This double bill contains two science fiction items from the 1960s. War Between the Planets is a minor, almost negligible Italian import that best recommended for completist collectors. The Creation of the Humanoids is something else entirely, a progressive and serious sci-fi opus hiding behind a curiously stilted production and weak performances. It is said that this bizarre curiosity was one of Andy Warhol's favorite films. The film's technological prophesies will fascinate hard-core science fiction aficionados; others may find it difficult to stay awake!
Science fiction fans will be impressed by the thematic complexity of The Creation of the Humanoids, which goes far beyond most fantastic filmmaking circa 1962. The independently produced movie imagines a future in which humans are being supplanted by thinking robots. The cerebral script by Jay Simms (Panic in Year Zero!) layers enough talky exposition to fill three movies. It's really like no other science fiction film: The humanoid robots called "Clickers" stare through stainless-steel ball bearing eyes and speak in monotones familiar from later Coneheads parodies on Saturday Night Live.
Synopsis: The near future, after a nuclear war. Kenneth Cragis (Don Megowan, the gill-man The Creature Walks Among Us) is a member of The Order of Flesh and Blood, a secret society dedicated to the suppression of robots. The Order breaks the law to monitor the activities of the robot "Clickers." Cragis is attracted to Maxine Megan (Erica Elliott) and shocked when his superiors tell him that his own sister, Esme (Frances McCann), is "in rapport" (cohabiting) with a Clicker named Pax (David Cross). Cragis tries to shame Esme into breaking off the relationship, but she scoffs at his organization's reactionary ideas: The robots are here to stay.
Meanwhile, Clickers Acto and Lagan (George Milan and Dudley Manlove) are supervising revolutionary progress at the robot's recharging headquarters, called The Temple. The Clickers are circumventing the law prohibiting the manufacture of robots more than 70% human. They bribe humans to pilfer new humanoids off the assembly line so that renegade scientist Dr. Raven (Don Doolittle) can upgrade them to the 96th percentile level. The "R-96's" are cosmetically altered to perfectly match recently deceased humans. Dr. Raven then performs a "thalamic transplant" from human to robot, causing the human to be 'reborn' in an artificial body, unaware that he is no longer made of flesh and blood.
Cragis' secret anti-Clicker squad uncovers the conspiracy, but will his intervention make a difference? As Acto says, "Why is it the more we become like Man, the more they hate us for it?"
The Creation of the Humanoids is wildly uneven. An ugly title sequence plays out over color shots of nuclear explosions, and is followed by an amateurish prologue explaining how computers evolved into R-21 humanoid Clickers as human reproduction rates dropped precipitously. We're shown several cardboard-clunky robots wiggling their arms (among them the alien costume from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers) and told that they're smarter than human beings.
The actors playing the green, bald Clickers wear silvery contact lenses that completely freaked us out in the 1960s; it's just as disturbing as Ray Milland's selection of eyewear in the next year's "X", the Man with the X-Ray Eyes. The Clickers speak without looking at each other, move stiffly and wear jumpsuits similar to the Metalunans in This Island Earth. Now they seem a cliché, but they're given a great many provocative dialogue zingers: "I know who created me. You have to accept your creator on faith."
The movie is composed of only four or five major scenes and may have fewer than fifty basic camera setups. The sets are imaginative but tacky. Legendary cameraman Hal Mohr's strong color contrasts get a little hard on the eyes after a while. The actors are blocked as if in a static one-act play; almost everything is spoken instead of being visually dramatized. Frankly, the show could easily be performed as a play -- but it might be criticized as being too talky for the stage!
The script packs in an abundance of interesting ideas. Robots so perfect that they cannot be distinguished from humans pop up frequently in the books of Philip K. Dick but didn't fully reach the screen until Blade Runner and Star Trek: The Next Generation. References are made to humans having their memories "dispersed" the same way that we now might erase a hard drive in a computer. The central theme is the riddle of human identity. The Order of Flesh and Blood holds on to a reactionary definition of "human-ness" and seeks to destroy inferior imitations, an aim that seems chauvinistic and "racist" considering that mankind is dying out and needs its robots. Members of The Order wear Civil War Confederate uniform pants and caps, reinforcing the civil rights issue. They also carry ceremonial daggers and use thug tactics to intimidate ordinary policemen, as did the Nazi elite. The worst horror Cragis can imagine is mechanized miscegenation, a mixed marriage between human and robot. His free thinking sister is "in rapport" with a gentlemanly Clicker and laughs at her brother's panicked reaction. The Order is a radical minority that wields undue political power.
