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Monday, March 20, 2023

Tall Order of 50's Sci-Fi

Wade and Wood's and Other Worlds

Lost again amidst peruse of Filmfax, early issues crash upon shoal of what uncultivated call “bad” or more tactful, “camp” movies. If we still enjoy them, what else counts? Detox from four-day binge yields confess of watching these: Curucu --- Beast of the Amazon, Invaders from MarsThe Brain from Planet Arous, Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman, Night of the Ghouls (aka Revenge of the Dead), and 3-D capper Revenge of the Creature. Many monkeys on one’s back, but no apology or regret for any. I’m like Glenn of the local Tastee-Freez who proudly hung portraits of Rocky Lane and Lash La Rue about the place to remind us who his idols were. They still adorn walls ten years past Glenn’s passing (he would be 99 this year). I ate a ham biscuit ‘neath his lobby card for Santa Fe Saddlemates and reflected on what genre immersion does to healthy minds. Conclusion: It’s all to good! Let’s glory then for revisit to John Agar, Ed Wood, Yvette Vickers, Tor Johnson, Beverly Garland, cracked role models, beloved totems, splendid artists they all were. Most lived to realize how loved they were by generation that was mine and younger, plus some older, good to know reward came their way if not pecuniary ones. Is glory and fan hugs worth more than mere money? They found out, though I don’t recall any addressing such cosmic query. Those to meet-greet took ten-fifteen dollars for signature upon dupe stills, but was real reward looking up and into eyes of grown folk who revere you?

Having last revisited Filmfax Issues 1-4, I chose 1987’s 5-8 to explore. Here is how far back dedicated nostalgia for 50’s sci-fi goes, not just on my part, but for fair chunk of so-called “boomer” readership, Filmfax casting wide net to genre readership, seen upon shelves at book chains now broke or rusted. Border’s and Waldenbooks once were mighty, since gone, Barnes and Noble breathing, but will it stand like mighty oak that still is Filmfax? 1986 being birth of the venerable mag, let’s ponder thirty-seven-year distance tween 1986 and 2023. Rocky and Lash’s time finally passed --- when will Agar and Tor’s? Reminder that pilot light yet burns came with recent release of Invaders from Mars on 4K, restored to within inch of nirvana by Scott MacQueen of everlasting Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum fame. Here’s the remarkable thing: Invaders from Mars was already intense object for childhood nostalgia when Filmfax did lengthy profile and appreciation in 1986, their second issue, a year infidels remade the classic in mistaken belief it could effectively be “updated.” Fans knew better then, the more so now. Jimmy Hunt was along for thirty anniversary recall, now back for sixty year reverie with a movie he did before I was born, my interface with Invaders from Mars not till 1964 on a snowy tube in black-and-white. Rose-hue mythology has grown around varied childish intros to Invaders from Mars. Seems everyone was terrified by initial sight of saucer landing that undid Jimmy and loving parents about to be corrupted by aliens, It could happen to me! sear upon evident all who watched at tender age.

Did Invaders from Mars similarly chill me at age ten when Charlotte’s Channel 3 ran it late one Friday night, my mother losing contest over which would fade first, her on the couch to sleep or Invaders to end of broadcast day and a test pattern? She lost, and yes, I wondered momentarily what might happen if Martians took possession of she and my father, but nah, it was no more likely than giant Gila monsters breaching our screen porch. Had I seen Invaders from Mars theatrically with its wackadoodle Cinecolor in 1953, impressions might have been deeper, more permanent. Speculation led me to friend Skip, who did experience Invaders from Mars plus every other sci-fi landmark when they were new. Did Invaders rock his nine-year-old world? He says no, liked it yes, though more Martians of monstrous mien would have helped. He got way more unease from the 1952 reissue of Cat People, not to mention The Thing when new in summer 1951. And here I go proud for remembering stuff like The Earth Dies Screaming first-run. Invaders from Mars first cut deep when Moon Mullins let go his 35mm Cinecolor trailer in 1974, a first time I’d see stark reds and greens and blues, if bite-sized for the two-three minute preview. 4K is marvelous sure, but when my mind conceives Invaders from Mars, it still is scrap off Moon’s shelf, evidence again that penetration by any film comes of early expose, time in life where willingness is there to be transformed.

