Tuesday, January 07, 2020

The Strange World of Planet X (1958)

The awkwardly titled The Strange World of Planet X (known by the more succinct title of The Cosmic Monsters in the US), is another of those odd low budget science fiction films turned out by small British studios during the 1950s.  Doubtless inspired by the success of Hammer's Quatermass films, which had been adapted from the highly popular BBC TV series, several of these movies were themselves adapted from TV serials.  Strange World of Planet X had started life as novel by Rene Ray, which had been adapted into a 1956 TV serial, which was then adapted into this film.  The TV series hasn't survived, so it is impossible to judge its merits in comparison to the aforementioned Quatermass serial, but it is safe to say that the film doesn't measure up to the movie adaptations of these serials.  Obviously very cheaply produced, it adopts a far more juvenile tone compared to the Quatermass stories, focusing on monsters and sensationalism rather than exploring serious science fictional concepts.

To be fair, there is some sound science at the heart of the film - the main antagonist is a reckless scientist experimenting with abnormally powerful magnetic fields, which disrupt the weather and the earth's own magnetic field, allowing a blast of cosmic radiation to penetrate these natural defences.  Which isn't that crazy or inaccurate.  But the cosmic blast causes insect life close to the scientist's lab to mutate and grow to huge proportions, as well as turning a local tramp into a scarred homicidal maniac.  Leaving aside the fact that there are physical limits to the size to which insects and other arthropods can grow, (without lungs, they rely upon air naturally flowing into their bodies via spiracles, which will only work if they remain small - if they grew larger they would suffocate as insufficient air would move into their spiracles), the giant insects are realised by means of photographically enlarged real insects combined with miniature sets and back projection.  None of it looks terribly convincing (although some of the miniature buildings are quite well done and some of the insect attacks on humans are quite graphically portrayed).

But these aren't the only side effects of the experiments - the disruptions have also attracted the attention of the inhabitants of Planet X, who send an emissary in a flying saucer to get to the bottom of it all.  This emissary takes the form of a mysterious stranger with odd facial hair, who wanders around the local town, his questions leading the Security Services to suspect that he might be an enemy spy.  After the giant insects have run amok, stopped only by military intervention, the alien is prevailed upon to put paid to the now deranged scientist's experiments by destroying his lab with his flying saucer.  Which is pretty much the entire film. Interestingly, for a film titles The Strange World of Planet X,  we never actually see, let alone visit, Planet X, therefore gaining no idea of just how strange it is, (although the only one of its inhabitants we meet, does sport a strange beard).  Like the Quatermass film adaptations, this one features an imported US lead, in this case Forrest Tucker, who appeared in a number of UK science fiction films in the late fifties.  Indeed, The Strange World of Planet X went out on a double bill in the US with the far better Trollenberg Terror (retitled The Crawling Eye), which also starred Tucker.

The Strange World of Planet X, having spent several years in TV obscurity, is now both available on DVD and is regularly aired on Talking Pictures TV.  While far from a great movie, it is a prime example of British science fiction B-movies of its era and provides a reasonably diverting 75 minutes. 



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