Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mirror, Mirror: Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun(1969)

Anyone that knows me will tell you that the decade of the 1960's is my absolute favorite decade for movies, and all genres of them, none more so than science fiction. During the 60's there have been some absolutely marvelous sci-fi films made: Planet Of The Apes(1968), 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968), The Day The Earth Caught Fire(1961) and Fahrenheit 451(1966) are just a handful that immediately come to mind. One such sci-fi film that perhaps doesn't get as much recognition is Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun, directed by Robert Parrish, produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the film derived from a story written by Gerry/Sylvia Anderson. This English film premiered in the UK under the title "Doppelganger" in October, 1969 and a month later in the United States by its American, and more recognized title "Journey To The Far Of The Sun".

The film's story: about one hundred years in the future the discovery of another planet in a perfectly reciprocal orbit around the sun relative to Earth, by an unmanned space probe, prompts a consortium called Eurosec to fund the construction of a rocket that will send two men to this mysterious new planet. The two men selected to make the journey, American astronaut Glenn Ross(played by Roy Thinnes) and English astrophysicist John Kane(played by Ian Hendry), undergo an accelerated and vigorous training regimen to ready themselves for the journey to the newly discovered planet. Their training complete the pair blast off into space aboard an enormous rocket. Once in space they spend three weeks in a kind of stasis, then awaken and, after entering orbit around the new planet, decide to touch down on the new planets surface. And touch down they do, though their landing is rough and their craft is destroyed as a result. The astro-physicist gravely injured, Ross and his injured comrade are soon picked up by a search and retrieval team. Later astronaut Glenn Ross is reunited with his boss, Eurosec director Jason Webb(played by Patrick Wymark) and his wife Sharon(played by Lynn Loring). Ross is accused of aborting the mission and returning to Earth by those he works for, and his wife, which makes Ross question his sanity. The astronaut knows he didn't turn back...and that he is on the new planet, which seems like Earth and could very well be Earth... But how can this new planet be so much like Earth? Well, it isn't...there's one major difference. (no other spoilers)

Thumbs up:

1. the actors, all of which turned in solid performances, especially the outspoken, vain and demanding "Jason Webb". Patrick Wymark's portrayal of the gruff but likable Eurosec chief is solid.
2. the special effects: this film lacks the grandeur and absolutely meticulously detailed effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey. That said the special effects, particularly the miniatures and pyrotechnics in this movie, are very good.
3. the score: at times dominated by strings the soundtrack for this film is at times very melancholy and beautiful, none more so than during the sequence where the astronauts continue to sleep in stasis, their rocket quietly moving ahead in space towards the new planet.
4. the sets used all effectively project a "futuristic" feel, appropriate to a film set about one hundred years in the future. I especially liked the designs of the offices and the vehicles used to transport the characters around: very cool!

Thumbs down:

1. the ending: abrupt and IMO somewhat enigmatic.
2. the brief outburst of violence(a hard slap) by Glenn Ross towards his wife. This scene seemed rather out of place in the film.
3. some of the outer space shots were a little shaky, effects wise

Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun(1969) is, I think, one of the more underrated sci-fi films of the 1960's. This movie won't blow you away, even if you're a sci-fi fan like me. It will, I think, grow a little more on you with the passage of time, and watching it once a year as I do.

This film is available on Region 1 DVD, and was actually recently re-released by Universal. The movie's aspect ratio is widescreen(1:85.1). My DVD copy is the older release(also in widescreen) with only scene selection and no chapter stops.

Here's the R1 DVD for sale at

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Short horror film spotlight

A member of Monsterland Forums, "crowmagnumman", has made a 20 minute long short horror film that I'd like to spotlight because I believe it's quite good. It's in two parts:

Here's part two:

Saturday, July 12, 2008

In Country: The Legend Of Boggy Creek(1972)

"Bigfoot"(or "Sasquatch") and the "Yeti"(abominable snowman) have been a popular and often used antagonist character in horror films over the decades. A few have done well at the box office but most have, regrettably, not turned a profit. One of my favorites that explores the mystery of this creature is The Legend Of Boggy Creek, which was released theatrically in the U.S. in December, 1972. This film was produced and directed by Texarkana(Arkansas) ad salesman Charles Pierce, who borrowed $160,000 from a local business and, using his own cameras, made a movie which utilized local citizenry from both Texarkana and Fouke, Arkansas. The return on Mr. Pierce's investment was, needless to say, stupendous: the movie raked in a total of over $20 million dollars.

The movie itself takes on a serio-documentary approach in chronicling the "Fouke monster", a hairy, bipedal man-monster which prowls the Sulphur River bottoms of Fouke, a town in the extreme southern part of Arkansas and close to the Arkansas-Louisiana border. Many of the cast in this movie play themselves as details of the monster's handiwork are recounted, via fictional reenactments.

