Tagline: The picture that comes complete with a 10-foot-tall monster to give you the wim-wams!
Game impresario Sandy Petersen has been kind enough to initiate a series of reviews dissecting the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis. As I’ve never found much pleasure in gore movies, the genre Lewis pioneered, this was unexplored territory here at Jabootu. Not that aren’t a couple of Lewis films I’d consider reviewing. For instance, he made a couple of disturbingly insane kids’ films in The Magic Land of Mother Goose (pure nightmare fuel, that one) and Jimmy, the Boy Wonder.
Then there’s this one. Lewis’ name doesn’t appear on the film itself, having taken over the picture after it was abandoned in mid-production by fellow schlock auteur Bill “The Giant Spider Invasion” Rebane. Monster A-Go Go was Rebane’s first stab at directing. However, he ran out of funds and was forced to leave the movie unfinished. Obviously burned by the experience, it would be a decade before Rebane ventured into filmmaking again.
In the meantime, Lewis stepped in and bought the uncompleted picture for less than a sixth of its original budget. He then sat on the acquired footage for a good four years. At that point he finally set about ‘finishing’ the film (in a manner of speaking), with the focus unsurprisingly being on doing so in the least expensive fashion possible. The result…well, it’s something.
So when Sandy opted for this film to be the subject of his next article, I decided to join him in giving it a look. Moreover, once he began wading through it he reported downright hating the picture. I can’t wait to read his piece, then. Rage can be good fuel. And it says something about the quality of Monster A Go-Go that it would inspire such virulent feelings in a reviewer who whistled his way through the likes of Color Me Blood Red and She-Devils on Wheels.
But then, it’s easy to see how one could feel insulted by (at least) one particular aspect of the film. For Monster A-Go Go demonstrates Lewis’ utter huckster contempt for his audience more than perhaps anything else he’d ever been associated with. And that, my friends, is saying something.
For me, however, this inspired not rage, but a rueful admiration for the man’s incredibly cynical audacity. Many toiling the B-movie fields have said they don’t give a good goddamn about the audience once they’ve gotten them to buy their tickets. Here Herschell G. proves that he flat out meant it.
Lewis’ Barnum-esque disdain for his audience is revealed in other, more mundane fashions as well. Check out the title, and the film’s tagline. These indicate the film will offer up a sly, Corman-like hipster slice of playful camp. Not so. I haven’t seen much of Lewis’ work, but humor does not seem to be one of his fortes. Certainly it’s little on display here.
Even so, having apparently seen how awful the ‘completed’ film was, even by his own woeful standards, Lewis backed into an old showman’s con. He decided to present the movie as a spoof, even though it wasn’t. I mean, check out that trailer embedded at the beginning of this review. Believe me, it does not represent the tone of the film at all.
We still see this sort of thing today, with, say, the hilariously incompetent melodrama The Room hawked to late-night crowds and DVD buyers as being a “black comedy.” The advantage to this particular gambit is that you aren’t even required to try to craft a movie anything sort of slapdash. What’s the point, dad, when the whole thing’s a gag?
Lewis continues the charade through the opening credits, which are accompanied by a twangy surf rock tune with lyrics such as the following: “You may come from beyond the moon / But to me, you’re just a goon / All right / Go, you monster, go.” Meanwhile, overlaid upon a photo of a galaxy we see the strolling boots of the titular (?) menace, then get the campy title. So far, again, this indicates a film that was made entirely tongue-in-cheek. That was not Rebane’s intent, certainly, and unless he thinks ‘boring’ equals ‘funny,’ it wasn’t Lewis’ either.*[*One could make the argument, I suppose, that the film’s periodic narration is so over the top and moronic that it was meant to be funny. Maybe, but I’ve seen films like Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Creeping Terror, The Beast of Yucca Flats and Robot Monster, to name but a few, that indicate that the one thing doesn’t necessarily mean the other. And it’s not like Lewis’ ‘straight’ pictures generally sported dialogue that was notably superior.]
Perhaps it was part of the contract Lewis made when he bought Rebane’s leftovers, but it’s again notable how Lewis kept his name entirely off the *ahem* completed picture. Lewis remains unmentioned in the opening credits,* whereas Rebane’s moniker appears several times over. Given the (sorta) finished product Lewis unleashed upon the public, one can only wonder exactly how pleased Rebane was by this.[*However, Lewis does grab several anonymous credits, including one for “additional dialogue” (I’ll say!), under one of his pet pseudonyms, Sheldon Seymour.]
Monster A-Go Go opens on a nicely Ed Woodian note, as footage of a helicopter is accompanied by pompous, stentorian narration seemingly ill-acquainted with the English language. “What you are about to see may not even be possible within the narrow limits of human understanding,” we learn. When that’s the first line of a movie, you know you’re in good shape. And, it must be granted, this proves to be an entirely accurate statement.
The Narrator continues, and it’s notable that his aural contributions are much more audible than those of the actual ‘characters’ in the ‘movie.’ Presumably this is what helped drive Lewis to employ such a hoary device. A narrator would—albeit more in theory here than in practice—help tie together the parts awkwardly Frankensteined together by Lewis into a less than coherent whole. As well, it would reduce the need to re-record or loop with different actors (which would be necessary since the original players were largely no longer available) Rebane’s old footage.
The sequence which begins the film—presumably part of Rebane’s work—features a clearly civilian helicopter (the rental of which might partly explain why he ran out of money) flying low over a field. This is joined by a military staff car. Well, a regular sedan, actually, albeit with two uniformed guys in it. The Narrator sets the stage:
“A space capsule is rocketed into orbit, on schedule. Its mission: to observe new objects circling the Earth. Satellites, which no nation has launched. As the capsule reached its orbit, communications with it suddenly went silent. Several days passed. A search team headed by Col. Steve Connors began an intensive search of the entire area.”
