Journey to the Seventh Planet

Invisible Invaders / Journey to the …
John Agar, Carl Ot…
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Starring John Agar, Carl Ottosen, Louis Miehe Renard, Ove Sprogoe, Peter Monch, Ann Smyrner, Greta Thyssen & Ulla Moritz. Written by Ib Melchior & Sid Pink. Directed by Sid Pink.

Hi there Maniacal Movie Fans. Dr. Maniac here to take you to new heights (bad pun intended) as we go along on a JOURNEY TO THE 7th PLANET (that’s Uranus in case you flunked astronomy) thanks to writer/Producer/Director Sid Pink, the fellow responsible for (some might say Guilty Of) unleashing REPTILICUS on the ticket buying public. 

Set in the future (or at least 1963’s vision of the future) Earth has explored most of the planets in the solar system and failed to find life of any sort. Now a manned expedition is off to Uranus hoping to find something, anything! With John Agar in the lead the crew lands on the mysterious planet and discovers that, despite a surface temperature of 200 degress below zero, there is a perfect replica of a Danish village complete with several swimsuit clad lovelies (Ann Smyrner and Mimi Heinrich, both of whom were in REPTILICUS, among them) waiting for them.

Right about now you might be thinking “Hey maybe this will be a remake of FIRE MAIDENS OF OUTER SPACE!” Well no such luck. Uranus, you see, is ruled by a space creature resembling a gigantic brain (think THE CRAWLING EYE only minus its tentacles) that has been stuck there since its own spaceship crashed several thousand years ago. Being pure intellect the brain can get inside the heads of the astronauts and made their innermost desires take form. He (it?) needs their ship so it can leave Uranus and get on with its original mission which was to, let’s all say it together, conquer the Earth!

Will it succeed? Hey, we’ve got John Agar fighting on the side of Earth! I know who to put my money on! Now here comes the part that makes this movie such fun. There were special effects scenes done in Denmark but Sid Pink decided they were not convincing enough. This from the guy who gave us REPTILICUS the killer marionette! He had a bunch of new effects done in America using stop motion animators Wah Chang and Jim Danforth, both of whom were hot after JACK THE GIANT KILLER, to animate a cyclopean dinosaur-like creature. Visual effects were handled by none other than Bert I. Gordon. Thrifty Sid even resorted to stock footage from THE ANGRY RED PLANET. Stills of the deleted Danish monsters popped up in both FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and MAD MONSTERS magazines in case you are curious. 

John Agar’s career started big; he co-starred with John Wayne and was directed by John Ford.

Side note about Agar: Prior to auditioning for roles in film, John’s buddy, Neil Whitehall convinced him to invest in a brand new jewelry business specializing in sterling silver rings & earrings, an easy decision due to John’s well known fondness for silver jewelry. As luck would have it, the business boomed almost immediately, requiring John to spend much more time than he bargained for dealing with store matters, contractors, and artisans. He knew nothing about silver jewelry (other than that he loved wearing it himself), but learned quickly and became a truly active partner however sidetracked from his film career. As the jewelry business grew, so did John’s discomfort that too much time was spent not pursuing his acting career, instead he was mired in the negotiations and bookkeeping related to the store. John had developed very strong relationships with some very talented artisans, who gave his silver jewelry a unique look and design appeal. One of these silversmiths was Rachel Adon, who you trivia buffs might remember as the first victim of REPTILICUS. Fortunately for us, John was rescued from the jewelry business by Neil’s brother, who bought his shares and freed him to become the actor he always wanted to be!

Sadly if you start at the top there is only one direction your career can go. It must have been quite a slide from SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON to DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL but John Agar never allowed himself to just walk through a role, he always acted like he really believed what was going on.

So is JOURNEY TO THE 7th PLANET a classic? Not if you choose to compare it to movies like PLANETA BURG and FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS. Then again JOURNEY is the sort of movie you just cannot take seriously and that makes it fit into the world of Saturday matinees perfectly! It is much more fun than ASSIGNMENT OUTER SPACE or WILD, WILD PLANET (don’t even get me started on THE PHANTOM PLANET). JOURNEY provides the sort of escapist entertainment that kids flocked to the movies on Saturdays for. Now you can have that weekend ambience right in your own living room. — Notes by Dr. Maniac.

What Critics Say:

”Recommended to anyone who likes bad acting, terrible dialogue, illogical plotlines, silly monsters and scantily-clad women. In other words, I liked it!” — AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!

”Does have a certain charm… filmed well… monster is pretty interesting… has a pretty huge downer of an ending that really sold me on it… Agar-riffic!” — JACK ASS CRITICS.com

”Magnificent, a treasured memory from the 60’s!” — Christopher Dietrich, DVD DRIVE-IN

”Teilweise hat der Film auch einige unlogische Stellen und wirkt manchmal sehr lieblos zusammengeschnitten. Aber trotz allem ist er ein nettes Stückchen Science-Fiction für Trashfans.” — SENSE OF VIEW.de

”Put JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET on your show-going list. It is a fanciful effort, highly imaginative in mixture of theme and horror!” — LOS ANGELES HERALD EXPRESS

Like this flick? See also: PLANET OF BLOOD; TERROR IN SPACE

 

Journey to the Beginning of Time
aka Journey to Prehistory aka Cesta do Praveku. Starring Vladimir Bejval & Victor Betral.Directed by Fred Ladd & Karel Zeman.

