Film Review: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Also known as: Grave Robbers From Outer Space, The Vampire’s Tomb (working titles)
Release Date: July 22nd, 1959
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: stock recordings compiled by Gordon Zahler
Cast: Criswell, Bela Lugosi, Gregory Walcott, Vampira, Lyle Talbot, Tor Johnson, Mona McKinnon, Duke Moore, Tom Keene, Paul Marco, John “Bunny” Breckinridge, Conrad Brooks, Ed Wood (cameo)

Reynolds Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“But one thing’s sure. Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.” – Lieutenant John Harper

I’ve reviewed several films by Ed Wood but I put off his most famous picture for quite awhile. I wanted to wait for a rainy day to revisit it. But then a friend and I got drunk and decided to watch the Rifftrax Live version of the film.

For those that don’t know, Ed Wood is widely considered to be the worst director of all-time. Frankly, that’s bullshit, as there are many directors who are much worse than Wood. He just got famous for being bad. And yes, his films aren’t good but Wood was able to get his enthusiasm and love across, even if his movies were cheap, terribly acted, terribly directed and had scenarios that were hardly believable even for 1950s science fiction.

There is a charm to Wood’s pictures and Plan 9 From Outer Space wears that charm on its sleeve. It’s a jumbled mess of a lot of ideas, crashing together and competing with one another but Wood’s ambition here is hard to deny.

I always felt like Wood was someone that just needed a good creative partner to help steer his projects and refine them. Ed Wood was the ultimate fanboy and everything he made was a sort of mashup of all the things he was a hardcore fan of. It all just lacks refinement and a budget… and sometimes common sense and continuity.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is Wood’s magnum opus and it has the best cast that he was ever able to assemble. Okay, maybe they weren’t talented from an acting standpoint but he got known icons in the movie like Tor Johnson, Criswell, Vampira and Bela Lugosi, who died before this was actually made but shot footage with Wood for a future project.

As bad of a film as Plan 9 is, it isn’t unwatchable. Okay, it may be unwatchable for a modern audience that doesn’t understand the context of what this is, how it came to be and the legend of the man behind it. But with that being said, you don’t try to push Tommy Wiseau’s The Room on an audience that happily paid to see Transformers 5. For those that understand and appreciate things like this, it’s a worthwhile motion picture to experience.

There are aliens, vampires, ghouls, UFOs and an airplane cockpit that looks like it’s from the set of an elementary school play. There are a lot of things to love about this picture, if you’re into cheesy ’50s sci-fi and horror.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is something special. It has stood the test of time because of its flaws and how its director has become a legend of sorts. But maybe its still talked about because it has a bit of magic in it too.

I would suggest watching the biopic Ed Wood to understand the context of the film and its backstory. Plus, Ed Wood is one of my favorite movies of all-time and is still Tim Burton’s best.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Ed Wood films from the era: Bride of the MonsterNight of the Ghouls and Glen or Glenda? Also, the biopic Ed Wood, which was directed by Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp as Wood.

Film Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Release Date: May 4th, 1959 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Peter Bryan
Based on: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, André Morell, Christopher Lee

Hammer Film Productions, United Artists, 87 Minutes

Review:

“I warned him! What could have possessed him to come out here alone?” – Sherlock Holmes

The Sherlock Holmes franchise is possibly the biggest of all-time, as the character has had more literary stories than I care to count and an endless stream of movies and television shows going back to the invention of celluloid. Maybe there are more live action Dracula adaptations but one can’t deny that Holmes has owned pop culture before the term “pop culture” entered the mainstream lexicon.

It’s only natural that Hammer would take a crack at a Holmes story after their success at adapting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, along with their versions of The Mummy and their other horror successes. Plus, they had the uber talented Peter Cushing at their disposal, who was definitely Hammer’s perfect man to play the world’s most famous detective. Add in Cushing’s best friend and the man he worked with the most, Christopher Lee, and you’ve got a solid cast. However, this also teamed the great duo up with Hammer’s third best male lead, André Morell. And then on top of that, this was directed by Hammer’s premier director, Terence Fisher. To put it simply, Hammer assembled their dream team to give life to the literary work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

What I most enjoyed about this film, is that even if it takes some liberties, it doesn’t do what you would expect Hammer to do. What I mean is that it doesn’t give the story a supernatural twist. It could have been easily turned into a werewolf movie or had a bunch of black magic stuff but it kept things grounded in reality and honestly, that made for a better picture than conjuring up some sort of unnatural threat.

While I always loved seeing Cushing and Lee together, Cushing spends more time with Morell, which is fun stuff to watch, as I love both men and wish that they got to play off of each other more often. Morell should have been in more films with Cushing and Lee, as the three men are sort of Hammer’s Holy Trinity.

This is a very straightforward Holmes picture that does the material some justice and is a nice experience, overall. It has that standard late ’50s/early ’60s Hammer visual aesthetic, which just makes this cooler and helps to make it fit within their catalog of horror titles from that time.

