Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

You know, they just do not make B movies like they used to. Take Plan 9 from Outer Space, for instance. This strange mix between science fiction and zombie film, with just a wee touch of vampire, has become famous as the worst film ever made, a totally undeserving tagline.

Tom Mason in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Ok, I admit there are a lot of bad things about this film. So many, in fact, that it is difficult to know exactly where to start: The bad effects, the cheezy props, the bad actors (Tor Johnson is really something extra), the corny story, the gaping plot holes, or the random footage that was included just to make this “Bela Lugosi’s last film”.

Regarding some of the goofs in the film, Wikipedia has this to say: “Wood framed his shots for the widescreen format, expecting that the ephemera at the top and bottom of the screen would be cropped in projection. Only when the film is viewed in its original widescreen format does it become apparent that Wood did compose his scenes correctly, and that the various objects intruding on the picture were never meant to be seen by the audience.” This may actually be true. I watched parts of the movie using VLC’s cropping function, and the sections I saw work at least as well in 16:9 format as in the normal 4:3 format.

In addition to the normal version of the film, the Internet Archive also hosts a surprisingly nice colorized version, which actually adds another dimension to the film. I nevertheless chose to use the black-and-white version as a standard, because it is the original, and because I think it is the version that most people will be looking for.

This film is best enjoyed if you can break free from the misconception that Plan 9 is the worst film ever made. It is not. Not by a far cry. There are literally hundreds of much worse movies than this one. And why? Because this one has heart. Somewhere, somehow, you can sense that Plan 9 was made with love for the medium and respect for the actors. Compared with a lot of mockbusters and other crap that are churned out for purely economic reasons these days, Plan 9 from Outer Space is infinitely more enjoyable!

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Plan 9 from Outer Space
Download link
Year: 1959
Running time: 1 h 18 min
Director: Ed Wood
Stars: Bela Lugosi
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×482)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (724 M)

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The Bat (1959)

Between 1922 and 1960, the play The Bat was filmed at least five times. I have previously written about the 1960 TV version, and in that post I also told a bit about how the story is connected with Batman. Now the turn has come to what is perhaps the most well-known version, the 1959 film The Bat, starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead.

Agnes Moorehead and Lenita Lane in The Bat (1959)

In this version, Moorehead plays a mystery writer who has rented a mansion over the summer, but the place scares her hired staff, and things do not exactly improve when rumours of the masked murderer “The Bat” start to go around. The Bat is soon drawn to the mansion for some reason, and so are several other persons, including Lieutenant Anderson, who tries to capture The Bat, and Dr. Wells (Price), a man with some pretty shady background.

Of all the versions, this is perhaps the one that is furthest removed from the original play. While that helps to give it more cineastic integrity (in terms of not feeling quite so much like a filmed play), it also works to the film’s disadvantage to some extent. The play has a really tight and well worked out plot, and though the film retains the major plot elements, it feels somewhat less intense and dramatic. The horror aspects that have been added do not feel all that terrifying fifty-plus years later.

Still, it is a cozy piece of a mystery, one to cuddle up in front of on a dark and stormy night. In addition, of the three versions available from the Internet Archive, it is most definitely the one with the best sound and image quality.

This film is best enjoyed if you are a fan if Vincent Price. He is, as always, excellent, though the other actors deserve praise, too. Oh, and Crane Wilbur’s directing is also very solid.

The Bat's steel clawed glove in The Bat (1959)

The Bat
Download link
Year: 1959
Running time: 1 h 20 min
Director: Crane Wilbur
Stars: Agnes Moorehead, Vincent Price
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (2.1 G)

Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

There are so many bad science fiction films at the Internet Archive that I am sure I could easily fill a year’s worth of blog posts with them alone. Just a few examples at random: Assignment: Outer Space; The Wizard of Mars; Unknown World; The Phantom Planet; War of the Planets; Cat Women of the Moon. The list could go on.

There is no reason to write in detail about all of them, but watching one every once in a while, just for fun, will do no harm. I have therefore chosen my favourite of the lot, Teenangers from Outer Space. A thoroughly bad movie in every imaginable way.

