This 1965 film from David L Hewitt is my all-time favorite kitschy movie about space travel.
This one has all the little extras that separate a true bad movie classic from the mere pretenders. One of those extras would be incredibly cheap special effects, some of them cadged right from the old Soviet sci-fi flick Planet of Storms, which is a lot of fun for people like me who’ve seen those same bits of footage show up in countless other bad movies. (Especially the spaceship’s “viewscreen” complete with markings for North, South, East and West, which would, of course, be meaningless in space)
Another extra that this film has is the man I consider to be the Patron Saint of Bad Movies, John Carradine himself, as the titular wizard. I don’t recommend trying to see all the movies John Carradine has appeared in unless you plan on making a career out of it and I don’t recommend that either. (Somewhere around his appearance in Vampire Hookers you’ll burn out completely)
Carradine’s “above the title” credit is another source of fun in this flick. In its original release under this title there was an opening screen-shot saying “John Carradine as … The Wizard Of Mars” . When the film was reissued later under the thoroughly misleading title Alien Massacre union rules prevented them from being able to strip away Carradine’s “above the title” credit, so the opening now read “John Carradine as … Alien Massacre!”
A large chunk of the fun-bad appeal of this movie lies in the incredibly forced parallels with L. Frank Baum’s story The Wizard Of Oz. The film gives us a female astronaut as our Dorothy and a big-brained commander of the expedition to Mars who is obviously supposed to be the Scarecrow but your guess is as good as mine as to which one of the other two fellows is the Tin Man and which the Cowardly Lion. I’ve seen flame wars erupt over that issue among people even more eccentric than I am.
There’s also a metallic gold highway as the Yellow Brick Road leading our foursome across a Martian desert to this film’s version of the Emerald City. The city is hilariously represented by what looks like one of those little castles you see at the bottom of an office aquarium, but is somehow even less impressive. Seriously, even Ed Wood must have looked down his nose at this lame excuse for a special effect if he saw the film. There’s lots of low-budget fun before our astronauts get that far, however.
Upon their arrival on the red planet we see a large body of all that water that some people used to believe was on Mars in the past. After their crash landing they have an encounter with some joyously goofy water-creatures who resemble mutant vacuum cleaner hoses with a taste for human flesh. Next they paddle their way through labyrinthine underground caverns exchanging the most laughable dialogue in the storied history of cornball space journey flicks.
One of the silliest but just plain fun bad special effects of the movie follows as our heroes make their way behind an honest-to-God lava-fall, as in falling lava that looks like a waterfall. To do this, and to make their way along the narrow cliff-ledges that lie beyond, they have to pass incredibly close to sheer tons of molten magma which would have burned them to cinders from the proximity, but this film is convinced that the four space-farers would have to actually touch the lava to feel any of its effects. Hilarious!
Our explorers are also obviously not wearing the glass face-plates on their space-suits in some shots, another typical gaffe in films like this where the filmmakers can’t afford to take adequate steps to prevent their shooting lights from reflecting in said glass plates.
This film is one of those rarities in the near perfect way the weirdness factor just keeps building and building throughout even though you’d swear the movie couldn’t possibly out-do the goofiness you’ve already seen. (Unlike the similar film The Angry Red Planet which peters out after the exhilirating encounters with the giant bat-rat-spider-creature and the monstrous amoeba)
Arriving in the Emerald City (snicker) the four astronauts find the lifeless remains of an explorer from outside our solar system who fell victim to a technological booby-trap concealed within the seemingly deserted city.
They also discover that the goofy-looking Martian inhabitants, who I could swear must have been the models for Tim Burton’s alien invaders in Mars Attacks!, are all preserved in upright glass containers which serve as kind of a sci-fi version of Egyptian mummy-cases.
And these Martians are still alive, to no one’s surprise but our astronauts. When their attempt at a Martian version of a Vulcan mind-meld with the crew’s leader fails, the Martians all emit mental projections that look like ghosts of themselves and these emanations all combine to form the collective intelligence which is our “wizard”, John Carradine himself.
John, who was accepting any and every role he could lay his withered old hands on by this point in his career to finance his Shakespeare Company, seems as disoriented as in The Mummy And The Curse Of The Jackals (qv). He babbles on and on in a seven-minute speech the point of which could have been conveyed in two. The Martians’ technology advanced to the point where they could putz around with time itself and accidentally trapped their city and their bodies in time like flies on flypaper.
They need the Earth astronauts to repair the device that caused their plight which will release them from their suspension and finally let them die, since we’re told their minds, which still functioned while their bodies were trapped, are weary and will welcome death.
Our heroes succeed in this task, the Martians are finally at rest and for no reason other than an “Oh, wow” ending, the astronauts are suddenly orbiting Mars in their fully-repaired spaceship, and are told by Mission Control that they were only out of contact for a few moments though days seemed to have passed for them on Mars. No description can convey how much fun this bad movie gem really is, you just have to watch it to fully appreciate its charm.
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