Destination Inner Space (1966)

Destination Inner Space is exactly the sort of movie that I, as a young lad, had yearned to run across while flipping through the TV channels (in the barbaric days before the remote control, yet) on some Saturday afternoon or during The Late, Late Show. It’s not good, exactly, but it had a monster in it.And, in fact, it has a pretty good monster in it. Otherwise it’s pretty run of the mill.Of course, my tastes weren’t all that cultured back then, anyway. And hey, even now a good monster still buys you a decent amount of credit in my book.

The movie is basically a remake of The Thing from Another World, only set on an underwater facility rather than an Arctic military base.Remember that period during the ’80s when, inspired by the impending release of The Abyss, there was a slew of (sadly uniformly lame) underwater monster movies? The ’60s saw a similar period, albeit somewhat less monster oriented. A cultural interest in Scuba culture and underwater living manifested itself not only in TV shows like Sea Hunt.*

[*For what it’s worth, I never really got this. Yes, the scenery can be quite pretty. But scuba scenes are so friggin’ slooooooow.]

Most prominently, perhaps, there was the incessant scuba diving and underwater action in 1965’s Thunderball, the fourth James Bond picture and still the series’ record holder for most tickets sold. Similar action occurred in later Bond films such as The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only and Sean Connery’s return to the role, Never Say Never Again.

Meanwhile, a pair of producers steadily worked in this genre.Schlock maven Irwin Allen’s first film was the 1952 Oscar-winning documentary The Sea Around Us. When Allen branched out into often wacky sci-fi, this was followed by Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (both movie and TV show) and the 1969 TV pilot The City Beneath the Sea. (Allen aside, 1969 also saw the theatrical films Captain Nemo and the Underwater City and the comedy Hello Down There, about a family testing out an underwater home.)

Producer Ivan Tors was even more associated with underwater projects.In fact, he started a production company called the Ivan Tors Underwater Studios Ltd, which worked on the frogman scenes in Thunderball. Mr. Tors worked as a producer and/or writer of water-based movies and shows ranging from Sea Hunt, The Aquanauts, Flipper (both movies and the TV show—he later also produced Gentle Ben), the sci-fi picture Around the World Under the Sea, Namu the Killer Whale, Island of the Lost, the aforementioned Hello Down There, The Aquarians, Primus (a Sea Hunt-type show), the documentary Treasure Galleons, Salty (a kids ‘n’ animal TV show like Flipper and Gentle Ben, only with a sea lion), and finally something in 1978 called Danny and the Mermaid, which I imagine was a precursor of Splash.

And let’s not forget Saturday morning cartoon shows like Sealab 2020 and Moby Dick.So, obviously, Destination Inner Space was filling what was, at the time, a familiar niche. Actually, it’s just surprising that there weren’t more underwater movies featuring monsters. Basically it was this and, of course, a zillion episodes of Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Our feature presentation opens with a couple of minutes of boating footage as the credits unspool. (“We rented this boat, and we’re going to get our money’s worth, dammit!“). The craft arrives at a believably rundown topside installation, marked with a rather obviously homemade sign as belonging to the “Institute of Marine Science.” Or, more depressingly, maybe it *is* the Institute of Marine Science. And by the way, kudos to the screenwriter for that two seconds he spent coming up with that moniker. However, I’m not sure what the briefly seen sign on the other side, reading (I think) “Two Brothers”, means.

Inside a rather patent set marked with various outdated bits of ‘scientific’ equipment, and manned by presumably marine merchant sailors, we meet the boat’s passenger: gruff, manly (if somewhat beer-bellied) Commander Wayne, USN. “Topside” is the installation sited above “Sealab” (really), a marine research facility down on the ocean floor. Wayne is given scant details for why he’s been called there, although the old salt who is apparently Topside’s chief officer opines, “There’s something odd going on down there, that’s for sure.” Bum bum bum! Not only that, but the score currently features discordant electronic tones, so you know something science fiction-y is happening here.

Wayne elects to get right to it, and soon is taking the small, connected diving bell down to Sealab. The lab itself proves to be an entirely obvious model, but hey, it’s better than CGI. The sad thing is that they don’t do what they can to in any way disguise the nature of the miniatures here. For instance, the ‘diving bell’ isn’t weighted properly, and bobs around on its ‘cable’ way too much. (Nor is its operation entirely smooth, although again mostly because of the bobbing.) As such, it all too accurately suggests its real size and mass.

As for Sealab itself, the main problem is that they apparently didn’t know enough to film the miniature from a low angle to suggest a sense of size, like in your Godzilla movies. Shot from above, this looks like exactly what it is: a model maybe a couple of feet across. Also, the ‘air’ hose is way too thick, assuming the presumed dimensions of the installation.

