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The Revenant Review

Horror Film History, Analysis, and Reviews

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1956

Horror’s “Worst” Films – Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956)

This review is part of the Horror’s “Worst” Films: Tasteless Entertainment or Endurance Test? series.

Horror’s “Worst” Films – Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956)

Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956) is a sci-fi monster film that was UK produced but written and directed by American Cy Roth. In a film that makes even the worst original series Star Trek episodes look like Citizen Kane (1941), we follow a group of bored looking, chain smoking astronauts (even in the spaceship) as they land on the 13th moon of Jupiter only to discover the lost civilization of Atlantis. The meager society is made up of an old patriarch and a bevy of beautiful women who do seemingly endless dance routines when they’re not being plagued by a monster they call “the man with the head of a beast” – really, a guy in an unmoving fright mask and black jumpsuit with visible zippers down the back who comes around and yells “Rrraaaaaaagh!” And 1950s sexual politics abound as the girls are all man-hungry, man-hating, or helpless damsels (at least Robot Monster gave us a female character who was supposed to possess a brilliant scientific mind, even if we never saw it).

This could have been great campy fun were it not so soul-crushingly slow. The film is mostly padding – at one point we follow a secretary through a door, down stairs, having a conversation, then back up the stairs and through the door again. Maybe the editor fell asleep like I almost did. Not even the short skirts, nice legs, and arching backs can save it. With all the filler and a storyline that never seems to want to start, this one is unfortunately a test of endurance.

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Movie Review – The Black Sleep (1956)

Movie Review – The Black Sleep (1956)

1956’s The Black Sleep feels more like a 1940s Gothic monster mash than most of its contemporary films. Directed by Reginald Le Borg, who was known for his low-budget horrors from the 1940s, the film features an all-star cast of genre greats.

Basil Rathbone plays Sir Joel Cadman who puts victims into a death-like coma and operates on their brains. Rathbone is best remembered for his turns as Sherlock Holmes throughout the 1940s but found fame in various genres. Lon Chaney, Jr. (1941’s The Wolf Man) and Bela Lugosi (1931’s Dracula) once again reunite. They had been featured in movies together many times and this, unfortunately, would be Lugosi’s last feature film role – one in which he does not even have a speaking part. Lugosi’s career sputtered through the 1940s and 50s, being relegated to bit parts in poverty-row horror movies, and he would die the year of this movie’s release, being buried in his Dracula cape.

John Carradine, who took over Lugosi’s role of the Count in House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945), has a small part. The bald, hulking Swedish wrestler and micro-budget horror actor extraordinaire Tor Johnson also stars, looking much like he would in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and 1961’s The Beast of Yucca Flats, which even for schlock fans can be a test of endurance.

The Black Sleep takes its time and can occasionally lull, though Rathbone’s magnetic presence draws the audience in and makes even the most dialogue-heavy scenes engaging. The viewer feels his absence from the screen like an uncomfortable draft, save for Akim Tamaroff’s scene as Udu the Gypsy where he seduces a vain woman to her own demise. The finale, however, is entertaining, as it can only be when a woman is running through the halls with her back aflame.

Grade: C

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