Son of Cheese Magnet
Like Dracula from his coffin, the Mummy from his tomb, the Creature from his Black Lagoon, the shambling hulk that is Cheese Magnet has been shocked back to life to provide endless and, more importantly, free entertainment to the masses in this dreary landscape of the often excruciating world of 2017. I know I missed it, and I hope you did too. I don’t know if I can sustain a reasonable posting schedule, but I’m going to give it a shot, and I hope that all old Cheese Magnet fans – and some new ones – will come along for the ride. I’m going to be examining the same type of stuff as I did in the past, older (for the most part) SF/Fantasy films, books, pulp art, with the occasional forays into music, baseball, or whatever flights into pop culture my fancy may take.
To show that there can indeed be new things under the sun, I’m going to kick off with a science fiction movie made in 1959 that I had never heard of until very recently, called (you can’t make this stuff up) Terror in the Midnight Sun. Special thanks to smof and fellow film buff Ken Keller for bringing it to my attention.
I thought that I had at least heard of every SF film of the 1950s (and seen all but a small, Trump-sized handful), but this one had escaped my attention. To be fair, it is rather obscure. Although it’s covered in my personal Bible, Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies [And, awkward as this aside is, I would be remiss if I didn’t let the dreary and often excruciating world of 2017 intrude to note Bill’s passing during Cheese Magnet’s hiatus. Fare well Bill, and I hope your view of the skies is even better, now.], you can’t know everything in its 1004 close-packed pages.
The movie has a complicated history. Filmed in 1959 in Sweden (It is possibly the second greatest ‘50’s Scandinavian SF film ever made, even though I only of two of them, and Reptilicus is only a 1950’s movie in the broadest thematic sense.) as Space Invasion of Lapland, it actually never had a U.S. release until it appeared on a 2001 DVD. A rather bowdlerized, (thanks to anti-genius Jerry Warren) version premiered in 1962 in the U.S. as Invasion of the Animal People. Even this version has a complicated history, as the theatrical release has a running time of 55 minutes (!), the tv syndication is 73 minutes, and the DVD version 81. Although I’ve only seen the latter, I imagine that exactly none of those minutes are any good.
Warren calls Jerry Warren “one of the most uncaring movie ‘producers’ in history” and further states that the original version was “far, far superior to Animal People, [which is] a clotted, incoherent mess.” With which I agree. Warren (Jerry, that is) cuts large swathes of the film, inserts an utterly incoherent framing device that confuses Sweden with Switzerland, rearranges scenes so they no longer flow understandably, adds a few static, expository scenes where people stand around and gab about what’s going on in Sweden while looking at a map of Greenland, and tops it all off by hiring John Carradine to intone an incomprehensible opening prolog that has nothing to do with the rest of the film and then end it with an epilog that’s even more stupefying.
Not that the original film was great, but it has its moments. There’s skiing. A lot of skiing. There’s also some ice skating on a tiny little pond by the very attractive female lead (Barbara Wilson, playing the imaginatively named Diane Wilson) who’s there mainly to provide a romantic interest for young hunk scientist Erik Engstrom (Swedish actor Stan Gester) and also an eyeful for the audience in a shower scene that, unique to 1950s sf films, is very NSFW (this is a Swedish movie, after all; it was cut from Warren’s version). Young Erik is assisting Diane’s uncle in investigating a strange meteor that has crashed in a remote corner of northern Sweden, conveniently near the tiny little town where Diane was entertaining the local urchins with her fabulous ice skating.
Well, of course, the meteor isn’t a meteor but a rocket ship, which contains not only aliens who look suspiciously like Death from some other Swedish film, what was it?, oh yes, Seventh Seal, but also, apparently, I guess, because where else would it come from?, this big, shambling monster, who (after a lot more skiing) grabs Diane and runs off with her. This pisses-off the local Laplanders (who wear really cute hats) who come after it with torches. Literally. The ending, like much of the film, is a little incoherent. And kind of cheaply done. But I’ve seen worse. A lot worse.
Oh yes, there’s also a somewhat sappy theme song called “Love in the Midnight Sun,” or something like that, sung apparently by a very famous Swedish singer of the time, which Diane and Erik dance to when they’re not skiing. So there’s that, too.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the DVD’s extras, which include a multitude of very bizarre items, including a (unintentional) mockumentary on the degrading lives led by Stockholm teens, an episode of a Curt Siodmark helmed Swedish TV show hosted by Lon Chaney who plays a deranged criminal who introduces scenarios depicting even worse crimes than those he purportedly committed (high concept, indeed), another documentary (mock or not, I’m not sure) concerning Laplanders and the method they use to castrate male reindeer which is carried out by the women of the tribe in the most unsanitary way imaginable, and, finally, half a dozen trailers for Swedish movies of the time period which themselves are totally NSFW, let alone the movies. It’s a veritable smorgasbord.
Amazon: Terror in the Midnight Sun DVD