Cdr. Wayne leaves the airlock (the camera unwisely offers us a glimpse of its unfinished wooden interior) and begins to meet the normal array of supporting characters. There’s head scientist Dr. LaSatier; obvious romantic interest-in-the-offing Dr. Rene Peron; several red shirt scientists and sailors and, wincingly, Ho Lee, a comic relief Chinese cook. To be fair, Ho Lee really isn’t an out rightly offensive character, other than in his even then outdated fractured English. Still, he’s not a boob or anything.

As well, Ho Lee luckily proves not to be as much of the proceedings as I’d feared from his early appearance here. It’s not so much him as a character I was antsy about, as the Odious Comic Relief he represented. Later, there’s a lame bit about him offering the visiting Wayne a nice steak or chops for dinner. Ho is confused, though, when Wayne requests instead fish. “How Ho Lee going to get fish?” he wonders. Get it? They’re on an underwater base, and he doesn’t know where to get fish? See? It’s funny. Still, that’s Ho’s big scene, so over all the comic relief is happily kept to a minimum here.

Wayne is taken to the lab, where Dr. LaSatier is looking over a *cough* radar screen, and the mysterious object it’s monitoring. It’s this that accounts for Wayne’s presence, and they discuss how strange the object is acting. Again, anyone conversant with The Thing from Another World will remain unsurprised when the two start butting heads later on.

Speaking of butting heads, another cliché plot point is telegraph when LaSatier mentions that one Hugh Maddox in the lab’s head diver. “Maddox?” Wayne booms. Sure enough, Maddox will prove to have a prior relationship with Wayne, and moreover to hold a deep and long-running grudge against him. This will set up some typically lackluster ‘character conflict’ to pad out the monster scenes.

In the meantime, LaSatier takes Wayne on to another lab, where he introduces Dr. Wilson (Biff Elliott). This ‘lab’ boasts a fish tank amusingly built into the wall and sporting one fish, which is meant to be a window to the outside sea. It also sports an Oscilloscope, because that’s what a set dresser on a budget always uses to say, “SCIENCE!” I will say that although the sets are pretty cheesy, they are fairly big but sparely furnished, in a manner that at least no doubt managed to make the interiors of Sealab credible enough for the film’s young matinee audiences.

Cut outside to Maddox and photographer Sandra Welles cruising around in a mini-sub. It was access to this piece of equipment, one suspects, which might have inspired the making of this film. (See also the much clunkier craft in 1954’s far more dismally cheap Monster from the Ocean Floor.) Welles is wearing a rather chic hooded scuba top arrayed with a black and white check pattern.

In any case, the couple spends several minutes riding around (“We rented this mini-sub, and we’re going to get our money’s worth, dammit!“) and ‘treating us’ to lots of scenic underwater footage of reefs and fish and such. At one point Maddox spots an off-camera stock footage shark, which is greeted with a big blare of ominous music, although it never even approaches them.

Maddox notes the Mysterious Object is moving away from them, and reports to Sealab that he’s going to continue pursuit. (Given the ‘speed’ of the mini-sub, the Object better be moving pretty slowly.) LaSatier overrules him, noting that they don’t have enough air in their tanks to continue. He orders them to return.

Entering via the moon pool (i.e., an open underwater floor port), Maddox tells Sandra that “a couple of minutes more and we would have been breathing water.” So much for him being, as LaSatier said a bit earlier, the finest diver he’s ever known. Sandra, meanwhile, points out that he ignored her when she suggested they take extra tanks. (Actually, they wouldn’t have fit in the dinky mini-sub, but anyway.) Again, this doesn’t exactly establish Maddox as a super competent guy. Which, as we’ll eventually learn, was probably by design.

Maddox reacts to news ofWayne’s presence with the anticipated marked antipathy. This naturally means that he and Wayne will continue butting heads in the mandatory fashion (while full details of the incident are kept secret for a while so as to allow for a big ‘revelation’ scene later); until of course they eventually put their differences aside so as to work to Save Mankind. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We waste some time here with ‘character’ stuff. Maddox hits on Sandra, who is resistant, maybe because he’s the sort of fading, Rat Pack-ish type of hipster who calls her ‘baby.’ Meanwhile,Wayne hits on a wary but more receptive Rene, who has a sort of ’30s-ish Susan Sarandon thing going. For herself, Rene explains how fascinating she finds marine life. “You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?” Wayne blurts in astonishment. (!!) She responds with the typical boilerplate about feeding the world’s population with the ocean’s bounty. Here’s an idea: Couldn’t she just like fish?

