Fungus Films: Oh, the inhumanity!

“Dave, make ‘em listen to me!  There is a monster!
We saw it again in dad’s store—and it’s bigger now!”
Steve McQueen, The Blob (1958)

Unremarked upon outside science fiction fandom (and hardly there) is the golden age of theatrical “fungus films.”  No, wait!  The golden age of fungi on film was the only age of fungi on film.  It began in 1955 and for all intents and purposes ended almost where it began, with a 1988 remake of its iconic 1958 predecessor.  The fungi film was probably doomed because audiences generally would rather watch characters matching wits with other bipeds or darned smart aliens rather than unthinking globs of protoplasm.  Moreover, there’s something inherently revolting about death by blob.

Let’s explore this phenomenon whose heyday really concluded in 1972.  “The Golden Age of Science Fiction Films” (see Multimedia Blog, March, 2013) began in 1950 and ended in 1956.  This period coincided with Cold War paranoia, and many science fiction films of the period had a Cold War subtext often discovered in retrospect.  In The Thing from Another World (1951), Invaders from Mars (1953), It Conquered the World (1956) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), for instance, humans are either killed for blood, implanted with mind-control devices, or mysteriously transformed into soul-less pods.  The analogy is with totalitarian communism, a convenient bogeyman for politicians stoking fear among the citizenry in the West.  In these scenarios the human body remains essentially intact.  Not so with fungus films.  The entire body is consumed, almost always from the outside, often as a result of one touch to the alien entity.  It seems a stretch then to analyze these science fiction movies from a Cold War perspective.  The human mind is of no concern to the (mostly) mindless goo, liquid, slime, mold, gelatin or crusty substance thrust upon the human.

The first fungus film was in many respects the best:  The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), released in 1956 in the U.S. as The Creeping Unknown.  The well-respected writer Nigel Kneale’s stories of Professor Quatermass had originally been made for British TV and were mightily popular.  The film version of what would become a trilogy did what a number of Brit films would do to increase worldwide, specifically U.S., profits:  casting one or more American “names,” in this case the venerable character actor Brian Donlevy as an irascible Quatermass.  (Dana Andrews was enlisted for Night of the Demon, Gene Evans for The Giant Behemoth and Forrest Tucker for The Abominable Snowman.)  Generally considered miscast by highbrows (tell that to impressionable youth!), Donlevy provided a certain gravitas in this and its sequel.  In the film, a British rocket crash lands on earth.  There had been three crew members, now there is only one.  What happened to the other two?  Examination of the rocket’s interior reveals a strange organic substance behind the bulkheads.  This material apparently consumed the missing crew members, and the mute survivor is undergoing his own horrible metamorphosis.

On the heels of The Quatermass Xperiment came another British film, X the Unknown (1956).  Here again, an American actor starred.  Dean Jagger even had a Supporting Actor Academy Award to his credit for Twelve O’Clock High (1949) and was then and is now remembered for playing the general for whom Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye put on the show in 1954’s White Christmas.  In X the Unknown, British soldiers come upon a gravel pit spewing radiation.  Dr. Royston (Jagger) hypothesizes that intelligent beings developed in subterranean caverns and periodically make their way to the surface.  What with humans now experimenting with radiation, these creatures have deadly interest in us.  In Keep Watching the Skies! , Bill Warren described the creature as “a tremendous sheet of radioactive living mud.”  Similarities with The Quatermass Xperiment are rife.  Jagger is another incarnation of Quatermass, the film is in black and white, and the cinematography suitable for noir or in in this instance horrible, mostly unseen monsters.

The sequel to The Quatermass Xperiment was released in 1957:  Quatermass 2, aka Enemy from Space.  This time out Quatermass (once again the brusque and demanding Donlevy) discovers an alien plot to invade earth after creating masses of “food” in gigantic vats at Wynerton Flats, a secret government facility.  As with The Quatermass Xperiment, director Val Guest filmed in semi-documentary fashion.  In fact, this film looks like it was made a decade previously.

