The Flesh and the Fiends

The Flesh and the Fiends. 1960. dir. John Gilling. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

I drank too much last night. There. I admit it. The truth can’t hurt you (but the alcohol certainly can). It crept up on me, and there you are. A combination of a few days off, a stressful week – the usual excuses. The only reason I’m telling you this – except to satisfy a need of self-confession, in the sure and certain hope that it’ll strengthen my resolve to go teetotal – is to say I’m a little delicate, and struggling to make sense of the morning. So who better to turn to than Peter Cushing. I can quite imagine what Peter Cushing would say to me, if he should stroll into the bedroom where I’m typing this, yawning, and raising a coffee cup with a trembling hand. His eyebrows would flicker up a millimetre. He’d tug his waistcoat down a touch, straighten his cuffs, then say with great clarity and urgency: ‘I would like to speak with you in the LYE-BREH-REH’. And I’d immediately feel better.

So in lieu of that, here’s a film with him in – playing the part of Dr Knox in the Burke & Hare story. A role I can imagine him playing with great asceticism and truth. Because if there were ever a man you could imagine buying and selling bodies, it’s Peter Cushing. It’s also got Donald Pleasence in, which is a bonus.

That’s it. And as Ru Paul would say (another hero): Good luck. And DON’T fuck it up.

00:01 After the Rank Organisation gong (who IS that guy?) – a cemetery at night, and then in big white letters: THIS IS THE STORY OF LOST MEN AND LOST SOULS. IT IS A STORY OF VICE AND MURDER. WE MAKE NO APOLOGIES TO THE DEAD. IT IS ALL TRUE. Which bodes well for a hangover.

00:50 The cemetery looks a bit rundown. Hardly a cemetery at all – more like a pile of trash with a few headstones. The church in the background makes it look official, but apart from that, not a place you’d want to hang around in… unless…

01:03 Two guys with lanterns trudge through the cemetery, drop some chains, produce some shovels and start digging at a grave (whose stone wobbles a bit). Then a blare of trumpets and the title THE FLESH and the FIENDS. Starring Peter Cushing. (Hooray!) Donald Pleasence! (Who-hoo!) June Laverick! (Who?)

02:00 My favourite name – the camera operator Chic Waterson. I don’t know why. I can totally imagine being on the set and saying Hey Chic? D’you want anything? (not an alcoholic drink, though – obviously).

02:32 Back to the two guys digging in the cemetery. The gravestone says To the Loving Memory of Tobias McIntosh. Ironic. Not much loving going on with all these spades and chains.

02:42 They haul Tobias out head first. Not sure what they did with the coffin or how they managed it, but they’re the professionals. Tobias McIntosh looks how I feel – except more motivated.

03:00 A horse & carriage (as opposed to just a carriage, which would be weird), trots into the yard of Dr Knox’s Academy. The year? 1828. The town? Edinburgh. The time? I don’t know, it doesn’t say. Late, anyway.

03:12 A woman in a ludicrous bonnet and fur muff steps out. I wonder if that’s June Laverick? Inside the academy there’s a guy carrying a skeleton on a pole and another guy – Dr Mitchell – reading a book, so you immediately know you’re in a place of learning. Dr Mitchell opens the door to June – she smiles, but her muff is so enormous he might have to open the other door to let her in. He gives her a faint smile. Looks like she’s done this before.

03:39 He didn’t recognise that this is actually Martha, Doctor Knox’s niece (which sounds dangerously like Knock Knees, but whatever). They chat. She asks if she was really so awful three years ago and he says Well you were very young. But he says she’s very beautiful now. So that escalated.

04:01 ‘How is the doctor?’ says Martha.
‘Oh – he doesn’t change. Brilliant! Progressive! Provocative! Verbose as ever… ‘ (the doctor, or you?)

04:06 Dr Mitchell shows her into the lecture theatre where Dr K. has just told a brilliant, progressive and provocative joke and all the students are laughing in a heartily RADA way.

04:48 He’s giving a lecture about the miracle of the human body, but I can’t stop thinking about the miracle of his bowtie. It’s almost as big as Martha’s muff.

04:56 ‘…and so, today, some of you become doctors in your own right…’ continues Dr K – but honestly? His bowtie! It’s like someone used a table cloth, wrapped that round twice and used both fists to make a bow.

06:11 The students give Dr K a standing ovation. But only because it’s Peter Cushing. You’d give him a standing ovation if he came into the room and complained about the Citroen in his parking space.

06:50 Jackson, one of the students, hurries after Dr K. He wants to know why he’s not able to graduate. Dr K gives him a stern talking to, telling him he needs to be more logical and less emotional. And by the way, is he short of money…? (Er..hem). Actually, what he wants Jackson to do is ‘treat the subjects’ (by which I think he means corpses – because Jackson doesn’t look too thrilled).

07:33 Martha sneaks up on Dr K in his study. As Dr K admires her and pours her a drink (I feel queasy…), Jackson comes in and says there are ‘two gentlemen to see him with a stiff’ – which is nice. Dr K leaves with Jackson to check out the stiff; Dr Mitchell pours Martha a stiff one.

08:44 Martha’s acting is creakier than the Academy doors. She takes a little breath before each line, looks down then up again, smiles showing her bottom teeth each time like a ventriloquist’s dummy. She’s a miracle of engineering. They probably keep the battery in the muff.

09:20 Meanwhile out in the yard, Dr K meets the two grave robbers. ‘Nice n’fresh sir. Just a week in the grave,’ says the one with the line. ‘And 100% organic.’ (I added that). Dr K looks at the corpse’s face – which is a bit like me when I woke up this morning – except fresher – and says he’ll give them five guineas.

10:02 Jackson shifts the crate with the corpse in it (I swear the corpse actually blinks – but they did say it was fresh, so…) over to a tank of brine and tips it in. A bit like tuna, I suppose. Only in a shroud and not a tin.

10:25 Scene change. Outside the Merry Duke, the pub where the grave robbers hang out. In the street there are some jolly wenches laughing and carrying on. I’m not sure what a wench is. I think it’s the opposite of what Martha’s supposed to be. With wild hair, frills and no muffs. Inside the Merry Duke it’s drunken debauchery all round, something I roundly condemn. Cut to: Donald Pleasence in a ruined top hat, bad frock coat &c. He looks absolutely amazing and I want this as a tattoo, please.

10:58 Donald speaks in a weird accent – more Irish than Scottish, but hey – Donald Pleasence!

11:15 He says ‘surpraysed’ like he’s from Belfast. But honestly – I don’t care. Turns out both these guys are called Willy. Donald Pleasance is Hare, though, so that’s fine – sorry – foine. I’ll still call him Donald Pleasence, out of respect. Burke is the other one. (And he’s either wearing bad dentures or he’s got weirdly mobile lips).

NOTE: I just wiki’d Burke and Hare. They WERE from Northern Ireland! But it’s nothing you wouldn’t expect from Donald Pleasence – solid research, and a squint to die for.

11:53 Billie Whitelaw is one of the wenches. Which is a terrific bonus! What a cast! (Shame about the pub).

12:30 Jackson has gone to the pub to finish paying off the grave robbers. He gets into a fight with a drunken sailor who stole Billie’s skirt and is using it like a toreador. Billie rescues Jackson by smashing a bottle over the sailor’s head. (Every night the same in the Merry Duke. The perils of drinking. Mark my words.)

13:40 Jackson gets mugged outside the pub by Burke and Donald Pleasence. Billie scares them off, then takes him back to the brothel where she works. Everyone there is having as rowdy a time as at the Merry Duke, so I’m thinking Edinburgh in 1828 was quite the place. Her room’s a bit hovelly though. Dinge, with touch of squalour. She seduces Jackson and he almost knocks a picture off the wall in his haste.

16:30 The next morning, Jackson gets dressed and sings the kind of lah-dah-dah-dee-dum kind of nonsense song you might expect.
‘How’s your head?’ says Billie.
‘S’Alright’, says Jackson, innocently. They arrange to meet up again tomorrow.
Outside is a typical street scene – a guy demonstrating how to handle a chicken, a peasant buying fruit, extras haggling over pots, urchins dancing, that kinda thing. A little urchin girl tells Donald Pleasence and the other guy to hurry back home. Turns out some old guy has died. We see him getting nailed into a box by an undertaker in a top hat so roomy it’s probably where he keeps his tools. The old guy was a lodger and owed Burke three pounds. They decide to sell him to Dr K to clear his debt.

22:00 Cut to: a party at the Academy. The opposite to a party at the Merry Duke. Everyone’s hair is done up in curls, and when they get hot they don’t tear their clothes off they wave a fan. Dr Mitchell chats to Martha, but I’m distracted by the extras in the background doing some kind of formal dance. I think one of them was the corpse from the cemetery at the beginning. Certainly moves in the same way.

23:30 Dr K argues with a cleric about whether there’s a soul or not.
‘Can you see it?’ says Dr K. ‘…between the eyes, in the ‘Ab-DOH-men..?’ He’s a scientist, so maybe that’s how you’re supposed to say abdomen.

24:50 Burke and Donald Pleasence show Dr K the body of the lodger. ‘We heard you like ‘em fresh, sir. This one’s as fresh as a new cut cabbage’.
Whatever. They tip him in the brine.

26:00 Martha and Dr Mitchell are out punting, which is niche. When they get off the punt they run into Jackson and Billie. Jackson introduces Billie to them. Billie looks Dr Mitchell up & down like she’s pricing the job. Dr Mitchell offers them the use of their punt. Billie laughs. She doesn’t want wet drawers. This makes Dr Mitchell and Martha VERY uncomfortable. Jackson and Billie walk off (from the back it looks like Jackson forgot to take the coat hanger out when he put his jacket on). Martha & Dr Mitchell sit down for a picnic. They kiss, Dr Mitchell’s quiff almost knocking Martha’s bonnet askew (and yes, askew IS a word).

28:40 Billie persuades Jackson not to study tonight as she wants to go out for a drink. I’m guessing that’s why Jackson is still a student at 45.

29:20 Burke and Donald Pleasence have drunk all their lodger money in a boozer (I wouldn’t do that, absolutely not, nope). Donald Pleasence puts on some gloves and gets ready to convert one of the other drinkers into hard cash. They lead her outside. A geriatric in a hat with a lamp (the geriatric has the lamp, not the hat). ‘Twelve o’clock and all is well’ he says, staggering along. An early form of Apple Watch, I suppose. Burke and Donald Pleasence take the drinker back to Burke’s lodging house. Burke smothers her while Donald Pleasence dances a ghoulish jig. And there’s no-one dances a better and more ghoulish jig than Donald Pleasence. He gets a box to put her in and freaks out when he sees a rat. Everyone’s got their weak spot.

34:00 They take her to Dr K and agree to provide more. Donald Pleasence offers Dr K some snuff but if there’s one person you’re almost guaranteed not to want to take snuff from it’s Donald Pleasence (playing Hare – the actor himself you’d take as much snuff as he had and be joyfully sneezing all over the place).

35:50 Dr K is lecturing in the theatre. ‘May I draw your attention to the protuberance on the frontal lobe…’ he says, rapping a skeleton on the head with his cane. It gives a satisfying clack. He’s a great lecturer. The protuberance is actually quite big. More like a beluga whale. It’s what made the specimen a criminal, apparently. That’s why criminals are easy to spot. And so difficult to buy hats for. Jackson is caught napping and can’t explain how he would’ve treated this patient other than cutting off the protuberance with an angle grinder.

38:00 Jackson is back in Billie’s flat, waiting for her to come back from the Merry Duke or wherever. When she falls through the door she doesn’t like the expression on his face so sets the flat on fire. He puts it out. He asks her to marry him. She says no, she’s not the girl for him. Half of her wants to be a doctor’s wife and travel around in a punt, the other doesnae.

40:30 Donald Pleasence shows off his new waistcoat. Burke loves it – very harristocratic. A geriatric guy like the talking Apple Watch from earlier asks about the room to let. Donald Pleasence gives Burke a nudge. Turns out his name is Angus, a crofter who walked down from the Highlands, looking for work. He wanted to come to Edinburgh and end his days in peace. Donald Pleasence approves of that. Next thing you know, Angus is boxed up and being carried into Dr K’s back room. Dr Mitchell wonders how Angus got a bruised head, but Dr K appears and says don’t worry, there’s no need to cross examine. ‘We’ve had several prize specimens from these gentlemen in the past’. He’s all about the body, basically.

46:00 A deputation of doctors – as substantial as a three piece suite from DFS – demand to see Dr K on urgent business. Dr K shows them through to the LYE-BREH-REH. Turns out Dr K wrote a scathing article about one of the doctors who lanced an abscess that turned out to be an aneurysm. He gives them a high-handed talk about why this is dumb, and so on, and unethical – which is rich coming from someone dealing in briny cadavers.

49:50 Back in the Merry Duke, Billie is drinking plenty (not me, not any more, nope). She goes to the brothel to finish off the night. When Jackson finds she’s not at home in the hovel, he goes to the brothel, too. Confronts Billie but she’s mean to him. He runs away. She runs after him (maybe to set him on fire, not sure). Falls to her knees in the middle of a deserted street, and gets found by Burke & Donald Pleasence (and yes… .I admit that doesn’t have the same ring as Burke & Hare – but c’mon… Donald Pleasence!)

55:00 They take her to their lodgings. Donald Pleasence murders her. Mrs Burke comes in. ‘What’s she doing here? Did you touch her?’
‘No’, says Burke. ‘Donald Pleasence just killed her.’
‘Oh. That’s alright then,’ says Mrs Burke.

58:20 Jackson is working late in the lecture theatre. A porter wheels in a body under a sheet, as casual as if he’s pushing a tea trolley.
‘The Dr wants some drawings taken before we put her in the brine,’ he sniffs.
Jackson goes over, pulls back the sheet, sees Billie, collapses.
Dr Mitchell comes in – his quiff preceding him by a full five seconds.
Jackson rushes past him, muttering ‘Burke & Donald Pleasence! Burke & Donald Pleasence!’

59:00 Jackson confronts Burke in the lodging house. Starts strangling him, figuring to work up to pummelling via assault. Donald Pleasence saunters up behind him and stabs him in the back.
‘That’s one subject we won’t be selling to Dr Knox’ he says, wiping his knife on his cravat.

1:02:00 Daytime, the market square. An early form of social media shouts about the murder of Jackson. A street urchin called Daft Jamie who witnessed Burke & Donald Pleasence dragging him along smiles to himself and runs off.

1:03:20 Dr K identifies the body of Jackson at the police hovel – sorry – station. ‘D’you know why anyone would want to kill him?’ says the policeman. ‘Nope,’ says Dr K., neglecting to tell them about how yesterday he’d bought the body of Jackson’s girlfriend off Gumtree. Dr Mitchell covers for him. They talk about it in the cab home. I’m sure Dr Mitchell’s cleft chin is actually deepening the further into this mess he gets. Pretty soon he’ll have two chins, one facing the other. Maybe that way he’ll get a film to himself.

1:05:00 Daft Jamie tries to shake Burke & Donald Pleasence down. Apparently he took a ring off Jackson’s body and wonders if he should take it to the police. They say he should bring it to their house tonight, instead. Don’t go, Daft Jamie. It’d be… well… daft.

1:06:00 Martha (we haven’t seen much of her since the punting incident) – she appears at the Academy to Dr Mitchell. ‘I have a confession to make,’ she says. She’d overheard the students saying that Dr K isn’t particular where he gets his bodies. Dr K comes in. He’s wearing a cloak. He stops when he sees them talking, takes off his top hat, slams the door and walks forwards. I’m worried his cloak has caught in the door.
It hasn’t.
‘Can we discuss the lecture tomorrow?’ he says. ‘The subject is… the heart.’

1:08:00 Daft Jamie stops by a pig pen and laughs at the pigs. Maybe that’s how he got his nickname. But no – he calls two of the pigs Burke and Donald Pleasence, so he’s not that daft. He carries on into their dark house, though. Which IS daft. They attack him. There’s a big messy fight and somehow he escapes. They catch up with him and murder him in the pig pen. All this is secretly witnessed by Maggie, one of Billie’s friends from the brothel.

1:11:10 Maggie runs into the market square shouting murder. ‘It was Burke & Donald Pleasence! I seen them!’ She takes the police to their house. Then on to the Academy (this is a shortened version.. obviously the police are EXTREMELY thorough)

1:13:00 Back at the Academy, Dr Mitchell warns Dr K not to buy any more subjects from Burke & Donald Pleasence. I mean – you can have TOO fresh, and what with Daft Jamie going missing and everything. ‘Oh – d’you mean this one?’ says Dr K, flipping the sheet back. Yes. THAT Daft Jamie. The police arrive. ‘That’s him! That’s Daft Jamie!’ screams Maggie, pointing to the body on the slab, which I’m pretty sure is definitely Daft Jamie. I recognise him from the pig pen.
‘Have you examined the body yet?’ says the policeman, like it was the most natural thing in the world to come looking for Daft Jamie and find him on a slab.
‘What was the cause of death?’ he says.
‘Violence,’ says Dr K, cleaning his hands on a dirty cloth. ‘Without any doubt.’
I don’t get the feeling this policeman will EVER make detective.

1:14:00 Outside the Merry Duke a posse is forming in the classic way, flaming torches, cudgels, the works. ‘Burke and Donald Pleasence have been murdering people under our noses!’ shouts the landlord. ‘Let’s get after them!’

1:16:00 Burke & Donald Pleasence run away to hide in a warehouse. The crowd approaches making improvised rah-rah-rah noises. I’ve never SEEN so many hats. Burke and you know who bolt the warehouse door but the police have an enormous truncheon that takes a dozen of ‘em to carry and they batter down the door. Donald Pleasence throws Burke down the stairs at them, like skittles, then runs into the back room. The mob drag him back. The last we see of the mob, they’re making even more improvised rah-rah-rah noises and waving their hats in the air. So that WAS a successful mob. The long queue at the studio catering wagon was TOTALLY worth it.

1:18:46 Cut to: Martha embroidering in a drawing room. Quite a contrast. Her improvised embroidery stitches are about as believable as the crowd’s rah-rahing. Dr K paces nervously about. His bow tie is enormous again, which is no doubt a sign of anxiety. Dr Mitchell comes in. ‘They’ve arrested Burke & Donald Pleasence’ he says.

1:19:00 In the courtroom (things moved quickly back in 1828 Edinburgh). Donald Pleasence comes to the witness stand. Then cut to: a town crier announcing the verdict. Burke guilty! Dr K no charge! That’s the fastest courtroom scene I have EVER watched. And all the better for it.

1:20:40 Dr K turns up to give his lecture. The theatre is almost empty – and the students that have turned up have been fighting. A brick comes through the window. ‘Take your seats,’ says Dr K. ‘The subject of today’s lesson is neurology.’

1:21:25 Burke is led up to the scaffold. His last words are about how they hadn’t been paid for the last subject, and if they had, he’d have been able to afford a nice pair of trousers to meet his public. Meanwhile, Donald Pleasence slips out the back door of the police station, ignoring a blind beggar, which is never a good look. Various people step out of the shadows and confront him. They blind him with a torch, then when he collapses the blind beggar feels his way toward him along the wall.

1:24:50 Another mob has gathered outside the Academy (it’s obviously quite the season for mobs). He walks through the angry extras to his carriage, then gets taken to the medical council to be struck off. So not a great day, all in all. Dr Mitchell joins the medical council. He’s so concerned with events, his dimple has merged with the crease in the middle of his forehead, like a giant cottage loaf put aside to prove. He makes an impassioned plea to the council, which is – to sum up – you’re all a bunch of immoral crooks, so don’t you dare strike him off. They’re outraged, but can’t immediately disagree.

1:28:00 Dr K is walking through the empty marketplace. A little girl runs up and asks for a hennie to buy some sweets (I’m guessing a hennie is a penny – or, if it is an actual hen, I wonder how many sweets you’d get for it – probably a lot).
‘I haven’t any money,’ says Dr K, smiling in that warmly sinister way he has, ‘….but if you come to the house I can get you some.’
‘Oh, no,’ says the girl, running away, ‘You might sell me to Dr Knox.’
Dr K looks stunned. This is the first time he’s realised what he’s done. AND he hasn’t shaved.

1:29:00 Back at the Academy Dr K has a heart to heart with Martha. He admits he knew how the subjects died. He’s become an ogre, he says. He’s failed. He takes a book and wanders out of the LYE-BREH-REH. Dr Mitchell comes in. He says the medical council has exonerated him. Dr K carries on to the lecture theatre. He’s never missed a lecture, he says. ‘It’ll be quite a novelty, talking to empty walls. But at least they won’t criticise me.’ No – but the decals can be hurtful.

1:33:30 The lecture theatre is actually full, and all the students give him a standing ovation when he comes in. (Which proves my earlier point). Dr K gives a speech before the lecture. ‘Let us consider the Oath of Hippocrates. The sacred oath of our profession… blah blah … and never do harm to anyone.’ He cleans his glasses. The music swells…


That’s it! So what’ve I learned?

  1. Donald Pleasence had a squint and a whispery voice, which was perfect for playing murderers, psychos and Tory politicians.
  2. A hennie is a pennie but a hen is an oviparous feathered biped and easily forged.
  3. Burke & Hare are bodysnatchers. Not to be confused with Farrow & Ball, who make paint. Both make a killing.
  4. A large bow tie may look freakish and weird, but if there’s a fire in your hovel you can unravel it at the window and climb out.
  5. Punting looks fun but it’s really only for doctors

Kiss of the Vampire

The Kiss of the Vampire, 1963. Dir. Don Sharp. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

I’m feeling sick and feverish, so what better way to recuperate than watch a sick and feverish film from the sixties. Forgive me if I wander off topic or panic at any point. This is probably a bad idea, but here goes…

0.18 Starts with a horrible old tree, a bell tolling, a priest doing some incantation. I’m already sweating.

0.52 A burial, it seems. The pall bearers make an awkward turn and almost dump the coffin, but I don’t think it’s part of the script. I think Don Sharp decided not to reshoot as it would’ve made him late for lunch.

1.21 Whilst the pallbearers struggle to get the coffin in the grave (talk about an open goal), a mysterious cloaked figure watches from on top of a wall, waiting for his cue.

On a side note: Latin makes the service more sombre. I suppose if they were burying a Trekkie they’d do it in Klingon, which would also be effective.

1.50 Two old mourners notice the mysterious man in black. ‘He’s been drinking again’ says one. We get a close-up of the man. He’s got a marvelous pointy beard and moustache. If you have facial hair like that you’d be contractually obliged to wear a top hat and cloak.

2.05 The guy comes down to join the service. Everyone moves back nervously. The priest finishes off with some holy water sprinkling. The man takes the holy water, does his own sprinkling. Then holds out his hand for the gravedigger to give him the spade. Then he smashes the spade through the coffin lid, and you hear a woman scream from inside the coffin. Blood oozes out. Everyone screams and runs away (the priest screaming in Latin). Crashing orchestral music plays as the camera dissolves through the coffin lid …. onto the lips of a vampire! Then we get the title sequence. Lots of bloody lettering. Nice (but not helping my fever).

5.30 Cut to: A mysterious man in a gruesome old castle (the SAME mysterious man? I’m not sure. His face is obscured by a gargoyle). Anyway, he’s looking through a telescope at two people driving towards the castle in what looks and sounds like an old sewing machine.

6.00 It’s Gerald & Marianne. They’ve run out of petrol. Apparently Gerald brought Marianne along as an early form of SatNav, but they’ve gotten lorst, what with the twisty roads and what not. Gerald’s phlegmatic, though. He’s wearing gauntlets. (The two may or may not be connected).

6.30 Gerald goes off to find help, leaving Marianne in the car. (I say ‘car’ – it’s more like a leather hamper on wheels). ‘It’ll be quicker if I go alone’ says Gerald, slapping his gauntlets. ‘Try not to be long,’ says Marianne, although if it were me I’d be glad of a little Gerald-free time. And I’ve only known him 30 seconds.

7.10 The wind picks up. We hear wolves etc. Marianne looks anxious. I hope she’s got a pistol in that muff or she’s for it. She leaves the safety of the car (er-hem), sees the castle on the rocky prominence.

7.45 The mysterious man in the castle with the telescope (God I hope I learn his name soon because that’s just too much typing), comes into view. He’s a Peter Cushing wannabe – same ascetic look, same widow’s peak, same sad, sad eyes – except it’s not PC it’s (reading notes) Noel Willman playing Dr Ravna.

8.08 Marianne is so freaked by the wind in the trees and branches coming down that she leaves the car and runs through the forest. She runs straight into the original mysterious man in black (checks notes: Clifford Evans playing Professor Zimmer, so – Prof Zimmer from now on). He glares at her. ‘Go back to your car’ he says. ‘GO!’ (widening his eyes – which, when combined with that beard, leaves absolutely no room for doubt). ‘Yes’ says Marianne. She runs back – straight into Gerald’s gauntlets. He’s found a guy with a horse, an early form of the AA. ‘Gerald I was so frightened,’ she says. She’d be even more frightened if she’d seen what Prof Zimmer did at the funeral the other day.

8.58 Their car gets towed by the horse to the entrance of the Grand Hotel (which should really be called The Gothic Abandoned Hotel for accuracy). Gerald asks the guy with the horse to put the car somewhere else, but the guy says it’s okay, no one will want to stop there. Gerald gives the man twopence and asks him why not. ‘Good night, sir’ says the man, and drives off on the horse. Gerald pulls on his gauntlets and goes to catch Marianne up.

10.02 Marianne looks up at the hotel and you can tell she’s not impressed. The shutters are banging (which doesn’t mean ‘amazing’ in this context) and there’s almost certainly no wifi. It starts to rain (off camera, with a hose). They sprint inside.

10.11 Sheltering in the porch, Gerald takes off his gantlets and raises Marianne’s face by putting his finger under her nose and levering it up. I’m guessing this is beginning to seem like a VERY long and ill-advised road trip to Marianne.

10.23 A creepy doorman called Bruno opens the door in a creepy way and seems amazed they want a room. (All this creepy and they STILL want to stay?)

10.52 Bruno starts pulling the dust covers off the furniture and it’s probably a good job they put dust covers down because they absolutely are chock full of dust. He shouts up the stairs for his wife Anna to come quick because they have guests.

11.08 Anna comes down the stairs, one at a time, her hands straight down by her sides and her shoulders straight back, like she’s hypnotised or got sciatica or something. ‘Will you sign here, please?’ says Anna, opening the ledger of the damned (after blowing the dust off it – should’ve covered it).

11.52 She tells them all the rooms are vacant – except one. She looks positively terrified. I think we’ve all had guests like that.

