MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Menace from Deep Space (1956)

Clean-cut, square-jawed Rocky Jones of the Space Rangers was the lead character of a syndicated science fiction series that ran for two seasons from February to November of 1954. Shot in black and white, the show was about Rocky’s adventures as the space policeman for the United Worlds. Flying in his Orbit Jet XV-2 — and later the Silver Moon XV-3 — Rocky was a victim of budgets, as despite having a laser gun, he often defeated villains with his fists. Just as often, those villains were people in costumes speaking English instead of some alien tongue. Also, no matter where women came from — even lead villain Cleolanta, Suzerain of the planet Ophecius — they all love him in a precursor to the way James T. Kirk would be able to land any lady, even the green ones.

Rocky Jones was created by Roland D. Reed and starred Richard Crane as Rocky and former Our Gang member Scotty Beckett as Rocky’s co-pilot Winky. It was sponsored by Gordon Baking Company, which is why one of Rocky’s other ships was called the Silvercup Rocket after one of their bread brands. The show was greeted with a ton of cash-in merchandise, including watches, space dollars, badges, buttons, records, comic books and clothing.

Charactets changed in the last season, due to Professor Newton (Maurice Cass) dying of a heart attack — he was replaced by Professor Mayberry (Reginald Sheffield) — and Winky (Scotty Beckett) being arrested for possessing a weapon after being implicated in an armed robbery at the Cavalier Hotel in Hollywood. He left for Mexico, wrote some bad checks, got in a gun battle with the police and was jailed until he came back to the U.S. in 1954. He was replaced by a new comedy character, Biffen Cardoza (James Lydon). As for Cleodata, the new enemy became Juliandra, Suzerain of Herculon, played by Ann Robinson.

There are 39 episodes of the show with 36 being broken into 3-chapter arcs that were edited into TV movies. Menace from Deep Space are the “Bobby’s Comet” episodes that originally aired on April 6, 1954. The story is all about the Jovian moon Fornax, which is filled with energy crytals that Rocky and his friends — as well as his enemies — all want. Is it a Cold War analogy? Probably not. Yet the villains do dress like Arabic people and Cleodata refers to Rocky as an infidel, which is pretty strange.

There may be a kid sidekick, but Rocky’s love interest Vena Ray (Sally Mansfield) sure has a fancy car.

Ralston also sponsored a show called Space Patrol and working with Blue Bird shoes, gave away a spaceship. Here’s the ad copy courtesy of Solar Guard: “A hugh silver and scarlet rolling clubhouse, the Commander’s rocketship, the Terra IV. The ship is 35′ long, 10,000 lb in weight with a full size motorized flatbed truck to pull the Rocket. You can take the rolling clubhouse on trips, camp outs with your dad, sightseeing trips, or use it for you and your friends Space Patrol Headquarters. It has bunk beds lights, cooking equipment, and lockers for space gear. In addition to the Ralston Rocket there is $1,500 in cash to spend.”

There was also supposedly a rocket that traveled to promote Rocky Jones and for years, I’d hear rumors that people had found it. Imagine having your own space ship.

For a fictionalized retelling of the days of space kids TV, check out the Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin comic book Satellite Sam.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Purple Death from Outer Space (1940, 1956)

Directed by Ford Beebe — who also made a Buck Rodgers serial — and Ray Taylor — who was the director of The Spider’s Web — is the first part of the serial Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe and Perils from the Planet Mongo completes the storyline. While most movie serials were made for children, the Flash Gordon series connected with adults and became these actual films. This is the third of the serials and was also adapted into three syndicated films called Space Soldiers, Space Soldiers’ Trip to Mars and Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe, given that title as there was a Flash Gordon TV series at the time and they didn’t want to take away from it. There’s also another version released in the 70s called Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe.

The Purple Death is killing people, leaving behind a purple spot on the victims’ foreheads. Flash Gordon discovers that Ming the Merciless is behind the plague when he finds one of Ming’s spaceships spreading “Death Dust.” Our hero goes off to save every one of us along with Dale Arden, Dr. Alexis Zarkov and Prince Barin.

Taking sets and ideas from Buck Rodgers as well as footage from the German movie White Hell of Pitz Palu, this is still a great looking movie even eighty years later. As a kid, I would stay awake until four in the morning on Sundays, as WTAE in Pittsburgh would show thirty minutes of these old serials. It was just when my grandfather would get home from the mill and I was always so excited to watch these with him, then sleep in his bed while he told me about seeing then in the theater. A magical memory I’ll forever cherish.

