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Friday, November 26, 2021

Mars Needs Women


Mars Needs Women
Larry Buchanan
1968

Mars Needs Women is such an evocative title. The words alone conjure images of tentacled horrors descending from flying saucers to capture screaming women while blasting death-rays at cops. The film however thinks you’d much rather see Tommy Kirk hanging around an airport for 90 minutes while wearing a nice suit and talking to Yvonne Craig about very little whatsoever. I understand that there are money and time concerns when making a low-budget film that exists to take up time between commercials on a television station, but Buchanan is no stranger to this challenge and he has certainly made more ambitious productions.

Five Martians arrive on Earth with the aim of collection some human women to bring back to their dying planet. A genetic deficiency results in only male children being born and the race is dying out. They seem to be able to teleport in and out as they wish, and they also seem to be able to stop any weapons directed at their ship, so why they decided to employ the stealth action of getting suits and stealing a car is beyond me. More intriguing would be the Martians just asking. Their arrival on Earth is no secret. People seem aware that aliens might have landed and I’m willing to bet more than one person would have happy to go into space and save an entire race.

"This portable illumination unit will allow us to
better see everyone who is laughing at out outfits."

So, it’s cheap and pretty dull but there are a few bright spots. Far and away the best scene is Tommy Kirk aka Dop narrating facts about Mars to a group of school kids in a planetarium. It’s well-acted and good character moment in a paper-thin story. It should come as little surprise that this scene was rewritten by Kirk himself since it is quite good compared to the rest of the movie.

The most interesting element of Mars Needs Women is its most subtle and subversive. Yes, there are no grotesque aliens snatching women off the streets, but these are still beings of power looking to treat women as a resource to be taken as needed. It’s a sexist and unfortunately typical outlook for many films, especially from this era. So, when Dop falls in love he sees women not as things to harvest but as beings with inner lives, he changes his worldview to the point where he is willing to sabotage the whole mission. It’s not much but for a made-for-tv movie in 1968, I’ll take what I can get.

"Applying cherry lollipop to subject's forehead."

 Mars Needs Women serves as a companion piece to the far superior I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958). Neither is great at giving women their own agency, but they are both about strange men looking to use women to their own ends only for things to change once they see that women are beings with inner lives too. Mars Needs Women isn’t campy or exciting enough to be high on most people’s cult film lists, but it does manage to subvert in little ways. 



Friday, November 19, 2021

The Year of the Sex Olympics


 

The Year of the Sex Olympics
1968
Michael Elliott


The Year of the Sex Olympics is a lot of things, comical, absurd, mean spirited, and deeply cynical about the future. It’s primarily notable for a) being written by Nigel Kneale who brought us the Quatermass films as well as Halloween III (1982) and b) predicting much of what would become the reality television landscape. The Year of the Sex Olympics postulates that television as literally the opiate of the masses as in it is a tool to control population. Shows emphasize sex so that the overpopulated proles watch rather than practice. Shows put kings on the end of slapstick comedy to quell revolution. Art and games are automated, requiring no human input.


During the show, 'Sportsex' where couples are given points for having sex, a protestor dies live on camera causing the disinterested audience to suddenly become engaged. The programmers realize that placing people in real life situations with life and death consequences is key to keep the population watching and thereby keeping them from doing anything else, like questioning their world.

Sex Olympics special choking exhibition game.
 
The real predictive part comes in when Nat (Tony Vogel), Deanie (Suzanne Neve), and their daughter become part of a show where they live outside in a small hut. They have to survive on their own with no real technology. To Nat this is a way to escape their dystopia, but the trick is, there is no escape. They are still on a television program and the reality that they think is authentic is being manipulated too. There is no way out of this panopticon. The events take a turn for the vicious here and whatever absurdities we were faced earlier are brought into sharp contrast.


Where The Year of the Sex Olympics is less successful is in its interpretation of future culture. It’s really nothing more than 1960s youth culture stretched out the nth degree. It works as note of satire in the moment but by 50 years later it just feels outdated. Just a few years later, A Clockwork Orange (1971) would create a future youth culture that just unfamiliar enough to feel like it is from another time while still feeling connected to human culture of the time.

"My head is warm, but my torso is freezing."

The future language of these people is simple and sprinkled with slogans that sound like they were taken from commercials. Kneale stated that he saw these future humans as being post spoken language, instead relying on shared memes and visuals. It can be difficult to parse what people are saying early in the story but the overall plot isn’t complicated so it is easy to keep on top of things.


Nigel Kneale was no fan of the youth, and you need only look at this story and the Quatermass Conclusion (1979) to see that in action. The kids aren’t alright, they are lost in their own indulgences and ignorant of the past at best and deliberately amoral and cruel at their worst. Nat bucks the trend of his peers, but he pays dearly for it.

