Review Date: October 3, 2005
Released by: MGM
Release date: 4/15/2003
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1 and Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: No
At one point in his long life, John Agar (1921-2002) was married to a grown-up Shirley Temple (who was quite the hottie as an adult) and was appearing alongside John Wayne in films like Sands of Iwo Jima
and Fort Apache
. In the years that would follow he found himself playing leads in relatively respectable monster movies like Revenge of the Creature
. But by the mid 1960’s he had sunk to appearing in no-budget regional productions with titles like Curse of the Swamp Creature
and Night Fright
. But how did such a thing happen? How did a man with such a promising career end up fighting swamp monsters and space things in Texas? Perhaps some clues may be found in the two films we will be examining today, both of which were released at a point in time (1959 and 1962, respectively) when he was starting to make the transition from his more respectable genre movies to the dreck that would stain his filmography for the rest of his days.
Noted atomic physicist Karol Noymann is dead, killed in a freak accident at his laboratory. Deeply shaken by the incident, Noymann’s colleague and lifelong friend Dr. Adam Penner (Philip Tonge
) resigns from his government post in protest to the refusal of high officials to suspend the testing of and research into nuclear weapons. He flies home and attends Noymann’s funeral, then goes back to his house. Late that night, however, he is awakened out of bed by a knock at the door. He opens and finds himself face to face with the walking corpse of Karol Noymann (John Carradine
). The corpse explains to him that he is an extraterrestrial inhabiting the dead body of Noymann, and has come to deliver a message to Penner: Earth is being given twenty-fours to surrender, or humanity will be destroyed! The aliens have tasked Penner with delivering their ultimatum. The invader explains to him that not only are they and their spaceships invisible, but they also possess the power to reanimate dead humans en masse.
The alien leaves and Penner sends for his protégé Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton
). Knowing that nobody in a position of authority will believe him after the fuss he made when he resigned, he asks Lamont to go to Washington and try and persuade the government. Lamont reluctantly agrees, but it doesn’t work. Not only does nobody listen, but the media gets word of his attempts and he and Penner are ridiculed by the press. Penner despairs over the situation, but fortunately the aliens decide to keep playing nice for a little while longer. They reanimate several corpses and use them to break into the public address booths at two large sporting events, where they broadcast their ultimatum.
The nations of the world refuse to surrender to the aliens and all hell breaks loose. Not only do the dead rise to kill the living, but bridges, factories, dams and every other type of target imaginable are blown up in a colossal campaign of sabotage and terrorism by the invaders. Facing the prospect of total collapse, the government begins rushing scientists to laboratories located in underground bunkers where they can try and find a weapon to battle the aliens. Lamont, Penner and his daughter Phyllis (Jean Byron
) are selected for one such bunker. They are placed under the protection of tough guy Air Force officer Major Bruce Jay (John Agar
). They fortify themselves in the underground facility, where they will battle the invaders – and occasionally each other - in a desperate race to save humanity.
is sometimes put on the short list of films that allegedly inspired George Romero when he was making Night of the Living Dead
, and indeed it contains traces of many elements that would later turn up in Romero’s films (and if he indeed did take inspiration from this film for his first zombie gut muncher, it would appear that he was even more influenced by it when he made Day of the Dead
). There’s a hint of the shock caused by the fact that people’s own friends and family members are coming back to kill them, while via television Penner and Phyllis watch TV footage of civil unrest. En route to the underground bunker there’s a scene which foreshadows the survival-at-all-costs brutality seen in Romero’s films. In this scene a shotgun-wielding farmer (Hal Torey
) standing in the middle of the road stops the jeep they are traveling in and demands that they get out and give him the vehicle. Instead - and making practically no attempt to negotiate or settle the matter peacefully - Major Jay simply pulls out a .45 and shoots him dead.
But these elements are only minor, and if there’s one word that perfectly sums up Invisible Invaders
, it would be cynical. The film was obviously made with the (correct) assumption that there are enough people out there willing to watch anything to justify the obviously meager amount of money that went into the production. First and foremost there are the invisible aliens and
their invisible spaceships, which conveniently eliminated the need for complex special effects or monster suits (the invaders and their ships are seen briefly, but the latter is unconvincing and the former are shown simply as blurry figures whose costumes look suspiciously like the one seen in the previous year’s It! The Terror From Beyond Space
). Zombies are generally an inexpensive menace to begin with and the film would have cost little even had the crew been tasked with making far more of them. But unfortunately they are not even the primary menace. Rather, the primary menace is stock footage: numerous clips of fires, floods and other disasters that are used to illustrate the sabotage campaign by the aliens. There is, of course, a certain unethical logic to this - why waste too much time applying zombie make-up to extras when it’s even cheaper to simply splice in newsreel footage? People are going to pay to see it no matter what.
