Friday, January 07, 2011

Attack of the Space Hermaphrodites

Last week I discovered this wonderful website, dedicated to some of the worst films ever made. I had no idea that there were films called Attack of the Giant Leeches or Mars Needs Women, so I decided to try a couple and see just how dreadful they were.

The first movie I watched was a 1960s Italian science fiction film called I Criminali della Galassia (Criminals of the Galaxy), which was dubbed into English and released as Wild Wild Planet.

Frankly, the phrase "1960s Italian science fiction" is more than enough to make me want to watch a film, particularly given that the Anglo-American vision of the future is often so dull.

Would you really want to live in the dreary, politically correct universe of Captain Jean-Luc Picard or 2001: A Space Odyssey, when there are alternatives like this:

I've no idea what this movie is about. Admittedly I'd had a couple a drinks when I watched Wild Wild Planet, but even if I'd been stone cold sober with a can of Red Bull and Mark Kermode sitting next to me, I'd be none the wiser. It's an utterly mad film.

From what I could glean, Wild Wild Planet is about a series of kidnappings committed by attractive young women who are assisted by bald hermaphrodites in black leather coats and dark glasses. The victims are instantly shrunk to a fifth of their normal size so that they can be conveniently transported in a suitcase. They are then taken to another planet, where a mad scientist restores the victims to their normal size, then grafts them onto the body of someone of the opposite sex to create a new, super-race.

This scene gives you the gist of it:

As you can see, the special effects are in a class of their own. I rather like the fashions, particularly the fascisti black coats and dark glasses. Who says bald men aren't sexy?

There are many reasons for watching films like Wild Wild Planet, but what particularly appeals to me is how much it tells you about the zeitgeist of mid-1960s Italy. This film is the product of an age in which Modernism was still in the ascendancy and people genuinely believed that they were on the brink of a Space Age.

Like most popular science fiction films, the Wild Wild Planet's vision of the future is always an ├╝ber-present, rather than a bold, radically different vision of society; so it's mini skirts a go-go and lots of patronising men.

It's strange how bad films can be so depressing when they're contemporary, but enjoyable when they're a few decades old. I suppose it's because we know that these films are just aberrations, rather than harbingers of the end of Western civilisation.

Wild Wild Planet may be a dreadful movie, but it looks comparatively sensible compared to this absurd film:

I don't know where to begin with Zeta One. It is possibly the worst British film ever made and it comes as no surprise to learn that the director Michael Cort didn't work again.

There are two excellent articles (here and here) that give a summary of the plot, which appears to involve a battle between topless women from another planet and James Robertson Justice (aided by Charles Hawtrey).

There is also a secret agent called James Word, whose role never seems to be clearly defined. However, he seems to be enjoying himself:

The climax of Zeta One involves a battle between the topless warriors and a group of Scottish gamekeepers. This must be one of the most ridiculous things I've ever seen:

What does Zeta One tell us about 1969? First, that it was possible to conceive and produce a film as ridiculous as this without being sectioned under the 1963 Mental Health Act. Second, that in the wake of the famous Lady Chatterley trial, our popular culture was obsessed with sex.

This strange brand of titillating sauciness continued right through the 70s, with plenty of superfluous nudity in films, book covers and record sleeves.

Then, of course, in the early 80s, it all changed. The advent of the VCR meant that titillation was replaced by genuine pornography. Also, when AIDS first entered the public consciousness with photos of the dying Rock Hudson, sexual promiscuity no longer seemed so appealing.

The final nail in the coffin was probably the "New Conservatism" of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

It has been said that if you really want to capture the flavour of a particular period, a second-rate crime novel is far better than a classic. I'm not sure if the same rule always applies to films (is Zeta One more authentically 60s than Alfie?).

I think I'll have to do some more research.


tristan said...

how many valuable brain cells can you afford to destroy before total irreversible inertia befalls you ?

Steerforth said...

I'm in the process of discovering the answer.

Anonymous said...

