Horror on the Lens: Not of this Earth (dir by Roger Corman)


Today’s horror on the lens is the 1957 Roger Corman-directed, sci-fi “epic,” Not of this Earth.

Paul Johnson (Paul Birch) may seems like a strange character, with his stilted way of speaking and his sunglasses and his overdramatic reaction to any and all loud noises.  Paul could us be an eccentric.  Or, he could be …. NOT OF THIS EARTH!  Actually, his habit of draining people of their blood and sending weird, umbrella-like creatures out to attack his enemies would seem to suggest that the latter is probably true.

Listen, it’s not easy being a blood-sucking alien.  I mean, sure, there’s always seems to be people stupid enough to show up at your mansion so that you can drain their bodies.  Paul is lucky that he doesn’t exactly seem to be surrounded by brain surgeons.  But sometimes, things happen.  For instance, someone might show up from your home planet and demand an immediate transfusion!  What is an alien to do?

Watch this low-budget but undeniably entertaining film to find out!  And be sure to especially keep an eye out for the great Dick Miller, who reportedly improvised his role as a vacuum cleaner salesman.  (Before going into acting, Miller actually did sell vacuum cleaners door-to-door.)

Enjoy!

Film Review: Not Of This Earth (dir by Roger Corman)


Originally released in 1957, Roger Corman’s Not Of This Earth is about a man named Mr. Johnson (played, in a nicely creepy performance, by Paul Birch).

At first glance, Mr. Johnson may look like your typical dark-suited, 1950s businessman but, on closer examination, there’s definitely something off about him.  Why does he always wear those dark sunglasses?  Why is he so sensitive to loud noise?  Why does he move stiffly, as if he’s still getting used to his ody?  And when he speaks, why is his tone always so formal and correct?  Never trust anyone who doesn’t use a contraction or two.  Why is it that Mr. Johnson seems to spend all of his time in his mansion, only venturing outside so that he can visit the local blood banks?

Could it be that Mr. Johnson is …. not of this earth!?

Well, yes, of coursem he’s an alien.  I mean, it says so right in the title of the movie!  It turns out that Mr. Johnson comes from a planet called Davanna.  The inhabitants of Davanna are dying of a mysterious blood disease so he’s been sent to Earth so that he can run tests on human blood.  Needless to say, Mr. Johnson is under constant pressure from his bosses back home.  They expect Johnson to find a cure but there’s only one problem.  Human blood is sometimes hard to come by.

Oh sure.  Johnson can always go to the local doctor (William Roerick) and get a transfusion.  But, unfortunately, Johnson is often forced to deal with his need for blood by murdering anyone who happens to be near the house, whether it be a teenager or a vacuum cleaner salesman.  Like a vampire, Johnson drains them of their blood before retreating to the safety of his mansion.

Paul Birch gives a wonderfully odd performance in the role of Mr. Johnson, playing him in such a way that suggests that Mr. Johnson is still not quite comfortable with his human disguise.  When he starts speaking with his stilted and awkward syntax, he’s like a man who has just learned how to speak another language.  On the one hand, it’s tempting to feel sorry for Mr. Johnson because he’s desperately trying to save his people.  On the other hand, he does end up killing a lot of people.

Beverly Garland and Morgan Jones play Nadine and Harry, a nurse and a policeman who stumble across the truth of Mr. Johnson’s origins.  Beverly Garland was one of those confident, no-one-is-going-to-conquer-my-planet actresses who could elevate any film by her presence alone and, as this film shows, if you’re trying to stop the aliens from stealing all of Earth’s blood, Beverly Garland was someone who you would want on your side.

With the exception of a scene featuring Dick Miller as a slick salesman, director Roger Corman plays the material straight and the end result is a quickly paced and, at times, genuinely creepy little sci-fi/horror hybrid.  Corman makes good use of his low-budget and even the film’s cheap look ultimately works to its advantage.  The stark black-and-white cinematography perfectly captures the harshness of Mr. Johnson’s mission.  This an effective and enjoyable B-movie.

Finally, since this is a Roger Corman production, be sure to look for all of the usual suspects.  As mentioned above, Dick Miller plays a salesman.  (Before becoming an actor, Miller actually did work as a door-to-door salesman and he ad libbed the majority of his dialogue.)  Jonathan Haze appears as one of Mr. Johnson’s servants.  And, of course, the film was written by Corman’s longtime collaborator, Charles B. Griffith.  Three years after making Not Of This Earth, Corman, Haze, Miller, and Griffith would collaborate on the somewhat more light-hearted Little Shop of Horrors.

Netflix Noir #1: Crime Against Joe (dir by Lee Sholem)


Crime_Against_Joe_poster

After watching Inherent Vice last weekend, I decided to get on Netflix and do a search for film noirs.  This led to me watching four film noirs from the 50s, all of which were previously unknown to me.

For my first Netflix Noir, I watched a little something called Crime Against Joe.  It’s a 69 minute film from 1956.  It’s about a guy named Joe.  There’s been a crime.  Oddly enough, the crime really against Joe.  Instead, he’s been wrongly accused of committing a crime against a nightclub singer named Irene.  So, perhaps a better title for this film would have been It Sucks To Be Joe.