The general lack of money, care and effort can be seen throughout the film. The underground set is fairly threadbare, with lots of circuits and panels but little else. Almost everything takes place in the same three sets – Penner’s house, the underground bunker and a general’s office in Washington. To depict the invaders director Edward L. Cahn relies upon shots of invisible feet walking on the ground (actually, it looks more like the aliens are dragging their feet; Earth’s gravity must be too much for them), and uses the same ones over and over again. But my favorite lack of care goof is the fact that in the end credits John Carradine’s character is listed as “Carl Noymann” when earlier in the film several newspaper headlines are shown that clearly list him as “Karol Noymann”!
Journey to the Seventh Planet
opens with a narration sequence which will no doubt leave the neoconservatives in the audience mortified – it reveals that the United Nations is now the sole governing body on Earth! It’s the year 2001 and humanity has turned its energies towards the exploration of outer space. The next step in that process will be an expedition to the planet Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun. We are introduced to the men who will perform that mission – commander Eric (Carl Ottosen
), second-in-command Don (also John Agar
), and crewmen Karl (Peter Monch
), Svend (Louis Miehe-Renard
) and Barry (Ove Sprogøe
Orbiting Uranus in their spaceship, the crew suddenly blacks out and an ominous voice speaks, saying that he will look into their minds and bend their will to suit him. They wake up, and even though their equipment says they’ve been out for only two hours, an apple Barry had been holding is now completely shriveled up. Shrugging the incident off, Eric orders the ship to land on the planet’s surface. They do so, and instead of being greeted with the icy, frigid climate they been expecting, they instead encounter a vast forest looking much like any wooded spot on Earth. They exit the ship and discover that the atmosphere and temperature are just like that of home. Svend swears that the forest is just like one he played in when he was growing up, though there is one thing setting it apart: none of the trees or plants have roots. Mystified, the men make camp for the night, and sitting around a fire Carl reminisces about his childhood in Scandinavia, and what his house was like. As he does this, behind him the exact scene he had been describing appears out of thin air. They investigate, and Eric finds it to be an exact replica of his father’s house and barn. They also find Ingrid (Ann Smyrner
), a woman whom Eric was once very fond of.
Other women (Greta Thyssen, Ulla Moritz, Mimi Heinrich, Annie Birgit Garde and Bente Juel
) appear, all of them representing Earth women the men had an attraction to. But Eric is not content to simply enjoy the strange world they have encountered. They had already discovered that the area is surrounded by a minor force field which can be penetrated, and on the other side it appears that the real climate of Uranus is present. They put on their space suits and cross the barrier, discovering the real Uranus. They also discover a horrific rodent-like monster from which they barely escape. Back at the ship Karl confesses that he has always had a tremendous fear of rats, and a realization begins to dawn on the men: there is some sort of intelligence controlling the planet, something that is not only capable of bringing their innermost desires to life, but also their worst fears!
Produced in Denmark, Journey to the Seventh Planet
has a sordid history. Directed by American filmmaker Sidney Pink, who was working in association with American International Pictures, the initial version of the movie proved to be too amateurish for a U.S. release. The problem was the special effects, which were apparently so bad that even AIP’s low standards were violated. As a result, changes were commissioned before the film was given a release on this side of the Atlantic. The rodent-like monster was the creation of an American company by the name of Projects Unlimited, which replaced the original Danish creature, whatever it may have been. Later on another monster is replaced by stock footage from Bert I. Gordon’s Earth vs. the Spider
, which doesn’t match well at all with the Danish footage. However, not all the Danish special effects were replaced. There are some very bad stop-motion shots of the surface of Uranus changing from frigid to forest, and then back again, while the special effects for the supreme ruler of Uranus – a gigantic brain with one gigantic eye – remain largely in place.
Everything about Journey to the Seventh Planet
is slow. The physical movement of the actors, the delivery of the dubbed dialogue, the music, the editing, all have a lethargic feel to them. The film does a surprisingly good job of drawing you in with this almost hypnotic technique, but then has to go and ruin the effect by starting to put you to sleep. The 77-minute run time feels much longer than it really is.
