Another feature of...
Plot: An insanely big (sometimes) and possibly supernatural croc threatens Thailand.
I should start by noting that this film is unconnected with Tobe Hooper’s 2000 Crocodile, or that film’s recent sequel, Crocodile 2: Death Swamp.
We open with a hilariously cheesy logo for Cobra Media. Ah, the computer graphics of the ‘80s. The film proper begins with a "HERMAN COHEN Presents" card. Readers may remember Mr. Cohen as being the producer of Konga. As with Jack L. Harris’ similar ‘presents’ card for A*P*E, however, Cohen presumably had little or nothing to do with the making of this particular film. He most likely was merely its English language distributor.
Cohen’s card is accompanied by, that’s right, the one billionth knock-off of John Williams’ Jaws theme. If Williams got a buck for every time somebody ripped that score off, he’d have made more than his original composing fee.
"From the very beginning," the Inevitable Omniscient Narrator begins, speaking over a stark black background, "Man has been trying to destroy Nature." One can only be reminded of Charles Montgomery Burn’s similar formulation: "Since the beginning of Time, Man has yearned to destroy the Sun."
Back to Our Narrator. "Perhaps one day he may succeed," the Voice breathlessly continues. "But then again, on that day Nature may rebel. And this…could happen." I’m not really sure why a revolting Nature would focus its wrath on Thailand, but there you go.
Our opening visuals portray a violent hurricane wreaking havoc on a Pacific island village. This is cozy stuff for giant monster fans, reminiscent of any number of Toho movies. Especially comforting is the miniature model village, nicely done but still quite obviously exactly what it is. As noted above, the mayhem here seems to be a supernatural (or super-Natural) event. And so we watch sudden roiling black clouds suddenly appear, ones speckled with mysterious colored lights. I couldn’t tell if this footage was actually stolen from Close Encounters of the Third Kind or merely ‘inspired’ by it.
Lightning is superimposed over the clouds. A tree is hit and bursts into flames. Gale winds assault the island, followed by earthquakes. The villagers begin to panic. And really, who can blame them? As folks meet various unpleasant ends, a vicious storm starts lashing the island. Eventually a gigantic waterspout forms. In the end, the entire village and its inhabitants are swept away. While not actually believable, this is a nice sequence. In fact, it’s the best one in the film. Which doesn’t help the remaining hour and a half any.
Cut to a modern, at least by 1980-standards, city. A driving disco beat – blech – reinforces the fact that this metropolis is a different sort of place than the island community we just saw. We cut to a couple of women in car. They converse and constantly giggle, as women are wont to do. They soon arrive at a house. Linda, we learn, is the fiancée of the yet unseen John. Angela is mother to young Ann and the wife of John’s colleague, Dr. Tony Akom. Tony is to be the best man at John and Linda’s upcoming wedding.
Linda goes to a take a shower, allowing for a very low-grade long-distance butt shot. Ooh la la, I guess. Later the characters are eating dinner out on the veranda of Tony and Angela’s house. They discuss the recent storm. "Do you think there’s any truth to it having been caused by that atomic explosion?" one woman asks. "Anything’s possible in this day and age," someone replies. They quickly make plans to go to the beach for the weekend.
This scene of domestic bliss is, thankfully, interrupted by the phone. Angela is annoyed that Tony is constantly being bothered by the hospital. "I’m a doctor. It’s my job," Tony stoically replies, gazing to the heavens in a very bad soap-operaish manner. "Don’t make it any harder." Following a brief conversation, he announces that he’s needed at the hospital. Apparently this happens constantly, and Angela is bitter about it. "He wants to go," she opines. All is not happy in the Akom household.
The camera shakily zooms in on the table’s centerpiece, which aptly enough is a ceramic turkey. Oh, wait, it’s a ceramic duck. Sorry. (Natural mistake, though.) From that we cut to a large flock of ducks in a lake. That brilliantly artistic segue completed, we cut to a close-up insert of a crocodile’s eye. This is a shot we’ll become all too familiar with as the film proceeds.
We cut back to the city. I guess it’s the next day, or something. Ambulances are bringing in scads of patients. It’s like an episode of Asia’s top medical drama, E L. (If you don’t get that gag, move on. It’s not worth the effort.) "That’s fifteen patients in the last hour," John exclaims, vigorously pointing at his watch. I began to wonder if this was shot as a silent movie and only dubbed to become a talkie by Cohen’s company.
Back to the standard Jaws Underwater POV shots and bad knock-off theme music. The crocodile eye is seen, then a woman’s small skiff is knocked over. I guess the two are supposed to be related. This is the sort of movie where we’re required to piece a lot of stuff together ourselves. Then she’s eaten by the croc. I guess. Let’s move on.
Domestic happiness stuff. Keep moving, folks, nothing to see here. Except that Tony always has his hands all over Ann, his ten year-old daughter. First he strips her down to her panties as she prepares for bed, next he’s massaging sun tan lotion on her in the following scene. Ick. The latter occurs on a yacht we find our characters on. At this point I was desperately hoping for some carnage. At least Tony starts ministering to Angela’s back rather than Ann’s, though. The tension between the two of them seems to be dissipating.
Cut to them frolicking on the beach outside their resort. Where’s that damn Croc? Eventually they all run into the water, raising my hopes. This goes on and on, all accompanied by further driving disco music. Finally we see the already familiar Croc Eye. There’s a false scare – in my case, a false hope – but it’s only Linda messing around. To my horror, everyone makes it out of the water alive.
