Attack from Space (1957-58/1964)

Original Japanese Poster

(Originally released as Sūpā Jaiantsu – Jinkō Eisei to Jinrui no Hametsu, a.k.a. Super Giant – The Artificial Satellite and the Destruction of Humanity and The Satellite and the Extermination of Mankind, and Sūpā Jaiantsu – Uchūtei to Jinkō Eisei no Gekitotsu, a.k.a. Super Giant – The Spaceship and the Clash of the Artificial Satellite and Duel Between the Spaceship and the Satellite)

Starman returns!

I wrote about Starman a few posts back in my Atomic Rulers of the World discussion, so if you missed that, you should probably go back and read it by clicking on the link in the first part of this sentence or on the link to the right.  I’ll wait.

Now that you’re all caught up to speed, we can talk about today’s Starman film, Attack from Space.  Although it’s the second Starman film that’s popped up on this blog, it’s chronologically the third film in the series of new features compiled by Walter Manly from the string of Japanese theatrical films—not that this matters much, as they were all released to television in one batch, and there’s really no continuity between the four films.  Still, because I am obsessed with useless bits of trivia, Attack from Space was made up of footage from the fifth (Super Giant: The Artificial Satellite and the Destruction of Humanity) and sixth (Super Giant: The Spaceship and the Clash of the Artificial Satellite) installments of the Japanese Super Giant film series.  I doubt that these bits of knowledge will ever show up in a question on a Jeopardy! episode, but at least I’m prepared if they do.

U.S. main title

In this one, Starman is once again sent to Earth to protect it.  The baddies this time out are some Nazi-like nogoodniks from the Sapphire Planet who want to take over the world.  I’m intrigued by the names of the planets in the series so far; Starman is sent by the leaders of the Emerald Planet to save the Earth, and the villains this go-round are from the Sapphire planet.  I wonder if there’s a Diamond Planet out there, or a Ruby Planet?  Might they have Cubic Zirconia moons?  Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know the answers, as the other two Starman films feature villains from non-precious-stone-named planets.

The Sapphirians (which is the way that I’m going to spell their name, although the back of the DVD case from Something Weird/Image calls them the Superians, which doesn’t make much sense to me, and the blurb on the Internet Movie Database [IMDB] calls them the Spherions, which makes even less sense) have a spacecraft in orbit around the Earth that Starman stumbles across on his way to save the planet.  Using his Globemeter (the wearable technology that looks like a wristwatch and that can detect the presence of nearby atomic weapons AND provide Starman the ability to fly through space AND translate any language instantaneously), Starman sees that the Sapphirian spacecraft has enough atomic weaponry to destroy the Earth in seconds.  He sets about trying to disable it, but a meteor shower keeps him from completing this task, so he decides to try to tackle the Sapphirian problem from the Earth end of things instead.

Down on Earth, Dr. Yamanaka, who’s building his own spacecraft in his laboratory – to be used “for peaceful purposes,” the narrator informs us – finds that a part for his spaceship that was supposedly indestructible has failed.  He sends his two kids to run down to the store to pick up a new one, but the store has just sold the last one to the customer right before them.  Suspicious, they follow him, and he ends up kidnapping them, as he’s a Sapphirian agent!  Using the children as a lure, the Sapphirians also kidnap Dr. Yamanaka, because they need him and his spaceship engine plans in order to work on their own spaceship.  Of course, Starman is on the case, so he flies back out to the Sapphirian spaceship and destroys it.  But wait!  There’s an even bigger Sapphirian spaceship, the Sapphirian Supreme Headquarters (SSH) that he somehow missed seeing!  Meanwhile, Dr. Yamanaka and his children are loaded onto yet another spacecraft which takes them to the SSH.  The crew of the SSH notices that Starman is headed their way, so they fire four really big missiles at him.  He dodges three of them, but the fourth knocks him down to the Death Star, which is a planet that’s pretty much all volcanos and flames, all the time. 

Starman is absent from the film for the next 15-20 minutes, wherein the Sapphirians threaten Dr. Yamanaka and his kids ad nauseum, but then Starman shows up, unharmed, at the SSH and takes on ALL THE SAPPHIRIANS ON BOARD, all at once, for the remaining 18 minutes of the movie.  Naturally, Dr. Yamanaka and his kids are saved, the Sapphirians are destroyed, and Starman has saved Earth once again.

Well, enough of my gabbing—you’re probably ready to watch Attack from Space already, aren’t you?  Well, since all four of the Starman films have gone into the public domain, there’s no lack of copies of them floating around on the Internet.  Here’s one from YouTube for ya:

And for those of you so inclined, YouTube user Kaiju Movies has posted the original Japanese versions of the two films that were edited together and dubbed to make Attack from Space.  Again, these original Japanese version are only for those who really loved Attack from Space and/or are somewhat fluent in Japanese and/or are willing to play around with YouTube’s captioning controls enough to get a vague idea of what’s going on. 

Here’s Part 5 of the original Japanese series, here called The Satellite and the Extermination of Mankind:

And here’s Part 6 of the original Japanese series, under the title Duel Between the Spaceship and the Satellite:

Up next: From the depths of the sea…a tidal wave of terror!

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Atragon (1963)

U.S. One Sheet Poster

(Originally released as Kaitei Gunkan)

If you watched The Atomic Submarine (the film that my last post was about) and thought to yourself, “Gee, but I’d like to see another science-fiction submarine movie,” your wish has been granted.  The film up for discussion today is Atragon, Japan’s entry into the submarine-film mania that apparently was sweeping the globe in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.  Of course, submarine films weren’t a new thing; Georges Méliès had made a couple of films featuring submarines at the turn of the century in France, and naval-themed war films before 1954 had often featured submarines.  However, Walt Disney’s version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a big hit in 1954, and that led to a slew of  fairly high-profile science-fiction and fantasy films and TV shows featuring submarines in the decade that followed it.  In fact, if you’ve been paying attention, this is the fourth submarine-themed film that I’ve reviewed on this blog so far…and we’re not even done with the movies that start with the letter A yet.

