The Illustrated Man (1969)

Article #1764 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-12-2006
Posting Date: 6-11-2006
Directed by Jack Smight
Featuring Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom, Robert Drivas

A wanderer encounters a stranger whose entire body is covered with illustrations that come alive and tell stories.

If there is any single author to whom I’m most sensitive in the way their work is adapted to the big screen, it is Ray Bradbury. At least part of this reason is due to the fact that he was my fantasist of choice throughout my youth, and that no other writer has ever quite conjured up that sense of magic that I get when I read him. As a result, I developed an enormous dislike for this adaptation of his anthology of short stories when I first saw it because I felt it exhibited none of the lyricism of his work.

Watching it again now, I would amend that statement only slightly. It does have moments where it catches a bit of that magic, but those moments are fleeting. It isn’t so much that the adaptations don’t follow the plots of the original stories; actually, of the four stories involved (framing story included), only the sequence based on “The Last Night of the World” fails to do so. My problem is more on the level of a betrayal of the spirit of Bradbury’s work. The movie is preoccupied with sex, has a streak of vulgarity, and is rather mean-spirited, and it is these touches that I find to be contrary to the spirit of Bradbury’s work. If you add to that the turgid pacing and the fact that the movie feels glum and morose, you can understand my reaction. Even at his darkest, there is a zest and joyfulness to Bradbury’s work; this movie is joyless. On a side note, Bradbury only agreed to sell the rights to this work if the director could get Steiger, Burt Lancaster or Paul Newman for the title role, and though Steiger does a good job, I would really have liked to have seen Lancaster in the role myself.

It Happened at Nightmare Inn (1973)

Article #1759 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-7-2006
Posting Date: 6-6-2006
Directed by Eugenio Martin
Featuring Judy Geeson, Lone Fleming, Blanca Estrada

When a woman goes to an inn in a small Spanish town to visit her sister, she is told by the two sisters that run the inn that the woman left the previous day. In truth, she has been murdered by the two sisters, who kill anyone who stays there that does not live up to their moral standards.

My copy of this movie is the TV print that runs only sixty-eight minutes; IMDB lists the running time at a solid two hours. I can only conclude that I’m missing quite a lot of the movie here. Still, this version of it is efficient, to say the least. Actually, it may be worth the effort to hunt up the longer version; the acting is quite good (even if the dubbing is substandard), there are character touches that add more dimension than you might expect, and there is a decent amount of suspense during the final scenes. I rather enjoyed this one, though I do wonder if its appeal might wear thin during the longer version.

It Conquered the World (1956)

Article #1709 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-18-2005
Posting Date: 4-16-2006
Directed by Roger Corman
Featuring Peter Graves, Beverly Garland, Lee Van Cleef

A scientist halps an alien from Venus come to the Earth under the belief that the alien will help save mankind from itself. He fails to see that the alien is bent on conquest for his own reasons.

Beulah (as the vegetable-shaped creature of this movie was named by creator Paul Blaisdell) is one of the silliest monsters from the science fiction movies of the fifties. As such, the monster does garner quite a bit of affection, and I have to admit that I love it myself. Nevertheless, I wonder how much better the reputation of this movie would have been with a more convincing creation (or if, as originally planned, it had not been trotted out in the open for all to see). The movie is actually quite strong, largely because of a script with far more depth than is usually found in low budget movies of this period; the philosophical discussions about the power of human emotion and the folly of trying to get outside forces to solve our problems for us have a real bite and relevance to them. Given this sophistication, it’s no surprise that the script was actually written by Charles B. Griffith instead of the credited Lou Rusoff; it shows the same sophistication of many of his other scripts for Corman (THE UNDEAD, BUCKET OF BLOOD, NOT OF THIS EARTH, etc.) . The movie also has some sharp and fascinating editing at times; I love moments like the one where a shot of a soldier cleaning his gun cuts to a shot of one of the scientists cleaning his own gun as well. The performances are also quite good, though Beverly Garland takes the prize as the traitorous scientist’s wife, a rather difficult role which she pulls off extremely well. The movie is also shot through with real tragedy; of the four major characters in the story, take note of how many are alive in the final reel. Outside of the monster, the other main thing that I would change in the movie would be to remove ┬ácharacter of the Mexican private; Jonathan Haze is extremely unfunny in the role, even with the help of a great straight man like Dick Miller. Haze would do a better job in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS a few years later. Still, despite the flaws, this is a quite powerful low-budget science fiction feature.

Invisible Invaders (1959)

Article #1708 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2005
Posting Date: 4-16-2006
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Featuring John Agar, Jean Byron, Philip Tonge

Invisible aliens from outer space invade the earth by taking over the bodies of the dead.