12.10 Anna shows Gerald and Marianne to their room. They both look quite amused. A holiday adventure. Just a shame they don’t know the title of this particular adventure is ‘The Kiss of the Vampire’

12.47 Actually, once the dust sheets are off, their room doesn’t look too dusty. Vamp chic, I think you’d call it.

13.44 Bruno shows Anna some rice he found in their car. ‘Don’t you see?’ he says, excitedly. ‘They’re just married!’ Anna gives him exactly the look I’d have given him in the same situation.

14.00 The newlyweds are just sitting down to some tea when a carriage arrives outside. Gerald watches as the coachman gives Bruno a letter. Gerald has some shaving cream behind his ear (not the whole canister, just a blob). Marianne wipes it off, which is enough to start them kissing, only interrupted by Bruno running in with the letter. It’s an invitation to have dinner with Dr Ravna, the Peter Cushing knockoff with the telescope we saw earlier.

16.06 I have to say, the actress playing Marianne always looks as if she’s struggling not to laugh. I think I’d be the same. I mean – Gerald is wearing the most ludicrous dressing gown. It has two enormous satin lapels, like the running boards on the car. First the gauntlets, then the lapels. I bet it took a hundred takes to get this far. (And it’d explain why they didn’t have time to reshoot the fumbled burial). They decide to accept the invitation and go down to the carriage.

16.19 Prof Zimmer is hiding in the bushes watching as the carriage with the newlyweds rattles into Dr Ravna’s castle.

17.05 The big creaky door opens and a big creaky butler called Hans stands staring at them. ‘Good evening,’ says Gerald. ‘Dr Ravna is expecting us’. Hans bows and creaks aside. Marianne looks around at the bird in the cage, the drapes, the mad piano in the background – gets the giggles.

18.00 Dr Ravna appears, walking down the stairs in the same way Anna did, like underneath the suit he’s shrink wrapped in cling film. He says he likes to be surrounded by beautiful things, and gazes into Marianne’s eyes as he hoovers the diamonds from her fingers with his lips. I love Gerald, though. He’s so guileless and hopeless. He has that way posh people have of talking very quickly – I mean DASH quickly – but only from the bottom half of the face, giving the occasional little jut of the jaw to emphasise a point. He could be surrounded by vampires and werewolves and bloody corpses and still say ‘Gosh I’m just so flabbergasted you managed to cook the whole bally thing up with so little time and so on.. well done you.’

18.40 A rapacious woman in red comes halfway down the stairs and then stops to eavesdrop when she sees they have company.

19.00 Dr Ravna asks them through to meet the rest of his family. There’s a sensitive looking guy playing the baby grand in a velvet jacket (the guy’s wearing the jacket, not the piano). Next to him is an intense woman with big hair and a horrible dress. It’s hard to say whether she likes the music or is waiting to shoot him, but I guess we’ll find out. Meanwhile, the rapacious woman in red (RWIR) puts on a cloak and slips out of the castle.

19.56 Dr Ravna introduces Sabina his daughter and Carl his son. Hans brings in some wine. Carl threatens to play some more after dinner.

20.10 The RWIR is tramping round a misty graveyard. She starts clawing at a fresh grave, saying ‘Why have you not been to see us, my sweet?’ Finds a handle. Just as she’s about to pull it, Prof Zimmer appears and grapples with her. They grapple for a little while (I can’t think of another word for grapple. Wrestling won’t do, because you might think he picks her up and does a body slam, which might be great but a little anachronistic). She shows her fangs and takes a chunk out of his wrist (he needs Gerald’s gauntlets). Prof Zimmer looks at the puncture marks. Does that mean he’ll be a vampire, too? Not sure.

21.44 The RWIR goes back to the castle. She does some more eavesdropping. Dr Ravna is explaining to his guests that ‘a few years ago I conducted a series of experiments, some of which went wrong… ‘ which is why he can’t return to the city of his birth. They all stand at the bottom of the stairs awkwardly whilst Dr Ravna makes a speech about the dirty feet of the peasants that trampled the grapes that made their wine and so on, the pheasants they ate that had been hanging for months. No one says anything. They probably think he doesn’t throw that many parties. Then they move on.

23.12 They settle down to listen to Carl play the piano again (Carl is a primitive form of Spotify). We get a close up of Dr Ravna. I love his hair. It must take him hours, smothering it in grease, then hanging upside down in the closet all day.

23.27 Carl plays something he composed himself. An intense little number that goes with his jacket.

24.00 Dr Ravna gives Marianne a green-tinged drink. I don’t know what’s more worrying, the drink or Carl’s playing. Dr Ravna hands Gerald a glass, too. ‘You have a singularly lovely wife’ he says to Gerald, who juts his chin out and says thanks, like a nervous swinger about to throw his gauntlets in the bowl.

24.30 Meanwhile, Prof Zimmer staggers into his house with his hand bandaged. He’s got a mobile of dried bats that I’m guessing he made himself. Nice. He pours vodka or maybe holy water over his wound. Takes a swig of it for good measure. Then holds his wrist over some flames to cauterise it. The pain is so terrible his ears actually waggle. Then collapses. I’m pretty sure he’s not a professor of medicine.

25.36 Dr Ravna gives Marianne some more green liquor. She’s sitting enraptured, listening to Carl go full Rachmaninoff. Dr Ravna, Sabina and Carl exchange loaded looks. He plays faster. Marianne rocks backwards and forwards in the Edwardian version of the mosh pit. Gerald comes over and helps her up. Sabina goes to call them a carriage.

28.54 The couple drive off in the carriage. Carl is playing the piano again. ‘Why did you let them go?’ says Sabina. ‘They have no petrol. They can’t leave until I say so,’ says Dr Ravna. Who probably exercises mind control over the local refinery or something.

29.47 Back at the hotel, Prof Zimmer is getting wasted with Bruno, who’s wearing his doorman jacket over his nightshirt. I’m guessing Prof Zimmer is the other guest, the one Anna was so scared of.

30.33 Going up to their room, Gerald and Marianne hear a woman sobbing. It’s Anna, holding a bundle of clothes like a baby. And then staring at a photograph, in case we didn’t get the point. They leave her to it.

31.33 The next day it’s raining, no doubt the same effects guy with the same hosepipe. Marianne stares out of the window and tries not to laugh. Gerald is doing calisthenics. Marianne kisses him between swings. The doorman interrupts to invite them down to breakfast. ‘We’ll be there in ten minutes,’ says Gerald. Then kisses Marianne again. ‘Or fifteen…’ (As racy as his little car).

32.00 A VERY long shot of Anna laying the plates for breakfast. They don’t even have bats on them. There’s an extra place laid for someone – the dead child? ‘No one comes here any more’ says Bruno, sadly. Then immediately brightens. ‘More bread?’

34.05 Marianne snoops in Anna’s room. Finds baby stuff, a bible, rosary etc. The photo. Turns out the photo is of Tania, the RWIR. ‘She looks like Anna’ says Gerald, driving home the stake, I mean, point.

36.15 Gerald confronts Prof Zimmer in the lobby. But Prof Zimmer won’t shed any light on the mystery – just says that they should leave. ‘Well! That puts ME in my place!’ says Gerald, chin out and then straight back in again. I feel quite protectively towards Gerald. I’d love to adopt him. As a pet.

36.35 Dr Ravna’s carriage arrives for them again. (Side note: why is everyone so grumpy looking? I know it’s Bavaria and everything, but it looks like they haven’t paid their actors in a long while). Sabina gets out of the carriage in the most ludicrous fur hat I’ve ever seen and says ‘We can’t stay long. Look. The weather’s changing.’ Which is a bad line to deliver at the best of times, but in THAT hat? I think she does it as well as anybody could expect. Carl looks furious, though. He’s missing his piano.

37.37 Carl tells them his father has ordered some fuel to be brought up from Konensburg express delivery, by ox. He also invites them to a party at the castle on Saturday.

38.30 They’re chatting about who’s coming and what they’ll be wearing, when Prof Zimmer stomps into the foyer. ‘It’s getting a little brighter,’ he says, sweating. ‘The weather is improving.’
Carl and Sabina run out, jump in the carriage. ‘Drive like the devil!’ he says to the coachman, who does a doughnut in the yard at about 2 miles an hour and they trot off back to the castle.

41.23 Later that evening (yeah – okay – I skipped a bit, but honestly, my fever isn’t getting any better), Gerald and Marianne are dressed up ready to go Dr Ravna’s ball. Just before they get in the carriage, Prof Zimmer staggers round the corner, making the horses and waiting staff whinny. ‘Madame!’ he says. ‘I beg of you. Be careful.’ Why he can’t come out with it and say ‘if you go to the party you’ll be drained of blood by the undead vampires there’ and make it clear to everyone, I don’t know. So of course, they drive on.

42.51 At Chateau Ravna all the guests are wearing horrible masks. The table is set with a sumptuous feast of white chocolate chicken and so on. Carl and Sabina bring Gerald and Marianne their masks – Gerald’s looks like a demonic walrus. I just hope there’s enough room for his chin.

44.30 The guests waltz very nicely. Gradually the dance floor clears until it’s just Carl waltzing with Marianne. The guests stare at them emptily. Maybe they want to waltz with Carl. Maybe they know what’s coming next (hopefully not Carl on the piano).

45.30 Gerald has disappeared somewhere. Marianne goes to get something to eat. Carl gets a mask that looks like Gerald’s and then catches up with her. He gestures for Marianne to follow him up the stairs, into a secluded part of the castle. He throws Marianne into a room and locks it. There’s the sound of sobbing behind a curtain. When she pulls it back she sees Dr Ravna lying on his back with blood dribbling from his mouth. She screams and runs to the door.

48.41 Meanwhile, Gerald is drunk, jumping after balloons and so on (Sabina is keeping him occupied; I don’t think it’s difficult).

49.07 Dr Ravna is standing in front of Marianne looking particularly vulnerable in a white silk blouse and pointy teeth. He holds his hands out to her, then beckons her forth (that sounds like the right language to use here). She stands up and walks slowly towards his bed. Lies down. He kisses her forehead, reveals his fangs and ….

50.26 ‘Where d’you think she could be, Sabina?’ says Gerald, down in the lobby. Sabina gives him a special glass of champagne and he collapses into a bucket chair. Sabina helps him upstairs where he collapses for keeps this time. The butler drags him into her room. Downstairs in the ballroom, the orchestra silently packs up and leaves. The guests bolt the doors and quietly take off their masks.

52.50 Dr Ravna is dressing Marianne in a white robe. Vampires like white (although it shows the blood terribly).

53.31 In the ballroom, all the guests have changed into white robes. They sit down on the floor unselfconsciously in a circle. It looks so uncomfortable I hope for their sake it’s not a long scene. Dr Ragna leads Marianne into the room. ‘Ladies & Gentlemen. May I introduce a new disciple…’ Close up on Marianne, and two puncture marks on her neck.

54.45 Gerald half falls down the stairs. Everything’s blurry. ‘What’s happened to the party?’ he says. Carl appears. ‘Where’s Marianne?’ says Gerald. Carl denies everything. ‘You came here alone. And you can leave that way.’ Hans throws him out.

57.38 Walking back to the hotel, Gerald gets run down by a carriage. But he gets found by Prof Zimmer, who checks his pulse (so maybe he IS a doctor after all). Puts him over his shoulder and carries him back to his room at the hotel.

59.01 Gerald wakes up alone the next day. He calls for Bruno. ‘Where’s my wife?’ he shouts. ‘What wife?’ says Bruno. OMG – they’re all in on it.

1.00.02 A police man talks to Gerald in the lobby. ‘I understand you wish me to issue a warrant, sir. Is that correct?’ But the interview doesn’t go well and it looks like the police are in on it, too. Can you get vampire police? I guess so. Gerald runs off to find Prof Zimmer, whose room has also got a stuffed crocodile and an hourglass – which makes him a REAL professor. ‘Please help me’ says Gerald. ‘My wife’s disappeared.’ ‘I know’ says the Prof. ‘She’s being kept in the chateau.’

1.02.17 Prof Zimmer gives Gerald a little speech about the devil and evil. I love the way he says those two words. ‘De-ville’ and ‘E-ville’ He’s never sounded more Welsh. He seizes his dramatic moment, whether he’s been paid or not. He paces around his room, ducking under the bat mobile (no – not the one you’re thinking of). ‘Do you know what a VAMP-eyre is?’ he rattles, snatching off his pince nez and almost taking his eyebrows with them. He tells the story of his daughter who left home, lived with a guy, mixed with the smart set, came home ‘what was left of her…riddled with disease’. Yes, a VAMP-eyre. Then he crosses himself. Families, eh?

1.04.48 Prof Zimmer has given Gerald a drug to help him sleep (poor Gerald’s getting drugged by just about everyone – and he was so happy at the beginning of his film in his gauntlets, wandering off to find the AA).

1.05.17 Nightfall. Gerald wakes up and hurries off to the castle. He knocks out one of the servants and gets inside. Breaks into Tania’s room. Persuades her to take him to Marianne. He follows her down spooky corridors – but it’s a trick! She leads him in to see Dr Ravna instead.

1.07.56 Gerald takes a swing at Dr Ravna but he ducks and gets him in an armlock. ‘You must not expect your Queensberry rules here, Mr Harcourt!’ he says (although I think ducking IS actually in the Queensberry rules).

1.08.23 Carl and Hans come in to help subdue Gerald (which isn’t that difficult). They use his own tie to tie his hands, rubbing it in, somewhat. Dr Ravna says he’ll bring Marianne in to show Gerald. Tania and Sabina go to get her.

1.09.29 Marianne walks in dressed in white, natch. ‘Don’t you want to see your husband?’ says Dr Ravna. ‘No. I only want to see you,’ says Marianne. ‘Prove to me that you do not love him.’ So she walks up to Gerald and spits in his face. ‘Well done, my dear!’ says Dr Ravna. Then asks Tania to initiate Gerald into their society (but I hope she wipes his face first because – well – hygiene issues…?)

1.10.40 Tania walks over to Gerald (I see a pattern emerging). She bares her fangs and bares his chest. Rakes his chest with her nails. Marianne looks like she’s trying not to laugh.

1.11.29 But…. Gerald has slipped his hands out of his tie. He pushes Tania away, then uses the blood on his chest to make the sign of the cross. Tania screams and everyone looks horrified (except for Marianne, who’s giggling).

1.11.33 Prof Zimmer bursts in the room. Gerald hits Hans with a stool, which he doesn’t appreciate. Grabs Marianne and runs out of the room with her.

1.13.00 Hans follows them outside. They hide round the corner. Hans isn’t the brightest butler in the mansion because he stands on the threshold looking puzzled. Meanwhile, Gerald pushes a gargoyle onto him, which is as labour intensive method of dealing with a vampire butler as I’ve ever seen. Prof Zimmer makes the sign of the cross on the front door, to buy them some time (although I’m guessing the mansion has more than one door, so…)

1.15.00 Prof Zimmer sends Bruno off to the police (yes – THAT police) with a note that’s supposed to convince them to come. ‘It’s a full moon. We’ve got work to do,’ he says as Bruno hurries off. Prof Zimmer tells Gerald he’s been working on a solution to the vampire question – a ceremony he’s distilled from a lot of medieval books he got from the library and so on, especially effective on a full moon with Capricorn in Uranus or something – which, luckily for them but not for the vampires – is tonight.

1.15.48 All the vampires are dressed in white back at the castle. ‘Well? What does he say?’ says one of the vampires, and then all the others chip in anxiously, proving the point that even the undead can get a little panicky sometimes. Dr Ravna appears in front of them back in his white robes, too. When the vampires ask him what’s going on, he says ‘they’re trying to destroy us’. When the vampires jump up and crowd round him for more, he explains the situation like this:

‘They came here tonight to take the girl away because they did not want to risk her life while they were trying to destroy us.’

(Vampire or not, you’ve got admire his breath control).

The plan is to get Marianne back so they won’t be able to destroy them. Like a human shield. But how will they get her back, when the doors have got crosses on them?

1.17.00 Prof Zimmer is drawing a circle on his bedroom floor. (So this magic doesn’t require them to visit the chateau in person? Handy!) He leaves a gap in the circle so he can come and go. (If I was Gerald I’d be thinking of my options at this point). Back at the chateau, Dr Ravna is using mind powers to make Marianne walk to the chateau by remote control or something. Like a drone. I’m surprised Prof Zimmer didn’t think of that one. But he drinks a lot, sets fire to himself, so maybe it’s not so surprising after all.

1.18.19 Prof Zimmer has finished chalking the circle. He’s got the horn, the sword and some other stuff. Starts his incantation – which is basically the Welsh phone directory in reverse. Gerald is standing outside the circle, and chooses his moment to sneak away and check on Marianne. But dash it all! She’s gone!

1.20.13 Gerald and a priest (where did HE come from?) hurry through the misty woods on the trail of Marianne.

1.20.49 Prof Zimmer reaches the climax of his incantation, holding the sword above his head and commanding Beelzebub to appear. The door blows open, the bat mobile swings around, the candles go out.

1.21.12 Back at the castle, all the vampires are screaming as the wind rushes through the place. Marianne is still gamely walking on to the castle, followed by Gerald and his priest. Gerald catches up with her, they grapple or wrestle, I’m not sure, then the priest shows her his crucifix and bible, which totally works.

1.22.06 ‘Look! Look!’ says the priest, holding his crucifix up again. Thousands of crudely animated, sub-Scooby Doo bats are converging on the castle. The vampires can only watch in horror as the animated bats are supplemented by rubber bats on strings, smashing through the windows, invading the castle. There now follows the best mass slaying of vampires by rubber bats on strings I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen literally this one. Full credit to the actors – paid or otherwise – who scream and do their best to look terrified as they’re brutalised by the things. They may as well have been savaged to death by Furbies. It’s dreadful. I’ll never forget it.

1.23.42 Meanwhile, Marianne comes to her senses in the forest. The marks on her neck have gone. Everything’s going to be alright. And they’ll have a ripping honeymoon story to tell the folks back in Henley.

The End.

That’s it! So what’ve I learned?

  1. Bavaria’s nice if you’ve got gauntlets and plenty of petrol.
  2. Don’t drink the green cocktails.
  3. Vampires are people too. And they work very unsocial hours.
  4. You MUST get a building inspector to sign off on your gargoyles from time to time.
  5. Treatment for a laceration of the wrist is compression and elevation – NOT holy water and open flame.

The Abominable Snowman

The Abominable Snowman, 1957. Dir. Val Guest. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

No excuses for choosing yet another Peter Cushing movie. I just wanted to see him again, okay? There’s something horrifically reassuring about him. And whilst you’re wondering about that, can I just say he was a lifelong vegetarian, wildlife enthusiast but had a fear of the dark? Fine. So settle down with your laptop in the LYE-BREH-REH as we press play on The Abominable Snowman.

1:08 Opening shots of the Himalayas, with a ponderous score like a sherpa making an ascent with saucepans on their feet.

1:39 Hairdressing is by Henry Montsash. I wonder if he did the Yeti, too. I think the Yeti mightn’t be so abominable if it had a stylish bob.

2:20 Starting in a monastery. Lots of chanting. A monk plodding across the courtyard with some sticks on his back. If you didn’t like snow, or heights, or chanting, I suppose you just wouldn’t volunteer for this shit.

2:37 I mean – austere doesn’t cover it. Even the carved faces in the pillars are grimacing.

3:05 Two monks take a plate of tea through to an elderly monk who’s either meditating or performing his morning ablutions with austere dignity.

3:14 Actually, there are two scientists in the room as well – Peter Cushing and Richard Wattis, who are hunched over a microscope getting ludicrously excited over some Latin names. ‘Yees – that’s Gackomandis Perficorus’ or something. Their film names are as follows: John & Peter. So when I say John I mean Peter. And when I say Peter I mean Richard. I hope that helps.

4:18 The scientists are there to study some exciting herbs. The lead monk lets them take a whole bunch (quite literally). PC (I’ll call him that because otherwise I’ll get confused and anyway who cares his name is supposed to be John) – PC explains to the lead monk that he used to be a climber so he knows the Himalayas well. He had to give the climbing up because he had a ‘stupid accident’ although he doesn’t go into details – maybe he tried to abseil down an icicle or something, not sure.

6:01 The lead monk freaks PC out by saying the rest of the team will be there in ‘a few hours’ – this is pre-mobile phones, of course, and anyway the reception would’ve been patchy even if he had one. The lead monk’s eyes go a bit crossy, which disconcerts PC, because he’s a plant doctor not an ophthalmologist.

6:30 Richard Wattis – whose nickname is Foxy for some reason – strides across the courtyard. His legs really are VERY long (an advantage in the mountains, you’d think). He takes some herbs to Helen, PC’s scientist wife who’s also on the trip. Foxy complains about the country, the cold, the tea &c. He seems quite high maintenance. Maybe useful in an avalanche (as a cave prop), but otherwise strictly comedy value. Helen seems sensible. Her sweater is very 1950s, which means pointy. Also useful in an avalanche.

7:08 Back with the lead monk, who seems to be a trance (probably all the herbs). He’s talking about the men who are coming, particularly worried about the leader of the party, who seems to be searching for something (I’m guessing a yeti, but I’m not a scientist, or a scriptwriter). By the way, I’ve never seen sleeves as big as the lead monk’s. Each arm is the size of a tent. Warm, I’d guess, but a bastard for housework. The lead monk also seems to know when Helen is approaching – explaining that ‘here one has an awareness of many things’ – except the size of your sleeves.

9:00 Helen comes in with a box. The lead monk lets it slip that PC is going on a climbing expedition – then leaves them to it. Helen is furious. After what happened with the icicle.

10:30 So it all comes out. It’s not just a botanical expedition. PC wants to look for ‘that creature’ (she doesn’t say abominable but you can read it in her expression).

10.36 Cut to a monk banging two enormous bells with a gigantic cotton bud – a symbol of the domestic we just witnessed. Or dinner, maybe.

10:48 It looks like the monks are about to have some kind of festival. There’s actually some glittery ribbons around, which is a nice change from all the stone. Helen is in the kitchen making supper (well – it is the 1950s). The other scientists arrive, wearing mittens on strings, which is cute. The scientists are loud types – the kind of guys who walk with a swagger and their arms crooked out, mittens or no. Helen gives them tin plates with a scoop of stew so tiny you’d think she’d mistakenly served them the relish instead. But they seem happy enough. I don’t think they’re the brightest snowballs on the mountain.

13.58 The new arrivals sound off about the yeti. One of the scientists – the one with the most sensitive chin – says he’s seen the footprints. ‘On the Rakaposhi glacier’ (which TOTALLY sounds made up. ‘Yeah – I saw some too. On the Gapagoomi slopes’). Anyway, he seems pretty anxious about the whole affair. He was with a climbing party, two years ago…. followed the tracks till they disappeared on some bare rocks…’ ‘You’re an impressionable man, Mr McGee,’ says Helen, shovelling in the relish. She’s right. He seems amazingly disturbed by the fact that he saw some big footprints. God knows WHAT he’d do if he saw the real thing (which hopefully won’t be long).

15:30 Tom, the lead scientist, pulls out an heirloom – a silver cylinder with inscriptions that PC translates – something about protection against a local god. Tom gives it a twist to reveal what’s inside – a giant tooth. ‘The canine tooth of an ape or a gorilla’ says PC, measuring it with a tape measure Helen probably gave him.

16:20 A gong is struck outside. Tom opens the door and sees all the monks dancing around with two ferocious looking dragon masks. They seem to be enjoying themselves in an austere kinda way. ‘Holy men doing a holy dance! Hey – this is good! Jock – get a picture!’ laughs one of the scientists – NOT someone you’d want on an expedition into the Himalayas, then. He’d make a trip to the shops unbearable. I’m hoping he gets eaten first. Then maybe the guy with the sensitive chin. Then Tom. But not PC. I hope he’s okay (and doesn’t do anything stupid with any icicles).

17:00 The actor playing Tom is Forrest Tucker. He’s extremely crabby & craggy. He makes the Himalayas look like a bunch of scatter cushions. Mind you – he’s not so ornery he doesn’t accidentally sit down on a dirty plate to explain about the expedition. But I suppose the others are too scared to say ‘watch the plate’ or ‘here’s a cloth to clean the relish off your pants’.

18:00 Tom explains that the territory they’re heading into is ‘like the craters of the moon’ with lots of rockfalls and so on – terribly dangerous. Which freaks Helen out – even when they say they’re taking Kusang, a sherpa who’s actually seen a yeti. PC ducks the issue of whether he intends to go along too by saying he’ll show the tooth to the Lama (who I’ve disrespectfully been calling the ‘lead monk’ and for which I apologise).

19:06 The Lama says he knows the object. It was stolen many years ago. He says it’s not a real tooth, though. Tom isn’t put off. He’s still going. His dimple demands it. PC says he’ll go, too. Helen storms off. The Lama gives PC some advice – which sounds like a warning about climate change, but that’s me talking from the future. The yeti as a stand in for the global climate emergency – which is pretty abominable, I have to say, so…. ‘Go in peace’ says the Lama, and waves him off to a background of more chanting.

21:40 Down in the yard, Ed (the mouthiest scientist) is packing their rucksacks for the trip – in a VERY shouty way, I have to say. I mean, doesn’t he KNOW about avalanches? I’m guessing not. I’m guessing he’d laugh like a donkey when he saw one coming, and carry on laughing till he got whacked by a million tonnes of ice and grit. Which is what it’s like talking to Tom, BTW.

22:15 Helen comes up to PC with an ice pick – looking like she’s in two minds whether to give it to him or hit him with it.

22:40 Can I just say – I’ve never seen Peter Cushing looking SO good as he does here in his steampunk explorer goggles, woolly hat, cagoule and corduroy trousers tucked into woolly socks. And I’m sure any Yeti would think the same. They’d probably lick their paw, slick their hair back and say ‘JOLLY nice to meet you old chap’.

23:00 Helen has a premonition she’ll never see him again so she gives him one last kiss. ‘Be careful, my darling,’ she says. Their fond farewell overlooked by the Lama from the balcony with a sour expression on his face along the lines of: Don’t come running to me when the Yeti rips your legs off.

23:50 And they’re off – into the Himalayas. Five seconds later and Ed is complaining they’re walking too fast. ‘Last time we went an easier way,’ he says, like maybe there’s a ski lift or something. They all start singing ‘John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave…’ to keep their spirits up. Kusang hangs well back and who can blame him.

25.20 PC points to three men on the skyline who seem to be following them. ‘Let’s just keep moving,’ says Tom. Who’s surname seems to be ‘Friend’. Which seems unlikely.

