It Came from DVD-R: The Flame Barrier (1958)

As I recently mentioned, long time FoJ Kathy Evans kindly put me in touch with Tom C. out in California.  Tom has a collection of 4,000 films, and offered to cut me copies of a few obscurities.  One of the titles inquired after was The Flame Barrier, a ‘50s sci-fier that I had never even come across playing anywhere.

Tom said he had it, but warned me, “Unfortunately that one was a disappointment (much like Monster From Green Hell).   It is a very slow 1:11 with much trekking through the jungle and bickering between the characters.  The final “payoff” is about the last 10 minutes.”  Well, a comparison to Monster from Green Hell was sure to inspire a certain trepidation, but what to do?  I had to see the film and check it off the list of such flicks I’d yet to see.  So I asked for it anyway.

Sadly, Tom proved all too correct, although I held out hope for a while.  This was partly due to the presence of some familiar names and faces.  The cast included the film’s inevitable romantic leads, Arthur Franz and Kathleen Crowley.  Like most such low budget films, the producers wisely went with people who did a lot of TV work, as they were used to shooting on a very fast schedule.

The two leads were also genre vets.  Crowley had starred in the fun robot-invasion flick Target: Earth (1954).  Franz, for his part, starred in several such films amongst all his other work.  Such titles include the cult favorite Invaders from Mars (1953), the comparatively upscale Universal ‘B’ movie Monster on the Campus (1958) and Atomic Submarine (1959).  Sadly, Flame Barrier would easily prove his worst sci-fi movie.

Even more promising were the names behind the camera.  The story and co-scripting were by George Worthing Yates, most famous for providing the (admittedly somewhat altered) story for Them! Past that the level of film he worked on often plummeted pretty severely. He ended up scripting several, on the high end, Ray Harryhausen movies, and on the lower one, Bert I. Gordon’s stuff.  Yates would provide screenplays or storylines for It Came Beneath the Sea, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Attack of the Puppet People, Space Master X-7, War of the Colossal Beast, Frankenstein 1970, Earth vs. the Spider and Tormented.

However, what really gave me hope was Yate’s co-scripter, Pat Fielder, and the film’s director, Paul Landres.  The two worked on several other quite good genre films right in a row, collaborating on most of them, including The Monster the Challenged the World (1957), The Vampire (1957) and The Return of Dracula (1958).  But my hopes were for naught.  Although The Flame Barrier was produced in the middle of those much more enjoyable films, it proved, as Tom warned, a rather tepid stinker.

Indeed, Monster from Green Hell was an apt comparison, although such other ‘endless hike’ films like Curucu Beast of the Amazon or Lost Continent would have sufficed.  I held out for hopes for about 20 or even thirty minutes, because I threw in the towel.  Even Bert I. Gordon’s pretty awful (albeit quite similar) The Cyclops was more exciting.  At least he tossed in a giant bug or animal at us every once in a while.

As noted, Flame Barrier resembles The Cyclops to a goodly extent. Both film open with a woman coming down to Mexico, insisting to search for her husband (or fiancée, maybe, in The Cyclops) whose gone long missing in the South American jungles.  There’s also some hugger-mugger about a missing satellite, which provides the film with the mandatory “stock footage and inane narration” that about 90% of these things kicked off with.

Here we watched much recycled rocket footage, as the narrator explains, ““Two hundred miles above our Earth, exists what is known as the Flame Barrier. Above that barrier lies the unknown, the unexplored.”  Well, ‘explains’ might be a bit strong.  He mentions the Flame Barrier, but they never define exactly what it is or why it’s named that.  Anyway, the rocket purportedly bearing a satellite is launched, and then we to my vast delight get several seconds of stock footage from Robot Monster, indicating some sort of vehicular distress.  The idea is that the rocket passed the Flame Barrier and, I guess, exploded or something, and then the satellite crashed to Earth in the aforementioned jungle.

Or something like that. I think I already have put more time explaining all this then the film does.

