Monday, January 19, 2009

They Came From Outer Space edited by Jim Wynorski

(hb; 1980: science fiction anthology. "Introduction" by Ray Bradbury.)

Overall review:

Wonderful, varied collection of classic science fiction stories that, for the most part, became worthwhile (if loosely adapted) films. This anthology is worth owning, a reminder of science fiction's modestly charming roots, as read in the pages of pulp-ish magazines. By all means, seek this anthology out.

Review, story by story:

1.) "Dr. Cyclops" - Henry Kuttner: Four scientists and their jungle guide (Paco), visiting a secretive, bespectacled scientist (Dr. Thorkel, aka Dr. Cyclops) are shrunk to pin-height, via a radium-spraying projector (called a "condensor") so Thorkel can study them. But the scientists and Paco escape into the jungle, hunted by Thorkel and his black cat, Satanas. When the shrunken scientists and their guide engage in retaliatory guerilla-warfare tactics, it's an imaginative, thrill-a-minute adventure.

The popular Dr. Cyclops (and this tale) appeared in the June 1940 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, along with photos of the film, which had been released stateside on April 12, 1940.

Albert Dekker played Alexander Thorkel (aka, Dr. Cyclops). Janice Logan played Mary Mitchell (cinematic counterpart to Dr. Mary Phillips). Tom Coley played Bill Stockton. Charles Halton played Dr. Rupert Bulfinch. Victor Kilian played Steve Baker. Frank Yaconeli played Pedro. Ernest B. Schoedsack directed the film.

2.) "Who Goes There?" - John W. Campbell: A recently-discovered ancient frozen alien ship awakens fresh, mutative horrors amongst human scientific-expedition members in the South Pole.

Initially chatty, but not overly so -- Campbell's characters are filling in the backstory on the ship's discovery -- the story's compelling science-fiction-based tone quickly turns paranoid, Lovecraftian-horrific, and morbidly-funny. The end-paragraph is anti-climactic and a tad pompous. (Though, admittedly, I have to take into account that this story was published in 1938, appearing in the August issue of Astounding Stories.)

Despite that minor end-flaw, this is one of my favorite science-fiction/horror stories of all time.

The (first) resulting film, re-titled The Thing From Another World, illuminated stateside movie screens on April 29, 1951. Directed by Christian Nyby and scripted by Charles Lederer, the movie bears little resemblance (aside from its setting and tone) to its source story -- notably, the monster in the movie (played by James Arness) is a Frankensteinian creation; in the source-story, the alien-monster had neck-tentacles, could mutate/reproduce asexually (incorporating and outwardly mimicking its victims' biologies/outer forms), and had three red "hateful" eyes.

Kenneth Tobey played Captain Patick Hendry. Margaret Sheridan played Nikki Nicholson. Robert Cornwaithe played Dr. Arthur Carrington. Douglas Spencer played Ned "Scotty" Scott. James Young played Lt. Eddie Dykes. Dewey Martin played Crew Chief Bob. Robert Nichols played Lt. Ken "Mac" Chapman. Paul Frees played Dr. Voorhees.

A remake, titled The Thing, was released stateside on June 25, 1982. Closer in spirit monster-wise (it maintains the mutation element of the story, if more-horrifically so), it also kept the characters' original names. (The 1951 version had completely re-named characters.)

John Carpenter directed this oh-so-paranoid graphic gem of a horror film, one of my favorite films of all time. Kurt Russell played MacReady. Wilford Brimley played Dr. Blair (he was billed as A. Wilford Brimley). T.K. Carter played Nauls (a character not in the original story). David Clennon played Palmer (another character not in the source-story). Keith David played Childs (another non-source-story character). Richard Dysart played Dr. Copper. Charles Hallahan played Vance Norris. Richard Masur played Clark. Donald Moffat played Garry. Larry J. Franco (billed as Larry Franco) played "Norwegian [Helicopter] Passenger with Rifle" -- Franco, off-screen, also served as associate producer to the film. An uncredited Adrienne Barbeau (Carpenter's wife from 1979 to 1984) was the voice for one of the computers. The film was scripted by Bill Lancaster.

3.) "Farewell to the Master" - Harry Bates: A newspaper photographer, hidden in a scientific museum, discovers that an otherworldly robot-humanoid and its ship in one of the displays isn't as still-life as it seems, when the robot (Gnut) thinks everyone has left. Intriguing, unique story with able pacing, and a great, simply-wrought end-twist/line.

