Friday, July 9, 2021

I pianeti contro di noi (1962)

... aka: Hands of a Killer
... aka: Le monstre aux yeux verts (The Green-Eyed Monster)
... aka: Man with Yellow Eyes, The
... aka: Monster with Green Eyes, The
... aka: Planets Against Us
... aka: Planets Among Us, The

Directed by:
Romano Ferrara

"Your gesture was quite moving. I guess it was a primitive sign of affection. I have the power to judge you. You people of this puny world move swiftly towards your own destruction. You still fail to understand, even after thousands of years, what a magnificent gift life is."

Famous physicist / atomic scientist Dr. Landersen and his cocky son Robert (Michel Lemoine), who refuses to wear his seat belt, are among those aboard a small airplane that crashes in the Sahara desert. Although all are assumed dead, Robert's is the only corpse that was never located. A few months later, every attempt to launch a rocket into space is met with disaster in both the U. S. and the Soviet Union. A military conference is held in New York City at the O.N.U. where possible sabotage by another country is initially suspected. However, Professor Miller (Peter Dane) has film that shows the same man was present at the sites of each disaster... and that man also happens to look an awful lot like the supposedly dead Robert. Prior to each explosion, radar systems mysteriously went haywire (thanks to a "strong magnetic interference") and, immediately after, the mysterious man seemingly vanished without a trace. Even stranger, the man also happened to be at explosions in different countries at nearly the exact same time. Officials really have no other choice but suspect something alien or supernatural is involved.

Meanwhile, in Italy, Professor Giorgio Borri (Jacopo Tecchi) and his colleagues have concocted a nerve gas that's able to paralyze whoever inhales it for days at a time. Not that his fiancée, Marina Ferri (Maria Pia Luzi), cares so much. She keeps busy hobnobbing with much more exciting folks, along with her best friend, Audrey Bradbury (Jany Clair). While Marina is having second thoughts about being wed to the uptight scientist and living an ordinary life, Audrey is a free-spirited artist who drinks and smokes and is outgoing, flirtatious and sexually upfront to the point where she has no issue picking up men who interest her and immediately taking them back home. She even regularly goes to a sleazy part of the city to hang out with prostitutes and other unsavory types because she finds them more interesting. However, the latest man to strike her fancy just so happens to be that odd Robert-looking fella who's now the subject of an international manhunt.

Officials in the U. S., USSR and Italy are all after the man, who's now going by the name Branco, claims to be of Slavic origin and always wears black leather gloves. The authorities trail his every move with surveillance cameras and monitors, but have good reason to keep a safe distance for the time being until they figure out just what they're dealing with here. Besides, hanging around highly-radioactive beings just isn't good for one's health. Matters become even more complicated when a second Robert look-a-like who claims to not be Branco is located.

Audrey brings Branco to a party to introduce him to her eccentric artist friends, where Marina (who has suddenly decided to forget all about her fiancé) promptly stabs her buddy in the back and leaves with him instead. Branco hypnotizes her with his glowing eyes and has her act as his chauffeur around the city for the night. When they're pulled over by the police, Branco removes one of his gloves and grabs one of the officers, who falls over in pain and then is reduced to a withered corpse. Several others will meet a similar fate and plot revelations eventually reveal an attempt at an alien takeover using cyborg duplicates.

Italian science fiction films of the 60s and 70s have a very bad reputation... and this forgettable effort does little to help that reputation. It's nicely-shot, watchable, scenic at times and the scenes between the alien cyborg and the two human females are actually quite interesting and entertaining, which makes it a shame this instead spends much more time with a bunch of bland, stiff cop and government agent characters sitting around discussing what's going on. Ah, but such is the bane of many an Italian production from this era. They love their cops and love showing their cops sitting at desks and yapping on the telly discussing redundant things that add nothing interesting to the film at large.

As far as the fx are concerned, there's very little to mention. Aside from very unconvincing model work of a toy spaceship hovering around the desert and some passable two-Robert-clones-at-once split screen, they throw in a tiny bit of poorly-executed stop motion animation at the very end after the robot is wounded by a laser, assesses the damage and his skin melts away.

Lemoine, who's very well-cast in the lead and probably the highlight of the entire film, tried for years to be a mainstream actor, but his general appearance (namely having large eyes set pretty far apart) made him a hard fit for romantic leads and he usually ended up playing bad guys or secondary characters instead. It probably didn't help matters that he didn't start regularly getting lead roles until he was around 40 years old. A few years after this he was appearing in sleazy films for sleazy directors like Jesus Franco and José Bénazéraf, then decided to direct his own sleazy films, which culminated in Seven Women for Satan (1976); a film that was so sleazy it was banned in France. After that, he started making hardcore porno flicks using the alias "Michel Leblanc."

While Lemoine and Clair represent the French contingent of the production, this definitely feels far more Italian. It was filmed in Rome by an entirely Italian crew and most of the rest of the primary roles are filled by Italian actors. Despite making a prestigious debut in Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte (1961), lead actress Luzi had a very spotty filmography throughout the 60s. Things eventually picked up a bit when she married exploitation (and sometimes porno) director Alberto Cavallone (BLOW JOB, THE EROTIC DWARF) and started appearing in some of his films using the alias "Jane Avril."

An English-dubbed version (which is actually pretty well-done) was theatrically released in the UK (under the title Hands of a Killer and double-billed with the Filipino film TERROR IS A MAN) but this appears to have entirely bypassed a U. S. theatrical release and went straight to TV instead. There were VHS releases from Sinister Cinema and Something Weird and it's now available in pretty pristine condition on Amazon, Tubi and other streaming services.

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