Saturday, June 11, 2011

Shock By Incredible Shock

During the 1950s, drive-ins were flooded with science fiction programmers about giant insects rampaging cities and eating people. Only one of them came from Great Britain.

THE COSMIC MONSTER, a relative obscurity today that recently made its Turner Classic Movies premiere, was based on a British television serial penned by silent-movie actress Rene Ray, who later adapted it for a novel. Distributors Corporation of America, probably best known for releasing Edward D. Wood Jr.’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, unleashed the feature version, written by Paul Ryder (THE GIRL IN THE PICTURE), stateside on a double bill with THE CRAWLING EYE. Both films starred blustery American actor Forrest Tucker (F TROOP), who also starred in Hammer’s THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN while in England.

Even if every other part clicked, THE COSMIC MONSTER’s dire direction by Gilbert Gunn (WINGS OF MYSTERY) would probably still sink it. Stodgily paced and woodenly performed by actors struggling to find something in their flat characters to accentuate (even the normally avuncular Tucker appears deflated), the picture plods along from one technobabble conversation to the next while the viewer awaits something resembling the shocks promised in its poster (“Every second your pulse pounds, they grow foot by incredible foot!”). There must have been a lot of disappointed viewers leaving the theater in 1958.

Mad scientist Laird (Alec Mango) and his sensible assistant Gil Graham (Tucker) are performing magnetic experiments. One accidentally tears a hole in the ionosphere, which causes cosmic rays to turn a hobo into a psycho killer and cause insects to grow larger than humans. It takes about an hour into this 75-minute movie for the melee between man and bug to get going, and even then the action is badly staged, shot, and edited with macro photography of normal insects acting as unconvincing special effects.

Martin Benson, memorable as Solo, the gangster that gets squashed inside a car in GOLDFINGER, plays Smith, an alien who speaks perfect English with a British accent (his people have been monitoring ours for years and even teaching their children about us). His performance is the best in the movie, though Smith plays like a deux es machina. Amazingly, when he tells Tucker about his extraterrestrial origins, the American unbelievably accepts the explanation without even an eyeblink.

THE COSMIC MONSTER is one of the rarest of ‘50s “big bug” movies and deservedly so. Aside from one cool shot of a creature eating the face off some poor schmuck, there’s little of interest in it, and Forrest Tucker seems uncomfortable in it.

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