If you only relied on the picture covers of books to tell you the content, then you would think you were picking up one of Tom Weaver’s interview books. However, the sub-title of ‘It Came From 1957’ book is ‘A Critical Guide To The Year’s Science Fiction, Fantasy And Horror Films’, should give the game away. Author Rob Craig gives an informed opening chapter of the history of the atomic bomb and the Cold War to bring into context the fear that populated films with radiation created creatures. All of which leads up to the significance of 1957 where some fifty-seven films were released, most of them double-billed to attract the growing teen market at the drive-in movie malls which probably explains the number of films. A marriage of mixed genres would have meant an early divorce for the American teen-agers who went to watch these films. It’s hardly surprising that many of these came from Roger Corman, Sam Katzman and Bert I. Gordon as ‘B’ grade with the odd more thought out films from the major studios. This is the year of ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’, ’20 Million Miles To Earth ‘The Thing From Outer Space’, ‘The Invisible Boy’ (which featured the return of Robby the Robot) and Hammer’s ‘Quatermass’ films. That should give you a hint that not just American films are included but also a couple from Japan and one from Italy that were also released Stateside in 1957.
When it comes to the films, Craig really does become analytical and his starting films are also ones that I saw and reviewed a couple years back. It’s hardly surprising that ‘Attack Of The Crab Monsters’ and ‘Not Of This Earth’ get a lot of page space compared to other films. The length of each critique depending entirely on what he has to say about them. Much of the focus is on the film content and meaning rather than synopsis and events that happened around them, although the credits for each film are extensively given. So you won’t be reading about Paul Finch’s problems with his eyes in ‘Not Of This Earth’ and why he left before the end of filming.
Although we share a like for some films, what sets Craig apart is his dislikes, including ‘Star Wars’, the ‘Creature From The Black Lagoon’ films and much later, director John Carpenter for remaking ‘The Thing’. Whether this will attract any of you with similar tastes or not, that’s just a warning his dislikes will crop up from time to time even if they don’t necessarily shade his critiques. He does acknowledge that special effects man Paul Blaisdell was never given enough money to create his creatures and occasionally only his designs were bought. This is a personal critique after all so he Craig didn’t have any biases, I would have been surprised.
I did sample check as to which films are available on DVD today and many are so if any take your interest while reading this book, then you can at least buy them and assess for yourselves. I did wish that Craig had included notes of availability. Granted anything can go out of print but we genre fans don’t see that as an obstacle if we know something is out there to be bought. Then again, I wish he’d included a film guide rather than dividing the films into two massive chapters. If you can remember the month of release for these films, fair enough, but I think it will baffle the younger reader browsing the standard index.
Back in the late 50s, money was rarely invested in special effects and it clearly shows across the board, even from the major studios. It also becomes obvious why Craig focused so much on the fears of people about the atomic bomb as its supposed effects are shown in the films, enlarging a variety of animals to terrorise mankind than show the terminal effects radiation poisoning normally gives. If anything, the ‘atomic menace’ was just seen as a means to put the heebeegeebees up the unwary population. These days, thankfully, we are better aware of the hazards.
Craig doesn’t rate ‘The Curse Of Frankenstein which was released in the US and his description of Christopher Lee’s make-up ignores the fact that Hammer had to do something totally different to the Karloff version. Before any of you get your daggers out, he does praise Hammer’s other offerings like the two ‘Quatermass’ films.
This was also the year of the release of ‘Torbor The Great’ and as with all the other films, there’s even a still or film poster shown. All of these are in black and white but in some respects they give a better feel for the time period.
Although I’ve been critical in some areas, don’t dismiss Rob Craig out of hand. A lot of what he says throws some insight into all of these films and he clearly enjoys this time period than the new stuff from the 1970s. Although the number of genre films per year drops off after 1957, it gives a good example of why Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon then before finding something else to film.
(pub: McFarland. 246 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £32.50 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7864-7777-7)