I love Holmes pictures and I love Hammer, so this is certainly a film I really enjoy and appreciate for a myriad of reasons.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other early Hammer films starring Cushing and Lee. Also, the Hammer film with André Morell that deals with the undead: The Plague of the Zombies. I also like pairing this with another Hammer classic that stars the super cool Oliver Reed: The Curse of the Werewolf.

Film Review: Hercules Unchained (1959)

Also known as: Hercules and the Queen of Lydia (English literal title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1959 (Italy)
Directed by: Pietro Francisci
Written by: Ennio De Concini, Pietro Francisci
Based on: Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles, Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus
Music by: Enzo Masetti
Cast: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Primo Carnera, Sylvia Lopez

Lux Film, Galatea Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

“I’m so sleepy, I can’t seem to keep awake!” – Hercules

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has always loved to showcase old sword and sandal movies of the worst quality. Actually, nearly everything in the genre is of poor quality. However, you knew you were getting into something special when one of MST3K‘s sword and sandal selections was a Hercules movie. Okay, maybe not special… more like, slightly better but still not good.

At least this one stars Steve Reeves, the true Hercules of his era and the only one that really mattered in that iconic role.

While this isn’t as good as the first Reeves’ Hercules, it is better than nearly everything that came after it. Still, it’s a fairly crappy motion picture that doesn’t do much to capture the imagination and makes one wonder why these style of movies were so popular. I mean, at least in the ’80s there was ConanRed Sonja and my personal favorite, Beastmaster. But those were actually sword and sorcery movies and not sword and sandal ones. I guess sorcery pairs better with sandals on the big screen. I certainly enjoyed James Earl Jones’ Thulsa Doom, as a villain, much more than the many harlots and weirdos that Hercules got tangled up with.

This film is pretty boring overall. It’s less interesting than the zanier stuff like Hercules Against the Moon Men and it doesn’t have a cool Hydra like The Loves of Hercules. It may be a hair better than both of those due to Reeves giving the film some legitimacy but to be honest, these films all sort of blend together in my mind as a big stew of sand where Steve Reeves’ face occasionally pops up.

Hercules Unchained isn’t a painful experience, it is just a really dull one.

And it is also shitty enough that I must run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.” That’s a bit harsher than I thought but the machine never lies.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Steve Reeves’ first Hercules movie.

Film Review: Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Release Date: July 1st, 1959
Directed by: Otto Preminger
Written by: Wendell Mayes
Based on: Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver
Music by: Duke Ellington
Cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott, Duke Ellington (cameo)

Carlyle Productions, Columbia Pictures, 160 Minutes

Review:

“Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind – unanimous. It’s one of the miracles of Man’s disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.” – Parnell Emmett McCarthy

If you ever told me that I’d watch a courtroom drama that’s nearly three hours long and that I’d love it, I’d call you a liar. Nothing is more boring to me than court movies. They’re overly talkie, use an abundance of legal jargon I don’t care to know and they just sit there, in one room, seemingly forever. Hell, I hate when television shows I love go into some multi episode courtroom story. I hate courtrooms, I hate jury duty and I thought Court TV was something that old people watched, hoping it would kill them sooner.

Yet, Anatomy of a Murder is to courtrooms what 12 Angry Men is to jury duty. It took something that I have less interest in than dusting sand and made it compelling, engaging, entertaining and hooked me emotionally. In short, it’s a spectacular film that I was glued to from start to finish.

I have become a fan of Otto Preminger’s work, especially his film-noir stuff. While this isn’t noir, it has that distinct Preminger touch and visual allure. It’s clean, crisp, warm and has a strange magnetism that pulls you in. Preminger really was a master of the silver screen, as his films always looked immaculate yet lived in with a sort of grandiose aura about them.

The absolute highlight of this film is seeing two legendary actors: James Stewart and George C. Scott, go head to head as rival lawyers during the trial that is the focus of the story. And really, I think that it is the incredible performances by these two that lured me in, even more so than this being a Preminger film. James Stewart just owns this role and his mere presence prevented this film from having a dull moment. George C. Scott was a great accent to Stewart, giving him a powerful foil to play off of. Stewart was like a 24 oz. bone-in tomahawk ribeye while Scott was the best Béarnaise sauce you could ever hope to taste.

The film also dealt with very controversial subject matter for the time. The trial involved a murder that was committed in defense of the killer’s wife being raped. This was taboo stuff for the 1950s and there’s even a scene in the film where the judge has to explain to the people in the court that he won’t permit any giggles or snickering at the mention of the word “panties”.

Anatomy of a Murder is a long film but it doesn’t feel like it. The set up and investigative stuff before the trial is probably the slowest part of the movie but that doesn’t take too long and once you are in the courtroom, this picture just takes off and doesn’t come back down until the credits roll.

This is a pretty perfect film for its time and its subject matter. It goes to show what kind of magic Hollywood can produce when you have a premier director and two paragons of pure acting talent.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: 12 Angry Men, Orson Welles’ The Trail and two of the James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock collaborations: Rope and Rear Window.

