Friday, December 29, 2017

Terror from the Year 5000

Terror from the Year 5000
Robert J. Gurney Jr.

Dr. Earling (Frederic Downs) and Victor (John Stratton) have developed a machine for retrieving objects from the future. They send a small statue to college, Dr. Robert Hedges (Ward Costello) for radiocarbon dating. The statue dates to the year 5200 AD. Incredulous, Dr. Hedges travels to Earling’s private island to find out more. There he falls in love with  Claire Earling (Joyce Holden), Dr. Earling’s daughter and Victor’s intended wife. To make matters even more awkward someone or something is communicating from the future and things there do not look pleasant at all.

Terror from the Year 5000 should get more credit than it deserves simply for deviating from the formula of other invasion films from the 1950s. The external threat doesn’t come from space, isn’t a metaphor for communism or some other non-American threat, and has noble aims if not necessarily noble methods. Instead of our heroes being plucky teens or square-jawed scientists, we’re given flawed people who are invested in a case of unrequited love almost as much as they are in solving the mystery at hand.

So, that's where the Eraserhead baby went.

For as short as this film is, it keeps its main threat hidden away until the final fifteen minutes, instead offering viewers a tantalizing mystery filled with weird objects from the future and messages of dread. Salome Jens' first appearances as The Future Woman are effective, a shadowy figure in a glittering outfit, she screeches and seems to kill indiscriminately.  Her device for stealing faces is strange and unnerving in just the right way. What doesn’t work, is her mutated face make-up. I get the impression that the creators were trying to make something more realistic, but the big warty nose and misshaped teeth make her look more like a witch who escaped from a local community haunted house.

As the world of 5200 AD becomes more clear, it is obvious it is not a good place. Terror from Year 5000 never comes out and directly says that nuclear war is the cause of the irritated genetic mess of the far future, but it is heavily implied. Our Future Woman simply wants to bring back some pre-nuclear disaster DNA to help cure the rash of mutated people bring born, but our brave heroes decide to simply gun her down in the process and offer a speech on doing better with our present. I can appreciate the sentiment in a way, but it certainly feels like everyone could have gone about the whole scenario in a much better fashion.

Someone has been dressing themselves!
Terror from the Year 5000 has a poor reputation, it’s never had a decent home video release, Mystery Science Theater 3000 savaged it (and perhaps rightly so), but I think underneath all its flaws there are some very interesting quirks and ideas that separate it from the slew of other late 50s b-movies. It is a weird little mutant that was snuffed out before it could become something bigger and better, but it is still worth checking out.

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