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  Strange World of Planet X, The Laughing In The Face Of Science
Year: 1958
Director: Gilbert Gunn
Stars: Forrest Tucker, Gaby André, Martin Benson, Wyndham Goldie, Alec Mango, Hugh Latimer, Geoffrey Chater, Patricia Sinclair, Dandy Nichols, Richard Warner, Hilda Fenemore, Susan Redway
Genre: Horror, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: As modern science progresses in leaps and bounds, should we be concerned about the dangers it represents or could arise from going too far? Certainly the residents of this southern English rural town believe the local scientists at the country house laboratory nearby are overstepping the mark, because this is the second time in recent days that there has been a big power surge which has knocked out the pub television, much to their displeasure. It stops the clock on the wall as well, which the customers don't complain as much about because the publican doesn't know when to call last orders, but nevertheless it's a nuisance. It might be more than that, however, when the experiments turn perilous...

On British television, Nigel Kneale's Quatermass serials were one of the most important things to hit the science fiction genre in the nineteen-fifties, so naturally there were attempts to cash in on that hit with more shuddery sc-fi of the same stripe. Some of those were broadcast on television, and had movies made of the same material, which is why cinemas around the world were regaled with the likes of The Trollenberg Terror, X the Unknown and First Man into Space, all of which owed a debt to Kneale's brand of mixing horror into the fantastical stylings, to offer safe scares to the general public, often with more ambition than artistic success.

The Quatermass serials were the highest profile movies when adapted, but there are those who have a soft spot for many of the "tributes", and The Strange World of Planet X was one, where the boffins' endeavours to harness magnetic fields to do, er, something or other with them (it didn't really matter) led to a nightmare of colossal proportions. It can still have that effect on viewers today, that's assuming you have a phobia about creepy crawlies as the grand finale featured a whole selection of bugs blown up to terrifying size thanks to the machinations occurring in the lab, but aside from the unpleasant thought of being trapped in a giant spider web (plus the shot of a soldier having his face eaten off) the effects were more cheap and cheerful and relying on what the production had found in somebody's back garden.

Although that's what everyone who's seen this will recall, there was more to it than that, as in the run up to the climax there was discussion about the implications of what was happening at the lab - a lot of it. Our hero was scientist Gil Graham, played by Forrest Tucker in one of his excursions to the United Kingdom where he would be assured of a starring role; nowadays he's renowned as one of the best, if not the best, endowed actors that Hollywood ever featured, should you be interested in that sort of gossip, but once you learn that just try and put it out of your mind when you're watching one of his movies. Here he's the rugged protagonist who also happens to be in posession of a keen brain for technology, although he and his fellow men of science balk at the idea of welcoming a woman into their fold as their new assistant.

These unreconstructed blokes react as if they've been ordered to work with a trained parakeet rather than someone who knows what they're talking about and can make a valued contribution, but Michele Dupont (Gaby André weirdly dubbed with a posh English/French hybrid accent even though she really was French) ends up proving them wrong, though her actual reason for being in the cast raises its head when she first is romanced by Forrest and second is trapped in the aforementioned giant spider web. To add to the tension, such as it was, the magnetic burst also makes the local tramp who lives in the woods into a maniacal serial killer, though quite why is never explained, but those woods are the source of the sinister anyway, as the little girl who wanders through them collecting bugs finds when she stumbles upon a goatee'd Martin Benson as the mysterious Mr Smith. What is he there for? Seems he has been summoned from another place to assist, an additional layer of straightfaced daftness to counter the last act mad scientist in an intermittently amusing cheapie. Music by Robert Sharples.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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