Then the cast begins to examine Sandra’s blurry pictures of the distant Mystery Craft, which again suggest that they are not looking for a regular submarine. Wayne suggests shutting down Sealab’s operations until they determine what’s going on. LaSatier objects, and here Maddox openly reveals his grudge against Wayne for the first time.

This is interrupted, though (so as to be stretched out for a while) when the Mystery Craft finally reveals itself during a close swim-by: It’s an underwater flying saucer. This is also a pretty obvious model, generic yet kind of cool. Moreover, it clearly does move under its own power, presumably operated via remote control. Moreover, this revelation takes place about seventeen minutes into the movie, so at least things are moving at a fairly fast clip.

Again, though, they film the model saucer from above and at a distance, which utterly fails to disguise its miniature nature. Although I’m sure the thinking was that on the underwater floor there wouldn’t be anything you could really scale it against, the fact is that the attendant plant life and stuff down there is clearly not of the huge size indicated by the stated dimensions of the saucer. Especially amusing is a scene where a fish swims by it, as it briefly provides exactly the sense of scale the filmmakers were no doubt hoping to avoid.

Still, on its extremely limited budget, the film does try to suggest that Sealab is an actual base. And so LaSatier calls an alert and the various (if numerically small) crew members run about getting to their emergency stations.Although this largely involves two guys putting on helmets, another grabbing a med kit, Ho Lee readying a fire extinguisher, and Wilson stowing away some of the otherwise unsecured chemical bottles dotting his lab, well, at least they tried.

Back to the UFO. It ‘flies’ over Sealab, shaking the station and knocking out communication before coming to a rest fairly nearby. An underwater saucer is a fairly neat idea, and only used in a handful of films, notably The Atomic Submarine. The interior of the sub is basically a round chamber with a bunch of triangular panels arrayed around the floor. One of these opens up and a mechanical arm pushes forth a salami-sized capsule encased in a block of ice. Once exposed, the ice begins to melt. Bum bum bum!

Maddox and Wayne suit up to swim over and examine the alien craft.This allows them to finally get off the pot and inform the audience of the matter between them. We learn that Maddox blames Wayne for the deaths of some crew mates back when they served together in the U.S. submarine service. Following an accident,Wayne ordered the air-tight compartment Maddox and the others were trapped in sealed in order to save the sub. Only Maddox escaped.

Again, this is a pretty standard trope, both in standard Naval movies (of which there were more back in the day), and in sci-fi ones. The Atomic Submarine, for instance, has a pretty similar conflict going on between its two main characters. As it happens, there’s still a further revelation to come, but more on that later.

Sandra enters the room, too, also getting ready for the trip over.As they suit up,Wayne gets the worst of it. The trio’s scuba ‘suits’ are only tops, and hence we get a little too good of a look at the Commander’s Speedo shorts for my taste. Worse for Wayne (or for the actor playing him) is that his scuba tank harness belt is obviously waaay too small for his not exactly svelte waist. He gamely delivers his lines, however, as he works at length to suck in his gut enough to painfully get the belt halves to clasp.

Entering the interior chamber of the Saucer (which boasts its own moon pool), the three look around.Looking around the mostly bare room,Wayne declares “This craft looks extraterrestrial!” Uhm,OK. Then they find the aforementioned capsule, now freed from the block of ice it was transferred in. They take it back to Sealab, and….

Well, this might seem coy to a ridiculous extent, especially given the general nature of my reviews. Still, Destination Inner Space isn’t a bad movie, just a formulaic one, and what juice it has comes from its monster scenes. So I’m going to leave those unexamined. Who knows, in a year or two this movie might get an official DVD release, and I don’t want to blow the good stuff for anyone who might be interested.

I can say, obviously, that an alien Gill Man soon makes its presence known. (I will say that the manner in which the monster is sent to Earth is pretty novel and intelligent.) And that since both Sealab and the Saucer conveniently come equipped with moon pools, which allow the monster to suddenly pop up at strategic moments. One such incident again references The Thing from Another World, namely the moment when the characters in that earlier film open a door and to their shock find the monster standing right behind it.

As noted above, the monster is a beauty.It’s not, of course, up to the mark of the original Gill Man from The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but it may hold second place in the small pantheon of such beasties. The basic difference is to make this film’s Gill Man more fish-like. Instead of ribbed plates like the Creature, Destination‘s Gill Man sports scales. Its head is more fish-like and it boasts colorful ridges and fins. (A bold move, really, since the array of color might have been considered less than menacing).

Meanwhile, getting away from the Creature’s sleek look, the Destination Inner Space Gill Man has a distended and thus less human-appearing torso. This is basically because they incorporated an interior scuba tank in the costume’s design specs, which accounts for the monster’s humped back.