It’s a mark of Lewis’ slavish attention to detail that Connors is misidentified in the opening narration as a Colonel. He is, in fact, a Captain, a fact mentioned several times during the proceedings. Indeed, he himself (again, in footage shot by Rebane) almost immediately identifies himself as a Captain. Perhaps Lewis thought making him a Colonel was more impressive. Or maybe he just didn’t give a rat’s ass. Hey, he got ‘Connors’ right. You’ve got to give him that.
And so the ‘intensive search’ continues. Well, as intensive as a search team consisting of a light helicopter and sedan could conduct. As usual, one questions why a three man team would require the personal command of a Captain. Sci-fi cheapies did this all the time, putting Captains or Majors or even Colonels in charge of dinky squads of six or eight troops, in an attempt to make their actions seem important. This trope marks yet another similarity between our current subject and the equally craptastic The Creeping Terror. There aren’t many movies in that weight class, but this is one of them.
This rigorous search is explained as follows. “In a [something] area not far from the Space Agency Astrophysical Laboratories in Chicago, observers reported that a strange object had fallen to Earth. Was it the space capsule?”
Meanwhile, Col. / Capt. Connors radios what presumably is the team’s other sedan—quite a strike force, eh?—but the conversation is interrupted by some very clunky Agonized Cries on the other end. (Good thing the fellow being killed kept the thumb button on his radio transmitter depressed.) “This is Capt. Connors calling Patrol 2!” Connors barks in reply. Receiving no further response, Connors springs into action. “We’d better take a look,” he muses. Wow, no moss growing on that guy, eh?
They drive a ways and find a burned up looking capsule emblazoned “United States.” “Without question,” the Narrator confirms, “this was the capsule that put Douglas into orbit, and without question Douglas was gone without a trace.” By the way, the ‘capsule’ is incredibly small, even compared to how small the real ones actually were. I’m pretty sure a midget would have trouble fitting into this one.
Speaking of small, ‘Patrol 2’ wasn’t another sedan, but the aforementioned helicopter. So the mission force wasn’t crazy big after all. With the haunting notes of a Wurlitzer organ blurting on the soundtrack, Connors soon finds the corpse of the helicopter pilot. “The helicopter pilot, who had discovered the capsule*, was dead, horribly mangled in a way no one had ever seen before.” Really? Human beings have been getting themselves mangled in a myriad of ways for a while now. It must be pretty impressive to see an entirely brand new manner of this. We’ll never know, though, since we don’t ourselves actually get to see the body.[*Yeah, I think we’d really put all those pieces together ourselves, thank you.]
Cut to a doorbell ringing at the well appointed suburban home of Ruth. Her visitors are Nora* and Carl. They explain the situation about “Frank”, which via context I eventually figure out is the first name of missing astronaut Douglas. Being a chick, Ruth gets all heeby-jeeby about things. “I know I shouldn’t feel this way,” she admits. “It’s his life…” Yeah, butt out, Mrs. I Freak Out Whenever My Astronaut Husband Goes Missing.[*Despite the awful sound, I’m almost sure Nora is introduced as “Laura” in this scene. Nora is used more often later on, however, so I’ll stick with that.]
But wait, I’m apparently making further mistaken assumptions here. Frank isn’t Ruth’s husband (I guess). “Ever since Harry died,” Ruth continues, “Frank’s been like a father to Jimmy…” WTF? Are we supposed to know to know who any of these people are? I mean, they’ve referred to the missing astronaut as both “Frank” and “Douglas,” so I guess he was Frank Douglas. But who’s Nora? Who’s Carl? Who’s Ruth? Who’s Jimmy? I mean, yes, you can plot out some guesses. But damn, I haven’t seen an array of characters so confusingly thrown at an audience since David Lynch’s Dune.
Jimmy comes in and proves to be exactly the sort of clean cut youngster, maybe twelve years of age, you’d expect him to be in this sort of thing. (He’s also, sadly, as painfully bad of an actor as you’d expect him to be, too. His line readings are dreadful.) Unsurprisingly, Jimmy is all into rockets and such. This was pretty common back during the Space Race days, even if your surrogate father wasn’t an astronaut. However, for now Jimmy is asking awkward questions about Frank’s return. “He promised to take me fishing,” Jimmy explains. Well, yes. Of course he did. Probably while calling you ‘slugger.’
The phone rings and Carl answers it. He learns that the capsule’s been found, and makes to go check out the scene. Ruth insists on joining him, and hey, why not? I’m sure as a friend of an astronaut she’s got all the security clearances she’d need. Indeed, not only does Nora join them also—the more the merrier!—but they drive off and leave Jimmy behind without word of their leaving. But then, parenting was a bit more laissez-faire in those days. Kids actually rode their bikes without helmets back then, too.
They arrive in the field where the capsule is located. Carl gets out, but orders Ruth to stay with the car. Not because she’s a civilian who shouldn’t be here in the first place*, but because she’s a girl and if Frank’s body is there she’d undoubtedly get the vapors. Still, he lets Nora join him.[*Since the only, very thin reed they could use to explain a Captain—much less a Colonel—being put in charge of a three man search team is that the whole capsule business is just so incredibly top secret, Carl bringing Ruth and Nora along is even more inane than at first glance.]
