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.

Missile to the Moon

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Missile to the Moon, 1958, dir. Richard Cunha. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

Before we press play: I happen to know this one features a giant spider, web fans, so pucker up. I’m a big fan of big spiders. I loved the spider in The Incredible Shrinking Man. Devastated when it died – spoiler alert – which isn’t actually a spoiler alert, come to think of it – you can’t give a plot twist away and then say ‘spoiler alert’. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Arachnophobia. I love a spider in a movie as much as I love a complicated equation on a blackboard that someone rubs out and writes the answer. But that’s another story.

  1. The film opens with a rocket taking off, then blaring trumpets and twirling violins, the gloopy title Missile to the Moon. So I’m guessing this isn’t a documentary.
  2. The cast list is so anonymous they may as well have printed the ingredients from a packet of cereal – but then the next list is of ‘international beauty contest winners’, so… erm…
  3. After the glaring opening the soundtrack settles down into the usual, vibraphone / theremin spacey-spooky shit that’s the aural equivalent of taking a glass elevator to the stars. At least it gives me a chance to finish my sandwich.
  4. A police car pulls up in the desert and a look-a-like Bob Hope Sheriff gets out and grumpily scans the horizon with his binoculars. He calls Control, with an expression on his face like he’d rather be anything than a Sheriff (which I totally sympathise with). ‘No sign of them’, he says. Shifts uncomfortably, which is either the script or IBS. Gets back in the car. We’re off!
  5. Cut to: An army guy with his left hand in his pocket, some other guy with his right hand in his pocket, both of them interrogating Dirk, a scientist who’s angry about something (rockets, not pockets).
  6. The Sheriff comes in (they take their hands out of their pockets). He’s carrying a torch, for some reason. He says ‘This isn’t exactly a social call’ (which explains the torch). He’s looking for some escaped criminals. He says he ‘didn’t expect them to get prast the prison fence’ – which they maybe didn’t reshoot because it showed how human the Sheriff was, scuffing his lines like that. He’s just a man with a torch, standing in front of other men with their hands back in their pockets).
  7. The guy in the suit, Steve – another scientist it turns out – pulls back the curtains and we see either a huge rocket far off or an MDF rocket close up. The general thinks it’s fantastic. Honestly? It looks like a lava lamp.
  8. Steve says he met Dirk when Dirk wrote to him inviting him to help out on his moon rocket, so I suppose it’s kinda of a fifties science version of Gaydar. The Colonel is scornful but sharpens up when Steve pokes him in the nipple.
  9. Steve’ fiance June Saxton hears her cue, knocks and comes in. The need for introductions allows Steve and The Colonel to describe to the audience who does what in the missile world. June says she saw the Sheriff’s car outside. Steve says he’s looking for two escaped convicts. June seems pretty neutral about it – but I suppose apart from the Colonel now and again they don’t get many visitors to the rocket pad.
  10. Cut to: Dirk and the Sheriff at the electric fence. ‘Don’t touch it till I turn off the current,’ says Dirk. I’m guessing he knows what the Sheriff’s like.
  11. Cut to: the two convicts in the rocket pad locker room. One’s Gary who’s small and punchy looking with the arms of his denim shirt rolled up to display his guns; the other is Lon – tall and thoughtful looking, the arms of his shirt rolled down (because he doesn’t have any guns, presumably).
  12. Turns out, the locker room is ACTUALLY ON THE ROCKET! Who knew rockets had locker rooms? Still – this is the fifties. There was more space back then. The convicts can’t jump out because the Sheriff and Dirk are sneaking about – although, if they knew the Sheriff, they wouldn’t be that worried.
  13. Dirk goes into the ship, sees the convicts, tells the Sheriff there’s no one there. Why? I don’t know. He’s got some plan or other. The convicts look uneasy – especially when they find out he’s locked them in. They don’t want to go to the moon. They were brought up in New Jersey. They know what it’s like.
  14. Dirk goes back to the office. Steve and June are having cocktails. They offer Dirk one but he declines and takes a pistol instead. June says she’s sorry if she said the wrong thing.
  15. Dirk goes to the convicts on the rocket and wins them over with some 7up, fruit, cold chicken and cake. Gary really likes the apple. Dirk says he wants them to come to the moon with him. They’re not sure at first, but when he says they’ll definitely make it back, they say he’s got a deal.
  16. The first thing Dirk wants them to do is ‘change into some clothes from the locker over there’. Gary looks wary. Hey – what kind of moon rocket IS this?
  17. Steve is about to drive June home when the rocket console lights up like a washing machine on spin cycle. Steve wants to investigate the rocket. He gets a gun out of the desk (how many guns do they HAVE?) June goes with him.
  18. Back on the rocket, Gary and Lon have changed into the new clothes which turn out not to be latex but everyday guy clothes and not significantly different to their convict clothes. Dirk may be a rocket scientist, but he seems unconcerned that the two people operating the flight deck are two criminals who get excited by apples and 7up.
  19. Steve and June go up the ladder into the rocket moments before it takes off. They have to put on oxygen masks in the locker room because it doesn’t have its own supply. ‘Will we be killed?’ she says. She’s nothing if direct.
  20. Lon flips the levers in order as Dirk tells him to. They blast off, making orgasm faces, especially Dirk, who seems to enjoy it more than anyone.
  21. When they leave the Earth’s orbit they unbuckle their seatbelts and slump in the chairs post-coital. Gary complains he’s got an achy back. Lon says he’s afraid to move. Where were they incarcerated – play school?
  22. Steve takes a while to recover, but June’s okay. She’s already got a clipboard to help Dirk go through all the rocket checks. Gary watches her whilst she settles down in front of a screen to watch for meteorites. The screen just has a black dot in the centre, which is either the moon or a fault. Dirk and Lon leave to check the deck below. Gary assaults June, then Dirk comes back. Dirk and Gary fight. Meanwhile, the screen flashes and beeps: meteorites! Everyone gets shaken up. A loose battery lands on Dirk’s head. Before he dies he gives Steve a medallion and says ‘you’ll need this’ then says ‘Lido! Forgive me, my Lido!’ Then dies. ‘He’s dead’ says Steve. All in all, a shocking scene. Especially the battery.
  23. June hasn’t told anyone about Gary assaulting her, which is odd and quite depressing. It’s like she expected it, being around the Colonel and the Sheriff and whatnot. In outer space as on planet earth, we seemed doomed to suffer this shit. I hope the spider gets him.
  24. The moon comes up on the scanner. ‘Break out the spacesuits’ says Steve.
  25. Lon operates the brakes with some more levers. He seems good with levers. No further comment at this point.
  26. They land. ‘This is the end of the line,’ says Steve. ‘Everybody out.’ Which must have inspired Neil Armstrong, to some extent.
  27. They stand around the ladder of the rocket on the moon, bitching about their spacesuits and making sure you know who’s in what (although a name tag wouldn’t have hurt). ‘These gravity boots work like a charm’ says Gary, marching up and down like the director said.
  28. They go off to explore. Some weird pointy shrubbery, but otherwise a bit like Utah. With theremins.
  29. In fact, I’m sure I recognise that boulder from the last film, Track of the Moon Beast. They must have a permanent editing suite, probably a canteen.
  30. Unbeknownst to them (unbeknownst? is that a word? sounds more like a recipe for cabbage) – unbeknownst to them, a boulder detaches itself from the other boulders, sprouts arms and takes a few steps, looking about as menacing as me in a dressing gown staggering around in the middle of the night. I think you could probably outrun it, gravity boots or no gravity boots. But we’ll see.
  31. Another one comes alive. And another. June screams (of course). The rock creatures waggle their arms, like me when I hear someone say does anyone want a cup of tea. June screams and falls over (like me, when I hear someone in the kitchen say does anyone want a cup of tea).
  32. They try shooting the rock creature, which doesn’t sound like a good idea, and turns out not to be. ‘There’s a cave. Let’s head for it’ says Steve. The rock creatures are too scared to follow them in. ‘Maybe they should try being a little more bolder’ I wish Steve said.
  33. Uh oh. Spider web. But better news, in that there’s a flaming torch. ‘No flame without oxygen’ says Steve, ever the scientist. They take off their mask and suits. Gary can feel eyes watching them. He wants to go back to the ship, but Steve says they’ve got guns, so not to worry (although as Gary points out, they didn’t work so good against the rock monsters). I really hope the spider gets him.
  34. Well – something gets him. He runs on ahead and you hear him say ‘No – keep away from me – what are you doing…. etc, and then screams. I hope it’s the spider. Although you wouldn’t talk to a spider like that unless you were a professional arachnologist, and feeling a bit snippy.
  35. A caped figure in the foreground appears, gasses them all unconscious. I don’t know – rock creatures, caped figures – the moon doesn’t seem all that friendly.
  36. They all wake up on a very cheap set that looks like it was borrowed from a local high school production of Cleopatra. A woman with a chandelier on her head appears, looking like Gloria Swanson fresh out of benzos. ‘I welcome you to Orlanda’ she says. ‘I am Lido’ she says. She says they must rest, and partake of their hospitality (which I’m afraid may well relate to the International Beauty Contest Winners listed in the credits). She pulls an embroidered bell cord. Who’d have thought the moon would’ve been so fancy?
  37. The IBCWs come in with platters of drumsticks. Steve goes straight to the drumsticks.
  38. One of the IBCWs approaches Steve with a pitcher. ‘At last – something to drink,’ he says. The IBCW backs away and goes to consult with Lido. ‘Maybe she didn’t like my face’ says Steve. (Or maybe she realised you’ve got a drink problem and she’s only going to make it worse).
  39. Actually, it’s because she saw the medallion. When it’s given to Lido she’s rapturous. ‘It IS Dirk!’ she says. ‘He has returned.’
  40. ‘Dirk! My Dirk!’ says another one of the IBCWs. She must really like Dirk. It’s suddenly apparent why Dirk took so much trouble building a rocket.
  41. Lido tells Steve why things have gone to shit since he left. They’re running out of food, oxygen, scatter cushions …. ‘Soon this satellite will be barren’ she says. ‘And you haven’t even commented on my blindness.’ Steve grimaces. ‘I was very sorry to see it,’ he says, ironically or otherwise, it’s hard to say. Lido thinks Steve is Dirk. She touches his face. She thinks he’s changed – for the better.
  42. Lido says she’s glad he’s back because he’s due to be married to her daughter Alpha tomorrow. Steve doesn’t look particularly concerned.
  43. Back in the main hall, Gary is sprawled in a fancy chair enjoying all the platters. ‘June – if there weren’t better material around I’d pinch you,’ he says. Jeez – I really hope that spider gets him.
  44. Gary goes off with one of the IBCWs, which is worrying. Mercifully he gets distracted by the diamonds she’s wearing. She says she’ll take him to a cave where you can pick them up.
  45. June thinks the IBCWs are a bit judgy. It’s true – when they’re not striding around with platters they’re sprawled around looking archer than the set.
  46. Steve comes back. He says the planet is doomed. It all started twenty years ago… but we’re spared the details.
  47. Cut to: Lon on an ottoman (which isn’t easy to say) with Zema, a sympathetic IBCW. Lon and Zema have an awkward romantic scene where they talk about oxygen and rock creatures and then kiss.
  48. Lido’s daughter Alpha arrives. She’s even more theatrical than her mum. ‘Come, Dirk!’ she says. He does. June looks cross.
  49. Alpha kisses Steve, who stands inertly (which he’s pretty good at), until June breaks them up. June and Alpha fight. Alpha storms off. ‘She will die’ she says. ‘I guess that did it,’ says Steve, inertly.
  50. Alpha confronts her mother. They have a battle of wills over who should rule Orlanda. Lido wins. Alpha storms off again. All in all you’d have to say she was pretty stormy. A couple of IBCWs stand in the background looking like they regretted ever signing the contract – catering wagon or no catering wagon.
  51. Gary is in the cave with the IBCW who’s bemused about his attraction to a load of old diamonds. Where the hell is the spider? We’re 55 minutes in. Never has a giant spider been more necessary.
  52. Alpha says she’s going to release the dark creatures. ‘Silence! There’s no time to waste!’ she says, and pulls another cord, this one more gothic, with something like a plasterer’s trowel on the end. A webby gate across a disreputable looking cave slides up. Spider time.
  53. Okay – so it’s a puppet spider with an expression of stupefying horror, a bit like Boris Johnson at the dispatch box – but a spider, goddamit, and I love it.
  54. Particularly the way it walks, those cute, hairy legs going up and down like pistons. Curiously – it only has two human eyes, which don’t blink, so I’m worried they might become irritated by the moon dust and whatnot. But having said that, it’s obviously taken many thousands of years of moon evolution – or moonvolution, if you will – to reach this state, so who am I to judge.
  55. The spider hurries off through the caves to find the earthlings. Before I go any further, I bet you fifty pounds June screams, and another fifty she trips and falls.
  56. Well – okay – it’s the IBCW who screams. And gets mauled by the spider. Which is actually less horrifying than getting mauled by Gary.
  57. Alpha gets up close with Steve and uses her mind skills to get him to do her bidding, which is basically to go with her to another planet and start a family. (By the way, her lipstick is interesting. It looks like she did it in the jeep on the way to the set).
  58. Alpha stabs her mum in the back with a letter opener and assumes the throne. She tells the others to make ready for a wedding after they use the extermination chamber, which sounds nice.
  59. The crew get taken to the ceremony. Steve is dressed in a ceremonial kaftan made from milk bottle tops. ‘Steve! I love you! Tell me you love me!’ shouts June. ‘Take the woman to the extermination chamber’ he says, which isn’t like him at all. He’s normally more inert. Once she’s gone, the ceremonies begin, which is a cue for some dancing so dreadful I’d rather take my chances with June.
  60. Cut to: June wrestling with some IBCWs down in the dungeons. There are some skeletons in the background, which isn’t a great look for a dungeon, but I suppose kinda expected. They chain her to a post, which looks spider ready. ‘Don’t’ she says, but they carry on anyway. The IBCWs pull a cord – this one with a spider on the end, which is worrying. Another gate lifts up.
  61. Back at the ceremony, the two convicts sneak out while everyone’s distracted by the terrible dancing. Zema gives Lon the key to the room where they’ve stashed all their spacesuits, and some light bulbs to throw at the rock creatures.
  62. June screams when she sees the spider approaching (fifty quid in the bank). The convicts run over and shoot it dead. Bloody hell! I hope there are more spiders. It didn’t get much of a run. The convicts untie June, who’s fainted but still standing upright. Maybe it’s a gravity thing. Gary runs off to get some more diamonds.
  63. Back at the ceremony the dance is still going on. I can’t believe it and neither can the audience. It’s obviously not just a lack of oxygen that’s killing this particular satellite. The other IBCWs run off to search for the convicts; meanwhile Zema goes mind-to-mind against Lido – and wins! Steve is free to shrug off his appalling kaftan and join the others.
  64. Zema weakens (I sympathise at this point). Lido’s daughter tells Zema to release the gas in the caves. There’s a fancy lever in the wall, with tin foil at the business end. Lon would love it. Zema puts her hand on it. The theremins go wild. But suddenly Zema throws one of her lightbulbs which turns out to be a grenade. The set gets blown to polystyrene.
  65. All the oxygen escapes from the caves. Steve, June & Lon have got their suits on, but Gary is away stocking up on diamonds.
  66. Cut to: Gary loaded up with two shopping bags of diamonds. In his spacesuit at least, so the lack of oxygen won’t bother him (as much as the lack of a spider is bothering me, anyway).
  67. The rock creatures come alive again to stop the crew making it back to the rocket. Steve blows one to bits with a grenade light bulb. A lot more effective than shooting them. Lido’s daughter tries to mind control him at distance, but accidentally falls on her knife, so that works out.
  68. Gary tries to catch up with the others carrying his bags of diamonds. He can’t outrun the rock creatures, though, and ends up blundering into the sunlight, where he combusts down to his skelington. Can’t say I’m upset by that. Although I’d have preferred him to get eaten by the spider. I don’t know why. They were made for each other, I suppose.
  69. They make their way back to the rocket. Before they take off, there’s just one thing June wants to know. ‘Am I prettier than Alpha?’ ‘Honey, there’s only one thing I want to see more and that’s good ol’ mother earth!’ says Steve, then winks over her head at Lon, who winks back and caresses his levers. Then the rocket hurtles upwards in a shower of vomit.

