October 21st, 2013
|11:13 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Angry Red Planet|
If nothing else, Ib Melchior has a good name for a sci-fi writer, although I'm tempted (as a Lovecraftian) to throw a couple of apostrophes in there.
Ib Melchior was born in Denmark (which probably explains his name (I dunno, are those common Danish names?)) in 1917, and he's still alive, which makes him fairly friggin' ancient. Wikipedia says he's a bona-fide World War II hero, and wrote quite a few novels that I've never heard of. He also wrote the short story on which Death Race 2000 was based, and the screenplays for Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Journey to the Seventh Planet, and the English-language translation of the already-discussed Planet of the Vampires.
Usually when I mention a filmmaker's resume upfront, it's to point out that he's capable of much better work than whatever I'm reviewing. In this case, though, I'm just surprised at his resume. These are not just classic sci-fi movies, they're THE classic sci-fi movies. And his resume isn't a long one; he didn't do a lot of writing, but everything he wrote was gold. I'm impressed.
The Angry Red Planet is probably the worst Ib Melchior film I've seen, and I'd still recommend it.
The film opens as the first manned flight to Mars returns to earth. The rocket should have returned two months ago, so its crew are presumed dead. In fact, of the five crewmembers, two have survived. The commander, Col. Thomas O'Bannion, is sick, and has a strange, alien growth on his arm. Dr. Iris Ryan fares only slightly better, and tells in flashback the story of their strange journey, which involves carnivorous plants, a giant bat/rat/spider, and a huge amoeba.
Actually, I'm not sure if I can summarize this movie without giving away all the details, and I'm not sure I can make it sound good, either. But it is, at least, as far as pop sci-fi from 1960 goes. It's a not a good science movie, but it's a suspenseful space adventure movie. And it sort-of-kind-of classifies as a horror story because it's full of monsters who are trying to eat the crew.
The monsters are really the point, I guess. Angry Red Planet is really a special effects movie, which is its greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness. Once our heroes leave the ship, the picture takes on a reddish tint which probably helps to obscure the cheapness of the special effects. It takes some getting used to. The monsters, however, are amazing, given they they're all done with practical effects. Melchior & Co. put together one of the most convincing alien landscapes I've seen, pre-CGI.
And that's a good thing, because the story is nothing special: earthmen (and woman) land on Mars, clash with the local flora and fauna, and very narrowly escape back to earth. The final moments of the film concern the mission's tape recordings, which contain an anti-nuclear message from the intelligent Martians who we never actually encountered. Still, it's pretty visually impressive once you get past the redness of it all.
It occurs to me that I watch a lot of sci-fi during my horror movie month. A friend once complained that showing sci-fi movies at a horror film festival misses the point. I don't know, though. If you transplanted this story from Mars to Earth, no one would classify it as anything but a horror movie.
Click here for the trailer.