Carl and Nora—no one blinks an eye at her presence—join Connors and yet another unintroduced character near the pilot’s body. This latter, we eventually learn, is Dr. Logan. (He is smoking a pipe, though, so we already knew he was a scientist.) By the way, over the radio earlier Connors called the pilot “Jimmy.” Since we’re still in Rebane’s part of the film, it’s a mark of how engaged even the original director was that he gave two characters the same name.
The guy playing Connors gives some amusingly stilted line readings as he explains the situation. (Sure enough, this was apparently the fellow’s only screen appearance.) “We were having contact with him from the ground car. Suddenly he let out a yell [over the radio] and then went blank,” the good Captain relates. Uhm, Ok. Anyway, they tell Carl he should take a look at the body. Despite the fact that Taylor was “horribly mangled in a way no one had ever seen before,” they don’t bother to warn him in any way. Nor Nora (!), for that matter, who is also standing right there.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” one of them says as the sheet is pulled back from the pilot’s face. Not to be overly picky or anything, but I can’t help but noticed that the face of the ‘horribly managed’ pilot displays not even the slightest blemish. “Shriveled up like a dried prune!” someone maintains. Again, you know, this would perhaps be more credible if WE WEREN’T NOW STARING AT THE GUY’S COMPLETELY NORMAL-LOOKING FACE. Also, just to be technical, being ‘shriveled up like a prune’ is not really the same thing as being ‘horribly mangled.’ Just sayin’.
“Looks like some kind of a burn,” Carl muses. Yeah…on the audience! (Ha! High five!) “But it didn’t touch his hair, or his clothes.” Yeah, or his face, for that matter. But, you know, why quibble. Then Logan takes Carl over to look at a teeny patch of spray painted field grass. The paint supposedly connotes a burned area, which is pretty lame. Still, it’s more than they did with the shriveled, burned, managed (and quite possibly folded, spindled and mutilated) pilot.
Since there’s little chance we’d associate this dark patch with, well, anything, the characters fill us in. “It looks like severe burns,” Carl muses, providing a rare example of a patch of foliage being given an Informed Attribute. Despite these ‘burns,’ however, the grass is clearly still there. (The field is completely overgrown, and Rebane wisely didn’t actually try to burn out a spot.) Also, what constitutes “severe burns” on some grass?
“What could have caused such burns?” Logan muses, puffing away at his pipe. Yes, something that burned dry field grass. Inexplicable. Unfathomable. Something altogether beyond the narrow limits of human understanding. “Probably some kid’s prank,” Carl conjectures. Uhm, how is that a prank? Is it the world’s first, and laziest, attempt at something like crop circles?
The idea, of course, was that it was our mysterious monster. As usual with this sort of picture, though, this raises more questions than it answers. If the monster released (presumably) a blast of radiation when it killed the pilot, why is the small patch of burned grass so far from the body? And if he burns things via incidental contact, why aren’t there footprint-like burns all across the field?
Oh, by the way, they finally have Carl referred to also as “Dr. Schreiber.’ So he’s definitely a scientist. They then even name Dr. Logan, as well. Whew, slow down, boys! Let’s not throw too much at the audience all at once. We’re still chewing on those burns, after all.
Cut to “the Laboratory,” a small chamber sporting a desk. On this rests a small blackboard—that’s right, it’s not even mounted on the wall—a microscope, and a few other unidentifiable pieces of equipment. From this I deduce we are visiting the august spaces of the Space Agency Astrophysical Laboratories, as previously mentioned.
Henry Logan is seated at this desk, while Connors is just entering. The latter was supposed to have gone home, but came in because he had “too much on my mind.” (This certainly separates him from anyone else associated with this picture.) He and Logan have a conversation, much of which you can’t make out because of a severe echo. This is one handicap to shooting in actual spaces rather than on sets.[*It should be noted, for further discourse later, that Connors’ uniform currently sports Captain’s bars. Back to that in a bit. Also, Logan here mentions for the first time his brother. That’ll come into play later on as well.]
Logan confirms that the pilot was “literally cooked to death in a matter of seconds.” Again, I point out that this doesn’t really line up with the term “mangled,” but then I’m just petty that way. The cause of this, Logan explains, was contact with something highly radioactive. Since that capsule itself wasn’t at all radioactive—how would that work?—then logically the only culprit can be the missing astronaut.
By the way, the above scene was the most difficult for me to figure out whether it was filmed by Rebane or Lewis. The nature of the scene—talking indoor dialogue sequence—seems more like the stuff Lewis added. And the two actors are among those who appeared in footage for both directors, so that doesn’t help. However, given that Connors appears in a Captain’s uniform, I’m going to say this was shot by Rebane. Rebane clearly had Connors be a Captain early in the film, and then mysteriously become a Colonel later on. So unless Lewis duplicated this screwy state of affairs, I’m going in that direction.
Anyway, just because we apparently don’t have enough useless characters clogging up the works, we now get another one. The emergency triggers the arrival of Dr. Chris Manning. Manning has apparently the overall project head for years, but for “security reasons” (??), nobody who worked on the rocket project has ever actually met him. Which I’m pretty sure is EXACTLY how security was handled for the handful of guys who worked on the Apollo space missions.
The Narrator at this point deigns to spell out for us exactly what we just heard Connors and Curt discussing: “The episode was considered important enough for the civilian head of the project, Dr. Chris Manning, to make an emergency visit.” Ah, thanks, I just can’t process anything we’re only told once.
Curt and Connors meet Manning at the airport, where introductions are made by Our Next Extraneous Character, General Old Guy. Curt and Manning, being scientist, immediately start falling into technical jargon impenetrable to the layman.
Curt: “I’ve been impressed with some of your theories. I’d like to discuss them with you one day.”
Manning: “Fine. I’d like that.”
