I said I’d post “reviews” of individual discs in the two Treeline 50-movie Megapacks I’m currently using to keep me on the treadmill, since interleaving two sets means it will be 5 or 6 months (or more) before I’m through with half of either set. So, here’s the first installment, as it may eventually appear in a future Cites & Insights (with different formatting, to be sure. Long post!
Some of us make a distinction between science fiction and scifi. These are definitely scifi, when theyâ€™re even that (quite a few donâ€™t qualify), but thatâ€™s what you expect at 50 movies for $26, all of them presumably out of copyright. Some of these movies are the sort that Mystery Science Theater 3000 immortalized. Some arenâ€™t good enough for that treatment.
All of which says that a different critical standard is needed than I applied to the first two megapacks. Iâ€™m not looking for classics here. Iâ€™m looking for mildly entertaining stuff, sometimes entertaining because of its earnest mediocrity or intentional badnessâ€”just something to keep me on the treadmill.
That said, this pack starts off on the wrong foot. Most Treeline megapacks put two movies on each side of each disc, roughly three hours per sideâ€”but somehow the two extra movies need to be crammed in somewhere within the dozen discs. (The TV-movie pack Iâ€™m watching intermingled with this one had an interesting solution to that dilemma: A thirteenth single-sided disc.) The SciFi Classics pack gets them out of the way up front: The first disc includes three movies on each side, each movie right around an hour long. These were presumably all produced as fillers for double bills.
As usual, if thereâ€™s a second timing in square brackets, itâ€™s because the Treeline version was at least one minute shorter (or longer) than the time shown at imdb. Assume sound and a decent-quality (VHS-quality) print with some damage unless otherwise noted.
The Incredible Petrified World, 1957, b&w, Jerry Warren (dir.), John Carradine, Phyllis Coates, Lloyd Nelson (in a minor role). 1:10 [1:03]
I donâ€™t see how this gets labeled scifi, but I suppose the diving bell (how could man ever hope to penetrate the depths of the ocean!) might count. Diving bell on its first deep-sea dive breaks loose, four inhabitants presumed crushed at the bottom of the sea (or something), but they find thereâ€™s light, and swim up toâ€¦caverns, which theyâ€™re certain will have plenty of food and fresh water and air. And, of course, theyâ€™re right. Eventually, they even meet a crazy old man whoâ€™s been trapped thereâ€”under a volcano, as it turns outâ€”for 14 years. And after spending most of the movie walking up and down sections of Colossal Caverns in Tucson, where this was filmed, they manage to get rescued by a rival diving bell. Losing seven minutes probably helps, but the flick is still awfully slow moving. The mediocre print does the film justice. $1 as a curiosity.
Queen of the Amazons, 1947, b&w, Edward Finney (dir.), Robert Lowery, Patricia Morison, other big names. 1:01 [1:00]
The Amazons, in this case, are in Africa, and consist of a bunch of beautiful white women whose parents survived a shipwreck a couple of decades beforeâ€”and who are in caots (perhaps unwillingly) with an ivory smuggler (but only too happy to help get him killed). Theyâ€™re discovered by an expedition put together by a woman whose fiancÃ© disappeared (on an expedition that started in India and wound up in Africa). After thrills, chills, locusts and lions, they discover that the fiancÃ© is quite happy to stay with the Queen of the Amazonsâ€”which works out, since the woman hunting him has fallen for her guide. Oh, never mind. Cheap fun, and not terrible, although also not scifi by any stretch of the imagination. The printâ€™s not perfect. Neither is the movie. $1.50.
