is the film for you. The Blob is the first staring role for the action hero and he plays his part like he may never get another shot to be in front of the camera again. McQueen takes on the role of All-American hero, a cliché that was incredibly popular in films like this. He isn’t emotionally complex or deep, just a teen begging to be heard by the skeptical adults around him. He gets his typical partner in crime, the damsel in distress Jane. Jane doesn’t ever really leap out at you, as she is just there to be the love interest of Steve. McQueen and Corsaut do get a number of fairly romantic scenes throughout The Blob, all which are more effective than any of the scare scenes. John Benson shows up as Sergeant Jim Bert and Earl Rowe shows up as Lt. Dave, both who are reluctant to believe Steve and Jane but finally do come around, especially as events get more and more bizarre. All of the acting in The Blob is what you would expect out of a 50’s B-movie, all a bit over dramatic, cliché, and gung-ho heroic.
The Blob is without question for die-hard science fiction fans, those who have a soft spot for atomic age alien invaders. Originally released as a double feature with I Married a Monster From Outer Space, The Blob would make for a fun retro double feature night that is complimented with lots of beer. The climax of the film does gain some momentum and it does get a bit tense, but overall, the film is completely devoid of anything resembling tautness. Another reason to see The Blob would be to check out the above average special effects, all of which have held up with age and are surprisingly convincing. There are only brief moments where things look a little dated but they pass just as quickly as they showed up. While it is a cult film, The Blob does devour the intellectual crowd and could be called essential viewing for film students or those who have a strong interest in the history of cinema. As someone who has a sweet spot for B-movie schlock, I really wish that The Blob had some shoddier moments but I have to applaud the sturdy ingenuity on display. I may put up a fight but there are a handful of consuming moments to be found in this lumpy blob of a film.
The Blob is available on DVD.
The Blob does have one hell of an opening jingle by The Five Blobs. Give it a listen below. Warning: Anti-Film School is not responsible for any sudden dancing that may occur while listening to this song.
Feature: Attack of the Communists! Seven Notable Science Fiction Films from the Cold War and The Atomic Age!
by Steve Habrat
During the Communism scare in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the Communist party was viewed by the general public as being an unseen or outside evil that could strike and corrupt you at any second. The science fiction films that were made during the time of the Communist scare were heavy on promoting this idea. The outside evils that are found in these films are mostly found in the alien force that is threatening our world. I think that these films are a great window into the era and actually comment on the way that our government portrayed the Communist party and how we should react if we are to come in contact with them. The nation was perceiving them as monsters or aliens that could arrive at any moment and try to destroy our forms of government and destroy us as individuals. The alien attacks in these films could also represent the idea that the Communists would attack and try to start a revolution. These films also play well into the paranoia that was working its way across the country. They play on the fear of the atomic bomb and the idea that a force that we are not familiar with could have a weapon more powerful than anything that we have. These films suggest that we could be attacked at any time and that there would be no warning. Each one of these films presents a different aspect on the atomic bomb scare and the idea of a foreign or outside evil.
The film The Day the Earth Stood Still, directed by Robert Wise in 1951, is a very well known film from this era. The film is about two aliens, Klaatu and Gort, that come from another planet to Washington D.C. to send us a warning about our violent ways. Klaatu warns us that if we do not start living peacefully, then we will be destroyed by a race of super robots that were created by Klaatu’s planet. This film is implying the idea of an evil outside force that patrols the galaxy and tries to keep everyone in line. This is alluding to the paranoia of an outside evil attacking with a very powerful weapon that we are not able to control. This also goes along with the ideas that if we ignored this outside evil and kept living a certain way, then we would eventually be met with a revolution that would change the United States.
Throughout The Day the Earth Stood Still, the alien Klaatu is also portrayed as a normal man who walks around with the humans and is not even noticed. This can go along with the thought that Communists can be anyone and anywhere. The film implies that we could be mingling with a very someone very dangerous and we may not even realize it. It is also made very clear to us that the aliens are ahead of us when it comes to science and technology. Klaatu says that if we do not live peacefully, then they will unleash an army of super robots that are capable of destroying whole planets. This plays off the paranoia that was felt about the Soviets working to try to create an atomic bomb.
The second film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed by Don Siegel in 1956, is much more outspoken about its themes about the morals of the Communist party. The film focuses on a small town that is being over run by a mysterious alien force that duplicates the people that make up the town. This force, which comes in form of alien pods that change people from unique individuals into mindless machines who show no personality or emotion. Once again, just like Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still, the alien duplicates are normal, everyday people that blend in. This plays along with idea that communists could be anywhere, in any town and that they were slowly building a following in the United States. At the end of the film, the main character, Dr. Bennell, has a conversation with Dr. Kauffman, who has been attacked by the body snatchers. During this conversation, Dr. Kauffmann says “Love, desire, ambition, faith-without them, life is so simple, believe me”. This line of dialogue alludes to what the United States public believed that the Communist party stood for. It points out that anyone who considers himself or herself a party member is someone who is trained to have no emotion and live by certain guide lines thought up by an outside force.
