One of my earliest memories of THE ANGRY RED PLANET was seeing it through a five year-old's eyes on WPIX's (a local New York station for anyone reading this who is not from the New York area) “Science Fiction Theater” on Saturday afternoons at 12:00 PM. I can remember staring in wonder at the weird color designs of the Martian landscape plus being in absolute awe of the bizarre rat-bat-spider-crab creation. Decades later, I am still in awe of the Martian landscape and the rat-bat-spider-crab creation. Yes friends, Ib Melchior's THE ANGRY RED PLANET has made it to Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory, and every true fan of American International Pictures' science fiction films will want to own it.
The plot (written by Melchior and co-producer Sidney Pink, who also conceived the original story) is easy enough to follow. The first spaceship to Mars returns to Earth with two of the original four astronauts as survivors. The survivors in question are Dr. Iris Ryan (Nora Hayden, HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL) and her boyfriend/ship's captain Colonel Tom O'Banion (Gerald Mohr, GUNS GIRLS AND GANGSTERS). The other hapless astronauts who perish before they can get back to Earth include Professor Theodore Gettel (Les Tremayne, THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS) and Dr. Sam Jacobs (Jack Kruschen, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS). Upon her return, Dr. Ryan is hospitalized with a severe case of shock. It seems that her conscious mind has blocked out much of the frightening journey and, to add to the trouble, an unknown blob-like substance has attached itself to Colonel O'Banion's arm and is slowing eating away at the tissues of the comatose astronaut. In order to save O'Banion, Professor Weiner (J. Edward McKinley, THE PARTY) and other doctors decide that Dr. Ryan must remember the frightening events of her journey if they are to find out what this substance is, how O'Banion came in contact with it, and most importantly, how to destroy it.
Through mind-altering drugs, the doctors are able to glimpse into Dr. Ryan's memory and what they hear is a bizarre tale that features a month long space flight and the strange shadows and reddish hue of the planet's surface with a still atmosphere which lacks wind. In addition, there are various giant monsters (including the aforementioned rat-bat-spider-crab beast or as Dr. Jacobs puts it... "King Kong's older brother") like the huge protoplasm-like beast with a rotating eyeball, a vicious man/woman eating plant, and a huge being (which looks like a twisted gingerbread man out of a reddish nightmare) which seems to be the dominant species and whose "people" make it very clear to the astronauts that they are intruders and are NOT welcome on the red planet. What happens to Colonel O'Banion? How do Gettel and Jacobs meet their unfortunate deaths? What warning is given to Earth from Mars? All these plus many more questions will be answered when you delve into this crazy, fun little science fiction flick!
THE ANGRY RED PLANET was released by American International Pictures (AIP) in 1959 and like all AlP films, this one had a very small budget and was reportedly shot in just ten days, the results being a charming and fun-filled 83 minutes. Watching it reminds one of the 1950s comic books about journeys to Mars and other planets. It is a story told with such sincerity and innocence that one falls right back into an easier time of drive-ins, double features, AlP, etc. When one takes all this into account, one can not help being amazed that the film looks as good as it does (remember that we are talking about a time long before computer generated special effects). The four lead actors are known mostly for character roles in films ranging from A-list directors to Z-grade hacks. For example, Les Tremayne appeared earlier that same year in Alfred Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST and would later work for Billy Wilder in 1966's THE FORTUNE COOKIE. However, he would also go on to appear in Larry Buchanan's laughable remake of THE SHE-CREATURE entitled CREATURES OF DESTRUCTION in 1967. Jack Kruschen was an always dependable character actor who worked with Tremayne earlier in George Pal's 1953 Martian epic, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS for Paramount. One year after THE ANGRY RED PLANET, Kruschen did a memorable character role as Jack Lemmon's nosy doctor/neighbor in Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT. Gerald Mohr worked in the cheap 1959 film TERROR IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE and in 1968 worked with the legendary William Wyler in the Barbra Streisand musical, FUNNY GIRL. Only stunning redhead Nora Hayden seemed to lack major acting experience and it does show in her delivery of some of the lines, but she is a very likable person on screen, so many of her scenes are fairly decent.
"CineMagic" was in fact a typical 1950s moviegoing "invention" which was really nothing, but film producers needed to lure people away from their television sets somehow. These scenes involve hand-drawn animations mixed with live action footage to illustrate Mars’ surface. In this film, it does help disguise some of the budgetary limitations. For example, the design of the Martian landscape is in fact a series of paintings and the rat-bat-spider-crab monster is indeed a marionette. The bright red colors though do help conceal some of this (but not all of it). Paul Dunlap's eerie electronic score also helps create the mood of the "CineMagic" sequences as well. Also, the fact that the story is being told through the drugged memory of a shocked astronaut helps explain the "unreal" world, which we see on screen (almost like some of the "expressionistic" designs of silent horror films like THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI). The film’s co-writer and director, Denmark-born Ib Melchior, also helmed THE TIME TRAVELERS (1964) and co-wrote the screenplays for the U.S./Danish co-productions of REPTILICUS and JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET (both produced and directed by ANGRY RED PLANET’s co-writer/co-producer Sidney Pink), as well as providing the English-language script for Mario Bava’s PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (all of these for AIP). Co-producer Norman Maurer—instrumental in creating the “CineMagic” process—was married to Moe Howard’s daughter, Joan. He later produced a number of The Three Stooges features including THE THREE STOOGES MEET HERCULES, THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT and THE THREE STOOGES GO AROUND THE WORLD IN DAZE.
Previously available on DVD as part of MGM’s “Midnite Movies” series back in 2001 and more recently as part of a “Movies 4 You”disc collection with three other features, Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory arm now releases the film on Blu-ray with spectacular results. It’s presented in 1080p HD and for the first time in its home video history, in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The color palette here is lush and the red-tinted “CineMagic” sequences have better textures than what could be found in the previous DVD versions (which leaned towards the orange side). Definition and resolution are impressive, flesh tones look healthy, black levels are accurate and there’s a thin layer of natural grain that provides the image with an authentic cinematic quality. The audio is provided in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track; fidelity is excellent for the most part, and the dialogue is rendered clearly throughout. Optional English SDH subtitles are included. Extras include the original 1959 theatrical trailer (widescreen and 1080p HD) in which the narrator raves about "CineMagic" as well as a decent poster and still gallery. (Joe Cascio)
BACK TO REVIEWS