Atragon is the name of a super submarine that can do all the things that a regular submarine can do, but it can also drill through solid rock, fly through the air, blast ice rays that instantly freeze whatever they hit, and detangle your pet’s matted hair painlessly.  Okay, I made up that last one, but this is indeed a very special piece of machinery.  In fact, its very existence is known only to a select few military men.  However, the empress of the heretofore secret undersea kingdom of Mu, which had sunk into the sea somewhere around 10,000 years ago, knows that it’s out there and that it’s the only thing on Earth that can stop Mu from taking over the world. As a warning, an 8mm film, part travelogue and part threat, is sent from Mu to convince the world that Mu is real and ready to assert its dominance over the surface countries. 

Luckily, Atragon and its designer/commander are found on an island in the middle of the Pacific, so Atragon heads down to Mu to teach the Muites (Muans? Muese?) the meaning of the word “respect.”  Along the way, we’re subjected to the requisite giant monster (since this IS a Japanese science-fiction movie), in this case the dragon-like Manda.  Manda’s not exactly the most fearsome kaiju that Toho Studios ever came up with; in fact, it closely resembles the marionette monster seen in the fairly risible Reptilicus from a few years before.  For those of you who can’t get enough Manda, he showed up to wreak havoc on London a few years later in Destroy All Monsters.  We’re also privy to the obligatory choreographed group dance number by the denizens of Mu, and we get up close and personal with the empress of Mu, who’s so evil that even her eyes have horns.  

Newspaper ad

Atragon is a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but seeing it in the form originally released by American International Pictures is difficult these days.  Tokyo Shock released a DVD of the film back in 2006 which looked great, but it was missing the English dub that AIP commissioned Titra Sound Studios to make for its American release.  The way that I understand it is that, for the past couple of decades, Toho has allowed only the English dubs that they themselves have prepared for their films to be used in English-speaking markets.  So for those who grew up either seeing Atragon in its theatrical release or on television in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the English-language soundtrack that accompanies it these days is not the one that they’re used to hearing.  This has caused a whole lot of disappointment among fans of a certain age, but I’d guess that if you didn’t grow up watching these films, then the new English dubs shouldn’t bother you too much. 

Here’s something fun: it’s the sixty-second TV spot for Atragon that AIP sent out to advertise the film in 1964.  It’s in black and white because a) most TV stations at the time were still broadcasting in black and white (and, indeed, most TV sets in American homes were black and white sets), and b) AIP was cheap above all other things.  I love the way that TV spots for movies back then always had a few seconds of silent footage at the end so that local announcers could add specific information about the local theater(s) where the film would be showing, such as “Starts Friday at the Star-Lite Drive-In!”:

Of course, I’d be somewhat remiss if I didn’t include the theatrical trailer as well:

And now for something really special: some enterprising person has married the superior picture quality of one of the legitimate DVD releases of Atragon with its original, Titra Sound Studios-dubbed American soundtrack, thereby approximating what the film looked and sounded like in its U.S. theatrical engagements.  The only thing that’s not quite right in this reconstruction is that the AIP main and end credits came from a TV print of the film.  If you’re really interested in what the original theatrical credits looked like, YouTube user The H-Man has uploaded those as well; you can check them out here.  Enjoy your visit to the undersea kingdom of Mu!

Up next: Starman returns to Earth to fight the Sapphirians!

Atragon (originally released as Kaitei Gunkan) is an American International Pictures (AIP) release.

Number of AIP films reviewed so far: 16

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The Atomic Submarine (1959)

One Sheet Poster

The atomic submarine USAS Sturgeon blows up in the Arctic Sea, the latest in a series of mysterious undersea disasters at the top of the world.  Another atomic submarine, the Tiger Shark, is sent to investigate and, hopefully, take out whatever’s causing all the ruckus near the North Pole.  The Tiger Shark finds that a UFO (in this case, an underwater flying object) is responsible for all the mayhem.  The Tiger Shark shoots torpedoes at the UFO and, when that proves ineffective, the Tiger Shark rams the saucer and gets stuck.  When some of the crew of the Tiger Shark find a way to board the UFO, they find one of the strangest-looking bug-eyed monsters in the history of cinema.  The crew and the alien talk for a while, then one of the crew shoots the alien in its giant eyeball.  The crew hightails it back to the ship, where everyone stands around, pondering what to do next.  One of the scientists on board suggests that he could possibly change one of the torpedoes’ guidance systems to that of an ICBM, which could lock on to the saucer and blow it up.  As it’s really their only chance of stopping the saucer, they agree.  He does the rocket surgery, the saucer takes off, the plan works, and the UFO blows up real good.  Finis.

The Atomic Submarine is one of the more generic sci-fi pictures to come from the late ‘50s.  To give credit where credit is due, it has an undeniably quirky-looking monster (once we get to finally see it), but until that scene, the action is sparse and bogged down in a pointless rivalry between two crew members.  The film was written by Orville Hampton, who wrote the screenplay for The Alligator People (which I wrote about in an earlier post—if you haven’t read that post yet, just click on the link in this sentence and give it a look), but The Atomic Submarine lacks the swampy atmosphere and the nutty yet strangely effective critters from The Alligator People.   The Atomic Submarine was directed by Spencer G. Bennet, who’d been around Hollywood for roughly 35 years by that time, working mostly at Republic Studios, directing westerns and whole lot of serials (such as Federal Operator 99, Manhunt of Mystery Island, and The Purple Monster Strikes; these three are from 1945 alone!).

Producer Alex Gordon had grown up as a movie-obsessed kid in England, and at the age of 25 he and his equally-movie-struck brother Richard moved to the US to work in the film industry.  Alex made his way to California, where he hooked up with the nascent American International Pictures as a producer.  He ended up producing around a dozen films for AIP, including The Day the World Ended, The She-Creature, and Motorcycle Gang.  When he decided to produce The Atomic Submarine, he took it to AIP rival Allied Artists, where he thought that it would be received more enthusiastically and granted a higher budget (which eventually came to $135,000 or so). 