That’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. The moon landings were obviously faked, because I didn’t see one rock creature or one former international beauty contest winner. And flags don’t flutter on the moon.
  2. Boris Johnson is a species of spider.
  3. You can be the most advanced civilization in the world, but if your style is kitsch you’re doomed.
  4. Skeletons can be scary in a dungeon setting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end.
  5. Turn off the electricity before you touch an electrified fence.

Track of the Moon Beast

Track of the Moon Beast, 1976. Dir. Richard Ashe. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

  1. Noted critic John Kenneth Muir – who must be a serious critic as he uses his middle name, too – said the film was ‘a failure in every way’. Which sounds like my kind of film. Plus – at 1 hr 20mins I can write the review and not miss lunch.
  2. The opening shot is of a guy focusing a giant telescope, which you’d think they could have organised before they yelled action, although maybe this guy’s ability – or inability – to focus is some kind of plot point.
  3. There’s something like a flaming Christmas pudding falling through the night sky. Which would certainly be worthy of a look, telescope or otherwise. Cut to some bored looking American Indians chanting and shuffling unconvincingly around a campfire. Although I’m not an expert on that (or anything else).
  4. Next thing you know we’re in the production studio of a news broadcast, watching from behind a producer as a newsreader gives a WHOLE lot of exposition about how a meteor is on a collision course with the moon. Eventually we get the credit sequence – ‘Track of the Moon Beast’ – in green slime writing, with edgy violins and blundering horns to emphasise the sliminess. The cast list includes Chase Cordell, which is my new favourite actor’s name.
  5. This whilst we watch someone on a motorbike ride across the desert – although he’s riding so slowly it might actually be a push bike. With stabilisers.
  6. He eventually pulls up between a boulder and a bush, jamming the front brake so hard he almost goes over the handlebars, but maybe that was the best of a number of takes. He doesn’t seem that comfortable with the bike. Even getting off it and putting it on the stand seems to be a big deal for him. If this is Chase Cordell, we’re in trouble.
  7. Turns out, it IS Chase Cordell, who’s in the character of Paul G Carlson, an anthropologist. Paul’s about as comfortable with a trowel and brush as he is with a bike. After what feels like ten years fussing with a shard of pottery, he’s interrupted by a terrifying male scream off camera, which presumably is the noted critic John Kenneth Muir.
  8. Paul looks up – nothing but rocks. He goes back to his pots. Another scream. He glances up again, and is confronted with a giant mask with earrings and a generally stupefied look, which is exactly like my current expression, only without glasses.
  9. The mask disappears, and in its place we’re looking at a guy by the name of Johnny Longbow. ‘Hi Paul!’ he says. ‘Johnny!’ says Paul. They laugh and shake hands. Then two others come out from behind a rock carrying the mask. It was all a joke. We learn easily and naturally that Paul is indeed an anthropologist, Johnny Longbow is a professor of science and shit, and the other two, Budd Keeler and Janet Price, are his mineralogy students. (Side note: everyone gets introduced with their full name, which is nice. I think everyone needs a formal introduction in a monster movie. You care more.)
  10. We learn more about these people. Budd specialises in screams and bird calls, Caroline seems to be some kind of stand-aid. They chat about this and that. Paul wipes his eyes, method acting the heat and dust, although to be fair it does look hot and dusty. Someone else comes out from behind the rock – the desert looks pretty crowded this time of year. This character is a woman in cut off jeans, who holds a camera about as naturally as Paul rides a motorbike. Johnny Longbow gives her his signature smile, which is a bit like how I imagine crocodiles smile at livestock approaching the waterhole. She ignores Johnny – either because she already knows him or because of the smile, and introduces herself directly to Paul – presumably because he’s the only one with his shirt off. She formally introduces herself as Kathy Miller, and yes, she does know Johnny Longbow. She’s out there doing ethnographic shots of this and that, but decided to capture Paul reacting to the mask. Or anything, really.
  11. Paul explains to Kathy what Johnny Longbow means: ‘warrior’s bow that reaches long to its mark’. Which I think is pretty much what she was worried about.
  12. We’re straight back to the newsreader with important information – although how it’s more important than why Johnny Longbow is called Johnny Longbow is anyone’s guess. The newsreader uses a lot of sciency words like ‘seismograph’, and must have won the audition simply on the way he draws out the word ‘Krakatoa’. It sounds as if the meteor has impacted the moon and knocked chunks off of it which might rain down on earth and cause monstrous complications. Or not.
  13. In a daring cut, the camera pulls back to reveal that Paul, Johnny Longbow and the others are watching this news bulletin on a portable TV, perched on the end of the table where they’re having supper. Although maybe the director used some footage of the crew actually having supper. I’m not sure. It’s all so natural and authentic.
  14. Despite the news announcement going on for some time, the newsreader does a summing up and then closes the bulletin with a statement that this has been a bulletin from the news centre in Albuquerque. (And if you think I typed Albuquerque first go without a spellcheck you’re crazy).
  15. Johnny Longbow gets his big acting moment, one that I think the noted critic John Kenneth Muir most enjoyed. ‘This is a great stew’ says Janet. ‘What’s in it?’ (And I transcribe the response in case any actors out there want to use it in future auditions):
    ‘A whole lotta things… chicken… corn… green peppers…. chili.. onions… (the way he sighs and looks off to the right when he says onions – the pathos in such a simple ingredient). Well! It’s an old recipe round here.’ (Basically chicken stew with a touch of heat, but hey). Kathy says she wants to get some night shots. Paul says he knows a great spot but it’s far away. Kathy nods, and they leave the others to clear up.
  16. Just before they hop on the motorbike to go, Janet gets freaked out by a lizard. Johnny Longbow uses this as an excuse to tell the ancient story of the argument between Lizard and Coyote. The upshot was that Man could have Lizard hands so long as Man was mortal. Which sounds dubious, and may or may not have any bearing on the film.
  17. Out at Santiago Crest, Paul is busy pointing out geographical features to Kathy, including Albuquerque (which I totally copied & pasted, alright?). When he points up at the sky, Kathy grabs his shirt and says ‘Paul? What’s wrong? What is it?’ utterly unable to see anything that Paul hasn’t pointed to first. Especially a blazing meteor shower. Paul gets struck by a meteor and ends up sprawled on top of Kathy, although it could just be a sleazy excuse.
  18. To be fair, he does have a cut on his forehead, which Kathy cleans right off. Paul points out a glowing moon rock by the motorbike. ‘Moon rock! Oh wow!’ says Kathy, more excited about moon rock than Johnny Longbow was about onions. Although it transpires she’s not excited about the rock at all – it just reminded her she’s supposed to go to a NASA exhibition the next day. Hopefully not in Albuquerque. Meanwhile, they decide to go back to Paul’s place for antiseptics and sex.
  19. Back at Paul’s place, he struggles to figure out how to turn off the indicators, which made me more worried for Kathy as pillion than all the moon rocks and meteor showers and moon monsters put together. But hey, they made it back. Kathy seems amazed by Paul’s garage, although to be fair, there’s so little tension in the script you’d look anywhere, even a workbench.
    ‘I gather nobody’s home’ says Kathy. ‘My mother’s in Europe,’ says Paul. ‘She travels a lot.’ I think Kathy was right to be worried about the workbench.
  20. ‘I’d like you to meet a friend of mine’ says Paul. He draws back a curtain to reveal a big lizard called Tye. Short for Tyrannosaurus. Kathy doesn’t like the lizard but they kiss anyway. I mean Paul and Kathy kiss. Not Kathy and the lizard. Although I feel there’s more chemistry there.
  21. Cut to: Paul and Kathy at the NASA exhibition. Paul bends down to take a closer look at a moon rock. Kathy takes a shot of his butt. But at that exact moment, a beam of light zaps out of the rock and hits him in the head. So in forty years THAT shot’ll end up on Instagram.
  22. Paul feels unwell and goes outside for some fresh air. Suddenly we jump cut to a country & western singer on stage in a club singing a song that goes ‘my voice been gettin’ croakeee…’ I think the director is trying to tell us something.
  23. The song carries on, into something that seems more like a musical intermission. The song is called ‘California lady’, so maybe Kathy is from there. She certainly looks a little fried. I’m guessing someone in the band is related to the director, or he owes them money. But no – suddenly we see Johnny Longbow, Paul and the others in the audience, Paul with his head in his hands, but whether that’s the music or the meteor strike it’s hard to say.
  24. On a side note, I feel it’s a bit of a miss on the director’s part that we’re not formally introduced to everyone in the audience. Just saying.
  25. The music carries on playing whilst we see Johnny Longbow back home with Paul, who’s taken his shirt off again (presumably a major factor in his casting, along with his availability & rate).
  26. The music still carries on, whilst Kathy (wearing a babydoll nightie) helps Paul into bed. Gives him a pill and a cup of water.
  27. The music ends. Kathy stands outside Paul’s house talking to Johnny Longbow (it’s not a nightie after all). Johnny delivers a long and wistful speech about how Paul is learning a lot – how to accept help from other people etcetera. The speech is even more wistful than his speech about the onions. Kathy swings her hands like she doesn’t know whether to tear her hair out or slap him. They walk to Johnny’s car. ‘If Paul calls me, I’ll pick you up and take you to him.’ ‘And if he calls me first…?’ says Kathy. They both smile. Kathy rubs her nose. Maybe there’s a subtext to all this I’ve missed, which is entirely likely. I’m still stuck on the onions.
  28. Cut back to Paul, having a restless night, what with the meteor in his head and the terrible music and everything. He pulls his shirt off. (SIDE NOTE: I had exactly this experience a coupla days ago. I made a mushroom risotto, which was completely delicious, except I ate too much and then got convinced a) someone working in the dried mushroom factory had decided to slip in some death caps and b) the rice was expanding in my stomach and would completely suddenly spill out of me like popcorn from a machine when you take the lid off too soon.)
  29. He paces about, looking at the moon. Cellos play. Cellos are the most devastating of the string section. Violins may be psycho, but cellos are 100% evil. Plus they have a spike.
  30. Paul hyperventilates, draws the curtains. Tye the lizard looks anxious. Maybe this is a regular thing.
  31. Cut to: some drunk guy coming back from bowling wearing a jacket with DUKE on the back. He drops his keys. We get an extended shot of his arse as he bends over looking for them. But he can’t find them, so he ends up banging on the door for his wife to open up. She’s on the sofa watching news bulletins, drinking beer and eating cereal from the packet. After absorbing enough of the news bulletin, she says ‘Go to hell, Sid!’ (so his name isn’t Duke / maybe he’s taken the wrong jacket home). She tells him to sleep it off outside, and bolts the door.
  32. Duke / Sid hears something. ‘Who’s there?’ he says. We see his face as the monster bears down on him, grunting horribly – although, at this stage, it might be his wife, come round the back.
  33. But no, because his wife is still inside the house. She listens to the horrible sounds whilst she clutches her belly – although, at this stage, the sounds might be gastric in origin, after all that beer and cereal.
  34. But no, because blood comes in under the door. She slowly unbolts the door. Duke/Sid topples in dead, missing his face. Which isn’t much different from a normal bowling night, to be fair.
  35. For some reason, Johnny Longbow shakes hands with the two cops come to investigate the ‘messy killing’. Turns out, Johnny knows Mac, the lead cop. Mac wants Johnny’s opinion, because he hasn’t seen anything like this before. There are two blanketed bodies on two trolleys back of an ambulance, one large, one small. ‘Ahh – which one is him?’ says Mac to the paramedics. They point to the larger body, even though that can’t possibly be right. ‘The woman had a weak heart, says Mac. ‘But take a look at the man…’ He pulls back the blanket. ‘What kind of thing would cut up someone like that?’ Johnny winces. ‘Coulda been a mountain lion, Mac.’
  36. Mac takes Johnny round the back of the house and shows him an enormous bloody handprint on the wall, a single, giant footprint. (Does it hop?) Mac has made a plastercast. Johnny says they should go to the paleontology department and see if they can get any answers there.
  37. Meanwhile, Kathy goes round to see how Paul’s doing. She’s shocked to see Tye out of his cage. Very suspicious.
  38. Back at the paleontology department, everyone agrees the plaster cast is the left hind foot of ‘some kind of reptile, some very, very large lizard.’ Mac says he can’t believe there are lizards like that running around New Mexico, but at least he doesn’t mention Alburquerque by name ( I totally typed that without help this time – I just kinda threw myself at the keyboard and hoped for the best). The palaeontologist thinks it looks kinda like the foot of a komodo dragon, but one that walks upright, something more like a tyrannosaurus rex. We zoom in on a happy looking t-rex in a picture on the wall.
  39. Mac worries how he’s gonna explain his murder theory to the commissioner: ‘A man was killed last night on his doorstep by some kind of dinosaur’. Although, judging by Mac’s general demeanour and policing skills, I’m sure the commissioner’s heard a lot worse.
  40. Back out in the desert, Johnny gives a demonstration of his archery skills. Paul stands in front of a target, holding a pepperoni sausage in either hand. Johnny shoots one of them – but then Paul comes over all faint – as I’m sure many of us would, standing in front of an archery target holding two pepperoni sausages.
  41. Kathy takes Paul home and says she’ll stay. She settles down on the sofa to read a book. The sun sets. The moon and orchestration come out. Paul is restless again. Takes his shirt off. And something bad must be about to happen because they even start playing a harpsichord or something. Paul staggers around, hyperventilating in a bare-chested kinda way, whilst Kathy snoozes on the sofa. He slams the screen door open (looks like Kathy is a heavy sleeper). The moonlight casts magnificent shadows across his bare torso (Chase Cordell earning every cent of that forty-eight dollar fifty rate).
  42. Cut to: a fantastically improvised scene: a bunch of guys playing poker out in a tent. When they like a line they come up with, they just repeat it. It’s on a par with the stew scene, and that’s saying a LOT. Suddenly, the monster slashes its way into the tent. The monster looks like Duke/Sid’s wife, only without the beer and cereal box, and maybe wearing a spiky costume instead of a dressing gown, although the dressing gown was pretty rough. The monster tears through the guys like so much cereal.
  43. Cut to: Kathy waking Paul who’s lying bare chested and exhausted on a sun lounger. Kathy says men are like big babies, although I think that’s a stretch. More like big lizards. She covers him up and offers him breakfast.
  44. At the police station, Mac is talking to Johnny about the latest murders. He throws down an eight of diamonds card that’s been torn up and then taped back together again. He says there was a survivor. He was in shock, but mentioned a big lizard. ‘A big lizard that walked like a man’. ‘Seems I’ve heard that expression before’ says Johnny, giving us a sudden insight into his dating experiences. ‘Maybe there is a dinosaur, still alive,’ says Mac, looking utterly miserable and leaning back in his chair. ‘Up in the hills.’