We cut to a blessedly short sex scene between Linda and John. I think. It’s difficult to be sure, given the way it’s shot. Then back to the Underwater POV shot. Then to outside the hotel. Linda is going into the water, looking for Ann. She gets killed. Or so I infer from the confusedly edited sequence, which involves a POV shot where the camera swims directly into her crotch. She first bobs around violently in the water. This seemed strangely familiar, and may, just possibly, been inspired by the first attack scene in Jaws.
Emerging to witness her friend’s distress, Angela also enters the water. (!!) And so exits Linda and Angela and, I guess, Ann. Oh, the Humanity. Unfortunately, my fantasies that all the entire cast would continue to file into the water and be killed one by one, thus ending the movie, remained unfulfilled.
Tony and John are devastated by this turn of events. This is all really milked, but I’ll move on. Although I like when we see Tony gazing mournfully upon a framed photograph. This proves to be a print of a group photo we saw being taken during the fatal weekend vacation. Not a knickknack I’d have kept around – in fact, it’s safe to say I wouldn’t have had the picture developed – but hey, different strokes.
Following quite a stretch of these lachrymose antics, we eventually get going. Tony at one point sneaks into the morgue and looks over, I guess, victims’ parts. Maybe he’s trying to figure out what’s going on. I don’t know, but it’s weird stuff. Then we cut to a fishing village. A group of men pulls up a net, which proves to be full of human arms. (!!) There’s got to be a joke in there somewhere, but I can’t think of it right now.
Next we see Tony visiting his optician. It’s eye-chart action at its most exciting!! After being fitted for contacts, Tony notices a story in the paper. It’s a report on a fisherman who’s claimed to see a giant crocodile. Then we cut to monkey playing near the Croc. The monkey ends up walking on its tail. (?!) Here the Croc is the size of a normal specimen, although his length constantly, and dramatically, changes throughout the film. Later, for example, it’s clearly bigger than a house. I guess we could just shrug and say "It’s magic". Still, when a creature is anywhere from ten to a hundred-plus feet long, well, it’s just something you notice.
Cut to Tony reading books on crocodiles. Hmm, it’s almost like Sheriff Brody reading books on sharks in Jaws. Then he’s seen looking over a large croc skull. Next he’s telling John his theories about a giant specimen being responsible for the various deaths. Following this, John is sent to ferret out Tanaka, the fisherman from the news item who saw the croc.
Tony, meanwhile, visits a reptile expert, so as to wave off one of the major concerns of the audience. "Can a crocodile live in the sea," he asks. "Hmm," the expert muses at some length. (Come on, isn’t that a pretty clear cut ‘yes or no’ sort of query?) "That’s a very interesting thought," he concludes, and end scene. Huh?
Cut to shots of a bikinied woman swimming in the sea. Cue Croc Eye Shots. Cue Underwater POVs. Introduce flashlights under the water to simulate the Croc’s eyes. (!!) Exit woman, who spends a surprising amount of time being chomped by the giant Croc prop head before expiring.
More stuff. This includes a weird scene of a stressed-out Tony stumbling and breaking his glasses. It’s falling down action at it’s most exciting!!
Eventually Tanaka comes to Tony’s house for a meeting, held during one of the movie’s Big Storms. To indicate he’s a fisherman, Tanaka appears clad in oilskin coveralls, cap and boots. Tanaka places himself and his "ship" at their disposal. I use quotation marks because Tanaka owns a boat and a fisherman would never get the two confused. "We’ll get that crocodile if it’s the last thing we do," a merry John laughs. Yes, it’s sure funny that you may die a horrible death getting the monster that ate your friends and fiancée.
Tanaka lowers the front of his coveralls, revealing a huge eagle tattoo on his manly chest. "To my father," he avers. The tattoo, he reports, is a "sign of protection against evil. It has been worn by my family for generations. There is an old legend which says that one day a monster will arise from the sea to encounter the wings of an eagle. It is the wings of an eagle I proudly wear on my chest." Yeah, thanks, we got that last part, actually.
Next we get our first and totally confusing mass attack scene. Here, to add to the irony, or something, the village is also the site of an alligator/crocodile wrestling ranch. As soon as we watch a (apparently real and still living) crocodile having its head sawed off, we know bad things are on the horizon.
Cue Eye-Rising-From-Water shot. Using its tail, the now humongous Croc smashes the shoreline buildings and generates huge waves to sweep people into the water. (This then is one of those times when the beast would seem to be of almost Godzillian proportions.) Once in the water dozens meet gruesome ends. Many are eaten by the Croc, others apparently drowned in the titanic waterpools created in the beast’s wake.
They seldom bother to employ their prop head here. Instead, they use a frenzy of quick-cutting to imply, well, frenzy. Meanwhile, dozens upon dozens of extras in the water spit up stage blood to indicate their demises. Gallons of stage blood jet up in the water. One particularly distasteful shots shows the underwater croc head (the prop one, which is way too small in scale to the tail swatting entire buildings down) with two legs in its maw. In the foreground, an actor who’s apparently actually legless has had phony flesh streamers attached to his stumps to simulate his being attacked. Yuck.
Again, the model work for the buildings isn’t bad here, and more impressive yet is the collapsing sets they’ve rigged to fall and dump extras into the water. Still, implying the Croc’s personal attacks instead of actually portraying them does severely injure the sequence as a whole. They do what they can on their budget and technical expertise, but their reach exceeds their grasp.
