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Sunday, March 21, 2010

THEM! - 1954

I love a good giant bug movie and this is one of the best. This film did so well for Warner that it was quickly imitated by a slew of others including Tarantula (1955), The Black Scorpion (1959) and The Deadly Mantis (1957).

A lot of the giant bug movies of the fifties have similar themes - the dangers of nuclear weapons, Mother Nature run amok - and this one is no exception. Something strange is happening out in the desert and it's up to James Arness (the Thing from The Thing) to figure it out. What they discover are giant mutated ants, transformed by the radiation from a nearby nuclear test site. These insects are HUGE yet they are attracted by minuscule amounts of sugar, which they never seem to actually consume. Ignore that and the movie is quite enjoyable.

Them! was originally to be filmed in color, so when the model shop built the giant ants they made them quite colorful. Joan Weldon (Dr. Patricia Medford) said that they were actually quite beautiful. In this case, a budget cut actually turned out to be beneficial - in black and white the ants are much more effective. You have to forgive the cheesy appearance of some the bugs but, hey, this was years before computers were common place and CGI, well, forget about it. Still, considering the budget and the technical limits of model building at the time, this move stands out as one of the best bug movies ever made.

The scenes in the L.A. storm tunnels foreshadow scenes to come in movies like Alien, even down to the use of flame throwers to destroy the queen's eggs.

*** Look for Leonard Nimoy as an Air Force sergeant and Fess Parker as the 'deranged' crop duster confined to a mental ward to keep him quiet.

Great line, typical fifties paranoia --
Robert Graham: And I thought today was the end of them.
Dr. Harold Medford: No. We haven't seen the end of them. We've only had a close view of the beginning of what may be the end of us.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Beast with a Million Eyes - 1956

This is what happens when you create the movie poster first -- no script, no plot, no guidance, just a poster and a miniscule $23,000 budget. Shot in the desert with a non-union crew, a no-name cast and special effects that included an over-sized coffee percolator as an alien space ship, this movie rivals "Plan 9 from Outer space" for pure ineptness.

This film was so low budget and so badly done (but what do you expect for 23 grand?) that the exhibitors rebelled when they flew out to see the finished product, the product they were supposed to show in their theaters! Where was the beast? Where were the million eyes? One exhibitor reportedly offered to pay for a re-shoot, saying they should just burn this one.

But James Nicholson (co-founder of AIP with Samuel Arkoff) wasn't one to give up. He locked himself in the editing room with the print and a knife, scratched all the frames where the monster and its coffee pot were visible, and emerged with a film that, while still pretty bad, at least was no longer a total embarrassment. Now, instead of a silly looking little creature sitting in a coffee pot, there were lightning bolts and flashes of light like death rays or something. Good enough that the exhibitors were able to show the thing to the public.

What's sad is that the basic idea behind the story is interesting: an alien life force arrives on Earth and takes over the will of animals to use as weapons against us. The invader is defeated in the end when an intelligent family shows it love -- something it can't stand.

This was the only film directed by David Kramarsky, who must've thought better of the whole directing thing after this fiasco.

Look for Dick Sargent, long before "Bewitched", as the deputy.