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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Best of the Worst of Vintage Science Fiction Cinema

"For the budget, and for the time, I felt I had achieved greatness... Among low budget films, it was the most outstanding picture of the year, in my opinion." -- Phil Tucker talking about ROBOT MONSTER (1953) after it was snubbed at the Oscars.

For many, Science Fiction and monster movies hold a special place in the hearts of those who caught the matinees as kids, or perused the TV Guide for late night viewings on the weekends. Bad SciFi and monster movies are both a blessing and a bane to the filmmakers and performers who created them. We the viewer love them for the wrong reasons -- and oftentimes those who made them are embarrassed, or embittered because of it. 

Still, these antiquated instances of schlock hold an immense amount of reverence for fans not just in what the filmmakers failed to do, but in what they succeeded in putting up on the screen. 

Below is a list of veritable ham and cheese sandwiches (heavy on the mayo) from the 1950s that represent cinematic awfulness at its finest. Regardless of how unhealthy they are, bad movies are tasty treats that can be a lot of fun for what they are; so eat what you want, enjoy life, and enjoy these movies.


"You sound like a Hu-Man, not a Ro-Man! Can you not verify a fact?!" -- The Great Guidance asks one of civilizations great unanswered questions in Phil Tucker's avant garde art feature, ROBOT MONSTER (1953). 

One of the signature, upper echelon examples of awful cinema at its finest is this mercifully brief (although it feels longer) 62 minute gem from Phil Tucker. There's even an intermission halfway through apparently to give weary patrons a last chance to get their money back.

The plot concerns the extermination of the hu-man race by Ro-Man, an overweight gorilla wearing a diving helmet with TV antennas sticking out of it. Only eight hu-mans remain and Ro-Man searches for them in between bragging about his Calcinator Death Ray, tinkering with his Automatic Billion Bubble Machine (just see the movie), and being berated by the Great Guidance -- the head Ro-Man in charge. In his spare time, Ro-Man wanders interminably in and around Bronson Canyon uttering dialog that could only have been written on another planet.

"Is Alice gonna have a date with Ro-Man?" -- kids say the darndest things even in an apocalyptic future.

Director Phil Tucker had just enough money in his $16,000 budget to pull off some spectacularly atrocious effects work. Among the low-lights are sparklers and matches style SPX and glaringly visible crew members. These moments of shock and guffaw are compensated with crude stop-motion shots taken from LOST CONTINENT (1951) and oft-used giant lizard stock footage from ONE MILLION BC (1940). Famed gorilla suit creator and stuntman George Barrows is the guy underneath the ape suit. In some shots you can see his face through the helmet with what looks like hosiery over his head. Famed composer, Elmer (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) Bernstein did the score. You have to start somewhere. Tucker was also responsible for the lavishly produced SciFi thriller THE CAPE CANAVERAL MONSTERS (1960).


"Something's embedded in our rear section!" -- the unfortunately named Capt. Laird Granger discovers something lodged into the ships buttocks.

When you see Al Zimbalist among a genre films credits and Astor Pictures as its distributor, you're in for something "special". Some of the folks that brought you ROBOT MONSTER (1953) were also responsible for this first in a series of 'Feminists From Outer Space' movies. Both the plot and budget are bare, but you're rewarded with giant horned spiders that miss their cue and production values that look like the film is set in an auditorium. The stage play ambiance is furthered by actions occurring offscreen while actors yell out what has happened. The inside of the spaceship looks like a tin shed. The dialog and (lack of) direction possibly inspired Ed Wood.

The plot: A moon mission discovers an ancient race of telepathic Cat Women in heavy makeup and leotards living below the satellites surface. They attempt to seduce the men and control the one woman that came with them in an effort to hijack their ship and go back to Earth. Their plan is to propagate their race on our planet with more women who all look and dress alike, and are destined to be in Robert Palmer videos.

"You're too smart for me baby. I like'em stupid." -- Walt smooth talks one of the lunar babes.

The tackier FIRE MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE (1956) mined similar territory. The underrated Richard Cunha shot a much better, but equally stupid remake of CAT WOMEN in 1958 as MISSILE TO THE MOON. Again in 1958, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE was yet another battle of the sexes, but in color. It, too, piled on the women's lib, and also had a giant spider.