25.56 The three men start shooting at them. Ed shoots back, his chin sticking out so far he can use it to steady the pistol.

26:50 Tom and Ed shout at each other when the team stops to rest. Why they have to shout at each other the whole time is anyone’s guess, although maybe it’s some elaborate courting ritual.

27:30 They need to ‘rope up’ to go along a steep bit to the hut that Tom says is over the ridge. PC has a rope that looks about long enough to reach from here to the bathroom, and about as thin as a bootlace. No wonder Helen was worried.

28:08 Ed’s shouting causes a small avalanche. ‘No more shouting’ says PC. ‘You got that, Ed?’ shouts Tom.

29.30 The one with the sensitive chin (I must find out his name) loses his footing and the rest of them have to haul him up the ridge. (Maybe I’ll find out what it is when he gets to the top. Maybe Ed’ll shout it out.)

30:10 Inside the hut the guys eat stew. Ed shouts about having to bury the empty stew cans. Tom helps himself to a tiny bit more stew, which looks suspiciously like shit. You really do have to be tough to be a mountaineer – as well as have good lungs.

31.30 PC smokes his pipe and tells them how he thinks the yeti lives – eating hares and voles and things like that, roots and what have you. Occasional forays online. He describes his theory of parallel evolution, chuffing on his pipe and looking meaningfully at Ed.

33:20 Ed and Tom break it to PC that they want to capture the Yeti, not study it. ‘Did you think we’d just want Jock here to take a picture of it…?’ Jock! His name’s Jock! Now my studies are complete. You’ll find me in the LYE-BREH-REH with a large BREN-DEH.

33:40 They all shout at each other, except for Jock, who puffs anxiously on his fag and stares at the door. He thought he heard a scream. They rush outside. Shout at each other to be quiet. Then go back inside. ‘Jock? You need some sleep,’ says Tom. I don’t get the impression this is a restful kind of trip, though.

35:20 PC and Tom go outside for a smoke because the wind’s dropped. Eurgh! Tom puts two fags in his mouth, ligths them both and hands one to PC. The last time I saw that done was Paul Henreid to Betty Davis in Now Voyager. What’s Tom going to say now? ‘Don’t let’s ask for the moon; we have the stars…’? (Except shouted).

36:40 Tom lays out his plans for the Yeti, which seems to boil down to TV appearances, chat shows, that kinda thing. To satisfy a curious world. And maybe start a new brand of cosmetics.

37:20 Back at the monastery the monks are arguing with Helen – who knows what about? The dreadful stews she’s been making, maybe? Foxy comes to her aid and shouts at them, which seems to work, as shouting seems to be general currency round these parts. The monks are angry because they haven’t been paid, which is fair enough. Helen’s worried that the monks know the party isn’t coming back. ‘Drink this and take some tablets,’ says Foxy. (I get the impression in these early films that the women either had to cook, look sexy, have hysterics or get sedated).

39:00 Foxy goes to speak to the Lama about the restive monks. The Lama is in deep meditation, an expression on his face much like mine when I do these reviews. Foxy goes out again.

40:00 Back out on the jolly ol’ Himalayas. Lots of crashing cymbals and so on. The director probably said ‘Write me some majestic shit’. And this is what he got.

40:45 The party has split up. Tom, Ed and Kusang, and then PC and Jock. PC is digging around in the snow looking for herbs he can smoke in his pipe. Jock admits he doesn’t like climbing or expeditions. He only came because he’s become obsessed with the footprint and the Yeti. He says he paid Tom to let him come on this expedition – but he promises to try not to do anything too dangerous.

42:38 It’s heavy going (the expedition AND the film). PC and Jock reach the crest of a ridge and when they look over see that the rest of the guys are gone. ‘Helllooooo?’ shouts PC. Nope. Not even a bellow from Ed in return. When Jock shouts HELLO he seems to squeeze his butt cheeks. Just a little detail I’ve noticed (but that PC has chosen to ignore).

43:57 Unfortunately Jock steps in a bear trap, no doubt set by Tom for the Yeti. Ed runs over and sets him free. Also says the plan worked and they caught ‘one of those things’. (He also says ‘Watch out! It’s icy up here’ – which is an odd thing to say to anyone in the Himalayas, but hey – that’s Ed.)

45:50 Turns out, what they’ve caught is a monkey. ‘That’s a Langor!’ says PC. ‘Let it go!’ Some trackers.

46:50 Later on they gather round a radio for a weather forecast ‘for Himalayan climbing parties’. Blizzards! ‘That’s all we need!’ says Ed, who seemed surprised earlier to find ice. I guess he normally goes on expeditions to Staten Island, or maybe Coney Island if he’s feeling adventurous.

48:11 Turns out Tom Friend isn’t his real name (I thought the Friend bit was suspicious). He was mixed up in some earlier scandal about some wolf children. ‘Why – you’re nothing but a fairground trickster!’ says PC. They fight. Break the radio. ‘It’s the altitude – makes you lose control’ says Tom (or whatever his name is).

48:44 The monkey (or Langor) starts screaming. They run out of the tent, leaving Jock to recover and be anxious on his own. They find the cage all bent out of shape and the monkey / Langor gone. ‘I…I just don’t understand this!’ shouts Ed. (Erm… yeti?) They find some big ol’ footprints. ‘15..16 inches long!’ (Erm… yeti?) ‘There’s no doubt about it. There was something else here, too,’ says Tom, looking round. (Erm… YETI?)

50:07 Back in the tent, Jock watches in anxious horror as a horrible hairy hand (erm… YETI?) wriggles under the canvas and reaches for the rifles. Kusang arrives, sees it and screams (not a great look for a Himalayan yeti guide, but still). The rest of the team hurry over with flares and smelling salts. Jock is in some kind of fugue state. They grab a load of guns and even more flares and then shout at Kusang to tell them what he saw. ‘I see… I see what man must not see…’ he says, ‘I see…. YEEEETTTTTIIIII’ – then runs off down the mountain pursued by Tom.

52:07 Tom stops chasing Kusang when he notices that the bear trap has been all broken up. He flashes his torch about, then hurries back to the tent where he finds Jock still in a trance – ‘hypersensitive to the presence of the beast’. In lieu of anything else, Ed rushes out to shoot wildly. A terrible beast howls in the darkness (Erm – yeti?) Looks like Ed got lucky. The three of them follow a bloody trail. Find the yeti dead behind a boulder. We know it’s dead because Tom flexes its horrible hairy hand about. ‘That’s really it,’ he says, sensitively. Ed goes off to get a sledge. They listen to other yetis calling to each other across the valley. There’s more than one. (Ya think? Otherwise they woulda died out YEARS ago).

56:08 Back at the monastery, Kusang bangs on the gates. He collapses into the other monks’ arms (and sleeves). Helen sees all this and doesn’t take it well. She wakes up Foxy then goes off to see the Lama. Faints at all the creepy statuary, then wakes up being offered tea by the Lama (probably with sedatives in it). The Lama says he can’t do anything to help PC because his destiny is controlled by his own actions (and he can’t fly the helicopter because of his sleeves). Foxy arrives to take her back to her quarters where there’s some cooking or maybe something hysterical to attend to.

59:20 I take it back! Helen has put on a sheepskin jacket and a headscarf and she’s heading out into the Himalayas to find PC. She’ll take some sherpas along, too, and a packed lunch. Foxy puts on a tie.

1:00:05 Back in the tent, Jock has recovered enough to ask what the yeti looks like. PC says it had a kind of sadness. No doubt being shot didn’t help.

1:00:01 They all hunker down in a cave, dragging the dead yeti – or deti – on a sled. The other yetis call mournfully to each other across the valley. Jock crawls out of his tent. Trudges off through the snow towards the sound. Reaches the top of the mountain.

1:02:41 PC goes back to the tent – finds it empty. Tom runs up. Together they watch Jock climb higher then fall to his death, crashing like a very poorly constructed mannequin down onto the polystyrene rocks below.

1:04:31 Ed shoots a couple more yetis as they attack the cave. ‘You don’t know what it’s like!’ he says as PC and Tom run up. Tom gives him a drink of whisky. He says the sun was in his eyes… he couldn’t get organised… and he missed them. Ed panics for a bit – says ‘they’ll know it was me!’ Then seems to recover. ‘Ah – I’ve had it before’ he says. ‘Me and this grizzly one time…’ Despite his misgivings, Ed agrees to act as bait – to hide in the cave with a net over his head and tempt the other yetis in like that. Hmm. Ed seems okay with it, though.

1:06:39 Helen and Foxy have made it as far as the first hut. Helen wants to press on but Foxy tells the sherpas they’ll camp there and maybe Helen can make them some stew.

1:07:40 Tom tells Ed they’ll keep him covered from the tent. Ed settles down. I get the impression Ed isn’t the sharpest icicle in the cave.

1:08:11 Ed sits and waits on a ledge with a rifle on his lap and a cross-eyed look of cluelessness on his face. The blizzard outside means Tom & PC can’t see a damn thing from the tent. Instead they argue about the morals of the case. Tom doesn’t want to just take a dead yeti back to be pickled or something. He wants something he can take to dinner parties and maybe a promotional tour of some kind (I must admit I lost the thread of his argument). Earn some greenbacks, anyway.

1:10:00 Meanwhile, back in the cave, Ed keeps rubbing his eyes – never a good look for someone who’s supposed to be ready to spring a trap.

1:10:20 ‘See anything?’ says PC as Tom looks out of the tent again. ‘No,’ says Tom. ‘I thought… for a second… nah! Let’s have a cigarette…’

1:10:50 But as soon as PC shakes out a couple, they hear a gunshot and some grunty, abominable noises. They hurry out of the tent into the blizzard. In the cave, Ed’s rifle jams! He looks up in terror as the shadow of a yeti falls across him…. ‘TOM!’ he yells.

1:11:14 They eventually make it to the cave. The net is ripped to pieces. Ed is lying on the ledge, dead – with a horrified but at the same time strangely camp expression, like the yeti killed him in a particularly abominable way.

1:11:55 PC wonders why the gun didn’t go off – but then finds it was loaded with blanks. ‘I didn’t want another dead one,’ says Tom.

1:12:28 PC and Tom finish knocking a grave marker in ‘EDWARD SHELLEY’ carved in wood, on a pile of stones so small they must’ve buried him standing up.

1:14:00 It looks like the yetis knew the gun was loaded with blanks ‘by thought transference.’ PC says that the yetis didn’t kill Jock – he fell when he climbed without a boot. And Ed died of a heart attack. PC says that the yetis aren’t the problem – THEY are. Tom doesn’t seem fazed – has another cigarette, which probably adds weight to the theory.

1:14:40 PC holds back the sheet and examines the yeti’s face (we’re not given that pleasure, though). He says it looks like an old face, a kind face. He says maybe the yetis are just waiting for mankind to go so they can have a crack at ruling the planet. ‘Suppose we’re the savages?’ says PC. ‘The WHAT?’ says Tom, savagely.

1:16:41 PC thinks he hears a weather forecast telling them they must get off the mountain immediately. He goes a bit crazy and tries to leave the cave. (I’m guessing it’s a yeti thought-transference thing again). Tom holds him back. ‘What’s the matter with you – are you cracking up?’ he says – having done his counselling certificate.

1:17:17 Suddenly Tom seems to hear someone calling ‘Help me!’ from outside. (I’m guessing it’s maybe a yeti voice throwing thing). Tom goes crazy, grabs a pistol. Wrestles with PC but elbows him out the way and runs outside the cave. Shoots the pistol in the air. Causes an avalanche. Gets buried and dies.

1:20:30 PC digs his way out of the cave. Staggers around the polystyrene boulders for a while, then heads back to the cave. Inside, sees the shadows of two yetis on the wall. They approach him. You see the top half of the face of one of them. One looks like Ken Dodd, coming backstage after three hours straight at the Winter Gardens. PC passes out.

1:22:50 Helen is in the hut. She’s woken up by a yeti call. Goes outside. Foxy wakes up. Goes after her.

1:24:15 Helen is climbing mindlessly in the snow. Finds PC frozen stiff. Foxy catches up – sees a big footprint nearby (erm… yeti?)

1:25:14 Back at the monastery a monk bangs the bell with the giant cotton bud again. A LOT of chanting. The Lama is talking to Helen and Foxy … and as the camera pulls back…. to PC, as well! He thawed out quite nicely, thank goodness. ‘What you were looking for does not exist?’ says the Lama to him. ‘Yes. I am certain of it,’ whispers PC ‘There is no yeti!’ says the Lama, widening his eyes, hypnotically. The orchestra swells. Distant shot of the Himalayas – a yeti waving goodbye on a crest (no, not sure about that bit).

The End.

That’s it! So what’ve I learned?

  1. The Himalayas can by icy, so go steady
  2. Shouting is not good for team morale or avalanches.
  3. Yetis are strong, have big feet but don’t get on with Langor monkeys.
  4. If you can’t take the chanting, keep outta the monastery
  5. Peter Cushing can play anything (so long as it’s Peter Cushing)

The Blood Beast Terror

The Blood Beast Terror, 1968. Dir. Vernon Sewell. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

Just a couple of things before we start. Firstly, I can only apologise for jumping straight in with another Peter Cushing film. I couldn’t help myself. I just wanted to hear him say LYE-BREH-REH again. Secondly, the title. It feels like something you’d get from the horror film equivalent of a band name generator. I love the way it packs in those three emotionally loaded words, with ‘the’ thrown in front to give it a vaguely grammatical anchor. The other names they probably considered were The Skull Scream Claw, or maybe The Fang Spurt Chop – which probably sounded more like a recipe, so that’s why they didn’t use that. So – on (with the headphones) and out (with any other plans for the morning) as I press play on The Blood Beast Gruesome, or whatever. Peter Cushing, at least.

00.10 It starts with three guys in a canoe. The guy in front couldn’t be more white. He’s wearing a white pith helmet, a white military suit. He’s carrying a rifle and pointing at things he’s interested in shooting. The two guys paddling the canoe are black. So I’m guessing we’re in colonial Africa, and the scene is meant to portray sensitively and adroitly the historical UK engagement with that particular continent.

Side note: I’m guessing they really shot it in Henley.

1.08 They park the canoe and the white guy gets out. He’s carrying a little lunch box, or maybe a specimen box, or maybe a box of wipes for his helmet, not sure yet. White isn’t a great colour to wear when you’re sloshing through mud. Just saying. Why make work?

1.42 He uses his rifle to swipe the undergrowth aside (not great from a health & safety point of view). Sees lots of beautiful monkeys and parrots he’d like to kill – but he’s looking for something in particular…

2.05 He sees some interesting pods and puts them in his box to smoke later.

2.20 Cut to: a horse drawn carriage. POV just behind the coachman. A dark country lane. A gong is struck and we see the red titles: ‘Tony Tenser presents’ (love the name, BTW. I’m already tenser). The Blood Beast Terror in 60s gothic script, along with the kind of score that’s like the orchestra staggered back from the pub, picked up an instrument they didn’t know, and the conductor said ‘I don’t care – just be horrific’.

3.26 Favourite name (amongst some nice ones): Peter Bryan (screenplay). Only because I love names that are basically two first names strung together. It’s the eponymous equivalent of a shrug.

3.50 After the credits, we stay with the carriage. The white horses spookily lit by the carriage lamp. Although having said that the whole thing looks quite romantic. I wouldn’t mind an evening carriage ride through the woods. Until…

3.56 …the sound of a man screaming somewhere. The coachman pulls up. Gets out. Takes his lamp and goes to investigate. Finds a young guy lying on the ground in a bloody frilly shirt (by which I simply mean a frilly shirt with some blood – I wouldn’t say it’s excessively frilly – er-hem). There’s a lot of overhead flapping. The coachman looks up in horror as something ‘orrible descends on him.

4.50 ‘Next slide please…’ as we cut to the selfie of a toothy insect.

4.55 ‘The potter wasp’, says the professor. We’re in the middle of an Edwardian magic lantern kind of presentation about insects. The professor says ‘antennae’ in a really weird way – emphasising the ANT syllable. ANT-en-AYE. I mean, okay, so he’s a professor and everything – but REALLY?

5.10 The audience of young Edwardian gentlemen are listening to the professor with as much animation as a shop window filled with smoking mannequins. They’re staring at him as if he’s the biggest and dullest thorax they’ve ever had the misfortune to listen to, but hey! It’s the early 1900s and no-one has a smartphone.

5.26 The professor goes on and on in a vaguely sexualised way about the life of the potter wasp. Again – early 1900s. No alternatives. The young Edwardian gentlemen will go home from the lecture and fantasise about wasps in corsets.

5.45 They should have called this film The Boring Insect Lecture. Because we seem doomed to sit in the room listening to this professor banging on about the colouration of various species of moths. Which would be completely amazing if you liked moths. But I think they should have carried some kind of warning at the beginning.

5.55 Thank God! Peter Cushing strides up to a front door and pulls the bell. I hope it’s to interrupt the professor, because otherwise I’m going to completely moth-out.

6.10 A butler so haughty he probably has a higher certificate in haughtiness, haughts his way across the lobby and very haughtily opens the door.

6.12 ‘Good Evening Inspector’ he haughts. ‘Good Evening,’ says the inspector. (I’m really REALLLY hoping he asks to be shown to the LYE-BREH-REH. No. He doesn’t. He asks to see Professor Mallinger (you can tell he’s a professor by the ovipositor and the disposition of the sucking mouthparts).

6.30 When the butler turns to take the inspector’s hat you suddenly see he’s got terrible scarring down the right side of his face, which makes for a more interesting butler, in my opinion, and goes some way to forgiving the haughtiness.

6.47 ‘The privet hawk moth,’ the professor explains, ‘is to be found around privet…’ The inspector glances round the hall to see if anyone else is thinking what he’s obviously thinking.

7.12 The lecture ends and everyone claps (except me). The professor says he’ll answer any questions, and asks someone to ‘raise the gas’. I’d want to ask why they can’t raise the quality of the lectures.

7.50 The butler haughts in with a tray of glasses, followed by Wanda Ventham dressed as Marie Antoinette. The inspector and the professor share a moment, their noses almost touching. The inspector is sucking on a mint or something, which makes him seem even sexier, but it’s probably just because they’ve all been smoking.

8.13 A horse-drawn police carriage pulls up outside. Even the horses are wearing helmets (I think).

8.30 The inspector says he’s come to ask the professor about ‘young Fisher’ (the guy who was found dead earlier). ‘One of my best students, brilliant chap’ says the professor. ‘What was the coroner’s verdict?’ ‘Murder by person or persons unknown’ says the inspector. Wanda screams. Closeup on a rubber spider on the arm of her dress. She faints. Two of the students grab their toy spider back (I’m guessing they’re not the professors best students, and not particularly brilliant). The professor goes over and slaps the student holding the spider.

9.05 The butler haughts in and tells the inspector his sergeant’s outside and wants to see him.

9.27 The sergeant shows the inspector another student they found, thrown in the back of the police carriage . ‘Watch your clothes,’ he says, ‘there’s blood everywhere.’ ‘Get the professor,’ says the inspector. When the professor comes out he asks the inspector to stand clear, then reaches in and kills the student. ‘It’s too late, I’m afraid,’ he says. ‘He’s dead.’ (When they said the professor was deadly they didn’t just mean his teaching style).

10.20 The inspector is talking to the sergeant back at the station. The sergeant has the kind of sideburns that are actually just a moustache that extends backwards. Or more technically, half a beard.

10.48 The doctor, a big guy in a too-tight suit, waddles in dabbing his neck with a red handkerchief. ‘How’s he doing, doctor?’ says the inspector. ‘Mad as a hatter’ says the doctor. He means the coachman, apparently. ‘We’ll have to get him to the asylum in the morning,’ he says, pulling a sympathetic ‘that’s how we deal with loonies in the 1900s’ face. The inspector goes to see the coachman.

11:40 The doctor and the inspector go into the cell to see the crazy coachman (who’s not SO far gone he forgets to call them SIR). ‘It had horrible eyes!’ he says. ‘And wings, sir!’ The doctor reassures him by holding him down. The inspector wanders out and thinks about what’s happened. The sergeant brings him some moustache – sorry – tea. The inspector wonders if the coachman couldn’t have done the murders. They all go next door to the morgue to examine the bodies.

12:53 Turns out, Roy Hudd works in the mortuary, but he’s a professional and can play to any crowd. It helps that he’s wearing a comedy mortician’s outfit, being a white shirt, leather apron, red neckerchief and stout walking boots. He’s sitting down to have a pork pie and a tankard of ale, with a corpse on the table. The sheet doesn’t cover the feet – because Roy has used the feet as a mug holder. He cleans his fork on the sheet, then starts in on the pie. Nice.

13.10 The bell rings. It takes him half an hour to open the mortuary door, which might be Roy improvising a laugh or just a dodgy door, it’s hard to say. Eventually he lets the doctor and the inspector in. ‘Hallo ‘allo!’ he says, stooping, rolling his eyes. ‘You brought me something, ‘ave you?’ Silence.

14.00 Roy carries on regardless, being an old trooper. He says he ‘always puts the interesting ones by the window’. When even THAT doesn’t get a laugh, he goes back to his food. ‘Pie tonight!’ he says. ‘Well – makes a change from cold meat. Hey?’ The doctor and the inspector turn their backs and perform their autopsy (which sounds fancy, but just involves a lot of lip-pursing and tentative stroking of the corpse’s ears). ‘Drained of blood,’ the doctor says. ‘There’s been six of ‘em so far!’ says Roy, rolling his eyes some more. ‘You’ve been most helpful’ says the inspector, heavily.

16.14 Cut to: a comedy policeman suddenly standing up in the tall grass. A documentary about wild policemen? No – the inspector has set them all out to look for weapons. You can tell we’re in the country now because the inspector is chewing a grass stalk (he’s out of mints).
The sergeant hands him some odd little things they found in the area. ‘Pop them in this envelope, would you?’ says the inspector. ‘I’m going to see Professor Mallinger.’

17.30 The professor is in another mood, chucking chemicals around in his laboratory. The inspector comes in and asks him whether there are any eagles round the area. He says the coachman (who’s now in a ‘mental home’ apparently) says he saw one. The professor says that ‘eagles are indigenous to mountainous countries’, which kills the vibe somewhat. The inspector switches off and reaches for his mints. ‘How large are the claws of an eagle?’ he says, eventually. ‘Come with me, inspector,’ says the professor. He shows him a stuffed eagle. They rule it out as a suspect.

19.38 The inspector shows him the strange things in the envelope the sergeant gave him. They look like tiny leaves (but I’m guessing they’re moth-related). The professor says he’ll examine them in his laboratory (I wish he’d let Peter Cushing say LAB-OR-A-TREH. It’d be better than nothing.) The inspector leaves.

20.20 There’s a scream from somewhere in the house. It’s the butler, prodding a live eagle with a broom handle. The professor sends him away (but doesn’t slap him like he did the student). The eagle looks at the camera just about as confused as I am at this point.

21.20 The professor goes down into the cellar. Puts on a pervy leather helmet. Unbolts a door. Picks up a whip. Goes through to the sound of supernatural screams – eagle, human or Wanda, it’s hard to say.

22.10 A meeting with the chief of police. A singular individual. His hair is as lustrous as the fleece of a coal-black man goat. This fabulous creature says they’ll blame the murders on a wild animal, and meanwhile, carry on searching the heath. ‘Very good, sir,’ says the inspector, crunching his mint intemperately.

22.35 Cut to: a newspaper hoarding that says: POLICE SEEK BIRD OF PREY.

22.48 A guy in a pastel suit walks into the police station (which sounds like the beginning of a joke, which in a way, I suppose, it is). We only see him in profile, which is mostly nose. The way he says his lines – it’s like the script was carved in granite. ‘Can you tell me the way to Clare House, please?’ he says. ‘I’m a complete stranger.’ He goes on to explain to the suspicious sergeant that he’s a naturalist newly arrived from Africa with some specimens to deliver to the professor. The sergeant narrows his eyes, but asks a constable to take him there.

24.06 Two seconds later and the butler is showing the naturalist into the drawing room. (Ironic he calls himself a naturalist, being about as natural as a mannequin on a trampoline). The butler has met his haughty match. Let’s just say they don’t exactly ‘haught it off’ (pause for thunderous laughter). ‘I hear you’ve had a murder here’. (Which is one here too many, if you ask me.) ‘The body of a man WAS found on the heath,’ says the butler, maxing out his haughty credit. ‘If you’ll excuse me, sir, I will tell the professor you’re here,’ he haughts, before the naturalist can deliver any further lines.

24.59 Wanda is watching from the stairs. There’s already a frisson between them (or is it me reading too much into her frills?) She’s wearing the same Marie Antoinette knock-off she wore in the spider incident, so I’m guessing they shot this scene the same day. ‘Mr Brightwell!’ she says, descending, one hand trailing seductively on the banister. ‘I’m Clare Mallinger.’ Turns out the professor is her father. ‘Come and sit down by me and tell me all about Africa,’ she says. ‘What’s it like?’ ‘Very hot’ ‘Yes, I can see.’

25.46 Mr Brightwell tells her he caught the sun. ‘When we were going up the Limpopo I was laid up with it for several days.’ Wanda says she’d be quite at home in the jungle and swamps. Mr Brightwell isn’t so sure. ‘Snakes, crocodiles.. all of them sting or bite.’ ‘And moths?’ says Wanda. (Maybe it’s just spiders she’s not good with).

26.30 She tells him the students are putting on a play and she’s in it. ‘What’s it about?’ says Mr Brightwell. ‘Wait and see,’ says Wanda. ‘You’ll be very surprised.’ (I’m guessing maybe moths).

27.05 The professor strides in. ‘Your daughter tells me she too is interested in entomology,’ says Mr Brightwell. Wanda and the professor share a look.

28.00 The professor and Mr Brightwell look at the chrysalids he’s brought him. ‘They’re magnificent!’ he says. Whilst he gloats over the pods, Mr Brightwell fiddles with the lid of a vivarium. ‘Don’t touch that!’ yells the professor (but doesn’t slap him like the student).

30.00 Cut to: the students’ play. A mad scientist electrifying a heart to the sound of thunder & lightning. The whole thing is meant to be cartoon-like and preposterous, but actually looks more authentic than the film, which is the risk you run with scenes like this, I suppose. I wonder what role Wanda plays?

30.55 The housekeeper comes on. She says there’s a man outside called Mr Stark Adder. ‘Stark Adder!’ says the mad scientist. ‘Goooood!’ He touches his assistant on the shoulder. ‘James? This may be it!’

