The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)

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Title: The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake

Distributor: United Artists

Writer: Orville H. Hampton

Director: Edward L. Cahn

Producer: Robert Kent

Starring: Henry Daniell, Grant Richards, Valerie French, Eduard Franz, Paul Cavanaugh

Released: November 1959

MPAA: Approved

 

It’s Sunday, and that means another review of a classic flick! This one is a good one, especially if you’re into witch doctors! Why it has taken me so long to get this one out there, I can’t remember, but anyone that hasn’t seen this movie needs to right away. Things weren’t so great in the 1950’s for UA United Artists), but once the next decade rolled around they got into television, and had some better success. Don’t sleep on this one though, it’s a diamond in the rough! Both Kent (producer) and Cahn (director) had already made some decent horror/sci-fi movies for other companies, and they definitely brought that same kind of feel to this one.

I love the concept of witch doctors in films, probably ever since I saw this guy. No joke! Alright, enough of the foolishness, let’s get right down to this thriller!

 

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The film begins with an older gentleman named Jonathan Drake (Eduard Franz) in his study. He has a book opened, and the passage reads…”the evil that men do lives after them.” We then focus on the man himself, as he’s deep in thought, and obviously afraid of something. In his hand he holds a shrunken head! A strong breeze whips through the room, and the candles are blown out. A young woman enters the room, and we find out that she’s his daughter, Allison (Valerie French). She questions him as to his trance-like state, but he won’t tell her. She tells him that her uncle Kenneth called but she’s having trouble remembering what he said exactly. Jonathan knows something is up, so he sends a message to his brother that he’s on his way to see him (the trip takes two days).

 

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Over at the home of Kenneth Drake (Paul Cavanaugh), we see the servant, Rogers, and Kenneth discussing the arrival of his brother. We then see someone creeping around the outside of his home, and that person hangs a shrunken head in front of the glass doors that lead to the garden. As he attempts to investigate, a witch doctor jumps out of nowhere, and sticks a needle into his neck! The poison tip injects a paralyzing agent into his blood stream, and renders him defenseless. As he’s about to do further damage, Rogers returns, and the witch doctor runs off.

 

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The following day, a police detective shows up, and Lt. Rowan (Grant Richards) tells Rogers he was called by Allison and told to check out the house because she and her father feared there might be trouble. Rogers tells the policeman that the only trouble was that Kenneth died suddenly last night from heart failure. Lt. Rowan tells him that he’ll talk to the family doctor about it and make sure everything is OK. Rowan then meets Dr. Bradford (Howard Wendell), and Dr. Emil Zurich (Henry Daniell), a family friend and noted archaeologist. There’s a long history of heart failure in the family so no one questions the death.

 

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After some talk about the shrunken head, Rowan leaves but is very suspicious. Later that night, Kenneth’s corpse is in a casket at the funeral home, and the witch doctor pops up again. He has a basket and then the scene cuts to the funeral (a bit later or the following day perhaps). Jonathan shows up just in time for the funeral, and questions Dr. Bradford about the cause of death. He doesn’t believe him when he tells him it was heart failure, and needs to see the body to be sure. He opens the casket, and everyone screams in horror as we see the body has been decapitated!

 

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We then see a laboratory with the creepy Dr. Zurich and his accomplice, Zutai (Paul Wexler).  They open the basket we saw Zutai with earlier, and we see he’s the on that cut off Kenneth’s head. Zurich spouts off about a curse, and that Drake had it coming. Rowan then comes over and questions Allison about what she knows, but she’s little help. Back at the laboratory, we see Zutai and Zurich cooking the head of poor Kenneth, after they’ve removed the skull, of course. They make a shrunken head out of Kenneth, and seem very pleased with their work.

 

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Back at the Drake mansion, Jonathan tells Allison about the family curse. He tells her that a few generations ago, their ancestors made a trip into the jungle, and even though it was a peaceful endeavor, but after one of their numbers was kidnapped and beheaded, they slaughtered all the tribal people, except the witch doctor. He managed to get away, and we’re lead to believe that Zutai is that man.