One of the things that gave Alex Gordon the most pleasure was to find work in his films for movie people that he’d grown up admiring and who were now in the twilight of their careers.  For The Atomic Submarine, director Spencer G. Bennet was a prime example of this, but Gordon really liked to cast former stars who had been forgotten by Hollywood.  This often caused some friction with the studios that he was working for, as they didn’t see any upside to his penchant for casting forgotten matinee stars.  Often, he would pay them out of his own salary to ensure that they were in his films.  For The Atomic Submarine, he was able to hire Bob Steele, who’d been a popular star of westerns in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Selmer Jackson, who’d been in hundreds of films dating back to the advent of talking pictures, and Jack Mulhall, who’d been bouncing around in films since 1910.

Of course, Alex Gordon couldn’t populate his films entirely with old-timers, and The Atomic Submarine has its share of recognizable actors, most with Psychotronic connections.  Arthur Franz had been in Monster on the Campus the year before, Dick Foran had been in a couple of mummy and Abbott and Costello movies during his time as a contract player for Universal, Brett Halsey had been in Alex Gordon’s Submarine Seahawk the previous year (and went on to star in Return of the Fly in the same year as The Atomic Submarine), and Tom Conway had been in three of Val Lewton’s memorable horror films in the 1940s and had starred as Tom Laurence, a.k.a. The Falcon, for a series of films made for RKO.  Joi Lansing, who’s got less than four minutes of screen time in The Atomic Submarine and is one of only two women in the cast, was hired for a day’s work because she was dating Frank Sinatra at the time.  Just for fun, here’s Joi in a Scopitone, the forerunner of music videos, showing off her…talents in 1964:

We’ll discuss Miss Lansing in more depth when we get to her cinematic swan song, Bigfoot, in a little over 100 posts from now.

Otherwise, I don’t have a whole lot more to say about The Atomic Submarine.  It’s a science fiction film of the most ordinary kind, but you might get a kick out of it on a rainy weekend afternoon.

Here’s the none-too-exciting trailer, which gives a pretty accurate representation of the tone of the film:

And for those of you who are curious to see the entire film and/or have nothing better to do with your time, YouTube has come through again with the full feature!  Watch it soon before somebody complains and it’s taken down:

Up next: The most fantastic science shocker ever filmed!

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Atomic Rulers of the World (1957/1964)

Original Japanese poster

(Originally released as Super Giant [Sūpā Jaiantsu], a.k.a. Super Giants 1: Colossus of Steel, Part 1, and Super Giant Continues [Zoku Sūpā Jaiantsu], a.k.a. Super Giants 2: Colossus of Steel, Part 2; also released as Atomic Rulers)

Those pesky Earthlings have been setting off more atomic bombs, jeopardizing the universe with the radiation waves coming off the planet and traveling through space.  Tired of the people of Earth’s dangerous and juvenile fascination with blowing up things real good, the high council of the Emerald Planet creates Starman to send to Earth to stop the mindless atomic blasting.  Starman, made of steel and dressed in a rather goofy outfit, is given some wearable technology that can help him in his mission by doing three things: it can provide instantaneous translation of all of Earth’s languages, it can detect the presence of nearby atomic weapons, and it can allow him to fly through space.  So off Starman goes to Earth.  On the way there, he saves a plane from crashing, but he also finds evidence of an atomic weapon on board.  Dressed as a mild-manned salary man, he follows the guys with the nuke and discovers that they’re from the country Magolia and that they plan to take over the world via said atomic weapon.  Can Starman stop them in time?

U.S. main title

Starman was created in the late 1950s in Japan as Super Giant, and the character starred in nine short films of around fifty minutes each that were released to theaters.  At that point, Japan didn’t really have very many superhero characters, and the Super Giant films were brought to theaters as a response to the George Reeves Adventures of Superman TV show that was airing in Japan and proving incredibly popular.  The Superman influence is pretty hard to miss, with Super Giant/Starman being literally made of steel (just as Superman was the “man of steel”), being able to fly, having super strength, being impervious to pretty much everything dangerous, and being a friend to children.  Super Giant/Starman even has his salary man outfit that he wears to blend in with the general populace, although it appears that he doesn’t really use it as a disguise, as Superman does.  Maybe he does it just to get out of the white tights for a while.  Speaking of which, the white superhero suit that he wears has a pretty obviously-padded crotch area, which is impossible to ignore.  Rumor has it that the head of Shintoho, the studio that was making the Super Giant films, thought that women would flock to see the films if the hero were, umm, more well-endowed.  The actor who portrayed Super Giant/Starman, Ken Utsui, was quite unhappy with the costume, and I’ve read that he never discussed the part again for the rest of his life because of his hatred of it.  I can’t say that I blame him.

Uh…yeah.

As I mentioned at the top of the last paragraph, the Super Giant film series was made up of nine installments that ran about fifty minutes each.  When it came time to try to market the films internationally, that format didn’t really fit anything in the United States well enough to bring it over fairly intact.  In the early 1960s, most TV shows had seasons that ran well beyond nine episodes, and even if the films were cut into two parts each, that would still only make an 18-episode season. (As a point of reference, The Andy Griffith Show, which was popular during the time that the Starman movies started airing, shot between 30 and 32 episodes per season.) So instead of turning the films into a television series, Walter Manley, who had taken a Japanese serial (Yûsei ôji) and edited it into a movie for TV syndication called Prince of Space, decided to do the same for the Super Giant series…and thus were born the Starman films. 

The original nine films were edited into four TV movies.  It worked out pretty well for the first six entries in the series, as they were all two-part stories that used two installments per new film without causing too much damage to the integrity of the original plots.  However, the last three films in the series each contained a full story, so the final Starman movie, Evil Brain from Outer Space, is all over the map, plot-wise.  We’ll discuss it in more depth when we get to the “E” films in the blog. 