Karel Zeman is mostly known (if it all) in the U.S. for his amazing photographic “cut out” animation style from such imports as THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE or BARON MUNCHAUSEN. The latter is especially relevent, as Zeman was very “munch” the HarryHAUSEN of his native Czech homelands. In sheer artistic and technical skills, only the formidable Harryhausen was Zeman’s equal and undisputed peer.

Sadly, fate has not been kind to the Zeman legacy stateside (though he’s well-respected elsewhere). This may be as an unfortunate consequence of Zeman and his fellow Czech’s shared fate as Communists and the subsequent cool distribution (if at all) these movies had in America. It is clearly no reflection on Zeman’s talent, after all, so why else the poor distribution of such amazingly well-made flix?

The motion picture “black out” of all things Russian was an amazing “success” by the American government working with the Hollywood machinery to keep out images of the Soviet Union. It wasn’t so much that the images need be neutral, favorable or negative as much as they were simply do not exist, period.

Thus, filling in the “evil images” of your Cold Warrior enemy is much easier to do, as there are no competing images of equally valid (perhaps) cultures made from his point of view that might (or might not) humanize him to you. Propaganda and art should not meet as often as they have, but who are we to judge history as much as note it?
Zeman — like most of his contemporaries — probably wished for a better system but politically did little to actually accomplish such ambition. In this sense, he was like the average American; complicit in whatever happens as long as he’s not affected too personally nor too drastically.

Rather, Zeman and his fellow artists toiled away at the what is surely the most “basic” of film arts: stop motion animation. For how much more “primitive” can you go than to create the motion all by yourself and control the flick experience frame-by-frame? Sure, cel animation is great, but moving a puppet and remembering where the hell you did an hour ago, as compared as to last night when you had one beer to many..?

Like Harryhausen commented upon in an interview with FAMOUS MONSTERS: the magic of his flix was that they were unknown until he animated them. Sure, he had background plates, and sketches, and even storyboards.

But finally it was down to him, alone with his camera, model and callibration sticks (used to measure movements between frames), figuring out what to do, frame by frame, beat by beat. There was no safety net, no going back; once exposed, you modified based on what you had done and where you wanted to go with the shot, for no more control than that was possible.

In this sense, stop motion as practiced by Zeman and Harryhausen is a kind of highly-stylized form of Kabuki. The moves and costumes are formal, but there’s a kind of Zen, let the river flow quality that gives it life no matter how many times you’ve seen it before as spectator.

That kind of magic is lost in a roomful of c.g.i. technicians all pre-agreeing on the beats and outcome of every frame. It’s not that what they do isn’t great or entertaining or creative, it’s just that it is a radically different form of animation than the lone genius. And consequently, so are the results.

JOURNEY TO THE BEGINNING OF TIME (1955) took eleven years to reach the shores of the United States, and by then, Zeman’s career was practically over as far as major output. That’s sad, because in many ways, JOURNEY is one of his most entertaining flix.

It was recut by the American company and several boring, unnecessary moments were added to “explain” it all away (an interesting paradox, by the way: you’re supposed to explain a time conundrum to an audience that is assumed to be too ignorant to ‘get that’ for themselves?). Hence the “Fred Ladd” American credit as co-director, even though it’s truly and only Zeman’s show. As sad as this co-directing credit is, were it not for the Ladd version, JOURNEY might have never been seen at all stateside!

This was done so that the flick could be booked on weekends and attract school audiences by promoting it to the teachers as “authentic as if you were there, 500 million years ago!” The ballyhoo worked and the flick played the circuit continuously. Finally, the producers sold it off into syndication to an early Captain Kangaroo-type t.v. series called GARFIELD GOOSE AND FRIENDS, where it played in serial format.

Of the flick itself, I can only say: it’s a Zeman shame his fame was never more widespred in his day, so that he could have scaled the heights of recognition as much as Harryhausen. This lack of recognition in the West takes nothing from his work, gladly.

In his flix, Zeman’s magic lives on and on. The amazing, highly complex shots have the lyrical beauty at times of a color version of KING KONG, combining as they do glass paintings, two-dimensional cut-outs, models and every other trick in and not in the book.

Their charm, and this entry is no exception, is truly eternal.– Notes by Dr. Challenger.