Can Rowan and Allison figure out how to stop this madness or will Jonathan Drake be the next victim!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

As I stated earlier, UA was going through some tough times financially during this era, but you can’t tell from watching this film. The atmosphere is spectacular, and the actors are on point. No one person stands out but everybody delivers as they should. Wexler and Daniell are especially creepy and play their parts as if they were really into it.

The sets were very good, and helped the atmosphere keep you in suspense. As far as music, Paul Dunlap did a fine job with the score. When it counted, the music was hair-raising! As soon as you see the names Robert Kent and Edward Cahn, you know that the film has two solid men behind it. Cahn’s work for AIP is legendary as is Kent’s with Columbia. And if that wasn’t enough, you get the stunning Valerie French to gaze upon (image below)!

Set aside some time for this thriller, you wont be disappointed!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

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Cinema Sunday: IT! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)

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Title: IT! The Terror from Beyond Space

Distributor: United Artists

Writer: Jerome Bixby (screenplay)

Director: Edward L. Cahn

Producers: Robert Kent, Edward Small

Starring: Marshall Thompson, Shirley Patterson, Kim Spalding, Ann Doran, Dabbs Greer

Released: August 1958

MPAA: Approved

 

 

Tell me if you’ve seen this one before…an alien snakes aboard a ship, and using guile and subterfuge (and the duct work), eliminates the crew of the ship one by one. If you guessed the 1979 classic, Alien, you’d be wrong. Sounds a lot like the screenwriters for that movie “borrowed” some key plot points from this film, doesn’t it. Not that it hasn’t been done many times over, just pointing it out for those that might not have seen this film or know about the similarities.

This film has the “space” theme like many others of the 1950’s, but it does separate it self from most of them because of a few key elements that I’ll talk about in my thoughts later after the synopsis. Well, sit back, relax, and get ready for a rocket ship ride to Mars! Let’s get to the film!

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The flick begins with a monologue from the captain of a rocket ship that crashed on Mars, in 1973. He tells that another ship arrived to help eventually, but that the other crew members are all dead. Col. Edward Carruthers (Marshall Thompson) tells us that the other rocket ship will take him back to Earth, and try him for the murders of his fellow astronauts. We next switch back to Earth, and a press conference being held, telling reporters of the situation. They all immediately run to the telephones to inform their editors of the blockbuster story. Carruthers then tells the viewers that the ship is readying for take off, and that the four-month long trip will be interesting.

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Next, we see the Colonel Van Heusen (Kim Spalding)  asking his crew if everything is ready for departure. his crew all relay their information, and then he notices that someone left one of the hatches open. The one responsible speaks up, and then they close it promptly. There’s only one problem. We see that a shadowy figure has sneaked aboard, and looks really ticked off. After they’re in the atmosphere, Van Heusen approaches Carruthers while he’s deep in thought. He asks Carruthers if he’s thinking about the nine bodies he left down there no the planet. He responds that he was, and then Van Heusen begins to interrogate Carruthers, but he sticks to his story that an alien killed his crew. Van Heusen presses him for answers and even reveals that they found the skull of one of is crew members with a bullet hole in it, and then he tells Carruthers that only one kind of monster uses a gun.

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In the next scene, the crew is having dinner, and making small talk. Carruthers, who’s being escorted around today by Lt. James Calder (Paul Langton), walks in, and the crew goes silent. One of the crew members, Eric Royce (Dabbs Greer), remarks that he doesn’t necessarily think that Carruthers is lying, but that he’s convinced himself that an alien did it, so he wouldn’t go insane. Carruthers interjects and tells them that he’s obviously not insane, and then he leaves the room. Van Heusen tells Royce that he’ll get a full confession out of him by the time they reach Earth.

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That evening, Carruthers is still being watched by Lt. Calder, but then Mary Royce (Ann Doran – Eric’s sister?) walks in and offers him some food. She says that she wants to believe him but that the only version of the story she’s heard is from Van Heusen. Carruthers then tells her about the day the crew began to be murdered, one by one. The crew had set out on a fact-finding mission, but a sandstorm arose, and they headed back towards the ship. One of the crew was snatched out of the jeep like a baby by some unseen beast. They all began firing in different directions (this is when it hits Carruthers that the skull with the bullet hole in it was obviously caused during this event). One by one, the crew gets annihilated, except for Carruthers, who made it back to the rocket ship. Van Heusen then walks in and gets rude with Carruthers, who then walks away. Mary chastises him for acting that way to a fellow officer, and we see that the Van Heusen and Mary are a couple. Van Heusen agrees to stop hassling Carruthers at the behest of Mary.

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Later, Carruthers and Eric Royce are having a chess match. One deck below, Joe Kienholz (Thom Carney), is on duty, and hears something below decks. He investigates, and as he’s searching below, he’s savagely murdered by the creature. Carruthers hears him scream, but no one else does. Carruthers investigates, and soon, the rest of the crew is wondering where Kienholz is on the ship. They begin to search, and the next victim is Gino Finelli (Richard Hervey). As he’s smoking a cigarette, the creature attacks him. The others, especially his brother, Bob (Richard Benedict), are getting apprehensive. They discover Klienholz’s body, as it was stuffed in the duct-work. Van Heusen calls for all hands on deck, and everyone comes to help investigate. They realize that someone has to go up in there to search for Gino, so Major John Purdue (Robert Bice) goes in, because he knows the layout best. Within minutes, he finds Gino, who’s on the brink of death. Seconds later, he’s attacked by the creature, but manages to get off a few rounds, and escape death.

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The crew now realizes that Carruthers wasn’t blowing smoke, so they formulate a plan to attach grenades to all the openings for the duct work, so when the creatures attempts to open one, it will blow him to kingdom come. They wait and the ladies, Ann Anderson (Shirley Smith) and Mary attend to Major Purdue’s injuries. They also look at the body of the fist victim, and remark that every bone in his body is broken, but that isn’t what killed him. What’s left of the crew tries to theorize what this creature is, and why it’s on a murderous rampage.

One by one, the crew begins to disappear and it seems that none of their conventional weapons can even remotely stop this creature. When the rocket ship arrives on Earth, will anyone still be alive to warn the others? Watch this classic to find out!

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OK, here are my thoughts:

When you watch this film, and see all the elements that are in more modern-day sci-fi flicks, you’ll be blown away. I mentioned Alien (1979), because that one has the biggest thank you to give to this film, but there are others that followed this template as well. Of course, this film also some elements that probably stem from films like Forbidden Planet (1956), which were big hits just a couple of years earlier. The cast did a great job at portraying ultimate fear, and the monster, for its time, was outstanding!

The musical arrangements were also good, and really helped set the tone for the more ominous scenes. The special effects were on par with those of the age in cinema, which is to say that they were decent, but didn’t blow you away. Honestly, Marshall Thompson and Dabbs Greer seemed to really be the most convincing, and really have you believing that the film takes place in space. Put this one on your bucket list if you haven’t already seen this one, because you’ll definitely be glad you did after viewing this classic!

Click here for trailer!

Cinema Sunday: Diary of a Madman (1963)

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Title: Diary of a Madman

Distributor: United Artists

Writer: Robert E. Kent

Director: Reginald Le Borg

Producers: Robert E. Kent, Edward Small

Starring: Vincent Price, Nancy Kovack, Lewis Martin, Chris Warfield, Ian Wolfe

Released: March 1963

MPAA: Approved

 

It’s no secret I think Vincent Price is one of the bet film stars of all time. Not just in the horror genre, but all of them. You can debate if you’d like, but I promise you that the people who will debate most wholeheartedly are the ones that haven’t seen many (if any) of his films. He’s definitely one the top horror icons, and along with Cushing, Lee, Lugosi, Karloff, & Chaney, his place is forever cemented in the industry.