THE IMPORTANT CINEMA CLUB’S SUPER SCARY MOVIE CHALLENGE DAY 25: Gorilla At Large (1954)

25. A Horror Film That Prominently Features A Gorilla Costume.

Cameron Mitchell, Anne Bancroft, Lee J. Cobb, Raymond Burr, Lee Marvin and Warren Stevens. What a cast! Throw in George Barrows as Goliath, the titular gorilla and man, we have a movie. Wait — it’s in 3D? How much do you want to give us, Panoramic Productions?

The carnival has come to town and its big selling point is watching the giant gorilla Goliath get cock teased by Laverne, a trapeze artist (Bancroft). Yet the owner, Cyrus Miller (Burr) thinks the act is growing old. So carnival barker Joey (Cameron Mitchell) puts on a gorilla costume and they change it up, with a new ending where the beast really does get the girl. This upsets Goliath’s trainer Kovacs (Peter Whitney) and Joey’s fiancee Audrey (Charlotte Austin), who doesn’t want him near another woman.

Of course, murders ensue, a hall of mirrors and a rollercoaster make for amazing set pieces and the ending is a genuine surprise. When this aired on TV in the 80s, the giveaway glasses smelled like bananas, which is what I want all movies to have the whiff of.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 21: The Black Sleep (1956)

Reginald Le Borg was a banker in Austria and a director in America, making low budget horror at Universal like The Mummy’s Ghost and Weird Woman. Released along with The Creeping Unknown, it was ahead of the Shock Theater package that would ignite a new interest in Universal’s horror movies. It’s also Bela Lugosi’s last movie, although footage of him appears in  Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Dr. Gordon Ramsay (Herbert Rudley) claims that he is innocent yet remains in jail, guilty of murder, when surgeon Sir Joel Cadman (Basil Rathbone) offers him a chance at redemption. All he has to do is assist him with some experiments, starting with taking a potion called The Black Sleep, which will put him into a deathlike slumber.

After the “dead” body of Ramsay is discovered in his cell, Cadman takes the body for burial and revives Ramsay back in his lab. There, he’s attempting to learn the mysteries of the brain so that he can bring his wife Angelina (Louanna Gardner) back to life. One of his servants, Mungo (Lon Chaney Jr.) was once Doctor Monroe, one of Ramsay’s former teachers. Now he’s a monstrous beast barely under control. And then there’s the mute — and frightening — Casimir (Bela Lugosi).

So why do Laurie (Patricia Blake), Odo (Akim Tamiroff, who replaced Peter Lorre, who wanted more than this production could pay for) and Daphnae (Phyllis Stanley) work for him? It turns out that Laurie is Mungo’s daughter and wants her father to be normal again. That said, there’s an entire basement filled with experiments that haven’t worked, broken human beings — like Tor Johnson — led by a maniacal preacher named Borg (John Carradine). They’re so close to breaking through the doors to the lab…

The Black Sleep has a great cast but doesn’t do much with them. But it’s a fast movie and if you don’t think too much — or want to hear Bela speak — you may enjoy it.

You can watch this on Tubi.

CURTIS HARRINGTON WEEK: The Wormwood Star (1956)

The artwork in this film was destroyed in a ritual.

This is the only record that they were ever here.

Harrington said this of the film’s subject, Marjorie Cameron: “Before I made the film I’d heard from Renate that Cameron had spent some time in the desert trying, through magical means, to conceive a child by the spirit of Jack Parsons without success.  Cameron never spoke of Jack directly, but I do remember feeling sometimes when I talked to her, of her going off into a realm that I didn’t understand at all. It was sort of an apocalyptic thing and it’s there in her poetry.”

So who was Cameron?

An artist. A poet. A muse. A cartographer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war. A member of the propaganda machine. An occultist. An actress. Perhaps the Whore of Babylon.

And the love of Jack Parson’s life.

Parsons, the man who helped invent the rockets that got us to the moon, the man whose lodge housed numerous icons of science fiction, a devotee of Thelma and Crowley and the man who had just finished a series of Enochian rites with L. Ron Hubbard to invoke his elemental lover after Hubbard stole his wife.

When Cameron showed up at his home, red hair burning and blue eyes blazing, they ended up having sex for two weeks straight.

