Barry P. runs the eclectic movie blog Cinematic Catharsis, focusing on the little films that slipped through the cracks, with an emphasis on genre titles. Some regular features include: classic spotlights, capsule reviews and overlooked gems.
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1. X The Unknown – Following the success of the first Quatermass film, Hammer attempted to make lightning strike twice, and succeeded with this nifty little sci-fi thriller, set in Scotland. Jimmy Sangster’s first screenplay, about unstoppable primordial ooze that emerges from the depths of the earth, is a winner. The indestructible organism devours radioactive material and kills anything in its path. X-The Unknown features some great performances, including Dean Jagger as an American nuclear scientist. This atomic age tale is refreshing for its attitude toward science and the role of researchers. Science doesn’t create the monster, but provides a means of understanding what’s happening, as well as a possible solution to the rampaging force. Suspenseful and thought-provoking, X The Unknown helped raise the bar for Hammer films, where good storytelling and solid acting trumped any budgetary deficiencies.
2. The Mole People – This B sci-fi/adventure hybrid is worth seeing for the introduction alone. Anyone who sat through a junior high science class in the ‘70s or ‘80s will recognize the star of many educational films, Frank Baxter, providing a pseudo-scholarly examination of civilizations beneath Earth’s crust. John Agar stars as Dr. Roger Bentley, who leads a subterranean expedition with Hugh Beaumont and Nestor Paiva. They discover an albino tribe led by Alan Napier (Alfred in the Batman TV series), along with the titular race of sub-humans that live to serve their less-than-benevolent masters. Just because Dr. Bentley is held captive doesn’t mean there’s isn’t time to strike up a doomed romance with a pasty-faced slave girl (Cynthia Patrick). Good, silly fun, although the ending is a real bummer.
3. Rodan – With all this Godzilla business, it’s easy for other kaiju to get lost in the shuffle. What better time to remind us that one of Toho’s second bananas once had their moment in the spotlight (After all, why should the big lizard have all the fun)? Ishirô Honda’s film starts off on a vaguely Lovecraftian vibe as several workers in a mine experience a series of horrible attacks from some particularly nasty giant bugs. As the survivor Shigeru (Kenji Sahara) regains his memory, we learn about the existence of something much worse. Suspense builds after two throwbacks to an earlier age, collectively known as Rodan, terrorize the surrounding countryside. The oversized pteranodons fly at supersonic speed and leave a trail of destruction. Is this the beginning of the end for humanity? Not if an intrepid bunch of scientists and the Japan Self-Defense Force have their say.
4. Warning from Space – This Daiei production plays like a cross between The Day The Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide. Starfish-shaped aliens called Pairans visit Earth, and people flee in terror from them until the creatures decide to change strategies and come disguised in human form. Eminent Japanese scientist Dr. Kamura has discovered a formula for a force that’s more destructive than any existing terrestrial weapon. The alien emissary attempts to convince the scientist that his discovery could be a threat to everyone’s existence. Meanwhile, there’s a more imminent threat, Planet R, which is hurtling through space and about to crash into Earth. The two species must work together to confront this threat. Outside of the ridiculous alien costumes, there’s little we haven’t seen before, but it’s still refreshing to see a science fiction movie from the ‘50s where an alien species wants to cooperate with, instead of conquer, humankind. Warning from Space has the distinction of being the first Japanese color science fiction production, but that attribute was difficult to appreciate with the scratchy, washed-out print used for the DVD transfer. Worth seeking out if you’re a tokusatsu enthusiast or just have a soft spot for very unconvincing creature effects.