Lo-Fi Sci-Fi

Titles Reviewed: Creation Of The Humanoids (1962), Journey To The Center Of Time (1967)

Creation Of The Humanoids

(USA, 1962) DIR: Wesley Barry. SCR: Jay Simms. PROD: Wesley Barry, Edward J. Kay. CAST: Don Megowan, Erica Elliot, Frances McCann, Dudley Manlove.

Warning: there is a huge spoiler ahead, but I can't write this review without revealing it. If you've yet to see the movie and can handle the truth, read on. If you haven't seen it, by all means check it out.

In the opening, we hear some unintelligible dialogue over blackness, followed by a long montage of mushroom clouds, and then some cheesy science film narrator explaining that someone dropped the bomb ("Who it was is of little importance now...") and that the small population of surviving humans living underground created a series of robots to help with the work load. Then we are treated to a documentary (of something that hasn't happened yet!) explaining all of the different models of robots that were created, each less machine-like than the last, until we finally the "present" model-- these chalk-faced, dark-eyed silver clad humanoids. Thus begins the fascinating morality play of this zero-budget science fiction film, while short on visual ideas, is nonetheless bursting with good intentions on paper, which is why it remains a cult favourite.

Released during the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, this brave little fable is a thinly veiled allegory about equality, as the less-populated ruling class of humans (given the Totalitarian name, "The Order Of Flesh And Blood") preside over the Humanoids, disparagingly referred to as "Clickers", who stage a revolt. An old professor has developed a newer-looking model, with more realistic-looking flesh... and feelings. The humanoids kill him in order to expand on his invention. (Yes, they're getting more human all the time.) Don Megowan (who looks like actor Don Gordon with a squint) as Captain Kenneth Cragis, is assigned to the case, and he must vie for the attentions of a woman who is attracted to a humanoid! At first we balk at this strange coupling, especially when it is mentioned that she was visited by a humanoid and became pregnant, but once we see the humanoid laugh, things get spookier.

Thematically, this stagy film is a feast. It is an early forerunner of William Gibson's Cyberpunk fiction, and the screenplay is rampant with symbols of Fascism and Christianity! The robots are stopped by the human guards and asked for their identification just like any citizen would be under a dictatorship. It makes sense that there is little differentiation between the humanoid figures (except for body mass)-- they are allowed no individualism or identity! Finally, both Man and Machine realize that there is no difference between each other, and agree to get along. Suddenly, this weird-looking scientist with a huge forehead whom we have seen throughout, turns towards the camera, and says "And so it came to pass. And that is why you are able to see this."


Wait a second-- the story we just saw was how we were created? Therefore, what we think is the future was actually the past?!? This explains the strange documentary-like opening, and also when the old man turns to the audience at the end, he breaks through the fourth wall just like those guys on a Sunday afternoon TV special: "What you have just seen was a re-enactment of..."

Your head swims when "The End" comes up-- and it is followed by a definition from Webster stating that the end is the beginning of something else. Thus, this film is a collision of both Evolution and Creationism. Adam and Eve and The Big Bang Theory (remember the opening) are in the same fable. This also opens another potential idea: perhaps what happened prior to the opening was actually the universe before this one? This supports the theory that everything in the universe, from start to finish, happens again and again for all eternity-- however, in this one instance, perhaps the two races learn from their mistakes and decide to prevent the future / the past from repeating itself? Whew.

This science-fiction film is so literate is because it has little else in production values. The film takes place entirely in these cramped, yet colourful interiors-- this too, makes sense, as the outer world is probably still contaminated, and both human and robot must "get along" in this environment... and a synthetic environment at that! The limited mise en scene is helped immeasurably with a great electronic soundtrack by Edward J. Kay (this film's co-producer, also a longtime movie composer), which gives the film a haunting atmosphere. Even though the action takes place entirely on a few sets, Hal Mohr's cinematography brings out their secondary colours-- the proceedings have an unsettling, 50s home-movie retro look (once you consider the ending, this pseudo-documentary feel makes sense). In the perverse scene where the Order Of Flesh And Blood convene-- the men are lit with these hard keys, making them look more diabolical than the humanoids (who I guess would be a "special interest group" in today's terms), and in behind them is a church-like stained glass window-a daring metaphor about a small group of people bringing their customs to a cultural mass that may not want them. No wonder this movie feels like a book.