After Parson’s death, she started rituals to create a moonchild, which often involved slashing her wrists. As her mental state worsened — or improved, look I have no idea and my belief system is pretty wild myself — she came to understand his purpose in carrying out the Babalon Working that invoked her. On a diet of marijuana, peyote, and magic mushrooms, she proclaimed all the many ways that she saw the world would be destroyed.

Somehow, in a life beset by mental demons and intense drama, Cameron produced art. A woman making art in the male-dominated world of the 50s. She dated outside her race, which was illegal at the time, but she also ran a sex cult, so I don’t think the law mattered, outside of love is the law, love under will.

I’ve been fascinated by her for years and will be for the rest of my life. The Wormwood Star is one of the few ways to see her work and her up close. She’s absolutely terrifying in this film and I can’t even imagine what she was like in person. Similarly, she’s a force of absolute magic in Harrington’s Night Tide.

Life is filled with magic. Find it. Live it. Let it drive you wild, let is make you insane.

As another source of obsession, James Shelby Downard wrote, “Never allow anyone the luxury of assuming that because the dead and deadening scenery of the American city-of-dreadful-night is so utterly devoid of mystery, so thoroughly flat-footed, sterile and infantile, so burdened with the illusory gloss of “baseball-hot dogs-apple-pie-and-Chevrolet” that it is somehow outside the psycho-sexual domain. The eternal pagan psychodrama is escalated under these “modern” conditions precisely because sorcery is not what 20th century man can accept as real.”

You can watch this on YouTube.

The Wild and the Wicked (1956)

Also known as The Flesh Merchant,Sex Club andDial 5683 for Love, this W. Merle Connell-directed (Untamed WomenTest Tube Babies) frolic tells the sordid tale of Nancy Sheridan, a twenty-something fresh off the bus looking for her sister in Hollywood. Unlike something like The Seventh Victim, where one finds Satan, instead here one finds sin.

Sure, she finds her sister Paula and falls for the high end opulence she has in her Hollywood apartment, what with all the fancy furniture and fur coats. Older sister tells her to scram, but how do you send a girl back to the farm when she’s seen La-La Land?

Paula’s in-road starts at the art institute, where she poses nude, and let me tell you, I went to an Art Institute and none of our models looked like Joy Reynolds does in this movie.

Let me ask you — inspired by the review that the much more intelligent than me G.G. Graham wrote — what’s the worse prison? Selling your body willingly and making the money that your gifts have earned you from a variety of gentlemen or giving it all away for the slavery that lies behind a white picket fence? Is Nancy right to fall in love with the night? Does Paula wish she hadn’t made the same mistakes? Are we to pull morals out of a movie that has a normal cut and one with smoker inserts?

23 Paces to Baker Street (1956)

In IMDB user Schwenkstar’s Hollywood Giallo (+ Its Others) list, they state that this film pulls “the same trick Argento uses frequently in his films: a character sees/hears something but misinterprets it, misleading the character as well as the audience.”

Based on the Philip MacDonald book Warrant for X, this film also takes cues from Rear Window, placing a differently-abled person against criminals that came after them in the dark. This time, the hero is Philip Hannon (Van Johnson), a blind playwright who believes that the partial conversation he’s heard is related to a possible kidnapping that hasn’t even happened yet.

With the police disbelieving him, he is thrust into the role of the giallo hero: a stranger in a strange land and one even stranger because he only knows the steps from building to building and will never see this new skyline, a place that he’s escaped to in avoidance of his depression over his loss of sight. Those simmering feelings of a bleak future have led him to leave Jean (Vera Miles, who would soon appear in another essential giallo inspiring film, Psycho) behind in America, but she’s come to England which puts him even more off his hermetic path.

Director Henry Hathaway is probably best known for True Grit and The Sons of Katie Elder, but he put together a fun mystery here, a film that exists before the krimini and giallo yet has many of the things we’d later see in much more lurid tales.

The Werewolf (1956)

Directed by Fred F. Sears, The Werewolf tells the tale of Duncan Marsh, who has been operated on by some doctors who want to create perfect humans who will survive the coming nuclear winter by injecting irradiated wolf serum into their blood. Of course, the side effect is that they become werewovles, but there you have it.

Not only is this science fiction werewolf one that doesn’t require a full moon to transform, even if the budget necessitated day for night shooting, he can also be killed by normal bullets. Man, when will scientists stop playing God? Or the devil? Or whatever creates lycanthropes?

Sheriff Jack Haines is played by Don Megowan, who is usually on the side of the monsters, playing the Gillman in The Creature Walks Among Us and the monster in the TV show Tales of Frankenstein.  He also shows up in another werewolf film, the 1974 TV movie Scream of the Wolf.

The Werewolf is one of four movies on Arrow Video’s new Cold War Creatures: Four Films From Sam Katzman set along with Creature with the Atom BrainThe Zombies of Mora Tau and The Giant Claw. Each film has a 1080p blu ray presentation, along with a fully illustrated 60-page collector’s book featuring extensive new writing by Laura Drazin Boyes, Neil Mitchell, Barry Forshaw, Jon Towlson and Jackson Cooper, as well as 80-page collector’s art book featuring reproduction stills and artwork from each film and new writing by historian and critic Stephen R. Bissette, the former artist of Swamp Thing. Plus, you get two double-sided posters featuring newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin and reversible sleeves for each movie with original and newly commissioned artwork for each film by Matt Griffin.

The Werewolf has tons of great extras, like an introduction by Kim Newman, commentary by Lee Gambin, a visual essay concerning the role of women in the films of Sam Katzman by historian and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and a Super 8mm version of this movie.

You can get this set from MVD.

The Mole People (1956)

A hollow earth movie that posits an underground civilization created by Sumerian descendants who worship Ishtar. Never mind that Sumerians and Ishtar have no connection and the true symbol of Ishtar is an eight-pointed star, not to mention that all of the gods in this movie are really Egyptian. But hey — it does have the great flood symbolizing the journey to the underworld and was probably influenced somewhat by the Shaver Mysteries that dominated Amazing Stories from 1945 to 1948 (see Beyond Lemuria and Encounters with the Unknown for more film evidence of the Shavers, the hole to hell and Lemuria itself).

I absolutely love that this movie starts with an introduction from University of Southern California English professor Dr. Frank Baxter, who explains the premise of the film and how it may have some basis in reality. How many movies take the time to discusses the hollow earth theories of John Symmes — whose Hollow Earth theory taught that our world is mae up of five concentric spheres, with the outer earth and its atmosphere as the largest — and Cyrus Teed — a physician and alchemist who became a self-proclaimed messiah, taking on the name Koresh and proposing a new set of scientific and religious ideas he called Koreshanity, which taught that our planet and sky exist inside the surface of a larger sphere.

Archaeologists Dr. Roger Bentley (John Agar) and Dr. Jud Bellamin (Hugh Beaumont, Beaver’s dad) have found the hollow earth and meet the Sumerian albinos and their mutant mole man slaves*, who all eat mushrooms because why not? Whenever they start having too many people, they stop overcrowding by sacrificing women to the Eye of Ishtar. But everyone — other than a girl named Adad — is so sensitive to light that the fact that the scientists have a flashlight must mean that they are gods. Oh yeah — Ellnu, the High Priest, is played by Alan Napier, who would soon enough be Batman’s faithful butler Alfred.

This was Virgil Vogel’s first film, which he would follow up with The Kettles on Old MacDonald’s Farm and Invasion of the Animal People before a career mostly spent in television.

For some reason, Adad is unceremoniously crushed before the end of the movie, just when she gets near the surface and nearly escapes. Supposedly, Universal thought that Bentley’s romance with Adad would promote interracial relationships. Never mind that John Agar and Cynthia Patrick were both white. They reshot the new ending where she gets smashed and that was that.

*Footage of these big eyed guys was used in The Wild World of Batwoman.

Une fée… pas comme les autres (1956)

Imagine a movie in which every single actor is an animal with all of the voices being done in post-production. Just sit back and let this wash over you, as Chassidou the cat loses the town’s magic wand to the evil monkey known as Black Genie.

Black Genie takes Barbara the duck hostage, so Saturnin the duck and Chassidou ride a balloon to the Land of the Doves to attempt to discover how to defeat the wizard.

This played in the U.S. as The Secret of Animal Island. It had to decimate minds, because I’ve watched it so many times and it continually amuses and enthralls me while making me wonder just how did this get filmed and how hard was it to make?

Director Jean Tourane also made a Saturnin TV series and another movie with the heroic duck that’s called Saturnin et le Vaca-Vaca.

Do you want to see a fox shampoo a chicken? A frog do a motorcycle stunt? A rabbit smoke a cigarette? Of course you do.

You can watch this on YouTube.