The Least Horrific Horror Movie, Ever?
Once again, your humble Cheese Magnet correspondent has to apologize for a long silence, but I spent the month of March basically being sick as a dog. Thawas no fun at all. I am almost back to normal, or as normal as it ever gets around here, so hopefully you-all will be seeing more of me, soon.
I spent the vast portion of my life blissfully unaware of THE GAMMA PEOPLE (1956), discovering the title only when I started this film watching project. At first I thought that, considering the setting and subject matter, it was some bizarre and creepy European (maybe Italian) flick, but, no such luck. It was made by Columbia and stars, strangely enough, Paul Douglass, who should be a somewhat familiar name to fans of 1950s movies. He appeared in plenty of big-name, mainstream pictures. I remembered him most from one of his earlier films, the first ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD. His partner in crime in this one is a guy who looks and acts like an upper class British twit, and when I looked him up in IMDB.com I discovered that Leslie Phillips is indeed “a much-loved comic actor,” who specializes in playing upper class British twits. Amazingly enough, he’s still active today (if by today you mean 2012) and you all probably know him as the voice of the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter movies. Right?
Anyway, they play newspapermen on their way to cover a concert in Saltzberg. Mike is the take-no BS American and Howard, the upperclass British twit. They’re the passengers in their train car, so that when the coupling between cars mysteriously becomes undone, their car separates from the rest of the train and as it glides along the track for miles and miles and miles, a couple of kids dressed in Hitler youth outfits pull the track switch and the car eventually comes to rest in the capital city of a tiny and fictitious country named Gudaria that is inauspiciously located behind the Iron Curtain.
This represents only the first of many missed opportunities for this film. Did the kids somehow know the reporters were alone in the last train car and use telekinetic powers to unlink the cars and bring the reporters to town? Or were they just screwing around killing time down at the old switch yard and the whole movie is based on a startling coincidence? Who knows? The kids are never seen again, or maybe just in crowd scenes.
Gudaria is totally isolated from the rest of the world by the mad scientist who apparently runs the place. This implied ex-Nazi spends all his time bombarding kids with gamma rays in an effort to improve the human race.
Note the prescient Devo fashion sense
Sometimes it works, and produces a little girl who plays the piano quite nicely, as well as a squad of blond-haired little boys who run around town in brown shorts and shirts harassing people. Sometimes it doesn’t and produces what the scientist calls, technically, idiots and our heroes charmingly term “goons.” These are all big, strapping lads who have been trained by the evil scientist to act as his personal murder squad.
The tone of this movie is quite bizarre. Howard and Mike yuck it up continuously so that we get an uneasy melange of (unfunny) comedy and murder. We get only two glimpses of the evil scientist in action: a few seconds in the beginning, and then in the end when he turns the gamma rays upon Mike and company and makes them really, really warm. In the end, Howard, of all people, leads the peasants as they get revolting (without torches or pitchforks), the kids get rescued, the stone castle burns down, and the goons, well, who knows?
THE GAMMA PEOPLE achieves an unlikely trifecta: 1) It’s the least horrific horror movie I’ve ever seen, as the most horrific things shown are the masks the peasants wear during their quaint local festival. 2) Paul Douglass, who died three years after the making this movie of a massive heart attack while getting out of bed (he was 52), is the least likely action stars, ever. Massively out of shape, it was painful to watch him run (very slowly) from the goons or engage them in fisticuffs. The semi-romantic scenes he shared with the female lead were also embarrassing.
And, last but not least, 3) It has the least convincing destruction of an evil scientist’s laboratory, achieved by knocking over a cart of instruments, which causes the stone floors of the lab to burst into flame.
The very weak script, lame casting, and confused over-all concept of this film combine to give it a well deserved rating of: 3.