The Strange World of Planet X (1958)

Directed by Gilbert Gunn [Other horror films: N/A]

I’ve seen this British science-fiction/horror movie once before, and as it turns out, I remembered it a bit more fondly than it really deserves. The movie’s not bad, but it does drag quite a bit at the beginning, and save for one scene of note, the special effects were poor (especially coming out four years after Them!), and there wasn’t really enough meat to really keep me occupied.

Sometimes known under the title Cosmic Monsters (as the poster above attests to), The Strange World of Planet X had potential that the film didn’t really reach. Many of the performances were decent (including, in no particular order, Wyndham Goldie, Martin Benson, Alec Mango, Geoffrey Chater, and Forrest Tucker), but the only one that I really loved was that of Mango’s mad scientist.

The story, too, was decently solid, but in a movie that’s barely over an hour and ten minutes, having the first real action start up forty minutes in seems an unwise choice. Additionally, throwing in a more science-fiction subplot didn’t bother me that much, but it was just a bit corny.

When the action does start, we’re treated to mostly unspectacular effects. Insects increase in size, and by that, they’re enlarged image is superimposed over the screen, so about none of the insects look particularly convincing (though the millipedes got the closest). One highlight of the film, though, was what looked like a cricket chewing on a man’s face. It wasn’t really bloody (this is black-and-white, be reasonable), but it was a tad more violent than I’d have otherwise expected.

The Strange World of Planet X is worth at least a single watch if you’re a fan of giant bug movies, but it really doesn’t compare with other classics such as Them! or Earth vs the Spider (which I know is almost universally bashed, but I enjoyed it). Still, this British addition to the genre is watchable, and occasionally enjoyable, though I do wish they sped up a bit to the action.

7/10

The Fly (1958)

Directed by Kurt Neumann [Other horror films: Secret of the Blue Room (1933), She Devil (1957), Kronos (1957)]

Filmed in glorious color that, for 1958, looks damn good, The Fly is a classic piece of science-fiction horror. Personally, I like most things about it, and it always warrants a watch when the movie comes on. With a great cast, interesting and engaging story, along with a very solid reveal that possibly even rivals the 1925 classic The Phantom of the Opera, The Fly is a movie that’s recommended to all fans of the classics.

The cast here is moderately small but all the better for it. Patricia Owens did most commendably in her role, and you really feel the emotional upheaval she’s going through. At times, her hysterics do become a bit much, but unfortunately for this era, there’s not really much she could have done. David Hedison’s performance too was fantastic, and he’s perhaps one of my favorite versions of a work-obsessed scientist.

Though his role isn’t quite a big as the name would imply, it’s always great to see Vincent Prince in an early horror appearance (certainly some movies, such as The Invisible Man Returns, House of Wax, and The Mad Magician predate it). Price’s character is also solidly sympathetic, and especially toward the end, when with Herbert Marshall’s character, you really get some feeling from the both of them.

Another thing that I adore about this film is the presentation and set-up. We get thirty minutes of story before we finally get the extended flashback that tells us how the actions at the beginning of the movie occurred and make sense. Invasion of the Body Snatchers from two years previously did the same thing, as certainly did The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but neither one had a thirty-minute beginning before jumping into the flashback, which is something I always forget when I saw this as a kid, but thought was sort of nifty when I see it now.

On a related note, the fact that this movie’s in color really solidifies the opening scene as pretty graphic, especially with that blood splatter. This is the late 1950’s, about six years before H.G. Lewis would craft Blood Feast, so even though it’s not that much in comparison to later works, it really stands out in color. Also, speaking of gruesome, that final scene, while somewhat memorable for it’s hokey feel, was pretty terrifying. I know it looked, for lack of a better word, somewhat bad, but still, the implication was certainly depressing.

This is rightfully a classic, and like I said, it’s always worth a watch, and perhaps the best movie featuring a fly ever.

8.5/10

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

Directed by Bert I. Gordon [Other horror films: Beginning of the End (1957), The Cyclops (1957), War of the Colossal Beast (1958), Earth vs the Spider (1958), Tormented (1960), Picture Mommy Dead (1966), Necromancy (1972), The Food of the Gods (1976), Empire of the Ants (1977), Burned at the Stake (1982), Satan’s Princess (1989), Secrets of a Psychopath (2015)]

I wasn’t much impressed with this late 50’s flick at all. Though it was decently well-paced and had a somewhat interesting and innovative story, not to mention a few solid performances, the film just felt somewhat off to me.

The best I can say about this is that John Hoyt has a very solid (and somewhat hammy) performance as a lonely, somewhat unstable doll-maker. Hoyt’s character was sort of sympathetic (though honestly, they easily could have thrown more of an origin), and decently creepy near the finale. The only two others who make any difference at all are June Kenney (who appeared also in 1958’s Earth vs the Spider and 1961’s Bloodlust!) and John Agar (who was in such classics as Revenge of the Creature, 1955’s Tarantula, 1956’s The Mole People, 1957’s Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, and others), and neither one really bring a whole lot to this picture.

Admittedly, Kenney does occasionally have a solid ‘little innocent girl’ feel to her, and due to the plot turn taken about twenty minutes in (which sort of took me by surprise, if I’m being honest), she’s placed in a rather compromising position. A big part of my problem with this, though, are the reactions of the other characters reduced in size – that is, to relax and enjoy the fact that they no longer have any worries. When they sort of change attitudes when alone with Kenney and Agar’s characters, I didn’t feel much more pleased with them, and it’s around that time what was a somewhat taut flick begin falling flat for me.

