1910s & 20s * 30s * 40s * Pre-50s * Frankenstein * Atomic Angst * 1950 * 1951 * 1952 * 1953 * 1954 * 1955 * 1956 * 1957 * 1958 * 1959 *
1960 * 1961 * 1962 * 1963 * 1964 * 1965 * 1966 * 1967 * 1968 * 1969 * 1970 * 1971 * 1972 * 1973 * 1974 * 1975 * 1976 * 1977 * 1978 * 1979

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Monster A Go-Go

Frequently making critics' "worst movie ever" lists, Monster A Go-Go (MaGG) certainly suffers from the usual low budget indie B foibles. Add to that, it being an incomplete project patched to "completion" by someone else on the cheap, and there are ample reasons the movie gets low marks from critics. Even if finished as planned, it would have been an odd collection of non sequitur vignettes and a rehash of the familiar trope in which a returning astronaut becomes a monster.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A capsule returns from its mission after an extended loss of contact. A helicopter pilot finds the capsule but dies shortly afterward. No sign of the astronaut. Dr. Logan reports that the helicopter pilot was "cooked" to death by contacting something radioactive. The head of the project, Chris Manning arrives in an Air Force DC-3 to help investigate the pilot's death. Cut to a groovin' dance party. Enjoy a close-up of a girl vigorously shaking her peaches for the lens. A grumpy boyfriend extracts his dance-around girlfriend. They drive into the night, but later park to kiss and make up. He tries to make up too much, so she leaves. He is killed by the monster. She passes out. Next day, Dr. Henry Logan goes to check out the landing site to follow a hunch. He is ambushed and killed by the tall, gaunt man-monster. A Dr. Brent arrives in a small Cessna, to take over for Manning. He finds out about a radiation repellant drug, given to Douglas (the astronaut) which was unapproved. It caused a test animal to double in size, then die. When everyone at the lab has gone home, Dr. Conrad Logan prepares to give the monster (whom he has been hiding in his lab for 8 weeks!) more antidote drug. He finds the lab ravaged, all the antidote and monster gone. Brent berates Logan for being a total incompetent. The monster scares some sunbathing women. Conrad tells Conners, (now a Colonel) that the monster's radiation radius gets bigger between antidote injections. Conners orders lethal force to stop it. Troops deployed, (perhaps around Ruth's house?) but it eludes their dragnet. A truck driver helps a flirtatious women start her car. In doing so, he gets a lethal dose of radiation. He dies in town (Chicago). Now the monster is somewhere in Chicago. A network of geiger counters are hooked up to an oscilloscope to locate him. It works for a bit, but he hides in an abandoned dead end tunnel. Two men go in with hazmat suits and decontamination spray. They follow the monster in for awhile, but he suddenly vanishes without a trace. When the hazmat guys come out, they receive a telegram reporting that astronaut Frank Douglas was found alive and well, 8000 miles away. It is a total mystery. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Fun might not be the word. A fan of bad movies would find it fascinating -- an odd puzzle, more than a simple entertainment story. The overall effect smacks of cheap 50s sci-fi: radiation, monsters, a military man or two, a scientist or two.

Cold War Angle
Radiation is the lethal agent in all the deaths. There is a poorly conveyed cautionary element about the hazards of things atomic.

Unfinished Symphony -- Bill Rebane began his film in 1961 (or so)
with the working title: "Terror at Halfday." (Perhaps supposedly taking place in Half Day, a small town 30 miles north of Chicago) At some point, he ran out of money and shelved the incomplete project. H.G. Lewis bought the unfinished work and finished it (sort of) Lewis added the narration and is said to have shot some new scenes to flesh out the story (ostensibly) and fill out the run time. Just how much Lewis added is unclear. Even the obviously older footage (presumably Rebane's original) is inconsistent enough to suggest that Halfday was started and stopped a few times over a couple years before finally getting shelved. Lewis's motivation was pure business (see "Package Deal" below) He needed a B film to maximize the profits of his Moonshine Mountain. This suggests that Lewis would be unlikely to shoot much new footage -- certainly not enough to account for the inconsistencies and oddities. That would be almost half the film. The utter lack of an ending suggests that Lewis did as little as possible to cobble together a film. So, most of the footage may have been Rebane's, including out-takes and extra which Rebane didn't plan to use (such as the extended scenes of firemen trotting around).