"It resembles the Tyrannosaurus Rex of Earth's prehistoric age. Tyrannosaurus Rex... King Dinosaur!" -- Paleontology and Herpetology become one on the planet Nova in Bert I. Gordon's first movie. 

This 63 minute wonder blunder is actually torture to sit through, but what gets it into crap movie heaven is its insistence on convincing an audience that giant macro enlarged B.I.G. lizards are dinosaurs -- particularly an enormous, everyday iguana that's referred to as a Tyrannosaur! There's not even the slightest attempt to dress up the lizards to make them look even remotely dinosaurian. The pictures sole bright spot comes during the last fifteen minutes when two of the astronauts are trapped inside of Bronson Canyon while Iguana-saurus Rex battles Super Gator and a Giant Gila Monster in a handicapped Death Match.

The plot holds great 'B' movie promise, but settles for 'Z' movie results. Scientists discover a new planet in our solar system so a group of astronauts are sent to explore it. Christening it Nova, the bland bunch finally encounter a lot of big animals (who knew giant armadillos were so scary?) and assorted reptiles before blowing up the place with an atom bomb!

"WONDROUS SIGHTS YOUR EYES HAVE NEVER SEEN TILL NOW!" -- I suppose there are some folks who've never seen iguanas, gila monsters and armadillos before.

Director Bert I. Gordon got "better" with his films of giganticism even if the Incredible Shrinking Budgets radiated the limitations to oftentimes comical levels. His best works would be THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957), EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958) and THE MAGIC SWORD (1962); while among his worst would be things like THE CYCLOPS (1957), FOOD OF THE GODS (1976) and this Tyrannosaurus Wreck.

The use of lizards standing in as 'prehistoric wonders' was a shameless, lazy, and trite means of low budget filmmakers getting around actually creating realistic (mostly) fake looking puppets, mock-ups, or even sloppy stop-motion animation. Some of these include the King Konspirator that started it all -- ONE MILLION B.C. (1940) -- others include TWO LOST WORLDS (1951), UNTAMED WOMEN (1952) and, possibly the most egregious of these, big budget disaster movie maven Irwin Allen's crap-tacular remake of THE LOST WORLD (1960).


From Allied Artists it came -- this petrified cult favorite; and the only movie about a killer, radioactive tree trunk made thus far. Possessing the spirit of a wrongfully executed South Pacific prince, the Tabunga rises from the muck and attacks a group of American scientists attempting to cure an island plague. The bad movie sickness you'll get from watching FROM HELL IT CAME won't hinder your enjoyment, though. Paul Blaisdell's oddly appealing, enormously memorable monster delivers an aptly wooden performance with more bark than bite.

Wooden perfectly describes just about everybody else, too. Prior to the Tabunga sprouting from the earth, the film is preoccupied with two characters desperately trying to get laid in between monologues about island superstitions and modern medicine. Curiously, nobody seems to be interested in getting the gorgeous Grace Mathews out of her Hawaiian two piece and John McNamara (see above) doesn't seem interested in women at all.

The Tabunga action is a riot and consists of the big log pressing up against his victims till they die. One encounter with a native is especially praiseworthy in its ineptitude. Armed with a spear, a native aims high and tosses his blade over the top of the Tabunga. Unaware of the wide open space around him, the native decides to back against a tree setting up the Tabunga Smash.The last few minutes are hysterical once the walking oak tree carries off Tina Carver who had obviously not been professionally trained on how to scream. She sounds like she's passing a massive kidney stone. Tabunga probably couldn't wait to drop her in the quicksand. Unfortunately, the proposed Tabunga sequel, T2: THE APPLE DOESN'T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE never materialized.


This giant flaw from Columbia Pictures is must-see entertainment for lovers of terrible movies. The plot is standard SciFi fare about a mutant bird puppet surrounded by an anti-matter force field coming to Earth to build a giant nest till the military manages to mortally ruffle its feathers.

Despite the enormity of its impoverished effects work, THE GIANT CLAW is of historical significance in the annals of bad cinema -- it's America's only movie about a gigantic monster bird from outer space. The title feathered fury looks like a crack addicted turkey; and we get to see lots of it -- from virtually every possible angle. RODAN (1956) this ain't.

