Monday 29 October 2012

The Strange World Of Planet X

Home, Home On The Strange

The Strange World Of Planet X
aka Cosmic Monsters
UK 1958
Directed by Gilbert Gunn 
Simply Media Region 2

I’d never even heard of this film before recently, when I saw a copy sitting all lonely on a shelf in a shop. I took one look at it and knew I had to see it. The film was obviously British, as evidenced by the fact that professional-American-lead-for-British-movies Forrest Tucker was in it (honestly, if they couldnt have gotten Forrest Tucker it would have been Brian Donlevy). I was unsure of the origins of the tale, just from the cover, but something in my gut told me it would be following the same kind of filmic origins as The Quatermass Xperiment or The Trollenberg Terror... so I had to have it.

As I held the DVD cover in my hand I looked at the £11 price tag and did the obvious thing. I left it in the shop and ordered a copy for £6, when I got home, from Amazon. That’s more like it!

Looking a little further into the origins of the movie, I found my suspicions were right. This is exactly the kind of movie which would make a good companion piece to the British horror/sci-fi scene in the late fifties/early sixties. You could imagine seeing it on a double bill with The Earth Dies Screaming or such other notable ‘classics’ of the time. There is another, similarly obvious influence on the story, but I’ll get to that a little later. Now I’m not quite sure how the dates of the origins of this movie are working out but, as far as I can piece together, it turns out The Strange World Of Planet X was originally a TV serial, just like the Quatermass serials and the aforementioned The Trollenberg Terror (the movie remake of the latter is more famously known in the US these days as The Crawling Eye) in 1956, but then it was adapted and turned into a novel by Rene Ray in 1957. Presumably both that novel and the TV show were the two sources for this ‘big screen’ version.

It starts off with slight flashes of something like Hammer’s Four Sided Triangle (reviewed here) in that if features a team of scientists working on something mysterious which needs a lot of funding, the provision of which is in question. Pretty soon it becomes apparent that Forrest Tucker’s character Gil, and his boss Dr. Laird, are the main players in some experimentation with magnetic fields. When their funding is continued, they also get a new member of the crew to replace somebody who gets injured earlier in the film. This is the female lead, Michele Dupont, played by Gaby AndrĂ© who, it soon turns out, is the only victim in this movie of that terrible disease known as “bad dubbing”. She is seriously out of synch with the rest of the cast on this one, I can tell you. There are  a few fair references to the origins of the character being French (what, the name Michele Dupont didn’t give it away?) and I’m guessing that in the early previews she had a much thicker pseudo-French accent than the almost non-existent one which has been badly dubbed over the top here. Just a guess but I’d be really surprised if this was not the case.

When the military guy in charge of funding brings in the new “scientific assistant” and announces her just before her meeting “the team”, the following outburst from Dr. Laird tells you all you really need to know about this movie and understand the times in which it was set... “But a... woman? This is preposterous. This is highly skilled work!”

Yep, it’s one of those sexist fifties movies that then try to deny their own sexism by having our hero start dating the lady in question, while not realising they are still being quite sexist in their attitude all the way through. I guess it’s kinda annoying to some but it’s also kinda quaint and fun too. I do relish the stupidity and simplicity of films exhibiting those kinds of shocking tendencies.

Okay, so pretty soon the magnetic field experiments are doing more than just interfering with the TV signals down the local pub. Pretty soon it’s driving people mad and leading them to murder and... worse still... it’s mutating all the insect life in the area into giant bugs. Yep... it’s a giant bug movie everybody... but not one of the best. Apart from a few “puppet” shots, the majority of the giganticised insects are just blown up, real insect photography, projected on a backdrop behind our heroes or, more often than not, very simplistically and uneffectively cut against footage of the normal set. You know the drill. Big picture of bug filling the screen, cut back to a reaction shot of a girl in the studio screaming... that kind of stuff. Mostly unsatisfying but there are a few puppet monster shots including a fairly gruesome cut away to a puppet eating off a military guys face which is actually quite horrific in a way and it surprised me that the BBFC rating on the box was only a PG. This one shot, which last maybe a few seconds, should have perhaps warranted a slightly higher rating... although I personally detest anything other than self censorship. Since it’s all about money I’m grateful the company didn’t have to cut the shot to get a lower rating and I’ll leave it at that.

And then, somewhere in all this mix, the film shows its other main influence when an alien drops in on the planet to look up Gil and warn him about all the stuff they are doing. With all his talk of the outside universe now taking an interest in the doings of mankind, it’s obvious the people responsible for the storyline of the original serial (if this element was, indeed, in the original serial) were big fans of Michael Rennie’s Klaatu character in The Day The Earth Stood Still. This alien guy is trying to channel ‘the Rennie’ as best he can in this... although his “peaceful” solution, once the county they’re in has’bugged out’, is to kill a scientist and blow stuff up, admittedly. Will he enlist the aid of Gil and the others and blow stuff up and kill people before humanity accidentally changes the earth’s.... um... something or other to do with the shifting of the axis of the planet and involve gazillions of people of the Earth being killed with their own magnetic field experiments? Will he stop the stock, micro footage of the bugs attacking our studio bound heroes?

Well, if you watch this movie all those questions will be answered and then shrugged off in an unsatisfying epilogue. While not containing as much of the “so bad it’s good” fun you would necessarily want from a film like this, the film does have a quaint charm to it and lovers of this specific time in British sci-fi/horror should not complain too much at the price Amazon are charging for it. Others may find it, at best, an acquired taste, however. I thought it was “ace” though.

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