Whew, whatever, eggheads. How about speaking in English, though, so we can all understand you?
Cut to a party with a bunch of twisting and frugging youts. As you’d expect, this is pure water-treading material. A couple of girls wearing bullets bras shake their goodies for our edification for several minutes. Then one of the girls leaves with a boy. They start making out in his car (more location shooting), he gets fresh, she stalks off, and then The Monster appears and kacks the guy. Oops, sorry, forgot to say “spoiler alert.” Hope I didn’t blow that huge plot twist for you. Also killed: Three minutes and a half minutes of the movie’s 68 minute running time.
Still, the scene is so dynamite that the Narrator chimes in before the death: “What changes the delicate interlocking of fates that determines Life or Death. A series of Ifs. ‘If’ the girl had danced with her boyfriend instead of the other boy, and they had stayed later. ‘If’ the two of them hadn’t parked to kiss and make up. But that is not what happened. And Fate, and History, never deal in ‘Ifs’…”
Soon Connors, General Old Guy and Manning arrive on the scene, despite the fact that there are no cops in evidence. They examine the body and determine that it appears the same as the pilot’s. The body had been found “by one of the search party,” (presumably one looking for Frank Douglas), but somehow they missed finding the girl. Luckily she moans loudly here, and the men discover her laying unconscious nearby, her skirt hiked up over the tops of her nylon stockings. “Let’s get her right back to the lab!” Manning says, picking her up in his arms. Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s correct protocol for these situations.
Cut to another location sequence, as Logan returns to the field where the pilot died to search for Douglas. He’s even brought along a police radar gun Geiger counter to help. Lest the film generate any—what’s that word?—suspense, the Narrator drops in to confirm that he won’t live out the scene. Whew, thanks, Narrator! Now I don’t have to get all nervous wondering what happens to him!
So Logan walks through the brush for nearly three minutes, occasionally consulting his radar gun Geiger counter or examining a charred branch. Mercifully, though, The Monster does eventually appear, and exit Logan.
Cut to Ruth and Dr. Manning having an intimate dinner in a real, but clearly closed for dinner, restaurant. It turns out they have a history, and I must say, Ruth seems to have gotten over missing astronaut Douglas pretty quickly. But hey, Jimmy needs a daddy, right? This scene is Rebane’s (the big clue is the lighting—dark and somewhat naturalistic it’s Rebane; stark and stagy it’s Lewis), and while it’s not nearly as awkward or inept as Lewis’ dialogue scenes, well, characterization just ain’t this film’s forte. Still, Rebane was trying, and at least he wasn’t just throwing yet another half dozen characters at us.
And so a few more minutes are eaten up, before Manning receives word of Logan’s death and they take their leave. And so pretty much the entire remaining adult cast again congregates in that damn field, where they examine the body. (Adding a nicely Ed Woodian touch, the characters are in daylight in one shot, but are in the night in the next.) Here we finally are allowed a gander at one of the corpses, and I must say, the apparent damage is rather more, er, minimalist than we’d previously been led to believe. “He looks worse than the others!” Curt exclaims. Really? No offense, but that’s hard to believe.
Also, I like the bit where Manning expresses bewilderment at the fact that there were no witnesses to the murder. Yeah, where are all the people you’d expect to be standing around in the middle of a secluded field? It’s like Kitty Genovese all over again.
Much of the rest of the middle of the film, until its infamous climax, is now apparently taken over by Lewis. So much of the cast disappears (Ruth, Curt, Manning, General Old Guy) and is replaced by Brent, who is lamely introduced as Manning’s partner. He will take over the investigation in Manning’s absence, and of the characters introduced so far, only Nora and Capt. / Col. Connors will appear in the new footage. However, the guy who played the now deceased Logan sticks around, in the guise of that fellow’s brother, Conrad.
The idea is that eight weeks have passed, and that Manning et al have gone…somewhere, with Brent taking over. Also, Connors appears as a Colonel for the rest of the film (including stuff shot by Rebane, so it’s not all Lewis’ fault). Well, a Lt. Colonel, actually. He sports an oak cluster, not the eagle of a full bird Colonel. Even so, that’s a neat trick. In eight weeks, Connors has gone from being a Captain to being a Lt. Colonel, skipping over the rank of Major entirely. Now that’s being on the fast track.
In any case, in those eight weeks, there have been no further deaths, but neither have there been any further signs of The Monster. Brent appears to be surprised to hear all this (?!), since his assumption was that all that was left was “detail work, trivia.” Yeah, an astronaut returning to Earth as a gigantic radioactive monster leaving a series of, er, mangled, shriveled corpses in his wake…. Who would assume that would get so tangled up?
Brent goes to the lab (another room we’ve never seen before, as this was the stuff shot by Lewis) to question Nora. It turns out the reason Nora was hanging out so much with everyone was that she was Henry Logan’s assistant. She now with instead with Conrad, his brother. For what it’s worth, the woman playing Nora does seem several years older here than she does in Rebane’s stuff.
Brent is escorted to the lab (it looks to me like an actual commercial chemistry workshop, or perhaps a high school science lab) by Connors. The latter, I note, is dressed not in his uniform—one of them, anyway—but in a white lab coat worn over a flannel shirt. Presumably they were hiring his uniform(s) by the day, and didn’t have one on hand when they shot this scene. I guess they thought nobody would notice.
Brent is meant to show what a hardass investigator he is here, although the guy playing him does his acting at half-speed, so the impression never really takes. Even so, he questions Nora for all of about a minute before suddenly asking to examine her and Henry Logan’s respective activity logs. At this, he then instantly zeros in on a discrepancy between the two records regarding the amount and formulation of the “radiation repellant” Douglas was given before blasting off.