Although the tank is occasionally somewhat apparent, this is a case of taking a problem and turning it into an advantage. The aforementioned bulge helps the movie’s Gill Man look about as different from the seminal Creature design as you can reasonably get. As well, it makes the suit pretty functional, since it can actually be used for extended underwater shots, as it is here.

With the monster running, and swimming, around, Wayne and LaSatier naturally follow the lead of The Thing from Another World and get into an argument as to whether they should try to kill the beast or save it for Science! It should be noted that as cliché as this material is, again, this film was probably mostly made for youngsters, who were mostly less conversant with genre tropes and thus less irked by them.

This is why it’s always funny when a 40 year old film critic bashes, say, some new teen dance movie as being just a pointless remake of Breakin’. Except, of course, that the intended audience for the new movie wasn’t even alive when Breakin’ was in theaters, and thus are judging it by that same standard.

Moreover, as I’ve opined before, this military vs. scientist conflict is usually quite lamely artificial. If the script has the aliens purely out to kill us all, the scientists look like naive dunderheads for trying to communicate with them. If the aliens are peaceful, this makes the military characters look like paranoid, blood-thirsty savages. (“Who are the real monsters here?!”)

All in all, it’s a bit of a con game, meant to make the side the filmmakers ‘agree’ with look good and the other side look bad. A better made movie, of course, can actually play with this tension, deepen it and make it work. All too often, however, it’s a rote tool for casting aspersions at the ‘type’ of people you disagree with.

This is why, presumably, that as the years have gone by the military types have become less and less likely to be correct in any similar circumstances. Then there’s the other modern counterpoint, which is if anything even more overused and tired: Responsible Scientist wants to kill the monster, Greedy Businessman or Eee-vil Military Type wants to save it to turn it to their own ends.

Here the whole issue is rather bloodless. The clichés are employed not so much as to prove a point as to pad out the screenplay in a simple, time-saving fashion. Again, the whole movie is basically a remake of The Thing from Another World, so deviating from its template would require more thought and effort than the project presumably demanded.

Nobody here was interested in re-inventing the wheel. Still, they in fact deserve fairly high marks for making the proceedings bland and efficient rather than actively bad and boring, so that the monster can actually raise this one a bit above its contemporaries.

In between monster attacks, we get the resolution to the Maddox/Wayne thing. Completely out of nowhere, it’s revealed that Wayne had sealed the men in on the flooding chamber with the knowledge that there was an escape pod (or some damn thing) in the room. (On a submarine?!) It wasn’t he who doomed the men, but Maddox, who panicked and left the others behind when he fled in the thing. Whatever it was.

This revelation is fairly retarded, mostly because it’s played like Maddox has been blocking the truth from himself, and focusing his anger and shame on Wayne these last three years so as to facilitate this avoidance. First, this makes Wayne look pretty saintly, since he basically spends much of the film taking self-righteous guff from a coward who abandoned his crew mates to a horrible, unnecessary death.

Second, and funnier, is the idea that fleeing the Navy has allowed Maddox to bury all this inside his own head. Really? So there was a fatal incident on a United States Navy submarine, in which a number of men died (and pointlessly, too), and there wasn’t an official investigation of it? 

That’s not the way the military works, to say the least. Far from being allowed to just leave the Navy, Maddox would have at best been dishonorably discharged from the service, and more likely have been sentenced to a stint in a military prison. Instead,Wayne shrugs the whole thing off, which I found pretty hilarious.

More amusing still is that Maddox’s much belated confession finally scores him with Sandra. Having heard, after several instances of him beating on Wayne for causing the men’s deaths, that Maddox himself doomed them purely as a result of his own panic and hysteria, Sandra now finally finds him worth her interest. Confession, I guess, is not only good for the soul, but for getting the nooky.

“Until a minute ago, I couldn’t find much in you I really liked,” Sandra admits. “Now, I think…I could fall in love with you.” (!!) Chicks. Am I right, gentlemen? Moreover, one naturally imagines the scene continuing: “Oh, yeah? Well, baby, you ain’t heard nothing yet.This wide yellow streak down my back has caused a lot more deaths than that! For instance, there was this one time I and some friends were on shore leave in Turkey….”

I was actually a bit confused by this budding romance, I must admit. By the standards of the time, Maddox’s confession should have required a Noble Sacrificial Death to redeem his honor. However, now he was involved in Young Love, which suggests instead a happy ending. I’ll leave it to interested parties to learn for themselves how things actually end up, although I will note that I found the mechanics of the result pretty unconvincing.

Anyway, like I said, Destination Inner Space is basically a cheapie potboiler livened somewhat by a neato monster design. (So why do I fear the odds remain good that it will prove the best of the Gill Man movies I’ve recently procured to review?) The attempts to raise the stakes to a global threat seem a bit forced, but again, the film is largely a knock-off of The Thing from Another World. Those elements don’t really come into play that much, though, and can be pretty much ignored.

