TERROR BENEATH THE SEA. Toei Company, Japan, 1966. Original title: Kaitei daisensô. Sonny Chiba, Peggy Neal, Frank Gruber, Steve Queens, Andre Husse. Director: Hajime Satô.
Terror Beneath the Sea might not be a good movie per se, but it’s sure as heck an enjoyable one to watch. Directed by Hajime Sato, this alternatingly hip and schlocky 1960s movie features Sonny Chiba in an early screen role.
Chiba portrays a reporter who, along with his female colleague (Peggy Neal) happens upon a mad scientist’s plan to create a master race of aquatic cyborg men! There are not a lot of martial arts on display, but there are some bizarre creatures with spear guns. That’s got to count for something.
Comparable in visual style to both Edgar Ulmer’s Beyond the Time Barrier (1960) that I reviewed here, and Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965), Sato’s movie works better as spectacle than as a story. Indeed, the plot doesn’t have all that much depth. But that’s easily forgotten when one sits back and appreciates the director’s skillful use of colors, lighting, and an electronic, jazzy score to heighten the atmospheric mood of a monster movie that isn’t so much frightening as it is entertaining.
THE COLLECTOR. Syndicated: Canada, A No Equal Entertainment Inc Production, 2004-2006. 40 episodes, 60 minutes each. Cast: Chris Kramer as Morgan Pym, Carly Pope (Season One and one episode of Season Two) Sonya Salomaa (Season Two and Three), Aidan Drummond as Gabe, Christine Chatelain as Taylor Slate, Ellen Dubin as Jeri Slate, Andrew Jackson as Danny Hullstrom and Ona Grauer as Katrina. Creators and Executive Producers: Jon Cooksey and Ali Marie Matheson. Executive Producer: Larry Sugar.
After several centuries of collecting souls for the Devil, Morgan Pym convinces The Devil to let him have 48 hours to help the client redeem their soul before the Devil takes them.
Most forgotten series are forgotten for a reason, but The Collector is one of those few that deserved a better fate. Apparently it did not make a deal with the Devil since the series lasted a too short three years instead of the standard Devil deal for ten years.
Morgan Pym was originally a 14th century monk who breaks his vows when he falls in love with Katrina, a woman in the village. When Katrina dies of the plague, Morgan sells his soul for her to return to life, only to see her die a second time ten years later. This time the Devil offers Morgan the chance to be his first collector of souls.
When Morgan would get a new client from the Devil, he would have forty-eight hours to help the client redeem his or her soul. Time limits are a good device to increase suspense and tension in a drama, but The Collector went further.
Morgan did not always win, some times he did not want to save the soul but to hurry the client to Hell for the sake of others, some times the Devil would distract him or trick him from his goal. All of this made for something rare in a weekly TV series — the viewers never knew how each episode would end.
Not only were the endings uncertain, the episodes varied from comedic to theological to tragic to mystic to historic to almost any type of drama. The Collector was less interested in religion and more about the human condition. The series focused on questions such as why the client sold his or her soul, how the Devil used the request to increase the suffering of others, and how can the client with Morgan’s help redeem themselves in less than 48 hours.
The acting and production values were generally average, with star Chris Kramer one of the weakest parts of the series. But the characters and the depth of each backstory were a major strength of The Collector.
For the most part, each episode told a separate and complete story featuring the client of the week. However, some stories took time out from the main story to explore a subplot involving a young, apparently autistic boy named Gabe.
The series takes place in modern day Vancouver. Morgan lives in a rundown apartment building and has a time traveling motorcycle in his room. Now a servant of the Devil, he has a very human like love/hate relationship with a God who let the love of his life die (twice).
His neighbor neurotic Maya is a junkie who falls for Morgan in Season One. Morgan tries to help her get her life together but still mourns for Katrina and resists a romantic relationship with Maya. In the first episode of Season Two there is a surprise dramatic twist that results in a new actress taking over the role. Maya and Morgan’s relationship would continue to grow more serious during the rest of the series.
Local reporter Jeri Slate becomes obsessed with discovering the true identity of Morgan to the point of neglecting her son Gabe. Despite the efforts of her sister Taylor who takes care of Gabe, Jeri falls deeper and deeper into her obsession until it consumes her.
Gabe is a sullen young boy (who turned ten in season three) with unknown powers. Withdrawn and refusing to talk Gabe can draw crude pictures of events before they happen, perhaps even causing them.