The (first) resulting film, considered one of the best science fiction films of all time, was titled The Day the Earth Stood Still. Its stateside release date was September 28, 1951. Directed by the supremely-talented Robert Wise, this larger-in-scale-than-its-source-story film starred: Michael Rennie as Klaatu; Patricia Neal as Helen Benson (a character not originally in the story); Hugh Marlowe as Tom Stevens (another non-story character); Sam Jaffe as Prof. Jacob Barnhardt (another non-story character); Billy Gray as Billy Benson (another non-story character); Frances Bavier as Mrs. Barley (another non-story character); and Lock Martin as Gort (a cinematic stand-in for the robot Gnut).

(Side-note: The film was scripted by Edmund H. North, who, according to anthology editor Wynorski, "readily admits his loose adaptation of the Bates story contains many specific religious references. . . even beyond the obvious 'resurrection' sequence. For instance, when Klaatu escapes from the hospital he identifies with the man whose suit he has taken. The name is Carpenter -- one [Klaatu] adopts as his own. This too is part of the Christ parallel, a tack the original novella never explored.")

A remake was released stateside on December 12, 2008. Keanu Reeves played Klaatu. Jennifer Connelly played Helen Benson. Kathy Bates played Regina Jackson. Jaden Smith played Jacob Bensen. John Cleese played Professor Barnhardt. Jon Hamm played Michael Granier. James Hong played Mr. Wu. Script-writer David Scarpa updated Edmund H. North's 1951 screenplay. Scott Derrickson directed.

4.) "The Foghorn" - Ray Bradbury: Sad, solid tale about a lonely, last-of-its-kind sea monster who mistakes a lighthouse foghorn for a mating call. Memorable work.

The film, re-titled The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, is a loose-as-loose-gets adaptation of its source-story. (In one of this anthology's charming introductions, "The Turkey That Attacked New York," Bradbury shows disdain for the cinematic version of his story.)

The film hit stateside screens on June 13, 1953. Paul Hubschmid (billed as Paul Christian) played Professor Tom Nesbitt. Paula Raymond played Lee Hunter. Cecil Kellaway played Prof. Thurwood Elson. Kenneth Tobey, also seen in 1951's The Thing From Another World, played Col. Jack Evans. Lee Van Cleef played Cpl. Stone. Co-screenwriter Eugène Lourié directed, from a script Fred Freiberger, Daniel James Lou Morheim (billed as Louis Morheim) and Robert Smith.

5.) "Deadly City" - Ivar Jorgenson: Four people -- a suicidal hooker (Nora Spade), a nice Everyman (Frank Black), a submissive emotional abuse victim (Minna Trimble), and a brash volatile charmer (Jim Wilson) -- wake up and band together in an seemingly-otherwise evacuated city. They're caught between a threatening, weird wailing that echoes throughout the city, and a wealthy, escaped-from-his-keepers psychopath (LeRoy Davis). How will they get out alive?

Jorgenson's writing ably balances the story's spooky/echoes-in-a-strangely-empty-city effect, its (possible) alien-invaders theme, and its civilized-man-confronted-with-savagery theme. Its characters are believably varied and flawed, its plot-flow is spine-tingling and scary, and its character-based finish is knowing, in a tragic-in-the-city way. Stunning, truly-classic story.

Resulting film facts. . .

Keeping its source-story title, this "entertaining" (according to anthology editor Wynorski) B-movie first graced stateside screens on November 7, 1954. Richard Denning played Frank Brooks. Kathleen Crowley played Nora King (a cinematic stand-in for Nora Spade). Virginia Grey played Vicki Harris (a cinematic stand-in for Minna Trimble?). Richard Reeves played Jim Wilson. Robert Roarke played "Davis, the Killer" (cinematic stand-in for LeRoy Davis). Sherman A. Rose directed, from a script by James H. Nicholson, Wyott Ordung and William Raynor. Ivar Jorgenson, the source-story's author, is billed as Paul W. Fairman in the movie's writing credits.

6.) "The Alien Machine" - Raymond F. Jones: Too many story-bogging technical details (pertaining to the titular device) made me abandon this story after two pages. Fans of "hard" (technologically-detailed) science fiction will probably appreciate this story more.

The film, titled This Island Earth, was released stateside on June 1, 1955. Rex Reason played Cal Meacham. Faith Domergue played Ruth Adams. Jeff Morrow played Exeter. Lance Fuller played Brack. Russell Johnson played Steve Carlson. Scripted by Franklin Coen and Edward G. O'Callaghan, the film was directed by Joseph Newman.

7.) "The Cosmic Frame" - Paul W. Fairman (aka, Ivar Jorgensen): When a teenage driver (John Carter) accidentally hits an extraterrestrial with his car, the situation gets quickly complicated. Fast-paced, clever story -- excellent.

