Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: 'It Came from 1957: A Critical Guide to the Year’s Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films'

1957 was a flood year for fantasy, horror, and sci-fi pictures with an eerily coincidental 57 of them being released in the U.S. from the German supernatural thriller Unnatural: The Fruit of Evil in February to Howard Hawks’s classic The Thing from Another World in December. A number of factors are responsible for this particular phenomenon, most notably the drive-in explosion and the multiple A-Bomb test explosions leading up to ’57. Rob Craig’s extensive introduction to his critical movie guide It Came from 1957 lays out all these reasons with no historical detail spared. Craig supplies a much, much, much deeper history of atomic weapons and power than you’re ever going to read in another movie book. It may be excessive for a book of this type, but it is fascinating and a hell of a lot scarier and insidious than anything I’ve ever seen in any horror movie, which Craig heightens with his hot-blooded tone. He’s as serious about his politics as he is about his sci-fi movies.

That can be an issue with It Came from 1957. I essentially agree with Craig’s politics, but I also felt he often allowed them to dictate his opinions of a lot of these B-movies, many of which are definitely better than their reputations suggest but aren’t quite the cinematic masterpieces the author might have you believe. To read his ten-page analysis of it, you’d think Roger Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters is as potent an anti-nuclear and proto-feminist film as has ever been made. Craig is so intent on rooting out the political subtext of these films that he often seems to miss their equally important functions as campy, drive-in fun. I’m highly suspicious of any Roger Corman fan who hates Dick Miller, and to say that “his amateurish mugging and sloppy line delivery” “almost single handedly sabotaged” The Terror, a film notorious for its shoddiness on nearly every level, is flat-out crazy. So is calling Star Wars “imagination barren” or derogatorily labeling it “propagandist.” Propaganda of whom? Those who take part in anti-imperialist revolutions led by women? That should be right up Craig’s alley!

OK, so neither The Terror nor Star Wars came out in 1957, but these critical opinions are in this critic’s book, and they are a couple of red flags that his assessments should occasionally be taken with a grain of salt. However, as a history of the horrors of 1950s conservatism, conformity, and self-destructive arrogance, It Came from 1957 is really strong stuff.

Get It Came from 1957: A Critical Guide to the Year’s Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films at Amazon.com here:

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