When the films finally hit TV syndication in the mid-60s, they arrived during a mini-explosion of syndicated English-dubbed Japanese TV product, including Kimba the White Lion, Gigantor, Prince Planet, and slightly later, Speed Racer, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, and Ultraman.  Many of these shows are more popular now than they were back then, so if you’re a fan of any of them, you owe it to yourself to check out the Starman films.  You won’t regret it.

Since Atomic Rulers of the World seems to be in the public domain, it’s certainly not difficult to find a copy.  However, since you’re already here, I can save you some trouble—here it is via YouTube:

And now something that I never thought that I’d see–for those of you who enjoyed Atomic Rulers of the World and/or are purists and fairly proficient in Japanese (or don’t mind futzing around with YouTube’s controls to get a fairly nonsensical on-the-fly English translation) and/or just like comparing things, YouTube user Kaiju Movies has posted the original two theatrical films that were edited together to make Atomic Rulers

Here’s Part 1 of the original Japanese series, Super Giants 1: Colossus of Steel, Part 1 (a.k.a. Super Giant):

And here’s Part 2 of the original Japanese series, Super Giants 2: Colossus of Steel, Part 2 (a.k.a. Super Giant Continues):

Up next: Hell explodes under the Arctic Sea!

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The Atomic Man (1956)

Three Sheet Poster

(Originally released as Timeslip)

Science reporter Mike Delaney (Gene Nelson) stumbles across a photo in his newsroom of an unidentified man who’s been shot on the docks and taken to the hospital with very little chance of survival.  In the photo, the man has a glowing aura around him, but both Nelson and his photographer/girlfriend Jill Rabowski (Faith Domergue) write it off to a bad processing job on the negative.  Nelson eventually realizes that the wounded man looks like a famous atomic scientist, so he visits the scientist’s lab, hoping to find out from his co-workers if they knew of anyone who might have wanted him dead.  He’s surprised to find that the scientist is there in his lab.  After visiting the recovering victim in the hospital, Delaney and Robowski become convinced that the man in the hospital is the real atomic scientist, but they can’t prove it yet as he’s not talking coherently.  So if he’s the actual scientist, who’s the lookalike imposter at the lab?  And why would anyone want to impersonate an atomic scientist?

Although The Atomic Man was marketed as a science fiction film, it’s more like a detective story (with film noir-ish elements) dressed in science fiction clothing.  The science fiction aspects are a minor part of the film’s plot; the main objective of Delaney, the film’s protagonist, is to find out who wanted the scientist killed and why.  The science fiction angle really only comes into play with two plot points: the first concerns the scientist’s development of a process to create tungsten in the lab via radiation, and the second has to do with why the man in the hospital seems to be talking nonsense (hint: during the surgery to save his life, the shooting victim died on the operating table and was brought back to life seven-and-a-half seconds later).  Don’t let the fact that The Atomic Man isn’t a through-and-though science fiction film deter you from watching it, however; it’s quite good, if a bit plot-heavy, and it held my attention for its full running time, unlike a lot of films that I’ve watched recently.  You’ll like it even more if you’re a fan of the Poverty Row quickies of the 1940s such as The Ape Man (discussed about a dozen-and-a-half posts back) and The Devil Bat that feature reporters on the trail of a sensational story, usually with their photographers in tow. 

Speaking of reporters and photographers, the actor who plays Delaney in The Atomic Man, Gene Nelson, may not be a name that you’ve heard before.  He began his career as a singer and dancer, and most of his acting career was spent in musicals, where he appeared in films starring Virginia Mayo, June Haver, and Doris Day, among others.  He showed that he could carry a non-musical film as the lead in Crime Wave, which may have led to the opportunity to make The Atomic Man in England two years later.  After appearing in the film version of the hit Broadway musical Oklahoma in the same year as The Atomic Man, Nelson spent most of the rest of his acting career on television.  He did, however, start a directing career that encompassed both TV and movies, directing episodes of such series as Star Trek, The Mod Squad, and Fantasy Island, and four Psychotronic films, including two Elvis movies and Hand of Death.  Nelson’s co-star in The Atomic Man, Faith Domergue, had a watershed year in 1955, when she starred in three Psychotronic films–two of them minor classics–in addition to The Atomic Man.  We’ll be seeing her next in Cult of the Cobra.  Director Ken Hughes is probably most famous for making Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but he’s most infamous for directing Mae West’s last film, Sextette

I found The Atomic Man to be an entertaining film that doesn’t deserve its forgotten status.  Admittedly, it’s no Invasion of the Body Snatchers (a film with which it was frequently shown as a double feature), and its genre content may be a bit on the sparse side, but there are loads more science fiction films from its era that I find to be far less entertaining.  Here’s the trailer for the film from YouTube; see what you think:

As noted at the head of this post, The Atomic Man was originally released in Great Britain as Timeslip.  That version runs 93 minutes, while the American cut runs fifteen minutes shorter.  One day I hope that we get a legitimate transfer of the British version here on our side of the pond, but until then, we’ll have to make do with our abbreviated version.  Luckily for us, the full feature (well, the American cut, at any rate) has been uploaded to the Internet Archive—check it out:

Up next: The creature made of the strongest steel!

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The Atomic Kid (1954)

Half Sheet Poster

Mickey Rooney as Blix and Robert Strauss as Stan are two dim-bulb uranium prospectors who’ve been wandering in the desert for too long when their Geiger counter starts getting staticky.  They think that they’ve hit the uranium motherlode; in actuality, they’ve wandered onto an atomic bomb test site, complete with a house full of mannequins and canned food, and various types of vehicles scattered all around—all set up to test the A-bomb’s effects on them.  Our prospectors think, however, that it’s a model home for a new subdivision—why else would there be one lone house in the middle of nowhere?  Blix finds a car with a full tank of gas, so Stan takes it to go find the office of the realtors in order to buy the house so that they’ll have easy access to all the uranium.  Blix stays behind to make sure that no other prospectors try to lay claim to the house and/or land.  Unfortunately for him, a few minutes after Stan leaves, the bomb test commences.  Blix is inside the pantry of the house when the bomb hits, having a peanut butter, sardine, and horseradish sandwich.  Amazingly, Blix survives the blast.