John and Tony arrive to view the carnage. (At this point wouldn’t the government be getting involved? I think we’re talking hundreds of casualties here.) "Can you imagine the size of that beast?" Tony opines. "He destroyed an entire village as if it were a toy." Which, in this case, was pretty much the literal truth. Then Tony remembers a letter from his reptile expert. "After studying the problem," he explains, "he is come to the conclusion that this creature is the result of all this atomic testing going on in our atmosphere." Um…OK. Given the lack of any evidence that seems a somewhat bold assertion, but whatever. We end the conversation on this dramatic note:
Tony: "He feels, and I agree, that our giant
crocodile is a mutant!"
Now we get another confusingly edited bunch of…uh…stuff. The Inspector -- again, when’s the military going to get involved – sends one of his men (I guess, although he’s dressed in a red sarong) in after the crocodile to "catch" it. "You are the best that I’ve got," he lamely explains. Cut to a diver in the water. Oops, make that three divers. They position a gigantic, man-sized bear trap (!!) under the water. Well, you’ve got to give the film bonus Goofy Points at this juncture.
Topside we see the croc on an island, and here it’s clearly shown to be much bigger than a house. Again, we’re probably talking a hundred feet in length or more. Meanwhile, there’s barrel floating at the top of the water. I’m not sure how, but I’m assuming it’s attached to the bear trap. (Which, again, if right up there with the giant hypodermic needle from The Amazing Colossal Man.) I guess they figured that Jaws attached barrels to their menace, so they better had as well. Although I’m not sure why the barrel is a miniature one – which remains obvious throughout – would a real floating barrel have been too much to realize?
Once grounded on the bottom of the water, the trap is opened. Suddenly the trap is shown closed on the croc’s tail. Again, although the trap is bigger than a man, it only grasps a tiny end of the tail. The tail thrashes. The barrel thrashes. Finally the (miniature) tree anchoring the barrel is pulled from its roots and the barrel is seen being dragged off into the sea. Then the tail thrashes – there’s a lot of thrashing here – in the air and the trap flies off, decapitating another miniature tree.
More stuff. Tony and John test chemical agents (like red food die) on a small croc in a fish tank. The Croc walks on a miniature set. Then it’s in the water. Underwater POV shots. Etc. Three naked boys, maybe ten to twelve, are swimming. They get eaten. It’s the feel-good family movie of the year!! Again, the prop head is of regular "giant" croc size, and way underscaled for the monster we just saw dwarfing trees. Then the Croc attacks and destroys another village, a scene that’s all but a reply of the pervious one. As usual, you can see members of the purportedly ‘terrified’ crowd laughing as they run terror from the giant monster.
At this point, as you might have gathered, we’re basically treading water – literally – until the boat goes out with Quint, Hooper and Bro…oops, I mean, Tanaka, Tony and John. The two Drs. figure out an elementary attack pattern that somehow has eluded the authorities, so as to be able to confront the monster. Then the Croc, full sized now, is seen (sorta) attacking a herd of water buffalo. To my vast amusement, they built a gigantic prop body, unused throughout the rest of the film, so they could run a couple of buffalo next to it. Then a confusedly edited montage shows the Croc eating one of these careless animals. This involves, if I’m not mistaken, sticking an actual buffalo carcass in the jaws of the prop head. This film’s not winning any PETA awards, that’s for sure.
And so the Orca, er, Tanaka’s boat leaves harbor. (Actually, they obviously got a boat that looked as much like the Orca as possible. Which, considering the Croc is about three to four times as big as Bruce, seems a little inadequate.) All is prepared for the final confrontation. Except the clock – we’ve still half an hour of film left. So the guys do stuff – cut up fish for chum, toss barrels into the water, ready lines, etc. During this my DVD started pixelating for a couple of minutes (!!), so I had to skip over that portion to the point where it would play again. Stupid disc.
Back to where the film picks up. They guys are wondering why they haven’t encountered the Croc. Then a skiff approaches. A man named Pete leaves it and boards their boat, which oddly nobody objects to. In a ‘comic’ bit, he even gets John to pay the skiff driver, then pockets John’s change. It’s a little late in the game to be introducing another character, especially a bad comic relief one. Still, it’s another guy to chomp, I guess. Pete proves a reporter, and he nonchalantly joins their expedition. "Nice ship you’ve got," he says. It’s not a ship, dummy, it’s a boat.
The guys come upon the wreckage of a fishing boat. We get a ‘tense’ watching-for-the-monster-scene, then we – but not the cast -- see the Croc Eye shot. Cut to that night. We get a nice toy boat scene, confirming our suspicions that Tanaka’s boat will not be returning to harbor.
With the crew’s energies at an ebb, the Croc pops up, indicated by the glowing flashlight eyes. It bides its time, waiting until only Comic Relief Pete is left awake. Eventually Pete gives up and goes to sleep too. At this point I found it hard to rouse much sympathy for our protagonists, given that they’re all clearly morons.
Cue Close Encounter Storm Clouds. Cue waterspout. Cue ill-matching underwater shot of real croc under a toy boat. (The scale of which, needless to say, is off.) Cue other stuff. Finally this awakens Tanaka, who draws a .38 snub-nosed revolver and opens fire. Yes, that should do the trick. Waves buffet the boat, and in the movie’s most laughable moment, the Croc launches itself from the sea and flies over the boat. Oddly, this is the most influential bit of the movie. Every CGI giant croc/gator movie I’ve seen showcases the beastie jet-propelling itself from the water and high into the air. This always, needless to say, looks incredibly stupid. Even more obnoxious, I think the ‘effect’ was achieved here by actually tossing a real-life croc over the toy boat.