This film has Price, but no other really bankable stars (Ian Wolfe was established, but not a household name), so when you watch this one, you really get a sense that he brought everyone else up to his lofty standards for acting. The film is another gem from Price, and everyone that’s a fan needs to see it. Alright, let us journey into the past…

 

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The film begins with a funeral for a man named Simon Cordier (Vincent Price). His family and friends stand by and watch the priest finish the service, and one woman remarks that she’s glad he’s dead. The same small group of people meet at an art gallery, and read the last wishes of Simon Cordier. The diary tells them that Cordier believed he was possessed by an evil spirit, called “horla,” and it forced him and others to commit unspeakable acts. We then flashback to when Cordier first encountered the horla…

 

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We learn that Cordier was a magistrate, and that his first saw evidence of this abomination, it was while visiting a prisoner (image above) that was only days away from execution. The prisoner pleads with Cordier, telling him that he didn’t really want to murder people, but that an evil spirit forced him to do it. At first, Cordier doesn’t believe him, but then the man’s eyes begin to glow with a green hue, and the man savagely attacks Cordier. They struggle for a moment, but then Cordier manages to push him away. The guards come running in, and discover that the prisoner died when he hit his head against the stone wall. Cordier is in shock over what he’s seen and done.

 

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The following day, Cordier is upstairs in his home, and he sees a picture of a woman and a boy (apparently his wife and son that are deceased). He freaks out, and calls his butler, Pierre (Ian Wolfe), about the picture. Pierre explains that he doesn’t know how the picture came to be there (it had previously been stored away). Pierre then calls to Louise (Mary Adams), the cook, and questions her about the matter. In the next moment, Cordier sees some writing on a dusty shelf in the same room that reads…”hatred is evil.” These are the same words that the prisoner spoke before he attempted to kill Cordier. Cordier thinks he sleep walked, and did these things.

 

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The following day, Cordier goes to his office, and finds the case file for the recently deceased prisoner. He doesn’t remember leaving it there, and can’t figure out why it’s there. He then hears a voice call out to him, warning him that because he killed the prisoner, he will now be the host for this specter. After excusing himself from the court that day, he begins to write in his diary about the strange goings-on. Once again, the voice calls out to him, and then possesses him. It tells him that he must kill his pet bird, and he does. The spirit then leaves, and Cordier sees what he’s done.

 

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In the next scene, Cordier is visiting a psychiatrist about his troubles. The doctor believes that the strain of work, and the death’s of his family have driven him to this problem. He tells Cordier to return to his hobby of sculpting, take a vacation, and to immerse himself in art. He does just that, and walks around a neighborhood, looking at art. He’s approached by a beautiful woman, Odette Mallotte DuClasse (Nancy Kovack – image above), who asks him to buy the portrait of her. They strike up some conversation and he tells her that he’s a sculptor. One thing leads to another, and she agrees to pose for him later that night. Odette heads inside to see her husband, Paul DuClasse (Chris Warfield), the artist. She tells him that she’s going to pose for another artist, and her husband gets jealous. She tells him that her lifestyle needs more income, so she’s taking the job, to the dismay of her husband.

 

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That night, Odette travels to the home of Cordier to pose for him, and after a quick conversation, the two head upstairs to the studio. Pierre and Louise are overjoyed that Cordier is happy again. In the studio, Odette asks if she needs to “disrobe” but Cordier tells her it’s not a nude. She seems slightly disappointed for a split second, and then tells him that nothing should distract from the face, and he agrees. Cordier compliments her on her beauty, and she smiles.

We then get some more from the diary, as Cordier writes down how happy he is, with his work, sculpting, and that his nightmares are gone. Days pass, and things seem fine, and he finishes the sculpture. There’s some mild flirtation between the two, and then she leaves. Cordier is left alone, but then suddenly, he hears the voice of the specter once again. The two have a conversation about good and evil. The spirit implies that Cordier drove his wife to commit suicide, and that he basically is a murderer. The spirit tells him that he wants his soul, and he knows that Odette is truly evil. Cordier wont believe it, and as he cries out, the spirit leaves the room. Cordier contemplates the reason for this spirit’s existence, but as he does, the spirit shows up, and tortures him some more. The spirit tells him that Odette is evil, and that he’ll force him to punish her if he’ll keep denying the fact.

 

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After a day or so, we see that indeed Cordier is courting Odette, and that has plans for her, or the spirit does. Cordier gives her a brooch and tells her that it belonged to his wife. We then cut to a scene where Odette’s husband, Paul, is telling his woes to another woman, Jean D’Arville (Elaine Devry). He tells the woman that Odette has moved out and into her own apartment. They both surmise that she is stepping out with Cordier because he has money, and power. Paul decides he’s going to go to Cordier’s home, and confront him about the matter. As the two meet, Paul is enraged that Cordier wont stop pursuing his wife, but Cordier doesn’t care. Paul then threatens to make the affair public, and storms out. The spirit tells Cordier that Paul must be killed, but he refuses.

 

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Cordier tells Odette that they’re going to run away, and marry overseas. He thinks he can avoid the spirit’s influence, but the spirit tells him otherwise. Cordier pulls out a gun, and tries to kill the spirit, but to no avail. The spirit then possesses Cordier, and orders him to murder Odette. Paul shows up at the apartment, and gets rough with Odette but she convinces him to leave. Moments later, Cordier shows up and brutally murders Odette. He returns home, and wakes up from the trance, aware of nothing. Paul gets the blame, and the spirit is just getting started!

Will Cordier be able to stop the spirit, or will he also be a victim of its insanity!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is a must-see for any fans of Price, horror, or just classic cinema. Price was excellent in this film, and really commanded every scene. Nancy Kovack was brilliantly evil in this one, and really matched up well with him. Their on-screen chemistry was something special. The other cast members were solid as well, especially the butler, played by Ian Wolfe.

The most remarkable thing about this film (other than Price), was the outstanding sets. Whether it was the home of Cordier (Price), where most of the film seemed to take place, his office, the street, or even the other houses/apartments in the film, the sets were great (Victor A. Gangelin). The costumes, music, and makeup were all spot on, and really delivered.

Definitely look this one up, you wont be disappointed. After all, it is Vincent Price!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Invisible Invaders (1959)

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Title: Invisible Invaders

Distributor: United Artists

Writer: Samuel Newman

Director: Edward L. Cahn

Producer: Robert E. Kent

Starring: John Agar, John Carradine, Jean Byron

Released: May 15th, 1959

MPAA: PG

 

Another Sunday, and another sci-fi flick! This classic from 1959, stars the awesome John Agar, and if that wasn’t enough, we get another titan from the sci-fi/horror industry in John Carradine, as well! Both of these men had extensive careers in the film industry (especially Carradine), and have some fantastic credits on their filmography lists. During this decade, the explosion of “alien” films was crazy, and some are just terrible. Most didn’t have the luxury of having big names like these two, so it made the films seem bad because we know the budget for special effects wasn’t going to wow anybody. Alright, enough about that already, let’s get down to the movie!

 

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The film begins with an experiment gone wrong, and the person that loses his life, is Dr. Karol Noyman (John Carradine – image above). The scene turns to Dr. Penner (Philip Tonge) discusses the accident with officials at the Pentagon. He wants to stop using nuclear tests for science. The Pentagon scoffs at him, and tells him it will continue. Penner leaves, and then gets a visit later that night at home. The dead Dr. Noyman comes for a visit, and tells him that he’s actually an alien invader that has reanimated the corpse of Dr. Noyman, and that the Earth must submit, or there will be a war. He also informs the good doctor that their ships are invisible, so the military will have no chance of stopping them. He even gives him a demonstration of the material that they use for the ships, and it is indeed invisible. Penner tells him that they won’t listen to him, but the alien tells him he’d better find a way or else! Then he exits the house.