After these seconds of glancing over the logs, Brent asks Nora why they switched from giving Douglas the agency’s approved anti-radiation drug to one that less thoroughly tested. “Why wasn’t I told of this?” Brent also wants to know why one log says Douglas got 100 cc’s of this drug, while the other reports that it was 200 cc’s. “I am only an assistant in this laboratory!” Nora lamely responds.
Getting nowhere fast, Brent and Connors head off to find Conrad. We next cut to the three of them sitting in what appears to be a local bar, but which we’re told his the commissary. Oh, that explains the beer bottles, then. These stiltedly shot exposition scenes again basically were required to pad the film out to 68 minutes, probably the bare minimum time required to call a film a ‘feature.’ But man, they are a trudge.
Conrad proves just as reluctant to answer questions as Nora was. However, he isn’t an assistant, or a girl, so he doesn’t get off the hook as easily. Moreover, these scenes are as dumb as they are boring. The idea is that the brothers Logan had, without permission, switched the standard radiation-repellant drug for a more experimental one. And since this new drug was supposedly 50% more effective than the old, they also doubled the amount of it they gave Douglas. Which makes perfect sense, right?
Why would they do this? Even Conrad doesn’t seem to know. I guess it fell under, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Under questioning, meanwhile, one slight flaw in the drug is admitted to:
Connors: “Did you ever overdose an animal?”
Conrad: “Yes. It withstood great quantities of radiation.”
Brent: “The results, please.”
Conrad: “I put it back in the cage with the other specimens. It killed every one of them it touched.”
Connors: “Is that all?” [Isn’t it enough?!] Conrad, reluctantly: “No. It was twice its normal size. My brother developed an antidote. It worked. The animal died.”
Brent: “Of what, doctor?”
Conrad: “The heart couldn’t stand the violent transition back to normal.”
Now, you’d probably think the scene would end with Conrad under arrest, or at the very least fired. Nope. In fact, Brent and Connors, other than looking a bit peeved, seem prepared to let it go. This proves a bad idea because, believe it or not, this is not Conrad’s worst episode of being a complete schmuck. That comes later.
We don’t have to wait long for that, in fact. (It sure seems like it, though. Sadly, it’s at this point that we finally reach the film’s halfway mark.) Cut to—I guess—later that night. Both Conrad and Nora are working late. For his part, Conrad seems a bit nervous about her continued presence. And indeed, when Nora finally does leave—the scene goes on rather longer than I describe it here—he jumps up and hurriedly grabs a syringe of the antidote he just mentioned to Brent and Connors.
What’s going on? Hey, here’s the Helpful Narrator to explain: “Dr. Logan did know where the giant was, in a storeroom in that very building. Logan had learned that massive doses of the antidote brought about an almost human appearance. But with such unpredictable side effects, that enough tranquilizers to subdue ten ordinary men had to be given each day. This day, it was late…”
So, let’s recap: Logan has, for two months, kept The Monster hidden away in a supply room (heaven knows how he caught it in the first place) without anyone noticed, while shooting it full of drugs every single day. This during a two month period, and in the same building, where a presumably massive and highly intensive national security investigation has been headquartered.
That’s the plot. Really. Oh, and we’ve not yet reached the stupidest part of film. Seriously.
There follows—contain thy excitement!—nearly a full minute wherein an agitated Conrad strides purposely down some deserted hallways. However, again the Narrator seeks to spare us unnecessary tension, as he had already, prior to this point, explained that “He was too late. Like his brother, the scientist had an intuitive knowledge of the situation. Plus, an extraordinarily bad sense of timing.”
Given that we thus know the worst has already occurred, the ‘walking through the hall’ stuff is even more painful than it would be otherwise. And it’s filmed and edited in an incredibly inept fashion. I had to watch this short sequence several times before I got what was happening. Apparently Conrad walks down to (presumably) the store room, unlocks it, enters it (we stay in the hallway, in the complete dark at this point), quickly exits the room, returns to the lab from which he started, and now finds that trashed.
So I guess the idea is that The Monster got out of the storeroom where Conrad was keeping it (even though the door was still locked and seemed undamaged), and then got past Conrad and grabbed the supply of the antidote, knocked some stuff over, and then split, all before Conrad got back there.
Meanwhile, the Narrator explains that “everything used to make the antidote was in wreckage.” With this dire development, “any hope that sufficient antidote might be compounded to have a lasting effect, all this vanished with one sweep of The Monster’s arm.” So what they’re saying is that due to the damage, the lab can’t make more of the antidote. This is sort of strange, as I’m pretty sure the list of what was “used to make it” consisted of a) some chemicals, b) a rack of test tubes, and c) maybe a centrifuge.
Conrad decides its time to finally spill the beans, and calls Brent. The two get together and Conrad confesses all. You might think THIS time he’d finally be in real trouble, but instead at best Brent acts peeved, like a dad yelling at his mumbling, mulish kid (which is exactly what Conrad acts like during this confrontation) for borrowing the car without permission and denting the bumper:
Conrad: “I hid [Douglas] in my radiation lab for weeks. I’ve been giving him an injection of antidote.”
Brent: “Why weren’t we informed?”
Conrad: “Blame it on my state of shock, or my concern for Douglas’ condition. I could only think to help him first.”
Brent: “Did the antidote do any good?”
Conrad: “Yes, he became normal, except for size.”
Brent: “Why weren’t we informed [at that point]?”
Conrad: “I could only think of logging what I’d witnessed!”
Brent: “All right, so you logged it. Why didn’t you tell us [at yet this next juncture of things]?”