  45. Johnny is standing with Kathy, Budd and Janet, who’ve finally made it back from clearing up after the stew supper. They all look sombre when Janet asks about the guys murdered up in the hills last night – but then crack up when Janet shows them the photos Kathy took at the NASA exhibition. (Side note: Johnny’s hair looks amazing in this scene – a stylish Mary Quant bob). Johnny asks about the photo of Paul looking at the moon rock. They talk about his head injury that night. Johnny says something about light concussion they all laugh about. Johnny says he’ll take Paul to the hospital and stop by the photo lab on the way there. They’re happy about that. It saves them a trip into town.
  46. Johnny goes to pick up Paul, who’s putting on his shoes first and then his shirt. They talk about the moon rock Paul has on his table. Paul can’t find anything about it in any of his textbooks, which is odd. It’s also odd that Tye the lizard has gone. ‘Scared by the meteor shower,’ Paul says. Johnny isn’t convinced.
  47. Over at the hospital, Paul is bare-chested in front of an X-ray machine. ‘You can get dressed now’ says the doctor, but Paul’s not in any rush. The doctor says it’ll take about twenty minutes to process the plates – which gives Johnny time to go over the road to the photo lab.
  48. The lab technician is a tall, shy guy in a glasses/moustache combos that will one day be an emoji. He confirms it isn’t an error on the print – and he should know because he’s been doing that job for years. Which must be true because of the glasses and the pen in his pocket.
  49. The doctor at the hospital takes Paul and Johnny into a side room. ‘We don’t usually discuss these things with patients,’ says the doctor, ‘but this is an unusual case.’ He shows them a normal head x-ray first, then Paul’s, which shows a number of fillings and also a fragment of moon rock in his head. The doctor says if it doesn’t ‘clear up’ (as shrapnel often does), they’ll do something about it surgically.
  50. Cut to: Johnny and Mac in a darkened room. Johnny has a slide show that might help with the investigation. The first slide is such a crude drawing of a native american it’s surprising Mac doesn’t snort, but maybe he’s exhausted after all that lizard talk. Turns out, the native american in the picture was hit by lightning or something from the sky. In the next slide you see him turned into a lizard, chasing some other guys. Again, how Mac keeps from laughing out loud is more of a mystery than who killed the poker guys or Duke/Sid.
  51. Johnny and Mac take Paul’s moon rock to the rock museum. It draws a beam of light from one of the other rocks. Johnny thinks it’s some kind of energy beam or something. Mac talks about werewolves. They decide to go back to Paul and give him the good news. He takes it pretty well. Thinks about all the shirtless opportunities.
  52. They take Kathy to see him in a more secure part of the hospital. She breaks down and throws herself on top of him – but whether that’s because she’s never seen him in such dreadful pyjamas or because of the whole lizard thing it’s not too clear. She walks out of the room – eventually – with a weird kind of head-twitch going on, until you’d think she was the one with the shrapnel and not Paul. On the other hand it might just be method-acting code for upset. She declines all offers of lifts home, and decides to wait it out at the hospital.
  53. SIDE NOTE: I wonder if one of the cops guarding the hospital room is actually the photo tech guy from the sop. Sans glasses & pen. Avec cap.
  54. The moon is finally up (after a few cut-aways to a big clock, a harpsichord playing). ‘Something’s happening!’ says Mac, looking through the window. ‘My God!’ The only thing I can see is that Paul has lost his shirt, which is anything BUT surprising. But wait – no – he goes blurry and then kinda lizardy. You hope he’s going to bust out of the hospital and do some shit, but we segue to him normal again (shirtless), strapped to the bed, with Johnny and Mac dozing on a couple of chairs to the side.
  55. The straps give him plenty of opportunity to flex his chesticles. ‘We’ll soon have you back to normal’ says Johnny, unstrapping him. (Normal for Alburquerque).
  56. Cut to: a couple of scientists on a plane bound for Alburquerque. They’re due to land ‘in about twenty minutes’ which seems to be the time frame for most things in this film, including how long it takes Chase to put a motorcycle on its stand or cancel the indicators.
  57. The scientists have been worried about the possibility of mutations ever since the moon landing, apparently.
  58. When they talk to Paul at the hospital the brain surgeon guy says they can pinpoint where the particle is : the left frontal lobe, apparently. So Paul is due for a lobotomy. Paul strokes his chin thoughtfully. The scientists wait for him to say something. He doesn’t.
  59. The scientist explains that the moon ‘a moon rock of gigantic size, if you will’, is having an effect on Paul’s brain fragments and the outlook is bleak. Johnny asks how long has he got and although the scientist hesitates I’d make a guess at twenty minutes. They explain that the energy will become more unstable until the patient explodes – which, unfortunately, the patient overhears.
  60. Paul explains to Kathy that if he’s to die he wants to die looking like a man and not a monster. Preferably shirtless. They kiss. Horribly, awkwardly, completely noiselessly – the most horrific scene in the whole goddamn film. ‘If anyone asks where I am,’ he says, ‘tell ‘em I’m on the roof. That’ll give me enough time to get away.’ They kiss again – but this time there’s a sound like twigs breaking, which is way worse than the silent kissing.
  61. Paul leaves the hospital disguised as a doctor. He steals a motorbike and rides it away like a pro. Stops outside a shop called ‘Coins & Guns’ (Alburquerque, huh?). Goes inside to buy a shotgun and some shells. Maybe some coins. There’s a news report playing on the radio all about a dangerous guy on the loose called Paul. He runs out again. The shop owner calls Mac at the hospital, tells him all about it.
  62. Mac and Johnny talk about all the ways Paul could kill himself. ‘He could crash the motorcycle.’ ‘No. Crashes don’t always work…’ Kathy is sitting to the side looking increasingly uncomfortable.
  63. Mac wishes they had some kind of lead, some way of finding him. Close up on Kathy’s face. She’s remembering what Paul said that time they went out after the stew supper, how he took her to his favourite place on earth (before he got hit in the head by a meteorite there, when it maybe moved down the rankings a bit).
  64. We see Paul fall off his bike on the road leading to Santiago Crest. Next thing, he’s riding a cable car, his vision blurred, a harpsichord playing. Then he throws himself out of the door. But then we cut back to him by his bike, and realise it was just him planning how to kill himself without a shotgun (no doubt a method Mac would approve).
  65. Kathy has made her way up to Santiago Crest. She stops, gets out some binoculars, and sees him collapsed on the mountainside. She hurries up there. Meanwhile, Johnny and Mac race to the scene in a police car whose lights aren’t on because the film crew don’t have a permit.
  66. The sun goes down, the moon comes up. Takes about twenty minutes.
  67. Kathy is in trouble on the mountainside. ‘Paul! Please help me! Paul!’ she cries. ‘My foot is caught!’ But when Paul puts a hand onto a rock to reach her, he starts breathing funny and his hand turns into a claw. Kathy screams, changing her mind about the help. The screams help the cops locate their position, though. Paul looks confused, conflicted between lizard & boyfriend, presumably. The cops being cops open fire indiscriminately. They stop shooting for a bit, because honestly, you could be hitting anything out there. Meanwhile, Paul the lizard is creeping up behind them with his arms outstretched. He kills them with a few ineffectual swipes of his rubberised claws. Then waddles off.
  68. Johnny grabs his bow and arrows. He’s fashioned an arrowhead out of the moon rock. Kathy isn’t happy. Despite Johnny saying that Paul isn’t Paul anymore, she still sees some potential, jumps in her car and drives off, parks down the road – just exactly where Paul the Lizard emerges, waving at her in a friendly fashion or an evil fashion it’s hard to tell. Kathy screams regardless.
  69. Johnny runs up, fires off the arrow, hits Paul right in the sausage. He glows in spots and goes all psychedelic. Mac and the scientist run up and they all stand there watching the show. Mac even licks his lips in a strange way, like he can’t WAIT to tell the commissioner about this.
  70. Mac loads Kathy in the cop car and they all drive off, leaving Johnny propped up on his bow, wondering what just happened, and how to incorporate it in his next slide show.