 

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Even later that evening, Penner’s daughter, Phyllis (Jean Byron) and her date, Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton) return home. Her father explains what has happened, but they think he’s had a nervous breakdown. He insists it happened, and begs Dr. Lamont to go to Washington D.C. and tell them of the impending doom. Dr. Lamont begrudgingly agrees to tell them, but we soon see newspaper headlines that make him out to be a kook. Dr. Penner is watching the clock, and wondering when the aliens will attack. He then prays to God, begging that this experience was all a dream. Dr. Lamont and Phyllis return, and give him the bad news. Dr. Lamont is kind of wiener about the situation, but soon, he’ll be a believer.

Dr. Lamont suggests that they try to contact the aliens and ask for more time. The all agree to head over to the cemetery and seek out the aliens inhabiting the corpses. Dr. Penner calls out to the aliens, and suddenly, they hear a growling noise. Something pushes its way through the brush, and then makes tracks in the soil. It’s at this time, that Phyllis and Dr. Lamont become believers. The alien then speaks to him, and he tells the alien that he failed and that no one will listen. He begs to get more time to try again, but the aliens refuse, and tell him that they will give one more warning to the people of Earth. The three of them realize they can do nothing to stop this, so they head for home.

 

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The aliens then inhabit the body of a pilot who crashed his plane. He heads to a hockey game (don’t ask), and knocks out the announcers, and gets on the mic, and warns them of their impending doom. The people scatter like a bunch of ants. The alien then leaves the body of the corpse, and opens the door, leaving the room. The announcers wake up and are stunned to see this going on. Over in California, a car accident victim is possessed, and heads over to a large stadium and makes the same ominous warning. Again, people run away, and head for the hills!

 

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Shortly thereafter, the aliens begin their invasion. They destroy bridges and roads, buildings and everything else in their path. They also start to possess every dead person on Earth. More people are killed in the chaos, and police cannot control the mobs that are going berserk. Washington D.C. then breaks into the news coverage, and tells everyone that Dr. Penner has agreed to rejoin the nuke project, and Major Bruce Jay (John Agar), is assigned to bring him in to the underground bunker. While on their way, a man with a shotgun holds them up, and attempts to steal their jeep. There are aliens (zombies) everywhere, and the man wants out. The next thing you know, something is stirring in the bushes nearby, and the man is distracted. Major Jay uses this opportunity to shoot the man in the head, killing him instantly. An alien then sneaks over and possesses the man.

 

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Once they get to the bunker, Dr. Penner, Major Jay, and Dr. Lamont, head over to the lab, and begin to try to formulate a plan. The outside world is being decimated, corpse after corpse is being inhabited, and it looks as if there is no hope for humanity. Can this small group somehow find a way to stop the alien invasion? Watch it and find out!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This is one of those movies that any fan of the genre must see. No excuses, get out and grab or stream it on Netflix. Carradine is creepy as a zombie, and Tonge is quite good as well. Of course, you get an awesome “tough guy” from John Agar, and you can really see why he fits this mold very well. He’s a great action hero for this time period, and really commands the scenes that he appears in during the film. Of course the nuclear angle is something used HEAVILY in this time period, but it doesn’t detract from the cool factor of this flick.

The shots of the destruction are pretty cool, but the ones of the people running around are quite cheesy, and are most likely stock footage of something completely unrelated. Other than that, the film is pretty solid, and is a good representation of the time/genre. The revelation of what the invisible aliens actually look like is pretty cool too, and as I said before, the special effects obviously didn’t consume a good chunk of the budget, but they were good nonetheless. I try to imagine some of these older films in color, but honestly, this one is perfect in black and white. This is a must watch for movie fans of the genre, plain and simple.

 

Click here for the trailer!