The film has gained some notoriety as "Andy Warhol's favourite movie" (which kind of makes sense, considering his own un-cinematic films), and has slowly gained a cult following over the years. Monterey Video released it to VHS, and Dark Sky Films released it to DVD, paired with War Between The Planets, as part of its Drive-In Double Feature series.

Journey To The Center Of Time

(USA, 1967) DIR-SCR: David L. Hewitt. PROD: Ray Dorn, David L. Hewitt: CAST: Scott Brady, Anthony Eisley, Gigi Perreau, Abraham Sofaer, Lyle Waggoner.

This bargain basement remake of the 1964 AIP sci-fi mini favourite The Time Travellers has that film's co-story writer, David L. Hewitt, as writer, director and co-producer. One can imagine a pre-production dialogue going like this: "A couple of things, though: we just have a half-finished control room, a black backdrop, black-and-white stock footage, and a not-bad spaceship interior. What can we do?" Well, rest assured, Hewitt knew how to make something out of very little. In the latter half of the 1960s, he turned out a handful of genre pictures with the barest minimum of production values: half-completed sets (and monsters), and the ubiquitous generic black backdrop. Such titles as The Wizard Of Mars or Return From The Past became 4 AM staples, and shelf fillers during the VHS age. Video distributors would plaster the video boxes with the names of its veteran cast members who had joined the "anything for a buck" club, including Lon Chaney Jr., Scott Brady, Anthony Eisley, and of course, John Carradine. A Hewitt production is however distinguished by its genuinely ambitious writing, which make a viewer wonder why the producers even attempted a buck ninety-eight production budget with such adventurous screenplays?

Mr. Stanton (Scott Brady, doing a Lawrence Tierney impersonation - haha) is tightening the belt on grants that were issued by his late father. He comes to the laboratory of Dr. Gordon (Abraham Sofaer), who is working on a revolutionary time travel experiment (based on a really heady theory which is divulged in the opening credits matted over a stock shot of a spiral galaxy). He booms, "You have 24 hours to gets some results!"

The next day, Stanton, Gordon, and his trusty assistants Mark Manning (Anthony Eisley) and Karen White (Gigi Perreau) are in a control room. These assistants are on hand as the hopeful love interests, and for the requisite subplot of hot-blooded young scientist locking horns with insensitive bureaucrat. Suddenly they are transported in a capsule 5000 years into the future, where Earth is seen as black-and-white bombed out miniatures on the telescreen. They are visited by friendly peroxide-haired aliens in mismatching uniforms and skin tones, who stand on multi-gelled risers. The otherworldly visitors are repairing their ship, but are also under siege by Earth people who want their weapons. They humbly advise the time travellers to return home, and just in the nick of time, too. Shortly after our heroes' departure, we are given a little harrowing glimpse of the future as the aliens are then invaded by Earth people. This fierce battle in front of a black curtain is presented in a layered montage of awkward, shaky hand-held fight scenes.

This quartet jettisons back to prehistoric times, only after they view more black-and-white stock footage of World War II, Civil War movies, swashbuckler films, and gladiator sub-spectacles. Finally, they reach One Million B.C., and Raquel Welch is nowhere in sight. However, there IS a styrofoam set partially concealed by dry ice, and nature footage with a normal-sized lizard made to look big with extreme close-ups, that opens its mouth and suddenly a huge roar is heard on the soundtrack.

Meanwhile in present day, the hard-working scientists (including Lyle Waggoner, from TV's Wonder Woman!) sweat it out in the half-finished control room, which is a bunch of gauges glued to some plywood, with a bare black backdrop supplied by the Ed Wood Charity Fund for Thrifty Art Direction, as they toil to bring back the renegade capsule and restore time to its original order.

PS- in One Million BC, what time is it on Scott Brady's watch?

In a 1987 Fangoria interview, Anthony Eisley (who starred in many ultra-cheap genre pictures, like The Doll Squad or Monstroid) praised Hewitt for being a very bright filmmaker, yet also lamented that he never had any proper money to work with. (They would also work together on The Mighty Gorga.) Still, one had to admire him for striving to make something worthwhile. After directing several movies, Hewitt went on to supervise special effects on many films, including Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. Because Journey To The Center Of Time is mistakenly thought to be in the public domain, it has appeared on numerous budget VHS and DVD labels. (In the early days of DVD, the notorious Beverly Wilshire distributed the title.) My DVD copy cost a whole dollar (released in a cardboard sleeve by a company called, yes, Dollar DVD.)