come on, with a title like that, we've just got to watch this
of you will recall that I mentioned this film way back in The Wizard of Mars. It turns
out that Space Monster had more titles than your average drive-in
movie. Originally titled as Space Probe Taurus, it's also been
known as First Woman Into Space, Flight Beyond the Sun, and most
disturbingly, Voyage Into the Sun. What brain surgeon came up
with the last title mercifully remains unknown. Thing is, this was never
a drive-in movie. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was a made
for TV movie. Well, everybody else seemed to know that, but it took
me by surprise.
helpful narrator kicks things off by informing us that Man has gone
beyond "the planet Mars, and Jupiter... Saturn! And countless others!"
and is in fact setting his sights on the galaxies of Andromeda and "Triangula".
He later informs us that this is "sometime in the year 2000",
which just goes to show you that since 1965 we have been nothing but
a bunch of goddamn lollygaggers.
way of providing something of a backstory, we begin with the fate of
probe ship Faith I, which has had the bad luck to land on a planet
with not only a caustic atmosphere, but radiation "beyond roentgens!"
The sole surviving member of the crew radios Mission Control, relating
the ship's sorry fate and begging them to use the Remote Destruct, as
the ship's controls are completely buggered and his agony is too great.
Mission control complies, blowing Faith I to smithereens.
I only recently watched noted cinematic barf bag The Crawling Hand,
which opens with a remarkably similar moment. In both cases the DESTRUCT
button is situated on a control panel amongst other buttons, with no
safety cover or other nicety, merely a label marked DESTRUCT. This seems
to me to be simply asking for trouble, but hey - I ain't no rocket scientist.
marches on, and soon we are witness to the launch of Hope I,
this time bound to explore the planet Taurus. At least I think it's
Taurus, as everyone insists on pronouncing it "Tyros". Anyway,
General Stillwell (wait... isn't NASA a civilian organization?) is only
too happy to tell the news media about the innovations of Hope I,
the best being that the various chambers aboard the ship are spherical
and will rotate to accommodate the ship's orientation: doors are available
for when the craft is horizontal while in flight, and ladders for when
it lands and is vertical.
thought this was unconscionably cool when I first saw this movie as
a kid. As an adult, when the general mentions that artificial gravity
is involved, I wonder why the orientation of the ship matters at all.
never mind that, let's meet our crew. First, there's Cap'n Hank (James
B. Brown), our square-chinned hero, and the sole military man aboard.
Dr. John Andros (Baynes Barron), who is his own PR man, constantly reminding
us how the book he writes about this mission is going to make him rich.
"Doc" Martin (Russ Bender), the elder scientist aboard (and
who is going to subject us to more lame footwear jokes, just like the
scientist in Reptilicus).
And Dr. Lisa (Francine York), The Chick.
tension is scored right off the bat, as Cap'n Hank feels that "on
a ship carrying only four crew, there is no room for a woman",
and Dr. Lisa feels that a goodly portion of the billion dollars spent
for this mission went for larger helmets to accommodate Hank's "fat
head". "Ha ha! Deadlier than the male!" chimes in Doc
enough of this light-hearted shilly-shally. We've space to explore!
And right on cue... another spaceship! After verifying that there are
no other Earth ships in the vicinity, Hank and Andros don their spacesuits
and jet over to the mysterious vessel. One big cue that this is an alien
ship, besides the fact that it looks like the clubhouse of the Legion
of Super Heroes, is the fact that the airlock, in fact the entire ship,
is wide open to the vacuum of space.
now, a moment to contemplate the spacesuits. One of the reasons to watch
movies of this sort is to see what the suits look like (in my opinion,
anyway). Each space movie, you see, tries to put its own spin on spatial
outerwear. In the case of Space Monster, the suits are predictably
baggy, but the spherical helmets do give a nice field of view. My major
cavil is the backpacks, which seem to be made of three oxygen tanks.
(Actually, in this sequence, we find that the bottom two are a jet pack)
But the top tank is connected to the helmets by what seems to be a longish
piece of unprotected vacuum cleaner hose. It's the most dangerous looking
piece of space hardware I've seen since that episode of The Time
Tunnel in which moon walking astronauts had to carry their breathing
apparatus like a briefcase, again connected to their suit via the high-tech
but I digress (what? Me? Surely not!). Inside the ship, Hank
and Andros find many budget conscious alien
wonders, including the alien itself. It was this creature that caused
me to begin my search for Space Monster back during my viewing
of The Wizard of Mars. Not only is the creature recycled from
that film, but it attempts to communicate with our astronauts by rapidly
sticking its tongue in and out! Hank extends his open hand to the creature
(no, no, you idiot! Stick out your tongue!), with the result
that the alien jumps Andros and attacks that oh-so-vulnerable air hose.
Hanks does what he has to, and uses that fancy gun he's been carrying
around, revealing it to be nothing more than a tricked-up .45 automatic
(which actually kinda makes sense...) (extra credit essay question:
would a conventional handgun work in a vacuum? I've heard it both
With the alien's death, the ship's power core seems to go berserk, forcing
Hank to blow it up before it falls into Earth's gravity well. Then there's
some After Failed First Encounter downtime for our crew, during which
Andros makes a play for Dr. Lisa, and Dr. Lisa and Cap'n Hank attempt
to mend fences. Then, it's time for our Mandatory Meteor Shower (hey!
These are on fire! Cool!) Hank activates the ship's forcefield to get
them through, but somehow this and the impact of the meteors seems to
put a brick on Hope I's accelerator, as it goes wildly offcourse
on full burn; as Dr. Lisa later estimates, at least a million miles.
Now that's a rocketship!
incident has also damaged the ship's computers, so now we're in a pretty
mess, and the best strategy is thought to be to find someplace to set
down for repairs and to allow the power core to "regenerate".
Luckily, the scriptwriter is on our heroes' side, and a planet immediately
presents itself, which, remarkably enough, is three-quarters water (sound
familiar?). Of course, this also makes landing tricky, as they overshoot
the landmass and land in the ocean, which doesn't seem too troublesome
for the plucky spacecraft.
could be troublesome is that Hope I is attracting the
attention of some of the local fauna: giant crabs, to be precise. And
here we see one of the problems with filming the actor scenes first
and the FX later. Dr. Lisa moans, "What a horrible looking creature!
What is it?" "I think it's some species of crab," answers
Dr. Andros. DUH.
evening, Hank and Dr. Lisa finally make amends and agree to be boyfriend
and girlfriend. While working on the computers, Hank and Andros get
into a fight; Andros feels their predicament is Hank's fault, and Hank
feels that Andros is nothing more than an empty glory hound. Doc Martin
steps in (lame footgear joke!) and calms everybody down. Dr. Lisa's
tests prove that the water is drinkable, the air is breathable, and
Andros puts on his scuba gear to go get some samples from the land.
force field is employed to stun the crabs so Andros can safely get away;
unfortunately, they miss the gill man on loan from
War Gods of the Deep, who waylays Andros on his return trip (what
is it about this guy and aliens?). Andros manages to chase it
off with an underwater flare and struggles his way back to the ship,
revealing that the planet is habitable by man before he expires. Everyone
mourns Andros' passing; Lisa for turning him down, Hank for calling
him a glory hound, and Martin for not having a meaty scene with him
like the other two.
the computers get fixed, the core regenerates, and after a last-minute
wrestling match with one of the giant crabs, Hope I blasts off,
and radios to Earth that they have finally found a planet to colonize
- a planet that Hank dubs Andros One. The end.
of the things that most strikes me about Space Monster is, remarkably,
the quality of the writing. This is one of director Leonard Katzman's
few writing credits, and that's a shame, because although each and every
scene carries with it all the clichés of the space movie, the
dialogue is never leaden or dull. In fact, in most movies of this kind,
The Chick would be a unsatisfying role to play, but Lisa proves to be
a remarkably strong character, and even shows herself to be a competent
scientist - unusual for a film of this kind. In particular, the scene
where Lisa reveals her fears about their predicament after splashing
into the ocean is much better handled than similar scenes in any number
for that, a measure of credit must go to the actors, who are a solid
lot. James B. Brown - Hank - is the only one with a one-picture filmography,
and he is quite serviceable as the hero. Bender's Doc is sadly underwritten,
but he gets through it like a pro, and Francine York is by turns attractive,
witty and smart. Baynes Barron's Andros is another stock character in
the space movie: the guy who's only in it for the money (parodied so
brilliantly in Joe Dante's Amazon Women on the Moon), although
in the end Andros proves himself just as dedicated to the mission as
the rest. In spite of a number of annoying things he does, you find
yourself liking the character, which is a testimony to Barron's skills.
And for those of you who have been paying attention, yes, Barron was
also the villainous Chief Maranka in From
Hell It Came.
that I have built the movie up, it is time to do some tearing down.
Although I have lauded the writing, it is also informed
with the sexism of the period, from Hank's Neanderthal beliefs about
wimmins in space, to Andros' discomforting pass (which Lisa handles
quite well), to the not one, not two, but Three unwilling kisses
planted on her by Hank before she melts - Lisa is damn near an ardent
feminist by crap movie standards.
is, of course, more about the movie that doesn't age well. The computers,
apparently built around reel-to-reel tape decks, can be forgiven (at
least they don't use punch cards). There is a constant sonar ping
going on, as if we're on a submarine. Everything on the ship
- the slow-moving automatic doors, the mechanism that aligns the ship's
chambers - sounds like a milk shake machine. While underwater, there
seems to be a alarming amount of air escaping from the spacecraft. And
by the year 2000, we will have figured out how to make instantaneous
radio contact between transmitters light years apart.
who am I fooling? I love these movies. This is the kind of thing
that doesn't seem to get made any more: the space exploration adventure
flick. Perhaps because every movie of this sort will inevitably be compared
to Kubrick's 2001. Perhaps because they spoke to something that
we lost when we somehow decided space was not going to be the
place. Although there seems to be a tinge of desperation in Hope
I's search for a livable planet, we're never given a reason why;
there's not talk of an ecological disaster, overpopulation or rogue
asteroids. It is simply assumed that we will colonize the stars.
Perhaps there'll be a renaissance of the genre once the Mars mission
finally gets underway. I, for one, am looking forward to that.
Monster is treacherously hard to find. For that reason, among
others, I can only recommend it to those, like me, who owned astronaut
helmets when we were kids and were fairly certain we'd be vacationing
on the Moon by the time we were adults. I mean, come on, they even make
a Tom Swift joke; I love this movie.