By now the boat’s in some distress. John and Tony find themselves trapped below deck. The Croc flies over the ship a second time. This might be marginally more exciting if the lighting weren’t so bad we can hardly make anything out. Finally the Croc’s big prop tail-on-a-boom sweeps Tanaka into the water. Exit Tanaka via the prop head. Well, so much for his eagle tattoo. Of course, he was the film’s Quint analog, so I guess we knew he’d get et.
They throw another chub barrel over the side, perforating it with machine gun fire. Not the most efficient way, perhaps, but boys and their toys. Cue a really bad shot of the toy’s boat hull passing over the submerged (real-life) Croc. The creature hits the boat, and John lights the fuse on an explosive harpoon. (I think this device was demonstrated during the two-minute dead spot on my DVD.) The Croc prop head surfaces. Harpoons and machine gun are employed in its general direction. Such would probably be more effective if we thought it actually hit its target. Or maybe not. It’s that kind of movie.
After some minutes of such confusedly edited action, a harpoon hits and apparently kills their quarry. However, since there’s eight minutes of running time left, I have my doubts. John begins to have a post-stress breakdown. Tony comforts his pal. Everybody starts relaxing. Suddenly, just when we most expect it, the Croc proves to be alive. He smacks the bottom of the boat, nearly sending Pete tumbling over the side. Then an underwater shot shows the real croc’s maw being pushed up against the toy boat’s propeller. (If I’m not mistaken, it’s actually wired in place, so that it doesn’t move away during the shot.)
"We didn’t kill it," Tony deduces. That’s why he’s the brains of the outfit, I guess. More ‘worried suspense’ shots. Yawn. The boat gets hit again, and John flies overboard. Exit John. There’s a mix of diverse but equally unconvincing effects techniques displayed as the Croc presses its attack. Finally, the ship starts to sink. Tony climbs up to the observation tower, the last thing to go down. (Hmm, this all seems so familiar…)
Then, in a weird change of pace, Pete appears covered with dynamite. (Although guys/corpses strapped with explosives kill the giant aquatic menaces in Jaws 3-D, Up From the Depths and The Last Shark. Give Jaws 2 some credit; at least it didn’t blow its underwater predator up like every other one of these.) He jumps into the water and lets himself be et. Boom! Exit Croc. I thought it was sort of strange that Pete of all people would get the kill, but there you go.
Cue driving disco music. The film ends. I guess Tony drowns. Oh, wait. He’s picked up by a convenient boat. I guess. We don’t actually see him after the explosion, just the approaching boat. Whatever.
For potential buyers of the DVD, I must sadly report that it is not up to even bargain-price snuff. Released by VCI, the folks behind the terrific Santos Vs. the Martian Invasion, the disc is a severe disappointment. Admittedly, it delivers a widescreen presentation, and in that regard is better than the old VHS release. (One that seemed to find its way to the shelves of every video store this country’s ever seen.)
However, the film itself is shaky. Literally, it shakes. Presumably the print they mastered this off of had worn sprocket holes or something. Anyway, there’s a noticeable tremor throughout most of the film. Is it better than nothing? I guess. Still, you don’t want to encourage this kind of thing. Plus, as I indicated, the film wouldn’t play for a couple of minutes on my DVD player. Later it froze again.
Summary: A huge croc.
It might be considered strange that after ignoring the oeuvre of sci-fi schlockmiester Bert I. Gordon for over five years, we’d review two of his films in a week’s time. (The other being Empire of the Ants.) However, given that the theme for this month is giant monsters, all comes clear. If you’re going to review a bunch of bad giant monster movies, chances are good that at least a couple of them will be the work of Bert I.
We open on a quite evident still photograph of an observatory. The standard ‘50s Omniscient Narrator comes on, providing the de rigueur "This is all really, really scientific" rundown. The staple use of opening narration helped reduce the running times of the period’s genre films – King Dinosaur clocks in at just over an hour -- and move more quickly than modern examples of the breed. By having a voiceover explain the set-up, the filmmakers save twenty or thirty minutes of screentime and thrust us right into things.
"On the morning of March 18 at precisely 7:48 AM, a coded message directed to our President was cabled from this observatory. A message of such vital importance that our Congress [cut to stock shot of Congress building] was called into an emergency session. [Cut to ersatz starscape.] A phenomenon out there in space was the subject of these top secret communications. It wasn’t long until the astronomers of outer nations had learned of what had happened."
Note the statement of a specific time and date (while omitting the year), a technique still used today on shows like The X-Files to add a sense of verisimilitude to the proceedings.
Cut to a ‘planet’ out in ‘space,’ introduced with harp music. "Earth now had a new neighbor." Cue blaring trumpets. What does this mean? It means the film’s about to prove one of the silliest the ‘50s had to offer. Which is saying something. We pan back from this mysterious planet and see that they weren’t kidding about that ‘neighbor’ business. The Earth itself is revealed to be hilariously close by, not much farther than we are from our Moon. (Which oddly doesn’t appear in the shot.) In fact, I’d have to believe that the planet would be readily visible to the naked eye. This makes all that stuff about "top secret" wires from observatories rather farcical.
"A new planet had moved into our solar system," the Narrator rather inadequately expounds. Given its proximity to our own planet, this is like describing someone camped out on your doorstep as having recently moved into the United States. "[It] had established its orbit around the Sun," we’re further told, "so close to Earth that for the first time it was conceivable to believe that Man on Earth could actually travel to another planet. A planet that had every indication that its atmosphere would support life."
See, this is the kind of situation where I wish I lived near Lyz from And You Call Yourself A Scientist!, so that I could just hand it over to somebody competent to deal with the manifold scientific fallacies here.