The resulting film, retitled Invasion of the Saucermen, hit stateside silver screens in June 1957. It was directed by Edward L. Cahn, from a screenplay by Al Martin and Robert Gurney Jr. Steve Terrell played Johnny Carter. Gloria Castillo played Jean Hayden. Frank Gorshin played Joe Gruen. Lyn Osborn played Art Burns.

8.) "The Fly" - George Langelaan: An experiment with a matter "disintegration-reintegration" machine goes mutatively awry for a scientist (André Delambre). Tragic, tightly-written classic work.

Several films resulted from this short story.

The first version, titled The Fly, was released in the United States on July 16, 1958. Produced and directed by Kurt Neumann, the screenplay was written by James Clavell. Vincent Price played François Delambre. Al "David" Hedison played André Delambre. Herbert Marshall played Inspector Charas. Charles Herbert played Philippe Delambre. Kathleen Freeman played "Emma, the Maid".

Two sequels followed: Return of the Fly (released in the U.S. in July 1959); and Curse of the Fly (stateside release month: May 1965).

A remake of the original Fly graced American screens on August 15, 1986. David Cronenberg directed and co-scripted the film. (He also made an appearance in the film, as a gynecologist.) Jeff Goldblum played Seth Brundle (the updated stand-in for André Delambre). Geena Davis played Veronica Quaife. John Getz played Stathis Borans (a role Getz reprised in the 1989 sequel, The Fly II). Charles Edward Pogue co-scripted.

9.) "The Seventh Victim" - Robert Sheckley: Mordant, sly, word-efficacious story about a peacetime human society where government-sanctioned murder is a real-world, deadly game - either for the Hunter, or the Victim, depending on who's luckier and/or more clever. Semi-predictable twist-finish to this one, but still worth reading.

The film version, titled The Tenth Victim (aka, La Decimma vittima), was released in Italy on December 1, 1965. A stateside release followed soon thereafter, on December 20, 1965. Elio Petri directed and co-scripted the film, along with script writers Ennio Flaiano and Tonino Guerra. Marcello Mastroianni played Marcello Polletti. Ursula Andress played Caroline Meredith. Elsa Martinelli played Olga.

10.) "The Sentinel" - Arthur C. Clarke: Smart, interesting first-person narrative about a mysterious alien structure-machine that's been discovered on the moon. (Clarke, with film director Stanley Kubrick's help, later expanded this 1950 story into a novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

The film, bearing the same title as the novel, was directed and co-scripted by Kubrick. It was released stateside on April 6, 1968. Keir Dullea played Dr. Dave Bowman. Gary Lockwood played Dr. Frank Poole. William Sylvester played Dr. Heywood R. Floyd. Douglas Rain voiced HAL 9000. Story and novel author Arthur C. Clarke co-scripted the film, as well.

11.) "The Racer" - Ib Melchior: Willie Connors, a driver in a highly-competitive, sadistic multi-state automotive race, gets a sudden, shocking -- and life-changing -- attack of conscience. Solid, satiric, memorable work.

Two films, loosely adapted from their source story, resulted from this work.

The first, provocatively titled Death Race 2000, graced U.S. movie screens on April 27, 1975. David Carradine played Frankenstein. Simone Griffith played Annie Smith. Sylvester Stallone played Machine Gun Joe Viterbo. Mary Woronov played Calamity Jane. Roberta Collins played Matilda the Hun. Martin Kove played Nero the Hero. Scripted by Robert Thorn and Charles (B.) Griffith; Paul Bartel directed.

The second version, Death Race, was released in America on August 22, 2008. Jason Statham played Jensen Ames. Joan Allen played Warden Hennessey. Ian McShane played Coach. Tyrese Gibson played Machine Gun Joe Mason. Natalie Martinez played Elizabeth Case. Robert LaSardo played Hector Grimm. Paul W.S. Anderson scripted and directed.

12.) “A Boy and His Dog” - Harlan Ellison: 2034. Vic (a “solo,” a single man) and Blood (a “rover,” a mutt) who share a psychic link – as do all solo/rover pairs – find themselves in worlds of trouble when Vic falls in lust with a too-good-to-be-true woman (Quilla June). Classic, black-humored finish.

(This story also appeared in Ellison's excellent 1969 story anthology, The Beast Who Shouted Love at the Heart of the World .)

The resulting film was released in America in November 1975. Don Johnson played Vic. Susanne Benton played Quilla June Holmes. Jason Robards played Lou Craddock. Tim McIntire voiced Blood. L.Q. Jones, who co-scripted the film, also co-produced, directed and played a porn actor within the film.

A remake of the film is scheduled for release in the near future. David Lee Miller, who's co-scripting the film with Harlan Ellison and original film director L.Q. Jones' input, is set to direct it.

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