Conrad, shrugging: “I don’t know. I was trying to help.”
Brent, mildly annoyed: “Help? You’re jeopardized this whole project!”
Conrad, surly: “What the hell do you want from me, Dr. Brent? I don’t have a precision mind like yours! All right, I made a mistake. But the fact is, Frank Douglas is gone with the antidote.”
Brent: “It seems to me you’re one big mistake!”
Conrad, lifting and dropping his arms in a ‘poor me’ posture: “All right, Dr. Brent. Chalk me up as incompetent!”
Brent, realizing he’s gone too far: “Ah, it’s all right, Conrad. We’re both a little bit edgy. I was just thinking one mistake can be costly.”
And so Ward forgave the Beaver. And that’s that, as far as apparent ramifications to Conrad’s career are concerned. Anyway, I refuse to believe that any real life scientist would think he could get away with this sort of gross misconduct.
Cut to some girls catching rays in a woodland area, a situation which allows the camera to focus on one young lady’s bikinied backside. We then get a POV shot approaching the girls, they (finally, when he’s apparently two feet away from them) look up and see The Monster, scream, and all run away. This is about as generic a sequence as you could think of, although the gauzy film stock and stilted camerawork sure reminded me a lot of The Creeping Terror.
Cut to Colonel Connors (for what it’s worth, I believe he actually remains a Colonel from this point on, in both Lewis’ and Rebane’s respective scenes), who’s stationed in an command center. And by command center, I mean some company’s or college’s computer room, back in the days when computers were these huge installations. These are the big cabinet-sized, magnetic-tape drive dealies.
Connors gets a phone call, and tells Nora that Douglas has been spotted. He points out the location on a map. “Why, that’s right near Ruth’s home,” Nora gasps. Yes, it’s all coming together. Connors assures her that his men are watching the house.
Connors heads off to speak with Conrad, who we find in a realistically teeny personal office with an old-fashioned manual typewriter. Connors explains that Washington has now put him “completely in charge.” He stares at Conrad and asks “Is there anything else I should know.” Considering Conrad’s history of sitting on embarrassing but vital information, this is actually pretty believable.
Even then Conrad hedges until Connors continues to push him. Cornered, Conrad explains that he does have something more, but cautions that it’s only a theory. He explains how the effects of the antidote he was injecting Douglas with kept fading more and more quickly. Again, are we really to believe that Conrad hadn’t been debriefed on all this stuff already? I guess.
The idea is that Douglas’ condition is getting worse all the time, and that when he runs out of the antidote he stole, its anyone idea of how dangerously radioactive he will become. He explains that while Douglas himself isn’t still growing larger, “the radius of his danger zone does.” The result? “It’s conceivable that within hours he could contaminate everything and everybody within a radius of fifty miles.”* Again, this is information that Conrad didn’t feel necessary to pass along to anybody. Seriously, why haven’t they just shot him yet?[*That’s saying something. The Soviets established an ‘exclusion zone’ around the massively contaminated Chernobyl nuclear plant of only 30 kilometers, or 18.6 miles.]
Hearing this, Connors decides (well, yeah) that capturing Douglas is no longer an option. He must be destroyed. Then we cut to soldiers fanning out in an area where apparently Douglas was spotted. Nearby, a kid climbs out a window, and a soldier on the lawn intercepts him. Then they see, presumably, Douglas, although the latter is kept off-camera. The soldier shoots way too high in the air (unless Douglas is now twenty feet tall), and that’s it.
Meanwhile, the Narrator tells us that the soldiers have orders not fire. This clearly makes no sense, given that Connors declared all of thirty seconds ago that Douglas must be destroyed, but anyway. “But one nervous soldier is all that is ever needed to start a panic.” You know what else can start a panic? A monster lumbering around a suburban neighborhood and leaving a trail of bodies behind. Squads of soldiers running around that same neighborhood, rifles at the ready. Letting that kid run into The Monster’s grasp and die a horrible death. So I don’t think you can put it all on this guy.
Anyway (not that we can see much, because of the lack of lighting), the other soldiers converge on the scene and begin shooting too, but to little effect. Connors grimly receives the report later. “Douglas was at the house,” he explains. So I guess the kid that climbed out the window was young Jimmy—remember him?—which I thought might be the case. However, we didn’t get a good enough look at him to be sure. In any case, that’s the last we’ll see of him, so it doesn’t really matter much.
Moreover, they now explain that shooting Douglas was “like shooting at a wall.” Oddly, he doesn’t mean by that, ‘the bullets put a lot of holes in him.’ Instead, Douglas now has that bulletproof quality inexplicably afforded so many movie monsters. Sure, why not? I mean, as pointed out in the Spider-Man theme song:
He’s got radioactive blood.”
I’m pretty sure that’s how it goes.
We now get a way too long ‘comic’ scene (shot outside, so it’s Rebane’s) where a cute brunette in a tight sweater and bullet bra vamps it up with a truck driver who stops to check out her stranded car. Said car, by the way, is so enormously long that the camera has to pan with the guy as he slogs all the way from its rear to its front. Man, I miss cars like that.
So he figures things out while growing increasingly uneasy about her obvious charms. (Trying to keep from staring at her breasts, he asks her to return to the driver’s seat. “You’re making me nervous!” he gulps.) In the end, he ascertains that she’s run out of petrol and gives her some from his gas can. She offers him money, but he refuses, whereat she plants a big smooch on the guy before driving off. He returns to his truck in a daze, apparently unnerved by her forthright sexuality.