The intro out of the way, we cut to our opening credits. The card for the limited cast is telling – four human actors are listed, followed by a special credit: "Featuring LITTLE JOE - - THE HONEY BEAR." Meanwhile, Marvin Miller gets his own "Narration by" credit. This is fitting because he’s the biggest ‘name’ actor involved here. Miller had a long career in film and an equally busy one doing TV shows. He’s most famous for providing the voice for Robby the Robot in Fantastic Planet and The Invisible Boy.
With the Cold War on, the President – or so we’re told -- naturally decides that we must be the first nation to send a manned ship to this newly appearing planet. (It’s now officially been named Planet Nova. Not a particularly auspicious name for a heavenly body, you’d think.) This announcement cues a further procession of narrated stock footage regarding the development of the rocket ship. This goes on for some minutes, and successfully eats up more of the film’s slim running time.
I must admit that as cheesy as this technique is, it works better than would the alternative. Which would be to portray the construction of the rocket by building patently inadequate laboratory sets and stocking them with three or four extras in lab coats. Moreover, it’s not too far off in portraying the sort of immense effort that resulted from President Kennedy’s decision to go to the Moon some years later. Certainly some of the specific musings are a tab absurd (see following paragraphs), but on the whole this is a surprising accurate forecasting.
To resume on the cynicism front, however, am I the only one who thinks the following hunk of narration is meant to establish a plot point? "This [shipboard] nuclear power plant will serve as an auxiliary source of electricity while our people are on the planet. Actually, because it is activated by atomic power, it could supply their needs for many years if something were to go wrong and their return to Earth were delayed. Naturally the people must be careful in using such equipment. [Yeah, you’d think.] Because if the atomic power were allowed to go unharnessed, an atomic fission reaction would take place. An atom explosion."
And so, after over six minutes, we cut to some footage actually shot for this movie. This portrays a guy holding a saber-toothed tiger skull. (!) "If animal life is found on the new planet Nova, an expert on zoogeography would be a most important member of the space expedition." Admittedly, that’s a big if, especially when the expedition consists of our people, but there you go.
"On August 10th, Dr. Richard Gordon was chosen to fill that position. He became famous with his discovery of the giant prehistoric tar pits near Salt Lake City just two years ago." Considering that Salt Lake City was founded in 1847, it seems a bit odd that "giant" tar pits in the area wouldn’t be ‘discovered’ until 1953.
Next we cut to a field. In the foreground the forward section of a massive Chevy – man, it looks like you could just take that thing into space -- projects into the shot. (Is the rocket ship hood ornament meant to be a joke? If so, it’s an unusually sly directorial touch for Bert I. Gordon.) Behind it is a woman in full Laverne and Shirley regalia, a tight turtleneck sweater and full skirt. She’s standing before a rock face and smacking it with a pick.
Although not, I should stress, in a manner suggestive of someone used to wielding such an implement. This is odd, given the role the Narrator suggests she will be playing here. "The study of rock formations and its minerals," the Narrator rather ungrammatically opines, "is like reading the personal diary of a planet." Thus Dr. Nora Pierce, the aforementioned pick wielder, will be joining the expedition. By the way, I want to mention the music accompanying these intros, which is weirdly comical and jaunty. Think Mancini’s "Baby Elephant Walk" and you’ll be in the right ballpark. Why such a tune for these prosaic sequences? Got me.
"Medicine must be represented on this expedition," The Narrator continues, "since the health of these people and the people that will venture into space in the future is of primary importance. Dr. Ralph Martin’s war service fortified him with the experience of treating most diseases and fatalities that overtake men. That is, on our Earth." Uh…OK. (Given the apparent age of young Dr. Martin, I’m assuming he was a veteran of the Korean War rather than WWII.)
"The chemistry of the new planet [??]," he concludes, "was to be studied by Dr. Patricia Bennett, who completed the group of scientists. She was noted for her thesis on the use of radiochemistry in medicine." This concludes the introductions to our small group of actors, er, scientists. By the way, I’d give them more points for including two women in the group – who make up an abnormally high percentile of the team for a film made in the ‘50s – if I didn’t suspect that readymade romantic couples were being provided.
On October 1st, Nova is judged to be in the "most advantageous location for our purpose." (I’m not sure what that means, since it’s supposedly in the same orbit as Earth and thus shouldn’t be moving nearer or farther away.) Therefore the rocket ship must take off within 24 hours. Not bad, considering the planet was first seen only a tad over six months ago.
The craft is soon making its way through space with engines, of course, constantly blasting away. These sequences are realized with a mix of stock footage and some trademark Bert I. Gordon special effects. Meaning bluescreen work so primitive that the image of the rocket is transparent as it flies through the heavens. See also The Amazing Colossal Man, who grows similarly translucent as his height increases.
"The people on Earth followed the ship’s progress as long as possible, with powerful telescopes and with radar." (!) I’d have thought that observatory telescopes would have significantly greater range than radar, but perhaps I’m mistaken. By the way, it just struck me that we’re nearly eleven minutes into things and have yet to hear a single character speaking a sentence. Even in Beast of Yucca Flats and The Creeping Terror they looped in lines and pretended the actors were speaking them. Here they don’t even bother.
