Movies Till Dawn: Science Fiction and Fact

Minor Premise” (2020, Utopia) Researcher Sathya Sridharan, crumbling under strain from multiple fronts (his late father’s scientific legacy, his shambolic life, alcohol), pours his energy into an experiment to control emotion, which literally shatters him into 10 distinct personalities, each with not only the ability to control his body for six minutes at a time. Excellent indie sci-fi thriller is anchored by Sridharan’s heroic turn, which requires him to give ten different variations on an already heavyweight role, and Paton Ashbrook (whose father, Dana Ashbrook of “Twin Peaks” fame, also appears in the film), as his fellow researcher and ex-girlfriend, who herself has a range of responses to his recklessness, from concern to annoyance and fear. Director Eric Schultz and producers Justin Moretto (who’s a real neuroscientist) and Thomas Torrey temper the heavy science of the premise with some unnerving thriller sequences involving the more volatile sides of Sridharan and some thoughtful consideration of the different faces we wear – by choice or compulsion – throughout our lives; Utopia’s Blu-ray includes commentary about the film’s technical sides by the writers-director, as well as the short on which the film is based and several brief behind-the-scenes segments which showcase Sridharan’s superhuman commitment to his role.

The Bermuda Depths” (1978, Warner Archives Collection) Pukka-shell-sporting Leigh McCloskey returns to his seaside home – where years before, his scientist father was killed by a sea monster – and encounters not only a mysterious long-lost love (Connie Selleca) and childhood friend (Carl Weathers) researching legends of a giant turtle with researcher Burl Ives. Holiday stop-motion specialists Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass produced and co-wrote this curious made-for-TV mix of Gothic romance, ghost story, and giant monster movie (the latter part handled by co-producers Tsuburaya Productions of Godzilla fame in their second of three collaborative TV-movie projects), which is, at times, as awkward a genre mash-up as it sounds, and in others, an oddly effective, dream-like viewing experience, which has contributed to its small but devoted cult following. Warner Archives’ Blu-ray features a gorgeous 4K restoration and two versions of the film (the open-matte TV presentation and a widescreen version shown in Japanese theaters). Commentary by historian Amanda Reyes and Kindertrauma co-founder Lance Vaughn is amusing and informative, touching on the producers’ history, ’70s TV-movies, and more.

The Time Travelers” (1964, Scorpion Releasing) Scientists in Los Angeles circa 1964 discover that their time portal experiment, which allows them to observe both past and future, can also let them to travel through time, though the final destination – the LA of 2071 (played, at various times by Barstow and UCLA), decimated by nuclear war and overrun by mutants – leaves much to be desired. Entertaining low-budget science fiction from writer/director Ib Melchoir, whose credits include such threadbare but well-loved genre titles as “The Angry Red Planet” and “Reptilicus”; like those films, budget hampers Melchoir’s ambitions, though he does get his money’s worth from David L. Hewitt‘s practical (in-camera) special effects and an alarming, near-psychedelic finale. “Travelers” is the movie that Aidan Quinn is projecting at his theater in “Desperately Seeking Susan,” and yes, that scientist talking about spacemen is Forrest J Ackerman; the Scorpion’s Blu-ray features a 2K restoration – a vast improvement over previous releases – and the theatrical trailer.

The Invisible Man Appears/The Invisible Man vs. the Human Fly” (1949/1957, Arrow Video) When both the formula for invisibility and its scientist creator are stolen by thugs, his two top students – both competitive over-achievers – see his rescue as the best way to win the hand of his comely daughter (played by the drop-dead stylish Chizuru Kitagawa). Early science fiction from Japan features VFX by Eiji Tsuburaya a half-decade before creating Godzilla and splashes of noir-infused storytelling (the formula is used to steal a priceless necklace) and visuals that make up for an occasionally convoluted plot. Six years later, a different Invisible Man faced an equally eccentric opponent in “The Invisible Man vs. the Human Fly,” which has cops and (two different) scientists teaming up to use the ray – which has an unfortunate tendency to kill the test subject upon reappearing – against a killer that can not only shrink to insect-size but also fly. It’s frothier material, awash in some broad comedy and a lot of dance numbers, but still breezy entertainment. Arrow’s Blu-ray bundles the “Invisible Man Appears” trailer with an essay on the history of Invisible Man movies by the always-knowledgeable Kim Newman.

Warning from Space” (1956, Arrow Video) Peaceful, star-shaped aliens attempt to warn humanity about a rogue planet on a collision course with Earth, but find us harder to convince than expected. Early Japanese science fiction (the country’s first in color) from is of a gentler nature than the block-wrecking monster brawls issued by Toho in the wake of the original “Godzilla” (1954), and as such, may not grab some vintage sci-fi viewers. But the special effects are impressive for the period, the alien design (by avant-garde artist Taro Okamoto) is unique, and the notion of human and extraterrestrial interaction, as penned by screenwriter Hideo Oguni, who co-wrote Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” (among others) is considered with greater wonder and thought than other ’50s-era efforts (which reportedly wielded some influence on Stanley Kubrick). Long available in sub-par form, Arrow’s Blu-ray offers remastered versions of the original Japanese edit (looks great) and American dubbed release (better than all previous versions), as well as scene-specific commentary from historian Stuart Galbraith and two trailers.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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