The special effects are okay, but The Devil-Doll (1936), a film with a somewhat similar idea to this one, was almost more impressive in terms of what they could do on-screen, and it’s perhaps not really surprising coming from a director like Bert I. Gordon, who, while he’s done some films I enjoy, is somewhat well-known for his lower-budget features. In fact, there’s a minute or two of a previous film of his, The Amazing Colossal Man, in this film, playing at a movie theater. Solid advertising, brah.

Attack of the Puppet People had potential, but after a certain point, despite the somewhat quick-moving and interesting story, this just didn’t possess that feeling of dread I was looking for. Certainly a lower-class tier flick for the late 50’s (which was a decently prolific and solid time for the horror genre), Attack of the Puppet People (which, by the way, is a somewhat misleading title) just didn’t do a lot for me, and I couldn’t see myself watching this a second time all that willingly.

5.5/10

Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

Night of the Blood

Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski [Other horror films: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), Black Noon (1971), Sssssss (1973)]

Despite the fun title, this late 50’s flick, produced by Roger Corman, ends up being a pretty dull affair.

There are portions of the film which do possess a decent atmosphere. Due to the small cast, there’s a sense of seclusion prominent also, which I think helps add to the feeling of dread (it’s never quite captured well, but that was the intent). A few decent shots of blood certainly helped a little, but given the design of the monster was pretty laughable, it’s somewhat hard to take seriously.

The cast did just as well as you would expect. Nothing too over-the-top, nothing too hammy, but also nothing that really positively stood out. Michael Emmet, Angela Greene, John Baer, Ed Nelson, Tyler McVey, and Georgianna Carter put in adequate enough performances, and though far from great, I somewhat doubt the acting would be one’s main concern when watching the film.

Really, it just comes down to the fact that it’s a slow-going movie. No, nothing as bad as Curse of the Faceless Man, which came out the same year, but if you get through this without feeling either bored or drowsy, I award you. The director of this picture, Bernard Kowalski, also directed the more enjoyable Attack of the Giant Leeches (from 1959) and much later, Sssssss (1973).

From his horror legacy, such as it is, I imagine many would consider Night of the Blood Beast to be his least favorable entry to the genre. Perhaps, for a dark and rainy night, this movie’s atmosphere could be amplified to an almost-threatening nature, but in most cases, this is a pretty weak film. Sad to say that my views haven’t much changed since the last time I saw it.

5/10

Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)

Curse of the Faceless Man

Directed by Edward L. Cahn [Other horror films: Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), The She-Creature (1956), Voodoo Woman (1957), Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), Invisible Invaders (1959), The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959), Beauty and the Beast (1962)]

When I first saw this movie, I thought it was extraordinary slow. Upon rewatching it, I realized I was too kind; this is one of the driest, slowest films I’ve witnessed. And given the fact it’s just an hour and seven minutes, this statement should hold some weight.

The plot is basically a rehash of The Mummy (1932), only with a different setting. The performances are mostly rather stilted, and the melodrama that’s tolerable in most pre-1960’s horror films seems overbearing here. It’s just not that great a movie. There’s the occasional scene that looks decently shot (especially in the black-and-white scheme that was prevalent at the time), and the Faceless Man himself looks moderately threatening (if only he didn’t move so slow), but the movie has little more to offer past that point.

Curse of the Faceless Man, despite it’s short run time, is a dry, plodding film. I wasn’t tired before starting the film – now I feel dead on my feet. While the movie still has a bit to offer, it’s faults far outweigh the positives. As a note, the director of this film wasn’t a lightweight; Edward L. Cahn directed, among other films, movies such as Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), both of which were highly enjoyable. Whatever went wrong with this film, I don’t believe it to be Cahn’s doing. Perhaps the writer of the script. Regardless, this is a below average film both for it’s time and horror as a whole.

5/10

Earth vs the Spider (1958)

Earth vs the Spider

Directed by Bert I. Gordon [Other horror films: Beginning of the End (1957), The Cyclops (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), War of the Colossal Beast (1958), Tormented (1960), Picture Mommy Dead (1966), Necromancy (1972), The Food of the Gods (1976), Empire of the Ants (1977), Burned at the Stake (1982), Satan’s Princess (1989), Secrets of a Psychopath (2015)]

This is one of those movies that isn’t overly great, but I can’t help but enjoy. Starts off somewhat similarly to The Blob (also from 1958), in which two teens try to convince the authorities of a giant spider residing in a cave on the outskirts of town. And once they see it, they believe.

In a scene somewhat like the cave scene from Night of the Lepus (1972), authorities witness the spider and gas the caves. Of course, the fun doesn’t end there. We have a groovy scene where, as a band is playing some early rock ‘n roll, the unconscious (everyone thought it was dead) spider wakes up, and strikes horror into both the students playing music and the town proper.

The movie, as a whole, is moderately unremarkable, really, especially considering the budget and effects of Tarantula (1955) were higher. Personally, I think this one has more spirit, though. Only problem I have, aside from some rather fake-looking webs, is one of the characters, Mike, comes across as an asshole half the time. Other than that, this is some solid fun, and even stands up upon a rewatch. One of the better creature features of the time, despite others’ claims to the contrary.

7.5/10