After a flight lasting some months (!), the yet transparent rocket lands on Nova, as illustrated with a series of comically bad effects shots. Which happens to look quite a lot like Earth, coincidentally enough. Soon the crew disembark from their craft, which is sitting in a field, haloed with think bluescreen borders. As you’d expect, their spacesuits and the prop ‘bottom’ of their rocket are borrowed from another and more expensive movie, in this case Conquest Space. Two of them leave first, the man waiting to help the woman down the space ladder, then taking her hand as they stroll through a heavily sunlit meadow. You’d think if they were going to make two of the characters sweethearts – I think it’s Martin and Bennett in the suits – they’d have given us some scenes to indicate their growing regards towards one another.
They note that the planet is quite beautiful, at least "if it’s habitable." (Characters speaking! And only twelve minutes into the film!) The handholding twosome next spot a nearby stock footage volcano – what else? – which is spewing a column of smoke. "This planet is quite young!" Dr. Martin notes. Yes, your older planets, such as Earth, certainly don’t have smoking volcanoes any longer. Perhaps Martin should stick to the medical stuff and let Dr. Pierce handle the geological theorizing.
By the way, they start cutting to a model of the ship here which doesn’t remotely match the one in the take-off scene or the one in the flying-through-space shots. Shades of Doomsday Machine.
Ralph is seen walking around and pointing what appears to be a hair dryer at the ground. I’m guessing it’s supposed to be a Geiger counter. I can’t be certain, though, because they aren’t having it make clicking noises. Bennett, meanwhile, is sitting in the grass and examining something with a cheap classroom microscope. Then she plays back her notes, as recorded on a suitcase-sized reel-to-reel tape recorder. "A preliminary biological study made of the air on Nova show [sic] the indications of microscopic life not too different from that found on Earth. However, approximately forty percent of the bacteria was completely unfamiliar." Yes, so you’d think.
A montage of test tubes and beakers, all filled with bubbling Colored Fluids and emitting the obligatory dry-ice fumes, is accompanied by snippets of test results. "Although our preliminary tests are in no way conclusive," Bennett’s report concludes, "they do substantiate however [sic] that Human and animal life as we know it on Earth [as opposed to "human" life as we don’t know it?] can exist in the atmosphere and environment of Planet Nova." Well, as silly as this is, at least they didn’t just have someone whip his helmet off to see what would happen. Which is what happens in at least half of these things.
This conclusion reached, the implications are obvious. "Now let’s get out of these suits!" Pat exclaims. Being advanced gear, it comes off quite easily. (Probably because of the zippers.) Soon the four are gallivanting around in khakis. As a compromise to functionality, the women are wearing culottes instead of skirts.
They walk around. Soon they see exotic space deer and space bear cubs and other exotic species. Admittedly, these look surprisingly like their Earth analogs. Still, they probably have like two hearts or gills or something.
The group decides to check out a lake they flew over earlier. As they walk through the space grass and between the space pines they see some space birds and another space bear cub shimmying down a space tree trunk. They laugh. Space critters are so dol’garn cute.
Soon they reach the lake. This is rather large and sports an island in the middle of it. "It’s a strange looking place," Pat remarks. Since this statement is accompanied by an Ominous Music Cue, me’thinks something odd will be found there. "It looks like it’s covered with jungle growth," Dick adds. Well, actually it doesn’t. I guess this is a Geographical Informed Attribute.
The gals decide the lake calls for taking a bath. Cue wacky music. Strangely, this seemingly promised scene never materializes. Maybe the very idea of ladies bathing was consider risqué enough. Instead, we cut to them back by their ship. They’re loading up on gear, including sidearms and bolt-action hunting rifles. (The men carry the latter, of course. Still, the women do get to pack heat.)
They hike around and see a space sloth. They hike
around some more and see a flock of space ducks. Meanwhile, we get this:
In a bold attempt at Science!!, Nora notes that "We don’t know how many hours there are in the daily cycle here." Wow!! Cut the fancy jargon, doc. "Well, let’s figure about three o’clock anyway," Dick decides. "That gives us three or four hours before dark." Hmm, that theory seems to depend upon a lot of dubious premises. Still, he’s a scientist and I’m not, so what do I know?
They walk around. They see another space sloth. They walk around. Then they stop. Nora examines some rocks. "What do you think?" Dick inquires. "About the age of this place?" she replies, glancing at a stone. "I’m afraid your guess was right. It’s pretty young as planets go. Much younger than our Earth." Ralph is intrigued. "What era would you say it is?" he asks. "Prehistoric," she answers.
The others exchange wary (?) looks. "Are you serious?" Pat asks. Now thoroughly spooked (?), Pat requests that they head back to the ship. Seeing the island again -- although it now look completely different and has a smoking matte painting volcano on it -- Nora ponders whether they should visit it. The still shaken Pat votes against it, however, and they head back.
They walk around. Unfortunately, they didn’t leave a trail or make a map or take compass readings or anything. So they’re lost. Tired, they lean against a fallen space tree. Suddenly, we see a space snake slithering up on Pat. Ralph shoots it and Pat blubbers away like a girl. Anyway, they decide to stop walking around – a novel concept – and make camp. (Literally.)
Cue more of the film’s oddly comical music. They assemble some weird wooden lean-tos. Suddenly they hear a strange hooting noise. Looking over, they laugh. "It’s an owl!" Ralph exclaims. Wrong, Doctor. It’s a space owl. Dick tells the girls that they should get some sleep. The menfolk, meanwhile, will stand watch. The girls protest they can take turns at this also. Dick brusquely shoots down such weird, almost frightening talk.
Later Ralph takes over for Dick. Loud thunder soon wakes Pat up, who heads over to sit with Ralph. They immediately start making out. Man, those are some horny scientists. This was still the ‘50s, though. Therefore Pat breaks the action to ask, "Do you still want to marry me?" He answers yes. The audience thus reassured, they go back at it. "Let’s take a walk," Ralph gasps after coming up for air. Why, you little devil. (Good maintaining of watch, too, doofus.)