That’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. The moon is actually a big lump of moon rock. Like – the biggest.
  2. Albuquerque is impossible to spell and very hot.
  3. In New Mexico, everything takes twenty minutes.
  4. It’s very important to get used to a motorbike’s controls before you take it off into the desert.
  5. Chili is very good in stews. But don’t stint on the onions.

This Island Earth

This Island Earth, 1955. Dir. Joseph Newman. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

  1. The title sequence starts with blaring trumpets and trombones. It’s not an easy sound, but at least it shuts the audience up, or wakes them up, depending. To be fair, it does segue pretty quickly into a kind of thin, nervy organ sound to accompany the shots of space, and that lurch from blaring to nervy is pretty unsettling, especially if you’re wearing a hat.
  2. One of the actors is called Rex Reason, which is my new favourite actor’s name, after Red Buttons and Timothy Olyphant.
  3. The first scene is an aerial shot of Washington, with even blarier trumpets. Next thing you know, a bunch of reporters with HUGE flashbulbs are clustered round Dr Cal Meacham, a nuclear scientist-pilot-adventurer-national hero hybrid, draped seductively on the wing of a fighter plane, parked back of the White House. They don’t want to keep him long. Dr Meacham laughs (they ALL laugh) and then he puts a flying suit over his business suit. Nobody thinks that at all strange. But maybe that’s because all male children in the US back in the 50s were born in a business suit. And when the nurse delivered them, she tied the umbilical cord in a windsor knot.
  4. Turns out, Dr Meacham is played by Rex Reason. He sounds exactly as you might expect a 1950s hero to talk, which is essentially Zapp Brannigan on steroids. I’m going to call this character Rex from now on, because it’s quicker to type.
  5. Rex flies off in an airfix model of a jet fighter, blowing the reporters’ hats off. Next thing you know he’s buzzing a control tower in the desert. Would it be too much just to land, Rex? I suppose it shows his recklessness, sense of adventure, love of all things phallic.
  6. Turns out, Rex has fucked the plane up with his daring aerobatics (why they ever lent him the plane, I don’t know. I’m guessing he’s probably done this before). Rex is about to crash – but he’s saved by a mysterious green light that takes control of his ship, flashing on and off and waggling his joystick. Rex stares at his lap. He can’t believe his luck.
  7. Turns out the station is a nuclear research facility. Rex isn’t just a pilot, he’s a nuclear scientist. He shucks off his flying suit and gets straight to work, lowering a hunk of lead into a cylinder with one of those grabby claws you see at the fair. SIDE NOTE: I’m obsessed with Rex’ hair. It’s so thickly gelled he must brush it with a trowel.
  8. There’s a nuclear meltdown. Explosion and fire. Rex and his assistant Joe don’t seem that bothered, though. Joe shows him the reactor core that burned out the day before. They don’t have to go far. It’s sitting on his desk. Rex strokes it lovingly. Don’t worry, says Joe. I ordered another one. This is Three Mile Island all over again.
  9. More hokey science shit. It’s quarter of an hour into the film and the only sign of an alien is a green light and a vibrating joystick. I’d be throwing popcorn. We waste another five minutes watching Joe sign for an Amazon delivery he didn’t order. SIDE NOTE: Rex’s suit is not the same one he had on under his flying suit. When did that happen? Maybe he had to change it after the nuclear meltdown – although there wasn’t any splashback, so why would he need to?
  10. Spooky music (oboes, the only blowy instrument that doesn’t suck). Turns out, the Amazon package is a manual printed on metal paper, with impressive electronic instructions. Joe reads it over Rex’ shoulder. ‘Here’s something my wife could use in the house’ he says. ‘An interociter incorporating an electron sorter’. Rex smiles and replies: ‘Yes, Joe, but she’d gain twenty pounds while it did all the work.’ So they should rename the film This Sexist Fucker Island Earth.
  11. Based on the manual they order a shit-load more stuff from Amazon. Turns out it’s flatpack, self-assembly. 2,486 parts says Rex, checking the document, no mention of an allen key. (Or alien key – pause for laughter). Rex takes his jacket off, rolls his sleeves up. This is where we get to see how much of a hero he REALLY is.
  12. Montage. You gotta love a good montage. And this is a great one. With xylophones. Despite this, my favourite montage is still Ashley Judd getting in shape for her escape and revenge in the hit movie Double Jeopardy.
  13. Basically what they end up with is a twin tub with a nuclear symbol on the front. ‘Plug it in Joe and see what happens,’ says Rex, as flip with his gadgets as he is with his jet aircraft. However, you can’t help but notice Rex is holding a spare part in his hands. That’s never a good sign with flatpack. You should never have anything left over except an allen key. And maybe a large measure of self-loathing.
  14. The twin tub starts flashing and talking to them in a patronising way (it’ll fit right in on Earth). ‘Use the intensifier disc,’ says the voice. ‘The one in your hand’ it says. I’m guessing the alien has been around the galaxy a few too many times and it’s running out of patience with lower life forms. Even ones as perfect as Rex.
  15. Rex inserts the disc, turns it 18 degrees to the left, as per. The screen lights up (turns out the whole thing was just a primitive flat screen TV). At last! An alien – which turns out, disappointingly, also to be wearing a suit. It also has an unearthly tan and ludicrous hair, so prefiguring Trump by a good few years. The alien congratulates Rex on completing the task. The alien says he’s a scientist, just like Rex. He’s called Exeter. (Maybe they’re all named after the cities and towns of Devon & Cornwall, for some reason. Maybe later on we’ll meet his sister, Paignton.)
  16. This whole twin tub thing was a kind of interview, to see if Rex was good enough to be given a job. He passed, so Exeter says to meet the plane they’ll be sending Wednesday at 9. Then he disintegrates the manual and blows up the twin tub. Which is a great way to end any interview.
  17. Cut to: Rex and some guy in a hat driving in the fog in a jeep with the shonkiest looking windscreen wipers ever to appear on film. Is Rex working them with his foot? I’m guessing it’s nine o’clock or thereabouts, because where’s the value in seeing what Rex and Joe did to fill the time between the twin tub blowing up and Exeter landing the plane. Although actually I can think of a whole film that might satisfy that. The point is, it’s foggy. Which adds to the mystery (and eases the special effects bill).
  18. The plane lands despite the fog. Rex looks inside. A bare interior with a simple chair. No frills. A bit like EasyJet. There’s no pilot, either, just a nuclear symbol on the dash and a Robbie the Robot air freshener. Rex makes himself comfortable, manspreading to his heart’s content.
  19. The plane lands at a backwoods strip in Georgia. He’s met by Ruth Adams, a doctor, who says Exeter asked her to meet him. Rex is happier to see her than Ruth is to see him, for some reason. She mentions a conference they both went to a few years ago – thermo problems in nuclear reactors – but the way she says it sounds more like she’s talking about something else entirely. ‘Boston, wasn’t it?’ she says. ‘Vermont!’ says Rex, sounding angry. They’re definitely talking about another kind of problem.
  20. On the drive to meet Exeter, Ruth tells Rex all about the club that Exeter has set up for their work. It’s all beginning to sound a little culty, but Rex doesn’t mind. He still can’t get over the fact that Ruth thought it was Boston when it was obviously Vermont.
  21. Ruth shows him around the club house. The is the hallway. This is the living room. This is the lift down to the laboratory and slave quarters.
  22. After a bunch of international scientists stroll by to say hello, a guy who looks exactly like Exeter goes to the lab lift and gives Rex a meaningful look, a bit like Joe but not as wholesome. ‘Who’s that?’ says Rex, straightening his tie. ‘That’s Brack’ says Ruth. ‘One of Exeter’s assistants.’ Honestly, they look exactly alike. The least they could do is wear t-shirts or name badges.
  23. Exeter calls them into his office. They sit whilst he explains the mission – to end war, with the help of scientists. Rex strokes his chin. He’s interested but not convinced. Ruth gives him a sideways look. She’s remembering what he was like back in Boston.
  24. Actually, Exeter sounds a lot like Kelsey Grammar. Which would be a great casting choice for the remake.
  25. Exeter takes them on a virtual tour of the club using another one of the twin tub flat screens. He shows Rex the lab he’ll be using – ‘Still under construction,’ says Exeter, which is a classic estate agent ruse, and not to be trusted. They catch Brack in there, fiddling about. ‘Everything in order?’ says Exeter. ‘Yes,’ says Brack. Actually, I take it back about Brack. He looks like Tom Hiddleston made up to look like Donald Trump. Which is another casting suggestion for the remake.