32.00 Stark Adder and his mate, two Burke & Hare wannabes, sell the scientist a fresh corpse they strangled for a tenner.

Side note: This scene goes on longer and with less interest than the opening lecture about the potter wasp.

‘Connect up the batteries!’ says the mad scientist, with a level of desperation I completely understand.

33.30 The housekeeper runs on again. Tells the mad scientist his daughter Josephine has just been run over by a train.

34.00 Cut to: the inspector wandering around the grounds in the dark. If there was one thing Peter Cushing was born to do was to wander around the grounds of an old house in the dark. That and to sit reading in the LYE-BREH-REH. He peeps through the window.

34.30 They put Wanda / Josephine on the table. ‘She’s still warm!’ says the mad scientist. ‘Switch on the batteries!’ Wanda comes alive just enough to strangle the mad scientist – then dies for the second time. ‘Oh God!’ says the assistant (did I mention there was an assistant?) Curtains. The End (of this dreadful little play segment). Everyone claps – much like they did at the end of the wasp lecture. Wanda says she’ll see Mr Brightwell outside ‘for some air’. But she needs to take her wig off first. The professor chats to his butler. Says there may be something in galvanism, and can the butler get hold of any batteries? The professor asks the director where he got the idea for galvanic stimulation. ‘I made it up,’ says the director, staring wildly. I’m surprised the professor doesn’t slap him.

37.20 Just about everyone seems to be creeping around in the dark outside the house now, including the butler. Wanda and Mr Brightwell play hide and moth – sorry – seek. I’m worried something awful’s about to happen, like a dramatic moment.

39.46 If the moth attacks Mr Brightwell it’ll get a mouthful of splinters. Just sayin’.

39.55 The moth attacks Mr Brightwell. The inspector hears his screams and runs over. We get a glimpse of something standing over him, something unspeakable, in a ghastly moth costume. I’m not sure, but I THINK it might be Wanda, horribly transformed. Is THAT why she’s so interested in moths? (And doesn’t have any friends?)

40.40 The inspector attends to the mortally injured Mr Brightwell. ‘What did you say?’ he says, looking peeved, holding off on any first aid. The butler looks on from a bush.

41.25 The inspector takes Mr Brightwell to the professor. ‘If you’re quick you can save him’ says the inspector, forgetting how effective the professor was last time he showed him someone badly injured by a moth. ‘Well there’s nothing I can do,’ says the professor. ‘He’s dead.’ When the inspector asks if he knows who he is, the professor lies and says he’s never seen him before.

42.36 The inspector is talking to the incredible Chief of police again, a man with such lustrous locks Paris himself would sigh and lay down his golden apples. Or something. ‘That’s all he said,’ says the inspector. ‘Death’s Head.’ ‘A lot of them say strange things before they go,’ intones the Chief. He’d like to take the inspector off the case. He thinks he’s too close. The inspector respectfully declines. The Chief radiates godly knowledge and power over all things. Or something.

43.20 Cut to: the butler putting sheets over everything in the house, then picking up his broom handle to go and torment the eagle. Which sounds allegorical and very well may be. But the eagle is off its perch (can’t blame it). The butler goes down the cellar steps. The eagle jumps him and you hear the butler screaming. It’s probably a daily event.

44.10 Cut to: The inspector seeing his daughter Meg off to her holiday in Sussex – which is probably family code for a spell of treatment in the mental house. The sergeant tells the inspector about the last victim – a bug collector from Africa. ‘Claire House as fast as you can!’ shouts the inspector to the carriage driver, completely forgetting about Sussex. But you can’t blame him.

44.50 Meg watches from the safety of her hat as the inspector rings the doorbell. Then runs round the back. Forces a window. Walks through the house. Goes down into the cellar. Unbolts the second door (without the pervy helmet – oh, Peter…) Puts a hankie over his nose and mouth because it smells bad (the cellar, not the hankie). Sees lots of skellingtons on the floor (the orchestration is blaring trombones – which seems appropriate – that, or xylophones, maybe). Goes back out, covered in cobwebs, which he obviously finds distasteful, having on quite a nice suit. Takes the jacket off to give it a shake (I’d be the same if I just walked out of a cellar full of skellingtons). Puts the jacket back on. Finds another bit of dodgy moth material (which is a description you could apply to this whole goddamn film). Puts it in an envelope and walks back up the cellar steps. Goes into the professor’s lab. Sees blood coming from a pine wardrobe. Opens the door. The butler rolls out in a haughty heap onto the floor, dead.

49.00 The inspector goes back outside to see Meg. ‘Back to the police station!’ he says. ‘But I’ll miss the train!’ says Meg. She likes Sussex and doesn’t want to miss it.

49.30 Back in the mortuary, looking at the butler’s corpse. ‘Could the wounds have been self-inflicted?’ asks the inspector. ‘Impossible!’ says the doctor. Roy, the mortuary clown, mugs about in the background. The sergeant comes in. ‘Excuse me, Inspector,’ he says. He’s found the staff of Claire House. The inspector hurries away to interview them (and escape from Roy’s mugging).

50.38 The housekeeper tells him they were all given a month’s wages and told to leave at once. It was the butler what told them to go. The inspector sucks a mint. Something’s not right, what with all the murders, the skellingtons, the sudden termination of domestic contracts and everything.

51.40 It appears the professor has nicked off via Waterloo. The inspector interviews two cockney porters who say they wouldn’t forget the professor in a hurry. Had lots of wooden boxes with ‘im. Wouldn’t let anyone touch ‘em. But he did give them half a sovereign each. Which was nice. The labels on the luggage said Upper Higham. ‘Thanks for the clue’ says the inspector.

52.08 The inspector goes to see the Chief of Police, a man with curls as deep and iridescent as the night sky and a voice as hypnotically sonorous as the moon. The Chief gives the inspector authority to pursue the professor to Upper HIgham. He’ll take his daughter, Meg, too, who could do with a holiday, after her Sussex disappointment.

53.00 ‘Father! What am I meant to DO here?’ says Meg in the carriage on the way to Upper Higham. (and I hope that paints enough of a picture). The inspector tells her he’s in disguise ‘…a bank manager from Kingston… and you’re my daughter, Miss Thompson.’

53.26 Cut to: the gardens of a country house in Upper Higham (I’m guessing). Wanda comes out, wearing something draggy that looks like an unholy cross between a throw and a negligee. She wants to talk with the gardener, a muscular young thing who’s out in the garden fondling some privet. ‘Good day’ she says. ‘Good day, miss,’ he says, stroking the front of his trousers. HIs name’s Clem. They have a deeply sexual talk about where Clem lives, and how often he sees his parents. ‘Well – good day, Clem,’ says Wanda. ‘Good day, Miss,’ says Clem, touching his fly again, then picking up a spade. And… scene.

54.30 The inspector and Meg arrive at the Inn.

55.08 Cut to: The professor prodding dead frogs with electrodes (nice to have a hobby.) Wanda wanders in. ‘What do you want?’ shouts the professor. ‘You know very well,’ says Wanda. ‘You must be patient!’ shouts the professor, not exactly modelling patience, it has to be said. Looking a bit slappy, if you ask me.

56.12 Wanda wanders off to stare at Clem through the window. He smiles at her as he trains some clematis. Wanda looks extremely mothy in that get up. (strokes chin…sucks a mint).

56.30 The inspector – disguised as the bank manager Mr Thomson and looking EXACTLY like Peter Cushing – comes down into the dining room of the Inn. Stares at two stuffed pike for clues. Another stuffed pike – a businessman down for the fishing called Mr Wallinger – comes into the room for dinner, too. They drink madeira and chat about absolutely nothing at all ha ha, good man. Meg comes down. Gets introduced to Wallinger Jr, who’s a young entomologist – ‘at home known as Billy the Bug Catcher’ – which is NOT attractive, but may or may not prove useful later. A waitress dressed as a jar of marmalade very unselfconsciously serves dinner, being a floury loaf and a latrine of soup.

1.00.15 Everyone goes fishing. Everyone – including the director – seems to have forgotten about all the murders, the skellingtons in the cellar and what have you. Meg goes off to pick some blackberries. If I didn’t know better I’d worry they’d shot some documentary footage and accidentally left it in.

1:01.38 Billy the Bug Catcher is off catching bugs. With a big white net, of course. A peacock butterfly lands on Meg. She catches it, but won’t give it to Billy so he can kill it. With cyanide. Not an auspicious first date.

1.03.08 Cut to: Wanda in the garden, snipping the heads off dahlias. She sees a huge moth on the wall and stares at it in much the same way she stared at Clem, the gardener.

1.03.22 Billy and Meg are chasing butterflies together, seemingly over the whole ‘killing wildlife with cyanide’ thing. They’ve strayed onto the grounds of the professor’s house. Wanda sees them and runs over as Billy catches something in his net. ‘What have you got in there?’ she says. ‘A moth!’ says Billy. Wanda narrows her antennae – sorry – eyes. Meanwhile, the professor is doing more experiments with electricity in his lab. He fills a dodgy looking cylinder with electricity (which sounds like a battery, I know, but this one is bigger, with a hook). He takes it into the cellar where a giant chrysalid is hanging from a beam. He feeds the chrysalid the electricity, but the chrysalid only looks depressed, and I would, too. Wanda goes into the cellar. ‘I told you not to come in here,’ says the professor, slappily. Wanda is impatient again but the professor says electricity isn’t enough. It needs blood. ‘Human blood’. ‘Blood of a young girl?’ says Wanda. ‘That would do perfectly’ says the professor. A touching domestic scene.

1.06.35 Wanda catches up with Meg, who’s strolling down the lane. She apologises for her behaviour. ‘I can’t bear to see beautiful things killed or injured,’ she says. The horse rolls its eyes worse than the mortuary clown. ‘Why don’t you jump in?’ says Wanda. She does – and the next thing you know she’s lying on a couch being transfused directly into the chrysalid, who looks like me, completely desiccated, half an hour before lunch.

1.09.15 The professor has hypnotised her (a technique he uses to great effect in his lectures). He orders her to return again tomorrow. She goes back to the Inn and straight to bed without any soup because she’s got a headache (and a low blood count).

1.10.20 Clem is chopping wood. I’m sincerely worried for his feet, the way he handles that chopper. Then he lights a tiny pile of leaves, dangerously close to hedge – so I’m guessing Clem missed the session on Health & Safety at horticultural college. Wanda runs up (her cloak dangerously close to the leaves), straight into Clem’s arms. She leads him into the woods. They kiss. You see Wanda’s hand on the back of his head. Her hand goes all mothy. So that’s it! Wanda is a moth monster! Or mothter, for short. Cut to – the professor standing outside the house, hearing Clem scream. He runs over there. Finds Clem’s gorgeously muscular but lifeless body on the ground. Sound of flapping overhead.

1.13.10 Back at the Inn, Billy shows the inspector a Death’s Head moth. Explains about the scales on a moth’s wing – and shows him some under a microscope. The inspector realises what all the strange crap was the sergeant gave him on the heath. He goes off to the local telegraph office to send a message.

1.14.25 Wanda is back in the cellar, hanging out with the chrysalis. ‘You couldn’t wait, could you?’ says the professor, shaking her by the shoulders, then slapping her, just like a student. He suddenly realises what he’s created – and throws some explosive acid over the chrysalis, which goes up like Clem’s leaves. In fury, Wanda changes into the mothter again, killing the professor her father. Another touching domestic scene.

1.15.50 Billy and Meg go to tell Mr Wattinger they’re going for a walk. He’s fishing again – but his line gets caught. But it’s not a big pike, though, it’s Clem!

1.17.05 The inspector is back from the telegram office and reading not in the LYE-BREH-REH but in the dining room. The sergeant strolls in with a briefcase of clues. They sit down to go through them. They figure out that what they’re looking for is a giant moth. The landlord comes in and says thanks for coming so quickly Sergeant – he’s got the drowned guy on the table next door. They examine the body and decide he was killed like all the others. The landlord says it’s Clem, from up at the old house. Where Meg and Billy have gone.

1.21.18 They all drive out to the house. Meg is way ahead of them, walking in a trance. Billy is on the front porch talking to Wanda. He shows her his Death’s Head moth. Wanda says she knows about moths. Yes – and we know about Wanda.

1.22.51 Wanda shows him to the end of the drive because apparently she can see very well in the dark. Meanwhile, Meg walks into the back door as the professor commanded. Goes down into the cellar. Screams when she sees the professor on the floor, which wakes her from her trance. She grabs a lamp and runs through the house, but all the doors are locked. Trips and falls down the stairs, setting the house alight.

1.23.55 The carriage pulls up outside. The inspector and sergeant run inside and rescue Meg. The inspector carries Meg outside while the sergeant puts the fire out. Wanda turns into the mothter and attacks Billy. Billy screams. The sergeant shoots over the mothter to scare it away. Billy isn’t badly hurt, though (shame). The sergeant (who – it transpires – is called Alan – true story) shoots wildly in the air, but the inspector tells him he’ll never hit it. Instead, the inspector sets fire to a bush. The mothter is attracted by the light (I think), flies down to look, catches fire, and burns to death on the lawn in front of them, changing back into Wanda just long enough for the inspector and Alan to wince a few times. ‘What are we gonna tell ‘em, sir?’ says Alan, as the mothter disintegrates. ‘They’ll never believe this at the yard.’ ‘They’ll never believe it anywhere,’ says the inspector. Then checks his pockets for a mint.

And that’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. Lepidoptery is not the study of leopards.
  2. A cellar full of skellingtons isn’t really such a big deal.
  3. Moths do best on human blood and electricity.
  4. Never prod an eagle with a broom handle.
  5. If you like swamps, why not try Henley?

Island of Terror

Island of Terror, 1966. Dir. Terence Fisher. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

0.45 Opens with an island quayside scene so cute you expect to see rabbits and dormice unloading the boats. Except they’re smoking pipes. And wearing duffle coats.

0.58 ‘Alright. Let’s have it on the truck’ says the gruffest rabbit. But he doesn’t mean sex, apparently – he means a crate labelled Phillips Laboratories, Chemical Equipment, Handle with Care.

1:05 I love the acting in these old films. There’s a guy with a clipboard – he carefully sucks the end of his pencil, slowly taps the pencil on the clipboard, then says ‘Is that all they need?’ You can say what you like about the Island of Terror, but the admin is thorough.

1.27 Actually, I have to say, so far it’s only an island of terror if you’re scared of duffle coats. Not sure where this island is – hard to tell from their accents. One of them sounds Welsh, the constable Northern Irish. The monster’s probably a cockney.

1.58 I mean – SO many guys in duffle coats, looking cold, moving VERY slowly. It doesn’t make me want to go and live on an island. Or buy a duffle coat.

2.41 Cut to: the lab! Dials and knobs and beakers and bubbling noises. What are they cooking in there? Crystal meth?

3.10 ‘The cell cultures are prepared. We’re ready to begin.’ says a white coat. About time. Three minutes in and all we’ve seen are duffle coats.

3.24 I’m guessing they cast the chief scientist because his eyebrows go up in the middle. It’s so easy for him to look sincere.

3.34 One of the lab techs mentions ‘…the vapour applicator’ I love that! I totally want a vapour applicator. Although maybe he just means the kettle.

3.50 Turns out they’re working on a cure for cancer. What they really need is a cure for duffle coats.

4.05 The screen goes red! We get the opening credits! Wow – I can’t believe this was all just the warm up.

4.15 ‘Island of TERROR’ blares the title. Big emphasis on terror. That’s why I don’t work in film. I’d have been tempted to emphasise ISLAND.

4.51 Favourite name from the credits: John St John Earl (the art director). If I say it over and over it sounds like a car I had once that never used to start.

5.44 A guy in a duffle coat is walking in the fog with a lamp looking worried. (The guy’s looking worried, not the lamp. It’s Hammer Horror, not Disney).

6.03 There’s a horrible noise coming from somewhere. That cave? He goes in to look. You hear screams, the light wobbles about. Sound effect like me eating cornflakes. Horrific.

6.50 Cut to the constable sitting at his desk drinking beer. You’d drink a lot of beer on the Island of Terror. Someone knocks on the door. Mrs Bellows comes in with her head in a scarf and her hand in a handbag (which sounds more terrifying than it is). Her husband is three hours late and she’s worried. ‘I’m sure he’s alright’ says the constable. Well I’m pretty sure he’s not, judging by the cornflakes sound effect and all the screaming.

8.00 The constable goes off to look for Mr Bellows. Finds his body lying in the cave. Looks disgusted. Prods it with his truncheon. The duffle coat is about the only thing left. Urgh. Mind you, if I was a monster and I ate someone, I’d probably leave the duffle coat, too. Even if I wasn’t a monster I’d leave the duffle coat. What am I – Paddington?

10.05 In the posh drawing room of Dr Lander, who’s practicing his fly fishing, never mind the antiques. The constable knocks on the door. When Dr Lander opens the door he almost has the constable’s eye out with his pipe. He’s like some strange Medic/Clown hybrid.

10.50 ‘I’ve just seen Ian Bellows and his body’s like jelly.’
‘Jelly?’ says Dr Lander.
‘Aye! It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.’ (Although it IS like jelly, which he HAS seen).

10.59 ‘…there was no face…just a horrible mush…with the eyes sitting in it….’
(Sounds like something I might serve up at a dinner party).
The constable takes him to the cave to check out the mush.

11.50 Dr Lander pokes the body of Mr Bellows with a stick. He says he doesn’t think the body has any bones. I’m hoping Dr Lander isn’t the Coroner, or if he is, he writes his reports in crayon.

13.00 No – he IS the coroner. Back at the mortuary he confirms that this IS the body of Mr Bellows. He recognises the appendectomy scar (and the duffle coat). He tells the constable he needs to get the help of the eminent Dr Stanley – which I’m guessing is Peter Cushing, because that sounds like the sort of part he might want to play.

13.58 Dr Landers meets Dr Stanley in his lecture hall (Dr Stanley’s lecture hall, not Dr Landers-es). I have to say Peter Cushing has the best voice ever. It’s like a glass of cold blood. With a biscuit. Absolutely top class. Now. What can I do for YOU?

14.50 I mean, the way Peter Cushing says LIBRARY. LYE-BREH-REH. Every letter articulated. Beautiful. My time is completely vindicated. LYE-BREH-REH. Mmmm.

15.02 They both go to see an eminent bone expert. We see him at home pouring a couple of drinks, a sleazy sax playing in the background. The shadow of a woman getting dressed just visible through an open bedroom door. This is the kind of life an eminent bone expert would lead, I suppose. Maybe golf – with a femur for a Pitching Wedge (and you can bet I Googled THAT)

15.13 She comes through, wearing his shirt. ‘How’s the dress?’ he says. ‘Oh, the spot’s out but it’ll take some time to dry,’ she says, sitting down. He sniffs her feet. Apparently they met when she wrote off a Maserati and broke her leg. He was the bone doctor and they fell in love. There’s some sexy banter, then they kiss – in that awful, mouth closed, head rocking from side to side way that they learned one afternoon at RADA.

17.40 Dr Landers, Dr Stanley and the eminent bone doctor Dr West talk about the strange case of the man with no bones. ‘No bones?’ ‘No bones.’ ‘Not a trace?’ ‘Not a thing.’ etc etc. Dr West has never heard of this before. At least he’s spared the constable’s description of the ‘horrible mush with eyes sitting in it. ‘With eyes sitting in it?’ ‘Eyes.’ ‘In the mush?’ ‘In the mush’ etc etc.

18.20 Dr West’s girlfriend offers them her dad’s helicopter if she can come to the island to see the body, too. ‘Are you a good screamer?’ says Dr Stanley. I’m kidding – but I bet she is. ‘Jolly good. I can show you my LYE-BREH-REH,’ says Dr Stanley. I’m kidding – I just wanted to hear him say library again.

19.02 For reasons I don’t understand, the helicopter can drop them there but can’t pick them up again for a while. Maybe it’s rush hour or something. ‘This means we won’t have any contact with the mainland,’ says Dr Landers, impressively.

19.50 Off they go in the helicopter. This scene takes a full five minutes. Maybe there weren’t many helicopters in 1966. Wow! I mean – look at those rotors… The orchestra gets pretty worked up, too. A xylophone plays loudly – which I suppose is reminiscent of a helicopter. Kinda choppy.

20.35 The constable is waiting for them on top of a craggy outcrop. He lights a bonfire then stands well back – just as well if a helicopter is going to be flying over a bonfire. We get an extended close-up of him looking at the night sky admiring the helicopter as it xylophones in.

21.00 Lots of hellos and what not. We get to hear about Dr Phillips, the reclusive professor hiding away on the island, working in cancer research. ‘Before we do anything, let’s go and look at that body,’ says Dr West, who’s really only here for the bones.

22.10 Cut to: Dr Lander’s autopsy room. He pulls a sheet back from Mr Bellows. We see his face for the first time. Looks like me after I’ve eaten too much risotto.

23.00 They talk about the results of their examination. The body is covered in tiny holes. Maybe something sucked the bones out through them? (I’m guessing they got their medical degrees online). They need to go to Dr Phillips’ lab for more tests, because he’s in research and enjoys more funding.

24.50 Dr Phillips’ house ‘looks like Wuthering Heights,’ says Dr Stanley. He probably read the book in his LYE-BREH-REH.

25.40 They ring the bell but no one answers. Dr Stanley takes a torch to find a way in. He forces a window and climbs in. Creeps around. Almost trips over the boneless body of Dr Phillips in the library. Lets the other chaps in. They creep around trying to find the laboratory. It takes them ages. It’s worse than the helicopter.

28.40 Actually, the lab’s in the crypt behind a door marked KEEP OUT : RADIATION. They go in.

28.50 ‘Isotopes!’ says Dr Stanley, looking inside. Maybe that’s a sciency swear word, I don’t know.

29.10 All the lab technicians are lying boneless on the floor. Typical lab technicians. I mean – the pay’s terrible, it’s repetitive work, they get creative with the isotopes…

29.13 Peter Cushing tips his hat back, which is Peter Cushing for ‘Fuck Me this is Awful’.

29.22 ‘Good news – they found a cure for cancer. Bad news – it sucks your bones out.’ (This is why I can’t ever be a script writer).

30.07 They look in the computer – sorry, filing cabinet – for clues.

30.10 Cut to: a worried looking villager walking down a creepy looking road (mind you, all the roads on Terror Island look creepy. It’s probably in the brochures and everything).

30.40 He finds a horse – or a cow? I don’t know, I’m not a vet – with all its bones sucked out. Runs to find the constable. Tells him he found one of his horses dead (Ahhhhh).

32.09 The constable rides over to Dr Phillips’ place to tell Dr Landers about the boneless horse. He lets himself in. Finds the bodies. Explores the rest of the house. Goes down into the crypt. Into the lab. Hear’s a noise coming from a room marked ‘Test Animals’. Opens the door. Gets a tentacle round his throat and his hat falls off.

35.00 Dr Landers goes round to the constable’s house. Rings the bell. Nothing. Gets back in his car. Drives down to the harbour where some guys in duffle coats are aimlessly painting the hull of an upturned boat (it’s the little details that make the film so authentic). The farmer is there. The farmer tells him about his boneless horse. Dr Landers jumps back in his car again. The farmer has the best quote of the film: ‘There’s some peculiar goings on going on on this island’. Try it for yourself. You can’t help but sound mysterious.

37.00 Everyone seems to be going to see everyone else about the peculiar goings on going on on the island. With their hands in their duffle coat pockets. The head of the island walks to his landrover with another guy at about the same pace the doctors walked out to the helicopter. But this time without xylophones.

37.20 Dr West is busy smoking a fag and explaining how Dr Phillips probably found a cure for cancer. Which is just as well. Toni, Dr West’s girlfriend, (I should edit that in earlier but I’m running out of time) – Toni says she doesn’t want to be left alone when they go off to look at the boneless horse. If the monster appears they’ll need a good screamer.

38.33 Toni watches from the car as the three doctors stand around the boneless horse prodding it with a stick. She hears a horrible noise. There’s a thud on the car roof. Something hideous and globular slides down the back window and when she realises it’s not Dr West she screams. The doctors come running but when they get there, it’s gone. ‘What did it look like?’ ‘I don’t know! I don’t know! It was greyish!’ Hmm. They get back in the car to drive to the village for help – but the next thing you know, they’re pulling up outside Wuthering Heights again.

41.00 They see the constable’s bike outside. Down in the crypt they find him lying on the floor, boneless (not that much different to when he was alive, to be honest). A tentacle sneaks out round the door and flaunts itself in their faces. Then the rest of the creature trundles round the corner. It looks like shit on wheels. A motorised pile of shit with a tentacle on the front. They turn to run, but there’s another pile of motorised shit in front of them, waving. Toni looks particularly distressed – having seen something similar back in Dr West’s flat.

41.55 Dr Lander grabs an axe that’s on the wall behind him. Whacks the motorised pile of shit (MPS for short). But the MPS grabs him by the tentacle – which is worse than it sounds – and sucks his bones out. Then it splits and a whole load of spaghetti comes out. Sorry to be so scientific about it. I can only describe what I see. One of these days I’ll write a paper on it and put it in the LYE-BREH-REH.

43.38 Dr Stanley manages to sneak past the shitty pile of spaghetti. Toni is too scared to follow, of course. But Dr West shouts at her and that seems to work. They escape up the stairs.

44.23 The car won’t start. So Dr West opens the bonnet to check the screenwash or something. Meanwhile another MPS is sneaking up on them across the lawn. ‘Hurry!’ says Dr Stanley. ‘I’m trying!’ says Dr West. ‘….I think that’s got it!’ he says, slamming the bonnet on his fingers (I wish). They speed off.

45.10 Back in a house somewhere. Toni is resting in bed. Dr West mixes some powder into some water, for menstrual cramps or screaming, I’m not sure.

48.00 Cut to: the docks. Two villagers meet with another villager. He’s only there because he wants ‘his guts’ (I think – no idea – must be an island thing). Tells them about all the doctors who came in last night on the plane – although it was clearly a helicopter, so … erm .. what about his guts? The villagers look suspicious and hurry away to find the doctors.

48.19 Nineteen seconds later and they’re walking in the door whilst the doctors are reading through Dr Phillips’ notes. Dr West explains about the MPSes, how they’re killing everyone and threatening the island. How they were the results of Dr Phillips’ anti-cancer experiments. ‘I’ll need ten good men in half an hour in the meeting hall’ he says. ‘Right,’ says the chief villager, or mayor, or whatever you want to call him. The one in the hat, anyway. ‘I’ll better go and tell the constable,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry. You’re too late. He’s dead,’ says Dr Stanley. ‘And Ian Bellows.’ Awks.