Film Review: Santa Claus (1959)

Release Date: November 26th, 1959 (Mexico)
Directed by: Rene Cardona, Ken Smith (English language direction)
Written by: Adolfo Torres Portillo, Rene Cardona
Music by: Antonio Diaz Conde
Cast: Jose Elias Moreno, Pulgarcito, Jose Luis Aguirre, Armando Arriola, Lupita Quezadas, Antonio Diaz Conde, Angel Di Stefani, Ken Smith (English language narrator)

Cinematográfica Calderón S.A., 97 Minutes

Review:

“Away up in the heavens, far out in space, in a beautiful gold and crystal palace right above the North Pole, lives a kind and jolly old gentleman. Santa Claus.” – Narrator

This could be the worst Christmas themed anything that I have ever seen. Sure, it’s a challenge to top Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny but this may have done just that.

Santa Claus is a Mexican movie but don’t worry, as it is accompanied by some really bad dubbing for gringos in the States.

Basically, this pits Santa Claus against the Devil or some form of a devil because he comes from an underground land of devils. The Devil is evil, Santa is good. The Devil wants to stop Santa, Santa is just like, “Screw this Devil bro, I got presents to get to the little hijos!”

While this film is terrible. It does have some cool visuals. The sets are hokey and cheap but at least they are somewhat imaginative even if they look like they were pieced together from stolen department store holiday displays. But you can’t accuse this film of not at east feeling and looking festive. For 1959, the atmosphere isn’t any worse than any of the bigger budget American holiday specials from the time. It looks like a stage show but that’s fine, all things considered.

However, the plot, the acting and just about everything else is pretty awful. This isn’t a good movie but the visual aesthetic is still interesting and I can’t completely dismiss this. Still, as a total package, it is probably the worst holiday film I’ve seen in a really long time. Although, it probably isn’t as bad as Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, which I have yet to see. Maybe next year.

So does Santa Claus deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes! The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Film Review: Caltiki – The Immortal Monster (1959)

Also known as: Caltiki, il mostro immortale (Italy)
Release Date: August 8th, 1959 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda
Written by: Filippo Sanjust, Riccardo Freda
Music by: Roberto Nicolosi
Cast: John Merivale, Didi Perego, Gerard Herter, Giacomo Rossi

Galatea Film, Climax Pictures, Lux Film, 76 Minutes

Review:

“The garden is filled with monsters!” – Policeman

In a nutshell, this was an Italian ripoff of The Blob. However, it is so much more than that and actually stands on its own with the extra elements it introduces into the story.

This film’s “blob” is some sort of ancient monster that feeds off of radiation. It is all tied into Mayan mythology and the film gives us some cool sets and architecture because of the Mayan spin on The Blob story.

This film gives us wacky science, multiplying blob creatures, cool sets and it carries a 1950s Tiki vibe, even if it set in Mexico. Back in the day, movies didn’t really care about cultural authenticity. I mean, this film has black people playing Mayan descendants and as far as I know, Mayans just look like badass Mexicans and not a Caribbean voodoo tribe.

Caltiki is co-directed by Mario Bava, which I didn’t even realize until I popped the movie on. This was early in his career and just before his big breakout with 1960’s Black Sunday. It is blsack and white and doesn’t have the colorful giallo look that he would become famous for.

This is a cheesy and hokey movie but it is well crafted and better than you think it would be. It’s not a horror classic but it’s a fun ride, flies by and is far from dull.

Film Review: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Also known as: Attack of the Blood Leeches (working title)
Release Date: October, 1959
Directed by: Bernard L. Kowalski
Written by: Leo Gordon
Music by: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Ken Clark, Yvette Vickers, Jan Shepard

Balboa Productions, American International Pictures, 62 Minutes

Review:

“Who do you think your talking too? Don’t touch me? You’re my wife, I’ll touch you anytime I feel like it. Where you going? Where you going?” – Dave Walker

Here we go, another one of those late 50s classics by the Brothers Corman. Roger did not direct this and Gene did not write it but they did produce this for American International. Like a lot of their work from this era, The Giant Leeches was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This film features giant leeches, just as the title implies. However, they are more like dudes wearing rubber octopus suits because Roger Corman doesn’t care much for that logic stuff. Realism… what’s that? Corman is all about making cool cheap creatures that clobber human beings with their might. But at least they always have a hokey charm and in this film, they vampire the crap out of people with their big sucker faces.

Ultimately, this is a poor ripoff of The Creature From the Black Lagoon. This was just one of a few of those Creature ripoffs that Corman attempted. This one feels the closest, however, due to the outdoor locations, the creatures having a cave where they take their victims, most notable the damsel at the end of the film. Also, the two heroes in diving gear are very familiar looking when comparing this film’s climax to the one in The Creature From the Black Lagoon.

Truthfully, I like these goofy Corman pictures and this one is no different. The creatures work for what this film is and at least they are more fantastical and exciting than what a giant leech would actually look like. However, if these things are supposed to be leeches, couldn’t the heroes just throw salt at them?