The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Through the years, I have not reviewed very many horror films at this blog, and some of those I have written about, quite frankly, are not all that horrible. This week, however, I present one of the real classics in the genre, The Last Man on Earth with horror master Vincent Price in the title role.

Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Vincent Price plays the last surviving human in a city full of living dead vampires. He seems to be immune to the virus that has infected all humanity, and in wont of better things to do, he spends his days trying to kill as many vampires as he can. He uses all the classical anti-vampire tricks in the book: garlic, wooden stakes, crucifixes, even mirrors. The works. And he succeeds because the vampires are more or less without mind. They move and they try to kill, but they are very slow and they have no conscious plan.

Technically speaking, The Last Man on Earth is a vampire film, but thematically it is rather more of a forerunner to the modern zombie film. The disease that infects nearly all human beings and makes them into mindless slayers is a typical zombie cliché. The modern vampire film, on the other hand, often has the vampires living as intelligent beings in secret communities among normal humans.

There are moments when you can see that this is a pretty cheap production. For example, in the beginning of the film, we see a series of shots of empty buildings, empty roads, empty parking lots, and so on. There are no signs of life. But, wait … There, at 00:43, on the right in the picture, is a small boy standing on a balcony. He was clearly not meant to be there.

Cheap or not, the film is really beautiful. Many scenes are really well composed, and Vincent Price was a brilliant actor. The film was made in Italy, and like most Italian 1960s productions, it was dubbed in post-production. I am guessing that Price made his own voice, but synch is not always perfect. That, I think, is the most blatant flaw in an otherwise very good movie.

Quite often, when a film at the Internet Archive is labeled “HD”, it turns out not to be true High Definition at all. Either, resolution is much lower than advertised, or it is “fake” HD, converted from a lower definition. But The Last Man on Earth, at least the version I link to, is true HD to every last pixel. This is an excellent version, and even if you are stuck with pretty lousy bandwidth, it is worth waiting for the 3.6 gigs to download.

This film is best enjoyed when you need a bit of cynism in your life. Like many of the best vampire films, The Last Man on Earth is dark, gritty and distressing. There is very little hope for humanity to be found here.

Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth (1964)

The Last Man on Earth
Download link
Year: 1964
Running time: 1 h 27 min
Directors: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow
Stars: Vincent Price
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (1696×738)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: MPEG4 (3.6 G)

Advertisements

Things to Come (1936)

In his essay “Son of Dr. Strangelove, Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Stanley Kubrick,” sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke writes about the work that lead up to the classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Among other things, Clarke mentions that he first met with Kubrick to discuss the project on April 22, 1964 – exactly 50 years ago tomorrow.

Clarke also relates how he later tried to introduce Kubrick to some of the classic science fiction films, presumably to give him more insight into the genre. Kubrick was not very impressed by what he saw, and after they eventually got around to watching Things to Come, Kubrick said “What are you trying to do to me? I’ll never see anything you recommend again!”

Post-apocalyptic Everytown in H.G. Wells' Things to Come (1936)

Kubrick was right and he was wrong. Things to Come does have its share of weaknesses, as does 2001. But in the end, both are classics in the genre, and both deserve that status.

The two films actually have more than that in common. Both were born out of a cooperation between the most important living science fiction writer of the time (H. G. Wells for the earlier film) and one of the best directors (Alexander Korda, although he did not direct Things to Come; he only produced it). Both films are in some ways highly prophetic and, more to the point, try to convey important messages that are still relevant today.

Things to Come is divided into three sections. The first prophecies World War II (which begins in 1940 in the film) and is clearly anti-war. The second section deals with the world in the 1960s. The war never really ended, but civilization is in shambles and there is no central government. Local warlords fight for whatever remains. This part of the film makes it one of the first post-apocalyptic films, perhaps the first where a large part is dedicated to survival in the world after the apocalypse.

In the final section, we see the new world of 2036, typical of Wells, who was a firm believer in the wonders of technology, and how they could bring peace and wealth to the world, if used wisely. This part fascinates mainly because of its excellent sets and special effects, many of which still impress.

Things to Come is a splendidly effective and well-produced film, full of beautiful imagery and fascinating ideas. The film does have one major problem, however, in that it follows Wells’ script too closely. Wells, while one of my favourite SF authors, was always very didactic, which could sometimes give a rather stiff air to his books. In the movie, this shines through even more clearly, leaving in part a stilted, pompous and unnatural dialogue. Wells’ detailed synopsis for Things to Come has been published, and actually reads better than it comes through in the final film.

There are several versions of this film, all cut and incomplete to various extents. At least two are available at the Internet Archive. In this post, I mainly link to a version distributed in America, but there is also another version, slightly longer and with better resolution, but unfortunately the copy is very dark.

I understand that the copyright status of this film has been in question, and according to Wikipedia it is under copyright in the UK and the rest of the EU, but apparently not in the US. Whether you decide to download it or not is, of course, a matter for your own conscience.

This film is best enjoyed by those who, unlike Stanley Kubrick, realize that a film can have a few faults and still be brilliant.