The rest of the film concerns itself with Blix a) falling in love with his nurse while he recuperates and b) discovering that he has strange new powers, and Stan c) trying to make money off of Blix’s story and d) falling in with Soviet spies.  In the end, Blix (now recuperated) and his nurse (now his new bride) get lost on the way to their honeymoon and stop at a house to ask for directions.  Of course, the house is full of mannequins and canned food.   

The Atomic Kid is somewhat misnamed, as Mickey Rooney was in his early thirties when he made it.  However, due to his popularity as a child and teenage actor from the mid-1920s through the mid-1940s, and his starring role as Andy Hardy in a string of MGM films (while also co-starring in a string of musicals with Judy Garland), Mickey Rooney still wasn’t seen as an adult by the vast majority of the movie-going public—hence the title of the film.  At the time The Atomic Kid was made, he was in the midst of a pretty profound career slump.  He’d spent a few years making movies wherein his characters were obviously adults, but his fans didn’t seem to be ready to accept him as such, and so his career was slowly spiraling down the drain. 

And then Mickey Rooney teamed up with Blake Edwards, the future creator of the Pink Panther movies.  Although their work together didn’t set the world on fire, something about the collaboration seemed to energize them both.  They made four films together (including The Atomic Kid), with Edwards serving as writer or co-writer and Rooney starring and sometimes producing.  After the four films, they went on to do The Mickey Rooney Show on television together, after which they worked in television individually for a few years before Edwards went on to become one of the most successful directors of Hollywood comedies in the 1960s, and Rooney at least reached a career equilibrium. 

Mickey Rooney’s co-stars in The Atomic Kid warrant a quick mention.  Robert Strauss as Stan makes a good foil for Rooney’s mugging; they could possibly have become a fairly successful comedy team if they’d pursued it further.  (Strauss also reminds me a LOT of actor Brad Garrett, of Everybody Loves Raymond fame.)  The actress who plays the nurse in the film, Elaine Davis, was Rooney’s real-life wife (his fourth of eight), as the movie’s main credits take great pains to point out.  And Whit Bissell, the ubiquitous star of seemingly countless Psychotronic films of the ‘50s (although in actuality he made fewer than ten horror and sci-fi films during that decade) shows up as, what else, a scientist.

While The Atomic Kid’s plot is puerile, the film is made with more professionalism than one might expect.  It also has a passel of Psychotronic connections.  It was directed by Leslie H. Martinson, who went on to work mostly in television, fittingly directing episodes of Batman (and the feature film spawned by the series), The Brady Bunch, Bigfoot and Wildboy, and even Diff’rent Strokes (if you think about it, there are actually a lot of similarities between Mickey Rooney and Gary Coleman).  Van Alexander, who did the music, worked with Rooney several times afterwards, but his biggest Psychotronic link is via the scores that he did for three William Castle films in the mid-‘60s.  The film’s cinematographer, John L. Russell, is also no stranger to the world of Psychotronic movies; he shot The Man from Planet X and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, among others.  It may be a fairly dumb movie, but The Atomic Kid at least looks and sounds good.

The trailer gives a fairly good idea of what the film’s like, although it makes the film seem far less juvenile than it actually is:

And once again, YouTube doesn’t let us down!  Perhaps it’s another example of Mickey Rooney’s atomic powers, but the full-length feature has been uploaded for your ostensible enjoyment:

Up next: The MAN with the RADIO-ACTIVE BRAIN!

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The Atomic Café (1982)

One Sheet Poster

When one thinks of Psychotronic films, the word “documentary” isn’t usually the first descriptor that pops up.  In fact, other than rock-docs (such as The T.A.M.I. Show), shock-docs (the films inspired by Mondo Cane, such as Mondo Balordo and Ecco), and schlock-docs (including such films as In Search of Historic Jesus, The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield, and Journey into the Beyond), there are only a handful of films that qualify as actual documentaries in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.  That makes this film, The Atomic Café, a rare bird indeed for this blog. 

The Atomic Café is a documentary made entirely from footage from U.S. propaganda films from the mid-‘40s through the mid-‘60s.  Its creators spent five years combing through hundreds of films held in the National Archives to put together this short history of the atomic era.  Their original idea when they began work on the project was to give a broad overview of American propaganda films, but as they saw more and more films that dealt, both literally and culturally, with the fallout from the bombs dropped on Japan to end World War II, they realized that focusing on this narrower topic might make for a better film.  By the time that the finished film was released in 1982, fear of nuclear war was back stronger than it had been in the previous twenty years, making the film much more timely than its creators had ever envisioned it being.  The film became one of the more widely-seen documentaries of its time; it created such a buzz that the film’s creators were asked to be guests on Late Night with David Letterman in March of 1982:

What I find fascinating about The Atomic Café is that it was made, as one of its creators said in a radio interview, without either a camera or a microphone.  All of the images and narration came directly from a myriad of propaganda films, including newsreels, TV shows, and films designed to be shown to the armed forces and in schools.  The soundtrack is made up of some wonderful, mostly forgotten songs with atomic power as their theme.  Some of the more memorable songs from the soundtrack are those that fall into the category of “country gospel,” such as this one from Lowell Blanchard with the Valley Trio:

Or this one, from the Buchanan Brothers:

My absolute favorite song from the soundtrack, however, is this one from the Slim Gaillard Quartette, released in December of 1945:

While a lot of the film’s music is rather light-hearted, the film itself is alternately horrifying and hilarious.  I think that it leans way over into mostly horrifying, although you may disagree and find it quite funny. That’s the beauty of what the filmmakers have accomplished by presenting the footage without imposing their own narration (or goofy sound effects) over it.

