Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
By William D. Carl
This Week’s Feature Presentation:
WAR OF THE PLANETS (1966)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk-til-dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!
In the past few months, I’ve written about the Gamma One films, from Italian bubble gum sci-fi maestro Antonio Margheriti. After THE SNOW DEVILS (1967) and WILD, WILD PLANET (1965), came the WAR OF THE PLANETS (1966). At least, that’s how they were released in Italy. In the U.S., the releases of the movies were as mixed up as the plotlines, but it seems as if they were all unleashed upon American drive-ins in the years noted above. Don’t worry; you don’t have to watch them in order to ride the candy-colored wave of Sixties goodness.
WAR OF THE PLANETS begins with a tedious, yet ominous, voice-over that says little more than it is New Year’s Eve and there are nasty things in space. There are visions of little toy space stations and cars and monorail trains. Much of this footage is repurposed from other Gamma One films, even the bubble car pulling up to a station and letting out a space captain, Dubois. He claims he hasn’t been celebrating yet, but he sees strange green lights in the night sky that resemble nothing more than a glow-in-the-dark lava lamp. Suddenly, he is enveloped in green light, which makes him walk, zombie-like, up a spiral staircase, because, you know, they still don’t have elevators in the future.
At Earth headquarters, we see that one space station has been engulfed in green lights, and communications have been cut off on other stations as well. But, who cares? Over the intercom, we hear, “Headquarters, are you ready for the super space spectacular from Gamma One?” Well, of course we are! Then we see a rather sad ballet in zero gravity space to the accompaniment of an accordion playing Aud Lang Syne. Meanwhile, within the Gamma One space station, we get groovy electronic disco music and wild go-go dancing by women in weird muu-muus and kinky boots. Connie Gomez, once again played by the lovely and bitter Lisa Gastoni (WILD, WILD PLANET, 1965 and GIDGET GOES TO ROME, 1963) is purposefully ignoring Commander Mike Halstead (Tony Russell reprising his role from WILD, WILD PLANET, 1965) at the party. Hunky Jake Jakowitz (handsome and young Franco Nero from WILD, WILD PLANET, 1965 and DJANGO, 1966) is also there, and he cheers as a couple dozen space-suited astronauts spell out ‘Happy New Year’ with their bodies in space. There’s more 1960s dancing that looks like a combination of square dancing and disco. Also, some rather sexist butt-grabbing and pinching of lady officers.
Connie is invited to space station Alpha Two to teach all the women karate, but she’s distracted when Delta Two’s communication goes down after “negative Geiger readings” are taken. What?! Something is cutting off all the Earth’s space stations one at a time! Sadly, this means the party is over and all the guests are shuffled into pods by a guide with gravity-defying breasts. They are to return to Earth. Once the civilians are gone, a ship is sent to DeltaTwo to investigate. First, though, Connie and Mike have a romantic tiff, and he puts her in her place and she seems to enjoy it. One spaceman has too much to drink, gets “drunker than a minor on Mars,” and starts whooping and flying around Gamma One like Superman on crystal meth.
Meanwhile, on Delta Two, that eerie green light is back, and the investigating team finds the inhabitants of the space station frozen in place, or at least as frozen as actors can stand. They tend to wobble a bit. And are those communication devices they’re speaking into really hair dryers? Yes, yes they are. The radiation levels are “crazy,” but the investigators still walk around without their helmets. They discover some of the frozen people are actually alive, including half-naked girls in a locker room! Yowza! The commander shouts, “Scramble! Retro! Retro! Retro!” Green lights that have shape to them attack. “They’re more than lights!” the commander shouts, shooting off his zap gun. “They’re things! They’re things!” Then, silence.
Gamma One is ordered to evacuate, but Mike and a small group of renegades remain behind to determine what happened. On Earth, Dubois is commanded by a voice in his head to destroy the Institute For Advanced Sciences. He fights the voice, but finally gives in, and his breath is smoking from his mouth, as if he were breathing on a cold day. He’s possessed by the lava lamp!
Within hours, the green space lights arrive at Gamma One, and Commander Mike yells, “Retro, everyone! Retro!” Is he referring to the look of the film? What is this ‘retro’ everyone keeps shouting about? The aliens enter the station as a green mist. Lasers, or at least kiddie toy zap guns that shoot sparks, can’t stop them. When the lights touch the men, they freeze in place. The creatures also take the convenient shape of gas from a fire extinguisher, or at least that’s what they look like. Somehow, Commander Mike shoos the green beings from the station. I have no clue how. It seemed like he just closed a few doors at ten second intervals.
After getting a dressing-down by his father, the general-in-chief on Earth, Mike sees the ‘bodies’ of several green light victims. They are apparently chock full of cobalt and radiation. Several more scientists are taken over by the light creatures, and Connie Gomez says, “This is starting to make sense.” To her, I say, “It is? Phooey!” The Earth’s skies are covered now in alien green lava lamp lights! Just then, Dubois appears, still arguing with his inner alien. The being speaks to the group, “I am an emissary. We come as friends. All will join our world.” Commander Mike says, “He’s gone Galaxy!”
The aliens have taken over all radiation on Earth, and they want humans to become like them, members of a single mind from Mars, like a hive of bees. Dubois informs the Gamma One team that a few of their best and brightest must go into space with him for some reason or another. This, of course, means Mike and Jake to the rescue! With laser guns hidden in their jackets, they launch into space where the light creatures take over their ship. Meanwhile, Connie Gomez becomes possessed and she’s going with Mike and Jake!
They head straight for Mars, where there just happens to be a uranium mine. Mike says, “Uranium? Radiation!” It’s good that the hero is so intelligent. After a Martian feast, the group discovers an active volcano where many of the missing people from other space stations seem to be lounging unconscious. Magma, fog waterfalls, magic vaults, a huge battle (well, huge for THIS budget), and more are a part of the grand finale.
Even with this much plot, WAR OF THE PLANETS runs a bit too long, with a few too many slow stretches to make it as great as the other two Gamma One films, but it still holds a whacked-out fascination for any viewer. The horribly dated hair and costumes and music and bad dubbing, and the Playmobile-like miniature special effects, all lend a surreal quality to the film that keeps it watchable at worst and a true hoot at its best. It’s also pretty interesting to watch Franco Nero in his best role in the series, just before he would hit the big time with DJANGO (1966) and CAMELOT(1967), He was a magnetic young actor, whether spouting scientific gibberish or just standing around and looking handsome, and you can really see his development here. Tony Russel makes for a fun hero: stalwart, determined, tanned of face and with rock-hard silver fox hair. Lisa Gastoni isn’t given much to do in this one, but she looks terrific doing it! Plus, I swear the song over the end credits is a version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Rogers and Hammerstein.
WAR OF THE PLANETS is another fun space romp from the twisted mind of Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony Dawson), who also helmed the wild movies ALIEN FROM THE DEEP(1989), YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (1983), CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980), KILLER FISH (1979), WEB OF THE SPIDER (1971), and the utterly nutty LIGHTNING BOLT (1966). All of these are Bizarre Bijou fodder, and they’re all a lot of fun. Margheriti obviously enjoyed himself, playing behind the camera like a little kid. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Gamma One films, where all the props and miniatures look just like plastic toys in a sandbox. That sense of child-like glee is infectious, even when the movies are less than stellar.
There was one more Gamma One film, but it was produced by Toho Studios in Japan, had all new actors and characters, and featured the greatest theme song of all time—THE GREEN SLIME (1968).
WAR OF THE PLANETS gets two and a half disco square dances out of four and is available in a great print from Warner Archive.
© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl