Posts Tagged ‘‘Robot Monster’’

A Seasonal Bad Film: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

December 24, 2022

This for fans of films that are so bad that a kind of fascination and enjoyment creeps into them, like the kind of movies shown and lampooned in the American series Mystery Science Theatre 3000. The audience for this kind of film – so bad that they were, in their way, great – was growing when I was a schoolboy. I think it started as a mass movement with the publication of the Medved Brother’s book The Golden Turkey Awards, in which they reviewed a series of truly awful movies. This was followed up in the UK with interviews in Starburst magazine, where they talked about their fascination with truly dreadful SF B movies, such as the dire works of Ed Wood and other masters of the horrendously bad. These films included Robot Monster, which was made on the lavish budget of $30 a day. The robot monster of the title was a man in gorilla suit wearing a diving helmet. To make it suitably futuristic, they stuck a pair of TV aerials on it. The guy playing the monster got the job because he owned the gorilla suit. And then in 1983 Channel 4 gave us The Worst of Hollywood. Introduced by Michael Medved, this brought to the British viewing public such masterpieces as Plan 9 from Outer Space, another of Wood’s grandiose, cheap epics, They Saved Hitler’s Brain, Eegah!, The Wild Women of Wonga, one of the lesser known Godzilla films and a raunchy space epic in which sex-starved aliens land on Earth in a spaceship shaped like a giant breast. The season ended on Christmas Eve with the 1964 film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. This was intended as a seasonal children’s favourite and the story seems to involve Martian adults trying to take over the world by producing a counterfeit Santa. But the real Santa manages to unite both Terran and Martian children against the adults and the invasion plan is thwarted. I can’t say I watched much of it when it was on. I’d come back from a party at a school friend’s and so caught just the ending. This was of Santa and the children singing ‘Hooray for Santy Claus’, and is pretty much as dire as it sounds. Medved added in his afterword to the film that its composer then went on to do the music for the Gong Show. So in memory of that glorious Christmas Eve 39 years ago, I’ve decided to inflict the trailer for this classic of terrible cinema and its theme song, both of which are on YouTube.

Here’s the trailer from Rotten Tomatoes Classic Trailers channel.

And here’s ‘Hooray for Santy Claus’ from PoppiCiullo’s channel.

Of the directors of terrible movies, Wood has particularly become a cult figure. Before release of The Room, and the career of German-born director Uwe Boll, he was generally considered Hollywood’s worst director and Plan 9 from Outer Space the worst film of all time. This flick is about evil UFO aliens invading Earth and resurrecting zombies from Earth’s graveyards. It’s extremely low budget and is known for its spectacularly cheap special effects and duff dialogue. The UFOs were paper plates doused in petrol and thrown into the air. One scene, set in the cabin of an aircraft, is very obviously shot in someone’s front room with the house door standing in for the cabin’s. The leaders of the zombies was played by Bela Lugosi, but this master of horror died half-way through filming. His place was taken by Wood’s wife’s homeopathic healer, who was something like a foot taller than Lugosi. It began with a weird, rambling introduction by Creswell, one of the celebrity astrologers of the period, who dispensed this pearl of wisdom: ‘We are all interested in the future because we will spend the rest of our lives there.’ Well, quite. You can’t argue with that. And it also boasted such immortal lines as ‘Dead! Murdered! And someone’s to blame.’ ‘Gee, I guess that’s why you’re a sergeant and I’m only a patrolman.’

In addition to Plan 9, Wood is also celebrated, or notorious, for the movie Glenn/Glenda or I Changed My Sex. Wood was a transvestite as well as decorated war hero. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his heroism in taking an enemy machine gun nest during World War II. He did so while wearing women’s satin underwear. He also liked to dress as cowboy, and would go out to restaurants either in drag or dress in a sequined cowboy costume, giving out photos of himself to the waitresses. Glenn/Glenda was intended as a sensitive portrayal of the plight of male crossdressers in contemporary America. In the hands of any other director, this would have been possible. But Wood’s direction was clunky and the dialogue predictably bad. It also has a bizarre dream sequence in which chairs and other furniture move about on their own. Bela Lugosi is also in it as God, speaking lines like ‘Dance to this. Dance to that. But beware the little green dragon sleeping on your doorstep’.

I first became aware of this piece of Wood’s oeuvre from a programme earlier in the 70s on daytime TV presented by Dennis Norden, which looked back on some of the lesser known and cheesier films of the past. It’s also a favourite of rock meister Alice Cooper. Cooper was interviewed by Muriel Grey on The Tube, the Channel 4 pop programme also in the 1980s. She asked Cooper what his favourite film was. He replied that it was Glenn/Glenda. She naturally asked him why. He replied that when he first saw it, it completely bemused him and he wondered what on Earth he was watching. This brought forth her classic reply, ‘You’re a strange boy, Alice’. Well, yes, and at one point he was outraged parents and responsible adults all over America for his antics on stage.