The two go off. In an amazing example of space affirmative action, it’s Ralph who trips on a rock and tumbles down a hill. He unfortunately lands on a stuffed space gator, which he begins to vigorously pretend to wrestle. Pat, meanwhile, helpfully stands there and screams her head off. The ruckus wakes Nora and Dick, who run over to see what’s up. By then Ralph has punched the space gator to death (!). However, he somehow has been badly mauled on parts of the body the space gator never got near.
Dick, who spends much of the movie living up to his name, carries him back to camp. He barks at Pat to get a canteen, but she responds by bursting out in tears again and just generally being useless. Yeah, there’s somebody I’d want to travel into space with. Nora gets it instead and Dick washes Ralph’s wounds off. Er, I mean, washes them out. I don’t know why I said off. Really. I don’t. Anyway, Dick basically yells at Pat and even shoves her around while tending to the unconscious Ralph. I can’t say I felt much pity for her, though. What a drip.
The next morning Ralph remains largely insensible. Dick and Nora head back to the ship to get some medical supplies. Pat is to stay and watch over Ralph. It’s seems unlikely that the party’s most insipid member would be tasked with this. However, my theory is that Dick fears he’ll strangle the ninny if she accompanies him back.
Dick and Nora find the ship again with suspicious ease. So much for being lost. They stay the night and head back the next day. As they walk around they stop to admire cute little space monkey Joe. (This is the credited Joe the Honey Bear. Still, unless there are bears with prehensile tails I don’t think it’s a member of the ursine family.)
A sore and yet weak Ralph rouses back at the camp. Good thing, too, for nearby is Bert I. Gordon’s first giant bug. (It’s a proud moment for all of us.) Gee, its lucky the still slumbering Pat was left behind to watch over things. Said space bug, if I’m not mistaken, is footage of a de-winged bee that’s been negatively exposed and poorly matted into the shot. Aside from the typically, er, Gordonian quality of the visual effects use to realize this creature, it’s also been assigned very goofy vocalizations.
Of course the creature never actually interacts with our cast. Instead, Ralph pours pistol and then rifle fire into its supposed direction until we cut over and see it resting on its back. Pat wakes up during this and, of course, merely starts screaming hysterically. Good thing they armed her. The beast slain, an exhausted Ralph lays back down. Still, he’s better enough that he requests some "medicine" from Pat. At least she’s good for something.
Dick and Nora soon return, bearing various supplies and scientific equipment. (This includes what is laughably supposed to be there portable nuclear generator, as established earlier.) They’ve brought with Joe, who they introduce to Ralph and Pat. Pat asks how their sojourn went. Nora’s reply pretty much sums up the movie as a whole: "Lovely, if you like walking."
Over dinner that night they discuss the planet. Dick opines that it would readily support colonization. This being the ‘50s, nobody questions this concept. Nora, meanwhile, restates her wish to explore the Mysterious Island. Since Ralph is better but still somewhat shaky, it’s agreed that Nora and Dick will take a rubber raft to the island the following day. Pat and Ralph will stay in camp and continue their duties from there.
There’s a loud hissing sound, but the explorers relax when they see it’s only a largish space python. This is accompanied by a loud blaring musical cue, but seem to pose no threat to our protagonists. (Probably because it’s currently in a different movie.) That night, however, things are different. First we see the space owl hooting. Then Dick relaxes from his watch for a bit, messing around with Joe the Space Monkey.
This leaves him a little slow on the uptake when the space python slithers into camp. And this time it’s in the same shot with them and everything. By the time he gets his pistol out, the snake is wiggling around and over the recumbent Ralph. Waking to find the twelve-foot space reptile invading his personal space, he wisely stays still. After a bit the space snake becomes bored and slithers away on its own.
In the morning Ralph is feeling much better. Well enough, in fact, that he tosses a snotty remark in Dick’s direction regarding his watch skills. (Dick certainly deserves this, but on the other hand, Ralph was the one who earlier abandoned his post for a little kissy-face.) Dick and Nora, meanwhile, ready for their trip to the island. Before leaving they arrange a signal system. If they should need help, they’ll fire a red flare. Hanging Joe from his neck, Dick and Nora take off. Given the way Dick slings Joe around by his tail, I hope the little guy’s got a lot of muscle in it.
Despite the film’s short running time, they still pads things out to a humorous degree. (A fact you may have discerned from the above account.) For instance, rather than heading straight for the lake, the two must return to the rocket first to grab the raft. Then they go to the lake. They inflate the raft. They climb into it and push off. They paddle through the water. They see a flock of space birds. Eventually they reach the island, pull ashore and disembark.
Dick and Nora (and Joe) walk around. They see some space vultures. They walk around some more. "Looks like a cave up on that ledge," Dick notes. Yes, the unearthly splendors of this alien globe bewilder the mind. Yet soon even this bizarre space cave on its miraculous space ledge are forgotten. For suddenly a matted-in iguana with a horn pasted on its snout is matted into the frame. It’s awesomely suspended on wires so that we see it ‘standing’ on its hind legs. Terrified by this fearsome apparition, the intrepid scientists (and monkey) flee.
Of course Dick’s first impulse is to shoot the beast. Dude, you’re on your own now. The creature comes after them. (Sort of.) Lucky, then, that the recently established space cave is there to provide Our Heroes with shelter. Now the space lizard actually comes after them, probably because it’s not hanging on wires anymore. In a sight familiar to all giant monster fans, the leads cower in the cave as the space dinosaur tries to burrow its way in and get them.