Harvey B. Dunn and Bryan Grant in Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

And yet, there is something enjoyable and charming about this turkey. It is hard to put a finger on it, but behind the corny plot about a renegade alien who tries to rescue humanity, behind the bad dialogue and worse acting, behind all the absurd props and the worst special effects I have ever seen, behind all that there is something genuinely warm and endearing about it. And of course, it is vastly entertaining. Mostly because it is so unspeakably bad, but partly because, for some reason, you actually care about the characters.

The film is about an alien called Derek, who speaks and reads perfect English even though he had no idea that humans existed on earth before he escaped from his kindred who came to wipe out earthly life in order to use our planet as pasture for monster crabs that can grow to gigantic proportions. Oh, and of course there is the girl that he falls in love with. And some absolutely wonderful pieces of 1950s small-town America. And Thor, his companion who is sent out to bring him back to justice.

You can see the communist fear that drives the plot of the film. The fear that someone cold and calculating, someone utterly alien, would come along and take away all the middle-class houses and home baked pies. But also the hope that some of the invaders would be human and turn against their comrades.

On top of all the other rot, the title is one of the most ridiculous I have ever encountered. I doubt if there is a single genuine teenager in the entire film.

This film is best enjoyed late at night with snacks, drinks and the company of good friends.

Dawn Anderson and David Love in Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

Teenagers from Outer Space
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Year: 1959
Running time: 1 h 25 min
Director: Tom Graeff
Stars: There are no stars in this film
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.9 G)

The Alphabet Conspiracy (1959)

One of the many genres that can be found at the Internet Archive is educational films. Most of these are quite old, and some are terribly outdated. Two examples of outdated but extremely interesting (not to mention amusing) films are Duck and Cover (1951) and Destination Earth (1956). But like most other educational films, those are too short to be relevant for this blog.

Better, both in terms of length and fact content, is one of the films that was produced as part of the classic The Bell Laboratory Science Series. The series consisted of nine different educational films on scientific topics that were tremendously popular and influential in the 1950s and 1960s. The one that has been chosen for today’s post is The Alphabet Conspiracy. The choice was made not only because it has aged with reasonable dignity, but also because the film very neatly ties in with characters from Alice in Wonderland. Throughout the film, the Mad Hatter and Jabberwock run around trying to devise a scheme to kill the alphabet (hence, the title of the film).

Dr. Frank Baxter, Cheryl Callaway, Dolores Starr as Jabberwock and Hans Conreid as Mad Hatter in The Alphabet Conspiracy (1959)

The Alphabet Conspiracy is an old film and linguistics is an evolving field of science. Hence, some parts are a bit quaint or even outdated. For example, the part about baby language acquisition is not consistent with modern views. But unlike the above-mentioned short films (which are perhaps bordering on propaganda), The Alphabet Conspiracy was firmly grounded in the science of its day. Even now, it is not laughable. Just a bit old.

But even while care must be taken with the fact content, perhaps the content is not what is most important anymore. Far more interesting is the dramatic structure, including the fantastic sets, the nice animations, the literary characters, the neat dialogue and the slow-moving but effective cutting. In these respects, The Alphabet Conspiracy outshines most of its contemporary competition, and even most present-day educational films. I work as a teacher. I know these things far too well.

Several other films from the same series are available at the Internet Archive. Those I have been able to track down are Our Mr. Sun (1956), Gateways to the Mind (1958) and Thread of Life (1960). The one I had most wanted to see, however, is not there, namely The Restless Sea (1964). It is the last film in the series, and it has Walt Disney as host.

This film is best enjoyed if you want to learn some basic facts about linguistics, or if you just want to enjoy the nice Alice in Wonderland references, or the fine animations. Or if you simply want to admire some classic, not to mention classy, educational material.

Dolores Starr as Jabberwock, Hans Conreid as Mad Hatter, Dr. Frank Baxter and Cheryl Callaway having a tea party in The Alphabet Conspiracy (1959)

The Alphabet Conspiracy
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Year: 1959
Running time: 52 min
Director: Robert B. Sinclair
Stars: Frank C. Baxter
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.9 G)

First Spaceship on Venus (1959)

There are some movies that I really wish I could see in original, uneditied versions, but at the same time I realize that I do not have the energy to actually find (not to mention pay for) such a version. So in the case of First Spaceship on Venus (originally Der schweigende Stern) I can only be thankful that the Internet Archive provides any version at all.