When we finally learn the fate of Gabe’s father Danny Hullstrom, it deepens the mystery of Gabe. Gabe begins to search for his role, his place in life. Gabe is the only one besides Morgan who can see through the Devil’s disguises. The Devil tries to influence Gabe as his pictures often ruin the Devil’s plans. The scenes with Gabe are separate from the main story. Gabe may control the events but Morgan and the clients are not aware of it.
The Devil is the series’ most fun character, especially when played by Colin Cunningham who does the opening narration in every episode and the actor to appear as The Devil the most. A variety of actors and actress would play the part as the series had fun with the ability of The Devil to appear anywhere and as anyone including characters from past episodes.
The series ended after Season Three and left many lose ends. Why was The Devil willing to let Morgan try to help redeem his clients just at the moment he could claim them? Who is Gabe and what was his role? What would happen to those Morgan saved, how would they handle the truth about The Devil and the World?
Whether you are religious or not (I’m not) I recommend you check out this series.
Our YouTube examples (for as long as they last) include one episode from each season. First is episode six, the first time we see Gabe in action.
“The Actuary.” Written by Frank Borg. Directed by Holly Dale. Guess Cast: Rob Labelle, Alex Diakun, David Ward and Ben Ayres as the Devil. *** Client of the week is Barrett Gimbel, an Actuary who works for the local mob. Barrett had sold his soul for a machine that tells how and when anyone dies. In this funny episode the mob boss learns that the machine has said he will die tomorrow and Barrett will kill him. In a mysterious sad counterpoint we meet reporter Jill’s neglected son Gabe.
In Season Two “The Mother” is an important episode in the Gabe storyline, but our example is the last episode of Season Two. This is one of the best episodes of the series as we watch Morgan learn on the job as the Devil assists him on his first collection.
“The Beginnings.” Written by Jon Cooksey and Ali Marie Matheson. Directed by J.B. Sugar. Guest Cast: Gabriel Hogan, Alan Peterson, Ona Grauer, and Colin Cunningham as the Devil. *** It is the 14th century and things look dark for humanity as the plague sweeps over the known world. Morgan and Katrina live and love. Katrina is burdened with guilt for having survived the plague while so many others have died. Morgan never tell her that he had sold his soul to save her. The ten years pass quickly and Katrina dies again. The Devil arrives and instead of Hell offers Morgan the chance to become his first collector of souls.
Finally, an example of the diversity of clients and type of stories this series told. Season Three, Episode Eleven is a good spy thriller. It is also a more typical episode as it is without the Gabe subplot. For those seeking the last episode of the Gabe subplot check out “The Media Baron.”
“The Spy.” Written by Jon Cooksey and Ali Marie Matheson. Directed by J.B. Sugar. Guest Cast: Joely Collins, Martin Cummins, Wanda Cannon and Alisen Down as the Devil. *** Kandyse Crown time ends in two days and she is still trying to finish the mission she sold her soul to complete. The Devil is a female Eastern European filmmaker who is famous for her films inspiring despair and depression – a nice jab at the era’s typical Eastern Europe film style.
The third season of The Collector third season has never been released on DVD, and the DVDs of the first two seasons are out of print.
YouTube offers (at this time) all fourteen episodes of Season One, and the thirteen episodes each of Season Two and Three.
FLIGHT TO MARS. Monogram Pictures, 1951. Marguerite Chapman, Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz, Virginia Huston, John Litel, Morris Ankrum. Director: Lesley Selander.
It’s difficult for me not to like movies with Cameron Mitchell in them. Sure, he did more than his fair share of lousy films, but the man’s got a unique presence and a wry, world-weary manner of speaking that’s difficult to explain: a sort of you-know—it-when-you-hear-it.
So when I learned of this science fiction B-film that stars not only Mitchell, but also Arthur Franz (another favorite of mine from that era and that genre), I had to check out Flight to Mars. The result: well, let’s just say that’s a clumsy, superficial film without much to recommend it except that the movie has these two actors in it and that it makes great use of Cinecolor.
The plot, evidently borrowed from the silent Soviet film, Aelita (1924), follows a group of American scientists, as well as newspaperman Steve Abbott (Mitchell), as they make their way to the red planet. When they arrive, they discover a highly advanced civilization led by a quasi-fascist regime led by the authoritarian Ikron (Morris Ankrum).
So everyone runs around a bit through the hallways of the Martians’ underground city, all wearing similar cheap looking uniforms (apparently the costume budget for this movie wasn’t all that elaborate), and then our friendly group of earthlings finally discover a means by which they can fix their rocket ship and head back home.