Edward Chapman, Kenneth Villiers, Pearl Argyle and Raymond Massey in H.G. Wells' Things to Come (1936)

Things to Come
Download link
Year: 1936
Running time: 1 h 33 min
Director: William Cameron Menzies
Stars: Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Low (426×320)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (838 M)

Rocketship X-M (1950)

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 (commonly known as MST3K). The show’s premise is that a man has been captured by an evil scientist, the obvious plan of whom is to find the worst movie ever, and use it to numb the minds of all humans. So in each new episode the man, together with two robots, is forced to watch one more B movie. The TV audience see the same film, but in the foreground we see the three beings watching, and we hear their comments.

MST3K became a cult favourite, and it was very good in many ways. It was funny, thought provoking and highly original. Even so, I dislike watching it. But why?

The show’s problem is that not every movie featured is rotten throughout. In fact, a number of them are really good, but when you watch them through the MST3K filter (especially since some films have been cut to fit the show’s program slot) they become bad. And people who have seen an MST3K episode unreflectingly assume that they watched a bad film.

Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Beery Jr and Hugh O'Brian in Rocketship X-M (1950)

By all means, there is certainly opportunity for satirical snides at Rocketship X-M, which is the subject of today’s post, and which opened MST3K season two in 1990. But Rocketship X-M was also a unique and inventive film, with many interesting qualities.

Decades before the term was invented, Rocketship X-M was an early “mockbuster” (possibly the first). It was produced extremely quickly in order to beat George Pal’s Destination Moon to the theatres, and ride on its marketing. The budget was only about one fifth of the Pal movie. Because of the fast production, there are a few really stupid moments in the film, not least so in the noticeable lack of all scientific sensibility.

The successful race against Pal’s movie made it the first outer space movie after World War II. It thereby became the masthead of the long range of sci-fi movies that followed in the coming decades. I have written in connection with Battle Beyond the Sun about the way that the Cold War was reflected in many of these movies. Rocketship X-M is no exception, but it is not the communist fear that is the driving force here. Rather it is an anti-war analogy, said to have been the first film to fictionalise the effects of all-out nuclear war.

It was also the first science fiction film with electronic music in the soundtrack. Composer Ferde Grofé added a theremin to the orchestration, for excellent effect. The theremin was later used in many sci-fi movies, including The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

Rocketship X-M was the first American movie to feature a female astronaut. This, however, does not earn it a place in the history of movies questioning traditional gender roles, since the only reason to include Danish actress Osa Massen (except maybe for her good looks) was to tell the message that a woman’s place is at home, not aboard a spaceship or even in a laboratory. This sexist crap would be disturbing to say the least, except the film is over 60 years old, so I mostly find it a little amusing and somehow touching.

The film also has a very interesting ending, unexpected and certainly not standard Hollywood. This, too, makes it worth watching.

This film is best enjoyed in its original clothing (or the 1970s recut, which I believe is the one available at the Internet Archive), not the MST3K garb.

Astronauts on Mars approaching an alien building in Rocketship X-M (1950)

Rocketship X-M
Download link
Year: 1950
Running time: 1 h 17 min
Director: Kurt Neumann
Stars: Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (693×576, not counting black border)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (699 M)

Fukkatsu no hi (1980)

Searching the Internet Archive is often a very serendipitous process. I have on several occasions been looking for one thing but found something completely different, perhaps something I did not even know existed, yet immediately realized that I always wanted to see.

One typical example is the Japanese film 復活の日 (Fukkatsu no hi, or Virus in English). I no longer remember what I was looking for in the first place, but when my eye caught this post-apocalyptic thriller I knew I had found what I wanted. The more I learned about it, the more interesting it seemed. Nor was I to be disappointed.

At its 1980 release, the film was the most expensive Japanese production ever. It was intended for an international release (much of the dialogue is in English), but was as disastrous at the box office as the virus is in the film. There are many interesting actors, including a good performance by Robert Vaughn as an American senator and Swedish B-actor Bo Svenson as an American colonel. Not to forget beautiful, beautiful Olivia Hussey (Rebecca in Ivanhoe (1982)), playing a Norwegian(!) woman.

Olivia Hussey in Virus / Fukkatsu no hi (1980)

The story is simple on the surface. Deadly virus is released upon the world in near future. Survivors in Antarctica must try to overcome internal strife and save humanity. The End. However, it is not told according to the standard Hollywood template, and it is full of little subplots and unexpected twists. Sure, there are some really silly moments, and the way people keep dying from a running nose is certainly very funny. But such deficiencies are easily offset by a number of brilliant scenes.

This film does not score high because of the acting. Some actors are good, but on the whole the acting is quite stiff and unconvincing. What makes it worth watching is the wonderful scenography and the constant tension that is maintained throughout. I do not know if anyone has ever dubbed this film a “cult classic,” but it certainly deserves to be one.

The version on the IA is the original full-length version, not the cut-up American release.

This film is best enjoyed sitting in your favourite armchair while a blizzard rages outside your window.

Kinji Fukasaku's Virus / Fukkatsu no hi (1980)

Fukkatsu no hi (Virus)
Download link
Year: 1980
Running time: 2 h 36 min
Language: English, Japanese (English subtitles)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Stars: Masao Kusakari, Robert Vaughn, Sonny Chiba, Bo Svenson, Olivia Hussey
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: Medium (820×436)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: mkv (1.8 G)