Many things, IMO, work well to make this movie creepy and suspenseful: first, the face of the monster is never revealed and the creature is rendered throughout the movie as a faceless, growling, mysterious antagonist forever lurking in the woodland shadows. Secondly, Charles Pierce does a good job at capturing the indigenous sounds of the swampy wetland bottoms surrounding Fouke: crickets, bullfrogs and the occasional growl of an alligator all figure prominently throughout the movie and are used to great effect at the beginning credits and then later during various scenes preceding the monster's contact with the understandably traumatized local citizenry. Thirdly, the creatures roar is truly scary to listen to, part swine, part canine and part something else altogether. Though the viewer of this film never sees the monster's face it's apparent, from everything else visible, that it would be the last thing on Earth invited over for brunch after the AM Sunday church service.

The characters in this film belie the town of Fouke: blue collar, hard working, many possessing drawls and a variety of firearms, and who pass the time hunting and/or fishing, none more so perhaps than Herb Jones, a fellow who has sequestered himself deep within the rugged woodlands of the Sulphur River, for over twenty years, and whose only contact with the outside world was the youthful Travis Crabtree, who brought the old and grizzled Jones some supplies once a month. Mr. Jones, a weathered and semi-toothless old geezer who was included in the cast of this movie, presumably for his extensive knowledge of the woods around Fouke, attempts a brief commentary of his own regarding the existence of the monster. His speech slurred perhaps because of the absence of teeth, Jones uses terms like "he brung me tobaccer" and "it'ern't nuttin", which is, thankfully, not indicative of the way the remainder of this movie's cast enunciates syllables and consonants.

The climax of the film is one last encounter between a group of predictably terrified Fouke locals and the monster, albeit intensified and including a brief barrage of gunfire as two locals open up on the mysterious monster with shotguns. (no other spoilers)

This movie does not, IMO, make much attempt to provide an explanation of what the "Fouke monster" is, nor should it. It is, after all, a horror movie, only loosely based on what is purported to be a mysterious creature that appears in Fouke every so often. The film will, I think, if you watch it, make you a little more hesitant to peep out the cabin window at night on your next camping trip. Believe it.

The Legend Of Boggy Creek(1972) was released to R1 DVD in 2002 by Sterling Entertainment. The film's sequel, called Return To Boggy Creek(1977), was released to R1 DVD in 2005 by Elite Entertainment. A third installment, called Boggy Creek II: The Legend Continues(1985), has also been released to DVD. Neither the second nor third "Boggy Creek" film is made in "docu" style and are both straight ahead horror films.

This film has been uploaded to YouTube(in ten parts). Here's the first ten minutes of the movie:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

London Calling: Gorgo(1960)

Older fans of giant monster movies are no doubt familiar with the various films starring these giant creatures, and without familiar Japanese "kaiju" like Godzilla and Gamera. Movies like 1967's The X From Outer Space and Gappa(aka "Monster From A Prehistoric Planet"), Mothra(1961) and Varan The Unbelievable(1958) immediately come to mind. One such giant movie that may not be as familiar to young(er) fans of the genre is Gorgo(1960), a movie produced by Frank and Maurice King and directed by Eugene Lourie. Like other films of the genre the monsters in this feature are rendered through the use of suit actors.
The film's story is fairly straightforward: a salvage vessel and her crew manage to capture a sixty foot tall marine reptilian like creature off the coast of Ireland. The creature is brought back to London and put on display at a local circus for profit. Unbeknownst to all but a pair of scientists, the captive marine monster is not fully grown and is actually an infant. Subsequently, the creature's parent, a 250 foot tall leviathan, appears at the island where it's "baby" was captured, then makes its way to London, where it proceeds to demolish the famous city in search of it's offspring.
Many of the special effects in this film are dated and would not impress by the standards, and technology today regarding visuals. Still, and like many other movies in this genre, Gorgo possesses a certain charm. The opening score for the movie is very majestic. The roars of the monsters are also unique and sound quite reasonable given the nature, and marine environment in which these creatures apparently lived.
To add some credibility to this film, established actors William Sylvester and Bill Travers were signed on, portraying "Sam Slade" ad "Joe Ryan", respectively.
The first region 1 DVD of this movie, released by VCI Entertainment, presented the film in a 1:66.1 aspect ratio, prompting some complaints of image compression(especially the opening credits). A newer edition R1 DVD was released by VCI that "corrects"(so to speak) the aspect ratio to 1:78.1 and includes improved audio and a few more DVD extras. The movie can be purchased at a very affordable price either directly from VCI's website or from internet vendors like DeepDiscount or Amazon.
The movie debuted theatrically in Japan in December of 1960 and would later arrive in American and British theaters in 1961.
The trailer for Gorgo(1960):