That’s really about it. It’s a shame, for merely adding a little green man or two to the mix would have really spiced things up a bit.
Still, I imagine that if you were a kid in the early 1950s and you saw this at a matinee, you would have thought it was all super neat. And you may not have been half wrong, either.
CHARLES ERIC MAINE – B.E.A.S.T. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1966. Ballantine U6092, US, paperback, April 1967.
“Charles Eric Maine” was just one of the pen names used by David McIlwain, whose books formed the basis of several rather dull SF movies, including Spaceways, The Mind of Mr. Soames and The Electronic Monster. B.E.A.S.T., though, is remarkably readable.
Mark Harland, the first-person narrator, has a rather shadowy job in a rather shadowy department somewhere in MI5 or thereabouts, and as the story starts he’s ordered to infiltrate a top-secret research facility in the Defense Department and find out what the hell’s going on there.
I should add that this infiltration is does not involve a great deal of subterfuge; simply a matter of Harland filling in for the facility’s Security Officer for a few weeks, with all documentation supplied by MI5 and a knowing wink from the Security Officer himself as regards one Synove Raynor, the facility’s resident nymphomaniac.
This particular facility, known as RU8 has to do with genetic warfare—how to wage it, and how to see if someone’s waging it on us—and the facility’s central feature is one of those giant computers beloved of mid-1960s spy-and-sci-fi fiction, running on reel-to reel tapes and occupying several sub-basements, like the one in Alphaville (1965.)
But while the computer is supposed to be used for genetic research (“If only we could unravel the genetic code of DNA…”) it seems the absent-minded director of the facility, an unprepossessing sort named Howard Gilley, has been using it to run an experiment in applied evolution (Biological Evolutionary Animal Simulation Test) starting with theoretical single-cell organisms and compressing millions of years of development to produce a theoretical creature totally geared toward self-preservation.
Or is it still theoretical?
As Harland casually absorbs himself into the family, learns about some of the complex relationships there, and finally gets Dr. Gilley to open up a bit, he finds that the theoretical BEAST that communicates through the computer has been asking Dr. Gilley questions. And making demands.
Nowadays we just label this Artificial Intelligence and having labeled, dismiss it. But writing fifty years ago, Maine-as-Harland does a fine job of trying to wrap his mind around the notion: If the BEAST exists, where does it reside? In the computer? In the tapes running through it? Or is it just in the mind of Dr. Gilley, who begins to seem more and more unbalanced as Harland gets deeper into the whole thing.
I can relate to some of this. When you write fiction, something delightful happens every once in a while when one of the characters gets up and does something you weren’t expecting. So when Gilley tells Harland of his feelings when the BEAST started asking questions, I could feel for him, and I think Maine did too. But Harland has to figure out whether Gilley is going crackers or something even more sinister is coming on.
Oddly, the elements that make those movies so dull impart a bit of gritty and gripping reality to B.E.A.S.T. as Harland deals patiently with the personalities and possibilities involved and wonders how anyone will be able to explain something as complex as this to his higher-ups… or to an MP unlikely to comprehend any concept more sophisticated than a campaign slogan. And it gets stickier still when Harland finds empty Vodka bottles and pornographic pictures hidden away in the abstemious Gilley’s office and begins to suspect their bizarre implications.
I should add that B.E.A.S.T. proceeds to a fine spot of monster-on-the-loose that fits in perfectly with the Halloween season, and a thoughtful conclusion that will send me seeking out more of Maine’s work.
WILLIAM SAMBROT “Island of Fear.” Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, 18 January 1958. Reprinted in Island of Fear and Other Science Fiction Stories (Pocket, paperback, May 1963).
William Sambrot (1920-2007) wrote and published over 50 science fiction stories. Many of them first appeared in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post, not the most traditional market for speculative fiction, but the place where he found a home. He also wrote for such publications as Playboy and Blue Book Magazine. Fourteen of his short stories were reprinted in Island of Fear and Other Science Fiction Stories.
The short story “Island of Fear,” is a suspenseful yarn about a man obsessed with a wall built on a Greek isle. He wants – no, he needs to know who built this wall and why. This is especially so given the fact that on the other side of this wall there appears to be a beautiful sculpture, one that has escaped the attention of the art books.
