Saturday, June 13, 2015

Man from Planet X, The (1951)

... aka: Planeten X anfaller (Planet X Attacks)

Directed by:
Edgar G. Ulmer

"Racing out of space... a face to haunt the Earth forever! The WEIRDEST creature human eyes have ever seen!"

Shot in less than a week in late 1950 for just 41,000 dollars, this managed to beat the much more famous and much more highly-regarded THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) to theaters by a solid month, making it one of the very first feature films ever about alien invaders landing on Earth (something previously seen only in a couple of juvenile serials). Mustachioed Los Angeles reporter John Lawrence (Robert Clarke) gets wind of some bizarre astronomical phenomena and promptly heads to a barely-populated island off the coast of Scotland to further investigate matters. There, he meets up with elderly Professor Elliot (Raymond Bond), who has recently discovered that a new planet he's dubbed "Planet X" has entered our galaxy and is slowly heading toward the Earth. Though it isn't expected to actually collide with our planet nor will it become visible to the naked eye, it will be getting close enough to study and could possibly effect weather patterns. What no one anticipates is an entirely different and potentially catastrophic threat. When all is said and done, it'll be something our reporter hero considers "The strangest story a newspaperman ever covered."

John arrives on the island, is introduced to Elliot's friendly daughter / obligatory love interest Enid (Margaret Field) and the scientist's nosy, sketchy assistant Dr. Mears (William Schallert) and then heads to an inn for the night. After dropping him off, Enid's car breaks down on the trip back, forcing her to walk. She sees a glowing light, discovers a fallen spacecraft and briefly sees an alien visitor through a window. Initially skeptical of her story, the Professor and John go back to the ship the following day and indeed see the alien. Because they show signs of kindness toward it, it follows them back home like a stray puppy. Dr. Mears devises a way to communicate with the visitor using math formulas, but since he's really only interested in making money, he roughs up the alien after he gets the information he's looking for. The alien decides to strike back; turning villagers into mindless slaves to help him build a "wireless directional beam" as he stages a full-scale takeover.

This is neither the best nor the worst that 50s sci-fi has to offer but it's certainly watchable, especially considering it was shot in just 6 days for peanuts. Veteran 'B' movie director Ulmer - best known for the Karloff / Lugosi horror classic The Black Cat (1934) and the excellent noir Detour (1945) - was quite used to working with limited funds so he's able to stretch the budget about as far as it can go and creates a wonderfully moody and foggy rural atmosphere in the process. Also helping to curb major costs was the availability of sets left over from the big budget Oscar-winning Joan of Arc (1948). The design of the spaceship (which looks like a sphere with a giant silver ice cream cone on top) and the alien itself (which has a squinty-eyed, completely immobile sourpuss putty face) are less impressive, but typical of the time and really shouldn't bother anyone already accustomed to sci-fi flicks from this era.

One of the things I liked most about this one is that we're never sure what the extraterrestrial visitor's true intentions are. The alien scout seems friendly at first and possibly would have peacefully cooperated with humans to work out a solution to their problem if it hadn't been needlessly attacked. Then again, its initial demeanor could have just been a facade to trick the characters when it had malicious plans all along: "X" is revealed to be a dying planet that will soon be covered with ice so the alien race are desperate for a new home. We are never told one way or another but I personally like to think it's the former since the alien very easily could have used its slave ray gun on the characters early on, yet doesn't show any signs of hostility until it is provoked by Dr. Mears.

American character actor and sci-fi regular Roy Engel (sporting a good Scottish accent) plays a small supporting role as a local constable. Clarke, Field and Schallert all returned the following year in a post apocalyptic companion film titled Captive Women (1952, aka 1000 Years from Now), which had the same writer / producers (Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg) but was made for a different production company by a different director.

MGM first issued this (as a standalone release) on DVD as part of their Midnite Movies collection. It was then later picked up for distribution by Timeless Media and included in a four film "Sci-Fi Classics" box set that also includes the films The Angry Red Planet (1959), Beyond the Time Barrier (1960) and The Time Travelers (1964).