Happily, there’s a fair amount of monster stuff, as this isn’t one of those “it shows up at the end” deals. Once the film hits the halfway mark, it does a pretty good job of keeping the tempo up. The introduction of the beast is also more stylish than you’d expect, certainly if you’re at all conversant with the oeuvre of screenwriter Arthur C. Pierce.* Assuming this is because of director Francis D. Lyon, you can only wish he had made more ‘b’ horror movies.

[*On the other hand, Pierce’s The Navy vs. the Night Monsters wouldn’t be nearly as bad shorn of two elements: First, the unconnected and added in post-production Navy conference scenes, and the horrendous ‘comic’ relief, much of which may have been actor Bobby Van’s contribution more than it was Pierce’s.]

The blocking of the monster scenes can be a bit awkward, and there’s a fairly ridiculous scene where two guys basically wrestle the huge, clawed creature into submission while they are all swimming around underwater (yeah, right). Still, the body count is nice and high, even if there’s about zero gore factor. This, again, is an indication that the film was aiming at kiddie matinee audiences rather than the teens sought by the far more ridiculous but also much bloodier The Horror of Party Beach.

***

One of the film’s genuine strengths, as with other such films of the period, is a professional cast of character actors with a ton of movie and especially TV work under their belts. One generally unacknowledged problem stemming from the fact that genre movie casts are generally much younger these days (heaven forbid your protagonists be in their ’40s or ’50s) is that it’s harder to find actors with the same sort of experience offered by such older casts.

Meanwhile, even DTV fare these days sport longer production schedules than the formula product churned out back in the 1930s through the ’60s. (More so, admittedly, back in the studio days, when a picture shot on a ‘skid row’ mini-studio like PRC or Monogram might be in the can in a week.) Still, working back in an era in which one might make five or ten or more movie or TV appearances a year created a deep pool of actors familiar with the pressures of shooting a film quickly.

These sorts of actors might not deliver a great deal of nuance in their performances, but then they were generally cast to fit the role they were playing anyway. And they knew how to come on set, hit their marks, deliver their lines in a professional manner, collect their paychecks and head off for their next project.

Meanwhile, whoever cast the film obviously liked their male actors to have booming or emphatic voices, as many of the actors here have. Today’s movies have much better sound recording, but the actors tend to mumble more.Here the line readings are instead good and clear.

Scott Brady (Cdr. Wayne) is a typical example of an old school character actor. He began acting in the late ’40s, and by the time of his death in 1985—his last appearance was in 1984’s Gremlins—he had racked up 137 performances as tracked on the IMDB.  (Meaning he probably had more, as some presumably have gone unnoticed.) Brady hit the ground running, starring in the usual array of oaters and cop pictures, including 1948’s nifty proto-CSI flick He Walked by Night.

In the ’50s he also started adding TV appearances to his résumé. Even so, despite his steady work docket in a decade known for sci-fi films, he stuck to westerns and crime films throughout that period. Indeed, Destination Inner Space seems to be his first sci-fi or horror movie.

Those genres were a lot more popular in the ’60s, however, and in the following years he appeared in such films as Castle of Evil (1966, for DIS director Francis D. Lyon), Journey to the Center of Time (1968), The Mighty Gorga (1969) and Nightmare in Wax (1972). Unsurprisingly, though, he did more and more TV work as time went along.

Sheree North (Rene Peron) had a similar career, sporting 113 IMDB credits, although her career was dotted with more noteworthy trivia. Ms. North, for example, was held over Marilyn Monroe’s head as a possible replacement by Fox when the latter actress was acting up on the set.She also remains perhaps best known for two TV roles. She played Ed Asner’s girlfriend in a couple of episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but achieved immortality of a sort by playing Kramer’s mother Babs on Seinfeld, and being the one who revealed his first name to be Cosmo.

Although primarily a movie actress in the ’50s, by the ’60s Ms. North was primarily doing TV work.Destination Inner Space was a rare film appearance at the time, and, as with Scott Brady, her first sci-fi project. Indeed, she wouldn’t work in the genre again until an episode appearance in 1977’s TV show Future Cop. She didn’t appear in a horror movie until 1988’s Maniac Cop. Ms. North retired from acting in the late ’90s, and died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 73.

The same general framework applies for actor Gary Merrill (Dr. LaSatier).He too boasted a ton of credits—the IMDB lists 110—and somehow went through the ’50s without a single sci-fi movie under his belt.

