Friday, February 26, 2021


 Hosted By Taking Up Room

"Cinemagic And You Take a Trip To The Angry Red Planet!"

"The hell with radiation... Let's go!"

Made at the tail end of the 50's sci-fi boom and released by A.I.P., THE ANGRY RED PLANET was shot in 10 days on a budget of about $200,000.  Although released in 1959 it has the look and feel of something from earlier in the decade and it is mind-bogglingly to think that MGM (who currently own the rights to it) would release 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in a scant 9 years.  It was directed by Irb Melichor (THE TIME TRAVELERS 1964) who also co-wrote it with the film's producer Sidney Pink and that same duo would co-produce/direct the Danish monster-on-the rampage REPTILICUS in 1961.

The film is most known today among genre fans for the use of a process that was heralded as "CineMagic" whereupon solarization was applied to a B&W film negative (which reverses the negative making it a positive) and then slathering the image in a heavy red filter. The process allowed a part of the film to be shot on less expensive B&W film stock while also (hopefully) helping mask the film's budget-constrained special effects. Pink and Melchor also went with hand-drawn matt paintings for the sequences on Mars that were just drawn as outlines of the vegetation and landscape (worked on by comic artist Alex Toth) which was hoped would be covered up by the solarization & heavy filtering but instead appear exactly as they are - simple line drawings.

THE ANGRY RED PLANET has often been criticized for having some interesting ideas and concepts that because of the budget and script never come close to being explored (although you wonder what they could explore in an 83-min. low budget film shot in a week and a half). In addition, most space exploration films of this period do not have much in science plausibility (and to be fair even at the time of their release we were and still are today watching them for entertainment) but ANGRY RED PLANET appears to have been made by folks who did not have the slightest grasp in what was known about Mars at the time or science in general. However, it is wonderfully entertaining, and one cannot but help to revel in its unintentional humor (and dialogue) and the creatures for all their WTF craziness have a wonderful whacky charm to them and are not soon forgotten. Despite everything working against it, it succeeds on its own often-time silly merits. Along with MISSLE TO THE MOON from 1958, you could probably look at this as one of the main inspirations for the 50's sci-fi parody segment in AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON. 

Opening with a montage of frantic meetings between military and scientist-types along with screaming newspaper headlines (and a great deal of stock footage), it is learned that the long-missing Mars MR1 rocket has been found in space just outside of the earth's atmosphere. In a classic space mystery (and reminiscent of Hammer's THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT from 1955) it is discovered that only two of the four crew members are left alive and that the rocket can be brought back and landed by "robot control". In a short flashback via newsreel footage, the crew members are introduced which are the pilot (and space lounge lizard) Col. Tom O'Bannon (Gerald Mohr THE SNIPER 1952), "electronics expert", and comic-relief Sam Jacobs (Jack Kruschen SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS 1977 and Academy Award nominee for THE APARTMENT 1960), scientist Dr. Iris "Irish" Ryan (Nora Hayden PLUNDER ROAD 1957) and rocket designer Prof. Theodore Gettell (Les Tremayne THE WAR OF THE WORLDS 1953). 

Upon landing its discovered that the remaining crew members are Dr. Ryan and an initially kept secretive second member who is unconscious and has a strange green growth on their arm. Unable to recall anything Dr. Ryan is given sodium panthenol and recalls the events of the expedition in flashback which unfolds as the main plot of the film. 

The voyage to Mars is shown in one of those magnificently huge 1950's rocket interiors where folks stroll about, smoke cigarettes, and the canned rations ("Mars Ration No. 1") are kept on a shelf in a small kitchen-type wood cabinet. There is no mention of the gravity issue and we are quickly brought up to speed with the four main characters and their stock character hierarchy. Gerald Mohr with his unbuttoned jumpsuit exposing his hairy chest spends almost his entire time making passes at Irish ("When I call you by your name... you'll know it"). You keep expecting him to walk out in a velour bathrobe & slippers with a pipe and demanding a drink. Kruschen's Jacobs in the tradition of cinema love-lorn second bananas develops an unhealthy relationship to a piece of equipment. Here it is a futuristic-looking gun that for some strange reason crystalizes everything and which he lovingly names "Cleopatra" (or "Cleo" for short) and spends his time polishing it. 