John Agar does not distinguish himself too well in either movie. Despite having held his own as a Marine in Sands of Iwo Jima
and as a cavalry officer in Fort Apache
and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
, and despite having military experience in real life, he is not convincing in Invisible Invaders
as the tough-as-nails Major Jay and sometimes appears uncomfortable with the role. Part of this may have to do with the fact that those earlier roles required him to be a different type of character. They asked him to be energetic and sensitive, while the part of Major Jay is more like the stereotypical John Wayne role. But even in the moments when Agar is asked to deviate from the military man persona he is not nearly as endearing or convincing as he once was able to be.
In Journey to the Seventh Planet
he is even more removed from the way he once appeared. He is sometimes stiff and his attempts to be humorous and charming don’t really come off. Frankly, the character of Don is not someone that he even should have been playing at this point in his career. The character is a womanizer, interested in nothing except his job and his love life, and with the two coming into occasional conflict with the presence of the women on the planet. But Agar was around the age of forty when the film was shot, and was no longer young enough to be convincing as a playboy but not yet aged enough to pass as a dirty old man.
Neither film showcases Agar’s genuine talent and ability to be both charming and heroic. Both Invisible Invaders
and Journey to the Seventh Planet
provide a snapshot of his career in decline. As movies they are both well below average and a sad reminder of not only how far his career had sunk by this time, but also how much the science fiction genre in general had declined in quality since the early 1950’s. Neither movie is of any real credit to John Agar as an actor, but at least they’re a better tribute to his memory than the even worse schlock like Zontar, the Thing From Venus
that would follow.
is on Side A of this disc, and is presented in its original full-frame 1.33:1 ratio, and it looks pretty darn good for an old, cheap film. The black and white image is pleasingly detailed, with excellent contrast, clean whites and dark blacks. The film elements it was struck from appear to have been in above average shape. There are some vertical lines, as well as a fair number of blemishes, scratches and specks. These are not of a severe nature and are not distracting, but they do appear on a regular basis (it is the film’s original footage which I am referring to; much of the stock footage looks a lot more beat up, but this is the case with many other releases which feature stock shots).
On Side B is Journey to the Seventh Planet
, and it is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, but without the benefit of 16x9 enhancement, something which is quite frustrating, to put it mildly. MGM has a known aversion to giving 16x9 enhancement to any transfer letterboxed at anything narrower than 1.78:1, and though it is wonderful that they have respected the intended ratio for an obscure title like this, their policy of making fans choose between the proper ratio and 16x9 enhancement on certain titles makes little sense, especially when one considers how many other DVD companies (albeit smaller independents like Anchor Bay) have successfully released 1.66:1 titles in 16x9 mode. It would one thing if this were a title released during the earlier days of DVD, but this is a title that came out in mid-2003, well after 16x9 enhancement became the industry standard.
The transfer itself looks pretty nice. It is sharp and detailed, with well saturated colors that present the pale flesh tones of the actors normally, but which also boldly presents the reds, blues and greens of the alien planet’s landscape and with nothing more than a trace of oversaturation. The film elements it was struck from are in good shape, though there are noticeable scratches and blemishes at regular intervals. Overall it is a presentation that is very pleasing to the eyes.
doesn’t sound nearly as good as it looks. There is very noticeable popping and crackling on the soundtrack, but even worse, the soundtrack itself is unbalanced between the softest sounds and the loudest ones. Turning up the volume loud enough to hear the dialogue comfortably (which sounded fine and was easy to understand once I did get it high enough) sent my speakers shuddering into a fit of distortion during the much louder musical interludes, and as a result I watched most of the movie with my remote control in hand, adjusting the volume as necessary. Not cool.
Journey to the Seventh Planet
is better. It suffers from some imbalance between the dialogue and the music and sound effects, but it’s not as severe as the imbalance of its companion feature. There is practically no background noise or distortion audible.
Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are included.
Each film gets a theatrical trailer included for it, but nothing else.
Speaking as someone who loves old horror and science fiction movies, I cannot help but like the two films on this release, not only for their humorous flaws and eccentricities but also for the details things that they do end up getting right. Invisible Invaders
is interesting mainly in the fact that it is the oldest pre-1968 zombie film that bears a genuine resemblance to the Romero zombie movies, though everything about it is below average. Journey to the Seventh Planet
is more skillfully put together but is otherwise not up to par either. But for those of you out there who think like me (and you people know who you are), this release is easy to recommend. Both films are given decent, if flawed, presentations, and retailing for $14.95 or less, this release is a pretty good deal.
Movie – C-
Image Quality – B-
Sound – C-
Journey to the Seventh Planet
Movie – C
Image Quality – B
Sound – B
Supplements – C
- Color and B&W
- Running Time – Invisible Invaders – 1 hour 7 minutes
- Running Time – Journey to the Seventh Planet – 1 hour 17 minutes
- Not rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles