19 May 2011



965/Director: / Antonio Margheriti/Writers: Renato Moretti, Ivan Reiner

Cast: Tony Russel, Lisa Gastoni, Massimo Serato, Carlo Giustini, Franco Nero   

I will be honest and say that of all the countries whose films I watch regularly the one I struggle with the most and still have the most ambiguity about is Italy. Yet I also watch Italian films the most of all European cinema. Certainly more than French or Scandinavian films. While there have been some masterpieces like Vittorio de Sica's The Bicycle Thief and Shoeshine and Fellini's La Strada most of the stuff coming out of Italy leaves me a little confused and disoriented. For example some people find it amazing that I as a horror fan cannot really stand almost all of Dario Argento's output. The are incoherent stories and all the ranting about his prowess with camera work and lighting is exaggerated. Then again Mario Bava ranks as one of my all time favorite directors and I have a folder on my hard drive full of Italian horror and giallo films just waiting for me. Now one area that I know basically zip about is Italian science fiction and in particular the genre films of the 1960's. Other than Bava's excellent Planet of the Vampires I know virtually nothing of Italian cinema's visions of the future, until watching Wild Wild Planet, or I Crimialli della Gallassia (maybe Galaxy of Criminals). It was directed by Antonio Margheriti (who usually directed as Anthony Dawson and did films like Cannibal Apocalypse and Andy Warhol's Frankenstein) and co-scripted by the man who brought The Green Slime to life Ivan Reiner. Spaghetti western star Franco Nero has a role as Commander Halstead's second in command.

What compels me to not throw in he towel on Italian science fiction and horror cinema is not that I expect to get a comprehensible plot or witness deep character development, but rather I watch them for the visuals, interesting music, corny dubbings and the fun time I know I will have. This movie delivers the fun and schlock and has some finely designed sets and nice visuals. While the miniatures cannot be compared to the ones that Eiji Tsuburaya designed (then destroyed) at Toho they are actually nice looking. The sets are lit in that way that a lot of horror and sci-fi out of Europe was lit in the 60's, with blue or red lights enhancing a room or even exterior shot with warm color even though there is no reason for that light to happen. It was solely for effect. There is a lot of fun online concerning some of the miniatures in this film and look that cannot be denied. In one scene a helicopter (they decided not to use the hover cars they normally use) spins around and around in a circle is obviously a prop on a string a stage hand is twirling. But at the same time it is great. It is surrealistic and Dadaesque since the actors in this film play it so serious and straight that the contrast is lighthearted and comical but in a way I recommend. Either you like the props in a film like this or you compare them to everything that came after 2001: A Space Odyssey and scoff at how ignorant and pathetic filmmakers used to be. I hear people scoff now at film effects show some imperfections and flaws so how can these same cynics ever accept a space ship on a string with a blow torch for exhaust. And speaking of blow torches, that is exactly what seems to be used for ray guns here. Rather than having lasers or even armor piercing bullets these space men use guns that shoot a flame that seems to have a range of two or three feet. I could never gather that it could damage anything that did not walk right up to the barrel. I will have to check this out closer in a new watching, as this is certainly a film I will see again eventually.

The future as seen by filmmakers of the 60's did not seem like a bad place. Life was made simple and easy by the most sophisticated and lavish of appliances. There was no pollution or traffic congestion. Food was plentiful and quick and easy to prepare. And women all wore Go Go Boots and people liked to party and still did all the campy dances they were doing in the 60's. And in this film there are plenty of sexy, Italian gals in Go Go Boots. In films the only nationality of women that appeared uniformly more sexy and groovy than hip Japanese girls were in Italian girls, and usually they had bigger boobs and bigger hair to match. There are plenty of judo flipping, sexy Italian girls in this romp.

Now the story (what I can make of it) focuses on testosterone driven Commander Mike Halstead's (Tony Russel) suspicions with the organ harvesting operations being conducted by The Company. The man in charge of the operation is Dr. Nurmi (Massimo Serato) who is the stereotypical evil scientist of the period with dreams and visions of how to better mankind (and increase the power The Company), even if he must destroy most of mankind in the process of realizing those dreams. The conflict between Halstead and Nurmi is the classic formula of two fisted but dull witted hero with a credo vs. the supremely intelligent but blinded by greed, power and twisted vision villain. Ultimately in this films the bad guy comes off much more entertaining than the good guy. Nurmi does not help to bridge the conflict that he and Halstead develop on their first meeting when he blatantly starts making the moves on Halstead's girlfriend the luscious Connie Gomez (Lisa Gastoni). When Connie is not beating guys up on the judo mat she is binge drinking and having a good time making hot headed Halstead jealous by reciprocating to Nurmi's creepy advances.

Halstead is put in charge of an investigation into the disappearances of thousands of people on Earth and various space colonies. The reason for the disappearances, abductions we find out, is for the organ harvesting operation ran by The Company. People are captured by a Go Go Boot girl and a eerie looking clone with four arms nd are reduced in size and put into a little suitcase. One guy's abduction, a leader of the military or something, is interrupted and he is turned a dwarf. The scenes involving the baldheaded, sun glasses wearing clone are pretty good. The plot gets a little confusing sometimes but the hammy, dead serious acting and visuals keep you hooked. We are treated to a performance art presentation of the future that looks strangely like the performance art presentations of the 60's. There is even a car chase in futuristic, bubble domed cars that travel at about fifteen miles per hour.

The action winds up on the planet Delphus where the harvesting operation is carried out unobserved. As in all movies of the time the balance of the situation leans not in the direction not of the man with the biggest brains but in the direction of the guy who can win an old school fist fight. And in a fist fight between Nurmi and hot blooded Halstead who do you think will get the ass whooping? There are certainly problems with this film and if you cannot handle absurdity and unbelievable dialog and people in the future doing the twist and watuse then maybe pass up on this one. But if you like nicely lit studio sets, hammy acting and comic book dialog, women in Go Go Boots and hip 60's hair styles, true he-man heroes and soulless sinister mad scientists then I think you will enjoy this one.



Junk Monkey said...

I have quite a soft spot for this film. Good cheesy fun with some really nice design elements in it. It is the best by far of the four Gamma 4 films all of which seem to have been shot in pretty close succession. The later ones reuse chunks of footage from the earlier ones - you'll get so fed up of them opening that spaceship's door and then propping it up to stop it slamming on their heads.

Good to see you back.

Bill D. Courtney said...

Yea, I am back in the saddle and like the new site. Sort of moving old posts over but there will be some new material coming soon as well. I agree with your take on the props and sets. While cheesy they were lots of fun and actually nice to look at most of the time. I can see influences in the sets and lighting in old shows like the original Star Trek and Lost in Space.

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