Ants in Your Pants and Worse!

There have been killer ant movies before – Them! (1954), The Naked Jungle (1954), and Empire of the Ants (1977) come to mind – but Phase IV, released in 1974, may be the first and only killer ant art film. With its abstract, almost experimental approach to narrative and character development, it’s a much closer cousin to something like…say, Last Year at Marienbad (1961) than Them! While it was marketed as a science fiction film and clearly belongs in that genre, the film was both puzzling and disappointing to a certain sector of that audience that expected a killer ant movie to deliver thrills, chills and a satisfying ending.  Yet, once you accept the fact that Phase IV is not a conventional sci-fi film and will not conform to the genre conventions that you expect, you may find it absolutely chilling and brilliant. 

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Attack of the Molecular Men

The Japanese film poster for THE H-MAN (1958).

The atom bomb and its devastating after effects have served as the basis for some of the science fiction genre’s most popular and successful films and it’s no surprise that many of them hail from Japan where Gojira (1954, U.S. title: Godzilla) became the first in a long line of radioactive monsters bent on stomping Tokyo. Whether intended as metaphorical retribution for the A-bomb destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 or cautionary tales about the dangers of nuclear power, these sci-fi fantasies became Toho’s studios’ most profitable exports during the late fifties and early sixties and eventually spawned subgenres of their own, one of which was the “mutant” series. The masterminds behind Gojira and most of the Toho sci-fi releases were director Ishiro Honda and special effects technician Eiji Tsuburaya and their first effort in the “mutant” series – Bijo to Ekitainingen (1958) – still stands as one of their most unusual and distinctive films.

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Down the Noir Highway

What could make a reputable insurance instigator go bad? A beautiful woman? Lots of loot? A sense of empowerment? For Joe Peters (Charles McGraw), it’s all of these things but it’s definitely a femme fatale named Diane (Joan Dixon) who first ignites the copper’s lust and then his greed. Roadblock (1951) is a cleverly plotted, terse little film noir that has more twists and hairpin turns than a winding mountain road. What makes it stand out from other low-budget noirs produced at RKO is Charles McGraw’s compelling performance as an easily seduced sucker unlike his usual tough guy roles and Joan Dixon’s sultry presence.  Continue reading

Wear the Face of Your Enemy

When the United States officially entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hollywood got busy producing morale-boosting entertainments with a heavy accent on flag-waving patriotism and pro-American propaganda. One of the stranger efforts to emerge from this uncertain time in U.S. history was First Yank in Tokyo (1945), a B-movie espionage thriller directed by Gordon Douglas and set inside a Japanese concentration camp.  Continue reading