However, his first such role, as the cynical and lovably irascible reporter in 1961’s Mysterious Island, possibly remains his best known part. 1966 saw his next two sci-fi movies, Destination Inner Space and Around the World Under the Sea. During that same decade he also appeared in such genre TV shows as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and The Time Tunnel. That pretty wrapped up his sci-fi and horror work, although he acted through 1980. Mr. Merrill passed away in 1990.

The somewhat exotic but very fetching Wende Wagner (Sandra Welles) was well cast here, as she often worked in underwater projects. She worked as a scuba stunt diver on the TV shows Sea Hunt and The Aquanauts, as well as the movie September Storm. Her first husband was also a stunt diver; her second was James Mitchum, Robert Mitchum’s son. On a sadder note, she was a close friend of Sharon Tate, the actress gruesomely murdered by the Charles Manson gang. Prior to that, Tate’s husband Roman Polanski directed Wagner in a small role in Rosemary’s Baby. Working in show biz made for some weird lives.

Ms. Wagner remains probably best remembered as the female lead of The Green Hornet TV show, opposite Van Williams and Bruce Lee. After that it was basically a handful of TV and movie appearances before she retired from acting in 1973. She passed away from cancer in 1997, at the too young age of 56.

Biff Elliot (Dr. Wilson) remains best remembered to trivia fans for playing the first screen incarnation of brutal PI Mike Hammer, in 1953’s I, The Jury. Growing pudgier as he aged, and with a soft, raspy voice, Elliot remained a busy character actor, mostly (as with his compatriots here) doing small movie roles and TV appearances.

Jabootu fans might remember him as Cdr. Simpson in the hilariously bad off-island insert scenes used to pad The Navy vs. the Night Monsters, made the same year as our current subject.Aside from TV appearances on shows like Star Trek, Elliot’s next major genre role was as the comic relief slob cop in 1980’s The Dark. He retired from acting in the mid ’80s.

Mike Road (Hugh Maddox) is perhaps the second most famous actor to appear here, although we don’t realize this until he speaks. When he does, his voice is instantly recognizable as that of Race Bannon from the classic animated TV show Jonny Quest. Unsurprisingly, despite his large number of episodic TV appearances back in the ’60s and ’70s, it’s his voice work that ensured his fame. Aside from playing Bannon, he also played team leader Zandor on The Herculoids. He also voiced Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic, in the ’70s Fantastic Four cartoon show.

In smaller roles, the film offers William Thourlby (Tex), who like Scot Brady appeared for the same director that same year in Castle of Evil, there playing the film’s villain. However, his real claim to immortality is that he was the original Marlboro Man. For the Jabootuite, however, his fame was ensured by his role of Dr. Bradford in the infamous killer rug picture The Creeping Terror (1964). His acting career moribund, he ran a clothing store in Atlanta in the 1970s. He was also friends with the famous athlete Jim Thorpe.

While the smaller supporting cast here boasts several other veteran actors with the odd, amusing credit, probably the best known actor associated with the film is James Hong. Despite playing a very small role as the (from today’s perspective) embarrassingly stereotypical Chinese cook Ho Lee, Hong went on to become one of Hollywood’s busiest actors, and arguably its most recognizable Asian actor. Beating all the busy actors listed above by a country mile, Mr. Hong has an astounding 300+ TV and movie acting credits listed on the IMDB.

Perhaps his most famous role is as the supernatural baddie Lo Pan in John Carpenter’s cult classic Big Trouble in Little China. Very early in his career, he also provided the English dubbing for the role of Dr. Serizawa in 1956’s Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Mr. Hong continues to work today, with his latest project, the parody movie Balls of Fury, due out in the next couple of weeks. How busy is he? Since 2005 alone, he has 24 (!) TV and movie appearances credited to him.

Composer Paul Dunlap provided scores for tons of cheapie genre films, including The Lost Continent (1951), the hilarious John Wayne anti-commie epic Big Jim McLain (1952), Target Earth (1954), I Was a Teenage Werewolf, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and Blood of Dracula (all 1957), How to Make a Monster and Frankenstein 1980 (1958), Invisible Invaders and The Four Skulls of Jonathon Drake (1959), Angry Red Planet (1960), Black Zoo (1963), a batch of Three Stooges movies; and, in 1966 alone, Destination Inner Space, Cyborg 2087, Dimension 5 and Castle of Evil. In all, Mr. Dunlap scored over a hundred movies.

The film’s script was written by our old friend Arthur C. Pierce, who also wrote or co-wrote The Cosmic Man and the English dub script for Terror in the Midnight Sun (1959), Beyond the Time Barrier (1960), The Human Duplicators and Mutiny in Outer Space (1965), Cyborg 2087, Women of the Prehistoric Planet, Dimension 5 and The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (all 1966). Mr. Pierce also did some directed work, credited and uncredited, on several of those films.