Wood has become such a cult figure that in the 1990s there was a biopic about him with the slogan ‘Films were his passion. Women were his inspiration. Cashmere sweaters were his weakness’. I’ve never seen it, but it does fascinate me. Just like his, and those of the other terrible directors continue to find new audiences despite, or because, of their lack of talent.

Radio 4 Tackles Bad Culture

May 20, 2020

Ho ho! According to next week’s Radio Times for 23rd – 29th May 2020, next Saturday’s The Archive will be on the subject of Bad Culture. This is the type of music, art, literature, film, TV or whatever which is so bad that it’s entertaining. The blurb about it in the Radio Times reads

Steve Punt is joined by Grace Dent, Robin Ince and Laura Snapes to analyse why seemingly bad culture can be so enjoyable, looking at the films of Michael Winner, the songs of Astley and the poetry of Danielle Steele.

The programme’s Archive on 4: So Bad It’s Good?, and it’s on Radio 4, Saturday 23rd May, at 8.00 pm.

Robin Ince, who presents The Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio 4 with Brian Cox, wrote a book a few years ago, The Bad Book Club. This was about some of his favourite terrible books, one of which was the autobiography of John Major’s half-brother, Terry Major-Ball. But people have been particularly bad films for a very long time. I think that goes back to the ’70s at least, when Michael Medved, before he morphed into a right-wing pundit, published The Golden Turkey Awards about some of the worst movies ever made. Then in the early ’80s he presented Channel 4’s The Worst of Hollywood, which screened some of the classics of Bad cinema. These included Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster, The Wild Women of Wonga and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

Ed Wood was the stunningly bad director who also gave the world Glen/Glenda or I Changed My Sex, and Robot Monster. The costume for the latter creature was a gorilla suit with a diving helmet stuck on top. The guy who played it did so because he owned the gorilla suit. I think it’s also in Robot Monster that there’s a 2 minute segment of dinosaurs going on the rampage for no reason at all. It’s because Wood’s studio was right next to that of stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen was responsible for a string of SF/monster movies, including Earth Versus the Flying Saucers, as well as the sequence in the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad where the Arab sailor fights an army of skeletons. Wood used to go round to Harryhausen and use any material that the other director had no use for after editing. That day Harryhausen had cut 200 feet of film out of a film about dinosaurs, and gave it to Wood when he asked him if there was anything he could use. Glen/Glenda is about a man struggling to come to terms with his transvestism. It’s a serious subject, which in the hands of a good director would no doubt be highly praised by critics. But this was made by Wood, so it’s abysmal. Like Plan 9 From Outer Space, it has Bela Lugosi in it. He plays God in a dream sequence in which he says ‘Dance to this, dance to that, but beware the little green dragon sleeping on your doorstep.’ This makes no sense at all. The film is, however, one of Alice Cooper’s favourites, or so he told Muriel Grey on Channel 4’s pop programme The Tube a long time ago. When she asked him ‘Why?’, he replied that it was because it made him wonder just what he had just watched because it was so weird. Her reply was classic: ‘You’re a strange boy, Alice’. Yes, and he’s made a whole career out of it. Wood was himself a transvestite with a passion for cashmere sweaters, a fact not lost to the makers of the ’90s film biography of him.

Since The Worst of Hollywood has come Mystery Science Theatre 3000. This is an SF look at Bad Films, in which the crew of an orbiting satellite a thousand watch, and make rude remarks about, terrible movies. The SF author, Jack Womack, responsible for a series of books set in a violent, dystopian future Ambient, Random Acts of Mindless Violence, Heathern and Elvissey, is also an aficionado of weird and Bad books. He supplied a list of some of his favourites in his personal collection, with his comments on them, in an interview he gave in the ’90s to the Science Fiction magazine, SF Eye. They included Bottom’s Up with the Rear Admiral: Memoirs of a ProctologistThe Elvis Image, which is about a journalist crisscrossing the deep south in search of Elvis impersonators, and Behold! The Protong!!! by Stanislaw Szuchalski. Womack described this as ‘America’s greatest eccentric tells you why Communists are descended from the Yeti’. 

A few years an academic did a study of the type of people who deliberately went to see bad movies. He found that they tended to be of above average intelligence, and also watched transgressive cinema. You know, like the films of John Waters and some of the other cinematic horrors Jonathan Ross discussed in the ’80s in his Channel 4 series, The Incredibly Strange Film Show. They like those for the same reasons they enjoy terrible films, because both provide an experience that is outside the mainstream.

This could be a very funny, interesting programme about some truly awful cultural productions. But will it include any clips from Wood’s wretched oeuvre?