Devil's Due (1973)

... aka: Giving the Devil His Due

Directed by:
Ernest Danna

There were a lot of sex flicks made in the 70s utilizing flimsy Satanism plots to help string together a bunch of soft or hardcore sex scenes. Though this one has hard sex it otherwise plays out pretty much like any number of other ultra low-budget B-movie devil films from the time. There's just enough of a plot and dialogue to keep you going, it was shot on (probably 16mm) film and features a cast actually attempting to give performances. Ah, the lost art of porn films actually being films! On the down side, "natural" 70s porn featuring homely performers with more hair between their legs than most have on our heads and more pimples on their asses than your average 12-year-old has on their face isn't exactly sexy these days. Quite the opposite actually. Teenager Cindy (Cindy West) is about to graduate high school at the top of her class. Her future's looking bright... that is until her principal, Dean Carlson ("Dan Anthony" aka John Buco) - who's still pissed off his plans for starting a sex education course at her school were rejected - decides to drug her drink and rape her while she's in the middle of practicing a speech in his office.

Afterward, Dean informs her that if she goes to the cops he'll simply tell them she willingly agreed to sleep with him in exchange for being named valedictorian. Humiliated and disturbed by the ordeal, Cindy heads home. Three weeks later, Cindy fears she's become pregnant since she's not had her period and also learns the Dean did the same drug/rape routine on her best friend, Barbie (Lisa Grant). Barbie helps concoct a plan to bail Cindy out, which involves Cindy telling her motorcycle mechanic boyfriend Willie Joe (Davey Jones) that he knocked up her up and now has to marry her.

Cindy visits Willie Joe at his shop, has sex with him on top of a running motorcycle and then confesses she's pregnant. His response? “La di da, what do you want me to do about it?” He then informs her she's “...just some dumb cunt I was fucking.” Heartbroken, Cindy hurries home on her bicycle. Her discouraged voice-over exclaims “All men are animals!” Except for her father, of course: “Daddy will understand. He's a good man; maybe even the only good man on this whole miserable Earth!” Well, Cindy's in for another shock when she busts down her dad's bedroom door to find him screwing Barbie. Cindy lets out a shriek and the shock causes her to have a miscarriage and become a mute (?!)

Soon after, she takes a bus to New York City and answers a newspaper ad for a room for rent for 100 bucks a month. (100 bucks a month in New York City?) There, she meets her new roommates Dawn (“Catherine Warren” aka Andrea True) and Nicki (“Angel Street” aka Darby Lloyd Rains). Dawn wastes no time gleefully telling Cindy, “Well, uh, you may find this kind of strange, Cindy, but I work for the Devil!” “The Devil” turns out to be Kampala (Gus Thomas), the leader of a Devil cult, and Dawn professes to be his main mistress. “Worshiping the Devil,” Nicki says, “It's the 'in' thing to do!” After Cindy confesses she's had a rough past, Dawn decides the cult is the perfect place for her. The nubile young girl's initiation involves being laid down nude on an altar, screaming “Satan is our savior!” repeatedly, sticking a dildo in her mouth (“You must kiss the cock of Satan!”) and then having a three-way with both Kampala and Dawn.

After three weeks with the cult, Cindy begins to suspect Kampala is a phony who's just using the cult to get paid and then get laid. After the girls “bond” on the couch, Cindy easily convinces her roomies that Kampala needs to be eliminated. It's nothing a little sex on the altar and strychnine “ceremonial oil” on the nipples can't take care of, right? Yes, this one has death by poisoned nipples... and here I thought I'd already seen everything! Cindy then prays to Satan for “divine guidance” and there's a big cult orgy with all the followers. This scene features many of the big stars of early 70s NYC porn, including “Anya Walters” / Georgina Spelvin (who gets to do a crazy topless dance), “Derald Delancey” / Jamie Gillis, Marc Stevens and Tina Russell.

I discovered after watching this that I'd sat through a heavily cut version of the film; the one currently being distributed by Alpha Blue Archives on their “Satanic Sickies” box set. Doh! The Alpha version runs about 58 minutes and is missing a lot of footage, including part of the opening titles, most of the lesbian three-way scene, a lot of footage from the orgy and even a chunk of the big surprise twist at the very end! Something Weird have released a more complete and better-quality cut of the movie since then, so I'd go for that one if you're interested.

Even though all online sources for this one claim it was released April 1973, the poster claims lead actress West won a Best Actress award at the New York Erotic Film Festival in 1972. The poster also has a blurb about how the producers have "...lots of experience in Italian cinema." That's either a flat out lie or means that credited producer Nino De Roma, who has no other credits to his name besides this film, is a pseudonym. I did however find a man sharing the director's name in a 1940 New York Census. The "Ernest Danna" listed there was from Italy, born around 1899 and lived in Kings, New York. If this is the same guy who directed this film, he would have been over 70 years old when he did!

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