50.50 Everyone meets at the meeting hall for the … erm … meeting. Dr Stanley explains that Dr Phillips created a silicate monster that eats bone. Everyone looks at the village dog, for some reason. They make a plan to find as many guns and bombs as they can. Also to deny the MPSes food by hiding the cattle. The guys all go off and Toni is left to organise the kitchen and stop everyone from panicking (although she needed a powder earlier on, so….)

55.20 All the guys including the doctors go out with shotguns and bombs as it’s now MPS open season. The doctors shoot an MPS right in the tentacle, but it’s no good. Dr Stanley goes over with a geiger counter – which looks suspiciously like a lunch box – and almost gets filleted by an MPS that sneaks up on him. Dr West throws some petrol bombs. The MPSes seem to actually like the flames. At least it means they don’t have to wear a duffle coat. The farmer who lost his horse says he’ll get up closer. One of MPSes is up a tree and drops on his head. He ends up like his horse – a non-runner. ‘Come on – let’s try the dynamite!’ says Dr West. I wish he was my doctor. Although if he’s wary prescribing antibiotics, he’ll be even slower handing over dynamite.

1.00 A villager runs up. It’s his big moment. He gives a big, breathless speech about how one of the MPSes is dead after eating Dr Phillips’ dog. You know – the one that had all that radiation poisoning? He drags the speech out as long as he can, but it has to end sometime and they all run off to look, with him tagging on behind wondering when he’ll get another acting job (which is never, I’m guessing, on the strength of the radioactive dog speech).

1.01 Dr Stanley prods the MPS with a stick (I could be a doctor; I can prod stuff). Yes. It’s dead. They load the dog and the MPS on the truck and take them back to the clinic.

1.03 They examine the MPS. Decide that the only thing that can kill it is Strontium 90. If they can poison the cattle with Strontium 90 then let the MPSes eat the cattle – well, it’s not the vegetarian option but it’s some kinda hope. Dr Stanley and Dr West drive out to Dr Phillips’ place to get the Strontium 90. Jeez – there’s a lot of driving on Terror Island.

1.04 Back down in the crypt. The lights flicker. They go into the lab and put on some protective clothing. It takes them ages. Even longer than putting on a helicopter. The tension is undetectable.

1.05 They end up looking like inflated condoms. I bet they gave their agents hell.

1.06. Seriously? Now they’re putting on enormous gloves. Very slowly.

1.07 All to open a cupboard marked ISOTOPES. Mind you – I’m the same when I go to the fridge to check if the hummus is still in date.

1.08 Dr Stanley has the isotope gun in a briefcase and goes back up the crypt stairs. Dr West goes back – he’s forgotten the gloves (yeah, right). Dr Stanley is so busy locking the briefcase in the boot he doesn’t notice an MPS. It grabs his hand. He shouts for Dr West who comes running back up and cuts Dr Stanley’s hand off with an axe – which is possibly a psychotic response to the recent glove trauma. Then takes one of the gloves, shrugs and tosses it over his shoulder (just kidding – it’s horrific – poor Dr Stanley – how’s he going to fondle the books in his LYE-BREH-REH?)

1.10 Back at the clinic, Toni bandages his stump and gives him a paracetamol. ‘Thank you nurse’ he says.

1.11 Dr West goes all James Herriott. Drives over to the cows. Puts on some enormous gloves. I thought he was supposed to inject the Strontium 90, not shove it up their arses.

1.12 Back at the hall they hang lights around the hall like they’re going to have a ceilidh or something. The Island of Terror (and Community Dancing).

1.16 There’s a romantic scene between Toni and Dr West (just after he’s attended to Dr Stumpley’s stamp – I mean – Dr Stanley’s stump). He almost proposes – but Toni says Ssh and puts her fingers on his lips. All of them. ‘David? Be careful,’ she says. ‘I love you.’ They kiss (worse than being slapped in the mush by a tentacle). He doesn’t say he loves her back, though. She can totally do better. (Shame all those lab technicians got completely boned so early on).

1.18 The MPSes attack and eat the cows. Dr West, the Mayor and a guy in a duffle coat watch through binoculars. ‘It’s a nightmare,’ says the Mayor. Which is true. It’s night, he’s the mayor. Just sayin’. They hurry back into the hall.

1.19 The MPSes surround the hall. The lights go out. The villagers panic, light scented candles. But I’m guessing if Strontium 90 won’t do it, a Bay & Rosemary candle doesn’t stand much chance. Ironically, the sound cuts in & out on me at this point, so I panic along with the villagers. It looks like the mayor points the gun at the villagers and says nobody move, but I could be wrong. Tentacles smash windows. A villager gets deboned where he stands. Then an MPS drops down through the roof and debones another one. They all run out into the corridor. ‘Steady as you go’ says a marshall, the sound cutting back in. He sounds surprisingly calm, but that’s probably why he got the gig. They all retreat into the clinic and put clinical furniture up against the doors. It’s all looking hopeless. Dr West gets a needle ready to euthanize Toni (honestly? she REALLY could do better). But then the tentacles start to go flaccid. ‘Careful’ says the mayor. Dr West throws the doors open. ‘We’ve done it!’ he says. ‘They’re dead!’

1.24 The helicopter comes to pick them up. I know! A helicopter! ‘Have you searched the island thoroughly?’ says Dr West. ‘Yes. We killed them all. I’m certain of that,’ says the mayor. ‘If it had happened anywhere else, I don’t think we would’ve been able to destroy them,’ says Dr West, hugging Toni, who looks about as boneless as anyone at this point, TBH.

1.25 Cut to: A Japanese lab. A racist’s impression of a Japanese scientist knocks on a lab door, gets no reply. Opens the door. Cornflakes sound effect. Screams.

The End.

And that’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. Motorised shit with a tentacle is surprisingly effective, except when it comes to duffle coats
  2. Helicopters sound like xylophones
  3. Never give a bone doctor an axe
  4. Everybody should hear Peter Cushing say LYE-BREH-REH at least once
  5. No. Seriously. LYE-BREH-REH. Mmmm…

Space Probe Taurus

Space Probe Taurus. 1965. Dir. Leonard Katzman. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

It’s really way too nice a day out there to be doing a full number on this film. I’m only here because 1) I haven’t written one of these reviews in a while, and 2) apparently it features giant crabs – and I’m a sucker for giant crabs. Even though I’d probably scream and fill my pants if I saw one IRL, but still, the attraction’s undeniably there. I really enjoyed the giant crab in Love & Monsters, for example. So here’s a (very rapid) point by point response to Space Probe Taurus, a film so niche it gets 0% on RT, no reviews, nothing but radio silence and an embarrassed shuffle. Looking forward to it.

0.40 Apparently it’s a Burt Topper Production. Burt Topper – my favourite name.

1.40 The obligatory intro. Graphics like a mashup between The Clangers and a Dorling Kindersley history book.

2.18 In fact, scratch that – it’s more like the intro to Star Trek, before they edited it down to two minutes six

2:59 An astronaut staggers into a rocket, coughing, bent over, like he’s coming in from a fag break by the vents. Behind him you get a glimpse of a noxious looking planet, REALLY not worth the trip, but at least it’s free parking.

3:50 The guy staggers onto the empty flight deck, falls back into his lounger and calls Earth control asking them to blow the ship up for him because honestly he’s too sick. The military guys back on Earth hesitate about a second, then press the button helpfully marked ‘DESTRUCT’ (but not too big you might inadvertently lean on it)

5.23 More big orchestra soundtrack as the Announcer tells us we carried on with exploring the universe anyway. Shrug.

6:42 A slick TV presenter is in Earth Control speaking so smoothly to camera I’m in danger of dozing off despite the heat. He calls over General Tillman, the military director of the Hope probe, which is what this is now, apparently. General Tillman walks like a robot on holiday, a jaunty but still officious rocking from side to side, his arms articulated at the shoulder (which I suppose, in a way, they are). I’m surprised his hat doesn’t slide off. Maybe it’s bolted.

7:21 Gen Tillman explains to the audience about the design of the ship in a little speech which is pretty much the director apologising to the audience that their special effects budget couldn’t stretch to weightlessness. (They must’ve blown it all on the giant crabs – I’m hoping).

9:04 We’re on the flight deck of the Hope probe now. Three men and one woman. They all seem pretty grumpy as they go through the systems checks, which is basically flicking switches, watching dials spin round and bulbs flash. The sound effect for all this is worryingly like chickens in a coop. Brrrrrr-ccck-ccck-ccck. Although maybe they’ve taken chickens along, too. I don’t remember seeing any in the credits, but we’ll see.

9:24 These guys are absolutely the last guys on Earth you’d want to go with on a short drive to the BEACH, let alone a lightyears trip to the stars. I mean – I’d be opening the hatch and taking my chances halfway off the launch pad.

10:35 Dr Wayne goes up to Colonel Stevens and says she hopes he’s not bitter. He says as he stated at the time, in a mission with four crew there’s no place for a woman. Oh-kay. Dr Wayne replies ‘That’s not what Noah said when he built the Ark’. Ooh – Bible burn.

12:15 Dr Wayne leaves the flight deck. You can imagine the sexist fall-out from the guys now she’s gone. At one point one of the officers argues that apart from being a scientist, Dr Wayne’s 120 pounds lighter, so they get to carry more equipment. ‘And she carries some pretty nice equipment of her own.’ Euch. They should call this film Space Probe Creep. I’m sweating like I did in Alien, but for the wrong reasons.

13:30 They come across an unidentified spaceship. It hangs in space like a juicer with wings. (As a side note, this film is 1 hr 20 minutes, and I reckon at least 20 minutes of that is waiting for the doors to slide open and shut each time. Plus every order and every radio communication is repeated – that’s – every order and every radio communication repeated. Over.)

15:00 They get permission to intercept the alien craft from General Tillman. Colonel Stevens and some other dude get suited up to board it. I love their suits. It’s like they’re carrying a small washing machine on their backs, connected to the helmet by the hose from a vacuum cleaner. No wonder they’re all so grumpy.

19:20 It may be an alien craft, but they’ve still got lightbulbs. There’s one over the door, which is a nice touch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a mat on the floor. Picture of a crab, maybe. Please wipe your claws before coming indoors.

19:40 Colonel Stevens’ spacesuit has got a black chest detail that’s very like a bra. Just saying.

20:00 They find a rotating structure. ‘Could be a power source’ says the Colonel. Yeah. Could be a clothes horse.

20:24 Cut back to Dr Wayne and the other guy listening to the Colonel’s commentary. They both look really hacked off – like they’re wondering if they can get away with closing the hatches and quietly going into reverse.

20:40 An alien walks in – big ears, top of its head like an exposed brain, flicking its tongue in and out rapidly – so all in all quite a bit more attractive than Col Stevens.

20:56 Col Stevens offers the alien his hand, but the alien jumps on him (which might be their way of saying hello – not sure yet)

21:00 Apparently the alien is choking him. So the other guy shoots him. Fair enough.

21:40 They make it back to the probe, but then the Colonel decides to go back and blow the alien ship up ‘because it’s oozing radiation…’

24:00 Several close-ups of the others waiting for the Colonel to finish arsing around with his bomb. If they asked the director for notes on how they should respond, he either gave them and they didn’t make sense, or they forgot what he said, because really they just look like I do when I’m waiting for a bus. Without the tension.

25:42 They watch the alien ship blow up. ‘Nothing left but a bad memory’ says one of the others (no idea who). Actually, the VERY grumpy one is called Paul. He’s like the grand parent you take to a garden centre for a bit of a day out – who says they NEVER go anywhere – and says they’d REALLY like to go to the garden centre – but when you get there only moans about how expensive everything is, and says his tea is cold and steals a packet of seeds.

26:57 ‘Finally to discover another race – then have to destroy it’ says Paul, happily.

28:08 The other crew member is called John. He’s the one the alien attacked. He makes a long speech which basically boils down to ‘you can’t trust aliens’. It’s the kind of speech you might hear in the backroom of the Badda Bing, not out in space. Mankind is truly doomed.

29:00 John is sleeping in his lounger. We are privileged to see what he’s dreaming about – which is rolling about on a beach with Dr Wayne, a saxaphone playing in the background. I think they blew the wrong ship up.

33:00 Whilst John is down in the lab being sexually inappropriate with Dr Wayne, the Colonel and Paul sit on the flight deck eating travel sweets and talking about the good old days.

36:00 The obligatory meteorite shower scene. They look like flaming meatballs. The crew put the forcefield up – which works for a bit – but then something goes wrong and they speed up too much. Not something I thought this film was in danger of.

39:56 Close up on Paul, blowing out his cheeks like he KNEW the garden centre was a bad idea.

40:23 ‘Eight percent deviation from true course…’ (one of the standout pieces of dialogue from the last ten minutes or so). Meanwhile they head towards Taurus or something. When they’re twenty seconds away the Colonel says he’ll give them ‘full reverse thrust’. Oh-kay.

41:24 They make more fuss landing that thing than me parallel parking.

41:33 Planet Taurus or whatever it is looks like a gently revolving Ferrero Rocher.

43:03 They land in the sea, though. Nice one, Colonel. We’re treated to a close up of someone setting a lava lamp in an aquarium. I don’t hold up much hope for these giant crabs.

43:32 Paul gets on the blower to Earth Control. There’s a sarky tone to his voice. ‘This is Hope One to Earth Control…’ rolling his eyes…. like he absolutely KNEW this was going to happen. They come all this way only to break down on the bottom of an alien seabed. They could just as easily have stayed home and watched the baseball.

44:30 The Colonel goes down into the engine room and – correct me if I’m wrong – but seems to think turning it off and on again will be enough to fix the problem.

46:30 The best scene in the whole film so far. If you don’t see anything else, you must see this. We’re back at Earth control. The radio guy can’t get through to the probe, so he turns to a woman sitting at a desk. ‘We can’t get through to Hope One,’ he says. She gives him SUCH a look – flatter and harder than a steam iron – then slowly picks up the phone and dials General Tillman. ‘I’ll enter it in the log,’ she says. ‘Hope One – location unknown.’ Wow. I don’t care if the crabs are meh – the journey’s been worth it.

48:00 A VERY protracted scene where the crew stand about looking even grumpier. Stuck on the seabed of some unknown planet. Computer on the fritz. What they wouldn’t do for a yaddah yaddah. Only the incidental music has any hint of drama (do I detect a basenote of CRAB in those violins – yeah – a FIDDLE CRAB…. har har …. and that’s why I don’t get invited on any interstellar flights)

49:25 A hatch slowly opens. Someone goes up a ladder. (It’s not exactly Fast & Furious). By the way – you can tell they’re underwater because of the sound of flushing and an echo sounder – although that may be John in the can.

51:50 Dr Wayne is feeling the pressure. The Colonel gives her some emotional support, and apologises for being so sexist earlier. ‘Does that mean when we get back to Earth you can take me out for a real dinner some night?’ she simpers. ‘You just name it,’ smiles the Colonel – so broadly his false teeth nearly pop out.

54:14 They dance around each other with hokey romantic dialogue so nauseatingly off it gives me cramps. Then they kiss. Actually, I love the way they kiss in these films, which is a clamping of mouths colder than two spaceships going airlock to airlock.

55:00 John and The Colonel get all toe-to-toe over whose fault it was they ended on the bottom of the ocean. Paul talks them out of a screwdriver fight. So he has SOME use, then.

57:20 The Colonel goes down to see Dr Wayne in her lab. ‘How grows your garden?’ he says. Inappropriately. Suddenly the spaceship rumbles. ‘Must be an underground tremor’ says the Col – although I’m guessing / hoping crabs.

58:00 They all gather round the scope. Flip around till you see crabs. Normal crabs – not even made up. ‘What a horrible looking creature!’ says Dr Wayne, like she’s never been to the beach before (which is just as well, given John’s dream).

58:40 ‘What ARE they?’ says Dr Wayne. Well – I’m no doctor – but I’m PRETTY SURE THEY’RE CRABS.

58:50 You see a distance shot of some crabs loitering round a model rocket in an aquarium. OMG. The effects budget must’ve been literally TENS of dollars.

59:00 ‘But what ARE they?’ says Dr Wayne. ‘Well – I’m not sure – but I think they’re another species of crab,’ says John, embarrassed. The crew stand around the scope talking about how life evolved on Earth, first in the sea, then on land, dinosaurs and whatnot. The Colonel wants to go out and explore. ‘I think I can handle crabs,’ he says. Well – Colonel – we ALL think we can handle crabs…

1:01:50 They release a balloon to go to the surface to check the atmosphere. It bursts when it reaches the surface… but it’s WAY less exciting than it sounds. Dr Wayne analyses the results – it’s like Earth apparently. Only crabbier.

1:03:13 John gets into his gimp costume.’It’s hero time,’ he says. ‘Stay close to the bottom all the way,’ says Paul, trying not to wink. John tells them his surname is Andros, so they can name a chapter after him (or an STI). He goes through the airlock – which takes about five minutes. The Colonel and the others go back round the screen to put bets on how long John makes it. ‘They’re bunching up’ says the Colonel, like he’s suddenly an expert on crabs, or maybe boxer shorts.

1:05:00 The Colonel activates the force field to annoy the crabs. They bounce around like some of them are actually made of plastic.

1:05:57 Stock footage of a scuba diver swimming through weeds. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew hang out round the computer, fixing it by snipping wire and looking hopeless, which is pretty much me whenever the WiFi goes down.

1:06:29 Actually, crabs obviously aren’t the only problem here. An alien appears, looking like an actor in a monster costume, a cross between a merman and an aunt I used to visit sometimes.

1:07:00 John gets out of the water, hobbling painfully on the stones with his flippers off. He looks up at the utterly normal looking cliffs, frowning like they’re the most amazing things he’s ever seen – although, to be fair, if he’s from New Jersey…

1:07:50 The monster watches him from the water, struggling a little in its monster suit, spitting water, cursing their agent for getting them the gig when they coulda been in something more regular, like a TV western or something.

1:08:20 Meanwhile, back on the probe, the crabs have given up. Paul and the Colonel are still arsing around with the computer. ‘How long has he been gone?’ says Paul. ‘It’s hard to concentrate on this – I keep worrying about him.’ Yeah, right. They try hard not to snigger.

1:09:20 Back on the surface, John has finished collecting his samples and puts his scuba gear back on to return to the ship. The merman intercepts him. They roll around in the weeds. He burns the merman off with a flare. Wounded, he swims one-armed back to the ship. Next thing you know he’s lying on a cot bed whilst they cut his rubber suit off (or maybe that’s another one of his dreams). But after saying that the ‘land is what we’ve been looking for’, he dies. ‘Oh no!’ says Dr Wayne. I’m not as upset as she is, for some reason. Or Paul. He folds his arms and explains why really it’s not so bad. He’s obviously the kind of scientist who perks up when someone dies.

1:14:13 Back to the computers. The music is more urgent now. Either their wire works or it doesn’t. I’m guessing it will. You can’t do anything without good WireFi. (Pause for loud and appreciative laughter). Meanwhile, Dr Wayne is back in the lab, mixing stuff up, the whole thing looking suspiciously like a kitchen.

1:15:00 Paul gives a speech about how he wishes he could’ve known John better. No-one’s convinced, Paul. Save it for the inquest.

1:15:58 ‘Strap in!’ says the Colonel as they prepare to lift off. But wait … ‘Something’s holding us!’ says the Colonel.

1:17:00 Yep. You get a long-shot of crabs hanging on to the rocket – which might be a sign of affection but you never know with crustaceans. The Colonel activates the force field, which stuns the crabs (but not me). They countdown from ten (the crew, not the crabs). Side note: Why do they always have to countdown to launch? Why they can’t just say ‘Okay – let’s go!’ There’s probably a rocket protocol. That and throwing yourself around when anyone says meteors.

1:19:20 Back up in space, they rotate the cabin and set the controls for home. ‘One more thing to do…’ says the Colonel, climbing out of his lounger. For one horrible moment – WAY scarier than the merman or the crabs or General Tillman’s secretary – I think the Colonel is going to kiss Dr Wayne. But no, he’s going to the radio to call control. ‘This is Hope One,’ he says, flexing his dimple. ‘Mission Accomplished. We’ve found a liveable planet. And we’ve named it…’ (He looks at Paul and Dr Wayne … What’s he going to say? Planet John? …) Andros One. And make sure you spell it right. That’s A N D R O S. One.’ (So if they end up calling it Androswon it’ll be on him).

The End.

That’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. In space, no-one can hear you scream impatiently for a door to finish opening and closing.
  2. If your computer has crashed, try stuffing wire into it.
  3. If your forcefield isn’t working on giant crabs, why not try buckets of creamy garlic butter sauce.
  4. It’s often hard to tell if an alien is being aggressive or affectionate. Best just shoot it.
  5. It’s often easy to tell if a crewmate is being sexually inappropriate. Best just shoot it.
  6. Whatever happens, don’t make eye contact with General Tillman’s secretary

The Giant Gila Monster

The Giant Gila Monster, 1959. Dir. Ray Kellogg. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

0.05 The film opens with a tracking shot over a desolate, black and white shrubland, the kind of place you wouldn’t put anything, even a lizard. The announcer tells us how awful the place is, how no-one goes there etc, which is fair enough, because there isn’t a Mcdonalds. The announcer has obviously been told to slow down when he speaks, because I’ve never heard such a.n.n.u.n.c.i.a.t.i.o.n. (And I hope that joke worked because it took ages to type).

0.28 ‘It’s as though the land had been posted by God’ – NO idea what he means by that. Posted? What – like a letter? Huh?

0.35 ‘…. it is in these lonely areas of impenetrable forest….’ he goes on. Quite what a Giant Gila Monster would find to eat or do for entertainment is beyond me. But according to the announcer, ‘how big the gila monster gets no man can say’. Why, though? I’m being pedantic, but if they know there’s a big gila monster there, why wouldn’t they know how big it gets? Didn’t they have a tape measure? A helicopter? A script editor?

0.55 Cut to: two hipsters in a hipster car listening to hipster jazz. Why they’d drive out to a lonely area of impenetrable forest is anyone’s guess, but maybe that’s a cool jazz hipster thing to do. Nice views are square, daddy-o. Dig the scrub.

1.00 But they immediately get shoved off into a ravine and die, which tells us quite a bit about how the Giant Gila Monster rates hipsters and jazz.

1.10 The credits. Lizardy writing, ominous drums, creepy whistling. Featuring Shug Fisher – my designated favourite name for the day. Stormy Meadows is a runner up, though.

2.25 More hipsters, jiving economicalliy in a cafe. I wish I was a hipster. They got the moves, man, the clicky fingers, the wobbly necks, the hair. I think the Giant Gila Monster’s just jealous. Living out there on its own in lonely areas of impenetrable forest, when it could be jiving in a cafe. Or maybe just outside in the parking lot with the windows open. They could toss it an occasional doughnut.

2.45 Two more hipsters drive up in what looks like a tin skip on wheels. When they burst into the cafe everyone laughs and waves.

3.05 Another two hipsters drive up, in a car whose bonnet has blown off en route. If there’s one thing hipsters like more than jazz – and milk – is beat up old cars. When they go into the cafe they ask where Pat and Liz are. ‘Probably broken down somewhere’ says one of the gang, not knowing just how broken down they REALLY are. Lisa – the latest hipster (who knew I’d be typing THAT word so much) – has some dialogue but I don’t get what she’s saying and I’m not convinced she knows either. Her intonations are like the announcer guy, but made worse by accentuating the wrong words in each sentence. Meanwhile, Chase, her boyfriend, offers her Coke, and just before she takes it he drinks half. She doesn’t react. She knows what Chase is like. She only stays with him for the car.

4.00 ‘Here’s Old Man Harris’ says a.n.other hipster, looking out the window as another heap arrives. (I’m guessing half the budget went on cars, half on special effects, half on hair products, and half on accounting).

4.15 Old Man Harris walks like a comedy guy from silent films, tapping the bonnet, doing a double step on the spot and then walking quickly into the cafe. He’s wearing a comedy fishing hat, too, and when he walks in amongst all the hipsters he does that double-take thing comedy veterans are so good at. I fully expect him to take off his hat, hold it to his chest and cross his eyes when he sees the Giant Gila Monster (who I shall now refer to as GGM, for speed).

4.35 Old Man Harris tells a joke about how buying cars is like marriage or New York… which the hipsters find hilarious but I can’t bring myself to type up. BTW – his hat is covered in fish hooks, which is either charming or a health & safety nightmare, depending.

5.20 Turns out Lisa is French. Which is either charming or a health & safety nightmare, depending.

5.26 Close-up on Old Man Harris taking a comedy swig from a soda bottle, which is worth the price of admission in itself. Comedy genius in a fishing hat.

6.08 Old Man Harris reprises his soda bottle swig face – which almost gives the bartender a stroke, it’s so good. I’m guessing it was his audition piece or something.

6.12 Cut to: a police car driving out someplace. The police car is so low it barely seems to have any wheels. Maybe it’s a hovercraft. I’m not great with cars – or milk – which is no doubt why they cancelled my hipster membership.

6.40 The Sheriff talks to a guy who wants to know why Pat didn’t come home last night – or Liz, come to that. Although principally Pat. I think this guy is Pat’s dad, although the way he talks you’d think he was a businessman talking about a failed investment – which, to be fair, is probably how he went into parenthood in the first place. The Sheriff listens with his thumbs in his belt (in the Sheriff’s belt, not Pat’s dad, which would be odd – although I wouldn’t put it past this particular Sheriff, galavantin’ round town in a hovercraft…). ‘Don’t leave a stone unturned,’ says Pat’s dad. ‘Do I make myself clear…? pointing at his own chest with his glasses, in case the Sheriff was confused about who was who in this conversation.

7.40 Pat’s dad has a dig at Chase, but the Sheriff stands up for him. They go nose to nose on the issue, giving us a lot of pointless backstory in the process. I DON’T CARE. I just wanna see a big lizard.

8.19 The Sheriff pulls into a gas station. He’s wearing a white coat now – which doesn’t seem practical to me. All that dust. If I saw a Sheriff in a gleaming white coat I’d think he wasn’t doing his job. He goes in to talk to Chase, whose bare arms are covered in grease and oil. I’m REALLY worried about the Sheriff’s coat now – but they’re unlikely to hug, I suppose. Dust is one thing, but OIL?