The Atomic Café languished for many years, but in 2016 it was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry, which since 1989 has inducted 25 American films each year that are important in some way to our national film heritage.  As part of that program, all of the films that are chosen for inclusion in the Registry are also preserved so that they’ll be available for future generations in the best possible quality.  The Atomic Café underwent a 4K restoration, and the freshly-scrubbed film went back out to theaters in 2018 via Kino Lorber, who have also issued an exemplary Blu-ray of the film.  Besides having the film in its best-looking version to date (even better than in its original theatrical release), the disc has hours of bonus features, including eleven (!) full-length, original propaganda films, several of which were used to pull footage from for the The Atomic Café.  Here’s probably the most famous one, and probably the most entertaining one as well:

One that’s a bit more sobering is “The Day Called ‘X’,” narrated by Glenn Ford and made for the CBS television network in 1957:

I looked for an original 1982 trailer for The Atomic Café, but I couldn’t find one…so you’ll have to make do with the trailer for the 2018 re-release:

And, while I strongly urge you to buy a copy of the Kino Lorber Blu-ray of The Atomic Café if you’re interested in the film, I know that some of you don’t like to blind-buy movies.  I understand, so for those of you who want to see the film first before purchasing it, here’s the full-length film from YouTube:

Psychotronica Redux – we have the links!

Up next: An explosion of laffs!

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The Atomic Brain (1963)

One Sheet Poster

(Originally released as Monstrosity)

An old, crotchety, but filthy rich lady (Marjorie Eaton, Night Tide) hires a scientist, Dr. Otto Frank (Frank Gerstle, The Wasp Woman), to figure out a way to transplant her brain into the body of a young, attractive woman so that she’ll have a form of immortality.  She arranges to have three women—Nina (Erika Peters, House of the Damned), Bea (Judy Bamber, A Bucket of Blood), and Anita (Lisa Lang)–sent over from their home countries by “foreign domestic agencies” (immigrant maid services, to you and me), takes them all to her house, and sets about deciding which body she’d like to wear best.  Meanwhile, Dr. Frank just can’t quite get the hang of this transplanting business; he has created a “monstrosity” (the film’s original title) of a big, hulking brute who has a dog’s brain.  As the film wears on, he tries again with Anita, who was rejected by the old lady due to having a birthmark on her back, and she ends up with a cat’s brain in her noggin.  At the end, everybody double-crosses everybody and the house goes up in flames. 

The director of this inane piece of cinema is Joseph V. Mascelli, and this was his only film as a director.  After his experience with making this film, he focused on being a cinematographer for a while, shooting several Psychotronic classics including Wild Guitar and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies.  Around this time, he also co-authored The 5 C’s of Cinematography, which was then and still is regarded as one of the best books about cinematography, according to those who know about such things.  One of the writers and producers of the film was Dean Dillman, Jr., and he got his kid brother Bradford to read the narration for the film (and there’s a lot of narration).  You may remember Bradford from his work on Piranha, The Way We Were, The Swarm, and a couple of Dirty Harry movies, along with his guest shots on pretty much every TV series produced in the U.S. in the ‘60s and ‘70s. 

As was mentioned at the top of the post, Monstrosity was this film’s original title, but for some reason or another the title was changed to The Atomic Brain when the film went into TV syndication.  Whatever title the film goes under, it has an abundance of bad-movie riches, which will make it a must-see film for some of you and a must-avoid film for others.  I’m always in the mood for a good bad movie, and this one has some choice points of interest.  Some things to watch for when you see it:

  • the guy with the dog’s brain in his head, who looks an AWFUL lot like Ray Molina from Voodoo Heartbeat;
  • the “comedic” sound effect played on a xylophone when the British girl walks;
  • the special bulletin news report on the radio after the cemetery’s night watchman has been killed—how many special news bulletins have you ever heard about grave robbing?  It seems to me that news of that sort could probably wait until a scheduled news broadcast.  It’s not like it puts any listeners into any kind of immediate danger;
  • the fight between the dog-man and the cat-girl;
  • the cat-girl’s hissing, purring, and eating of a mouse;
  • and here are two examples (among many) of choice dialogue:
    • “Making love to an 80-year-old woman in the body of a 20-year-old girl is insanity.”
    • “She doesn’t have a brain?  There might be…advantages.”

If you’re an avid horror movie collector or an inveterate Dollar Tree shopper, you’ve no doubt seen (and perhaps bought a few of) the multi-movie collection packs from some of the lower-end distributors such as Echo Bridge, Treeline, or Mill Creek.  I was super-chuffed the first time that I found one of these multipacks (from Brentwood, if I’m remembering correctly)—at the time, ten horror films for $10 seemed like the bargain of the century.  As the years went on (and the prices went down), I bought more and more of these multipacks, and I began to notice the same films cropping up over and over in these collections.  I could pretty much count on Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Terror (1963), House on Haunted Hill (1958), and another dozen or so films that were in the public domain showing up with regularity via poor-quality transfers on these collections.  The Atomic Brain is another of the films that frequently popped up on these collections.  The first time that I ever saw the film, I watched it as a part of this collection:

Even with my expectations fully in check, the quality of The Atomic Brain was extraordinarily poor, and I bailed out from watching it after a few minutes.  However, since I needed to watch it for this post, I knew that I had to find a better-quality copy out there somewhere, or else I’d never make it all the way through the film.  Luckily, there are multiple uploads of the film on YouTube, and the majority of them seem to have been ripped from the Something Weird DVD, which is the second-best transfer that’s available.  THE best transfer, hands-down, is the one taken directly from the original camera negative.  It was funded via Kickstarter a few years ago and has since pretty much disappeared.  This restored Blu-ray pops up occasionally on eBay; check there if you’re interested, and you may get lucky.  If you’ve seen the film and like it enough to buy your own copy, the restoration is the only way to go. 

If you haven’t seen the film yet, however, here’s an abbreviated trailer for the theatrical release from YouTube to whet your appetite:

And, if that piqued your interest, here’s the full feature, also from YouTube:

Up next: Duck and cover!

