Tag Archives: Retro Review

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983) – Mini Retro Review

Space Hunter is one of my personal favorites. Directed by Lamont Johnson, this eclectic blend of various ideas and tropes from sci-fi and fantasy runs on pure cheese and asks no forgiveness. The story line is simple – three beautiful women crash on planet covered in radiation, blight and horny mutants. Space Hunter takes a contract to go rescue the damsels in distress, hopefully before they mussy up their dinnerware.

The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and should come as little surprise. Lindholm other credits for writing include Stripes, Meatballs and Heavy Metal. Peter Strauss take the lead role, teaming up with a pre-John Hughes Molly Ringwald and a hasn’t aged a day Ernie Hudson. The big bad is played perfectly by Michael Ironside, not a surprise.

The movie has cool monsters to include flying wasteland raiders, Amazons and water serpents, greasy mutated fat guys, and little bomb tossing kids that look straight out of The Brood. My main criticism is that the film is pretty misogynistic by today’s standards, treating the females characters as either sexual playthings or poor little girl sidekick. Originally released in 3D, the film came out 1 week before Return of the Jedi. Bad idea.

Space Hunter is a fun film that is worth seeing if you have a fetish for 80s sci-fi or wish Doc Brown’s Delorean was a real thing.

The Incredible Melting Man (1977) – Retro Review

Genre film fans, particularly old genre film fans, tend to be very forgiving when discussing terrible films of yesteryear. Most old-timers, including myself, can always find redeeming values that overcome problems of writing, directing, acting, or budget to create an entertaining experience. Of course, there are exceptions, such as Birdemic!, where there are no redeeming values to be found. A review of which would require only one or two sentences if that much. Not worth the effort.

Don’t misunderstand — The Incredible Melting Man is a very bad movie. It is also approaching cult status, if it hasn’t already reached that objective. Part of the rationale for this phenomenon lies with the delay in transition from VHS to DVD, which created a small-but-vocal demand from people like me who saw the film first-run at drive-in theaters in 1977, and have time-weakened memories. VHS print quality varied, probably due to generational duping, indicating that the film wasn’t taken very seriously by the distribution industry, and that lack of attention continued with a few DVD releases. But the main reason for its growing popularity is the special effects provided by a young Rick Baker (1950 – 2015) whose stature as a makeup artist was beginning to emerge out of low-budget genre films (John Landis’s first film Schlock, 1973; Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive, 1974; Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm, 1976; Batman artist/writer Bill Finger’s Track of the Moon Beast, 1976). This film was also the second (uncredited) appearance of special makeup superstar Greg Cannom (The Howling, 1981; Dreamscape, 1984; Dick Tracy, 1990; Mrs. Doubtfire, 1993). Together, these two practical effects experts were responsible for lifting The Incredible Melting Man out of obscurity and into genre film semi-stardom.

This new release, viewed for the first time over a period of three decades, is unintentionally hilarious all by itself. It needed absolutely no help from the egregious Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) that targeted the film for derision in 1996. As if it isn’t obvious, I am no fan of any production that takes older genre films, edits them down to smaller chunks for the benefit of idiots who toss off one-liners to make themselves look good. Viewers can, and should, make their own humorous comments from the comfort of their own couches – and true entertainment is derived from a complete, uncut film released in excellent Blu-ray format by Shout! Factory. Visually, the film is a crisp and clear 1080p HD delight that amplifies the extreme close-up photography used (or misused) throughout.

The story is linear and simplistic – the sole survivor of America’s first trip to the rings of Saturn (Alex Rebar in his only screen credit) is pulled from (unseen) wreckage and isolated in a nearby warehouse… er, hospital, cared for by one doctor and one nurse. He’s suffering from the effects of watching our sun through Saturn’s rings. How the sun and its flares got so big from that distance is not something to dwell upon. But his eyes bleed while out in space, and back on Earth he begins to melt. He kills the overweight nurse because somehow the only doctor around reached a diagnosis that the astronaut needs blood to survive. The now-monster escapes the conveniently- unguarded “hospital.” The rest of the 84-minute film is a chase through a lightly-wooded area populated by cannon fodder, one hilarious encounter after another (I have to reference the “fisherman.” I just have to.) But it will be more fun for viewers if I don’t provide details. Strangely, though, the film concludes with a confrontation that generates a modicum of suspense, and a final scene that’s successful in portraying black, bittersweet humor.

In addition to Baker and Cannom, above, there are a few recognizable names involved with the film. In the acting department, veteran TV personality Burr DeBenning (1936 – 2003) sleepwalks through the lead role of Dr. Ted Nelson, former friend of the afflicted monster, and enemy of extreme close-ups designed to minimize low-budget background exposure. Another veteran familiar to fans of 50s and 60s genre features ( a very late serial, Panther Girl of the Kongo, 1955; Jungle Moon Men, 1955; The Unearthly 1957) and virtually every TV series up through the 70s, is Myron Healy as General Perry. Of those two, Healy fares just a bit better as far as dialog is concerned, throwing orders around in his trademark deep, booming voice.

But the true villain of this piece – if you don’t include the mindless melting creature – is Writer/Director William Sachs. Responsible for story logic (there is none), dialog that is painful to hear, and direction that displays his limited range (and fondness for extreme close-ups) unless you’re a fan of his only other genre credit (Galaxina, 1980). Included in the DVD extras is an interview with Sachs in which he blames the producers for all of the budget constraints that destroyed an otherwise viable film. Take him at his word if you will, but I have difficulty putting responsibility on a group of producers that include an uncredited Max Rosenberg of Hammer Films and Amicus Productions, and production manager Peter Cornberg (first assistant director, Blade Runner, 1982; production manager, Testament, 1983).