 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Scanner Cop/Scanner Cop 2



 

Scanner Cop/Scanner Cop 2
1994/1995
Pierre David/Steve Barnett


David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) is a masterclass in mixing body horror and paranoia. In its world, there are people who can exert their will on others, control them, or kill them with a thought. We get through layers of conspiracy involving big pharma and a class of people who find themselves a victim of these corporations. The Scanners fall into two camps, the ones who want to blend into society and the ones who want to exist as themselves and take full grasp of their powers. There are nuances in this scenario with victims of circumstance and those that look to take advantage of this situation. Behind it all is a faceless corporation the looks only to cover it tracks.

"Bro, I got pink eye."
 

So, what you do for a late couple of sequels is to throw all that out the window and make it about cops and bad guys, I guess. Samuel Staziak (Daniel Quinn) is young boy adopted by a cop. Turns out he’s a scanner too. He becomes a cop to honor his adoptive father. In both films he’s called upon to use his scanning powers to fight crime and chase down particularly nasty criminals.


Now, I’m not expecting a low-budget film from the 1990s to offer some kind of nuanced take on the power of police, but the concept of a cop with the power to read minds, control people, and hack computers with only the power of their mind is utterly terrifying and ripe for a horror film. The fact that the premise is wasted on a pretty standard supernatural cop adventure series is a missed opportunity. Scanner Cop at least makes nods to the fact that a marginalized identity like a scanner would have a difficult time fitting in to police culture. There are some other interesting elements sprinkled through out both films, like Ephemeral, the drug that not only makes in utero babies into scanners but also suppressing scanning powers in adults, being a controlled substance with places like methadone clinics and back-alley dealings offering meds that are necessary for these people to survive. Scanner Cop 2 tosses in a potential subplot with Staziak seeking the mother who gave him up for adoption only to have it all (literally) thrown away in the 3rd act. 


"Bro, I forgot my blood pressure pills."

To the credit of both films, they do understand that one of the core elements of a Scanner film is the body horror and here they do a decent job of bringing that to the screen. There is nothing approaching the first film’s legendary head explosion, but there plenty of pulsating veins, melting faces, and some even more phantasmagorical things. In the place of lengthy shoot-outs, we get to people staring at each as veins burst in their faces.


Perhaps I’m expecting too much from films called Scanner Cop, but there is some interesting world building, and a background built around the abuse the power. The Scanners series has the potential to be something truly transgressive but is mired in being another couple of cop movies.

Friday, November 5, 2021

I Married a Monster from Outer Space


 

I Married a Monster from Outer Space
1958
Gene Fowler Jr.

I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) is in many ways archetypal 1950s SF film. Insidious forces from outside are slowly infiltrating a small town by taking the place of the men in town one-by-one. We only have one person who knows what is happening and they struggle to get anyone to understand the danger the world is inr. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is probably the most well-known film that fall into this category, but there are plenty of others such as, The Brain Eaters (1958), and The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963) as other examples. I Married of Monster from Outer Space has one notable difference from these films and that is a laser focus on the expectations from social roles as they were defined in the era

"These storms always make my sinuses hurt so badly."

The core of I Married a Monster from Outer Space centers around marriage and having children. We open on a table of men at a bar celebrating/commiserating the upcoming wedding of one of their own. They drunkenly complain about being married and/or not being married. The original intent of this scene is supposed to be humorous but the misery coming off of these men is palpable. They are trapped in a strict social code that demands they get married and produce offspring. To these men it spells the end of freedom. The first lines spoken are by two women at the bar, presumably older unmarried women or sex workers, complaining about the unavailability of these men and hoping that there might be one who will break social norms and go out with them.

Throughout the film there is an undeniable anxiety about pairing up and making babies. The men are at best resigned to it if not outright resistant, the women are terrified that they won’t be married or be able to produce children. The aliens mirror the women in that they are anxious to complete their task and figure out how to have children with human women but for them it is for survival rather than expectation. These characters exist in a universe where procreating is the only significant drive and the passing along of genes is all that is important. Several times in this film we see pets, which often serve as substitute children, killed by the aliens. To them there is only one valid kind of offspring and that is one derived from one man (or alien) and one woman squeezing out a kid.

Garmonbozia

The men of the town only swing into action once they realize that they are being replaced. The fact that the invaders are taking over a social situation that they themselves wanted little to do with never crosses their minds. The aliens succumb to the overwhelming violence of the townsfolk and a couple of substitute children in the shape of German Shepherds.

The twist in this SF narrative is subtle but interesting. Bill (Tom Tryon) (the alien version) begins to see Marge (Gloria Talbott) as not just someone to breed with but as a being with her own life. This is a view that even Marge seems to struggle with in her fervor to get married and be a mother. In the end we are left not with a question of when will the aliens return but rather will Marge see herself as an independent person or fall back into the socially acceptable role that she wanted so badly.