But anyway —

Crime Against Joe was directed by Lee Sholem.  According to Wikipedia, Lee Sholem had a 40 year career as a director.  During that time, he directed over 1,300 television episodes and feature films and he finished every single one of them either on time or early.  And you can certainly see evidence of that in Crime Against Joe, a film that starts out in a rush and pretty much never slows down until the final fade out.

Joe (John Bromfeld) was voted “most likely to succeed” in high school but — surprise!  surprise! — he’s failed to live up to the expectations set for him by the 1945 yearbook.  Instead, he enlisted in the army, served in the Korean War, and was diagnosed with “battle fatigue.”  (I assume that battle fatigue was the 1950s version of PTSD.)  He spent a while in a mental hospital and it was there that he first started painting.  When he was released, he moved in with his widowed mother (Frances Morris).  While she works to support him, Joe spends his time drinking and painting.

As the movie begins, a drunken Joe has just destroyed his latest painting.  (“I can see it in my head but it doesn’t come out on canvas!” Joe shouts, which is actually a pretty good way to describe the dark feeling that all artists occasionally get.)  He wanders around town, drunk.  He talks to a waitress named Slacks (Julie London), who is obviously in love with him.  He gets some sage advice from Red (Henry Calvin), a taxi driver.   He stumbles into a nightclub where he harasses a singer (Alika Louis) before finally getting thrown out of the club.  In the parking lot, as he stumbles away, a mysterious cowboy (Rhodes Reason) glares at him.

Joe stumbles about until, around two in the morning, he runs into a young woman wearing a nightgown.  He tries to talk to her but she only stares at him, her placid face frozen in a zombie-like state.  Joe leads her to a nearby house where the woman’s father thanks him for his help and then slams the door in his face.

Later that night, the nightclub singer is found dead on the side of the road.  Found near her body is a high school pin that belonged to someone from the class of 1945.  Knowing that Joe was drunk that night and had been seen in the nightclub, Detective Hollander (Robert Keys) goes to Joe’s house.  Hollander demands to see Joe’s high school pin.  Joe says he doesn’t know where it is.  Hollander stares at Joe’s paintings.  “You always paint half-naked women?” Hollander sneers before arresting Joe for murder.

At the station, Joe says that he was leading the woman back to her house at the same time that the singer was murdered.  The woman’s father shows up at the police station.  No, he says, Joe was nowhere near his house at two in the morning.  Joe is arrested for murder…

Fortunately, Slacks is willing to risk her life to prove that Joe is innocent.  And Joe knows that the murderer had to have been someone who he went to high school with…

Crime Against Joe is one of those low-budget, obscure B-movies that actually a lot more interesting than you might think.  John Bromfeld does a good job as Joe and the character’s PSTD gives the film a bit more depth than you might otherwise expect.  Julie London is great in the role of brave and selfless Slacks (though it’s interesting that this film felt the need to give a masculine nickname to a strong female character) and Rhodes Reason is genuinely menacing as the mysterious cowboy.  Crime Against Joe is also full of unexpected and occasionally surreal details.  The most obvious example would be the zombie-like woman who Joe runs into on the night of the murder.  However, my favorite little oddity is the fact that signs reading “Corey for Councilman” keep popping up in the strangest locations.

(It eventually turns out that Joe went to high school with Corey and the scene where Joe confronts his old classmate is a fun little piece of political satire.  That said, there was a part of me that hoped the significance of the sings would just remain an odd and unexplained little detail.)

There’s actually a surprisingly subversive streak running through Crime Against Joe.  We usually tend to think of the 50s as being a time when authority figures (like the police) were viewed with blind trust.  In Crime Against Joe, however, nobody in power is portrayed positively.  The police, for instance, come across like a bunch of close-minded bullies who are prepared to convict Joe based solely on his paintings and his less-than-sterling war record.  The scenes where Hollander interrogates Joe are full of menace.  In the end, this film is on the side of those living on the margins of respectable society.  When Joe and Slacks try to prove Joe’s innocence, they’re also attempting to prove their own right to exist in a society that has rejected both of them.

Crime Against Joe may not be a well-known film but there’s a lot more going on under its surface than you might originally think.  It’s on Netflix so check it out when you’ve got 70 minutes to spare.

Horror on TV: Twilight Zone 2.28 “Will The Real Martin Please Stand Up?”


 

TheTwilightZoneLogo

Tonight’s episode of The Twilight Zone examines what happens when a freak snow storm breaks out, a bus makes a stop at a late night diner, and reports come in of a UFO landing somewhere in the area. The fun starts once the bus driver realizes that he has an extra passenger. Who is the alien? Or, any other words: Will the real Martian please stand up? This episode is a classic example of how a group of strangers trapped in one location can be used to generate a lot of suspense. It has a great ending as well!

This episode was originally broadcast on May 26th, 1961. It was written by Rod Serling and directed by Montgomery Pittman.