What Critics Say:

“A wonderful ride; the special effects aren’t convincing on a realistic level, but they have a charming variety to them and retain a sense of wonder and poetry. …This type of magic and wonder is rarely found in movies anymore.” — Dave Sindelar, SCI-FILM.org

“An early example of edutainment the stop-motion looks better than one would expect.” — DINOSAUR FILMS

”Man, what a hoot this film is… enough to make Darwin roll over in his grave. Don’t miss!” — Timothy Fox, IMDB.com
“Für den Zeman 1955 den grossen Preis der Filmfestspiele in Venedig erhielt, gilt als Meisterwerk des Genres ‘seriöser Urzeitfilm’.” — NaturmuseumBasel Program Notes

“The adventures of four boys who, after finding a trilobite, are mysteriously transported back in time. Sailing on the River of Time, they return to prehistoric days, encountering dinosaurs and other now-extinct creatures. The puppets Zeman used were based on the illustrations of Zdenek Burian.” — J-VERNE.de

Best Children’s Film, Venice Film Festival ’55.
“The film has a special place in my heart because this was the first monster movie I saw in the movie theatre… played throughout the country (US release being 1966) for weekend special showing for years… written and directed by one of the undisputed masters of fantasy, Karel Zeman… his imagination and brilliance shines like only a few other imaginative directors.” — MONSTER! INTERNATIONAL

“A great film for children and the odd dinosaur fan.” — T.V. GUIDE

Like this flick? See also: PLANET OF STORMS; THE TIME TRAVELERS; TERROR IN SPACE

Killdozer

Starring Clint Walker, Neville Brand & Robert Urich. Directed by Jerry London.

Many folks who remember this television “movie of the week” from the era of DUEL and TRILOGY OF TERROR will ‘dig’ knowing that it was based on a classic SF novella by Theodore Sturgeon, a true Golden Era SF writing master. But the teleplay of course takes liberties with the source material, so don’t go into this one expecting great literature. Rather, it’s great ‘bulldozer comes to life’ cinema, which should give you an idea of where to begin excavation on this rarity in terms of quality.

As it goes, KILLDOZER (1974) is predictable if slightly interesting ‘man vs. machine’ scenario, a kind of horrific version of John Henry, in which the working man has been reduced to a mere cog in the wheel of the all-powerful killdozer itself, an omnipotent and studly assemblage of giant nuts and throbbing bolts ready to raze anyone idiotic enough to die opposing it. As Quentin might say, “this bitch is baaaaaaaaaaaaaad.”

And she is, too. In fact, it is the grisly ‘take no prisoners’ attitude that gives KILLDOZER its lethal charm. You may be ahead of the plot twists and turns, but the shocking demise in store for so many of the isolated characters give it a feel not unlike one of those John Wayne in the Pacific Theater of WW2 flix, in which he and his handful of men are forced to take on entire squadrons of marauding Japs. It has the same ‘mano a machina’ feel in tone, as well, always self-consciously keeping it very much a man’s man conflict.

In terms of the comraderie, the best analogy would be Hawk’s THE THING. KILLDOZER has the same distinct air of brotherly interplay, albeit not as imaginatively realized or directorially paced.

Still, this is the quality that sets it apart from other ‘machine turns on man’ flix of the era that didn’t work as well, such as THE CAR and whatnot. While those flix had suspense, they lacked the characters KILLDOZER possesses.

Speaking of possession, KILLDOZER is centered on the taking over of mechanical life on a remote island by a visitor from outer space. Said alien falls to earth on a meteorite, stays buried for eons, and then is conveniently unearthed by construction foreman Clint Walker and crew, whereupon the alien life form inhabits… a bulldozer!
But not just any bulldozer.

No, this beast is the Titanic of earth movers, two-quaking stories tall and all hiss, piss and growl at anything that so much as moves within its vision. And vision it literally has, using its glowing headlights to beam anyone and any obstacle before it. Seconds later, the killdozer charges, madly plowing through huts, screaming men and storage sheds with mechanical indifference.

KILLDOZER feels very much like THE TERMINATOR in these sequences, in which the basic conflict has been mythologically abstracted from the flick and then layered back again on top. That’s a fancy way of saying the theme is “on the nose,” but the filmmakers are smart enough not to make it too obvious, and so it gives the slight premise some unexepected dramatic weight. — Notes by Bill Carson.

What Critics Say:

“Portions of it feel like a (sanitized) Mamet stage play… my favorite ‘evil vehicle’ movie ever, by far.” — OOKWORLD.com

“I bought the comic book adaptation of this (Marvel) for 10 cents years ago… after seeing the film, I’d say that that was worth a whole 25 cents… I actually enjoyed the movie; it’s another in the long line of preposterous ‘horror’ flicks from the 70’s wherein something that will NEVER be terrifying attempts to terrify people… and people actually get scared!” — Robert Morgan, IMDB.com

“A fucking bulldozer was the star of a movie, on television, financed by network executives. Fucking A, and now a ‘television event’ is Brad Pitt appearing on FRIENDS. Thank you, Jerry, I will never be young again.” — BRAINS ON FILM.com

“I hunted this one for years, based on memories of terror in childhood. To finally see it again, for the first time since original airing, it was a treat. Hadn’t realized how much the more recent VIRUS was borrowing from this… simple, somewhat ludicrous, but quite effective little thriller… proud to have it in my collection at last.” — Judexdot1, IMDB.com

“How I wish wish wish this was released on DVD!” — Keith Robey, IMDB.com

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