Director Francis D. Lyon won an Oscar for co-editing 1947’s boxing drama Body and Soul. We might just want to leave it at that, although he had a decent number of film and TV directorial jobs.

Editorial note:  Thanks as ever to Bill Leary for catching some typos, and correctly identifying the water ports as “moon pools.”

  • Blake Matthews

    Excellent review. If I myself had any money, which I don’t, I’d be jumping at a chance to get that DVD. Anyways, I loved the pix of the monster and, rather than “Creature from the Black Lagoon”, they should remake this movie. It’d essentially be a remake of the “Creature”, but without the emotional baggage of having the name of a classic sullied, should the movie be an abject failure.

  • The Rev. D.D.

    Enjoyed the review, as always; I like that you didn’t spoil things for us. I’ve been wanting to see it since I found out the critter the Foywonder has a picture of on his blog is from this movie, and I really like it.

    I want to see it even more now that I know James Hong is in it. I know, it’s a crap role, but it’s James Hong! He’s the man!
    I’m sorely tempted to see Balls of Fury because, between him and Christopher Walken, you’re guaranteed some good fun.

  • I have to say, despite the fact that CGI is good for somethings, I’ve yet to see a CGI monster that I’ve fallen in love with, while I can and do fall in love with prop or costume monsters, despite some clunkiness.

    I think part of the problem with CGI monsters is that they are often over-rendered. CGI allows you to do things with texture and design elaborate mouths with six flanges and such, and somehow I think that very elaboratedness takes away from any potential iconicness. Probably the last great monster was Alien, and it was (originally) a suit, and a very, very slick and sleek design.

    Another issue, of course, is that CGI beasties seldom move with a proper sense of weight and mass. Even is you don’t recognize it with your forebrain, you still know it doesn’t look right. I will admit that this is a large generation gap component here, but even so, I don’t think that’s the entire tale.

    For a low-budget movie, DIS has an amazing monster suit. Aside from the mouth not moving, it’s rather magnificent, and its functionality under water is impressive. Kudos to whoever design and built the thing. It’s really quite lovely.

  • John Doe

    I always wondered what movie the Foywonder’s avatar came from. Thank you Mr. Begg.

  • Blake Matthews

    Hmm…I think Predator would also classify as one of the last great practical monsters.

    I wonder how successful Alien (both the film and the design) would’ve been had they gone with the supposedly Lovecraftian (Cthulhu-esque) design they had originally planned on using.

  • Jack Spencer

    Hey, this is cool. I’ve been working on stuff involving formulaic storytelling. Ken, Mind if I pick your brain on the formula for these kinds of creature features?

  • I’d be glad to help in any way I could, Jack. See also my First Man in Space blog entry. Astronaut into monster movies are an even more narrow niche.

  • Zandor Vorkov

    Ken, within two reviews you’ve shown me pictures of two voice actors beloved of my childhood: Walker Edmiston and Hugh Maddox. Thank you. Pictures of voice actors are pretty hard to find, and movies they’ve appeared in are usually even harder.

    I heartily agree with the sentiment that CGI gives film makers a little *too* much freedom. CGI monster designs are frequently much too complicated. Even when the monster design is otherwise good, CGI animators seem to like having monsters crawl all over ceilings and walls for no good reason. The werewolves in Van Helsing or the Goblins in the Moria scene of FOTR are good examples of the latter phenomenon.

  • At least those are supernatural beings. What about the bigass ‘natural’ monster in Relic?

    You know, I forgot about all the voice talent people in Beach Girls. Something about Gill Men movies, I guess!

  • jeff

    Best “HRRRRMMMPH” caption “GRZZZZZZTH” ever “ZZZZMMMMMTH”!!!

  • Jack Spencer

    You know, that monster looks familiar but I don’t think I ever saw this movie. When I was a kid, my little brother had a bunch of eraser monsters. I really don’t know the manufacturer or the brand (it wasn’t M.U.S.C.L.E.S.) but they were all modeled on b-scifi monsters. I think I recognized at least one more from that set. Unfortunately, I doubt if those things are still around, which is a darn shame because they were cool.

  • Ericb
  • BeckoningChasm

    Hey, EricB–I’ve got Colossus Rex somewhere in storage, along with his mace!

    As for convincing CGI creatures, I think that’s largely due to lack of imagination on behalf of the creature designers. How many “dog like” things have you seen, just because they’re sure they can do realistic fur now?

    Two good CGI ones that come to mind are the monster(s) from Deep Rising, and the bugs from Starship Troopers. They actually seemed to have weight and mass.

