Friday, 6 December 2013

Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956)

American-born Cy Roth wrote, directed and produced Fire Maidens of Outer Space, a 1956 British sci-fi movie which has some serious claims to being the worst sci-fi movie ever made. Cy Roth was certainly technically more competent than Ed Wood but this feature lacks the bizarre charm that makes Wood’s movies so much fun. Having said that, Fire Maidens of Outer Space does have some camp value and if you’re in the right mood it can be almost entertaining.

An Anglo-American space mission is about to blast off, its destination the newly discovered 13th moon of Jupiter, believed to be the only place in the solar system capable of supporting life as we know it. The mission is led by American scientist Luther Blair (Anthony Dexter) and British scientist Dr Higgins (Sydney Tafler).

After surviving the inevitable meteor storm the spacecraft reaches the 13th moon. There is obviously life here since our astronauts are given landing instructions. Luckily the inhabitants of this distant satellite speak perfect English. Even more luckily this moon turn out to have an atmosphere identical to Earth’s. It is also covered in vegetation that is indistinguishable from that found in the part of England where the outdoor scenes were shot, thus saving the producers from having to spend any money at all on special effects.

After landing the astronauts save an attractive young woman (we learn later that her name is Hestia) from the attentions of a fearsome monster. This monster has been terrorising the inhabitants of the planet.

But who are the inhabitants of the 13th moon of Jupiter? It transpires that they are the last survivors of Atlantis. When it became obvious that Atlantis was about to sink beneath the waves the Atlanteans did the obvious thing and hopped aboard their spaceship (which they just happened to have) and headed for Jupiter.

There aren’t very many of them. There is one old man named Prasus (Owen Berry) and about a dozen young women. Prasus refers to them as his daughters but this is true only in a figurative sense. As the father of his country he regards all Atlanteans as his children.

Since there are only a dozen or so women on the moon, and only one elderly man, it’s not surprising that the women become completely man-crazy when they meet our astronauts. The Earth astronauts will have to fend off the advances of the man-hungry Atlantean girls while finding a way to deal with the monster, not to mention the rather deranged Prasus.

Naturally there is a romance sub-plot as Luther Blair and Hestia fall for each other, only to attract the jealous spite of Duessa who feel that as the oldest of the girls she should have first pick of any available men. Her jealousy may cause poor Hestia to be sacrificed to the gods.

It’s all rather less interesting than it sounds. There’s enough plot for a half-hour film so the 73-minute running time is padded out with a lot of aimless running about and some extended sequences in which the fire maidens (we never find out why they are supposed to be fire maidens) dance interminably.

The acting is as Z-grade as everything else. Susan Shaw’s performance as Hestia is do extraordinarily blank that it provides much of the movie’s unintended humour.

We are told that the monster is a kind of Neanderthal. Which leads us to wonder why, if he is so primitive, he is wearing clothes. The answer is of course obvious. The producers were not willing to spend the money (in fact they probably didn’t have the money) on a rubber monster suit. So they made do with some less than impressive facial makeup. Whenever the monster appears on camera our view of him is obscured as much as possible, an understandable enough ploy since this is not a monster that will stand close scrutiny.

This is clearly a movie made on the proverbial shoestring budget and one can’t help admiring Cy Roth’s gall and the shameless way in which he cuts every possible corner. Such special effects as this movie boasts look like they involved the expenditure of a few shillings at the nearest Woolworths. The only real expense would seem to have been providing the Atlantean girls with their rather short tunics. Roth doesn’t even bother offering a pseudoscientific explanation for the fact that the spacecraft has gravity when it shouldn’t. One suspects he just didn’t care.

The basic idea of astronauts reaching another planet only to find it inhabited by man-hungry women inspired many sc-fi films in the 50s, some of them rather entertaining (the gloriously camp Queen of Outer Space being the best). Fire Maidens of Outer Space is the most feeble of them all.

Olive Films have decided that this movie is so significant that they have not only released it on DVD but on Blu-Ray as well. The DVD, which is the version reviewed here, is entirely bereft of extras. The transfer is passable.

Fire Maidens of Outer Space may provide some enjoyment in a so-bad-it’s-good way but I would strongly urge prospective purchasers to rent it first before risking their money. The movie’s limited camp appeal is its only asset and there are plenty of other similar movies that do this sort of thing in an infinitely more enjoyable way.

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