1/11/07

807 Terror From The Year 5000

(1958, Horror-Mad Science, b&w)

Furnace repairmen of the year 5000!

Rating: *1/2

In a nutshell:

A radioactive mutant woman from the future travels to the present to seek a mate.

Summary:

Curator Bob's deadly little girlfriend.Professor Erling and his assistant Victor have created a water heater-esque time machine, which they use to exchange tchotchkes from the present for tchotchkes from the future. Victor is hot to crank up the power and search for bigger, badder trinkets, but before they continue, Professor Erling would like to know what makes all the future kitsch so darn radioactive. They get in an argument about whether or not they should seek “outside verification” of their success.

In another part of the country, flattopped museum curator Bob Hedges receives a letter and package from Professor Erling, requesting that he determine the date of origin of an odd cubist statue. Through the magic process of “Carbon-14” (sigh) Bob discovers the dangerously radioactive statue will not be created for another 3,000 years. He packs it in lead and flies to Professor Erling’s island mansion.

Of course Professor Erling has a beautiful daughter named Claire, and of course Claire is engaged to Victor, and of course she cheats on him with Bob when he arrives. Also of course, she’s the one who forged her father’s signature on the letter and sent off the statue, ignorant of its potentially lethal radioactivity. But since he’s there, they show him how the time machine works, sending his Fraternity keychain into the future in exchange for a medallion that says “save us” in Greek.

Later, Victor cranks up the power on the time machine in secret, hoping to bring back something alive. Apparently he’s done this in the past, because earlier he was throwing suitcases full of dead mutant cats into the Everglades. Bob sees him and goes diving for them on three separate occasions—on the first he leaves off to frolic in the water with the nubile Claire; on the second he stops when Victor rather ineffectually tries to kill him with an oar to protect his secret; and on the third, uninterrupted occasion after Victor has unleashed the killer mutant woman.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. (Not that it matters. The plot points make very little sense, no matter what order you put them in.) First there’s a peeping groundskeeper who distracts everyone during Victor’s initial, partially successful attempt to bring a person through the machine. The arriving future mutant lady burns his arm with her radioactive touch, a wound that Bob reveals after beating the living crap out of him in the water. Bob, Claire, and Erling take him to the hospital and then go out on the town, visiting a restaurant, a movie theater, and a bar while they wait for him to be treated. Victor, in the meantime, ditches the hospital almost immediately. He gets blind, stinking drunk and steals a boat back to the mansion. He brings the mutant lady all the way through the time machine. She escapes while the others rush home to put him to bed and call a nurse.

Next day, the glittery mutant lady strangles the groundskeeper, causing the Bob and Professor Erling to search the island with radiation suits and shotguns. She evades them to tear off the arriving nurse’s face and use it to cover her own hideous visage. She takes over Victor’s care and mesmerizes him with her hypnotic fingernails, explaining she needs him to come back with her to breed non-mutants in the future. Claire recognizes the impostor’s futuristic shoes and tears off her false face in the ensuing melee. The shock of her real face jolts Victor out of his trance and he electrifies both himself and the mutant to death. Bob and Professor Erling rush home for the plot recap and the heavy-handed environmentalist moral.

Introduction:

The Amazing Food Pills!  All the nutrients one needs to survive for a day conveniently contained in just three to four bowls-full.Inspired by the promotional material for his new winter coat, Tom decides to comfort-rate everything on the Satellite of Love, including a fern, a basketball, and some bologna. Crow complains that wearing the crowbar Tom comfort-rated for him doesn’t even keep out a mild chill. Tom breaks down and admits he’s making it all up. Mike hugs him. Tom comfort-rates Mike to ten below.

Host Segment One:

Pearl harasses the Observers about her meal until they give up all pretense of hospitality, declaring that she and Bobo will be dissected and displayed in their museum. Before the dissection, however, they must fight to the death—Pearl with a deadly, double-bladed Karan-Ku, and Bobo armed with a sea snail. The Observers try to force Mike and the ‘Bots to fight as well. It doesn’t work on them for some reason, and the brain-scanning session turns into an elaborate game of charades.

Host Segment Two:

Pearl and Bobo have switched to boxing gloves, and swing at each other in the background while the Observers introduce the satellite dwellers to the most advanced form of nourishment in the universe: their amazing Food Pills. Further questioning reveals that, in order to successfully subsist on Food Pills, one must eat at least five to ten cereal bowls full a day. Mike lightly saut├ęs crushed Food Pill patties for some variety.

