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Bonus Reviews: War of the Satellites (1958) and All the Colors of Giallo (2019)
Horror Bulletin Bonus for Week 154
For this week’s bonus films, we’ll look at a couple of fun films. First, we’ll look at an outstanding documentary about Italian Giallo films, focusing on films from Bava, Argento, Fulci, and many others. Then we’ll watch A group of people fight against aliens who are trying to stop the space program in “War of the Satellites” from 1958.
Don’t forget, the first week of each month, we publish ALL our reviews, including the bonus content, in our monthly “Horror Bulletin” print magazine (also available as an ebook). If you don’t have time to read the website or email, here’s one more option for you! The February issue will be out next week!
War of the Satellites (1958)
• Directed by Roger Corman
• Written by Irving Block, Lawrence L. Goldman, Jack Rabin
• Stars Dick Miller, Susan Cabot, Richard Devon
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 6 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Mankind is trying to get out into space, but some unseen force keeps stopping us. Then a message arrives from aliens who basically say, “Stay home.” Well, those cocky aliens aren’t going to boss us around! So begins the test of wills. It’s an early space age adventure, and very fun seeing how they envisioned space travel before the first manned flights.
The men in the observatory watch the satellite. They debate whether the men aboard will all die like the others. There’s a barrier up there that they can’t get through. The ship explodes. This was the tenth attempt, and they are destroyed every time. Dr. Van Ponder insists they keep trying, but Mr. Akad and LeMoine walk out; they’ve had enough.
Jay and Mitzi are making out in his convertible when they see a shooting star. No, it’s not a shooting star. They find a rocket in the ground and naturally pick it up. There’s a message (in Latin) inscribed.
The masters of the Spiral Nebula Ugana have sent a message to the men of Earth. They have placed the barrier there to keep the infestation called man on one planet.
Dr. Van Ponder wants to go up and captain his own ship. Sybil says she’s going along too, so Dave decides he has to go as well. Van Ponder’s political opponents think it’s suicide to even try, and they want his program cancelled. As he drives the U.N., the aliens take control of his car and make him crash. Van Ponder is killed, and they announce it at the U.N. meeting.
Suddenly, Van Ponder walks in, very much not dead. He explains that the police officer was mistaken. We see Van Ponder split into two to do some work; he’s not the real Van Ponder. He’s an alien agent!
Fires, floods, famine, and other natural disasters are starting to break out all over. The news says it may be a further warning from the aliens. Dave notices that Van has strange growths on both arms and begins to suspect something’s wrong with Van.
Van gets completely burned in the lab while he’s with John. John dashes out for help, but Van’s hand heals nearly instantly. When John and help comes back, Van denies he was injured. John knows what he saw and accuses Van of being inhuman. Dr. Lazar talks to John and thinks John just imagined the whole thing.
Finally, it’s time for the launch. The men report for the two rockets that are preparing to launch. Dave notes Van’s car and license plate. He goes to a salvage yard and finds the actual destroyed car with the actual license plate. Something is very wrong, he thinks.
The rockets launch, but Dave gets left behind. He boards the third rocket with Dr. Lazar. They achieve orbit and launch their satellites. The three converge and become one larger ship.
Van reveals his whole plan to John. He offers John the opportunity of joining them, but John refuses. Van kills him.
Van then says that if they can hit 750 miles per second, they can break through the barrier. Then they stop and have a space funeral for John. Dave shows Dr. Lazar and Sybil that Van’s fingerprints are mirror-images of each other; he’s a copy.
Dr. Lazar tells Van that he needs to do a checkup on him, so Van creates a heart inside himself that beats. Lazar is fooled, but Van kills him anyway. Van has turned himself physically human, so he has lost some of his powers. And he’s struggling with human feelings. He orders Dave to be arrested for John’s murder.
Sybil figures out what Van is, and he starts to chase her through the ship. Meanwhile, they’re approaching the Sigma Barrier with a collision in five minutes. He explains to Sybil that because of her, he’s human. Dave is following the other Van.
Dave shoots one of the Vans, and the other one is wounded as well. Dave kills Van and orders the pilots to change plans. They accelerate with full solar power instead of Van’s plan and plow right through the barrier. The stars belong to humanity!
Sputnik had launched the prior year, so the word “satellite” was on everyone’s minds. There are no actual satellites in this film, but they used the word in the titles.
If they had lost ten ships against the barrier, what makes them believe that the next try would be any different? They didn’t invent any new weapons or technology. The big plan was simply to ram the barrier at higher speed. This seems like a foolish plan without something new being added to the mix. In the end, they did engage a more powerful type of drive that worked. Though why wouldn’t alien Van have just stopped them on Earth before launch? He certainly had the ability. Don’t overthink some points.
Why is there such a thing as “astro-planetary law” if mankind has never successfully gotten into space before? I guess they were planning ahead.
Those launch-chairs looked really comfortable with the leather upholstery. I’d love to have one in the living room.
The special effects are cheap, even for the 50s. The concept of a space barrier had been done before and after this, but it’s still a silly idea. There is some drama and suspense, and Van’s ability to split is interesting. It’s far from great, but it’s worth a watch.
All the Colors of Giallo (2019)
• Directed by Federico Caddeo
• Stars Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Barbara Bouchet, Luciano Ercoli, Edwige Fenech
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 29 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
A pretty interesting documentary about the origins and evolution of Giallo, a style of horror/mystery/suspense/fantasy done mainly by Italian filmmakers. It’s in Italian with subtitles so there’s a lot of reading, but it’s worth it. They also give a disclaimer at the beginning that there are a lot of spoilers given away in the discussion and movie clips shown.
A man explains that the word “Giallo” comes from the word for “Yellow.” There was a series of crime-related books in the early 1920s, and they all had a distinctive yellow cover. The whole genre eventually became known by the word. It’s become a more or less generic term for a kind of crime or mystery story, not necessarily a horrific one.
We get a discussion about German Crime films, and how those influenced early giallos. They discuss many popular Giallo authors of crime novels.
Eventually, they discuss Mario Bava, considered the first Giallo film director. Bava led to Dario Argento, and the rest was history. It focuses heavily on Argento’s “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” which is the film that really made the genre explode.
The giallos and Argento naturally progressed into horror films such as “Deep Red,” and “Suspiria,” and “Tenebrae.”
We then start discussion of Lucio Fulci. He made “One on Top of the Other,” “Don’t Torture a Duckling,” and “The Psychic,” among many others. He, too, transitioned from straight giallos to horror, with “Zombie,” “The Beyond,” and many others.
Next up is a brief segment on less-prolific directors, including Duccio Tessari, Luciano Ercoli, Aldo Lado, Giuliano Carnimeo, Sergio Martino, and Umberto Lenzi.
It’s essentially a selection of interviews and recordings that tell the history of the genre. There are some clips from the films, but the subtitles pop on and off the screen so quickly that it’s hard to pay much attention to what’s going on on-screen.
I’m not sure that I’d call it “entertaining” exactly, but it was very educational. Giallo had quite an interesting history, and I know we’ll be watching some of these films in the not-too-distant future.
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