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Atom Age Vampire (1961)

One Sheet Poster

(originally released as Seddok, l’erede di Satana)

One summer when I was a kid, I spent a few weeks visiting my grandmother. One day while there, I found a book at the public library called A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, written by Denis Gifford. (Grandma had set me up with a library card for the summer, knowing that I liked to read.) I took the book back to her house, where I pored over it for most of a full week. As the book’s title suggests, there were a LOT of pictures from horror movies on display in it, and, while I’d seen and heard of quite a few of them by that point in my life, there were dozens (if not hundreds) more that I’d never before encountered. Here’s what the cover looked like (although the copy that I checked out from the library was in a plain library binding; when I bought my own copy of the book a year or two later, this is what the dust jacket looked like):

A Pictorial History of Horror Movies - Dennis Gifford_0000

(NOTE: As always on this blog, click on any of the links in this or any other post to open them in another tab, where they’ll usually be bigger so that you can study them in better detail. Go ahead–try it!)

There was one page in particular that I kept going back to, again and again, because it both repulsed me and fascinated me. Three still photographs from horror movies took up most of the space on the page, and, admittedly, the top still, from the 1966 version of The Black Cat, is the one that horrified me the most, as it depicted a pretty blonde woman with a hatchet embedded in her head. However, one of the other pictures on the page also grabbed my attention. In it, another pretty blonde woman is turned away from a monster, trying to escape from his clutches. The monster was incredibly ugly, nightmare fuel indeed, and I found myself returning to that page again and again, to feast my eyes and glut my soul on his accursed ugliness (to paraphrase a bit from Lon Chaney’s The Phantom of the Opera). The caption for the photo said that it came from a film called Seddok, one of the many films in the book that I’d never heard of. Here’s a scan of that page from the book:

A Pictorial History of Horror Movies - Dennis Gifford_0205

The thing that intrigued me the most about the book, however, was a listing of horror films that were available for purchase by home collectors. I had been given a dual 8 projector (which played both Standard 8mm and Super 8mm films) a few Christmases prior to that summer, and I was trying to build up my film collection. When I saw the listing of all of the films that I could potentially own, I felt a little dizzy. I grabbed some lined notebook paper and copied the list, since the book had to be returned to the library. Over the next few years, I was able to grab a few of the films listed in the book (mostly from the K Mart a town over), but the vast majority of them remained tantalizingly out of my grasp, including Seddok, which I really, really wanted due to the photo on page 206 of the Gifford book. It wasn’t until many, many years later that I learned that the distributor listed for Seddok, Mountain Films, was in the UK and far out of my reach, but by that point, my Super 8 collecting frenzy had morphed into a VHS collecting frenzy anyway.

All of this lengthy and, frankly, needless exposition is here to document how obsessions are formed and to show that Atom Age Vampire has been on my radar for a very long time, even though I didn’t know the film by that name originally. At some point between then and now I found out that Atom Age Vampire was another title for Seddok, so I started looking for a copy of the film under that title. It remained obstinately obscure until one day, quite by accident, I found a copy on a cheap double-feature DVD on sale at Target:

AAV 1.1

The problem with the DVD was that, although the IMDB lists the running time of the film to be 87 minutes (and 105 minutes in its original, Italian-language cut), this copy of the film ran only about 69 minutes. So, rather than watch a severely truncated version, I decided to hold off watching it while I looked for the longer cut.

Not too long afterwards, I saw another cheap double-feature DVD that had Atom Age Vampire as one of its movies:

AAV 2

I was willing to take the gamble on purchasing it because it was selling for a dollar. Besides, it had Carnival of Souls as its co-feature, which I’d already seen and liked. But most importantly, it listed a 101-minute running time for Atom Age Vampire, which was really close to the Italian cut’s length. I shelled out a clam and took it home…and it contained, disappointingly, the 87-minute cut of the film. Still, that was a major step in the right direction, and since it was, as far as I could ascertain, the full-length American cut of the film, I felt that I could now watch it.

I found the film itself to be rather anticlimactic after all those decades of longing to see it. It’s pretty much a standard-issue mad scientist story, with nods to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and, more contemporary to the time that it was made, Les Yeux sans Visage (Eyes without a Face). In it, a scientist, his assistant, and a mute henchman have been working to perfect the formula for a serum called Derma that will rejuvenate scarred skin. Apparently, they’ve been at this for a long time, as they’re now on Derma 28, which seems to do exactly what they want it to do. For some mystifying reason, however, they’ve kept on hand a good supply of Derma 25, a failed serum that turns its users into monsters, perhaps for kicks on slow weekends. Anyway, they find a new patient (with a rather fetching Veronica Lake-style peek-a-boo haircut) on whom to try Derma 28, and it works spectacularly well…for a while. Then the poor, scarred lass returns to her poor, scarred, pre-Derma 28 state. When the doc and his cronies run out of Derma 28, the only way to make more is to kill a woman or two to extract fluid from some gland or another—you know, the usual MO for mad scientists. And to get up the courage to kill women, the scientist takes a big dose of Derma 25, mutates into a freaky-looking monster via a short bit of stop-motion animation, and goes gland-gathering. Since he’s out of Derma 28 to revert back to normal, he has to put himself into a radiation chamber, which turns him back into his normal self. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the size of the dose of Derma 25 that he took, or perhaps due to the radiation treatment, he starts spontaneously turning into the monster. Luckily, this tends to coincide with any murdering he needs to do, so it works out pretty well for him. After a few murders, the new patient’s boyfriend comes looking for her and saves the day.

From that synopsis, you might have gathered that no vampires show up to enliven this movie. However, you must admit that the title Atom Age Vampire is a lot more exploitable and sexy than Seddok, Heir of Satan, which is what the film’s Italian title translates into. Since the film has no vampires, however, somebody on the American release team decided that they’d better try to link the movie back to its title somehow, or else there might be some irate patrons wanting their money back. To remedy the situation, one of the characters in the dubbed version now gives a little speech to tie everything together. He says, and I quote: “You’ve been impressed by the recurring factor in these cases of the wound from the throat to the sternum, the obsession of a vindictive-minded man who has been poisoned or disfigured forever by atomic radiation—one might even say a vampire of the atom age who wants to recover.” Et voilà, we now have an explanation of the film’s title. Crafty, no?