Host Segment Three:

Mike has prevailed upon the nanites to build him a water heater-esque time machine so he can send a message to his family. Afraid of radiation scarring, he sends Crow to tell them he’s okay. Crow returns seconds later to regale him with tales of the eleven years he spent with Mike’s family, but somehow he forgot to tell them about Mike.

Host Segment Four:

Mike and the ‘Bots attempt to imitate Jimmy Rogers’ trademark yodel, causing the Observers to cringe. In an effort to show them up, the Observers croon an old-fashioned ballad titled, “When I Held Your Brain In My Arms.” “Your adrenaline was like wine / Sweet perfume was your endocrine / When I held your brain in my arms.” Bobo and Pearl continue their fight with broadswords and shields.

Host Segment Five:

Crow torments Mike with tales of how he used to date Mike’s old girlfriend. Mike goads him into accepting a blind date, and then uses the time machine to call up the glittery mutant woman from the film. On the planet’s surface, Pearl has finally bested Bobo. The Observers give her a ceremonial sword to finish him, but she refuses, launching into a long, Star Trek-ian speech about mankind’s flawed but noble nature. Bobo wakes up to sucker punch her from behind, and the fight begins again.

Stinger:

The Observers hold up their brains.

Thoughts:

Whinypuss Victor's deadly big girlfriend.There are so many problems with this movie; I can’t just pick on one. Of the various elements from which the film is composed, the ones found in most abundance are the thrilling transportation scenes. Though not directed by Roger Corman, most of the footage shown is of people walking, swimming, driving, parking, rowing, and/or moving in some way towards the next bit of dialogue. Very rarely do any characters meet without taking several minutes to establish where they came from and how they arrived. And if, for example, both characters should happen to drive a similar make of car over exactly the same roads, the movie will make you watch the same (or so similar as makes no difference) footage twice. Take out all the purposeless shots of people traveling from one place to the next and what remains might fill a shot glass.

And then there’s Bob and his little Carbon-14 fantasy. According to the movie, it’s an arcane ritual used to conjure an object’s date of origin out of thin air. Real Carbon-14 tests determine this by the rate of radioactive decay, providing a rough, ballpark figure on the age of organic material. (“Organic” in this context means “carbon-based,” and should not be construed to mean “pesticide-free fruit” or “cubist metal statue from the future.”) If, for the sake of admitting it’s “just a movie,” we decide to pretend that such a process would work on metal, then Bob would have simply determined the amount of time that elapsed between the object’s creation and its trip through the time machine, with no reference to when it was made. Perhaps, by “Carbon-14,” the movie is referring to the process by which the examiner turns the object over to read the manufacturer’s stamp.

And let’s not forget Victor. He has a terrible tragic secret in his past that motivates his search through time. It makes him oily, sullen and bitter. It drives him to push the time apparatus past its limits and unleash the eponymous Terror. He alludes to his haunting personal demons in the opening dialogue, but in the end we discover…nothing. There’s not even an effort to maintain an air of mystery about it. Somewhere just after the middle, the movie simply forgets he’s supposed to have a deep, dark secret and never mentions it again.

In the host segments, the Observers continue their omnipotent Star Trek-ish ways by forcing Pearl and Bobo to fight. It’s perfectly done—just a little introduction of what they’re doing at the beginning, a glimpse or two of the continuing struggle during the other sketches, and the Shatner-esque speech at the end. The yodeling is fun (Tom yodels best, by far), and the Observer ballad sounds fantastic. Kevin Murphy has a wonderful singing voice. My favorite moment comes when Mike asks after his old girlfriend, Ginger, and Crow says, “You mean Ginger Sa-Nap?” My least favorite is the unfunny comfort-rating sketch.

The film segments have their moments. Upon meeting Bob and his sharp-edged flattop, Mike calls him “Drill Sergeant Curator.” Computer jargon is added to the many, many shots of Bob’s blank face, as in “Drive not ready: (a)bort, (r)etry, (f)ail?” (Mike), and “Unrecoverable disk error,” (Tom). During the watery fight between our two oily protagonists, Crow calls it “[an] epic battle between moist and moister.” Most of the comments, however, deal with the endless scenes of characters moving from one place to the next, and the conspicuous lack of terror. Though the host segments work well, the film itself is both slow moving and incomprehensible. The satellite crew tries its darndest to make it watchable, but they only barely succeed.