  26. Everyone dresses for a formal dinner. Afterwards, Ruth and her friend Steve (er hem) takes Rex to look at the underground labs. Ruth has a cat in her lab. It’s called Neutron. ‘We call him that because he’s so positive.’ And as all the trivia forums are at pains to point out: NEUTRONS HAVE NO CHARGE. Which I have to say is still true for most cats, most of the time.
  27. Another casting suggestion for the remake: Eddie the dog from Frasier could totally nail the part of Neutron.
  28. Rex admires the lab – particularly the big lead slab hanging from chains. ‘That’s the same size lead I use in my lab,’ he says, flicking it suggestively with his finger. Steve looks uneasy.
  29. Exeter and Brack have a scene together (but not in that way). In some fine alien exposition we learn that they need all these scientists to help them find more energy (for some reason – aren’t they more advanced than us?). Brack is more hawkish. He wants to electronically lobotomise the subjects so they’ll be more submissive; Exeter thinks that’ll make them less able to hold a test tube, although they’ll be savings on the entertainments bill. Exeter and Brack are interrupted by an important message from Orson or someone – their superior, anyway. Their planet is in immediate danger from a failing layer of hokey science business. There’s no more time. They must fly back home and bring the scientists with them. Brack is thrilled; Exeter, less so.
  30. Ruth, Steve and Rex sneak out in a dreadful old car, escaping to the airport or something. They’re bombarded with neutron beams (nothing to do with the cat), that entirely miss every time until Ruth and Rex bail into a river so that Rex’ competition can be safely incinerated. Another scientist waves from the bank. He’s also zapped. So from this we can only assume it’s easier for a neutron beam to hit a scientist than a dreadful old car. Maybe the scientists have higher densities of chalk.
  31. Finally! A flying saucer. VERY much like a hubcap. Satisfying in the way only hubcaps pretending to be flying saucers can be. Cheap, but unaccountably satisfying. A bit like the whole film.
  32. The way Ruth runs. Honestly. She has to fling her arms about and stagger endlessly, looking distressed and tearful, while Rex plods with his suit and chin and comfortable shoes. It’s not easy being a female scientist, then or now.
  33. Rex and Ruth hotwire a small plane and take off. But the saucer pulls them up into its hatch with a tractor beam. Even though they’re a small plane and not a tractor (pause for laughter). ‘They’re pulling us up!’ says Rex, helpfully. Ruth looks like she’s going to scream, although I’m guessing that’s less to do with the beam and more to do with Rex.
  34. They jump out of the plane and stare in awe at the throbbing interior. Rex runs his hand up and down the wing stanchion. Maybe the Director wanted some action to suggest that here is a man who appreciates impressive machinery, but it also back-references nicely the incident with the joystick. An alien even more miserable than Brack with something horribly like a condom stretched on his head waves them to follow him. He reminds me of the people working in the Covid Testing centres.
  35. They end up on a flight deck that looks just as ‘under construction’ as Rex’ lab. Still, Exeter welcomes them aboard. Apologises for having to blow up the rest of the scientists. ‘We’re not all masters of our destiny’ he says. ‘I learned that on earth.’ Rex is pretty cross about it. Exeter appeals to Ruth. ‘Surely as a woman you’re curious about our destination,’ he says. ‘Where are we going?’ says Ruth. (She must have really loved this script).
  36. Apparently they’re going to a planet called Metaluna, which sounds more like an 90s rave duo, but they didn’t know that then. The hubcap zings away into space. They pass through the thermal barrier, and things get hot. ‘What’s to stop us all bouncing around like a lot of balloons when we leave Earth’s gravity?’ asks top scientist Dr Ruth. ‘Don’t worry,’ says Exeter. ‘We make our own gravity.’ (Why they ever had to come to Earth for any kind of advice is beyond me).
  37. There’s a procedure they have to go through to avoid being crushed to death on Metaluna. It involves being put in a tube and bathed in fog. The lunks that Exeter releases from the tube aren’t all that reassuring, though. When the tubes are fully up they all have mini-fits and stagger off looking sick. Exeter asks Brack to prepare Rex n’Ruth for the tubes. They’ll also have to change into the unflattering overalls that Exeter reassures them are vital to life on Metaluna.
  38. When Rex goes into the tube for conditioning, the camera focuses on his groin. Actually, it’s supposed to be his hands grabbing the handrails, but still, a bet’s a bet. When the tube comes down and fog rises around him, Rex says he ‘feels like a new toothbrush,’ which is brave, if a little weird. They both get x-rayed, we see all their internal organs, except for Rex’ brain, which is too small even for alien technologies. Exeter shows them the problems his people are having back on Metaluna, aside from the dreadful fashion. Apparently ‘the Zygon meteors are beginning to get through the ionised layer’ – which isn’t a good thing and nobody wants.
  39. Coming into land, Rex n’Ruth look at the screen as horrified as two people who booked a weekend away in an Airbnb and find out it doesn’t have WiFi. Exeter leads them outside to the monitor, stopping to point out the lovely view, if you ignore the apocalyptic destruction, flaming meteors etc, etc.
  40. They get introduced to Orson. He explains they needed them to come because all their own scientists are dead, their laboratories destroyed, Zygon will invade soon and there ain’t a thing they can do about it. Their intention is to relocate to Earth – as our superiors, naturally. He scorns humans, saying they’re like children looking through a magnifying glass thinking that’s their true size (although I’ve never met a child who did that). ‘Our true size is the size of our God,’ says Rex, folding his arms – which is an even weirder thing to say than the toothbrush jibe. Orson orders Exeter to take Ruth n’Rex to the Thought Transference Chamber. Which by this stage I’m thinking pretty much everyone needs.
  41. On the way there Ruth says her mind’s her own and no-one’s going to change it, which is signs of recovery. She goes to run – but is stopped by a creature so horrific I can barely describe it. The best I can do is to ask you imagine a traffic warden with a comedy brain cycle helmet, welding goggles and lobster gauntlets. ‘I’m sorry,’ says Exeter. ‘I had hoped to prepare you somewhat beforehand. This is a mute-ant. We’ve been breeding them here for ages to do menial work’. Ruth cannot look. (My reaction would be to speak to the thing and ask if it’s in a union, because really – this is unacceptable).
  42. Rex punches Exeter. The mute-ant shuffles hopelessly towards them in response, but unluckily for the mute-ant (and I’m guessing nothing much that’s lucky has EVER really happened to this mute-ant, number one being cast in this film), one of the meteors hits the building and it gets buried beneath a half pound of polystyrene rubble. Rex and Ruth run on.
  43. Exeter catches them up, forgives Rex for all the punching, offers to help them get back to the spaceship before the planet and the whole cinema goes up. They fly off together, just escaping the Zygon attacks (which look like meteors on wires). They watch Metaluna get transformed into a sun, then get in the tubes ready for the journey back to Earth. But whilst the tubes gas-up, the door opens and the poor mute-ant staggers in. Ruth screams. Rex asks if the tubes are strong enough to keep him out. ‘Possibly,’ says Exeter. ‘He’s badly injured. The pressure should crush him soon…’
  44. Despite this, Ruth raises her tube up, immediately putting herself at risk from both the mute-ant and / or crushing. But hey – it’s done. ‘Run, Ruth. Run!’ says Rex. She does, screaming. The mute-ant staggers after her. She could definitely outrun this thing. There’s probably even time to cook a sit-down lunch, clear up afterwards, and still escape it. But no – she trips, the mute-ant shuffles over, she ends up twisting and screaming helplessly in its gauntlets. Rex jumps out of the tube to do some more punching, but he needn’t have bothered. The poor mute-ant collapses and disintegrates from a basic lack of understanding or proper care.
  45. When they’ve reached Earth again, Exeter says he’ll drop them off and then go exploring the universe. ‘You’re a liar,’ says Rex. ‘You’ve run out of power.’ Exeter doesn’t deny it, and even shifts uncomfortably onto his left side, as if all this punching and planetary disintegration has given him gas. Rex n’Ruth run down to the little plane, Exeter drops them out of the hatch, then hurtles off over the ocean where he bursts into flames, ending the film in much the same way he liked to end job interviews.