Package Deal -- H.G. Lewis was looking for a B feature in order to have a second-feature to release with his Moonshine Mountain. Lewis himself said his motivation was purely financial. Distributors would make double-features out of singly released films. Unscrupulous distributors would then claim both films were the B feature, so paid less for them. To ensure his Moonshine Mountain brought in whatever first-feature returns it could, Lewis needed his own package deal B feature. It didn't matter how lame the B was, as long as he had one. Lewis changed the title to sucker in some ticket sales. Anything with "monster" in the title was good for some sales. The "a go-go" was a trendy buzzword worth a few tickets too. (see below)

Why A Go-Go? -- Go-Go dancing and discotheques were becoming a hot item in the mid 60s. The original was "Whiskey a gogo" in Paris. ( a gogo meant "with abundance, lively, energetic.") Some American copies had opened up in the late 50s. The most famous was on Sunset Strip. It was there that the iconic "go go dancer" (shapely girl in a cage, wearing a fringed miniskirt and tall white boots) was born. Go Go was edgy. One San Francisco club was famous for having well-endowed topless dancers. By the mid-60s, Go Go was more mainstream, but still had some of that risky edge. It was a hot new trend (until overshadowed by the hippy era of the late 60s) Even if MaGG had no real go-go, (the dance party scene is its only weak claim to it), the mere mention was innuendo enough to sell a few tickets.

Cast Away -- There are almost two separate casts in MaGG. In the first half, we have Carl, Nora, Chris Manning and Dr. Henry Logan of the astrophysics lab. Ruth is astronaut Frank Douglas's girlfriend (she's a widow). The military man is Captain Steve Conners (clearly sporting captain's bars on his jacket). In the second half, Ruth is gone completely, as are Carl and Chris. Dr. Brent arrives and takes Manning's place. Dr. Henry Logan is dead, but brother, Dr. Conrad Logan (who wasn't in the first half) fills his role as white-coat. Conners is still with the cast, but now a Colonel (with palms on his lapels). Henry Hite plays the role of the monster, but his only clear interaction with any of the cast is with Henry Logan (whom he kills). Shots of him lumbering around alone are interspersed. Only Conners and Nora (with differing hair styles) stay throughout.

Telltail Lights -- The automobiles in MaGG are early 60s models, so probably from Rebane's footage. They seem to indicate that he worked on Halfday off and on over several years (61 to 63) In the opening scene, Conners is in a 1960 Chevy Impala. When they pick up Manning from the airport, it is in a black 1962 Pontiac Bonneville. Henry Logan drove a gray(?) '62 Bonneville. The floozy in the trucker-kiss scene had a 1960 Bonneville. Even the Chicago Civil Defense footage shows early 60s cars on the street, such as a '62 Chevy Biscayne. No '64 or '65 cars are seen. The dance scene (oft rumored to have been inserted by Lewis) has the angry boyfriend put his date into a '61 Pontiac Tempest. He stops to smooch and die in a '63 Pontiac LeMans, but first-cast members Chris and Carl examine the body (beside said LeMans), so this seems like Rebane footage.

Sing Along! -- In case you wanted to sing along, here are the lyrics to the movie's ballad:
Go, you monster, back to space
I don't like your haunted face,
Go, you monster, go
Go, you monster, go now
Go, you monster, go!

You may come from beyond the moon
But to me, you're just a goon,
Go, you monster, go
Awwwww-right nowwwww
Go, you monster, go!

Missing Music -- When Carl takes Ruth out to a restaurant to soothe her anxiety about Frank being missing, he asks if she, "Remembers that song?" No music is playing. Rebane probably intended to add a music track, but hadn't yet. Lewis never bothered. How much footage would a man who didn't care about this sort of detail, have spent the money to produce?

Bad Ring To It -- Another foible MaGG is notorious for is the fake phone ring. In the second half, (now) Colonel Conners sits at the table in the command headquarters (a computer room). The camera pans to the phone and we faintly hear off-stage, someone make a Brrrrr noise with his voice. Conners answers the phone and hears of the frightened sunbathers. In all likelihood, this is another bit of Rebane's unfinished footage. The stage hand's cue was probably supposed to get over-dubbed with a stock phone ring sound in post-production. Yet another clue to how little Lewis was finishing Rebane's project.

Grand Ending -- MaGG is famous for its abrupt and total non sequitur ending. The monster simply vanishes and the real astronaut conveniently appears (off camera, mentioned in a telegram). Clearly, Rebane hadn't shot an ending and Lewis was not keen to put any money into shooting one. No doubt he inserted the close-up of the telegram, and used the lame technique of a narrator expository wrap it up -- such as it was.

What Was He Thinking? -- Eclectic as it is, Rebane's story would seem to have been a variation on the mutated astronaut trope. (The Quatermass Xperiment, First Man Into Space, etc.) With the domestic love-interest of Ruth and little Jimmy, and the suggestion that the monster was trying to get to Ruth's house, Rebane may have intended monster-Douglas to get cured in the end. Along the way, it seems like Rebane was into making social-moral messages.

Bottom line? Anyone offended by low production value films should stay away. MaGG is less coherent than The Creeping Terror or Plan 9. It lacks any artsy eccentricities like Manos. Fans of really low grade "Z" movies will be amused (in an MST3K sort of way) at the bizarre collection of scenes and craters of non-continuity. True fans of cheap 50s sci-fi may find MaGG an interesting puzzle to muse over.

No comments: