The 1950s brought us a number of science fiction films from the UK which can now be deemed as classics, including THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, QUATERMASS II, THE CRAWLING EYE, X THE UNKNOWN and FIEND WITHOUT FACE. The campfest known as FIRE MAIDENS OF OUTER SPACE (released in the U.S. as FIRE MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE) is not exactly one of them. The movie in which Michael Weldon (in his Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film) describes as, “Sort of a British version of CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON and just as ridiculous” is now available on Blu-ray, courtesy of Olive Films.
Starting off with stock footage of a TWA jet soaring from New Mexico to New York City, we are introduced to our hero Luther Blair (American actor Anthony Dexter, THE PHANTOM PLANET) who meets with colleague Dr. Higgins (Sydney Tafler, BERSERK) in England to discuss a space flight to Jupiter’s 13th moon (something which wasn’t discovered in real life until 1974). The two men, along with Captain Larson (Paul Carpenter, FIRST MEN ON THE MOON) and two other fellows (all but Larson, who is dressed like a cruise ship captain, sport white jumpsuits) launch their missile into outer space for a “friendly scientific exploration”. Danger comes in the form of a meteor shower, but the ship’s lack of turbulence or antigravity (the passengers can calmly shave and drink coffee as if they were back on Earth) gives us the inkling that everything’s gonna be alright. Just before their ship lands, a mysterious voice comes over the speaker and after the men relay their amicable intentions, they are permitted to successfully hit the ground (afterward, all five men indulge in some celebratory cig smoking).
After lowering the ladder to the ground from their upward standing rocket, the crew makes their way out, discovering a land filled with greenery. Their first sight of breathing life is a tall, long-faced creature in a black body suit (Richard Walter) terrorizing a beautiful blonde named Hestia (Susan Shaw, CARRY ON NURSE), and they are able to save her by shooting off some warning bullets. A Morse code message leads Blair and Captain Larson to a lair (looking a lot like a Greek palace, or the confines of the studio) where there are at least a dozen “fire maidens” and their mini-skirted attire. The only male is the elderly Prasus (Owen Barry) who claims to be the father of the girls and he tells the visitors that his clan are the last remaining survivors of Neptune (and that their moon is known as “New Neptune”). With the women being man-hungry, Blair and Captain Larson are drugged, kept as prisoners, and their three bungling companions are still on the outside planning how to save their friends (not any easy task, considering the too-tall terror is constantly roaming about). In the meantime, the “fire maidens” entertain the men by enacting a very well-rehearsed ballet to “Stranger in Paradise”.
FIRE MAIDENS OF OUTER SPACE is not only a Grade Z early science fiction flick, but it’s archetypal on how bad these films can be in a sort of campy, and yes, even entertaining manner. Chicago-born director Cy Roth (who also produced and wrote the screenplay) obviously wanted the production to look American, even though it’s explained that the space mission is a collaboration between the U.S. and the U.K. (and to make matters even more confusing, the British actors playing crew members disguise their true accents with excruciatingly awful American ones). Early on in the film, it’s amusing to see the camera linger on a shapely secretary as she slowly makes her way into an observatory, then exits just as leisurely (a set-up so that Blair and Higgins can ogle her and ponder if they’ll have similar women in outer space). All the low-rent attributes are on hand: opening narration right out of an Ed Wood film, a spaceship interior furnished with basement electrical boxes and adding machines, a ridiculous-looking monster (“the beast with the head of a man” as he’s described by one of the nubile babes) which the camera is afraid to focus on for too long, a cardboard cutout replica of the rocket ship soaring against a black backdrop in a “effects” shot and the silly dialog you’ve come to expect from these types of films (after the exciting meteor shower, one of the crew exclaims, “reminds me of my wife when she gets mad”).
The film’s chain-smoking leading man, Anthony Dexter, is sort of a cross between 1940s Universal Horror and cliffhanger star Robert Lowery and fellow 1950s sci-fi actor Russell Johnson (Dexter is probably best known for playing Rudolph Valentino in a 1951 biopic). You’ll also recognize a number of the “fire maidens” from other British genre pictures of the period such as FIEND WITHOUT A FACE and HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM. Hammer Films fans take note: make-up man Roy Ashton (shortly before his work on CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN) is credited as the make-up artist, so we’ll assume he’s responsible for the monster (who looks like a substandard “Outer Limits” alien) and Scott MacGregor (who worked on numerous early 1970s Hammer horrors) was the art director.
Olive Films rescues another obscurity, and it’s also the fully uncut version, as some prints run 73 minutes (this version clocks in at 80). The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p resolution High Definition transfer displaying a fitting 1.66:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The black and white image looks quite good here, sharp throughout the presentation. The greyscale is nicely modulated, and black levels look fairly deep. There is some grain about, but it’s never anything too distracting to the viewer. The 1.0 mono English track is encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio, and is strong for a cheap little 1950s film, with no detectable hiss or distortion (though there are scenes where the filmmakers neglected how loud the cranky camera equipment was). There are no extras, but the film does have a chapter menu. A standard DVD release using the same HD transfer is also available. (George R. Reis)
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