Atom Age Vampire, for me at least, failed to live up to the hopes that I held for it for all those years. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not terribly memorable, either. There are worse ways to spend 87 minutes, especially if you like jazzy film scores as much as I do. If you’re up for it, here’s the entire original soundtrack as uploaded to YouTube:

As for the trailer, it’s up on YouTube as well, albeit in a fairly dire-looking copy:

And, once again courtesy of YouTube, here’s the entire film. The film seems to be in the public domain, so if this link breaks anytime in the future, just do a search for the film online, and you should be able to find multiple copies of it:

And here’s something for those of you who just HAVE to see the full, uncut version: it’s the complete, Italian cut of the film, with Italian dialogue (with no subtitles, unfortunately). I suggest watching the American cut linked above first, so that you’ll know what’s going on, then checking this one out for the mildly racy footage that was cut for us lily-livered Yanks:

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of the post! To reward your ability to put up with my blathering, here’s a link to a PDF of the book that I mentioned in this post, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford. If you have time, check out the list of films to buy on Regular and Super 8mm on pages 210 and 211. Enjoy!

https://archive.org/details/apictorialhistoryofhorrormoviesdennisgifford

Up next: Bodies for sale!

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Atlas Against the Cyclops (1961)

Original Italian Poster

(Originally released as Maciste nella Terra dei Ciclopi; also released as Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops)

The evil queen Capys, a descendent of Circe, is under some ill-defined curse that can only be broken if she feeds the last descendent of Ulysses to the last surviving cyclops.  She finds out that the descendent she’s looking for is the infant son of the king and queen of a nearby village, so she orders the village to be destroyed, the king to be killed,  and the baby to be brought to her.  She gets exactly two of those things.  The baby’s mother, Queen Penope, gives the baby to a soldier to get him out of the village before he’s killed.  After a chase wherein he’s injured, the soldier succeeds in getting the kid out, but Queen Penope is captured. 

Later on, the injured soldier is resting while the baby plays in the dirt.  Neither notices that a hungry lion is skulking about.  Luckily, Maciste (who is actually the Atlas of the film’s title, somehow) washes up on the beach and springs into action, eventually, and I am not making this up, hugging the lion to death.  I guess that it’s supposed to be a fearsome fight, but it looks for all the world that the lion’s happy to see Maciste and just wants to snuggle. After getting the kid to a nearby shepherd friend for safekeeping, Maciste sees Queen Capys heading to a cave and follows her, where he saves her life (from a cave-in) and she falls instantly in love with him.

Maciste spends the rest of the film moving the baby from hiding place to hiding place and fending off Capys’s advances, until the baby is eventually captured and taken to the lair of the cyclops.  And, finally, the title is fulfilled, and boy is it anticlimactic. 

Gordon Mitchell (here billed as Mitchell Gordon) stars as Maciste.  (I’m not exactly sure where the whole “Atlas” thing came from, since he’s never called that in the film—he’s only called Maciste.)  Mitchell’s real name was Charles Allen Pendleton, and in the 1950s, he was an educator by day and a body-builder by night.  As he got more and more involved with body-building, he ditched his teaching job and got a job touring with Mae West.  After Steve Reeves hit the body-builder jackpot in Italy with Hercules and Hercules Unchained, Mitchell headed to Italy to see if he might find some work for himself there.  Atlas Against the Cyclops was his first Italian strongman epic, and he followed it up with another dozen or so pepla.  Once the cycle started winding down, he decided to stay in Italy, where he made another hundred or so films, including those with such timeless (and ellipsis-filled) titles as:  Trusting Is Good…Shooting Is Better; Django and Sartana Are Coming…It’s the End; His Name Was Pot…But They Called Him Allegria; Stay Away from Trinity…When He Comes to Eldorado; and Down with Your Hands…You Scum!

Two other members of the cast deserve mentioning; the first is the actress who plays Queen Capys, Chelo Alonso.  She was born in Cuba (and HER real name was Isabel Apolonia García Hernández, in case you’re keeping track of these things) and became a sensation as a dancer there before heading to Paris, where she landed at the Folies Bergère and became an even bigger sensation.  Because of this, she was offered a role in the Italian production of Sign of the Gladiator as a featured dancer in the film.  The role attracted a lot of attention, and she found herself featured in or starring in another dozen Italian adventure films over the next two years.  For those of you who are Sergio Leone fans, you can catch a brief glimpse of her in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  She retired a few years later.

The other cast member of whom you should be aware may or may not actually be who the IMDB reports him as being, but I feel that, if the rumor’s true, then you should know about it.  In the film, the part of the baby that’s on the cyclops’s dinner menu is played by a child billed as “il piccolo Fabio.”  Now, there have to be, I don’t know, tens of thousands of people in Italy named Fabio, but from what various parties will have you believe, that baby is THIS Fabio:

By the way, that’s a cut from Fabio’s album, After Dark.  And, yeah, he speaks the whole album, just like William Shatner does with his stuff.  Again, though, I don’t put a whole lot of credence into the rumor, but I felt that you should know nonetheless.

Atlas Against the Cyclops is another of those films that I can’t really figure out whether or not it received a theatrical release in the United States.  I would assume that it did, as the TV print has a different title, Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops.  However, I can’t find any proof anywhere that the film played in theaters.  I’ve never seen any posters or newspaper ad mats for the film; the only thing that I’ve seen is an 8’x10’ still, but it could have come from either a very limited or an aborted release before the film finally ended up on television.  If anyone has any proof that this film played theaters, please let me know in the comments. 

If you’re in the mood for watching something that won’t tax your brain, Atlas Against the Cyclops might do you just fine.  It’s certainly not the best example of a peplum that I’ve ever seen, but for those times that you just feel like watching a shirtless guy in a tunic wrestle lions and other bare-chested men and save babies, this might just pass for entertainment. 

In keeping with my theory that there was no theatrical release for this film, I can’t find a trailer in English anywhere on the Internet.  So, we’ll have to dispense with that this time out.  There are, however, several uploads of the full feature of varying quality on YouTube; this one looks the best to me:

Up next: Before your very eyes…the terrifying transformation of man into monster!

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