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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Night of the Blood Beast

Having a wild title was becoming a fairly typical marketing ploy for B-movies in the late 50s. The title: Night of the Blood Beast (NBB), would have appeal to the growing horror market, but there's not very much blood involved. NBB is actually a sci-fi tale of some minor merit. Roger Corman, and his younger brother Gene, put together yet another very low budget production. The movie It: Terror from Beyond Space is often credited as the inspiration for the 80s hit Alien, but NBB deserves a share in that claim.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The first manned mission to space goes awry at re-entry. Scientists from a remote station near the crash site find the astronaut dead, but not showing the usual signs of death. They take his body back to their modest tracking station. The body still has a blood pressure. Samples reveal a new cell among the still living blood cells. The little station is cut off from the outside world by a magnetic disturbance. No radio, no telephone. The electricity is cut off too. Around the base stalks a large beast. It breaks in one night. Dr. Wyman is found dead with "half his head missing." The "dead" astronaut, John, comes back to life. The beast burst in. Bullets don't hurt it, but it flees from fire. The two male scientists want to hunt and kill the beast. The astronaut wants to communicate with it. The women worry and scream. John is found to have several alien embryos growing inside his body. He has an intermittent mind link with the beast, and pleads for a chance to communicate with it. Steve and Dave hunt the beast. It tries to carry off Donna, but the boys force it to flee. They all go looking for the beast, which John "knows" is in a cave nearby. The beast can talk now, using what it took from Dr. Wyman. It explains itself as wanting to help mankind avert the fate that doomed its own planet. John buys into this for awhile, but finally rejects the idea. He stabs himself in order to kill all the alien embryos. Steve and Dave kill the alien with molotov cocktails. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
NBB shares the trapped-with-a-monster mood with It: Terror... and Day the World Ended. Despite the low budget, the spooky thriller mood comes off rather well. The ambiguous alien has some interest too. Was it really coming to help mankind? Or was all that a flattering ruse for an invasion? That's more depth that B-movies are usually known for.

Cold War Angle
The alien makes this connection clear. It's world was ruined by imprudent use of "ultimate power." The alien warning us of our potential doom was a familiar moral to a movie in the 50s.

Play Thing -- Near the end, the plot takes a twist. The alien says it's here to help us over our dangerous times, as some other movie aliens (such as Klaatu) have done. Yet, in other ways, the blood beast alien is more like The Thing ('51) in using humans to grow its brood of baby aliens. Unlike the Thing, this alien can talk and tries to reason with (or bamboozle) the earthlings. This bit of mind games is akin to the flattery and an appeal to a panacea for humanity that the Venusian used on Tom in It Conquered the World ('56).

Prop Watch -- The alien's costume is a 'monster' suit used in Teenage Caveman (also a 1958 Corman production). It was modified a bit, (given some serious claws) but the bulbous head, buggy eyes and beak-nose are unmistakable. Actually, the costume makes more sense in NBB than it does in Teenage Caveman, where it's supposed to be an old and grundgy radiation suit. (with a big beak?)

Unknown Florida -- The setting is supposed to be Florida. There's reference to "the cape" (as in Canaveral) and radio call signs of "Everglade". Yet, note that Dr. Wyman says the crashed space ship can't be causing the radio interference because there's a mountain range between it and the base. Mountains in Florida? Perhaps the writers had never been to Florida. This is similar to Jules Verne and his "Master of the World" novel. Verne writes of the volcanic lake up in the high mountains near Topeka Kansas. Mountains in Kansas? Verne had never been to Topeka. The hilly, rocky and rugged landscape in NBB is not much like central and southern Florida. (It wasn't, of course. It was Bronson Canyon, Griffith Park, California)

Cave Sweet Cave -- NBB gives viewers a good long look at the Bronson Canyon cave that has featured in many a B-movie. It was the home for Ro-Man in Robot Monster ('53) and the carrot-monster from Venus in It Conquered the World ('56) and others. Seeing Ro-Man's cave once again almost takes on the nostalgia of a homecoming.

Anachronistic Beauty -- Given the look of most 50s actresses to date, Georgianna Carter, who plays Donna, has a look that looks more 1970s than 1950s. The other actress, Angela Greene, who plays Julie, has a more typical 50s look to her. Georgianna did not give a particularly compelling performance in NBB. In fact, she made only one more movie after this, her first. Still, her ahead-of-her-time hair style is memorable.

Bottom line? It would be easy to pass this movie up based on its title alone. Yet, for a low budget film, it manages a fair degree of creepiness and tension. The monster is underwhelming when seen, as they usually are, but the mind games at the end are a nice treat for a B-movie.


Mike Scott said...

Haven't seen "Blood Beast", but I finaly finished reading all the reviews on your blog and wanted to say how much I've enjoyed them and that I'm looking forward to all the new entries!

Nightowl said...

All of them? Sakes. Thanks for all your help and comments too.

Blood Beast is a bit out of the mainstream of 50s sci-fi fandom. I know I dismissed it for a long while w/o having seen it, on the assumption (via the title) that it was horror, not sci-fi.

Seeing the beast hole up in Ro-Man's cave was a treat. Like visiting a childhood neighborhood.

Mike Scott said...

Quote: All of them?

Yup! I think my favorites are the ones for movies I haven't seen (or haven't seen for decades), although it does make for an even longer wants list.

Randall Landers said...

The Florida mountains are actually a mountain range in New Mexico. I don't know if this is supposed to be set in Florida or in New Mexico with the scientists communicating with mission control. Or if the writers had no clue. Probably the latter. Pity, but it still is one of my favorite sf films. The cartoon flight sequence works well in b&w, but not for today's audiences surely.