Tuesday, December 22, 2015


During an atomic experiment gone wrong, Dr. Noymann (John Carradine) is killed and Dr. Penner (Philip Tonge) wants to stop the program, warning that, in the American/Soviet race for atomic supremacy, radioactivity may be leaking into space and might come back to haunt us. At Noymann's funeral, we see—though no one else does—an invisible presence pushing apart tree branches and making tracks on the ground. Later Noymann's corpse is re-animated, possessed by an invisible alien from the moon. Soon more fresh corpses are being re-animated and they warn Penner that Earth has 24 hours to surrender before the moon creatures begin total destruction of the planet. Penner's assistant, Dr. Lamont (Robert Hutton), tries to warn Washington about this attempted "dictatorship of the universe," but to no avail, and eventually more of the dead are shambling about, wrecking a reign of terror across the globe. Penner, Lamont, and Penner's daughter Phyllis (Jean Byron) are driven to an underground bunker by army major Bruce Jay (John Agar) to do intensive work on how to fight the aliens. But tensions within the group—at least partly romantic, as the major falls for Phyllis even though Lamont seems moderately interested in her—threaten their task just as much as the radioactive "zombies" outside.

This B-science fiction film is notable in at least one aspect: it seems like it might have inspired George Romero to create the zombie walk (or stalk, or stumble, or shamble) for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the same walk which has become iconic. Of course, this movie wasn't the first to depict slow zombies—they go back at least as far as 1932's WHITE ZOMBIE—but the walking dead here, in their dirty and disheveled suits and ties and their hollow eyes look exactly like Romero's creatures, all the creepier for looking almost normal. The narrative doesn't bear close examination, the invisibility part of the plot means nothing, and there's a lot of unconvincing stock footage standing in for world destruction. Still, the atmosphere is occasionally effective—especially in the bunker, a setting that reminded me of Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD—and the acting is as good as it needs to be: Byron and Hutton are colorless, but Tonge (Maureen O’Hara's Macy’s buddy in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET) is authoritative, and Agar (pictured with Byron) is stoic and good-looking, exactly what is required here. Carradine only appears briefly. Worth a watch for fans of 50s SF. [Streaming]

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