Despite its myriad flaws, however, The Incredible Melting Man has survived time and troubles, hanging around for a decent treatment that presents its positive aspects in hi-def glory. While the film still generates loud guffaws (as it absolutely should), both old and new viewers will experience a highly entertaining piece of genre history.

The Black Scorpion (1957) – Retro Review

Over the last decade or so, Baby-Boomer genre fans and collectors have welcomed a resurgence of science fiction and horror films of the 1950s in the form of standard and blu-ray DVD releases. The packaging and availability, however, differs wildly. There are some incredible bargains, such as the four-pack Icons of Horror: Sam Katzman boxset that collects The Giant Claw, Creature with the Atom Brain, Zombies of Mora Tau, and The Werewolf for the price of a single blu-ray disk. We’re not talking low-quality public domain films here, shoddily transferred from a blurry VHS tape recorded off television; these are crisp black-and-white prints as watchable now as when the viewer was 10- or 12-years old.

A number of until-recently-inaccessible films have received a (theoretical) upgrade to blu-ray format in either single or double-feature releases. Among those are some classics – Forbidden Planet and Them!, for example – and some less-than classic, such as The Neanderthal Man. And last, and not quite least, are the few titles held closely by production companies and released only in DVR format. The Black Scorpion, available on-demand from the Warner Bros. Archive Collection, is one of those titles. It is very doubtful that we’ll ever see a blu-ray version of this fun little picture, but… never say never.

The Black Scorpion, 1950s, monster, sci-fi, horror, movie review, retro review, classic, black and white, scorpion, oldmanster, raw movie, raw reviews

The Black Scorpion carries a serious pedigree – it is the last feature film associated with the legendary Willis H. O’Brien, or OBie in genre vernacular. O’Brien is arguably the most famous of stop-motion film effect creators, at least until the emergence of Ray Harryhausen, and Harryhausen was O’Brien’s protégé. O’Brien developed the technology behind King Kong (1933), Son of Kong (1933; uncredited), and the original Mighty Joe Young (1949). The mantle of superior  achievement in stop-motion technology passed on to Harryhausen in 1958, with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

Received industry knowledge indicates that The Black Scorpion film emerged from test footage of a stop-motion scorpion created by O’Brien and his assistant, Pete Peterson. Warner Bros. producers, intrigued by the possibility of a money-making successor to Them! (1954), hired O’Brien and Peterson to follow-up and expand the test footage into a marketable film. As it turned out, The Black Scorpion was released with a simplistic story and a weak script, but the effects are so diverse and bizarre they carry the film.

The Black Scorpion, 1950s, monster, sci-fi, horror, movie review, retro review, classic, black and white, scorpion, oldmanster, raw movie, raw reviews

The Black Scorpion is somewhat of a rarity among the Big Critter films of the 1950s in that the titular monster derives from volcanic activity rather than the common radiation mutation. Principal location cinematography in Mexico adds additional verisimilitude to the story – the terrain is sufficiently rugged, remote, and an active volcano is certainly not out of the question. The volcano opens a cavern from which several giant scorpions emerge to terrorize the rural countryside. But the special effects team serves up additional visual treats – in addition to the “regular” giant scorpions, there is a gigantic scorpion that preys on its own, and anything else that gets in the way, and assorted large insects lurking in the cavern.

Richard Denning plays Hank Scott, an American geologist sent to Mexico to do science on the volcano, but also help authorities with relocation of villagers cut off by earthquakes and landslides. And there he meets wealthy rancher, Teresa Alvarez, as played by the gorgeous Mara Corday, just as the scorpions begin their ravaging. Both actors were not strangers to genre films in 1957. Denning was a very visible semi-heavy in the widely acclaimed Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and lesser vehicles such as Target: Earth (1954), Roger Corman’s post-apocalyptic “thriller” Day the World Ended (1955), and Creature with the Atom Brain (1955). He also was a TV stalwart both before and after this particular film, probably most widely known as Governor Paul Jameson in the long-running Hawaii Five-O (1968 – 1980). Mara Corday was a B-movie star with just a few TV credits. The Black Scorpion was the last of her three genre films, but the other two are memorable for different reasons – Tarantula (1955) is a highly-regarded Big Bug films, while The Giant Claw (1957) is considered to be one of the silliest of 50s black-white monster movies. Arguably, Corday was at the peak of her profession when The Black Scorpion was released. In January of that year, she married TV personality Richard Long, a union that lasted 17 years until his death in 1974. In October, 1958, she was Playboy’s co-Playmate of the Month. And a friendship kindled with Clint Eastwood on the set of Tarantula led to appearances in four of his films.


The Black Scorpion certainly can’t be considered as a classic in its genre. Production problems led to some cutbacks on special effect expenses that are very evident in the film. When the scorpion of the title has (conveniently) eaten all of his brethren and set sights toward Mexico City, what viewers see are imposed negatives of the beast rather than the complete stop-motion critter. The Black Scorpion is very, very black. But given all the associated problems, The Black Scorpion remains one of the most enjoyable of genre films. Special effects carry it almost completely, at least up to the suburbs of Mexico City.