So the woman, Carol, importunes American expatriates Dave and Matt Hollister to help find her husband.  This wastes a goodly amount of time, as it’s the rainy season, and too dangerous to do now, but Carol insists, etc.  Of course Dave (the good but bitter brother, seemingly the model for the Larry Blamire cynical explorer character in The Lost Skeleton Returns Again) and Matt (the dissolute drunk and skirt chaser) eventually capitulate, because, you know, otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie.

So Carol is given a possible cynical motive to find the husband, dead or alive, and they try to give the three leads some character.  Dave is mean to her beyond all reason, although Carol is naturally made out to be much more dense then she should be (she wears a skirt for their jungle exploration!).  However, we eventually learn the reason for Dave’s wounded soul, and blah blah blah.  As the attraction grows between the two, it’s obvious the husband will be found dead, because otherwise it would just be awkward.

But all such efforts at distraction are defeated as we quickly enter the ‘endless trek’ segment of the film. After about ten or fifteen minutes, this wears out its welcome but, per the nature of the beast, continues on and on and on.  This is one of those 70 minute films that just seems to go on forever.

The interminable middle of the film features all the traditional ‘jungle movie’ filler, albeit in an even less convincing than usual jungle: Encounters with bats, snakes & spiders, either via stock footage or obviously tame animals.  The best is an encounter with what is apparently meant to be a strangely deadly iguana, given the panicked looks and gun grabbing that ensues.  Next best is a snake clearly levitated on a wire to ‘menace’ the heroine.

Carol proves to be nitwitted and useless to an extent that would have Mara Corday sneering in scorn.  The party encounters the traditional superstitious Indians and the traditional deserted native village. The latter provide the traditional chatter about mysterious occurrences, like mysterious animal deaths.

There are strange animal cries, which prove to have nothing to inspire them at all, since the film doesn’t provide any mutated animals or anything.  I guess they (rightly) thought we’d eventually forget about all that, given how most of the audience would have been asleep at this point.  Skulls on sticks.  Lots and lots of cheap, if not exactly captivating, yakkity yak.  Several (of course) fully articulated skeletons found laying all over the place.  ‘Natives’ with mysterious burns.

Eventually we get to the climax, which to be fair, is with 15 minutes left, not 10.  Not that it helps much.  The threesome enter a cave, and there they find the satellite, surrounded by a glowing mound of cellophane–the monster–with the lost husband stuck in the middle of it. He’s pretty well preserved, but there’s no indication of whether he’s supposed to be alive or not.  He never speaks or anything.  Not a very fun gig for whatever actor got the part. “Sit there and don’t blink and look dead or in a coma or something.”

In a two-fer, the monster is not only a blob (albeit one that never moves or does anything), but one of the decade’s inert, apparently non-sentient monsters.  (Actually a three-fer; it’s the alien lifeform brought back in a satellite or rocketship, ala The Andromeda Strain or The Blob remake.) The big problem is that it’s surrounded by an electric disintegration field that of course is double every two hours or something and so must be stopped now or it will Destroy the World.  I guess Magnetic Monster is the closest match, and to a lesser extent the Monolith Monsters.

I’m an old hand at this sort of thing, but even I had lost interest to the extent that I didn’t bother listening enough to the dialogue to see if it made any sort of sense or not.  The monster generates the electric field, but the hero’s plan is to electrocute it.   The hero theorizes that absorbing the husband made the creature “100 times as powerful” or some such; I never really understood what he meant exactly or how he figured this out.

The best bit is a body bursting into flames and leaving the skeleton behind.  This isn’t really realized with much technical skill, but the idea and the effect is pretty neat.  And for, for a bare moment, the film is actually kind of startling and cool.  Past that, though, there’s not really much of interest here, except for people like me looking to notch off another ‘50s sci-fi and / or blob monster movie.

Still, thanks to Tom I scratched another long-standing itch, so again, thanks for that.

Next up is Gog.