9.29 The Sheriff puts his boot up on an engine. Close-up on his scrunched up eyes ‘Are Pat and Liz in any kinda trouble?’ he says. Close-up on Chase’s face. ‘Whaddya mean?’ Close-up on The Sheriff’s face: ‘You know…’ Close-up on… awww, you get the picture (Old Man Harris would’ve screwed up his hat and gone cross-eyed). ‘D’you think they might’ve run off to get married?’ says the Sheriff. He’s such an old romantic. ‘No. I reckon they got swiped into a ravine by a Giant Gila Monster’ is what the audience are shouting. Or I was, anyway. Chase says Pat was saving money to buy a car. ‘He could’ve been saving it to get married, couldn’t he?’ – the Sheriff is obviously not a guy to let a theory go to waste.

11.20 The Sheriff drives up to another house. (Sheesh – there’s a lot of this ‘driving up to places’. We’re getting WAY too much Sheriff and not NEARLY enough lizard). A tractor goes past. I mean – it’s a nice tractor, n’all, but it’s not a GIANT GILA MONSTER, IS IT? (I think it’s a John Deere).

11.40 Turns out this is Liz’ parents place. Liz’ mum has a meringue on her head, for some reason. Maybe she gets fancy when the Sheriff calls. You can tell they’re good people though because Liz’ dad is in dungarees. ‘You didn’t have a phone so I thought I’d drive over and let you know,’ says the Sheriff, helpfully. It seems that Liz’ parents know they don’t have a phone, but thank him anyway.

12:13 ‘We gotta trust in the Lord and pray…’ says Liz’ dad, leading Liz’ mum back inside to put the meringue back on a plate maybe. Yeah? The same Lord that made a Giant Gila Monster? Good luck with that, then.

12.23 Hey! It’s Old Man Harris driving up in his wreck! How’s he gonna get a laugh now? Well… the Sheriff asks to smell his breath.. then tells him to drive on… which he does, as he takes a swig from a hip flask! Why you I oughta…

12.55 Chase’s dad arrives at the garage. They both put their knees up on the engine block, which is how you can tell they’re father and son. The other ways you can tell is Chase’s dad has a stetson, and shouts all the time.

13.04 Plot point! Chase’s dad says there’s ‘four quarts of nitroglycerine out there in that cab’ – something to do with sinking another oil well or something. Hmm. What might come in handy for killing a Giant Gila Monster…? ‘It’s not so dangerous so long as it’s in a nitro-case,’ says Case, sorry, Chase. Thanks. I’ve written it all down. Now get on and show me the lizard.

14.20 Actually.. I don’t think it IS Chase’s dad. He calls him Mr Compton. So it’s either Mr Compton, the guy who owns the garage and Chase works for, or Mr Compton, his father, who Chase addresses formally all the time. Either could be right. Shrug. SHOW ME THE DAMNED LIZARD!

15.00 Chase overhears (on the phone, somehow) the Sheriff saying there’s been a wreck out on the highway. Chase and his Dad/Mr Compton grab their jackets and run, sensing business.

16.00 Chase and the Sheriff inspect the wreck (I thought it might be Pat and Liz’, but turns out, it’s just some other car). The tyre marks on the road go off at a right angle, as if it swerved to avoid something. The kettle drums and creepy whistling in the background are a clue. The sheriff tips his hat back and scratches his head, risking splinters but what the hay. ‘There’s blood all over the upholstery,’ he says. ‘Let’s take a look around.’

17.20 Chase says he’s short of cash because of the braces he had to buy for Missy or someone. That’s why one of his own headlamps don’t work. The Sheriff nods at the wreck – ‘You’ve got a screwdriver – I don’t suppose the insurance company would miss one of those headlamps…’ A touching moment at the scene of a grisly death scene perpetrated by a Giant Gila Monster (if only we’d been here earlier…)

17.40 Cut to: Dad/Mr Compton driving with the tow truck out to the crash site. Then suddenly we see the GGM, hiding by a model bridge – sorry – a full scale and real life bridge. For some reason the tow truck also passes a guy in a suit thumbing a lift – the guy from the crash site? not sure – but Dad/Mr Compton drives past regardless. The GGM makes a move on the snack in a suit, who doesn’t look at all out of place in a lonely area of impenetrable forest. The guy takes out a pack of cigarettes. The GGM makes a grab for him, (or the cigarettes – it’s impossible to know at this stage). The guy screams and throws himself backwards into a shrub, but the GGM is too monstrous to care about that. It puts a gigantic foot down on him, and that’s that. We hear crunching noises, then finish with a close-up of the guy’s briefcase. Maybe the GGM will eat that later, after it’s finished the guy and had a smoke.

18:46 Back to the wreck. Dad/Mr Compton is hitching it up to the truck. The Sheriff wanders over. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘I got the whole story. The car was stolen outta state; the plates were stolen in state.’ Never mind poor hitchhiker/smoker/businessman lying in the shrubbery in a RIGHT ol’ state. These subplots are way too technical and talky. I want to see buildings falling, the army, a GGM running amok (whatever amok means). There comes a point in any monster movie when all you want is monster. Not endless talk about motor crime.

18:57 The Sheriff tells Dad/Mr Compton to ‘go on ahead’, then hooks his thumbs in his belt (his belt, not Dad/Mr Compton’s). Then he asks Chase to give him a hand taking pictures of the skid marks. Er hem.

19:23 Cut to: Chase driving along pretty quick for a bucket o’ bolts. HIs lights pick out the suitcase by the side of the road, so he stops to take a look. Cue kettle drums and creepy whistling. Then the Sheriff hauls up. There’s a long conversation about the suitcase. I don’t care. Where’s the GGM? (Probably sleeping off its last snack).

20:29 There it is! The GGM is watching them whilst they inspect the scene. The GGM has a funny look on its face – either amusement, guilt or hunger, I couldn’t say, not being an expert on GGMs. It actually gives a little nod, much like you do when you see someone you kinda half recognise and don’t want to commit to a full-on hello. The GGM looks cute in a smug, self-satisfied kinda way, but then I’m not the one being thrown down like a handful of peanuts.

20:52 The Sheriff drives off with the suitcase. He’s probably got a stack of ‘em back at the station. Chase shines a torch into the lonely area of impenetrable forest, wondering where the drums and creepy whistling are coming from.

21:16 Chase pulls up outside a lovely house and does some creepy whistling of his own. The music has changed to chill hipster jazz, so I’m guessing this is Lisa’s house. Chase lets himself in, checks his watch, puts a leg up onto a chair to wait (honestly, these guys are like flamingos – in chinos). Lisa comes in and tells him about her evening, emphasising all the wrong words so it’s difficult to follow. ‘If I saw you again he would have me sent back to France,’ she says. So she’s definitely from France, I didn’t just imagine that. ‘You can speak English well enough to get a job anywhere,’ says Chase. Hmm. They kiss to a cool jazz soundtrack.

22:43 Cut to: more cars, driving along the highway. Actually, one is Dad/Mr Compton in the tow truck, the other is a sedan being driven at crazy speeds. It overtakes him and skids round into a back lane. Goes off the road for no apparent reason and slams into a post. Tries to reverse but gets stuck. Dad/Mr Compton pulls up. Actually, it’s Chase driving the truck. You’d think he’d be angry, but no, he asks the other driver if he’s alright. The other driver turns out to be an over-acting drunk in a tux who gets out and says he’s ‘superb’. He says his name is Horatio Algernon Smith in such a ridiculous ‘look at me how drunk I am’ way he makes Old Man Harris look like Laurence Oliver.

23:40 Horatio says he swerved to avoid a ‘big pink thing with stripes this wide’ – which he thinks was a truck or something but we know was the GGM. ‘Sure, sure,’ says Chase, who starts hooking up the sedan to tow it out. Horatio tries to drive off despite being hooked up, saying that Chase is a ‘cotton-picking Prince’ which is either a compliment or insult, it’s hard to say. But he can’t drive because the wheels are in the air. So he takes a nap and allows himself to be towed. Sheesh. If I had the script in front of me I’d put a big red line through THAT scene.

25:06 Back at the garage, Chase bangs out the dents in Horatio’s fender whilst Horatio sleeps it off on a cot bed. Chase sings a hipster song as he works, which is cute. ‘My baby she swings – and sings – and swings whenever I bring her things…’ which sounds like some kinda primitive rap. Horatio sits up on the cot and nods appreciatively. Maybe Horatio’s a hot shot record producer and he’ll make Chase a pop star, if the GGM doesn’t get Horatio first (and BTW? I hope the GGM gets Horatio first).

26:00 Horatio asks Chase how he got in the cot bed. Chase says he carried him in there and sat on him till he went to sleep. So when the garage says full service it MEANS full service. Horatio pays him 3 bucks for all the work and gives him his card – says look him up next time he’s in the city. Chase looks at the card as Horatio leaves. It’s Steamroller Smith, the Disc Jockey! And he gave him two twenties rather than 3 bucks! So it’s a real feel good moment before everyone gets chewed by the GGM.

28:06 The Sheriff pulls up in his hover car at the garage. He’s in his white jacket again, so he means business (clean business). ‘Have you heard anything about Pat and Liz?’ he asks Chase. Who? They’re ancient history, dadio! (Actually Chase says ‘No, nothing’) He suggests he gets the gang together and search the area tomorrow. ‘I was hoping you’d say that,’ says the Sheriff. ‘Can I have your help in another matter?’ he says. ‘Sure,’ says Chase. Apparently headquarters don’t believe the Sheriff about the tyre marks on the road for the last wreck. Chase says he’ll sign a statement. The Sheriff thanks him. Honestly – what’s this got to do with a Giant Gila Monster? (I wanted to type it out in full because I’m feeling blue about it. I just wanna see more of the funny faced fellow. An’ if I don’t GET to see more of it… well, I jes’ don’ know WHAT I’ll do…’ (I’m beginning to sound like Chase – or maybe Dorothy from the Lizard of Oz).

30:30 It’s the next day, and the hipsters are running all over the county in their go-karts trying to find Pat & Mike or whoever it is got lost. Chase takes Lisa down into a ravine, which is less exciting than it sounds. The drums start up. We see the GGM licking its lips, which is promising.

31:15 The GGM is prowling around on the road, with sound effects to make it sound big. The creepy whistling starts up, which means Chase & Lisa are in for it.

32:48 Chase wants to take a breather and put his leg up somewhere. Lisa doesn’t like it around there. We get a lizard-eye view of the two of them, which is very much like the normal view except with a little grease on the lens. The GGM looks about ready to dine – but then the other hipsters beep their horn, so Chase and Lisa run back.

33:30 They say they found Pat & Liz’ car back a-ways, no sign of P&L. Chase says he’ll go get the tow truck. They all jump in the go-kart and … erm… go.

34:00 Lisa and the other female hipster are standing up on the road by the tow truck whilst Chase and the other guy are down in the ravine doing the manly hooking-up stuff (that sounds wrong, reading it back, but I’m too exhausted by all the motor action to change it). They hear a big crashing sound. ‘I wonder what that was?’ says Lisa, like she’s reading it off a cue card without her glasses. ‘Probably just a little rock slide’ says the other girl. ‘For some reason this place gives me the creeps,’ says Lisa. ‘It always has’. We see the GGM heading their way. (Side note: the sound effect they use for the tongue flicking in and out sounds like a reversing sound on a lorry. I keep expecting it to say: Caution, Giant Gila Monster reversing….)

34:30 They haul the wreck up from the ravine whilst the GGM creeps up on them.

35:40 Once it’s up, Chase & Lisa get in the truck and the other two get back in their go-kart. I have a bad feeling about this…

36:01 … but no, everyone’s fine. The GGM looks v disappointed (but not HALF as disappointed as me).

36.24 Back at the garage, the friends drive off and the Sheriff hoovers up instead. They tell the Sheriff they had a good look around but didn’t see nuttin’. They chew over their theories as to what happened, elopements, robberies and so on. No-one mentions a Giant Gila Monster. Which just goes to show. Quite what, I don’t know – but maybe when I see it I’ll know it. Or something. Meanwhile, this film is about as slow as – well, hell, a Giant Gila Monster, I guess.

38.24 Dad/Mr Compton (although increasingly I don’t think he’s Chase’s dad, BTW – they just don’t have the same nose or nuttin’…) is driving back from some oil deal somewhere. The road is dark – perfect for some GGM action (because special effects are easier in the dark).

38.32 Sure enough, the GGM pokes his tongue out at Mr Compton, who screams, holds his hands in front of his face, the truck topples over and bursts into flames.

39:00 Chase has driven round to Lisa’s house. Lisa’s mum is there. Chase throws Lisa’s mum over his shoulder until she agrees to tell him what the surprise is she’s got for him. Turns out the surprise is a little girl in calipers – Missy, the girl Chase has been sponsoring. She shows Chase how she can walk now (although with a GGM on the loose, she’s gonna need to walk a bit faster than that). BTW – the music they play for this scene is reminiscent of a funeral parlour, which is the creepiest thing so far in this goddamn movie.

40:45 Chase goes down on this knees and starts playing a mini banjo (or banjolele, maybe). He’s a real crooner. I definitely think Chase should go visit Steamroller Smith when he’s next in the city (GGM permitting).

41:33 OMG this song goes on. Something about a laughing girl and boy and a garden and heck I don’t KNOW what. And Chase’s eyebrows go up in the middle very sincerely like the two halves of a bridge letting the ship of his nose through. ‘.for he created a girl and a boy…’ he sings, which sounds like Bible singing to these ‘ol ears, and not at all what a hipster oughta be singing. Lord – I wish that GGM would smash through the window and chomp them all up. But maybe the singing put it off. It’s probably out somewhere in the lonely areas of impenetrable forest smoking and flipping irritably through the rest of the script.

42:00 Chase is still singing – even going up an octave. The mother looks about ready to snatch the banjolele off him and cream him with it. He finishes with the refrain, which is ‘laugh, children, laugh…’. ‘Laughing’s important, isn’t it, Chase?’ says Missy. I fully expect her to add: ‘So why are YOU such a lamebrain mother fucker?’ But then, this is 1959, and the best you can hope for is a stern look.

43:22 Actually, it turns out it was Lisa who paid for the calipers, and now she’s broke. The phone rings (I say ‘phone’ – it looks more like an old gas pipe with a tin cup for a receiver). It’s the Sheriff, ringing to say that Mr Compton bought it out on the highway. ‘That’s awful,’ says Chase, in much the same way he sang ‘laugh children laugh’.

44:30 Old Man Harris is waiting with the Sheriff for Chase to turn up. He’s still got his famous fishing hat on – although I guess he only takes it off to shower or go to bed. They all get in Chase’s hotrod because the hovercraft has blown a mattress or something. ‘Can I open this thing up?’ says Chase. Old Man Harris pulls a face and folds the brim of his hat back.

45:00 The oil truck is ablaze but Mr Compton isn’t in it. They split up to look around. They don’t find anything. The GGM must like its food fricassee.

46:00 The Sheriff asks Old Man Harris to describe how he got involved, which he does, to great comic effect. I don’t think there are many people around who could get a laugh from telling their witness account of a fatal car wreck, but Old Man Harris has a darn good go at it.

46:40 ‘Pat and Liz might have eloped, but Mr Compton ought to be around here,’ says the Sheriff, still mining that ‘eloped’ theory. I’m surprised he doesn’t think Mr Compton eloped, though. I mean, it’s perfectly feasible a guy could be so excited about eloping he accidentally rolls the truck and explodes.

47:35 Two of the other hipsters are sitting around back at the garage drinking pop and listening to Steamroller Smith on the radio. Chase turns up looking pretty happy, despite the fact he just got back from a fatal truck wreck. They talk about a big party Steamroller Smith is throwing in a nearby barn and heck, they plan on a’goin’

49:10 Old Man Harris is driving (and drinking) along a dark stretch of road. Starts singing some hilarious country and western about divorce, natch. A train runs alongside and he gets into a race with it. Drives across the tracks – the train driver can barely look! Meanwhile, we see the GGM getting into position by the railway bridge…

51:11 Old Man Harris sees the GGM sitting in the road. Then he witnesses the train wreck. Screams and whatnot. Old Man Harris heads back into town – to tell the Sheriff, presumably.
The GGM goes over the wreck. More screams as he gets snacky.

52:30 The Sheriff asks Old Man Harris what happened. OMH starts off on a comedy monologue. The Sheriff stops him. ‘Now listen,’ he says. ‘I ask you the time and you tell me how to build a clock. Just the facts,’ he says. OMH looks disappointed. Or constipated. God, he’s hilarious.

52:55 Side note: The Sheriff is holding out his hands for OMH’s keys – but there’s a map on the wall behind him, and it’s so perfectly aligned it looks like the Sheriff is actually holding out the map to OMH. An optical illusion – I’m happy for anything interesting at this point. The Sheriff tells OMH to lock himself up because he’s drunk. ‘I demand a sobrerty test,’ says OMH, walking into a wall.

54:00 Cut to: one of the hipster girls driving out to a house – and whose house it is I have no idea (I’m sounding like Old Man Harris now). Chase is getting ready for the party, combing axle grease through his hair and singing ‘my baby she rocks… and rooolllls’. He’s pretty chipper considering two of his friends are missing presumed dead, his boss was killed in a truck explosion and a train just crashed out of town. Missy limps in and says she’s staying with some family called the Blackwells, and will Chase take her. I get the feeling Missy might be his sister, but – shrug. (Which is the actor’s name, isn’t it?)

54:46 The phone pipe rings. It’s the Sheriff, asking for a book on reptiles. He wants to know whether they elope.

55:10 Cut to: Chase sitting on the Sheriff’s desk, reclining in a strangely provocative pose (or is that me?). ‘Well,’ says the Sheriff. ‘Now I’m gonna tell you something you don’t know.’ Apparently he’s been talking to a zoologist about Gila monsters. Wait – WHAT? How come? That’s a bit of a leap? (This is me talking now, not Chase). How did the Sheriff suddenly get all Scooby Doo about the whole thing? I’d skim back to look but I’m too exhausted and I’m not prepared to surrender the place I’ve gotten to without a fight.

56:00 Suddenly the Sheriff’s got a pipe, talking about a scientist ‘down in Tanganyika’ who found some giant lizard bones. I mean – IS THIS EVEN THE SAME SHERIFF?

56:15 Now he’s talking about a giant baby in Ukraine. What’s in that pipe, Sheriff? Huh?

56:40 Ah – so Old Man Harris saw it, and some of the survivors of the train wreck. So now the Sheriff’s got enough witness statements to discount the elopement theory and move on to gigantic lizards.

58:00 The Sheriff asks Chase to keep the story to himself, to forget about the gigantic lizard rampaging about the place, go to his party and have some fun. ‘Sure thing, boss’ says Chase. Boy, is he easily distracted.

58:10 Cut to: lots of hipster cars turning up at the barn for Steamroller Smith’s disco. Or Smorgasbord, as the GGM likes to call it.

58:32 Chase calls out to the crowd: ‘Hold it – all you jumpin’ beans!’ Honestly, he’s got more flashy hip than my gran.

58:50 Steamroller Smith leapfrogs onto the stage and does something uncomfortably like a Nazi salute. Then he puts on a record and they all jive in a very hygienic way.

59:20 Pat’s dad turns up to confront the Sheriff. He says the Sheriff didn’t recover his son’s car properly because he was protecting Chase. The scene deflates strangely – Pat’s dad becomes almost tender; the Sheriff smokes his pipe (I hope he doesn’t smoke it when he’s got his white jacket on). Pat’s dad comes straight out with it: ‘Have you heard any reports of a giant lizard?’ He goes on to say that the Wash – the area of impenetrable forest – is so choked up it’s not surprising you get giant lizards in there and no-one knows about ‘em. ‘I say it’s perfectly possible for a giant lizard to live in that place for years without being seen’ he says, pointing to himself in that adorably specific way he has.

1:01 But now Pat’s dad gets mean again. He says the Sheriff is responsible for Mr Compton’s death, because he didn’t investigate Pat’s death thoroughly enough. Which is fair, I suppose. The Sheriff puffs away quite anxiously. Then Pat’s dad notices that the tyres have been switched off one car and put on Chase’s – which is dodgier than a giant lizard in anyone’s estimation. Pat’s dad says the Sheriff’s last job in office will be to arrest Chase and bring him in. ‘And I’ll go along to make sure that it’s done’ he says, pointing to himself again.

1:02 The Sheriff hovers off to the party, followed by Pat’s dad (whose name is Mr Wheeler, but what the hell).

1:03 Steamroller Smith says he’s made a special recording and he wants everyone at the party to see what they think, and if they can identify who the singer is.

1:04 Everyone thinks it’s Elvis but in fact it’s Chase! Steamroller calls him up on stage. Oh my God – he’s got his banjolele there for a preview of another song. Yep – it’s ‘Let the children laugh’. All the hipsters seem to like it. It’s just me who’s scrambling for a bucket.

1:05 Although… not just me. The GGM is crawling up outside, drawn in to commit widespread murder by the hideous music, and thank god for that. The Sheriff and Pat’s dad arrive, too. I’m guessing Pat’s dad is headed down snack alley, and that way Chase’ll be spared and have the singing career he so doesn’t deserve.

1:06 We watch as the GGM crawls past lots of toy cars and a scale model of the barn. It’s so cute. If I had a vivarium – and trust me, I never will – I’d decorate it just like this. And everyone would love it and laugh about it, and I’d have way more friends than I do.

Suddenly the GGM smashes in through the barn wall. Cue screaming &c. While the GGM seems to get its head stuck in the boards, everyone runs outside in a hipster, jive-style way. The Sheriff gets out a rifle and starts shooting it. Which is enough to have it scuttle back into the lonely areas of impenetrable forest again. Chase jumps into his go kart. He has an idea that might just work…

1:09 Chase wants Lisa to wait in the garage office whilst he takes the nitro to blow up the GGM. ‘I’m not going to leave you, Chase…’ saying her lines even LESS convincingly than the GGM, and all THAT had to do was HISS.

1:10 Off they drive at double quick speed to the sound of a saxophone and a double-bass, Lisa holding the jars of nitro. Totally a hipster way of ending a monster movie.

1:10:40 They pull over to look at the tracks. ‘They can only travel in a straight line’ says Chase. Really? Why? I think he’s thinking of a toy lizard on wheels. Then Chase notices a huge hole in the side of a house. ‘Good lord!’ he says. ‘It hit the Blackwells place!’ Which is where Missy was staying.

1:12 They drive over the farmland and see the Blackwells running, Missy on the ground where they left her (nice). Lisa stays with Missy while Chase drives on towards the GGM. He jumps out of the go kart at the last minute and rolls free. The car ploughs into the GGM and blows it up. Chase looks up and grins. He’s so hip it hurts.

1:13 The Sheriff turns up with a couple of troopers. Then Pat’s dad. Chase tells them how he killed the GGM with nitro but lost his hotrod. ‘The railroad’ll be glad to buy you a new one,’ says the Sheriff, hooking his thumbs in his belt (HIS belt, not Chase’s).

1:14:36 Last scene. Looks like Chase is getting Compton’s job. Pat’s dad is reconciled with the Sheriff. They all stand back to look at the burning GGM. Chase lifts Missy up and accidentally lifts Lisa’s skirt up at the same time but they don’t reshoot. The End.

That’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. If you’re being chased by a giant lizard, run zigzag.
  2. If you want to improve your comedy monologues – why not try a fishing hat?
  3. If you’re big and predatory and want to hide out, why not try a lonely area of impenetrable forest? Here’s a brochure.
  4. Hipster music is terrible and so are their cars.
  5. Ninety-five percent of all missing persons cases eloped.

First Spaceship on Venus

First Spaceship on Venus. 1960. Dir. Kurt Maetzig. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

0:20 A rocket takes off. It looks like the Alessi juicer we used to have. It was hopeless as a juicer but looked good on the windowsill. I hope this doesn’t apply to the rocket.

0.37 Loving the film so far. Half a minute in and we’re already zooming through speckly space, which these days you’d worry was space junk.

0:50 The credits fly in like in Star Wars. I wonder if that’s where George Lucas got it from? Everyone steals from everyone else. Sorry – influences. Juicers, credits…

1:19 Voiceovers. Hmm. Why not issue leaflets as the audience comes in?

1:28 Very satisfying lab here. Walter White would love it. A technician with an impressive quiff carefully transfers a sample of rock to a test tube. With his quiff.

1:51 Meanwhile the voiceover talks about an explosion in Siberia back in 1908. We see scientists slogging up a mountain with a weather balloon. A grumpy scientist with an enormous camera round his neck shrugs and waves for everyone to keep going. Maybe he forgot to put film in it. I think he topples into a gully. The other scientists ignore him.

2:19 ‘Shortly afterwards, under the auspices….’ the voiceover says. I lose the thread of it, distracted by the word auspices. Is it cockney? We watch as a scientist makes a tricky calculation on a blackboard, watched by a lot of other scientists. Who knew there’d be so many scientists in the future? Still using chalk.

2:37 Professor Harringway dusts the chalk from his hands and says ‘our calculations indicate….’ I’m distracted by his hair, another brilliantined quiff. He should have a quiff-off with the scientist from the lab earlier. Prof H says that they’ve figured out the explosion in Siberia wasn’t a meteorite but a spaceship. The other thing I’m distracted by is the fact he’s dubbed. Somehow it makes his quiff seem bigger.

2:55 ‘This hypothesis stimulated thought throughout the scientific world…’ says the Voiceover, whilst we watch scientists in pairs gossiping casually about anything other than explosions, flirting with the camera crew or sitting on the stage reading a newspaper.

3:02 Actually – they’re reporters waiting to hear what Professor Orloff has to say.

3:19 Professor Orloff is dressed like a mobster. He tells the reporter that the aliens no doubt recorded important stuff on a ‘spool’ – the rock they found in Siberia. He says they’ll work on the spool. And if you got anythin’ to say about dat he’ll break ya Venoosen legs…

3:40 Another professor works a desk covered in fancy dials and lights so big it MUST be important. It makes a noise like the old dial-up computers as it decodes the spool. One of the professors is not only good with computers, he also specialises in transforming inorganic material into food – which is probably where we get Quorn.

4:15 Actually, the professor working the desk is world famous maths Professor Sikarna. Honestly – I’m lost already. You’d think if they could afford rockets they stretch to name tags.

4:50 Prof Herringbone or whatever (maybe I’ll remember his name by picturing a big fish on his head instead of a quiff) – tells all the scientists in the lecture theatre that the spaceship can only have come from Venus. He points to a dangerous looking display of Venus with moons rotating round it. He’s in danger of knocking it over with his quiff – but I suppose you’d get used to it, like driving a car with a big bonnet.

5:00 We get some scary music and a close-up of the spool, which looks like one of those cola chews you try for a bit because there’s nothing else and you need the sugar hit, but spit out because it tastes like something you’d put down for rats.