In the film's most progressive theme, Cragis fails to realize that "life will find a way" and that man and machine are growing together. Clickers merely want to serve man and be accepted by him, and the green R-21s marvel at unknown emotions that the R-96s can experience. As for the Invasion of the Body Snatchers - like substitution of robots for people, the eccentric scientist Dr. Raven sees nothing wrong with it. He's made a bargain to keep turning out prototype R-96 upgrades with transplanted thalamus glands, and as payment the Clickers have promised to revive him as an R-96 after he dies. Much like Dr. Frank in The Revenge of Frankenstein, Dr. Raven gives humankind the possibility of immortality. We can all be reborn in new synthetic bodies. When one robotic body wears out in 150 years, we'll simply move to another, like a hermit crab trading shells. * (see footnote #1 below).
The Order isn't entirely unsympathetic, because they're trying to preserve human traditions that may include religious ideas. Having one's "Godly" flesh-and-blood body replaced by a machine drives a wedge between the ideas of Faith and Science. The Creation of the Humanoids doesn't equate faith with superstition -- as they become more human, the Clickers also develop a religion. The central controlling computer is called the "father-mother", and the Clicker recharging facility is called The Temple. Are the Clickers drawn to faith as a reaction to a universal spirit, or is the need for a belief system shared by all self-conscious beings?
All these ideas are exposed and dramatized in The Creation of the Humanoids, but on a first viewing the film may seem to be a baffling non-starter. Looking for a futuristic normalcy, the script is paced so that every line is given the kind of earnest, hollow reading heard in instructional films -- in the future, humor no longer exists. Some shots hold for the better part of a minute while the characters chatter on, and the Clickers stand talking like statuary. Little or nothing is told visually and few details of futuristic life are given -- Clicker hubby Pax serves some drinks at one point, and that's it. Dr. Raven is shown toying with a disembodied arm in a trick that wouldn't fool a five year-old.
None of the performances are more than adequate. Don Megowan is sturdy if uninspiring as Cragis, a top-ranking militant with a hatred of Clickers. Don Doolittle's Dr. Raven is a bit corny but also adequate. Frances McCann is likewise okay as the sister who sleeps with a Clicker. Second-billed Erica Elliott is frankly terrible as the film's love interest. Everybody has a tendency to drone on, but she's directed especially stiffly, like an acting experiment gone wrong. Director Wesley E. Barry had been acting since 1917 and probably met actor Megowan while producing low-budget westerns ... this film isn't much of a résumè piece for him.
The actors playing Clickers combine good vocal skills with the stamina to wear those scary contact lenses - just looking at them makes our eyes itch. George Milan is the most heard, while Dudley Manlove (anti-famous as the alien in Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space) is equally adept in his vocal mannerisms. The stern-faced fanatics running The Order of Flesh and Blood actually come off better than the leads.
When the movie first showed on television its twist ending took us completely by surprise. We must not have been following the story very well, because the "twist" is actually revealed much sooner. More likely, the movie's literate sci-fi tone went over all of our heads.
Dark Sky's DVD of The Creation of the Humanoids is a beauty, with perfect color. Hal Mohr's rich images are a bit gaudy; they frequently reveal the Clicker's makeup to be superior work by the legendary Jack Pierce. The excellent enhanced transfer exposes every flaw in the original film, like the misaligned main titles that pop on late for every cut. The original negative is in great shape overall, with just a few dings and weak splices here and there. The soundtrack features "Electronic Harmonics by I.F.M." bearing a strong similarity to Forbidden Planet, with an added wailing vocal.
The average viewer might well consider The Creation of the Humanoids ridiculous and incompetent, but idea-hungry science fiction fans will love it.