Heady stuff, Steerforth. Your eclectic interests never cease to amaze and amuse. You've come a long way from Derek's diaries, baby! Do keep us posted on the results of your future research.
Canadian Chickadee
PS the word verification is "yokersi" which sounds like a bad Japanese sci-fi flick.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Must say I'm more worried by 'Attack of the Greedy Bankers' at the moment but I will find time to enjoy the quaint charms of at least a title or two you have shared.

Which is the most ludicrous and least scary again?


Martin H. said...

Ah, 1969. Men on the moon (were they, or was it me?) and at times my life seemed to play like a slow scene from Zeta One.

Steerforth said...

Zeta One is the most ludicrous and least scary. I'm not sure if I'd go as far as recommending it to anyone.

Steerforth said...

Canadian Chickadee - I hope this post isn't too "ecclectic" for some people!

Martin - yes, I should have put it within the context of the moon landings.

Were the 60s this sexy, even in slow play? I'm beginning to think that I was born in the wrong year.

JRSM said...

If it's ludicrous, sexy and unscary horror you're after, you could do worse than 'Invasion of the Bee Girls':

Actually, you couldn't literally do worse...

Steerforth said...

I've just watched a clip of the Invasion of the Bee Girls and I have to agree - it's in a class of its own.

Junie said...

"Today, quite by accident, I stumbled upon the most appalling pornographic film. I already had my doubts about the blogger, Steerforth, as he seems unable to honor at least half of our Lord's Fifth Commandment. But today he seems to have gone completely off the rails. What a shock to find him keenly interested in "Zeta One", a filthy movie featuring cards, nudity and Scotsmen. Far from condemning this unwholesome filth, he seemed to revel in it and promised to do "further research". I have no doubt as to what he means by that awful insinuation.

This is yet another reminder of how indecency surrounds us and how at any moment we may be beset by ungodly desires and temptations. I cannot help but wonder if such decadence does not presage the End of Days and if so, exactly what this will mean to our family. Brenda, though stalwart, would, I fear, eventually collapse under the weight of constant degradation. I thank the Lord that our son will never fully know the burden of such sinful thinking. Nana, of course, would become even more difficult than she is now. I myself would dread closing my eyes at night, for fear devilish desires would overwhelm my vulnerable subconscious. I could not bear to wake each morning and greet Brenda, knowing I have committed adultery in my thoughts and dreams each night.

If only Steerforth had some notion of the dismay he causes. I thought of writing to him privately to convey my distress at his wholly inappropriate discussion. But I fear my wrath would hamper rather than aid my argumentation. He might not understand the righteous nature of my ire. I begin to wonder if he was not sent here to test me.

As to the movie clip itself, a few seconds of which I haplessly watched before I fully realized it, I could only feel pity for the poor women reduced to prostituting themselves in that way, their shame now on exhibit all over the world and even unto eternity. How much better off they would have been had they only received the proper vocational guidance. Then they would have found themselves in some wholesome and useful field, such as hotel management. Perhaps they might even have become teachers. But no, I fear most of them were too buxom for that.

In any case, it's been a most upsetting day. Again, I must wonder if the Internet is a force for good or evil?"

Steerforth said...

It's uncanny - the ghost of Derek!

I feel thoroughly chastened now.

In mitigation, I think that my mother is the cause. Since she came to stay, the strain of spending long periods of time being good - never swearing, drinking too much or watching inappropriate things on the television - has taken its toll on my mental health.

I'm ashamed to say that I have attempted to restore my equilibrium by watching the worst sort of filth.

Worse still, I have subjected my readers, who come here in search of spiritual refreshment, to a succession of harrowing images featuring Italian hermaphrodite assassins, Scottish gamekeepers and topless warriors from another world.

It is a betrayal of trust.

I offer my full apolgies and hope that you will accept my plea of diminshed responsibility.

I will shortly be off for my annual break at the Betty Ford clinic and when I return, I promise that I will strive to raise the tone of this blog.