Warning: Two at this Table are Alien Possessed, and Joyce Meadows is Not One of Them

Which obliges me to admit that nostalgia, embedded though it is, still needs perk we call “restoration,” or remastering, or just-found footage, to make viewing fresh again, innocence reclaimed if somehow the movie can be reborn. I seldom turn to old sci-fi unless there is something suddenly “new” about it. Troubling analogy might be others coming to ignore the old me, challenge being to reveal novel aspect of myself and be engaging again. A restoration of body and mind as it were, if not full 4K. Consider puppy in the pound that was Brain from Planet Arous, till recent object of contempt that was full-frame transfer from twenty years back, now a glistening 1.85 like theatres had it in 1957. Arous was independently made, given “Howco” release, fast shuffle to leave makers bare coffee and cakes, latter w/o sugar or glaze, coffee bereft of cream. Here’s for Fun Fact: J. Francis White, Howco co-chieftain, was born and lived in North Carolina. My father often played golf with him at Blowing Rock, told Mr. White of the son he had who collected movies and stuff. Next outing upon links saw forward of stills to me, on-set candids of Lash LaRue and others. This was in the mid-eighties, so why did I not volunteer to caddy for the group and learn more? By belated presence of mind, J. Francis White had passed (1987, age 85). Anyway, he exec-produced Brain from Planet Arous, whatever cloudy thing that meant (I’d assume completion cash Howco supplied). One who ran Arous to latter-day earth was Wade Williams, Midwest champion for film others figured worthless, decades he spent gathering negatives to yield what we call treasure today.

Wade departed recent, having stood criticism from a fan community that kept demanding his bounty toot sweet on Blu-Ray. In fact, some of it had begun trickling out before Wade’s death, including Brain from Planet Arous. Worth a long wait? Depends on disposition … mine leans toward love of whatever has John Agar and aliens and John Agar. Is it good will from gifts that were Tarantula and The Mole People at the Liberty in summer 1964? I propose pistol duel with anyone who’d call Agar a bad actor. In fact, he was the best, indeed the only, man who ideally played Agar parts, his an ingrained instinct to capture spirit of singular art that was sci-fi done cheap but always sincere, an approach not condescending nor spoofy. The planet Arous has sent two brains to engage with us, one good, the other distinctly bad. Agar must cope with both, the bad taking possession of him, result two Agars, dual rendering of personalities, magnificent as both. Good brain enters the skull of a dog, a device I’ve not seen deployed elsewhere. The dog lends less shading to his part than Agar however, being docile both pre and post-metamorphosis. Fifties sci-fi sets certain rules we of faith willingly observe, like with Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman, another uptick to High-Def and proper wide since flat and scissored by commercials on Channel 8-High Point. What if benign spirit came down and said, Get aboard, John, I’m taking you back to enjoy Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman same way you did on TV in 1965, blue skies and Saturday morning and hope and all the rest of it. What then would I reply? Sorry Archangel, not without HD and 1.85.

Yvette Vickers was a fine actress who never got her due. So was Allison Hayes. They both have parts more colorful in Fifty Foot Woman than women in “lobster” movies circa 50’s (lobster short for mainstream in Rick Sullivan’s Gore Gazette of lamented past). Something outlaw drives performances Vickers/Hayes give, being outside bounds, so why not give it the gas? Least respectable often yields most reward. Yvette was interviewed in an early Filmfax. I read it realizing every fact (or “Fax”) would be familiar. She chatted re 50 Ft. and other cheapies, like Giant Leeches where Vickers blood was drained s-l-o-w-l-y to still disturbing effect. Speaking which, Yvette’s own end, and talk about disturbing. If life pays off to the deserving, why didn’t someone look in on her? (months alone to mummify … ghastly) Another who died depleted and seeming forgot was Edward D. Wood, Jr., a name I like reciting full as endorse for Ed’s dignity, which he merited by being always there and work-ready, image kindly captured by Tim Burton’s bio-film. I made march through Night of the Ghouls (aka Revenge of the Dead), my thumb sore of pressing fast forward it's true, but job at long last done, and pleased for the doing. Here was infamous one rescued by Wade Williams from storage because Ed Wood couldn’t pay the lab tab. Wade did, and gave Night/Dead back to posterity. One more reason to salute both he and Wood.

Wade was a prince to me during chase after 35mm, going extra miles to make sure I was happy with deals made, him country-wide connected with rare prints. We talked frequent on collecting in general and he taught me lots. Never met Wade in person, a regret. I call Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space D.G.M’s (Darn Good Movies), but concede Night/Dead for runt of Wood chiller litter, Bela and Vampira sorely missed, too little of Tor and Criswell to compensate. Forrest Ackerman in Famous Monsters featured Revenge of the Dead like a new movie coming soon, and I waited for it, but nothing followed trumpets. Of Universal sci-fi, or “weirdies” as trade labeled them, all but one saw Blu-Ray, holdout Curucu, Beast of the Amazon till recent when “Vinegar Syndrome” served it to eager fandom. Curucu went on location that were living hell for cast/crew, this told colorfully by Beverly Garland in Filmfax, plus elsewhere by John Bromfield, writer-director Curt Siodmak. Did film folk suffer more for their craft in the fifties? To come home from ordeal of Bridge on the River Kwai left at least pride of accomplishment in a job worthwhile, but Curucu? And yet there were dividends, for Curucu played to endless midnights while Kwai dwelled solely it seemed in respectable primetime. Curucu is celebrated for being bad, not like others from Universal (even Mole People and Mantis have adherents, including me). Turns out U-I did not make Curucu, but bought it after completion by independents. There is color, a depart from Universal norm, jungly fun if a largely non-existent “monster” (mere man in scary get-up). An admitted cheat, especially when you compare outcome with posters set out for bait.

Last of sci-fi gorge came with replace I had put off of a defective Revenge of the Creature disc from Universal’s Gill Man Legacy set of seasons back, where for some reason Revenge looked lousy in 3-D. What refresh to get right this personal favorite of the Creature trio. Among things that make 3-D fun: insects flying in foreground appear like real ones in my den, me hopping off the chair for a swatter at one point. Magic of movies indeed, a trick to still work after sixty-eight years. The Creature of all monsters deserved least the many intrusions made upon his privacy. Was there an actor considered “best” at playing the Gill Man, or were they interchangeably tall, stunt proficient, swimmer guys? Tom Weaver and crew gave solid account of this and related data in The Creature Chronicles, which I consulted again after watching Revenge. Green suit wearers did shows through the nineties and then some. So did screamers plus idol Agar. I loaned Ben Chapman my pen at the Beverly Garland Hotel register, encountered Agar exiting a 16mm Revenge screening. Someone mentioned John Bromfield and he grinned, shook his head, and repeated “Bromfield!” as if to recall an unforgettable character. Julia Adams and Lori Nelson were present and autograph friendly. We imagined somehow that it would always be like this, film folk like then-still living parents to give glimpse of past we hoped never would pass. Is it really sixty years since I built an Aurora Creature model, bought for a dollar? To add authentic 3-D to Revenge of the Creature is such sweetener, like what they did for Invaders from Mars with 4K, plus sharpen and size to Arous, Fifty Foot, the rest. If all these can be made lovely again, surely there is hope of renewal for us all.


Blogger Beowulf said...

Beverly Garland... Criminally under-rated and unappreciated.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

For me, C....U, B.... of the A....N is the movie which must not be named. As a fervent ten-year-old Monster Kid I traipsed off to the local last-run bijou with a couple of friends to drool over what promised to be a great monsteriffic 1960 Saturday matinee. And in color! The disappointment wasn't just overwhelming, it was painfully overwhelming.

We were not a cussin' lot, my friends and I, but we came mighty close to turning the air blue on our disgusted walk home.

There's a long history of movies, monster and otherwise, which don't deliver on their promises, but for me none come close to this cruel disappointment.

I don't want any movie to be "lost". All should be preserved. With one exception. If Vinegar syndrome or vault fire or terrorist action had taken C....U out of the world forever, I'd celebrate.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I agree...C....U, B.... of the A....N is a real stinker.

But Beverly Garland...awesome in anything she did.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Fun films all. BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS is swell. The only way to see THE CREATURE movies in in 3D. We can be grateful Universal got the 3D Film Archive to restore REVENGE as te issues with that were horrendous.

10:00 AM  

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