To remind us he is a professor Tremayne smokes a pipe constantly and gestures with it while offering "scientific" observations on whatever is happening at the time. In a nice bit of enlightenment for the time women were often given roles of a scientist in 50's Sci-Fi (although they are often given male nicknames such as Mara Corday's "Steve" in TARANTULA 1955) and it is commendable that the writers here make Nora Hayden's character a biology scientist she is shown to be making the meals and screaming every 10 minutes. However, she is the one whose knowledge of science saves the day in the end.   

Upon landing on Mars (accompanied by what sounds like a whirring tape deck and everybody barking out landing instructions) they find the planet eerily quiet and unmoving with the Professor immediately jumping to the conclusion that everything is controlled by an unseen presence. While looking out on the landscape Iris sees a three-eyed bug-like creature gazing at her from the outside through a window. The group begins wandering aimlessly about in simple coveralls in a landscape that seems to change from jungle to desert to sea in a matter of steps with all the landscape rendered in the "CineMagic" process. 

The creatures they encounter are the highlights of the film and include a huge man-eating plant and best of all a towering thing described as a "rat bat spider" that seems to defy all laws of zoology & evolution (how and what does it eat??). Encountering a large sea, the group begins paddling across it in a rubber boat they conveniently have brought with them and spy a towering futuristic city on the horizon (described as "hundreds of feet high" and oddly invisible to telescopes on earth it seems) and encounter a huge amoeba-like sea monster (with a spinning eyeball on top!).

For all its mystery concerning the identity of the green-growth afflicted crew member, it is painfully obvious who it is and equally obvious which two crew members will be the equivalent of a red-shirted crew member on a STAR TREK landing party. For all its faults and unintentional humor, THE ANGRY RED PLANET is a lot of fun and as mentioned will definitely stick in your mind. Paul Dunlap (who is still working in the Hollywood music industry to this day) contributes a score that veers from finger-popping jazz-like interludes to more ominous queues. The martian glimpsed in the film was originally to be shown as gigantic and can be seen towering above the rocket in some promo material. 

Gerald Mohr had one of those "radio voices" and made a decent transition to movies with roles in the bizarre INVASION U.S.A. (from 1952, not the Chuck Norris one) and appeared in some great film noirs including THE SNIPER 1952 and GILDA 1946 along with bunches of westerns and tons of TV work. A busy character actor Jack Kruschen seemed poised for bigger things after his nomination for THE APARTMENT but continued with small roles in major pictures (often playing ethnic types) along with more prominent work in lower-budget movies. I will always remember him from George Pal's THE WAR OF THE WORLDS 1953 where he played one of the unfortunate trio who first encounter the invaders and in the John Wayne comedy western MCCLINTOCK! 1963. 

Nora Hayden was a model and appeared in the excellent PLUNDER ROAD 1957 and did extensive TV work in the '60s and '70s. Les Tremayne was another radio guy with an impressive 132 acting credits and was a familiar face (and voice) in 50's Sci-Fi usually playing gruff no-nonsense military and authority business types such as in the above mentioned THE WAR OF THE WORLDS 1953 and THE MONOLITH MONSTERS 1957.

THE ANGRY RED PLANET is available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory and had a couple previous DVD releases from Shout including a 4 pack with THE MAN FROM PLANET X, THE TIME TRAVELERS, and BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER. 

Cool to see when planning a trip to Mars they use the same map we had in my grade school classroom

High-tech navigation system

Monday, February 8, 2021



"A New High In Terror and Shock!"

Made on the downside of the trend of casting actresses from Hollywood's golden age in horror and/or exploitative films that had started with Robert Aldrich's WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE in 1962 (and seemingly had breathed its last with A.I.P's WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN in 1971) this sometimes lurid/sometimes gory entry was the only film directed by editor and sound technician Donald Wolfe (THE HUMAN DUPLICATORS 1965) it sat on the shelf upon completion in 1970 (with possible some additional filming over the course of the next few years) wherein 1974 it was finally released by Joseph Brenner Associates under the title SAVAGE INTRUDER (also the title on the Unicorn Video release in the '80s) where its psychedelic trappings must have seemed even more dated. In addition, star Miriam Hopkins had passed away in 1972 which must have added to the befuddlement of theatergoers.

The film opens with a beautifully shot & evocative credit sequence of the then rusted and dilapidated Hollywood sign atop Mt. Lee (where it is literally falling apart before the camera) before it pans down to a woman's mutilated corpse at its base. We next see various shots of old-time glamorous Hollywood (some of it cribbed from SINGIN' IN THE RAIN) and then cutting to a contemporary seedy Sunset Blvd. where an elderly woman is followed home and bloodily dispatched by a variety of sharp objects (including an electric knife). A televised news reports that there has been a series of brutal killings of women in the Hollywood area. 

