Bride of the Monster (1955)
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.
Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
by Steve Habrat
A year after Toho’s thunderous Godzilla took the world by storm, the Japanese production company quickly got to work on a follow up film to capitalize on the success of the first film. Director Motoyoshi Oda’s 1955 sequel Godzilla Raids Again certainly isn’t interested in capturing the guilt and sorrow of a nation still reeling from the devastation of World War II and the detonation of the atomic bomb, but this “kaiju” film is one that is certainly determined to deliver a whole bunch of smashing and clashing. And deliver it does. Godzilla Raids Again is the first film in the Godzilla series to pit the legendary radioactive beast against another roaring adversary, something that would become wildly popular in Toho’s later work. While it is never as eerie as the first film and it doesn’t feature that sulking human soul, Godzilla Raids Again does succeed as a breathless action extravaganza, even if it does seem like Toho threw it together in a frenzied rush. The destruction doesn’t pack the authentic punch that it did the first time around, and the miniature destruction sequences seem drawn out to pad the runtime rather than send shivers down the spine of the drive-in audience, but boy, this sucker is a giddy rush. Let the battle begin!
Godzilla Raids Again introduces us to two pilots, Shoichi Tsukioka (played by Hiroshi Koizumi) and Koji Kobayashi (played by Minoru Chiaki), who are hunting schools of fish for a tuna cannery in Osaka. Kobayashi’s plane malfunctions, which forces him to make an emergency landing on Iwato Island, a jagged and uninhabited cluster of volcanic rocks. Tsukioka tracks down Kobayashi and finds him among the rocks, but the men make another horrific discovery. It turns out that the island is home to Godzilla, who is currently fighting with another bizarre creature. As the two creatures trade blows, they both fall into the water and disappear. Tsukioka and Kobayashi make their way back to Osaka and report what they saw to the authorities, who conclude the this new Godzilla is a second member of the same species brought back by the same hydrogen bomb tests that awoke the original Godzilla. As for the other monster, the authorities believe that it is Anguirus, a creature that has an intense rivalry with Godzilla. As the creatures bring their grudge closer to the shores of Osaka, the government orders a blackout of the city under the belief that the monsters hate light because it reminds them of the hydrogen bomb. Since neither of the monsters can be killed, the government uses flares to draw them away from the shore, but after a freak accident causes a fire, the two monsters bring their battle to the streets of Osaka.
Ishiro Honda’s original Godzilla was a film that was packed plenty of splintered spectacle to marvel at, but the film had a heavy human presence and a meditative sorrow that forced the radioactive destruction to play out in the background. Honda took his time to work up to these spellbinding moments and he forced us to really identify with the terrified Japanese citizens who were convinced that they brought this horror on themselves. Godzilla Raids Again doesn’t take that same subtle approach, as the film launches head first into destruction and never looks back. It is still implied that Godzilla is a walking A-bomb, but his pounding footsteps never remind us of bombs being dropped from above. The only true form of suspense that we get in Godzilla Raids Again is the sequence in which Godzilla wanders towards the Osaka coast as flares glide over his head. It truly is a magnificent moment that brought the original film to mind. Outside of this, Oda can’t wait to have his beasts engage in their urban clash and reduce buildings to ruble. While the extended battle is zany fun, the annihilation never really makes the hair on your arm stand up and it’s not even half convincing, as it is painfully obvious that these are just two actors swatting at each other in rubber suits.
While the black out brawl in Osaka is quite a bit of fun, Godzilla Raids Again looses that fun spirit during the extended final battle that finds a stationary Godzilla battling jets that zoom over his head. This is the moment where our two fine but forgettable heroes get to do their he-man thing and sock it to the rampaging abomination. The climax is thick with an icy and vaguely apocalyptic atmosphere that certainly does get you to pay attention, but after a while, it just gets repetitive as the same hills blow up, the same rocks keep tumbling down, the same planes keep getting knocked out of the sky, and the same soldiers keep yelling the same orders, all while Godzilla just stands there and does absolutely nothing to get out of the line of fire. Why isn’t he trying to get away? Why doesn’t he charge at his foes? And do they really think that their approach to defeating him will really work? The entire climax feels like the filmmakers weren’t exactly sure how to bring this monster mash to a close, especially since their main grudge match plotline gets clipped way too early.