That the picture so brazenly trots out this cataclysmically ridiculous creature so regularly is a testament of the "to hell with it" attitude of the filmmakers. The actors (unaware of just how atrocious the fowl fiend was) deliver their lines with an earnestness that only adds to the bounty of comedic gold. This heavy duty gobbler is possibly the single most spectacularly inept flick on this list.


"We will take the young female for a ride in your car. I will enjoy being you tonight. She gives me a very strange, very new elation!" -- the giant horny Arousian brain beast that possesses John Agar's body in the intellectual science fiction spectacular, THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS(al).

Gor, an intergalactic giant horny brain from outer space breaks bail and high-tails it to Earth to wreck havoc by possessing the body of a prominent nuclear scientist. Another giant, not-so horny brain named Val is in hot pursuit of Gor to return him to space prison on Arous. Inhabiting the body of a dog, Val tracks Gor who occasionally speaks in third person, often cackles madly, and blows up airplanes with his mind.

It's difficult to imagine that the director of THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) was the mastermind behind this goofy SciFi favorite. Actually, it wouldn't have been possible without the combined brain power of schlock producer Jacques Marquette, writer Ray Buffum and Howco International -- three names whom proudly bear the bad movie brand. 

Thankfully, Juran has dabbled in his share of 'C' movies; and as much as he'd like to forget the experience, two of the most beloved examples of SciFi hokum bear his name. One is ATTACK OF THE 50FT WOMAN (1958), and the other is this 71 minutes of scholarly sustenance about an evil, easily aroused Arousian brain that repeatedly tries to rape Joyce Meadows while planning to enslave the world. Cult favorite John Agar goes for broke and delivers some amazingly braggadocious dialog with the utmost conviction.


Bronson Canyon in Griffith Park California has been used more times in old Hollywood SciFi-horror films than Godzilla has attacked Tokyo; and that's not even counting all the western pictures that shot there. In the 1950s it was a 'B' movie oasis for low budget cinema, and a great place for aliens to make their headquarters. It would seem that every conceivable invader from space, or outsized creature born of radiation exposure has called Bronson Canyon home at some point or other. When the history of crap cinema is written, all those pictures that used the fondly remembered quarry and caves owe an enormous debt. Fangs for the memories! 


"You're acting like a baby, Charles, now stop it!" -- Anne Gwynne scolds her son, the Yeti about his tantrums that always end in someone's death.

Now here's something you don't see too often -- a pseudo SciFi--horror--Western. There was the more well known William Beaudine double-retcher of BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA and JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER (1966). About a decade earlier, DP/producer turned director Jacques Marquette was the mastermind behind this terribly terrific tumbleweed tripe.

A giant sparkler (do you sense a trend?) crashes into the Earth exposing a farmer and his son to radioactive rays. The husband dies and the little boy is saved, although he's badly scarred. Aside from the teen title, the "boy" looks to age well into adulthood in spite of the 'seven years later' title card -- although it's difficult to tell considering he sports a thick mane of Yeti hair. Other than a few instances where he miraculously spouts decipherable English, his vocal ability is reduced to mostly mumble speech and gibberish.

"Uh uhhhh uuuuhh un un unnnn uuuuhhhnnkk uhn nnnnnuhhnnn I just wanted to pet the cows 'n he tried to stop me unnnnnnk uuunn uh uh uh unnnn unk unn uhn nnnnuuu ununnhhhhhh...!!!" -- Charles the teenage wolf delivers some crucial dialog during a tense moment in this unforgettable movie.

Whoever thought TEENAGE MONSTER was a good title is anyone's guess; that moniker does fit very well with the young lass who manipulates our allegedly 20 ft. monster (more like 7 ft) into killing anyone that pisses her off. The original title of METEOR MONSTER is more accurate, but apparently all the teen angst-delinquent movies of the day gave the makers an epiphany to formulate that then popular concept into an old west setting and add a hairy creature. They weren't successful at that, either. There's two, count'em two back-to-back dummy deaths! From Howco Pictures. It should have been Howcome?

8. SHE DEMONS 1958

"Jumpin' wonton! Now we're on to somethin'!" -- Chinese guide from Richard Cunha's expensive and dazzling action epic, SHE DEMONS.

One man's cinematic trash is every bad movie lovers treasure; and the immortal Richard Cunha's SHE DEMONS is a bumper crop of crap at its finest. One of the exemplar additions that begs the question, "Why would you even try to polish a turd?" It's the sort of movie Eddie Romero made in the Philippines, but rarely were those as endearingly, and wretchedly watchable as this. Speaking of which, there are two types of wretched -- the type that's unstomachable (is that a word?) and then there's Ed Wood wretched. Then Richard Cunha came along and redefined it.