The weapon scare idea can be found throughout Invasion of the Body Snatchers although it may not be as obvious. The weapon can be found in the alien pods. These pods can be used as a weapon of mass fear. It is used to change the people from one way of thinking and then completely changing their whole personality. The pods are also used to keep the citizens in line and not to try to retaliate against the forces that are using them.
Them!, which was directed by Gordon Douglas in 1954, plays on the idea of an outside evil in a different way. Instead of aliens from space, the outside evil that threatens the country is giant, mutated ants. These ants slowly start emerging and killing anyone that they come in contact with. Soon two queen ants escape the nest and disappear. The army is racing to try to find these two queen ants before they can start other colonies of ants. Them! makes it very clear that it is tackling the subject of the experimentation of atomic weapons and the dangers that can arise. The film is quick to criticize that development of atomic weapons and the damages that they can have that don’t necessarily consist of destroy cities. The ants could be alluding to all the deformations that happened to some of the people once we dropped the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During this era of paranoia about outside evils and atomic weapons, it was widely known that atomic bombs caused body deformations from radiation. The ants also could be representing the weapons that have come from a foreign place. The army has a hard time trying to find a way that can stop the ants from their wave of destruction.
Them! also touches on the paranoia that Communists can be anywhere and that it is essential to find them and destroy them. This idea shows up in the two queen ants that escape and are trying to start other colonies. It mirrors the thought that Communists are somewhere in our country trying to make their numbers grow and eventually take over the world. This runs with the themes found in The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The propaganda that was presented that the Communist party was growing in numbers in this country and that soon they would take over the world.
Forbidden Planet, directed by Fred M. Wilcox in 1956, is a film that explores outside evils and atomic paranoia in a different way than the other films I have discussed so far. Instead of the fear of attack on our own soil, we are presented with some of our citizens stumbling on a different way of life and how we react to it. The film is set in the future and follows the crew of a United Planets Cruiser who is set out to explore a planet that all life seems to have disappeared from. The crew meets Dr. Morbius, who warns them to leave the planet and to save themselves from some sort of danger. The perception of Communists soon presents itself in Dr. Morbius’ daughter Altaira. In one particular scene, Commander Adams and Altaira kiss and afterward she asks him what the point of kissing is. She tells him that she feels no emotion from the kiss but as the film goes on she slowly starts showing emotion for Commander Adams. It is also clear that Dr. Morbius is very protective of his daughter and has slowly trained her in almost a Communist way of thinking.
Outside evil also shows up in Forbidden Planet, and it comes in form of an invisible monster that attacks without any warning. The monster attacks the crew multiple times and plays into the paranoia of a foreign attack. It soon becomes known that the monster is being created by Dr. Morbius. The crew learns that the planet was made up of an extremely intelligent race that created all different kinds of inventions including a device called plastic educator that allows the user to increase their intelligence. This aspect of the film could be addressing the fact that the Soviets were racing to try to develop new technology. It shows that this is supposed to apply to the race to create an atomic bomb. It all points to the idea that Dr. Morbius may be a dreaded Communist! He only lives to work and push things forward rather than stop to experience other aspects of life.
Invaders From Mars, directed by William Cameron in 1953, is heavy on the themes of outside evils and paranoia of atomic weapons. But there are several small parts to this film that are different than the films I have talked about so far. The film follows a young boy named David, who sees a UFO crash into the field behind his house. He then tells his father, George, who is a scientist and believes that his son actually did see something. George goes out to investigate the field and to see if his son is telling the truth. After George does not return for several hours, his wife calls the police and reports him missing. Soon after his disappearance, George turns back up at the house and he seems very different. He is turned from a kind and loving father into a cold and emotionless person. We soon find out that George has had some sort of chip implanted into the back of his head and this chip is what has altered his personality. It turns out that some aliens have burrowed underground and have set up a base. The aliens once more are the outside evil that threatens our country. After George is brainwashed by the martians, he starts going out and finding other people that can be turned into emotionless machines who go out and do errands for the head martian. There is one particular scene where we see George lead the character Colonel Fielding out to the fields and we see the aliens capture him and turn him into a mindless slave. This goes along with theme that Communists could be anyone and even be a part of our own government and army. This theme also shows up in the character of the police captain, who has also been brainwashed and means to do harm. This theme alludes to the ideas that Communists were recruiting for their party in our own country.
The unusual part of Invaders From Mars is the aliens themselves and even the head martain that controls all the slaves. At the end of the film, we get to see the martians that serve the leader. They are presented to us as mindless slaves who only live to serve their leader. These slaves all look identical with their green suits and faces that look very similar to gas masks. The whole point of the martian attack is to try to sabotage weapon development that is taking place in the town where they landed. This film falls perfectly into propaganda and paranoia felt at the time of the films release. The slave’s uniforms eerily resemble the protective suits and gas masks that were worn by scientists and the suits that were advertised to the public to protect against an atomic bomb attack. The lead martian is also interesting because he could be mirroring the ideas of the people that made up the heads of the Communist party. It seems to say that they only wanted to benefit themselves and were not concerned about any of the general public. There is even one scene where David begs the head martain not to hurt his family or friends. We get to see the leaders reaction to his pleas, which is indifferent and he just disregards the young boy. Just like the other films, particularly Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the film is very vocal that it is attacking the Communist party and wants to explore the views of the Communist party.
The Angry Red Planet, directed by Ib Melchior, is the only film that I screened from the 1960s but still has quite a bit of meaning when it comes to outside evils and the fear of some kind of attack. The Angry Red Planet is about a group of astronauts that were sent to explore Mars but once they reached the planet, strange things start to occur. The themes of outside evils are present but they are presented in a very unusual way. In the other films that I screened, the outside evil was always very blatant, but in The Angry Red Planet the outside evil blends in with the landscape. At one point, the astronauts leave their spaceship to go out and explore the planet. One of the astronauts, Iris, breaks away from the group and happens to find a strange plant. Once she gets close enough, the plant begins to attack her and tries to kill her. This presents the outside evil in a drastically different way than the other films have so far. The idea that the outside evil could be around the corner and that we run the risk of walking straight into the trap of the enemy. This also shows up in the monster Bat-Rat-Spider-Crab monster that at first only appears to be some sort of tree. When the astronauts stumble upon this creature, they hack at one of its legs with a machete, which then awakens the monster and causes it to attack the astronauts. Near the end of the film, one of the astronauts, Thomas, is attacked by a giant ameba but survives. His arm is badly injured and seems to only get worse. When the astronauts return to earth, the doctors who examine the astronaut can’t seem to find a way to fix Thomas’ arm. The doctors trying to find a cure for his arm could be hinting at the hunt that was taking place across America. This could be a direct reference to the government trying to find a way to stop Communism from spreading across the United States.
At the end of The Angry Red Planet, the martians that inhabit Mars send a message to earth with the astronauts. The message goes: “Men of Earth, we of the planet Mars give you this warning. Listen carefully and remember. We have known your planet Earth since the first creature crawled out of the primeval slime of your seas to become man. For millennia, we have followed your progress, for centuries, we have watched you, listened to your radio signals and learned your speech and your culture. And now, you have invaded our home. Technological adults, but spiritual and emotional infants. We kept you here deciding your fate. Had the lower forms of life of our planet destroyed you, we would not have interfered. But you survived. Your civilization has not progressed beyond destruction, war and violence against yourselves and others. Do as you will to your own and to your planet, but remember this warning – Do Not Return To Mars. You will be permitted to leave for this sole purpose – Carry The Warning To Earth. Do Not Come Here. We can and will destroy you, all life on your planet, if you do not heed us. You have seen us, been permitted to glimpse our world. Go now. Warn mankind not to return unbidden”. This message heavily reflects the mentality during this time, playing on the idea that a foreign force is watching and studying us. The claim that they have weapons that could destroy us seems to be a reflection of the fear of atomic weapons that are possessed by a mysterious foreign power. This end warning is very similar to the warning that Klaatu gives at the end of The Day the Earth Stood Still.
It Came From Outer Space, directed by Jack Arnold in 1953, takes the issue of foreign outside evils and weapons scares in a slightly different direction form some of the other films that have been mentioned so far. The film still deals with the same fears that were circulating through the country, but it more attacks the propaganda that was very popular for the time. The film plays on lies and rumors that were getting passed along. The film is set in a small Arizona town and follows a scientist, John, and his girlfriend, Ellen, as they try to examine a strange meteor that falls to earth. They soon learn that the meteor is actually a UFO that has accidentally crashed. The alien’s possess bodies of certain civilians and turn them from normal, everyday people into emotionless machines. John soon learns that the aliens mean no harm and all they request is time to repair their ship in peace. This plays on the idea of an outside evil but it also suggests that sometimes we deem something evil when we actually do not know much about the subject. We go off what we pick up from certain places and lies that could be fed to us through propaganda. At the end of the film, the sheriff of the town decides that he does not trust the martains and sets out to kill them. The sheriff also has a large group of people with him that want to kill the martians. This could be reflecting the hostility that the United States had against the Communist party. The people who want to kill the martians in the film do not quite understand them and by not having all the facts, they label the martians as an outside evil.
While It Came From Outer Space is heavy on the issue of propaganda, it also finds time to address that atomic bomb paranoia. The martains do say that if we are not to leave them alone while they work, they have a weapon that can destroy our planet. This is revealed to us at the end of the film in a speech given by one of the aliens, which is very similar to the messages in The Angry Red Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The film encourages a more peaceful way at looking at certain topics but it leaves a slight sense of unease, as we are still unfamiliar with these visitors.
All these science-fiction films of the 1950’s and 1960’s were obviously made to dazzle the audience. It is hard to believe that these films were also presenting more intelligent information rather than just entertaining you for an hour and a half in typical B-movie fashion. They are perfect reflections of a time when paranoia had the upper hand over a majority of the population and the constant fear that something foreign could cross over and find a way change our way of life. These films could almost be looked at as parodies of all the propaganda films that were being shown. If you look beyond the surface, you will see more than just flashy special effects. You will also find well-stated ideas.