As far as our two main performers go, Koizumi is your typical action hero who woos a pretty girl and goes toe-to-toe with the roaring beast. He is likable enough but nothing really stands out about him, which is a shame when you think back to the complex heroes that we had in the original Godzilla. Chiaki fares better as the lovesick Kobayashi, a pudgy goofball who seems to be always coming in second place with the ladies. Together, the two men have fine chemistry and we really buy their friendship, but the film clearly isn’t framing itself around them. The only returning cast member from the original film is Takashi Shimura as Dr. Kyohei Yamane, who shows up to identify Godzilla and show a montage of Godzilla laying waste to Tokyo. Overall, while Oda’s vision may not be as clever, haunting, and poetic as Honda’s 1954 original, Godzilla Raids Again still packs hints of the atomic metaphors that loomed over the apocalyptic original. This follow up may peak a bit too early and suffer from a monotonous final confrontation, but Godzilla Raids Again still stands as a satisfying slice of creature feature drive-in escapism.
Godzilla Raids Again is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
In the land of Atomic Age beasts, aliens, monsters, and blobs, one name makes all these other radioactive creatures quiver in fear: Godzilla. Made in Japan in 1954 by Ishiro Honda, Godzilla (or Gojira, as it was called in Japan), is perhaps one of the most significant science fiction films released in the wake of World War II and the Hydrogen bomb. It is even more essential because the country that witnessed the horror and devastation of the atomic bomb first hand made and released Godzilla. Over the years, Godzilla became more of a campy character rather than one that is meant to scare the pants off the viewer. He would rise from his watery habitat and stomp into downtown Tokyo to do battle with a slew of attacking mutant monsters (and King Kong), all while poorly dubbed Japanese citizens would dart around the dueling monster’s feet. They were a far cry from the suspenseful original, where the low rumble of Godzilla’s footsteps had the viewer holding their breath and gripping the arm of the couch just a little bit tighter. When the suspense and the downright impressive action sequences don’t have your attention, you’ll be transfixed on the intelligence of the script, which finds a country still reeling from the mushroom cloud devastation they witnessed in 1945. There is a reason the Criterion Collection picked this monster movie up, folks.
Just off of Odo Island, a Japanese fishing boat is destroyed by a blinding flash of light that appears to emerge from the bottom of the sea. Another boat is sent to investigate, but it meets the same fate as the first boat. As more boats are destroyed, salvage ship captain Hideo Ogato (Played by Akira Takarada) is called in for duty by the coast guard. Meanwhile, the villagers of Odo Island have been cursed with poor fishing and they blame it on a mysterious sea monster known as “Godzilla.” In the evening, the villagers perform ancient ceremonies to keep the beast at bay. That very night, a violent storm destroys Ogo Island, but many villagers claim that there was something else in the storm. Archeologist Kyohei Yamane (Played by Takashi Shimura) travels to Ogo and discovers a giant radioactive footprint. He then travels to Tokyo and presents his findings. He reveals that H-bomb testing has disrupted Godzilla’s natural habitat, causing him to emerge from the bottom of the sea and come to land. As fear of Godzilla spreads and more sighting are reported, Dr. Yamane’s colleague, Daisuke Serizawa (Played by Akihiko Hirata), who is also arranged to be married to Dr. Yamane’s daughter, Emiko (Played by Momoko Kochi), has developed a secret weapon called the Oxygen Destroyer, a device that disintegrates oxygen atoms causing organisms to die of asphyxiation. As Godzilla’s attacks grow more and more devastating, Emiko and Ogato plead with the reluctant Serizawa to use the Oxygen Destroyer against the destructive beast.
Director Honda and screenwriter Takeo Murata transform Godzilla from a simple monster movie into a surprisingly intimate human drama. We genuinely care about the characters that Honda and Murata have come up with and we especially hang on the fragile love story at the core of the film. Emiko is engaged to Serizawa, but she wishes to break off the engagement and marry the brave salvage captain Ogato. Meanwhile, as this love triangle plays out with devastating results, Honda focuses his camera on Dr. Yamane and his exasperation with the military and media, who are hellbent on killing Godzilla rather than trying to capture and study him. He continuously drives the point home that this creature has been exposed to heavy levels of radiation and lived through it. He then warns that if the world (meaning America) continues to detonate these weapons of mass destruction, we are bound to face another Godzilla-like creature. The warnings against these experiments extend to Serizawa, who fears that his Oxygen Destroyer will draw the attention of the military and they will force him to further develop another weapon of mass destruction, something he swears he will never do. It’s these meditative conversations about H-bombs, destructive weapons, and violence that pulls Godzilla out of the B-movie realm and places it firmly on the A-list.