"Where’s Joe?!" Nora cries. (Yeah, that’d be my top concern about now, too.) Dick rushes out to save the none-too-bright space monkey. We hear him scream from off-camera, and he returns with his khaki blouse ripped and stained with stage blood. Joe, however, is saved. Thank goodness!
Dick tells Nora to tend to his injuries. But she’s a female, and thus all but useless as she blubbers in terror. (Man, bringing chicks into space is a bad idea.) So Dick strips off his shirt – there’s one for the ladies – and binds his own wounds.
The ‘dinosaur’ pocks its snout at them for a while. Then a giant space alligator – represented perhaps by a small Earth alligator – makes the scenes. In a bit sure to make modern viewers blanch, these are encouraged to have at it. The two reptiles attack each other in painful looking fashions for our amusement and edification. Thank you, Bert I. Gordon.
This goes on for a while. During the struggle, Dick fires a red flare. Pat and Ralph see it and are soon on the way. After, that is, themselves stopping at the rocket to procure a second rubber raft. Eventually – and I do mean eventually -- the *cough, cough* T-Rex emerges triumphant. (Hopefully the still visibly breathing ‘gator has just been doped and smeared with ‘blood’ rather than actually cut up.) It returns to the space cave, where it resumes threatening Dick and Nora. Then, because we’ve still twelve minutes of running time left, it encounters a space gila monster. Cue pretty much the same scene as with the space gator, with about the same results.
Meanwhile, Dick examines a Polaroid he took of the iguana. Looking at its fearsome visage, he notes that it "resembles the Tyrannosaurus Rex of Earth’s prehistoric age. Tyrannosaurus Rex. King Dinosaur!" (Wow! He said the title!) Needless to say, his credentials as a paleontologist are somewhat undermined by this announcement. Nora is still hysterical, however, and tears up the photo in a hissy fit. Women!! Am I right, guys?
About this time Pat and Ralph make the scene. Pat is predictably freaked. "What is it?" she gasps. "Something prehistoric," Ralph replies. Yes, we got that part already. I do like his response when she demands he shoot the ‘monster.’ "What with?" he replies, looking at their deer rifle. "That won’t do any good." Can’t argue with that.
During the second battle Dick and Nora decide to make a run for it. (Good idea.) Ralph and Pat, meanwhile, just sit there and kibitz. "Faster!" they keep yelling. Yes, I’m sure Dick and Nora are finding your savvy advise of great utility.
Their reunion is a happy one. "I brought the atom bomb," Ralph notes. "I think it’s time to use it!" I’m not sure why, exactly. Even if the planet’s to be colonized, you’d think the beasts would prove of scientific value. Moreover, it’s pretty obvious the ‘dinosaurs’ are contained by the waters surrounding the island. So I’m not exactly sure why they feel it must be nuked off the map. On the other hand, why bring an atom bomb all this way if you’re not going to detonate it? Am I right, guys?
They set the device to go off in half an hour (!) and then run for their raft. There’s some purported suspense stuff as they’re pursued by the space iguana, not to mention the imminent atom bomb explosion. They also pause to take some potshots at a giant space armadillo that’s just minding it’s own business. Then we see a really decent looking space wooly mammoth, one well enough realized that its clearly been stolen from another movie. (1940’s One Million B.C. would be my guess.) Still, Gordon manages to turn this laughable as well. It’s matted into the frame with Our Heroes, in a manner that makes it look at least fifty feet tall. All very scientific, I’m sure.
Despite these time-eating travails, *gasp* they finally make it to the raft and then back to the mainland. From (comparative) safety, they watch a montage of atom bomb explosion stock footage. "Well, we’ve done it," Ralph exclaims. "Yeah," Dick agrees, a wide grin on his face. "We sure have done it. We’ve brought civilization to Planet Nova." And with that, they prepare to fly back to Earth. Cue triumphant music.
Ah, the ‘50s!
Summary: ‘50s sci-fi cheese at its cheesiest.
The learned Jabootu
philanthropist and gaming icon Sandy Petersen elucidates several cloudy
as a result of this background, for many years I felt that King Dinosaur
(which I have seen multiple times) was possibly the worst movie I’d ever
seen. I guess it just hit a nerve.
here are some notes for you just because I love you, man.
“Little Joe the Honey Bear” is a kinkajou – a small carnivore that
lives in Central and South American rain forests. They are omnivorous, but
mostly eat fruit. They are not bears, but are more closely related to
raccoons. Amazingly enough, one of the common names for them is “honey
bear”. Now you know.
For what it’s worth, I was actually an entomology major in college and
graduate school, so I know a lot about bugs. (Entomology = science of
insects and arachnids). The poorly-matted giant bug that they shoot early on
in King Dinosaur is not a bee, but a “Jerusalem cricket”.
The Tyrannosaurus rex of the film is not the usual iguana, but a monitor
lizard. The monitor is a slight improvement over the
more-commonly-seen iguana for cheesy dinosaur films, because at least
monitors are carnivores (iguanas eat plants). To me, one of the funniest
scenes in the movie is the fight between the monitor lizard and the
alligator. It’s really obvious that the gator is kicking the lizard’s
ass (duh – I mean think about it! Alligator. Lizard. Who would you put
YOUR money on in a fight?) and then suddenly the monitor lizard almost
magically wins because IITS.
4) Best ending line ever as they watch the A-bomb explosion."
-by Ken Begg