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The Terrible Secret Of Space

Body Count: Volume 12
Some of my earliest horror movie memories are in the early 80’s. I was a cartoon junkie like most kids my age and you know how it goes on any saturday morning. Or maybe you know how it used to go. Get up wicked early, pour a massive bowl of cereal and hunker down for a good five solid hours of cartoon programming. From 7am to noon you could find all manner of colorful adventure but like most communities, noon time rolled around and it was time for kids to go outside and play so the grown ups could catch the weekend edition of the news or candlepin bowling. At least that’s how it was around these parts, except for one thing. Back in the early 80’s, we still had a holdout saturday afternoon monster movie show. Ours was WLVI’s Creature Double Feature, a show so patently righteous that it still commands a loyal cult following to this very day. The Creature Double Feature was the best way to ease a kid into the horror genre. You could see all manner of Godzilla and Gamera, Hammer Horror and so on. Nothing was too shocking but just enough to be a real jolt to any little kid who dared venture to this dark corner of afternoon programming.
They had a penchant for a particular kind of horror movie and in keeping with the theme of last week’s Bodycount, the mashup, a combination of genres, I bring you the science fiction horror movie. Where kung fu and horror couldn’t possibly be more incompatible, sci-fi and horror have been natural bedmates since the dawn of the genres in film. Through the 50’s, drive-in theaters were packed to sold out crowds for black and white trash like Robot Monster and The Deadly Mantis. Few titles were ever any good by definition but as the medium matured, the best of both genres emerged with titles like Alien and The Thing. To this day, creatures from outer space are still mined of their inherent villainy for compelling and cheesy horror science fiction alike. Curious parties would be doing themselves a favor by casting a gander at these sweet science fiction oriented horror flicks.
Quatermass and the Pit, 1967
Dir. Roy Ward Baker
Before there was Dr. Who, the British science fiction icon was Professor Bernard Quatermass. The Pit, adapted from a television series and the first of the Quatermass movies to be filmed in color is an absolutely standout, landmark horror movie from the British studio that knew how to do it. Hammer, of course best known for Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee Dracula flicks, produced The Pit, based in the fictional Hobb’s End subway station where a excavation team uncovers what they first think to be an unexploded German bomb buried in the earth. However, it displays unusual properties and it’s not long before the military and Professor Quatermass are called in to investigate. The bomb is, in fact, an alien craft that contains the bodies of three beings that, even in death, emit an influence that causes the people nearby to act out violently. The truth about these creatures is pretty awesome and in typically British fashion, the end result is all hell breaking loose on the streets of London. Few movies are able to establish the sort of tension that The Pit does, nor can they sustain it for the entire running time but this horror from the stars plot maintains it with an unbelievably tight script and an excellent cast. It comes off like an episode of Dr. Who scripted by H.P. Lovecraft.
Lifeforce, 1985
Dir. Tobe Hooper
After Poltergeist, Hooper became a hot item in Hollywood and for reasons beyond my comprehension, he struck a three picture deal with Golan/Globus, aka The Cannon Group. Yes, the same company that produced Death Wish 3 and the Breakin’ movies as well as just about every Chuck Norris flick. Out of the deal Hooper got to make The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Invaders From Mars, also among them is this adaptation of the novel, The Space Vampires. Hooper runs wild with the source material and to capitalize on all the hype surrounding Halley’s Comet returning to Earth, the script pits a joint NASA/ESA space mission to the comet where it discovers a giant dormant alien craft in the tail of the comet. Inside that are the bodies of three naked humanoids, two men and a woman. Once on board the space shuttle, their evil influences causes the crew to turn on each other and only one survivor, an American astronaut played by Steve Railsback, jettisons the escape pod and comes back to earth thinking that he destroyed the bodies of the vampires, but a rescue mission winds up bringing them back where they infect London’s population, stealing their “lifeforce” and turning them into raving zombies. Railsback, aided by an SAS agent, hit the streets looking for the female vampire, a beautiful and perpetually nude Mathilda May. Lifeforce is a lot of fun and features Steve Railsback making out with Patrick Stewart but it winds up feeling like a series of vignettes as our heroes run from scene to with panic stricken faces and a thin sheen of sweat. The ending, an absolutely ruined London, is incredibly cool and the whole movie rides like a tribute to the aforementioned Quatermass but it suffers from a savage chop job in the editorial department. Every scene seems loosely fitted to the last and next with little context. There are some great special effects and over the top performances but the real draw to this movie, if you ask anyone who has seen it, is the sustained nudity.
Queen of Blood, 1966
Dir. Curtis Harrington
In the mid-60’s, Roger Corman bought the rights to a bunch of sci-fi flicks produced in communist bloc, Europe. The original productions were remarkably robust and ambitious examples of socialist evangelism but in Corman’s hands, they were reduced to stock footage and cheap sources of special effects. Corman scripted several different movies and mined these movies for footage. He would then hire a cast and shoot a couple of different movies here.  In this case, Corman produced this movie and then shot Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet, both featuring the legendary Basil Rathbone. Corman did this a couple of times, notably with Boris Karloff in his productions of The Raven and The Terror, both shot back to back using the same casts, costumes and sets. How’s that for efficiency? In Queen of Blood, an alien race on a dying planet contacts Earth and sends an emmisary out to meet us but her craft crash lands on Mars. An Earth vessel heads out to save her but en route back to Earth, it turns out that she is, in fact, a vampire and exsanguinates most of the cast, which includes Dennis Hopper and John Saxon. The cast also includes the late, great Forrest Ackerman who mined this premise to create the iconic comic book femme fatale, Vampirella. Don’t be fooled by it’s inclusion on this list as though it’s some kind of hidden gem. It’s quite the piece of crap, actually. A fun piece of crap full of cheesy sets and dialog but it’s lots of fun and loaded with wild overacting and an alluring villain.
This is just a taste of the films available to you out there that combine horror with science fiction. There’s almost no end to the possibilities available to you at any given video store or on Netflix. Corman tried it again in the 80’s with the absolutely ludicrous ripoff of Alien, Galaxy of Terror, wherein a woman is raped by a giant space worm. As a matter of fact, there’s no shortage of Alien ripoffs out there. They still make them to this day, proving the effectiveness of that flick for all time. Also worth noting are Il Maestro, Mario Bava’s voyages into space borne spooks, evident in the way-too-groovy for sci-fi flick, Planet of the Vampires.

Bryan White
Editor, Cinema Suicide
@CinemaSuicide on Twitter