Then there is the monster of the hour: Godzilla. At times, Godzilla is obviously a man dressed in a heavily detailed rubber suit, but he signifies so much more. The first few glimpses we get of him are effective teases, leaving us wanting just a little bit more, but fearing the terrifying wrath that is sure to accompany those longer glimpses of the legendary monster. When he is finally revealed in all of his glory, we can’t help but be awestruck by how cool he looks, even if his movements are a little jerky. He breathes down smoke (which is meant to resemble fire but this is 1954, folks) on the Tokyo skyline and produces a sea of fire that brings to mind the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo. When he stomps through the buildings, he begins to resemble a living, breathing nuclear blast that is leveling everything in his path. Honda then pans over the twisted wreckage left in Godzilla’s wake, eerie images that call to mind the black and white photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Godzilla may be destructive, but he is also a sympathetic creature. He has been chased out of his home and he appears to be wandering aimlessly, simply looking for a new place to hide away from the world that wants to destroy him.
As if a weighty script, likable characters, impressive monster, and a human core weren’t enough to make Godzilla a must see, the action sequences will certainly convince you to seek it out. Sure, there are a few moments where it is blatantly obvious that rubber-suited Godzilla is stomping miniature buildings, but there are several pieces that have held up quite well over the years. Godzilla’s battle with several Japanese fighter jets will get the adrenaline pumping and his demolishing of a gigantic electric fence is a pretty nifty demonstration of his sublime power. You’re obviously not going to see destruction like you saw in Cloverfield, but you have to give Honda and his effects team credit for crafting some chilling smashing and crashing (wait for the sequence with Godzilla attacking a building loaded with press). The action sequences are made all the more effective due to the tension slowly built between each attack. Our dread really begins to get the best of us and Honda plays with this every chance he gets.
If you are one of those individuals who have written off Godzilla as a campy drive-in relic of the 1950s, you really should consider revisiting this moody monster mash. I’ll admit that even I had forgotten the power that this film wields over the years and I was very happy that I decided to both revisit and add the film to my horror/science fiction collection. If you have surround sound lining your living room, you’ll be giddy over how great Godzilla’s roar and thunderous footsteps sound. Overall, Godzilla is a haunting and influential epic that rewards the viewer with multiple viewings. It will shake your house down and bring you to your knees with one mighty roar.
Godzilla is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
by Steve Habrat
Of the all Atomic Age science fiction films I have had the pleasure of seeing over the years, the one that has always stuck with me most was Robert Wise’s eerie plea for peace The Day the Earth Stood Still. Released in 1951, just as the Cold War was getting underway and nuclear weapons were being developed and stockpiled at an alarming rate, The Day the Earth Stood Still nudged its way to the front lines of the B-movie saucer men epics and became one of the most pivotal in the genre. While many films become a product of their time, preaching a message against a political backdrop of yesterday, The Day the Earth Stood Still manages to resonate even in this day and age. Looking at The Day the Earth Stood Still today, many may find that the special effects have not aged gracefully and Gort may look like a man in a giant rubber suit, but the otherworldly atmosphere complimented by the chilling extraterrestrial howls on the soundtrack and the fear mongering radio broadcasts playing in the background of every single scene allows the film to grip you from the very first frame. It is certainly a mature work of art for the science fiction genre, one that comes from one of the most versatile directors to ever work in Hollywood.
A sleek and shiny UFO barrels into Earth’s atmosphere and parks itself right smack dab in the middle of Washington D.C. The public, the press, and the military all flock to the UFO in the hopes of catching a glimpse of an extraterrestrial. After a while, the UFO opens up and two figures, Klaatu (Played by Michael Rennie) and Gort (Played by Lock Martin), emerge from inside the ship. Klaatu announces that they have to come to earth in peace and that he wishes to speak to world leaders about an urgent matter, but naturally the military gets jumpy after he pulls a strange device from inside his spacesuit and they shoot Klaatu. In retaliation, Gort, a massive alien robot capable of disintegrating anything in his path, turns their weapons into ash. Klaatu is rushed to a local hospital where he shocks the doctors over his rapid healing abilities. While in the hospital, the President’s secretary, Haley (Played by Frank Conroy), visits Klaatu and discusses his mission. Klaatu pleads with him to gather all the world leaders together, but Haley explains that it is too difficult to get all of them together in one place. After Haley leaves, Klaatu breaks out of the hospital and begins trying to get to know the ordinary citizens of earth. He soon arrives at a boarding house where he meets pretty World War II widow Helen Benson (Played by Patricia Neal) and her young son Bobby (Played by Billy Gray). As Klaatu spends time with Helen and Bobby, he discovers that they may be able to help him on his mission, but the press and the military are growing more and more terrified of Klaatu and Gort with each passing day.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is not the type of science fiction film that relies on tons of flashy special effects (well, flashy for 1951), elaborate martian costumes, and lengthy sequences of explosions to entertain the audience. No, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a thoughtful science fiction film, one that sends a chill through ideas rather than nonstop action. Watching the film today, one can’t help but pick up the eerie similarities between the constant fearful radiobroadcasts chattering in the background and the fear mongering news of today. Klaatu and Gort haven’t been on the ground an hour and the press has already labeled them a menace to the human race, evil men from Mars who are ready to blast earth to tiny pebbles. When they emerge from their ship and state that they have come in peace, the press grows even more skeptical, especially after the nifty Gort retaliates by firing a powerful laser from his eye. And then there is the message of world peace, a plea for every man, woman, and child to live in perfect harmony. Wise and screenwriter Edmund H. North are really asking a lot of the human race, but when we had nuclear weapons aimed at each other with thumbs twitching over the triggers, you certainly have to give them credit for trying. Wise and North make the point that we turn too quickly to violence and refuse to look at situations in a thoughtful and peaceful manner. Why debate and discuss when you have the ability to blow your enemy off the face of the earth?
While Wise and North toss around these massive ideas, the actors all bring their A-game to this science fiction chiller. Rennie is easily the standout as the Chirst-like Klaatu, a peaceful extraterrestrial that is dismayed over Arlington National Cemetery and awed over the Lincoln Memorial. Klaatu is kindhearted, warm, sharp, and when it is needed, stern with the jittery masses. His meeting with Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Played by Sam Jaffe) is certainly an exchange that will make the hair or your arm stand up. Neal is superb as Helen Benson, who slowly realizes that this strange man that has shown up at her boarding house is in fact the alien that everyone is talking about. She becomes Klaatu’s capable ally and even manages to save his life in a critical moment. Gray does the typical “gee-whiz” youngster with ease and he really shines when he takes the inquisitive Klaatu on a tour of Washington D.C. Jaffe channels a certain frizzy-haired scientist as Professor Barnhardt and Hugh Marlowe stops by as Helen’s nasty boyfriend Tom, who tries to hand Klaatu over to the dreaded military once he learns who Klaatu really is. Then there is Martin as the awesome Gort, who really only walks around slowly or stands motionless. He really doesn’t have to do much to be intimidating and his presence sends an icy chill right through you even if it is a bit obvious he is wearing a rubber suit.
With its collectively strong performances, well-spoken script, and expert direction, it is quite easy to see why The Day the Earth Stood Still has become the classic that it has. Wise, who also directed films like The Haunting, West Side Story, and The Sound of Music, shows absolutely incredible range, even if this film was released before those three classics. It just absolutely amazes me that the same man directed all of those films. The Day the Earth Stood Still also manages to be fairly creepy at points, especially when Klaatu and Gort first emerge from the UFO and the stereotypical science fiction music oozes from the soundtrack. You’ll also be surprised to learn that the film holds up to multiple viewings and the suspense remains effective, especially if it watched with all the lights off. Overall, The Day the Earth Stood Still is probably the best and most important science fiction thriller of the Atomic Age. It is essential viewing for all film fanatics, especially if you’re a fan of the horror/science fiction/B-movies. Come for Gort and stay for the chilly warning of the final five minutes. You’ll be happy you did.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
This Island Earth (1955)
by Steve Habrat
I really wish that more people out there were familiar with Universal Studio’s atomic age science-fiction film This Island Earth. It may not be the best science-fiction film from the 50’s but it sure is a cool and minor drive-in classic. Served with a heaping glob of cheese, This Island Earth overcomes its unintentionally hilarious moments with some seriously crisp color, icky monsters, and an egghead script that science-fiction fanatics will happily gobble up. A cult classic in its own right, you may be familiar with the grotesque aliens that inhabit this picture, as you will often see them included in collages of the other more famous Universal Studios monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Wolf-Man). This Island Earth also found itself released on June 1st, 1955, proving that even before the rise of the summer blockbuster in the late 70’s, there were still spectacles released to entertain kids who were on summer vacation. This Island Earth, however, does prove to be a smart spectacle.