The second half of Dark Sky's double bill is an anemic Italian space movie released in Italy in 1966 as Il pianeta errante and in America in 1971 as War Between the Planets. An alternate English title Planet on the Prowl more accurately translates the original Italian. It's the third and least of four Antonio Margheriti "Gamma 1" movies about the adventures of the crew of an orbiting space station. 1965's I criminali della galassia (Wild, Wild Planet) is the best of the four although even it is hampered by rushed direction and other signs of haste -- flat lighting, weak model work. The characterizations are juvenile and the dialogue clogged with unconvincing techno-babble, especially in the dubbed versions. The other two official Gamma 1s are 1966's I Diafanoidi vengono da marte (confusingly titled War of the Planets in English) and 1967's La morte viene da pianeta Aytin (The Snow Devils). Antonio Margheriti had already directed a popular pair of Italian space movies several years before, 1960's Space Men (Assignment Outer Space) and Il pianeta degli uomini spenti (Battle of the Worlds) from 1961. * (see footnote #2 below).
Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog recently identified a fifth entry in the series by realizing that producer Walter Manley made one more "Gamma" picture in Japan, 1968's The Green Slime directed by Kinji Fukasaku. Its writer Ivan Reiner also penned three of the earlier pictures. As esoteric science fiction trivia puzzles go, the tangle of Gamma 1 movies is a real headache-inducer.
Synopsis: Scientists determine that devastating natural disasters on Earth are being caused from space, and the intrepid crew of Gamma 1 is again enlisted to save the world. Commander Rod Jackson (Jack Stuart, a.k.a. Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) blasts off to explore the quadrant where the disturbances are coming from, accompanied by his loyal aide Lt. Terry Sanchez (Amber Collins, a.k.a. Ombretta Colli). Deep in space, Rod's ships discover that a 'wandering planet' is responsible -- it's a living asteroid that moves erratically. The spacemen enter the interior of the planet to solve the mystery, and discover breathing organs and tubular structures pumping a substance similar to blood!
War Between the Planets is more or less a dime-store remake of Margheriti's Battle of the Worlds movie. Neither picture delivers on the titular promise of combat in space, preferring to exploit the basic When Worlds Collide concept of a planetoid threatening Earth. Brave spacemen are dispatched to intercept and neutralize the menace. The 1961 movie has Claude Rains and a slightly larger budget, while this later Gamma 1 episode looks like it was made from odds and ends. The few space station interiors amount to nothing and the set for the interior of the rogue planet is a shoddy construction of plastic tubes and colored smoke. The movie is so nondescript that it looks as if it could have been filmed in a couple of days, with a minimum effects work afterwards. In this picture the Gamma 1 space station wobbles like a baby's toy.
The acting is weak and the script simply terrible, at least as represented by the English version. Giacomo Rossi-Stuart's numbskull space cadet mercilessly badgers his shapely assistant Ombretta Colli, and then asks for her understanding. Engaged to the general's daughter (played by Halina Zalewska of The Long Hair of Death and Un Angelo per Satana), Rod seems to blast off to danger as a way of avoiding her. Their relationship is simply dropped when he later pairs off with Ombretta. As for the dialogue, the spacemen's jargon includes playful insults like, "Hey Helium head!"
Dark Sky's Drive-In Double feature DVD of The Creation of the Humanoids and War Between the Planets is another of their terrific-looking offerings mastered from prime source materials for the Hi-Def cable TV channel Monsters HD. Occasional reel-end damage amounts to a few speckles, scratches and maybe a damaged frame or two in both features. The remastered audio on both titles is crystal clear, showing every nuance (and occasional technical flaw) in the original mixes.
The Drive-In format surrounds the shows with a gallery of authentic old animated concession promos and a selection of coming attractions for Dark Sky offerings like The Flesh Eaters and The Curse of the Living Corpse. Science fiction fans looking for esoteric titles normally must be content with poor quality transfers from old 16mm prints, often looking as if they were mastered for DVD in someone's garage. All in all, Dark Sky's quality presentation is a bargain.
For more information about Creation of the Humanoids/War Between the Planets, visit Dark Sky Films. To order Creation of the Humanoids/War Between the Planets, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
1. (spoiler) Of course, Dr. Raven's
bid for immortality may be a cruel joke. Does his Thalamus operation transplant human consciousness, or just
the blueprint for human consciousness? Is the new robot copy of Raven, Raven himself or just a "guiltless
copy" as in John Weldon's 1990 National Film Board of Canada animated film To Be?
2. John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy has a scene in a 42nd street
grind-house movie theater in which Joe Buck watches (sort of) a scene from a mindless space opera that is
either taken from Space Men, or a purposeful copy. It pinpoints exactly the peculiar ambience of