The ‘plot’ point of this scene (although you kind of have to piece this together later because of bad editing), is that The Monster shows up and sequesters himself in the back of the guy’s truck. This leaves Connors flummoxed, as he thought they had Douglas all but caught. Realizing that The Monster could now be anyway, Conrad suggests that it’s time to inform that public of the danger. Because if Conrad stands for anything, it’s the principal that you can’t just sit on vital information.
So a radio alert goes out, heard by civilians all over the Chicagoland area, such as guys playing pool, an office secretary or a fellow perusing an issue of Nudist Calendar. The alert goes out just in time, as we see the truck inadvertently carrying The Monster arrive in Chicago. (Again, the whole climax of the film is shot on what appear to be authentic Chicago exteriors.) The driver—clearly a different guy, although the truck appears to be the same—dies, presumably from radiation poisoning, while The Monster takes off on foot.
Reports reach Connors about The Monster’s whereabouts, and needless to say, he’s less than thrilled. Meanwhile, computer models indicate Douglas’ danger zone should currently be 20 to 25 feet. The really bad news is that his supply of antidote should be nearly exhausted by now, so the danger zone might radically increase at any time. By the way, you can tell Washington’s put the right guy in charge, because only now does he order Nora to make up another batch of the antidote. (!!!) Yeah, that’s not the sort of thing you’d have wanted to just have on hand.*[*But…but…I thought “any hope that sufficient antidote might be compounded to have a lasting effect, all this vanished with one sweep of The Monster’s arm.”]
Connors naturally is thinking of shooting a dart with a massive dose of the stuff into The Monster. (Uhm, if bullets had no effect, why would a dart penetrate his skin? And that holds for the hypodermic Douglas is presumably using, as well.) Again, is this something Connors should be organizing only now, at the last second?
In any case, Connors suggests they locate The Monster with Geiger counters. The issue is whether they can find him before his radiation zone is so large that they can’t get close enough to use the tranquilizer gun. Indeed, Conrad estimates it will be a 100 feet in just another hour.
Past that (*gasp*), Conrad actually has a useful suggestion. Rather than sending out teams carrying the Geiger counters by hand, they could be randomly placed in the approximate area and networked to an oscilloscope. This could then be used to monitor the entire area from one location. Needless to say, that’s not what an oscilloscope does. However, they are never used correctly in movies anyway, so that’s just par for the course.
The next part of the film is actually fairly impressive, given Rebane’s reported $60,000 budget. (Of course, he also ran out of funds before finishing the movie, too.) Apparently he either had an in with somebody in the Chicago Fire Department, or else gained permission to film them during some authentic and quite large scale emergency drills. These actually, of course, take place on close-off sections of actual city streets for additional verisimilitude.
In any case, we do get quite a lot of footage featuring what are clearly actual vehicles, equipment and manpower of the CFD, CPD and the associated volunteer Chicago Civil Defense, Fire and Rescue Unit. Moreover, Rebane actually got permission to have his actors extensively interact with all these assets, and vice versa. Presumably the opportunity to do so is what inspired him to try making the film in the first place. Say what you will, but these scene raise the film’s production values through the roof (while at the same time making the rest of it look even cheaper).
The Geiger counters are set up as per the plan. The narrator blathers on, and the oscilloscope is brought into play. (This is where we see Conrad Logan, in what are clearly sections of the film shot by Rebane.) The Monster is quickly located in the nearby sewer system, and Connors dons a radiation suit to go in after him. This is condensing about five minutes of ‘action’ into a few lines, but really, what more needs to be said. Connors is still a Colonel, though, even here in Rebane’s footage. So the Captain / Colonel thing is definitely Rebane’s fault.
The good news is that the sewer pipes The Monster is in were closed off years ago, so he’s trapped in there. So the besuited Connors goes in after him, accompanied by a similarly protected guy carrying the trank gun. There’s a few minutes of intercut footage of them walking through the tunnels, then The Monster, then them again, all accompanied by the film’s epically annoying electronic ‘Monster’ sound effects, and finally…
We get what is justly regarded to be perhaps the single most retarded twist ending in sci-fi movie history. If you don’t know about it, but clearly:
So the tunnel stuff goes on for a while, and then the guys reach of the closed-off tunnel where The Monster is therefore trapped, and…THE MONSTER IS GONE!
The Narrator adds his thought to this amazing turn of events:
“As if a switch had been turned, as if an eye had been blinked, as if some phantom force in the universe had made a move eons beyond our comprehension, suddenly, there was no trail. There was no giant, no Monster, no thing called Douglas to be followed. There was nothing in the tunnel but the puzzled men of courage who suddenly found themselves alone with shadows and darkness.”
Bewildered, the two return outside, where Conrad hands Connors a newly arrived telegram. This informs him that *gasp* Frank Douglas had just been rescued in the north Atlantic ocean, alive and well.
The Narrator adds his final two cents: “One cloud lifts, and another descends. Astronaut Frank Douglas rescued alive, well, and of normal size some eight thousand miles away in a life boat [cut back to photo of the galaxy that opened the film, again with Monster legs staggering across it], with no memory of where he has been or how he was separated from his capsule. Then who, or what, has landed here? Is it here yet, or has the cosmic switch been pulled? Case in point: The line between science fiction, and science fact, is microscopically thin. You have witnessed the line being shaved even thinner. But is the menace with us, or is The Monster gone?”
So who was ultimately responsible for this ending? Was this who Rebane intended it to end, or was this Lewis’ ‘solution’ to a film that just ran out of footage. We may never know 100% one way or the other. One thing we can say, however, is SCREW BOTH OF YOU GUYS!