This movie’s main claim to fame anymore is the similarities it has with Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD; the scenes of the dead men (the aliens don’t possess the bodies of dead women, for some reason) in various states of decay wandering around does indeed recall those of the later movie. Still, this movie lacks many of the qualities that made the Romero movie a classic, but I suspect the budget of this one was even lower than the one of that one. After all, we’re talking about an alien invasion story with only about ten speaking parts, filled out with tons of stock footage, familiar locations (the bunker is hidden inside Bronson Caverns) and with budget-minded monsters. Still, I can’t be too hard on it; it does manage to work up a chill or two, and some scenes are memorable enough, even if the story drags (particularly in the second half). It does have one other noteworthy aspect; it’s the only cinematic union of horror and science fiction actors John Agar and John Carradine. And anybody who has seen “Police Squad” should have a little laugh when Carradine dies thirty seconds after his character is introduced before he’s had a chance to say a word.

The Invisible Boy (1957)

Article #1702 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-11-2005
Posting Date: 4-10-2006
Directed by Herman Hoffman
Featuring Richard Eyer, Philip Abbott, Diane Brewster

When a scientist has his boy trained to play chess by a supercomputer, the boy suddenly develops the ability to rebuild a robot that came from the future. However, when the boy hooks up the robot to the computer to remove his prime directive, things take a sinister turn.

The first two times I watched this movie I was not impressed; despite the fact that someone at MGM rightly thought enough of Robby the Robot to use him in another movie, this was certainly no FORBIDDEN PLANET. Yet, Bill Warren’s essay on this movie in KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES did make me rethink my views on the movie; he makes a good argument about the sophistication and the complexity of the plot, and watching the movie with that in mind, I agree with him. The movie really does an excellent job of putting the pieces of the plot together.

However, I still feel the movie has some real problems. The movie’s comic tone doesn’t really mesh with the darker tone that comes in during the second half of the movie. The comedy is variable; for me, the high point is the scene where the boy leads the newly reconstructed robot around to the scientists only to be greeted with indifference, while the low point is when the boy spies on his parents in their bedroom. When you consider that this movie is to some extent a children’s movie, this last scene makes me feel downright queasy, as does a later scene where the boy is about to undergo horrible torture; this latter scene reminded of a scene in another boy-and-his-robot movie, TOBOR THE GREAT. The movie is also hampered by indifferent direction and variable acting. And one scene has always annoyed me; the scene where the army tries to prevent Robby from entering the spaceship only to have him vanish from their sight (after they attack him with a flame thrower) only to appear magically behind them might be appropriate in a fantasy, but I expect something more believable in a science fiction movie.

Island of Lost Women (1959)

Article #1548 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-10-2005
Posting Date: 11-7-2005
Directed by Frank Tuttle
Featuring Jeff Richards, Venetia Stevenson, John Smith

Two men crash-land on an uncharted island, only to find that the island is home for a nuclear scientist (who wanted to escape the real world) and his three beautiful daughters.

The most amazing thing about this movie is that it takes itself rather seriously given the campy premise. The science fiction element is present, since the scientist does come up with some gadgetry, in particular a gun converted into a flame-thrower. The story is pretty basic; the men land on the island and want to get away. The scientist doesn’t want anyone to find out he’s there, so he plots to keep the men from leaving the island, especially as one of them is a reporter who makes it clear that he will reveal the presence of the scientist on the island. Meanwhile, two of the beautiful daughters become attached to the two men and try to help them, while the third, young and jealous, tries to foil their plans. It’s watchable but silly, and ends with the most ridiculous nuclear explosion since KILLERS FROM SPACE. Still, I can’t help but notice how the plot of this movie bears a certain degree of similarity to that of FORBIDDEN PLANET.

The Invisible Killer (1939)

Article #1547 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-9-2005
Posting Date: 11-6-2005
Directed by Sam Newfield
Featuring Grace Bradley, Roland Drew, Jean Brooks

When a man who was about to spill important information about a gambling syndicate dies unexpectedly of poisoning, police detectives and a spunky girl reporter decide to investigate.

The title implies that there’s an invisible man in this movie, and some of the graphics during the credits do so as well. Don’t you believe it. Just because a killer is invisible doesn’t mean that the killer is something that is usually visible; nor is there anything to specify that the killer is even sentient. What we have here is a fairly lame crime movie with a slight science fiction gimmick to spice up the proceedings a little, and when I say “little”, I do mean “not much at all”. So, unless you’re particularly partial to spunky girl reporters who infuriate their police detective fiances, you can safely skip this one. Included here for slight science fiction content.