The Robot Monster, 1953, b&w, Phil Tucker (dir.), George Nader, Claudia Barrett. 1:06 [1:02]
According to IMDB, this movie was â€œso universally scorned and derided by reviewersâ€ that the director couldnâ€™t get any more film work. He attempted suicide by shooting himselfâ€”and missed. It was originally in 3D, which might be why reviewers even bothered to deride it. The title (probably really dramatic in 3D!) appears over a montage of cheesy scifi and horror comics or magazinesâ€”not the good stuff (Astounding, for example). The early going seems to make no sense: First there are dinosaurs, then a kidâ€™s chatting with some archaeologistsâ€”maybe theyâ€™re unearthing dinosaur remains?â€”then, suddenly, we have a group of six people who are apparently the only people alive on earth (or maybe there are two others), thanks to Ro-man, a fearsomeâ€”well, slow-moving gorilla with a fishtank on his head, but heâ€™s wiped out almost everyone to make way for the Ro-people (or robots, or whatever). Heâ€™s flummoxed by these six, although he manages to kill off two or three of them during this flick, before Ro-manâ€™s superior on some other world decides to finish the job withâ€¦well, somehow, with dinosaurs and earthquakes. Itâ€™s all resolved when it turns out to be (work with me here!) A Bad Dream after the kid fell and hit his head: it winds up with him back talking to the archaeologists. I couldnâ€™t make this stuff up on a bet. At least it is scifi, at its worst. The Treeline blurb gets the plot completely wrong, possibly because nobody would sit through the whole thing. Somehow, a gorilla suit and fishtank helmet never became the standard image of a robot; I canâ€™t imagine why. The most remarkable thing about this movie comes at the end of the credits: Music composed and directed by Elmer Bernstein. Really? $1, again as a curiosity.
She Gods of Shark Reef, 1958, color, Roger Corman (dir.), Bill Cord, Don Durant, Lisa Montell, Carol Lindsay. 1:03
Another Corman â€œIâ€™m on location anyway, letâ€™s make another movieâ€â€”filmed in Hawaii (Kauai) as he was making Naked Paradise, then eventually released as part of a prepackaged double feature. Itâ€™s not scifi by any stretch of the imagination. It is in color, sort of, with short Hawaiian outfits for the beautiful women (and only women are allowed on this island paradise, where all is provided by â€œthe companyâ€ in return for pearls) and even shorter outfits for the two hunky men who are on the run. And who are greeted when they wash up at the island by being told that no guests are allowedâ€”then escorted to the nicely furnished guesthouse. Just enough plot, most of it as sensible as that incident, to make it through the hour. Not enough skill to make the movie worth watching. Either the printâ€™s not good enough to make the scenery worthwhile, or it was filmed badly. Not worth a dime.
The Amazing Transparent Man, 1960, b&w, Edgar G. Ulmer (dir.), Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy, James Griffith. 0:57
More IMDB trivia: Filmed back-to-back with Beyond the Time Barrier with a combined shooting schedule of two weeks. All things considered, this isnâ€™t awful. Mediocre but not awful. They did come up with one way to get rid of the mad scientistâ€™s lab in a remote house (or, in this case, the scientist forced to work for a mad ex-military man who wants to create an army of invisible soldiers to sell to the highest bidder, and who keeps the scientist in tow by locking his beautiful daughter away): Since the transparency process relies on exotic radioactive materials (and reduces the lifespan of its subjects to, oh, two or three weeks from first invisibility), the lab disappears in a mushroom cloud shortly before the end of the movie. $1.
The Atomic Brain, 1964, b&w, Joseph V. Mascelli (dir.), Frank Gerstle, Erika Peters, Bradford Dillman. Original title Monstrosity. 1:04.
I canâ€™t resist: IMDB sez, â€œIf you like this title, we also recommend The Brain that Wouldnâ€™t Die.â€ The difference between the two is that I was willing to watch this all the way through, maybe because itâ€™s less competent as a horror movie. This time, exotic radioactive materials are used to make brain transplants possible, funded by an evil old woman who wants to put her brain in a beautiful young body. By far the best acting is the third-most-beautiful woman (three maids are hired, all with no relatives, you know the drill) after a catâ€™s brain has been transplanted into her skull: A truly feline performance. The narration (Bradford Dillman) seems to suggest that this sort of thing is going on in all sorts of labs run by mad scientists in remote houses. Also not terrible, but close to it. $1.
After this lot, Iâ€™m certain that my decision to interleave SciFi and TV-Movies was the right one, for sanityâ€™s sake if no other reason!