5:13 Prof Sikarna says ‘Listen!’ He plays back the spool – which sounds to this untrained ear like a phone recording from a Rammstein gig.

6:20 Prof Sikarna has a tedious monologue to deliver. He sighs and steps out from behind the desk. He tells us how they’ll need to ‘renovate’ the spool to get as much information out of it as possible. We’re going to need a bigger spool.

7:00 First though, we have to train all our radio telescopes on Venus to communicate with the creatures there. So we get a montage of that, with morse code and trombones, which apparently the Venusians might like, being quite techno.

7:28 Next thing, we’re on the moon base (it was mentioned earlier but I was too distracted by he quiffs). They do a lot of monitoring. Which is pretty much all there is to do on the moon, once the crazy golf has lost its novelty.

7:53 Prof H is marching across a plaza with the other scientists around him. They meet some journalists in front of a scanner, which Prof H. keeps batting away with his hair. He tells the journalists they’re preparing a spaceship called the Cosmic Castrator or something (might be wrong about that). He says it’s not going to Mars anymore, it’s going to Venus. ‘Oh that’s great news!’ says a female journalist, thinking of the fun she’ll have with the headlines.

8:44 Prof H introduces the rest of the crew: Professor Sikarna, Professor Durand… and so on. Average age ninety. All male. One of them smoking.

8:50 This is better! Back to the rocket, just about to blast off. It looks like it’s standing on giant blocks of duplo. Which should mean they won’t blow over easily.

9:05 Actually – they were just testing the boosters. Prof H takes his glasses off and turns round. His hair is blasted back by the force of the test. I thought quiffs would be more aerodynamic.

9:42 A Marilyn Monroe impersonator says she has an important announcement to make. I lose track of what she says because she says it so smoothly, like she’s introducing a variety bill from Radio City. ‘Ah! Here come members of the crew!’ she pouts – thrilled to see a bunch of elderly guys shuffling towards the booth bitching about their prostates.

10:12 She spots Professor Durand, the chief engineer. She describes his expertise in robots whilst we watch him flip up his sunglasses and frown at a guy dressed like Super Mario. The guy has a big letter M on his chest. NOTE: If he can have a big letter M on his chest, why can’t the professors? It’d make this commentary SO much easier.

10:28 A guy jogs over from Section A. He has a big letter A on his chest. See what I mean?

10:58 A jet arrives with another hero, I don’t know. (Dr Brinkmann, actually). He asks Prof D about his robots. Prof D. calls one of them over – a ridiculous-looking thing like a mower with an expression on its face like it just cut the lawn and all he flowers, too. You know it’s supposed to be full of character because piccolos are playing. I hope it fries.

11:14 Turns out, the robot is called Omega and is a kind of bullshit Alexa on treads. He asks Omega for a weather report. Omega replies clippily there’ll be a rise in millibars. Great. Thanks, Omega. You’re definitely coming to Venus. We’ll need something to shove under the wheels if we get stuck.

11:45 Back in the glamorous announcer booth, the commentator says that some of the crew managed to reach Urania. Her equally glamorous assistant frowns at her. That’s not how you say Uranus – but I suppose it is a way of avoiding a tedious and unnecessary joke.

11:53 Turns out there’ll be a woman going to Venus with the old guys. She’s the physician of the expedition (very satisfying to say that fast). ‘She’s already spent 2 years on lunar 3’ says the announcer. But got paroled, presumably.

12:13 Dr Brinkmann speaks to the doctor. There’s a frisson between them (naturally). He remembers she used to have hair down to her waist. But he may have her confused with that day he went to Crufts. A guy with the letter M on his chest runs up – hands Dr Brinkmann his lunch. ‘You forgot this!’ says the guy, with such cheerfulness I really hope he comes along too. To make up the numbers. Or letters. And they leave Omega behind instead. ‘Robert Brinkmann! The man who’s always forgetting something!’ says the doctor. So… not the kind of guy you’d want on a space mission, then.

12:25: Violins play. ‘I have a reputation for that,’ smoulders Brinkmann. ‘But there are things I’ll never forget,’ he says. Like hair.

12:37 Dr Sumiko Ogimura is her name. I’m really being tested on the cast list.

12:40 ‘Thirty hours left’ says the Marilyn Monroe impersonator, but they could easily have overdubbed any line from Some Like it Hot.

13:40 The crew are all on trolleys being put down like kids in a nursery for the afternoon. They’ve got a busy flight ahead of ‘em. Brinkmann sits up and gets creepy with Sumiko. She tells him not to speak of it. I wish he wouldn’t speak of it, too. Maybe we could drop him off with Omega.

15:02 Marilyn Monroe says the launch is almost ready. We’re just waiting for the crew – ‘and here they are!’ she says, trying not to sound disappointed. Honestly, it’s like a day out from a Care Home, where they’ve dressed up the residents in comedy incontinence suits.

15:14 All the staff with big letters on their chests wave them off as they get in a jeep and go off to the rocket, which sits in the distance as thrillingly as the Disneyland castle.

15:46 The crew strap themselves into the rocket. In close-up their suits look like monkey onesies, which is a nice touch. ‘Relax’ says Dr Sumiko. ‘Try not to tense up’. (I wonder what her medical speciality is?) There’s a countdown. When it gets to 4, one of the professors (no idea which) says ‘Stand by!’ – completely unnecessarily. It’s a countdown, for God’s sake! We’re at 4. He’d be annoying on a long trip.

17:00 The cosmic castrator is being monitored from earth by big telescopes and from moon base 3 and manufacturers of hair oil.

17:40 Prof D (I think) takes off his belt and floats around. We get an unnecessary shot of his crotch – emphasised by the chaps he seems to be wearing. It gets a big laugh. They all join in. Like I said – long voyage.

19:00 They fly past the moon (sorry – I skipped some frames accidentally and can’t be bothered to go back). ‘That’s the Sinus Roarus crater’ says Prof S, obviously making it up. ‘Yeah – and that’s the Sea Yarlater crater’ etcetera.

19:18 Dr Sumiko looks distressed when they fly over moon base. ‘That’s where her husband fell’ says Prof H. ‘I brought him back to the camp but he was already dead. We were friends. You know – Sumiko is a wonderful woman…’ (This is a creepy crew to be shacked up with on a flight to Venus).

20:17 Lunar 3 issues a meteorite warning. Is it just me, or does every rocket adventure in the fifties and sixties get whacked by meteorites? When they cost out the special effects, it must be: ‘how much for the meteorites…how much for the polystyrene rubble… and so on’

20:23 Prof O pilots the rocket using an old cash register. He desperately punches in pounds, shillings and pence to avoid the meteorites.

21:00 Brinkmann dictates his log and we get a little tour of the craft. I must say it looks pretty crafty. Apparently pilots itself – everyone else can go off and play golf or watch Columbo reruns or something. It’s not going to take long to get to Venus – about 48 days, which is pretty good. I just Googled it and the best so far is 109 days – but this film is set in the future, so maybe they know a shortcut.

21:30 Dr Sumiko keeps an eye on the health of the crew, giving them blood pressure meds, prostate meds, that kind of thing. They drink liquid food, which is niche but the crew seem to like it. The mechanic works on fixing a washing machine or something (they’ll need it after 48 days of vegetable smoothies).

22:05 Meanwhile, two of the profs (don’t ask me which) are still trying to decipher the spool. We get a close up of their space slippers, which seem comfy enough.

22:35 Prof H checks the map. A map? In space?

23:05 Prof O plays Omega at chess. The robot seems to have a robo-stroke, but still wins. ‘That’s the tenth match I’ve lost,’ says Prof O. ‘I should give up I guess.’ Yes. You should. Then put Omega in the waste compactor.

24:19 Suddenly the rocket lurches and everyone gets thrown about. Meteorites! They struggle to switch on the emergency giro. (NOTE: they were warned about the meteorites. I’d have sat someone by the emergency giro at all times. I mean – there’s plenty of profs to go round.) Brinkmann actually has to break the glass to operate it. Seems unnecessary. But what do I know about rocket design? It works though. They stabilise, and make it back to their seats with their quiffs only slightly bent.

25:29 Dr Sumiko sticks a plaster on Talua’s head. Talua is the comms guy, easily the chillest of the crew, which is probs why he’s the comms guy. Sumiko doesn’t do a good job, but head wounds are tricky.

25:50 Brinkmann askes Prof O how much course deviation. O taps away on the cash register. ‘Eleven pounds and ten pence’.

26:40 They need to decelerate but one of the engines is out. Someone has to go outside and fix it. Awkward silence. The crew watch as Prof D reluctantly goes out on a weird grabby thing. It flies up to the holed engine and begins respraying it or something. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew buckle-up as the main meteorite shower approaches. They start the engines to brake the ship as soon as the repair is done (not seeming to check whether that’s okay with Prof D, banging around by the thrusters in the grabby thing. But maybe they thought they had so many profs on board, one more or less wouldn’t matter).

28:49 Venus is just ten days away. Despite the ship’s immense speed, the stars seem to hang motionless. Same.

29:23 Meanwhile, Prof D is making a heart for Omega. What it really needs is a conscience – then when it got plugged in it would do the decent thing and self-destruct.

30:00 Dr Sumiko is doing the rounds promoting her smoothies. No one seems that bothered. Too busy decyphering alien spools (THAT old excuse).

31:34 They decipher the last part of the spool. Turns out the Venusians were preparing an attack on Earth – softening it up with radiation first, then going in with fast food joints & Friends reruns.

33:42 Prof S says if they can meet the inhabitants of Venus they’ll be able to convince them it’d be folly to start a war. They all agree to carry on, but only because it’s easier than going back and trying to explain everything.

35:05 ‘After only 31 days of flight we’ve almost reached our destination…’ So a new record, then. If it hadn’t been for those damned meteorites…

36:00 In orbit round Venus. Brinkman volunteers to go on ahead in the frolic copter (sounds like). Typical Brinkmann.

36:09 CRAWLER COPTER! But it’s too late for Brinkmann to back out.

37:01 Brinkmann buckles-up in the crawler copter, ready to get dropped down to the surface. They have trouble talking to him because of ‘heavy electrical disturbance’ – which is also typical Brinkmann.

38:12 We watch as he descends through smoke and confetti. He sees weird shapes on the surface. Decides to land anyway. Gets out in his bucket helmet spacesuit and starts walking. He’s got Omega with him, at least. So if they meet any chess playing aliens they’ll be fine.

40:32 The structures are elongated with bad mosaics and stuff. A bit like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but more welcoming. Omega says Danger! ‘Go on Omega…’ says Brinkman. You can see his plan.

41:09 It’s a radioactive, vitrified forest, apparently. Brinkmann still can’t talk to the ship. He does talk to Omega, though – like a dog. ‘Go on! Keep going!’ No wonder Omega has an attitude.

41:23 The Crawler Copter explodes! ‘They’re attacking us!’ says Brinkmann.

42:00 Back on the ship they interpret the flash as typical Brinkmann. ‘We’d better land’ says Prof H, a little reluctantly it sounds to me. You notice he didn’t volunteer to fix the engine, either.

42:18 Brinkmann falls through the crust and lands on a shiny inner surface. Like an M&M, but in reverse. He’s immediately surrounded by little flying coat hangers that make wibbly noises and may or may not indicate Brinkmann is losing his mind. He grabs one of the creatures and puts it in his pocket – to smoke later – then starts climbing out of the hole.

42:56 The ship lands, blowing Brinkmann back down his hole. Typical Brinkmann.

43:10 They look around. See the Copter Crawler wreckage and assume Brinkmann was killed. But then Omega comes bouncing along! Good boy! What are you trying to tell us, Lassie? Brinkmann fell down a hole? Good work Lassie! Here’s a plutonium grenade…

44:30 Actually, Brinkmann follows Omega and tells them he’s okay himself. He shows them one of the boingy things. They think it might be an inhabitant – so maybe not such an interplanetary threat after all. They decide to explore some more, to see where a power line leads, maybe a Venusian attraction or something, because they didn’t come all this way for a vitrified forest and some coat hanger flies.

45:46 ‘There’s something very strange here!’ says Prof O. ‘Something that looks like an immense golf ball…’ The camera zooms in on an immense golf ball. Omega runs straight up to it. Good boy, Omega! Snack on this power line…!

48:00 Where are the Venusians, though? The profs have dissected the boingy thing and decided it’s really just a fancy smartphone or something. Incredible.

48:40 They explore the petrified forest some more. I take back what I said about the Sagrada Familia. It looks more like they’ve somehow entered a painting by Dali.

49:39 ‘The long Venusian night is always preceded by a violent storm….’ NOTE: I had thought we’d be further along meeting the aliens by now. It’s turning into a geography field trip.

50:02 ‘Do you think this vitrified forest is a biological formation?’
Who cares? Gimme the scares! (This is fundamentally why I’m not cut out for a space mission – that, and a hatred of cute robots).

50:43 They figure out that a terrible catastrophe devastated the planet (how contemporary). They decide to do some more exploring to get some answers, particularly in the golf ball, which could be a Venusian visitor’s centre.

52:00 Some of them go for a drive, following the power lines. The environment does look quite blasted. Lots of melted cheese structures. Well I don’t KNOW they’re cheese. It’s just that it’s gone five and I’m hungry.

55:07 The power lines disappear down a big hole. ‘This must be the entrance,’ says Brinkmann, who has experiences with holes.

56:00 ‘Over here! There’s a shaft!’ says Brinkmann. There are flashing lights at the bottom of it so they decide it’s a nerve centre. ‘But who’s servicing it?’ says Talua, the comms guy, who may or may not submit a tender for the contract.

57:00 Brinkmann stumbles, kicks a rock, and starts a polystyrene boulder collapse. They hurry on, walking round and round a gigantic cheese grater. They get chased round the grater by living gloop or lava or chocolate fondue I’m not sure. Sumiko gets her foot caught, screams and has to be rescued. (Meteorites? Tick. Polystyrene boulders? Tick…. Female needing rescuing?…)

58:29 There’s bubbly sticky gloop everywhere, glooping out of the cheese grater, glooping up right and left. It’s like they’ve landed in the middle of a Venusian sewage treatment works (but after 48 days of Sumiko’s smoothies they’re probably used to it…)

57:49 It’s absolutely disgusting! They’re sliding around all over the place! I’m shocked. I mean – this is Venus, not Uranus.

59: One of the profs shoots the gloop (I know – I just read that back and… well … I can’t think of any other way to put it). The gloop retreats. They run back to their crawlers. The whole planet makes a crazy, angry noise. It obviously doesn’t appreciate being shot in the gloop.

1:00:00 They figure out what happened – the Venusians were ready to direct radiation beams at the Earth to neutralise it (but I thought they’d figured that out ages ago…?). Back on the ship one of the profs (honestly – does it matter?) says that the golf ball is glowing red because it’s getting ready to reverse the polarity, which even I know is bad.

1:02:19 The explorer team jump in their crawlers to hurry back to the ship. There’s lightning cracking overhead. Lots of fog, spits and spots of gloop. I keep expecting a big ass alien to chase them but maybe the gloop was it. As aliens go, it’s quite meh. It’s like being terrified when you see a road being resurfaced, instead of just being mildly inconvenienced.

1:02:45 They notice shadows thrown on the walls – created when the Venusians were killed by an atomic explosion. They had three fingers and a thumb, very long legs, and a startled expression.

1:05:30 Back on the ship, the profs realise that shooting the gloop may have started a chain reaction. Even though the Venusians were killed by their own technology, what remains of it has been reactivated and is trying to complete the mission (I could TOTALLY be a professor).

1:06:00 Omega goes crazy and runs over one of the profs. (I told you not to trust that machine – and that’s why I will NEVER have an Alexa)

1:07:50 They can’t take off because the increased gravity or whatever has rendered the ship useless. Two of them have to go back out and neutralise the nerve centre. Meanwhile, Dr Sumiko gets ready to operate on Prof H. His quiff is flacid so it looks serious.

1:11:14 Talua and Prof S get ready at the shaft that leads to the nerve centre. Talua has to lower Prof S down on a rope. Unfortunately Talua’s suit gets torn and he collapses from the shock to his coolness.

1:11:18 Back on the ship, there’s a big number 68 that stays illuminated at the top of the screen. I don’t know what it means. It’s been like that for a while now, so it can’t be a countdown. Maybe it’s a log of how many professors there are on board. If it clicks to 67, that’s bad news.

1:11:54 Brinkmann sets off on the little rocket car to rescue Talua & Prof S.

1:12:58 The rocket is being pushed off the planet because of negative gravity or something. They radio Brinkmann to come back. Come back, Brinkmann! Come back! (Like he’s Omega or something). But it’s not looking great for Brinkmann, Talua or Prof S.

1:14:20 Lunar base radios Earth to say that the Cosmic Castrator is returning but they can’t get a reply. Have they picked up Brinkmann and the others? Or were they doomed to stay on Gloopitur / I mean Venus.

1:14:35 A montage of radar antennae spinning round, which spins the film out some.

1:15:18 The ship lands. All the technicians join hands and run out to meet the crew, their chest letters spelling AAAAAAAA. Which is either cute or horrifying, depending on how you’re feeling at this point.

1:15:43 The moment I’ve been dreading arrives. The door opens, and the professors stagger out onto the gantry one by one, so there’s no excuse not knowing their names. I recognise Sumiko, helping another professor out. Then robot guy. Then Prof H. With his arm around another prof. But then that prof slowly closes the door, which is supposed to be a sad moment, but I’m quite glad, because I’m off the hook naming the profs.

1:17:00 Prof H praises the three who didn’t make it. Prof D gives a little speech about a great civilisation that destroyed itself. (NOTE: if that dumb Omega robot makes a cute last appearance and everyone laughs, followed by a close-up of its characterful grin, I’m going to slap this computer shut and throw myself quiff-first into a vat of gloop).

1:18:00 Closing line comes from Prof D – ‘we’ll fly further and further and explore other planets. It’s our destiny’. (If we can avoid destroying ourselves with nuclear weapons and gloop).

That’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. Venus isn’t too bad, especially if you like Barcelona.
  2. Be careful handling atomic energy. It can seriously damage your interplanetary reputation.
  3. Cute robots are no substitute for dogs.
  4. Get a juicer. But give the smoothies to someone else.
  5. Don’t shoot the gloop.

The Creation of the Humanoids

The Creation of the Humanoids. 1962. Dir. Wesley Barry. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

Supposedly Andy Warhol’s favourite film, so…

It starts with smokey red then blue screens, people arguing in different languages – which may or may not be an editing mistake – then a nuclear mushroom cloud along with a soprano practising scales in the bathroom or something, and then the title credits in splurgy horror-sci-fi font.

Apparently Don Doolittle is Dr Raven. Can’t wait to meet him.

On the cast list is the actor Dudley Manlove, which I nominate as my favourite name today.

The credits go on for a surprisingly long time, with lots of stock footage of nuclear explosions. It’s strangely relaxing, what with the soprano doing her scales and the funky colour scheme. It has a strangely anaesthetic effect, and may in fact prove to be a cheaper way of putting people under than propofol.

The first thing you get is a disembodied voice describing how mankind tried to avoid a nuclear war but were unsuccessful… no-one’s fault, really…. a nuclear war that was ‘…short…. lasted about 48 hours….’ which is about as long as this monologue, then.

The upshot is that there are so few people left in the world they look to robots to make up the difference. Which mightn’t be so bad if it wasn’t 1962.

Still the monologue goes on. Now it’s describing the first attempt at electronic brains (shows a picture of what looks like a console at a freight depot). Apparently they needed large buildings to house them. And large hats.

A big step was a neuron replicator, the voice says, showing a picture of what is clearly a golf ball.

I beg your pardon. They’re using the golf ball for scale. Awks.

Things go well and they get the first R1 robot. Cut to what looks like a giant silver vibrator with arms and legs. ‘Quite ungainly …. its functions were limited’. Yep. Been there.

‘Refinements came in rapid succession….’ showing a guy dressed in cardboard boxes… looks happy though.

Soon they had the R20 – ‘capable of all the thought processes and functions of a man…’ showing another guy in boxes and giant flower pots turning to the right then the left. Which I’ll admit is pretty much your average guy.

Honestly – you have to see this film just for the robots. They’re adorable.

Finally we get the R21 – a major leap from the R20 – being basically anyone from Kraftwerk.

They’re disparagingly called ‘The Clickers’. Which I’ll admit would be hurtful (if you had the hurtful update downloaded).

Into the action proper. Two clickers – sorry, R21s – are strolling through a futuristic plaza. They get stopped by two guards who want to see their assignment cards. The first R21 looks quite easy about it. Probably happens all the time. Apparently they’re on their way to the temple to get recharged. The guards are mean – say they’ll keep them there till they run out of power. The first R21 says he’ll report them to the police, which convinces them to let them go. Politically quite edgy so far.

Apparently the guards are representatives of the Order of Flesh and Blood – which, going by their sexist and racist attitudes so far, means that post-apocalyptic society is no better than the pre, and cause for more despair.

Inside the temple, a bunch of R21s stand around saying how long all this is going to take, asking about the new R21, where he came from &c – the whole scene hyper-coloured and stilted – which is maybe why Andy Warhol loved it so much.

The extremely robotic acting reminds me of some productions I’ve been in. At school I was Guenelon in Tristan & Isolde. When Tristan jumped out the window I had to go over there and say the line ‘300 feet!’ I think I performed that role pretty much as an R21.

More R21s emerge from some lifted perspex tubes. One of them almost falls over. Which is either great method acting or general klutziness, or both.

An R21 that’s been made up to look like a human is brought in. ‘The structure is excellent!’ says the head R21. I’m glad something is. Honestly – this film is only eight minutes in and I’m already thinking nuclear war mightn’t be such a bad thing.

‘He needs a little more hair,’ says the R21. Ouch.

The way he slowly puts his hand up and says ‘he needs a mole behind the left ear’ is very creepy. But also extremely dull, at the same time. Which is a strange combo, and almost lethal.

I think one of the drawbacks is that they’ve decided robots would speak & move slowly. Which means the film does the same thing. If the technology’s there to make humanoid robots, surely it could cope with a little more action? Just saying.

Apparently the robot who needs more hair and a mole behind his ear is an R34 – with no fear circuits. (Hopefully he got the ‘move & talk a bit quicker’ upgrade, too).

One of the R21s gives a cute little speech about how much the R34 will be giving up, being more human. I don’t know why he’s so arch about it. Anyway, he says once it’s done they’ll have ‘10 males and 6 females’. And the females will get paid less.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not, whatever you do, watch this film. A bunch of robots standing around talking about humans and other robots, who can do this or that, who can’t, pressure groups, blah blah. One of the R21s tucks his ridiculous thumbs into his belt, like he’s going to do some line dancing or something. No such luck. On they blather about the way things are in robot world. It’s like an anti-film. The opposite of drama. Nil interest. No WONDER Warhol went for it.

‘We’re filling key positions with R96s as fast as we get them.’ True story.

‘By the end of the month we will outnumber the humans.’ The big closing line of this interminable scene.

…. and we’re back to people walking pointlessly in the futuristic plaza. I’m SOoooo tempted to skip forwards. My life is worth more than this. AND I’m hungry.

The R21 is walking with the R34. They stop outside a door. The R21 knocks. They step back. The door opens.

‘Yes?’ says a voice.

Honestly – I can’t believe how dreadful this is. I always thought I’d be able to withstand a certain amount of torture. I have cold showers. I can sit in a chair and stare at a wall for literally MINUTES. But THIS? Whatever it is you want to know, I’ll tell you. I’ll even make something up. But please God make this stop….

‘Dr Raven?’ says the R21.
‘Yes’ says Dr Raven.

Jesus Christ.

Anyway, we know that Dr Raven is played by Don Doolittle. It’s so tempting to say Dr Doolittle. But it’s not. It’s Dr Raven, played by Don Doolittle. I am now becoming a robot. Observe how I type these comments, and pause as I review the action. I use the alt-tab function to flip between windows. I am efficiently using my time in this way. Thank you.

Hold the phone! Dr Raven looks amaven. I mean, amazing. He looks like a cross between John Malkovich and Patrick Magee. With Christopher Lloyd’s hair. In a dirty lab coat. Fantastic! Worth the price of admission (not).

I particularly like the way Dr Raven (Don Doolittle) comes out of the doorway to show off his costume. He obviously took a while over it in makeup. Great work, Doolittle! Nice.

Dr Raven has a slight limp, which may or may not be part of his character. In the foreground of his laboratory is a human skeleton on a pole, which is totally how I feel right now.

On Dr Raven’s workbench is an arm and a giant stick of celery. The arm is a real arm poked through the worktop. When the R21 tells Dr Raven to reverse the polarity (always worth a shot) the arm moves. They all watch it judder, clench its fist and so on. I’d love it to flip them the bird.

The giant celery turns out to be some green cloth that Dr Raven uses to cover up the arm (for some reason). Dr Raven pays the R21 for bringing the R34 to his lab. 10,000 credits. Which seems cheap, but shrug

Oh – apparently this robot is an R58 (the one paying Dr Raven 10,000 credits). Keep up.

‘….perhaps we should hurry,’ says the R58. Yes. Perhaps we should (my finger poised over the ESC button).

Actually, the R58 pronounces it ‘row-buts’ when he talks about robots. Maybe I’ve been saying it wrong all these years. It’s not important. Nothing is important anymore.

Dr Raven gets the R34 on his bench and starts fiddling with it (less exciting than it sounds – especially as you only have a close-up on his pointy face, frowning and saying he doesn’t like the sight of blood).

I can’t imagine who this film was supposed to appeal to (other than graphic artists on LSD). There is no action WHATSOEVER. The whole thing is dialogue, talking about things – things that aren’t even interesting to begin with. I’m guessing the budget must have been somewhere around ten dollars – four of that for Dr Raven’s prosthetic chin. It’s utterly hopeless. My circuits are imploding. I’m feeling something you humans would call IMPOTENT RAGE. Soon I will burn out, and become as nothing.

‘Men hate what they fear…’ says Dr Raven. Well, that may be true, doc, but they also hate films WHERE NOTHING HAPPENS. The Creation of the Humanoids? More like haemorrhoids.

There’s some pretty zippy dialogue between Dr Raven and the R58.
‘We don’t refer to our father and mother as a brain’
‘Your father and mother’s an electronic computer!’
‘Your parents were machines’
‘You came off a production line’
‘I know who created me. Hollister Evans and Mark 47. You have to accept your creator on faith…’
‘Who created your creator…?’

Honestly, this is gold.

