The Terrible Secret Of Space
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.
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.
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.