MONSTER MADNESS – MUTANTS, SPACE INVADERS AND DRIVE-INS

PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

Did you know that 1950’s Destination: Moon was one of the first proper space-race science fiction films? Did you know that Invasion of the Body-Snatchers taps into and allegorises America’s McCarthy-era paranoia? Have you heard of Ed Wood, the famous cult bad movie director and that his Plan Nine from Outer Space is widely-regarded as one of the worst films ever made? Did you know that Americans used to watch movies in outdoor drive-in theatres?

Of course you did. You’re a STARBURST reader, this stuff is your bread-and-butter. The latest DVD documentary from Herberger (he’s made a number of similar titles dealing with different eras and areas of genre history) is available to import should you so wish, but don’t expect any startling revelations or extraordinary conclusions here. It’s generally a fairly bog-standard talking heads piece interlaced with clips from films we’ve all seen time and again (many of them absolute classics that never wear out their welcome, of course, as well as intriguing oddities like 1959’s The Hideous Sun Demon). But what makes the piece worth consideration (apart from some cheesy, grainy footage from early 1950s US sci-fi TV hit Space Patrol) are some of the archive interviews with the likes of Samuel Z. Arkoff, Robert (The Day The Earth Stood Still) Wise, Anne (Forbidden Planet) Francis, and Famous Monsters legend Forrest J. Ackerman, as well as the cast of obscure B-movies such as The Man From Planet X. Many of these folk have long since gone to meet their maker, so Monster Madness offers the opportunity to see and hear their recollections of their moments in the sun, even if the film doesn’t contextualise or explain the provenance of most of the footage – although it doesn’t take a genius to realise much of it was filmed at small and long-forgotten gatherings of science fiction fans. It’s a random and undisciplined wander through a very specific genre of filmmaking – pulp monster movies, alien invasion flicks – but there’s some lovely stuff here from classics such as The Thing From Another World (the original and best), Fiend Without A Face (flying brains!) and the genuinely influential Forbidden Planet (Star Trek in all but name) and some interesting historical narrative about the rise and fall of the drive-in cinema phenomenon.

Monster Madness doesn’t come to any conclusions about its subject matter as much as it just comes to a crashing and sudden end. But really, it’s just a warm celebration of a much-loved era in genre filmmaking and it allows us to put faces to names we’ve seen on the credits of umpteen creaky black-and-white movies, many of which form the sturdy backbone of the genre which brings us all together. Monster Madness won’t change your life or provide any deep new appreciation of its subject matter, but it’s an inoffensive and lovingly-collected amble around very familiar territory. That’s never a bad thing.

MONSTER MADNESS – MUTANTS, SPACE INVADERS AND DRIVE-INS / CERT: N/A / DIRECTOR: JEFF HERBERGER / SCREENPLAY: A. SUSAN SVEHLA / STARRING: VARIOUS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

 


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