This Island Earth introduces us to Dr. Cal Meacham (Played by Rex Reason), a well-known scientist who receives instructions and parts to build a mysterious device called an interocitor. Along with his colleague, Joe Wilson (Played by Robert Nichols), the duo puts the interocitor together and suddenly receives a video transmission from a man who calls himself Exeter (Played by Jeff Morrow). Exeter tells Cal that building the interocitor was all a test and that he wants Cal to join him in special research project. Cal reluctantly accepts and is soon ushered off to a secluded research facility in a remote area of Georgia. Cal is reunited with an old love interest, Ruth Adams (Played by Faith Domergue), and together they begin to snoop around the facility, suspicious that they are not being told truth. After trying to escape, Cal and Ruth are abducted by a UFO and taken off to the war-torn planet of Metaluna. It is on Metaluna that Cal and Ruth learn why Exeter recruited them to work for him and after meeting the sinister head of the planet, they have to quickly devise a way to get back to earth.
This Island Earth is one of the rare science fiction films that doesn’t have the human race portrayed as the inferior beings. The alien race within the film wants to work directly with us and is in need of uranium deposits to aid Metaluna in their fight against the relentless Zagons, who attack with planetoids that are guided by spaceships. Heavy with nuclear willies and brimming with mentions of UFO sightings up in the clouds, This Island Earth is certainly and shamelessly a product of the Cold War. The film applies paranoia at its core, our protagonists convinced that they are not being told everything they need to know, suspiciously peaking around every corner they come to. When Cal boards an unmanned airplane, Joe begins pleading with Cal to not make the journey to Georgia, exclaiming that something stinks about the entire operation. With its use of color, the film is able to slip into pulp territory, resembling something that would have been printed on the pages of an EC Comic. The color also alleviates some of the heavier subtexts, allowing moments of This Island Earth to feel more like hot-weather escapism rather than chilling mushroom cloud reflection.
This Island Earth ends up being a slower moving film, one that takes its good old time getting to the staggering world of Metaluna. Director Joseph M. Newman uses the slower moments to allow us to get to know our protagonists and also send us into confusion over the character of Exeter. Cal quickly is established as the All-American guy, a brainy and thoughtful hero right up to the last frame. At first, Ruth sidesteps being the usual damsel in distress and she dashes right alongside Cal as they flee from destructive lasers being shot at them. Sadly, once Cal and Ruth are abducted and whisked off to Metaluna, she crumbles into a hysterical heap, one that cries out at incoming planetoids and shrieks in horror as one of the monstrous Mutants stalks her around a spaceship. Exeter is a guy who we can’t fully classify up until the very end of the film. At times, he seems villainous but he will the quickly say that his alien race is a peaceful group. My one complaint is that Cal and Ruth at first overlook Exeter’s bizarre physical appearance. His forehead is quite unlike a regular forehead—something that you would assume would jump out at the two scientists.
There are moments of This Island Earth where the atmosphere is so tense, it could be cut with a laser beam. Just check out the scene where Cal, Ruth, and Exeter arrive on Metaluna, an eerie place with explosions that look suspiciously like nuclear blasts in the background. It becomes mushroom cloud after mushroom cloud as our heroes dodge attacks by the lumbering Mutants, who swipe their claws after the terrified humans. It’s a shame that This Island Earth has been waved off by many science-fiction/horror gurus (The film was featured in Mystery Science Theater 3000, forever ruing its reputation.), as there is plenty to appreciate in this science fiction extravaganza, both visually and intellectually. The films trippy final half-hour more than makes up for the droning and uneventful first half. Yet director Newman keeps the humanity that is shrewdly established in tact and it never becomes a cynical vision of nuclear destruction. It never looses faith in the human race and it proudly stands by the fact that we are capable of making the right decisions when it comes down to it. Overall, if you have the patience and you enjoy this sort of thing, open your windows, allow the summer evening air to creep in, fix yourself a big buttery bowl of popcorn, grab an extra large soda, find a date, and loose yourself in the world of This Island Earth. There are plenty of thrills, chills, and sights to behold in this slightly flawed Cold War drive-in classic. Make it a double feature with another Cold War science fiction classic!
This Island Earth is available on DVD.