  • When I was a kid, my little brother had a bunch of eraser monsters. I really don’t know the manufacturer or the brand (it wasn’t M.U.S.C.L.E.S.) but they were all modeled on b-scifi monsters. I think I recognized at least one more from that set. Unfortunately, I doubt if those things are still around, which is a darn shame because they were cool.

    Those might have been Monster in My Pocket:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monster_in_My_Pocket

  • Ericb

    Some of the best CGI I’ve seen hasn’t been in a monster movie but in the BBC documentary Walking With Monsters about life before the dinosaurs. There’s some good stuff there the best being the gorgonopsid.

  • fish eye no miko

    ken said: “And let’s not forget Saturday morning cartoon shows like _Sealab 2020_”

    “Were did you get the money for this?”
    “Selling pot.

    Holders.

    Made of hemp.”

  • BeckoningChasm

    EricB–agree completely about the BBC’s “Walking with Monsters” CGI. In fact, all the “Walking With” series had really good, very realistic effects, surprising because I imagine the budgets couldn’t have been huge.

    But then, they didn’t have to pay Keanu Reeves millions to stand around and look bewhildered.

  • Man, that IS a pretty sweet costume! The dimensions are very fishlike.

    The scuba fad was an interesting observation. Looking back, I guess there were plenty of ’60s movies with water-based scenes. It’s kinda like how movies featured roller skating in 70’s-early 80’s, aerobics in the mid-80’s, snowboarding in 90’s, and I guess furious internet-related keyboard typing in the 2000’s.

    And just because I couldn’t get it out of my head everytime “Sealab” was mentioned, some quips from Sealab 2021:
    “Why do you think they call me Dr. Quinn?”
    “I just thought that was a nickname. Like Dr. Dre. East-Siiide!!”

  • zombiewhacker

    Thanks, Ken, for the nuggest. When I was a youngster that monster scared the crap out of me.

    By the way, did you know that in real life Scott Brady was Lawrence Tierney’s younger brother? Talk about your old school, tough-guy actors with commanding voices.

  • I didn’t know that, but I can totally see it. More than, say, Peter Graves and James Arness.

  • Robert Thompson

    Excellent review with one piddling correction: Gary Merrill (Dr. LaSatier) is undoubtedly best known for his role in “All About Eve”, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1950.

    I keep hoping that DIS will someday become available on Comcast’s On Demand – Something Weird.

  • Gerald Mohr voiced Reed Richards, Road voiced Hal Jordon for Filmation, though. Endearing him even more, he voiced Ugh the caveman in the Dino Boy in the Lost Valley cartoons (which played back-up slot on Space Ghost). If memory serves, he also voiced the father on Valley of the Dinosaurs, which was something of a re-work of Dino Boy, with a touch of Turok, Son of Stone/Land of the Lost. Man, what a great period for entertainment!

  • (Yes, I edited this. It just hit me a few minutes ago that I had incorrectly credited Mr. Road with the Green Lantern gig!)

  • Rock Baker

    My apologies. Mike Road did indeed voice Reed Richards in a later series about the Fantastic Four. I was quite shocked to learn of other (one must assume lesser) Fantastic Four series after the late 60’s version starring Gerald Mohr and Paul Frees.

  • Beckoning Chasm

    You didn’t remember HERBIE? He was introduced because producers thought the Human Torch would encourage kids to set themselves on fire.

    The 90’s version of Fantastic Four was really, really bad until Larry Houston took over, and then it became pretty darn good.

  • Eric Hinkle

    “You didn’t remember HERBIE? ”

    Some of us have been trying to forget.

    “He was introduced because producers thought the Human Torch would encourage kids to set themselves on fire.”

    Oh man, seriously?

  • Beckoning Chasm

    Eh, Wikipedia says something about rights to the Torch character, but my memory says otherwise…perhaps the “set themselves on fire” thing was just put out to hide the rights thing, but television in the 70’s was always assuming people were really stupid. And if you saw TV in the 70’s, they made a good case!

  • Eric Hinkle

    TV in the 70;s was indeed kinda dumb, but when I look at the modern TV programming it looks like Shakespeare in comparison.

  • Luke Blanchard

    My understanding is the rights explanation is the real one.
    There was also in the late 70s a separate THE THING cartoon in which a boy changed into the Thing by touching magic rings together and saying “Thing ring do your thing!”
    The trajectory superheroes have followed – TV shows and cartoons first, megabig movies later – is paralleled to an extent by Westerns (B-movies to A-pictures) and SF (there were some A-picture SF films in the 50s, but more B-ones). Is there a clue there as to what might be big in entertainment in the future? I can’t think of anything.

  • Rock Baker

    Still, the decade did give us Land of the Lost.

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