In her sprawling Hollywood Hills mansion (actually the Santa Monica home of silent screen actress Norma Talmadge) faded and reclusive screen star Katherine Packard (Miriam Hopkins DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE 1931) has fallen down the stairs in a drunken stupor and broken her leg. Her secretary Leslie (Gale Sondergaard THE SPIDER WOMAN 1943) decides to hire a live-in nurse and in a bit of happenstance, a Hollywood tour bus (driven by the least funny of The Three Stooges Joe Besser) stops in front of her house, and struggling actor Vic Valance (David Garfield and son of John Garfield) whose been hitching a ride on the rear bumper jumps off and marches up to the front door.

Introducing himself to the cook Mildred (busy character actor Florence Lake THE DAY OF THE LOCUST 1974) as "Laurel N. Hardy", he is mistaken as an applicant for the nurse job and after flim-flamming his way past Leslie, gets the job. The now wheelchair-bound Katherine quickly becomes fond of her new young companion and he soon seduces her along with the housekeeper Greta (Virginia Winters CHARLEY VARRICK) while Leslie & Mildred become increasingly suspicious of his behavior and closeness to Katherine. Periodically Vic has hallucinatory LSD-triggered flashbacks to his childhood as he watches his nymphomaniac mother being groped by a gaggle of men before he (or somebody?) chops off her hand with an ax and then a quick cut to ketchup gurgling out of a bottle.  He also suffers from other LSD flashbacks that include quick-cut montages where among others Hitler and Alister Crowley can be glimpsed. Since there is no suspense on who the slasher is as seen in the opening sequence (the plot makes it in-your-face obvious) we are only left with the when & who in the Packard household are going to meet their end. 

 Hopkins who would sadly die of a heart attack in 1972 throws herself full-tilt into the proceedings whether gleefully screaming "vodka!" (which she insists on injecting directly into her veins) when asked what flavor of ice cream she wants, flashing a bare breast while getting a nude massage from Vic and in one particularly over-the-top-sequence participating in the Hollywood Christmas parade as she drunkenly shrieks "I'm the Queeeeen of the Christmas Paraaaaade!" while riding with Santa Claus. It would have been nice for Hopkins to go out on a higher note, however it cannot be said that she does not give her all here and her role may be a trainwreck, but it's an entertaining (and sometimes amazing in its bad taste) train wreck. There are a few sequences that hint at some evocative atmosphere including one room in Katherine's house that contains mannequins wearing costumes from her past roles. 

One of the more under-appreciated golden age actresses, Sondergaard who specialized in cunning & sinister roles (she is especially good in the 1939 version of THE CAT AND THE CANARY and just missed out on the Wicked Witch role in THE WIZARD OF OZ) comes out the best of the leads as she gives a sympathetic performance as the caring secretary. Although he looks a great deal like his famous father (and in some instances sounds eerily just like him) Garfield lacks the charisma of his Dad, although some more focused direction might have helped his role (the same can be said for Hopkins). He would die at 51 of heart problems very similar to his father. 

A sleazier take on SUNSET BLVD. tossed with a bit of such A.I.P. counter-culture films as ANGEL, ANGEL DOWN WE GO and mixed (very slightly) with some Euro "past family issues" Gothic horrors such as HATCHET FOR A HONEYMOON, this is overdone camp on many levels, but it is entertaining as heck on that level. There's a couple of out-right lifts from SUNSET BLVD. including Katherine hosting a dinner party with some of her other old Hollywood cronies among them her former director (Lester Matthews THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON) who secretly loves her and Vic doing shopping for his new gigolo-financed clothes courtesy of his employer. 

The opening credit sequence of the crumbling Hollywood sign with the wind blowing through it is the most atmospheric of the film and one wonders if perhaps this was done by the second unit director Don May as it is so unlike the rest of the film. The music is by Stu Phillips, who seemed to supply the music for exploitation film of the period and had just come off THE LOSERS, THE CURIOUS FEMALE, and BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. 

Previously only available on VHS sourced releases of dubious legality HOLLYWOOD HORROR HOUSE has been given a Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome in an eye-popping 4K transfer from the 35mm negative which brings out the colors and psychedelic Day-Glo color scheme in glorious retina-burning color. There is also a commentary track with David Decoteau and David Del Valle that is more entertaining than the film at certain points.