So what have I learned from watching This Island Earth? Other than what a curse it can be to have too much time on your hands and no project to work on. Well – a few things:

  1. Neutrons have no charge
  2. You can make gravity if you really want to
  3. To avoid getting zapped by alien beams, jump in a river. Or eat some chalk.
  4. Science is cool
  5. Trump is an alien.

The Thing from Another World

The Thing from Another World, 1951. Dir. Christian Nyby. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

Last night we watched the 1951 film The Thing from Another World. We’d all seen the remakes, but not the thing itself, er-hem. And a drama about a bunch of people under lockdown running around with axes felt about right.

So we settled in, and all in all liked it a lot, with a few caveats. Here’s a point by point response (in no particular order, because I must admit I became a little deranged, and had nightmares, and at this point who cares):

1: The Title. The Thing from Another World. I think the remakes were right to drop the subtitle. It’s clunky. You may as well call it The Thing (It’s Not From Round Here). Like the producers were scared you wouldn’t watch it if you thought there was a chance it was just the kind of Thing you’d see in a MAGA hat buying duck tape at the thrift store. To cut them some slack, though, and put it in context, I think UFOs were an expanding market in the 50s, what with the Russians and everything, so maybe it was just a marketing ruse that hasn’t aged well. We’ve had so many aliens since you can’t move for them. I could name fifty right off, and that’s not even touching the box sets

2: It’s mostly guys. Guys in big coats, guys in big trousers. Guys in flying hats and cute leather jackets. Guys holding guns, axes, Geiger counters, hands of cards. Guys smoking or talking very very very quickly with no punctuation or pauses for intonation or inflection and talking over each other too because there doesn’t seem to be time for anything other than guys saying guy things and giving and receiving orders and taking care of business. Or talking about wild nights in Singapore. Or blowing shit up.

3: Even the alien turns out to be a guy. Except he’s the logical extension of ‘guy’, being 100% vegetable – but not in a wholesome, Vegan way – and only able to communicate through irritable grunts. How Grumpy Alien Guy ever got round to building a sophisticated space ship and making the trip in the first place we never get to know. You just have to imagine back on his planet everyone’s like that, 100% vegetable and just enough brains to run when they’re attacked by dogs or on fire. Mind you, it’s clear he landed the flying saucer with very little finesse, ploughing it bonnet-first into the North Pole so only the fin sticks out of the ice when the guys get there. I can imagine Grumpy Alien Guy, legs up on the console, flicking through a potato magazine, bored out of his gourd, watching the gauges after a five millenia commute, then grunting fuck it that’ll do.

4: The set-up is pretty clear. Some kind of army base in Alaska. A reporter goes there looking for a story – although you’d have to think he must be desperate, choosing such a remote location. Maybe he specialises in snow. Maybe he had relatives in the area so was combining the trip. Anyway, almost as soon as he gets there Hero Captain – an actor with such deeply heroic grooves down the side of his face you could lie him on the ground and park your bike – Hero Captain and his band of guys are ordered to fly to the North Pole to help with a plane that went down, or something. So they fly off in a plane with snowboards for wheels, and end up in another godforsaken snowy outpost, where everyone shouts ‘Shut the door’ as soon as you walk in. You get to meet the people there – a guy who looks like a rockabilly DJ, someone tall with a small voice who looks like Lurch from the Addams Family, an old guy chuffing on a bendy pipe, a bunch of interchangeable characters with no dialogue who are there to make up numbers and maintain body heat, and a Professor type in a sinister smoking jacket and white roll-neck jumper and hair and goatee made of Italian meringue who takes every opportunity to make a portentous speech – the human race… rah rah … evolution rah rah …. with everyone gathered round, one hand in his pocket (to be clear, it’s the professor who has one hand in his pocket – not everyone else – the professor doesn’t have a pocket big enough for that, and anyway, it’d be difficult to choreograph).

5: There are two women in the film. One is a secretary at the first outpost, with weaponised breasts and an arch manner with a pencil, who has some kind of history with Hero Captain, only he’s got a drink problem and doesn’t remember. Singapore? Anyway, when they fly to the second post they need a secretary, and she soon realises her value by making coffee. Twice. Although Hero Captain doesn’t take her up on the offer, presumably because it doesn’t involve alcohol. The other woman is a scientist at the outpost. You can tell because she has plaits.

6: When Hero Captain and his guys make it out to the crash site they realise they’ve got a bonafide flying saucer on their hands. Stuck in the ice, fin-up. They decide the best way to proceed is to blow the shit out of it with ‘thermite’, which I think went on to be used in the manufacture of gloves. Anyway, surprise surprise, it doesn’t work that well, accidentally completely destroying the ship. Although – weirdly – what happens is that Grumpy Alien Guy is blown out of the ship, then instantly refrozen in the ice. (Which doesn’t improve his mood). To be fair, Hero Captain learns from his mistakes. They won’t use thermite again. This time they’ll chip him out with picks, and load him onto the plane in a block of ice like so much tuna.

7: Back at the outpost, they put iced GAG (Grumpy Alien Guy – it takes too long to type) in a storeroom. The Professor wants to defrost GAG immediately, but Hero Captain says no, the military authorities have to say it’s okay, and for now the radios are out, so they’ll have to wait. Instead they post a guard to keep watch over frozen GAG, breaking a window to keep the place cold (although why they couldn’t just open the window I don’t know). They give the guard an electric blanket to keep him warm, which is nice. But the guard is spooked by the way GAG is sneering at him through the ice, so he puts the blanket over the ice so he doesn’t have to put up with so much attitude. (In retrospect, not the brightest guard to sit there in the first place). Turns out the electric blanket is very effective at defrosting aliens, not shorting out in all that water, because no-one’s having any luck at all in any of this, especially not the alien. When GAG climbs out the guard shoots him six times and runs away. GAG doesn’t follow him, quite sensibly, I think. The signs aren’t good he’ll be well received. GAG runs out into the snowy storm and immediately gets set on by the huskies. He fights them, killing a few and only losing an arm. Then he runs off into the night.

8: The guys (plus The Secretary and Plait Woman) realise that GAG is dangerously grumpy and is bound to come back for his arm. They stand around as The Professor dissects it (presumably there’s a blooper reel – the actor under the table making some unscheduled gestures). The Professor is very impressed by the level of vegetableness. He makes another portentous speech about venus fly traps and carrots and things. There starts to be a measure of disagreement between The Professor and Hero Captain. The Professor wants to learn from our strange, highly-intelligent visitor; Hero Captain wants to blow the shit out of it

9: They all split up to search for GAG. The Professor and his team go to the laboratory, which is basically a fancy greenhouse. They find the bloodless corpse of a husky in a storage bin and guess that GAG put it there, for some reason . The Professor asks two guys from his team to hang around whilst he goes off to do some other shit. Fairly soon after, they’re hung upside down by GAG and have all their blood drained, too, which is a shame. The Professor is pretty sanguine, though. He’s prepared to give GAG the benefit of the doubt, especially as GAG’s new to all this, and probably jet-lagged.

10: Hero Captain and the guys (and The Secretary, and Plait Woman) get ready for GAG’s next attack by hiding in another room, nailing posts against a door that opens the other way, so that’s not great. They know you can’t shoot a carrot with any degree of effectiveness, so maybe they should burn it instead, like they did with the thermite, and how well that ended. Plus, they’re in a wooden building, so… Anyway, they go ahead with this plan. When GAG breaks in, the idea is one person chucks a bucket of kerosene over it while another tosses a cigarette or a pipe or something. The Secretary offers round coffee, then hides behind a mattress. GAG runs in, rah, rah, rah, fire, flames, terrible…. runs out again… Hero Captain and the guys put out the fire and wonder what to do next, and reminisce about Singapore.

11: Turns out, GAG isn’t so stupid after all . He’s disabled the outpost’s heating system, so they’ll all freeze to death, especially The Secretary, as she only has a light summer jacket and a pair of driving gloves. They decide to rig up a trap and electrocute him.

12: Meanwhile, they find out The Professor has been growing some GAG pods, a bit like pulsating alien cannabis, except with blood plasma instead of hydroponics. The Lurch character listens to the pods with a stethoscope and weirds everyone out by saying they sound like mewling children, which is an insight into his parenting experience. The Professor wants to grow lots of these pods; Hero Captain wants to blow the shit out of them. The Secretary is worried GAG has only come to Earth to make more of itself and take over the world, treating us all like so many cabbages. The Professor shrugs. It’s a risk he’s prepared to take.

13: They’re all standing in the corridor. GAG one end, holding a piece of wood, Hero Captain and the guys (and The Secretary – I’ve lost track of The Plait) holding axes and guns at the other. Just before GAG rushes them, the Professor breaks through and stands in front of the monster to make a speech, appealing to his better nature, which is a brave move, considering. GAG shows his appreciation by knocking him halfway through a wall. Then he rushes the team, and immediately gets flash-fried. Although they overdo it with the heat and he ends up completely inedible.

14: The film ends with the reporter on the radio to somewhere else, everyone gathered round to listen except for Hero Captain and The Secretary, who are canoodling on a bench in the background. ‘Watch the skies!’ says the Reporter. ‘Keep watching the skies!’ Which is good advice, although you might want to glance down now and again, for health & safety reasons.