The grocery list of hilarity is far too long to include here, but the plot alone is enough to whet your appetite for this Hero sammich slathered in mayonnaise and mustard. Cunha's wacky, inept movie feels a bit ahead of its time with its buckets of sleaze potential that would feel right at home in a 70s production. Most definitely check out this bewilderingly bad crum brulee. Check the plot below if you need more convincing.

"If you wish to please me, drop dead!" -- Irish McCalla sends mixed signals in SHE DEMONS.

Four shipwreck survivors are stranded on a tropical island lorded over by a deranged Nazi doctor and his deformed wife. Along with his SS madmen, the mad surgeon conducts experiments on beautiful kidnapped girls in an effort to restore his wife's face. Partially shot in Griffith Park (Bronson Canyon cameo) and on studio sets with crumpled paper bags standing in for rock formations, this six day marvel is the ultimate buffet of bad.


The sex-starved grandson of Frankenstein works as an assistant for an established physician by day, but by night, he's conducting his own diabolical experiments -- the reasons of which are never made quite clear. They involve turning gorgeous women into oatmeal monsters with bad oral hygiene; and building a female creature from various body parts of murdered girls. The end result looks nothing like a woman, but does resemble a burnt marshmallow with eyeballs that walks like it's doing 'The Robot' and Karate chops its victims to death. Meanwhile, John Ashley's hair seems to have a life of its own while reading his lines with the same monotone regardless of what's transpiring onscreen. The closing minutes are utterly stupid with Ashley fending off the monster with a gurney.

The real king of kool krud, Richard "The Big" Cunha, made Four Monstrous Movies of the Apocalypse in 1958 in an effort to usurp the bad movie throne away from the far less imaginative, but no less ambitious Ed Wood. Unlike Wood, Cunha freely admitted he wasn't trying to make high art, nor take his pictures seriously. It's really a shame he didn't do more as Cunha could deliver celluloid junk food the equivalent of a Luther burger with a side order of deep fried candy bars like nobody's business. Ed Wood was White Castle by comparison. And a lot of folks dig White Castle.

10. PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE 1956/1959

"One thing's sure... Inspector Clay's dead... murdered... and somebody's responsible!" -- with lawmen this astute on the case, the local citizenry have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Oh, boy. Where to begin. The crowning achievement of rotten, yet very edible bad movies is this Ed Wood classic. For years now, when the subject of turkey gold comes up, PLAN 9 and ROBOT MONSTER are the two most oft mentioned pictures. Both share much in common aside from being wretched beyond belief. Both directors thought they made works of art (just slop some paint on it and call it a Picasso); and both had eye-poppingly dismal dialog and special effects.

As much as monsters and alien invaders loved trampling on Tokyo in Japanese SciFi movies, the same applied to California in American genre flicks. If "the big one" doesn't sink the Golden State, threats from outer and inner space surely will; and in Wood's worst loved movie, the threat is by Unidentified Flying Hubcaps from another galaxy.

"Well, as long as they can think, we'll have our problems."  -- Dudley Manlove never went on to a career in porn, but he did play an alien named Eros in Ed Wood's seminal SciFi epic.

Fed up that man continues to make weapons of war and seemingly ignores the impoverished saucers dangling in the sky from strings, alien invaders from an unknown world decide to implement the dreaded Plan 9. These aliens don't have the money that Klaatu had to afford their own Gort, or ability to freeze the planet -- instead they simply raise the dead via Tor Johnson and Vampira to teach us a thing or two, and later threaten us with something called Solarbanite (or solarnite depending on which actor is saying it). Amazingly, the aliens all wear satin as opposed to angora. See BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955) for more Ed Wood nuttiness.


"You have concern for foreign beings over our mission to locate grazing lands for our Gargon herds?!" -- Recall! The aptly named King Moody gets serious and has a look on his face like he's got a wedgie of epic proportions.

Tom Graeff's SciFi tale of interplanetary teen angst concerns a group of aliens planning to use Earth as a breeding ground for Gargon's -- giant lobsters that make sounds like a peacock and are poorly rendered onscreen. One of the young spacemen rebels and is pursued by his compatriots brandishing Focusing Disintegrators (basically aim, fire, evaporate), which emits a flash of light that turns people and animals into bones.

