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Science Fiction Film: the interesting old stuff
by Terry Frost

Part 1
The 1950s -- Atomic Everything

The Sixties were a groovy time in which to watch SF on television. Late on Friday or Saturday nights, all the best 1950s and early '60s horror and SF films would have the dust blown off their cans and Deadly Earnest would come out and do an intro for the flick. Earnest was a scary/funny geezer in an old tight-arse Brian Henderson suit. He looked like a young, spectacled Michael Caine playing Harry Palmer in a gonzo remake of The Zombies of Mora Tau.

There were the usual cotton cobwebs, cardboard coffins and ex-medical lab skeletons, bad puns and intermissions where something would always go wrong. The format was old when Elvira stole her act from Maila (Vampire) Nurmi, gave up dating Elvis and made a fortune with the breasts that launched a thousand quips.

Deadly Earnest introduced me to The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, The Hypnotic Eye, The Crawling Hand, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Phantom Planet. In those sad, monochrome pre-VCR days, good, bad or indifferent didn't matter. Friday or Saturday nights were the only time cult SF films were shown on TV and kids would wheedle their way into staying up to 10:30 or so when the movies started, then, five minutes into the film, say that it was nearly over and could we please watch it until it was finished. It was a good tactic and sometimes it worked.

One night, when there was a horror movie all-night marathon, I was left by myself and watched three or four movies. The sun coming up surprise the hell out of me. Being but a kid, I had assumed that between midnight and dawn there was time to watch six or eight films. When you're a child, it's possible to think that laws of physics don't work in the dark.

Most people get into popular culture through music - with me it was a black-and-white television, rubber-suited monsters, pie-plate spaceships, Robby the Robot, evil hypnotists, desert towns threatened by nuclear-generated mutants and the screaming daughters of scientists cringing from unearthly shadows.

Coming into the sub-genre of media SF fans from an American International/Universal/Roger Corman angle has given me a significantly different cant on things from those poor benighted souls of later vintage who had their minds pureed by early exposure to the Spielberg/Lucas virus.

SF has become mainstream since around 1977 and Frost's Thirty-Eighth Law of Late 20th Century Terrestrial Life states that once the mainstream gets you, all your interesting rough edges get eroded away. I know that some of you think that Steve and George can do no wrong and that the imagination of the special effects people makes up for the lack of imagination of the writers, directors and producers. That's cool with me. While you guys cluster there in the middle of the road, the gravel and the ditches where the interesting stuff happens are my domain.

What this series is about is the non-mainstream cinematic science fiction. Star Trek ™, Star Wars ™, and even Battlestar Republican (sic) have been done to death by lesser and greater minds than mine. Everyone knows about them and anything praiseworthy written about them is merely a back-rub. You're telling people what they want to hear about .

But there are SF movies and SF TV, stuff that you and I missed or mislaid in our memories. Or maybe these works are just hidden by the vast amount of 'product' that succeeded them. So that's what this series is about - the interesting stuff.

Poster, Star Trek First Contact
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Reprinted from the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Fan Resource Book
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