Friday, September 14, 2012


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: (1) *poor* (2) *good*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological, psychological*

Though these two SF-films are separated by about seven years, they belong to the same subgenre that deals with "future-astronauts-vs.-aliens."   They also make an interesting contrast in that even though ANGRY RED PLANET had a budget about four times that of QUEEN OF BLOOD, the 1966 work is unquestionably the better film.  Granted, the later thriller did piggyback on a couple of more expensive Soviet productions, by excerpting scenes therefrom after the producers of AIP bought the rights to those films.  But any of BLOOD's American-lensed scenes are easily the superior of the entire mise-en-scene of ANGRY.

ANGRY, written by director Ib Melchior and producer Sid Pink, duplicates the broad contours of the "cosmological" motif of science fiction-- its focus on strange forms of life born in alien environments-- but fails to yeild anything more than a soulless duplication.  The most that I can say for it is that it does at least have a fairly coherent plot, in contrast to my least favorite SF-film of the period, SPACE PROBE TAURUS.

The story begins *in media res,* as the officials of Earth welcome the return of the first manned spaceflight to Mars.  To the onlookers' dismay, only two survivors from a four-person crew have returned: the expedition's leader Colonel O'Bannion, unconscious due to an alien growth infecting his arm, and the mission's female doctor Iris Ryan, traumatized and unable to remember what occured on Mars.  However, after a brief period of treatment, Ryan's memory returns and relates the bulk of the film's narrative in retrospect.

In short, once the astronauts have successfully landed on Mars, their scientific investigations are continually hampered by hostile Martian life-forms-- a carnivorous plant for one, a monstrous hybrid (dubbed by fans the "rat-bat-spider", see illo above) for another.  After one of their number is killed, the astronauts determine that they should leave Mars early-- no considerations of the difficulties of lining up the trajectory of their ship for the return trip mentioned, of course.  A force field, created by intelligent Martian locals, stops them from leaving, and a giant amoeba attacks the ship.  The amoeba kills another male astronaut and infects O'Bannion.  Ryan, showing commendable resource in some (though not all) scenes, manages to pilot the ship back to Earth despite losing her memory thereafter.  The film returns to present-time, at which point Ryan gets a brainstorm and figures out in jig time how to purge the alien life-form from her commander's arm with absolutely no ill effects afterward.  A coda informs the Earthlings that the intelligent inhabitants of Mars have observed the culture of their neighbors and have "angrily" closed off their borders to any future incursions.

The real star of ANGRY is not any of the actors-- all reputable jobbing actors, but given a subpar script with which to work-- but is rather the "CineMagic" process used by the production to depict the "angry red planet" in tones of bilious red.  Against such backgrounds, the hand-drawn animations of creatures like the giant spider-thing would seem to meld with the surrounding environment.  I find it hard to credence that this intrustive effect could have inspired any "sense of wonder" in audiences of the period, but if it did, that might be more to the credit of the audience-members than to that of the filmmakers.

With the central character of Ryan, the film takes two steps back for every step forward. Like a number of other 1950s leading-ladies in SF-films, Ryan is an esteemed professional, and comes off fairly well in the science-scenes, even if her quick-cure of O'Bannion at the conclusion strains one's credulity.  On the other hand, the shipboard romance of Ryan and O'Bannion proves painful to the ears, and neither actor is able to make anything of the tedious dialogue.  The sociological critique of mankind, seen to such good effect in 1951's THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, is here tossed off with no real conviction and fails to give the Martians any sociological mythicity.

In the futuristic year of "1990," Earth has its first encounter with an alien race. Earth's authorities (one of whom is the esteemed Doctor Farraday, played by Basil Rathbone) receive a radio transmission from an alien vessel that has crash-landed on Mars.  The authorities, eager to make contract with an advanced race-- possibly to profit from their technology, though the point isn't emphasized-- send a crew of astronauts to land on Mars and effect a rescue.  The crew (including such lumianries as John Saxon and Dennis Hopper) reaches Mars and finds one survivor on the alien ship: the QUEEN OF BLOOD (Florence Marly), a green-skinned, beehive-hairdoed female.  The Earthlings aren't able to communicate with the Queen, but are apparently disarmed by her feminine helplessness.  Despite her being an unknown quantity, she's allowed to have the run of the ship (much to the catty displeasure of female astronaut Judi Meredith).  Slowly crewmen start to perish of extreme blood-loss.

One may fairly criticize the convenient way the alien vampire is allowed to prey upon the crew without rousing suspicion, though the script gives the writers a possible "out" in that the Queen possesses hypnotic powers that might have dulled the reactions of the Earthpeople.  Eventually the Queen is vanquished, though, like a more famous ALIEN life-form, she leaves behind a clutch of eggs that may eventually spell Earth's doom.

Whereas director Melchior in ANGRY RED PLANET simply shot the actors speaking lines with a lot of boring middle-range shots, QUEEN's director Curtis Harrington uses copious closeups of his actors.  Perhaps this was done to conceal the bare-bones nature of the production, but the effect is to give the largely shipboard proceedings a claustrophobic quality.  The Queen herself is an excellent example of evoking the cosmological motif, for even though she never speaks, her habits and actions are comprehensible through the lens of an extraterrestrial biology.  At the same time, alien though she is, she also evokes the psychological and sociological motifs of the Eternal Feminine in its negative form; of being willing to destroy any number of male victims in order to pave the way for her "children."

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