Monday, February 20, 2017

Science fiction, fantasy and horror; all from 1957

Review by Steve D. Stones

It really didn't occur to me that many of my favorite low-budget science-fiction films were released in 1957, until I read Rob Craig's awesome book - It Came From 1957: A Critical Guide to the Year's Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films  (McFarland - 2013 - - 800-253-2187). If you are familiar with Craig's writing, you know he is no fan of big budget, Hollywood produced science-fiction films. He loves the more creative, thought provoking films made on a shoe string budget by smaller studios. Director Roger Corman is an example of this. Craig gives an interesting analysis of Corman's 1957 releases, such as Attack of The Crab Monsters and Not of This Earth.

In 1950s America, the Cold War was a hot topic, the expansion of the Military Industrial Complex was underway, a grandfatherly figure and war hero - Dwight D. Eisenhower - was in the White House fulfilling his conservative agenda, and the space race had also just begun. Science-fiction entertainment of the 50s reflected all of this, as Craig points out in his book. The 1950s, with its robust economy and birth of the "baby boomers," was truly a decade which bred consumerism and a hope to fulfill "The American Dream."

One of Craig's more interesting reviews of a 1957 film is his review of From Hell It Came, a favorite of mine, produced by Jack and Dan Milner. This film breaks from the stereotypical 1950s portrayal of the woman as homemaker and bearer of children. A woman scientist and feminist named Terry, played by beautiful Tina Carver, is pursued by a male scientist, Tod Andrews. Andrews suggests in one scene that she should be like "normal women" by getting married to him, having children and settling down as a house wife. Carver rejects his suggestion, and feels it is a lifestyle she could not be a part of. As she says in a scene from the film "I live by my intellect!"

Like From Hell It Came, Roger Corman's - Attack of The Crab Monsters also focuses on a group of scientists living on a Pacific atoll while conducting research, only this time the scientists are not necessarily trying to impose an Imperialistic agenda on natives. The scientists discover that one of the giant crabs is pregnant. Craig gives a Freudian analysis of the giant crabs, with their raised frontal limbs and large mouth opening, as the opening of a vagina ready for intercourse, particularly in the missionary position. Their teeth devour the penis of any male who dares enter. A strange, yet humorous analysis of the giant crabs.

If you have read much of Craig's writing, you know he is often critical of what he calls the "phallo-centric" and "patriarchy" of male dominance in popular culture. He often relates his subject matter to the patriarchal dominance of men in culture and cinema. He makes this clear even in his book about Texas director Larry Buchanan - A Critical Examination.

Craig even references the male erection in relation to the subjects of the films he discusses, such as the giant architectural monster in Kronos, who sprays his electrical energy as if it is sperm erupting from a penis. Craig sees the giant walking tree in From Hell It Came, known the Tabanga, as a walking penis who enforces his male agenda on its creators.

Don't forget to read Craig's conclusion at the end of his book. It is here that he opens up on his views of the Star Wars and Alien franchises, calling them brain dead serial junk which act as propaganda to encourage a perpetual state of war. It is safe to say that fans of Star Wars would not take too kindly to his analysis, but perhaps many Star Wars fans would also have no desire to see any of the low-budget films Craig so passionately writes about.

Craig's analysis of Star Wars may be more of a frustration of film viewers favoring special effects and swash buckling action over a more thoughtful, intellectual approach of lower budgeted science-fiction films. I see his point, and I agree with him, for the most part. However, there is no denying the impact of Star Wars on science-fiction cinema and popular culture.

For further analysis of Craig's views on big budget, Hollywood produced films, see Andrew J. Rausch's and Charles E. Pratt, Jr's 2015 book - The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood. Craig is interviewed in the book and makes a great case for the importance and entertainment value of Ed Wood films. Like Rudolph Grey, Craig is an expert on all things Ed Wood.

For further reading of Craig's works, see his other excellent books - Ed Wood: Mad Genius - A Critical Study of The Films (2009), Gutter Auteur: The Films of Andy Milligan (2012), and The Films of Larry Buchanan - A Critical Examination (2007). I am anxiously waiting for his latest project about low-budget director Jerry Warren to be released. It couldn't come out soon enough for me. Happy reading.

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