The Great Mystery
The biggest headache facing the compulsively anal viewer of this film is attempting to properly, er, credit, the correct filmmaker at any given point. How do we discern exactly what portions of the film were provided by Bill Rebane, and which parts were shot years later by Lewis to stretch the film out to (barely) feature length. The following details my assertions on this issues, which while I believe largely true, remain conjectural at best.
A clue to the provenance of certain of the film’s elements may be found in this anecdote I stumbled over on the Web:
I was listening to the commentary track for the HG Lewis classic THE GORE GORE GIRLS and was surprised to hear some comments about Monster A Go Go. For those of you who don’t know… Monster A Go Go was a film by director Bill Rebane (Giant Spider Invasion) that was never finished. HG Lewis bought the unfinished film from Rebane, edited it and re-titled it.
According to Lewis, Rebane worked on the film for two years and had shot hours of silent footage. The footage was silent because Rebane screwed up the sound recording. Lewis bought the reels of film for $8,000 because he needed a cheap double feature for his film Moonshine Mountain.
One of the actors apparently bought a hairpiece sometime during the two years of filming. Sometimes this actor would appear in the footage bald, other times with a wig. Lewis got around this problem with creative editing and changed the character into brothers!
That’s a bit hard to swallow, actually. It should be noted that the appearance of the actor is completely different when he plays, respectively, Henry and Conrad. Conrad is not only bald, but wears clunky black glasses, and sports a goatee rather than Henry’s sharp little mustache.
So how accurate is Lewis’ assertion that he was the one to make the guy’s role into two separate characters? (Assuming it was reported correctly here.) Well, up until the very end, I assumed—as did Sandy, so it wasn’t just me—that the character of Conrad Logan was indeed an invention of Lewis. However, the end of the movie indicates otherwise.
As I noted in the review, though (and this really did throw me at first), it turns out Conrad does briefly appear in the climatic footage shot in Chicago. Again, I can only assume this stuff was shot by Rebane, because I find it all but impossible to believe that Lewis would blow all the money required for additional location shooting. Moreover, much of the early footage, which is definitely shot out on location—like the stuff in the field—was pretty much certainly Rebane’s.
This means, as we do briefly see the bald Conrad Logan at the film’s climax, that Rebane certainly did intend for him and Henry Logan to be two characters, Lewis’ assertions notwithstanding. Usually this would go without saying, but given that Rebane does seem to have outfitted and referred to Connors (his nominal hero) as both a Captain and a Colonel, this isn’t quite cut and dry as it should be.
However, given the vast difference in the respective appearances of Henry (mustache, hair) and Conrad (bald, beard, heavy black glasses), surely even Rebane would have noticed if the actor had changed his appearance that much. And in any case, the real clincher is that, you know, Henry dies halfway through the movie, while Conrad appears in stuff Rebane shot for the end of the movie. So, you know, there you go. In any case, this pretty thoroughly indicates that it wasn’t Lewis’ idea to split what was meant by Rebane to be one character into a pair of brothers.
If this is true, and given the way things are shot, it seems likely that even the retarded ‘twist ending’ was provided by Rebane.* It would be nice to chalk that up to Lewis, given that he could at least argue that financial necessity forced his hand. However, barring evidence to the contrary, it looks like this was Rebane’s intention to end this way. We definitely see (at this point Col.) Connors getting a telegram, and everyone starring at it in amazement, which matches the ‘twist.’ And these shots don’t seem like insert footage shot years after the fact.[*And bad ‘cosmic’ science was sort of a specialty of his. The titular arachnids of The Giant Spider Invasion come out of a black hole—yes, that’s really what we’re told—and are sucked back into it at that film’s climax. They thus disappear as neatly as the mystery monster here does.]
It should also be noted that while quite a lot of Rebane’s footage may have been MOS (Mit Out Sound–really), that’s certainly not true of the majority of the stuff seen in the *cough* finished picture.
As such, it appears that Lewis’ contributions basically amounted to
a) editing the mess of footage Rebane handed over,
b) inserting the Narrator to try (vainly) to hold things together,
c) adding foley work to Rebane’s footage where needed, and
d) shooting an all too large number of cheap dialogue scenes to pad the movie out to its exorbitant 68 minute running time.
And again, I assume the title, theme song and campy ad campaign were his as well.
That’s my story, and until evidence appears to contradict it, I’m sticking with it.
So now let’s try to figure out what characters appeared in either, or both, Rebane’s or Lewis’ stuff:
Dr. Conrad Logan (Same guy who plays Henry) Briefly appears in what I’m pretty sure was some of Rebane’s footage, but mostly appears in Lewis’ endless, tedious and moronic dialogue scenes.
Capt. / Col. Steve Connors (Phil Morton) Morton appears in footage for both directors.
Dr. Nora Kramer Ditto.
ONLY FOR REBANE
The Monster (Henry Hite [!!!], the “world’s tallest man.” He gets a “special guest star” credit.) Pretty sure this guy only appeared in Rebane’s footage. Lewis didn’t even bother with an Ed Wood’s Chiropractor stand-in.
Dr. Carl Schreiber
Ruth (June Travis) Despite being the rare role in which we know the name of the person playing it, we never even learn Ruth’s last name.
Dr. Chris Manning
General Old Guy
ONLY FOR LEWIS
NOT COMPLETELY SURE
Dr. Henry Logan I think the character of Henry Logan only appears in Rebane’s footage, but there is one indoor dialogue scene he was in that could have been shot by Lewis. It should be noted that I could not find a reference to who this actor was exactly. The IMDB, for instance, only matches a few actors to a role in this picture. Obviously the name of the guy playing the Logan brothers appears in the opening credits, but I couldn’t tell you which one he was. In any case, between his two roles, he definitely appears in both directors’ sections.