Just like many other old sci-fi movies from behind the Iron Curtain (e.g. Battle Beyond the Sun) this film was recut, poorly dubbed and then released into the U.S. market.

First Spaceship on Venus aka Der schweigende Stern (1959)

First Spaceship on Venus is in many ways similar to Rocketship X-M. The first half is a typical exploration movie (see Flight to Mars review for further details), and at some point during that half, I started wondering exactly why I had been recommended to see this film. The trip to Venus is slow-moving, not terribly dramatic, and packed full of bad science. However, when about half the movie has played out, it quickly changes with the arrival on Venus. It is still slow, but in a pondering way typical of the best communist sci-fi of this time. It also starts to become exciting, almost tense, and there is some really wonderful, almost breath-taking, scenography showing the Venusian landscape. It is still full of bad science, but when other things compensate I find that to be rather cute. Like Ikarie XB 1 it was based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem, one of my favourite sci-fi authors.

Due to the dubbing, it is more or less impossible to say anything about the actors’ performances. Perhaps they are great, perhaps mediocre. It is all drowned in American voices.

Unlike many similar movies, this one appears to have no additional material shot in the U.S. The American version has been cut, though. This is actually visible in some places, where the action cuts a little bit too fast. The U.S. editor probably wanted to increase the tempo a bit, but failed to understand that this kind of sci-fi, unlike films driven by monsters and action, actually depend upon the slow tempo. This gives the viewer time to think and reflect, and it also gives the actors room to flesh out their characters.

This film is best enjoyed in the original (or so I have been told), but if you do not have access to it, then this American piece of butchery is better than nothing.

East German kosmonauts in Der schweigende Stern aka First Spaceship on Venus (1959)

First Spaceship on Venus
Download link
Year: 1959
Running time: 1 h 19 min
Director: Kurt Maetzig
Stars: Yōko Tani, Oldrich Lukes, Ignacy Machowski
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (800×608)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (2.0 G)

Terror in the Midnight Sun (1959)

As we are leaving the winter Olympics behind us, I stumbled across yet another film at the Internet Archive with a winter Olympics connection. Actually, I have seen it years ago, but forgot all about Barbara Wilson playing an American Olympic figure skater who is training in the Swedish part of Lapland. The film in question is Terror in the Midnight Sun, known in Sweden as Rymdinvasion i Lappland.

The monster from Terror in the Midnight Sun aka Rymdinvasion i Lappland (1959)

I have been trying to find some good background to this movie. Such as, who came up with the corny idea to make a Swedish horror B-movie in the first place? And how was anyone convinced to invest money in the production? Alas, no such info has emerged.

In America, it seems, this film is best known as Invasion of the Animal People, after Jeremy Warren butchered the original and added scenes and narration by John Carradine. The version at the Internet Archive, however, is not that. This is the original and much superior film. Oddly, it seems that this original was never distributed in America, even though it was a joint Swedish-American production.

Barbara Wilson gets ample opportunity to practice her screaming and fainting routine, as she does the standard female victim role with some bravado and less talent. She does provide some more interesting performance early in the movie, though.

There are some genuinely good aspects of this movie, such as the many mood-setting on-location shots from Stockholm and northern Sweden. There are also some well-made scale models that the man in the monster suit gets to wreck, and most of the dialogue makes sense (and I imagine native English-speakers find the genuine Swedish accents half amusing, half exotic). The music is good, too, especially during the closing credits.

But, of course, you do not watch Terror in the Midnight Sun for its qualitative moments, though they help to make the experience worthwhile.

This film is best enjoyed for the Swedish connection, the corny plot, the aliens looking like government officials in bathrobes and the laughable, low-budget special effects. And speaking of special effects, the white blot in the screen shot below is not the midnight sun; it is the alien ship.

Robert Burton, Bengt Blomgren, Sten Gester and Barbara Wilson (and the alien ship) in Terror in the Midnight Sun aka Rymdinvasion i Lappland (1959)

Terror in the Midnight Sun
No longer available for download
Year: 1959
Running time: 1 h 11 min
Director: Virgil Vogel
Stars: Barbara Wilson, Sten Gester
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (3.0 G)