Wednesday, December 3, 2008

In praise of B scifi

TCM aired The Killer Shrews, this morning, an incredibly low-budget movie about people trapped on an island with mutant shrews that are the size of wolves, and need to eat NOW! or else starve to death. Fun, fun, stuff, although truth be told, it's really bad.

Having said that, the low-budget B-grade science fiction movies of the 1950s and early 1960s can be a lot of fun, precisely because they're so bad. I can strongly recommend The Killer Shrews; I've already recommended Panic in Year Zero!, and another good one is The Alligator People.

In The Alligator People, Beverly Garland stars as a newlywed woman. She's married to a man (played by Richard Crane) who was a pilot in World War II, but suffered a serious accident breaking most of his bones. However, he apparently had some experimental treatment that's given him a full recovery. They're on their honeymoon, when Crane gets a telegram. He gets off the train at a stop to make a phone call to answer the telegram, and disappears, leaving his wife high and dry. She's determined to find him, and find out what happened to him, so she goes to his last-known address, an antebellum-style mansion in the bayous of Louisiana. There, she finds a clinic with nurses and doctors who seem to know more than they're letting on to her. The title (as well as the box art) gives away quite a bit of what they know, but that in and of itself doesn't take away from the movie.

The Alligator People is chock full of the sci-fi clich├ęs of the era: a moody mansion, along with the fog and mist; a well-meaning, but mad, scientist (played by George Macready, taking quite a step down from movies like Gilda); the creepy hired hand (Lon Chaney, of all people!); genetic mutation; radiation (thank you nuclear hysteria); and really large, outlandish scientific equipment that glows and makes wonderful noises. The ending is ludicrous, with horrible special effects, but then, that's another staple of the genre. In fact, the whole story of The Alligator People is a head-scratcher in terms of its plausibility. But don't let that stop you from watching. It's the sort of movie that shouldn't be taken seriously, and deep analysis should probably be avoided. Just sit back and have a reasonably good time, preferably with friends.

The Alligator People was released by Twentieth Century-Fox, and doesn't seem to be in the Fox Movie Channel's current rotation. However, it is available on DVD.

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