As a tale that is both atmospheric and suspenseful, “Island of Fear” isn’t so much a science fiction story as it is a horror story. It’s actually a pretty good read, yet because it’s a rather short, I’d be giving away too much if I tried to tell you too much more about the plot. Let’s just say the Greek setting is what propels the story forward, with rising tension, toward a horrific climax.
So as I ask you as readers of speculative fiction: have you ever read Sambrot’s work? Do you remember it when his fiction was first published in The Saturday Evening Post? Do you have a favorite story of his? If so, leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
POUL ANDERSON – Mayday Orbit. Ace Double F-104, paperback original, 1961. Published back-to-back with No Man’s World, by Kenneth Bulmer. First appeared in Fantastic Science Fiction Stories, December 1959, as “A Message in Secret.” Reprinted in several Poul Anderson collections.
This is one of Poul Anderson’s long-running series of stories about Captain Sir Dominick Flandry, a field agent of the Naval Intelligence Corps of the Terrestrial Empire, or at least that’s his rank this time around. I’ve read quite a few of his adventures over the years, but without regard to chronology or trying to read a whole lot of them at once.
Which can be done and very easily. Both Ace and Baen Books have published large collections of the Flandry stories as well as other of Anderson’s other series, including those about the Psychotechnic League. I’ve tried to keep up, but there are too many stories, including full-length novels, for one person to read them all and have time to read something else as well.
Mayday Orbit turns out to be a puzzle story and well as a good old-fashioned space opera yarn. Flandry is working undercover on an isolated planet that’s in a buffer zone in space between the rival realms of Terra and Merseia. Each empire is always on the lookout for suitable outposts to place their ships and troops.
His cover doesn’t last long, however, and he’s soon on the run with a female slave whom he helps escape the ruling power of the planet. Most of the book is spent following the couple’s path to safety, which at one point requires Flandry to set a huge plain of dry grassland on fire.
Where the puzzle comes in, though, as far as Flandry is concerned, is how does he get word off-planet to the Terran forces to let them know what nefarious activities are going on? The cover pretty much gives it away, in a way, but Anderson does his best to prolong the solution for as long as possible.
It’s an average story at best, only 126 pages long, but Anderson does keep things moving at a brisk pace. As a writer, he was much better at writing descriptive passages than he was at portraying characters with any kind of depth. At least in this one he doesn’t need to spend too much time having his characters explain to each other what each other should already know.
RUSS WINTERBOTHAM – The Red Planet. Monarch #270, paperback original, 1962. Armchair Fiction Double Novel, trade paperback, 2012; published in combo with The Shining City, by Rena M. Vale.
This is the goods.
I know I’ve used that term of incisive critical analysis before, but there’s no better way to describe a book packed with action, suspense, and characters just a bit deeper than they had to be. Call it Space Opera, call it Sci-Fi, but The Red Planet is an undeniably fast and thrilling ride.
It’s also a bit of a murder mystery as first-person narrator astronaut Bill Drake describes the preparations for the first manned Mars expedition, commanded by Dr. Spartan, a brilliant egomaniac who seems averse to sharing the gory for what he considers his personal achievement.
Dr. Spartan’s mania first manifests itself in a training accident that takes the life of an intended crew member. With no time to spare, the doctor decrees that the fallen comrade will be replaced by a qualified woman in the team, Gail Loring, and to allay outcries of moral impropriety (this was written in 1962, remember, when even the mild sex in the James Bond books raised eyebrows) she will marry him before take-off. Gail is a gal who knows her own mind however, and she decides Bill Drake would make a better husband-in-name-only — thus sealing Bill’s fate.
The ensuing journey to the red planet (hence the title, huh?) is neatly done as author Winterbotham fleshes out the characters, throws in another mysterious death, and ratchets up the tension with personality conflicts till our party lands on Mars — which is where things really get exciting.
Because it seems Dr. Spartan’s megalomania extends to his attitude towards the Martians: small but nasty plant/animal hybrids whom he regards as manifestly a lower life form who should be made acquainted with their new rulers. This naturally leads to a certain amount of bother, and the rousing finale is a pitched battle, rousingly-described, with the surviving crew members fighting for their lives as much against Dr. Spartan as against the Martian hordes.
Winterbotham was apparently a very busy writer of westerns, horror and big-little books, and he keeps things moving right to the finish, in approved pulp-fashion. I can recommend this unreservedly to readers who like a fun, fast space adventure.
The biggest surprise for me, however, was on the blurb page, where I read:
“The Author’s son-in-law is a member of the team developing the plasma space motor which is planned to carry men to Mars within the next ten years.”