Dystopia

Them!

James Arness and Edmund Gwenn chase giant ants in this atmospheric 1954 SF horror thriller. The original giant bug film, considered by many to be the best. Good direction, solid acting and a smart script that taps into the era’s atomic fears. 8/10

The Twonky

A mind-controlling machine from an authoritarian future disguises itself as a TV set in the home of a professor and starts messing with his life. Badly adapted from a story by “Lewis Padgett”, this 1953 attempt at satire is a dull turkey. 1/10

Robot Monster

Shot on 16,000 USD in 1953, this cult classic is as inept as it is unique. Told as a boy’s surreal nightmare, it features an alien robot gorilla in a diving helmet experiencing an existential crisis as he is about to wipe out the last six people on Earth. And soap bubbles. 7/10

Invasion, U.S.A.

Five American bar patrons who oppose the universal draft experience what a nuclear-fuelled invasion by the Soviet Union would entail. If one film should exemplify the hysterical red scare of the fifties, it is this low-budget propaganda piece from 1952.

April 1, 2000

Set in the year 2000, this propaganda musical comedy from 1952 protests the Allied occupation of Austria. More a cavalcade of Austria’s “greatest hits” than a narrative film, the movie features the creme de la creme of the country’s stage talent. 2/10

Captive Women

Christian mutants and Satanist “norms” must unite against evil marauders in the nuclear-scarred ruins of New York in this 1952 curio set in 3000 A.D. A good cast and an interesting idea butt heads with a clunky script and an inexperienced director. 4/10

The Whip Hand

This tense little 1951 thriller by W.C. Menzies had Hitler hiding in a US fishing village. RKO owner Howard Hughes wanted the Commies to be the bad guys instead, so it was reshot with Red Scare hysterics. Still, the genius of the original shines through. 7/10.

Five

Arch Oboler’s indie film from 1951 was the first to portray the aftermath of nuclear war. Heavy on biblical reference and weighed down with pompous monologues and slow pacing, the film nonetheless boasts striking cinematography and a gritty, bleak vision of the future. 6/10

Strange Holiday

Originally produced as a propaganda short for General Motors, and then stretched to feature length, this 1940/1945 low-budget affair by radio legend Arch Oboler is as curious as it is flawed. Claude Rains stars as a man returning to the city from a fishing trip only to find that the US has been taken over by fascists. 2/10

Krakatit

Based on Karel Capek’s novel, this Czech 1948 film is the first to depict a nuclear holocaust. Otakar Vávra’s feverishly Expressionist direction follows the inventor of a new explosive having waking nightmares about the horror he has unleashed upon the world. While simplified and somewhat dumbed down, the story still follows the novel fairly closely. Scifist Rating: 7/10.

Skeleton on Horseback

Based on Karel Capek’s play, this 1937 Czechoslovakian dystopia is a thinly veiled allegory on the Nazis. A pacifist doctor finds a cure to a mysterious “white plague” and with it tries to blackmail the ruling class into signing a peace treaty. Future Hollywood director Hugo Haas makes a poignant, but slow-paced dark satire. 6/10

Things to Come

H.G. Wells and  William Cameron Menzies take us on an epic journey through the future in this pompous 1936 social prophesy, the last big SF film before the 1950s. The most expensive film made in Britain at the time, Things to Come boasts incredible sets and effects, but the script is stiff, the acting wooden and the viewer bludgeoned to boredom with the message. 6/10

Just Imagine

A very early sound film, this 1930 US sci-fi musical comedy tries to combine Metropolis, A Princess from Mars, The Ziegfield Follies and stand-up comedy. With predictable results. Despite being the brainchild of Hollywood’s hottest musical writers, the music is dull, the SF worse and the comedy painfully unfunny. The film looks good, though. 3/10