This one is actually pretty decent when you take the bad acting, vacuous dialog, and subpar special effects out of the equation. Among the highlights are the pitifully small UFO the aliens arrive in that somehow manages to accommodate five passengers. It's like clowns in a Volkswagen. The ship itself looks like a jazzed up version of Ed Wood's hubcap flying saucers from PLAN 9. The aliens costumes look fine, although their helmets look borrowed from the Air Force Academy.

"You mean somebody killed Sparky?! Oh, no, Derek, it can't be true. Why would anyone wanna kill Sparky?!" -- Oh my god, they killed Sparky! You bastards!

The aliens make the film memorable with their ruthless, emotionless actions and laughable overacting. Space alien Thor is unforgettable running around Griffith Park turning people into skeletons with his flashlight zap-gun. The movie all but disintegrates during the last half, though, when the laughable Gargon makes its entrance. Essentially the shadow of a lobster is matted into the frame while actors pretend to be threatened by it. At one point, a small rock is thrown at the Gargon knocking it well out of camera view. Story-wise, TFOS has an engaging plot that melds the teen delinquency genre with science fiction.


"Attention people of Earth! Attention people of Earth! This is Krankor Exploration Force speaking. Do not be alarmed. Stand by for an important message! Stand by for an important message! Attention people of Earth. I am Ambassador Phantom from the planet Krankor. At this moment, I am rapidly approaching your planet in the warship you have just seen. I will arrive tomorrow night at precisely eight o'clock. At that time, I will make my wishes known to you. You will obey them... or die! Have a pleasant night's sleep! Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha." -- Ambassador Phantom can't make up his mind if he wants you to be comfortable, wait patiently for an important announcement, or cringe in fear over an invasion by a bunch of aliens that look like they originate from the same planet THE GIANT CLAW came from.

Walter Manley unleashed something awful onto the English speaking world with this edited down version of a two part SciFi schlocker from Japan -- born out of the popularity of a previous television series. It's virtually plot free, and what little there is concerns a mild-mannered shoeshine boy who goes by the name of 'Prince Of Space' battling Krankorian chicken men and their fowl leader, Ambassador Phantom. 

Arguably the films major reason for its induction into the Bad Movie Hall of Shame is Phantom's lazy, lead-footed laugh. It's the most diabolically leisurely chuckle to ever be heard by a planet dominating, evil dictator in movie history. Granted, the Japanese original is a different bird entirely, but somebody over at Bellucci Productions, Inc. apparently thought it'd be a howl to fashion one gigantic faux pas of an English version out of it.

"Ha. Ha. So our Prince Of Space is disguised as a miserable bootblack! Clever. We never would have picked him up without the X-Radar!" -- when all else fails, pack your script with judicious uses of the letters 'X' and 'Z' for maximum villainousness.

The filmmakers were obviously aware of the quality of their picture considering the dozens of extras playing Phantom's poultry militia all wear shirts emblazoned with the letter 'Z'. They're skintight and aren't very flattering on the cast members having to wear them. Thankfully, their faces are obscured by nose appliances or ridiculously large visors. Surely somebody working on the film had to wonder about the sake intake of the production crew.

Not to be overcooked, there were other nutty Japanese superhero movies of this sort and vintage. Most popular would have to be SUPER GIANT, a late 50s series of nine films that were edited, and or crammed into four TV features again by Walter Manley in the mid 1960s. These were ATOMIC RULERS OF THE WORLD, INVADERS FROM SPACE, ATTACK FROM SPACE and EVIL BRAIN FROM OUTER SPACE. INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN (1961) and GOLDEN BAT (1966) are two others -- both starring Sonny Chiba. PRINCE OF SPACE is the "worst" of these. It's a lot of fun, but it has the power to try the patience of even the most iron clad of bad movie buffs constitutions.

Well there you have it -- 12 of the best of SciFi's worst. It's been an adventure, folks, but this concludes another broadcast day of programming. There are many more unsung treasures for your bad movie perusal to come. Until next time, keep watching the tube!



Tommy Ross said...

GREAT post! Muchos gracias...

venoms5 said...

Thanks, Tommy. It was fun putting it together.

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