Okay – I HAVE to skip forward. For my mental health. I can only apologise and say it’s beyond my capability as a C59 to assimilate this bunch of crap. I’ll skip five minutes ahead each time and describe the scene. I’m sure Warhol would approve.

22:44 The R34 is strangling Dr Raven whilst there’s angry knocking at the door. Generally I approve of this development. Should’ve happened earlier.

25:07 The main guard is giving some kind of speech (no shit), uplit like someone’s holding a torch under his chin.

29:13 He’s joined on stage by two other people. One of them says that ‘mankind is no more than a state of mind’. As states of mind go, mine just went.

34:39 The main guard is talking to another guard about how expensive something is. I’m guessing the scriptwriter had money on the brain. Maybe if I had the emotional wherewithal to sift through this stuff more carefully, I’d find subliminal messaging about how little scriptwriters get paid, the value of human labour and so on. But the truth is, I don’t care one way or the other.

40:12 An R58 (I think) is serving tiny glasses of wine to the main guard and a woman in a fifties ball gown, sitting on some patio furniture spray-painted to look futuristic.
‘I don’t understand you, Craigus’ says the row-butler.
‘You’re not supposed to’ says Craigus.

48:34 (which is more than five minutes, I know, but c’mon – I’m only human). Craigus (as we now know to call him) is drinking more wine on the same shitty furniture, this time with a woman dressed like Tippi Hedren in Vertigo or something. The woman in the ballgown is sitting a little way off now.
‘I understand’ she says.
‘See what I mean?’ says Craigus.

58:39 Craigus is sitting in front of a big potted plant, so that the leaves poke out all around him, which is nice. He’s talking to a woman in a beret (who I recognise from the plaza earlier on in the film, but didn’t mention because I didn’t think it would be this important).
‘From now on, Rule One can no longer exist’ says Craigus.
She sighs and stands up.
‘Are you always so gloomy?’ she says.

Yes. I can say with robotic accuracy – he IS always this gloomy. The only one with even the slightest amount of fun was Dr Raven, and he’s dead. DEAD, I TELL YOU!

1:03:43 Back to the Kraftwerk lineup. One of them presses a button. In walks ….
‘I’m Dr Raven. A younger Dr Raven, as you promised…’


I’m still skipping forward, though. It’s too little, too late, I’m afraid.

1:13 The young Dr Raven is talking to Craigus.
‘You died,’ he says.
‘I….died?’ says Craigus.

I think the scriptwriter was SO pleased with this concept he HAD to use it again.

1:18:16 Close-up of the young Dr Raven. I can’t wait to un-pause the frame and see what he has to say. He looks so dashing, and .. well… fresh.
‘When I perfected this thalamic transplant technique, these clickers knew about it in a day and a half….’

Oh. Okay.

1: 21:15 Craigus has both hands on the shoulders of the woman in the beret, whilst an R whatever looks skyward and Dr Raven looks, well… like Dr Raven.
‘I love him very much,’ says the beret woman.
Who she means I’ll never know. And I’m happy with that.

1:23:41 The closing moments of the film. Dr Raven is pleased (me, too). I wonder what his last words will be?

Craigus is with the beret woman.
‘A pretty sloppy way of doing business,’ says Dr Raven. ‘But it fulfills a certain psychological need.’
‘Paradoxical, isn’t it?’ says Craigus. ‘I spend my life seeking immortality on one hand…. seeking to destroy it on the other.’
‘I love you Craigus’ says the beret woman.
Dr Raven does a direct-to-camera address.
‘Of course, the operation was a success,’ he says. ‘Or you wouldn’t be here…’

Soprano practicing scales in the bathroom.

The End.

And that’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. Andy Warhol looks a scream, hang him on my wa…aaaa..alll
  2. Nuclear war must be avoided at all costs otherwise we’ll find ourselves in a world of excruciating inaction
  3. 10,000 credits is about average for a row-but
  4. If you’re having trouble with your row-but, try turning it off and on again. Or reversing the polarity.
  5. For best acoustic effects, why not practice your soprano scales in the bathroom?

Rocketship X-M

Rocketship X-M. 1950. Dir. Kurt Neumann. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

Robert L Lippert presents… it says on the opening card, with the kind of loopy signature you practice on your homework book in case you ever get famous. The cast actually has people I’ve heard of. Lloyd Bridges. Noah Beery. Hmm. It’s also got Osa Massen, which is very satisfying to say quickly. The intro music is the usual ‘orchestra going crazy because they think they’ll get paid more if they play hard and fast’ – which may or may not be true. It makes you long for a harp (but this is the ONLY time that happens).

Kurt Neumann is listed as writer, producer AND director. So I’m guessing he’s either brilliant or a tightwad.

The film opens with a big sign: US Government Property. No Trespassing. It’d be great if the end credits played then and we all went away and did something else. I mean – you don’t want to break the law, do you? You do? Shit. Then let’s do it.

There’s a countdown going on. In a science-type room with machines with dials and knobs and men in suits wandering round with clipboards looking worried. One guy getting his blood pressure checked. (Possibly writer / director / producer Kurt Neumann).

There’s a woman getting her blood pressure, too – so I’m guessing this must be the crew. Smug guys zipping themselves into leather flight jackets. We cut back to the first guy. The doctor is still pumping up the cuff. The doctor looks so old and frail you kinda want to do HIS blood pressure instead. First guy looks impatient.

The doc tells him his blood pressure’s high but understandable under the circumstance. Lloyd Bridges nods to the woman and says ‘The weaker sex! The only one whose blood pressure’s normal.’ All the men laugh. For her sake I hope it’s not a long trip.

The guy puts his jacket on and says: ‘Thank you doctor. And goodnight.’ A strangely touching farewell. Off they go to the launchpad. (I originally typed ‘lunch pad’ – which would be more exciting at this point).

They walk off through a long corridor. No lights. You’d think if they can afford a rocket they can afford lights.

They enter a room filled with smoking journos. As in cigarettes, not talent. The tannoy says ‘X minus 16 minutes.’ If I was due to get blasted off in 16 minutes I’d want to be strapped in the chair already, not taking a seat for a press conference. Maybe that’s why I’ve never made it into space. I’m too punctual.

A serious guy in a suit – probably the Flight Director, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it was writer / director / producer Kurt Neumann) – gives a long and serious talk to the press that goes on for a serious length of time but that does – eventually – reveal that XM stands for ‘expedition to the moon’. Thanks for that. You wouldn’t think they were due to leave in about five minutes. ‘Forever… man has dreamed of visiting our nearest heavenly bodies…’ He puts his hand in his pocket and leans on the desk. I mean – at this point I’d be out the door and sprinting down the dark corridor to the lunch pad.

He introduces the crew. First, (what sounds like) Dr Karl Excrement (but I think he means Eckstrom). Karl looks like a car salesman but is actually a brilliant physicist, apparently. Lisa Van Horn, doctor of chemistry. Colonel Floyd Graham (which is handy, because that’s Lloyd Bridges, so Floyd / Lloyd – really helpful, thanx); Harry Chamberlain, astronomer; Major William Corrigan, engineer (which is Noah Beery – engineery – thx again). The Flight Director asks Dr Eckstrom to outline the flight plan. I mean honestly – hasn’t anyone got a WATCH??

The tannoy says ‘X minus fourteen minutes’ as Karl stands at the blackboard. I’m guessing the tannoy is more directed at the audience, who – like me – must be getting anxious. We’ve paid to see rockets and aliens. This is like school (although we weren’t allowed to smoke in school, unless we were in detention, in which case we injected).

Jesus Christ. Karl draws a circle. The Earth? The moon? No – it’s the Earth. He draws another circle further away. Then tells us HOW much further away that is. Look – I don’t need to know, professor. I’m guessing you can’t just walk there. Please. I’m begging you. Get your spacesuit on. If you’re in too much of a hurry the zipper might jam.

I have a horrible feeling he’s not drawing the earth and the moon with points of takeoff and whatnot, but a rude picture. This is not the kind of behaviour you expect from an astronaut – and especially not when you’ve got about FIVE MINUTES TILL LIFT OFF.

He slides a panel of the board back to reveal a pre-drawn picture of the rocket, dangerously phallic, of course. This Karl…. he acts all stiff and formal but he’s actually filthy.

The talk goes on. The press corps are all asleep or on fire after falling on their cigarettes.

‘A few more details which might interest you,’ says Karl, pointing to the cabin, which apparently has enough oxygen, although I’m not sure about the press room. ‘Any questions?’ says Karl. Everyone leaves.

A few of the press stay behind, though. One asks the astronomer Harry if he has any family (what do they know about this trip?). ‘No – I’ve been living on mountain tops’ says Harry. Okay. Yep. At T-Minus GET THE FUCK OUTTA THERE.

‘Have you ever done any flying?’ says the reporter, holding his notepad ready. ‘Only as a passenger,’ says Harry. I’m guessing he really is only along for the astronomy, then. I’m slightly worried at the direction the reporter is taking. ‘But – you’re the navigator!’ he says. Harry starts to explain why an astronomer is better navigating in space than a REAL navigator, but the camera cuts away to Bill Corrigan, also answering questions. (I used to love Noah Beery in The Rockford Files. I refuse to say anything mean about Noah Beery). He gives a warm and delightful little monologue about his wife and how proud she was when he said to her ‘Honey? I’m going to the moon! She says what for? They ain’t got nothing there we ain’t got plenty of in Texas!’ Bashful. Warm. Filled with charismatic humanity. Classic Beery.

And I won’t say anything snippy about Floyd / Lloyd Bridges, either. The reporters interview him – he gives great, smouldering answers, ‘I’ve flown a hundred missions’ etc. Amazing. I don’t care the rocket’s about to take off without ‘em. I could do this press conference all day. (Which is just as well, the way things are going).

Although… he gestures towards Lisa Van Horn and says ‘this is the hottest crew I’ve ever worked with – especially in the brains department.’ Oof. Although to be fair, he didn’t write the script, and an actor’s gotta eat.

‘Unless you look like a test tube or a chemical formula, you haven’t got a chance,’ says Floyd. Mind you, if he took off his clothes and held his hands straight down by his sides… (maybe he’ll do just that, later. It is Lloyd Bridges, after all).

The Flight Director strides onto the stage again. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen – we are pressed for time…’ No shit.

The crew go back down the dark corridor. The WHOLE corridor – sauntering, not striding. I mean – the rocket and all that…? The film is an hour and forty five. So far we’ve had fifteen minutes of blood pressure monitoring, blackboard illustrations and sauntering. I mean – jeez.

They saunter outside and meet with a bunch of guys in white lab coats. There’s a rocket in the background, a bit like an airstream mobile home but upended and the end sharpened. ‘X minus seven minutes,’ says the tannoy. No one seems at all bothered. SEVEN MINUTES!

The lab guys reassure the crew that ‘everything’s in order’ – they’ve checked the oil, made sure there were magazines in the rack &c. ‘I can’t think of anything we’ve overlooked,’ says Karl. I can. YOU HAVEN’T GOTTEN ON BOARD YET.

The rocket is right there but for some reason they take a taxi. They’ve got six minutes. I hope they don’t take the freeway. This time a’ night, mac. Sheesh.

Back in the control room. I love the instruments they had back then. Very high spec. One of them looks like a spinning wheel. The reporters are all in there, smoking. The Flight Director runs in to watch through the window. His boots sound enormous, like they’re made of lead. Nobody takes any notice. He’s probably famous for it.

They’ve got less than five minutes before the rocket takes off, and still they find time to admire the view from the gantry.

FINALLY – they climb through the hatch into the rocket control room. It looks pretty fancy. A bit steampunk, like someone was fixing to shoot a chemical works into space. There’s a row of clipboards hanging above one of the consoles. I find them reassuring. Probably tick lists. BURNER check. MAGAZINES check SEXISM check &c

When Floyd comes on deck he takes his jacket off and throws it in a corner. Has anyone told him about weightlessness? That jacket’s comin’ back.

Van Horn gives the guys a quick lesson in fuel technology. It’s like she’s hypnotised. Three minutes to go and no-one’s strapped in. I’m the twitchiest one out of all of them, and this happened seventy years ago.

They all get into bunks and buckle up. For some reason Karl has to help Van Horn do her buckle up. He doesn’t help the guys. I hope Van Horn is more competent with fuel technology than she is with buckles.

A series of tense cuts between the faces of the astronauts lying in their bunks, to the people waiting in the control room, to the dial counting down the seconds – which everyone is FINALLY paying attention to. At zero, you get a close up of a gas burner, like someone’s going to put on some water for pasta.

I can’t believe it! The rocket takes off!

Van Horn gets a headache. Karl licks his moustache. Bill the engineer puts his hands over his ears (Classic Beery).

Everyone in the control room watches it go up. One guy even has a telescope (he must’ve brought it with him). Suddenly the Flight Director says: ‘Now if you’d follow me we’ll try to make radio contact with the ship’. They all do. All journalists are like this, btw. Basically clueless.

Now they’re in space, the crew get out of their bunks. They’re all a little shaken up. ‘I feel like I just tossed off a spooky bronc’ says Bill. They all look at him uneasily. Classic Beery.

They get busy with the clipboards, turning dials &c. The ship makes a sound like the radiators need bleeding, but they don’t seem worried. Van Horn stares out the window, at the Earth disappearing. She calls Harry over. She knows he likes looking at things at distance. It’s his creepy super power. They share a moment, together at the window. ‘Stand by to turn’ says Karl, ominously.

They turn. I REALLY don’t think anyone’s told them about weightlessness. They all lean.

Time passes. They orbit the earth picking up speed to slingshot to the moon. The Flight Director clumps around the increasingly smoky control room in his special boots, more anxious than he was before lift off. They could use those boots in space (although it doesn’t look as if there’s any weightlessness, so…)

Bill turns some dials and gets nostalgic about Texas. I don’t actually think he’s from Texas. I think he’s from Poughkeepsie. He jettisons the tail section by pulling a great big lever. Very satisfying. You don’t get the same kick from buttons.

Seconds later they almost get whacked by the tail section coming back. I’m still worried about Floyd’s jacket, btw.

Back in the control centre, the Flight Director hands out press releases to the journalists. I’m guessing not with any details of the ship almost getting whacked five seconds after jettisoning the tail section.

Back on the ship, they finally get to have some lunch. Some of the most commonly asked questions of astronauts (and I should know; I am one), are: what do you eat? how do you poo? how do you hang up your jackets so they don’t fly around the place and cause a problem? Well – now we know the answer to the first question. They eat ham sandwiches. Bill eats one whilst wandering around the flight deck, one hand in his pocket, reminiscing about Texas.

OMG! Floyd’s jacket starts rising up! They’re becoming weightless! (I KNEW IT) Only it turns out it’s not Floyd’s jacket but Harry’s. Still – close enough.

Floyds starts flirting with Van Horn. I like Lloyd Bridges, but this scene makes you want to slam the laptop shut and throw yourself out the window (even if you are only on the ground floor). They’re ten minutes into a mission to the moon and already he’s saying she should be back in the kitchen bearing children or something. Whilst nibbling his sandwich suggestively. Oof.

The scene is mercifully interrupted by a noise from the engines like a pigeon just flew in a duct. Although – that far in space? Maybe an intergalactic space swan.

Floyd and Bill crawl down into the engine compartment to see what’s wrong. I get the feeling they know about as much about rocket engines as I know about car engines, because they do exactly the same thing, which is aimlessly jiggle things, and look around, and wonder whether it might help emptying the ashtray.

There’s a tense scene where Van Horn is sitting at a desk next to Karl, both of them filling out a customer questionnaire form, or something. Bill takes out a harmonica. It floats around him just exactly as if it was on strings. He plays catch and release with it a while. Then starts to play. ‘If you don’t mind…’ says Karl, tetchily. I’m not convinced Bill was such a good choice for this trip, Beery or no Beery.

Van Horn and Karl argue over some bullshit maths. They get different answers. Van Horn gets upset – but then apologises. ‘For what?’ says Karl. ‘For being a woman?’ Yeech.

Cut to a gigantic knob. Actually it’s a telescope back on earth, turning up to look at the rocket or something. Patriotic brass section on the score. A full half of this movie seems to be stock footage. So writer / director / producer Kurt Neumann didn’t just save money on the cast list, then.

Turns out, the telescope is Mount Palomar Observatory. A professorial type guy in round specs like someone put paint on the view finders calls the Flight Director to say that very little has changed. Thanks, for that. Thanks a lot.

Back on the rocket, Floyd is staring out the window quoting Kipling, which makes complete sense.

Karl has fallen asleep on the very clipboard Van Horn needs. Floyd sneaks the clipboard out from under his arm and gives it to her (after first telling her a long and unnecessary anecdote about one christmas when he knocked over the tree).

They give up on the calculations and both go to the window to look some more at the earth. ‘You know it’s funny,’ says Van Horn. ‘One never thinks of the earth that way, as a dying planet with nothing to give out but reflected light’. Which seems harsh, and maybe why her specialty’s chemistry. But Floyd points to the moon. Apparently he’s done some of his best work by moonlight…’ Yeech.

Van Horn talks about a romantic stroll she once took around Lake Lucerne, comparing most of it to cold coffee with ice cream chips. Floyd smoulders. Says daydreaming’s good for you once in a while. I swear his chest hair is growing out of his shirt. Probably the effect of the moon.

The romantic scene is interrupted by meteorites. They fly by like chocolate breakfast cereal being tipped into a bowl (I’m sounding like Van Horn). After they’ve gone, Harry says he wished one of them had wiped them out. At least it would’ve been quick. I’m with Harry on this one.

Karl and Van Horn figure out the fuel problem and show us what they propose doing on a chart. I don’t care. I just want someone to fly the thing to the moon, or Poughkeepsie, or any damned where.

God help us, but Floyd and Bill go back down to the engine room to rearrange the engines.

Back on the bridge, they pull some levers. Everyone falls about – including Karl onto Floyd, who releases the lever and bad stuff happens. They’re all unconscious now. The orchestra sounds like that bit at the end of A Day in the Life on Sergeant Pepper. The dials go crazy…

Cut to: the Flight Director on the phone to the comedy professor from Mount Palomar – who gives him the bad news. ‘Are you sure?’ says the FD – then slowly puts the phone down and says in his best Boris Karloff voice that the rocket is heading at incredible velocity into limitless space – which doesn’t sound promising (although actually … I don’t know… ).

Back on the rocket, they’re still unconscious. Van Horn is the first to wake up. She reaches down from her bunk to give Floyd a good slap – something she should’ve done a while ago. His nose is bleeding (wow! that WAS a slap). He gets up and turns the oxygen up a bit, which is smart (for him). Van Horn goes over to Karl and gives HIM a slap, too (Go, girl!)

They check all the instruments to figure out where they are in the script. Karl has the bright idea of looking out the window. Mars! That’s why he’s leader!

‘Mars! Well whaddya know!’ says Bill. (Classic Beery)

Floyd still has a bloody nose. Someone should tell him.

They get ready to land on Mars, which means tapping dials with pencils, drawing diagrams and shouting out random numbers.

Another countdown – and no-one’s getting buckled up. I mean, am I just being overly safety conscious?

Floyd is back on the levers, reducing power and everything. After last time…?

They scuff the landing, of course. Despite the gravitas with which Karl delivers his instructions, a lot of thrust and tonnes and whatnot, I’m not convinced he’s got the slightest idea what he’s doing. But still – probably a little more than Bill.

Flashes of lightning outside. A Martian storm! Bill’s excited – not by the storm, but by the prospect of putting on a helmet. (Classic Beery).

However, Karl says they won’t need suits because Mars has atmosphere. (Really, Karl?) ‘We can accomplish so much more, unencumbered’ says Karl. (writer / director / producer Kurt Neumann must have snickered when he wrote that line – and then nodded to his accountant – although, come to think of it, no doubt he did the books, too).

Well. We get a spooky distance shot of the rocket parked on Mars and tiny figures walking out. Theremins play, natch. The crew are dressed in army fatigues and wearing little oxygen masks. Karl is wearing binoculars round his neck and carrying a walking stick. Oh Karl.

Apart from the red sky, it looks uncannily like the desert we’ve seen in the last few films. There’s a VERY long shot of the crew walking through it. They do a lot of walking, for astronauts

They stop for a while so Karl can admire the incredible mineral deposits through his binoculars. Then they carry on walking.

If this was a cult hit, the audience would walk around the auditorium for about an hour at this point. Stop. Point at nothing at all. Carry on walking.

‘Sand and rock. Rock and sand,’ says Bill. ‘I wonder when we’re going to run across some of these Martians? From what I’ve read, they’ve got pale faces and pinheads and fishy eyes…’ (Definitely Poughkeepsie).

Actually – aside from the movie for a minute – this scene encapsulates what I often think about the prospect of a trip to Mars. You spend two years getting there, hop out, walk around a whole lot of nothing, then get back in and it’s another two years back. It reminds me of the time when I took my girlfriend’s grandma to Stonehenge. It was a three hour car trip, she got out, stood and looked at the stones, said ‘I’ve seen enough’ and got back in the car.

At last! They come across a ruined building. Van Horn takes a picture. ‘I’ve seen enough’ she says. Gets back in the rocket. (I’m kidding).

They find the head of a statue in the sand. Looks kinda grumpy. A bit like how I imagine Kurt Neumann to look when he sees the rushes.

The geiger counter’s going nuts. ‘Radioactivity is at a danger level’ says Karl. He thinks it was war that wiped out life on Mars. Harry thinks they should head back to the rocket – maybe things are getting too close-up for his liking. Karl thinks they should carry on exploring. They’ve got plenty of supplies, he says – although the ham sandwiches will be a bit curly by now.

‘Are there any survivors?’ asks Van Horn. Karl makes a speech about mutations & deformities, so hopefully…

They go to sleep in a cave, with Harry keeping watch (ever the watcher). And thank God for that – because he sees some Martians creeping up. They disappear when he yells at them. The crew wake up. They all go chasing after the Martians.

Bill and Karl go on ahead to see if they can find the Martians. The others stay behind.

One of the Martians trips and falls down the slope. Bill and Karl hurry over. Turns out it’s a starlet on contract, dressed in a primitive skin bathing suit. We get a close up of her face. Her eyebrows are beautifully manicured – but unfortunately she’s blind (we know this becuase she puts her hands out in front of her when she moves, like it only just happened). She screams! Bill and Karl hurry away again. Two lunkish guys in primitive skin swimming trunks come and take her away – for legal advice or acting lessons or something, I’m not sure.

‘Atomic age … to stone age,’ says Karl. I don’t know. I think the tailoring on that bathing suit was pretty impressive.

The Martians hurl boulders at them. They don’t like the implication of his speech.

Bill is killed – presumably. Karl doesn’t hang around long enough to properly check.

Karl fires randomly at the Martians, who wave their sticks in reply. We get a close-up of one Martian’s back, which is horribly made-up. He goes to throw something spiky at Karl.

Karl staggers back to the others. ‘Where’s Bill?’ shouts Floyd. Karl looks confused, then falls forward, the spiky thing in his back (well – just to the side of his backpack, so respect to the accuracy of the Martian, there).

‘They’re crazed, despairing wretches. Pity them,’ says Karl. ‘Get back to Earth. Tell them what we found. Maybe this will…’ then he dies.

The three remaining crew run back to the ship pursued by the Martians. I have to say – for people who have grown up on Mars, the Martians don’t run very confidently about the place. They hobble like me walking barefoot on a pebbly beach.

Floyd trips, then gets squashed by a big ass boulder thrown by a Martian. But the others help him up and they all stagger on to the rocket. It’d take more than a boulder. Although he probably has a nosebleed.

Next thing you know, the rocket is taking off again. We’re back on the flight deck. Actually – turns out it was Harry who got squashed by the rock. It’s hard to tell with those oxygen masks. Anyway – without Harry it’s difficult to navigate, apparently. At least Van Horn has changed into a black polo neck shirt, which sets off her eyes nicely – oh my God – I’m turning into Floyd.

‘I see a woman sweet, gentle and beautiful,’ says Floyd. Turn the ship around, Van Horn! Take your chances with the Martians!

For some reason they’re almost back at Earth. It’s obviously quicker on the way back, probably a tail wind or something. ‘Speeds increasing! Shut off the fuel…’ says Floyd. But Van Horn can see they have no fuel left. They’ll simply crash on reentry. Mournful violins play (although crashing cymbals might be more illustrative).

Floyd calls the control centre to let them know how things stood on Mars before they smash into the Earth at uncontrollable speed and that sort of thing. The Flight Director marches down the corridor in his enormous boots. He has a go on the radio, too. Goes through a range of expressions that make him well worth the fifty dollars he got for the part. And no repeat fees.

Extreme close up on the Flight Director’s face when he learns that Karl didn’t make it. The sweat on his forehead is superb. Honestly, this is Oscar winning stuff (if there was no-one else that year to give it to). The orchestra goes into full scale romantic meltdown. It makes me re-evaluate the relationship between Karl and the Flight Director. It seems to make more sense now. Why they built the rocket in the first place. Why they delayed taking off. He clumps off to a corner of the office. We see only his shadow on the wall. A shadow of his former self. Congrats all round. Honestly – the best.

Back on the rocket, Van Horn looks out the window again. Floyd joins her. ‘Floyd! Hold me! Hold me tight!’ she says. He does. He says some comforting stuff, such as ‘there’s not much difference between the future and the past…’ neglecting to mention the present, which is very much about ploughing into the earth at a thousand miles a second. Van Horn says she’s not afraid. There’s a great wave bearing them up, or something. Then the screen goes white and they crash. Gulp!

Cut to: The Flight Director looking out of HIS window. Someone tells him the news syndicate are waiting. They all come in. One of them says they’ve received reports of a strange craft plummeting into Nova Scotia. Another – presumably a nephew of Kurt Neumann, because he struggles to deliver his single line with anything LIKE normality – says that he’s been hearing the same thing, too.

The Flight Director confirms it. Flight RXM was lost. When the newsmen describe it as a failure, the Flight Director disagrees. ‘It has supplied us with information that may well mean the salvation of our own world.’ He tells them they are to begin construction of RXM 2… and we watch as he walks sadly out to the empty lunch pad. Slowly.

And that’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. It’s not actually that far to Mars. And you can pretty much walk to the moon.
  2. Throwing boulders is surprisingly effective. And more eco.
  3. Noah Beery is lovely, even in this stinker. Lloyd – not so much. (Although his smoulder is enhanced by a dark polo neck).
  4. It helps to have a little fuel left for the brakes on re-entry.
  5. Don’t get too hung up on countdowns. Three minutes is plenty – so long as there isn’t too much of a queue at the taxi rank.