The subterranean gunk of X the Unknown was joined by another under-earth goo in 1957’s The Unknown Terror.  This grows in a Latin American “Cave of the Dead,” where an American doctor facilitates its development.  The subtext here is actually Mala Powers’ negligee, which in time-honored horror film style she wears while naturally wandering into the nighttime jungle searching for…raggedly men covered in what critics derisively termed “soap bubbles.”

Chronologically, Japan was next up with a fungus film.  The H-Man (Bijo to Ekotai Ningen) was released there in June, 1958, in the U.S. in May, 1959.  Again, humans create and facilitate the menace.  Radioactivity turns Japanese fishermen into nebulous creatures that can devolve into a rapidly moving, deadly goo.  Don’t dare touch it!

Space Master X-7 (1958) features the intriguingly named “blood rust,” an outer space fungus unknowingly spread on earth by a woman believing the authorities are pursuing her for murdering the scientist who in reality succumbed to the alien entity.  A nationwide hunt is undertaken to find the woman, whose possessions contain fungal spores.  Here, as in The Quatermass Xperiment, a semi-documentary approach lends verisimilitude to the proceedings.

Equally dangerous is The Blob (1958), still the most famous of fungi films.  Outer space is again the source.  When a meteorite is cracked open, its gooey innards flow up a stick and onto the human inspecting this visitor from space.  In due course it consumes his body and crawling around the small town by night increases its size with every human it envelops.  Steve McQueen’s warning (“Listen!  Listen to me!  Now listen to me, everybody!  This town is in danger.  Now several people have been killed already.  Now, now we had to make this noise, we had to make it so you’d listen to us, so we could warn you.”) fell on deaf ears until in the film’s most famous scene the blob invades Phoenixville, PA’s Colonial Theater, prompting the audience to flee into the street.  The mystique of The Blob is such that the Colonial sponsors an annual Blob Fest that attracts visitors from across the country for a screening and a “run-out” mimicking that in the film.  There is a Cold War element when an old coot hearing sirens retrieves from his closet his Civil Defense helmet.  He is obviously preparing for incoming missiles from the Reds, not a terrifying and deadly mass from space.

First Man Into Space (1959) sounds like a documentary, but of course it was an attempt to make hay from the space race.  (Russia’s Sputnik satellite began orbiting earth in 1957.)  Naturally drama becomes melodrama.  This first American spacefarer is infected after his vehicle courses through a strange cloud.  Encrusted like his capsule, his oxygen-starved body requires copious amounts of blood only obtainable (in the movies) via a killing spree.  But who can forget the poor soul’s final comment, “Sorry things had to happen this way, but I just had to be the first man into space” or Dr. Van Essen’s proclamation that “The conquest of new worlds always makes demands on human life, and there will always be men who will accept the risk.”

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959) climbs from a Mayan pool in this Italian/French co-production co-directed by budding horror maestro Mario Bava (Black Sunday).  Whereas cold foiled the Blob, flame put the kibosh on Caltiki.

Mutiny in Outer Space (1965) covered an expedition into our moon’s caves.  Back on their space station, the explorers soon learn that the deadly fungus found beneath the moon’s surface loves heat and seems intent on finding earth.  Hopefully they can freeze it first.

Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth, 1967) was the third of the Professor Quatermass feature films.   However, although there was a pit and a spaceship inside it, its alien creators were not fungi, rather ancient Martians resembling giant locusts or grasshoppers.

The Japanese got into the act again with The Green Slime (1968).  The title is misleading as the slime quickly metamorphoses into ridiculous tentacled monstrosities.  Once again American actors are front and center.  Robert Horton and Richard Jaeckel are joined by bond girl Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball).

Beware!  The Blob (aka Son of Blob, 1972) is a mix of comedy and drama that sometimes gells into an entertaining film, e.g., the dude raising a crucifix to ward off the oncoming mass, the sheriff looking down at the gunk crawling up his boot and asking, “What?”

Aftermath
 
The Incredible Melting Man (1977) features the title character returned from Saturn with an infection that melts skin and naturally sends him on a flesh-eating spree.

The Stuff (1985) is a seriocomic satire of rampant consumerism in which people eat a substance that returns the favor by ingesting them from the inside out.

The Blob (1988) is a serviceable but now largely forgotten remake of the iconic 1958 film and in essence brought the fungus film subgenre full circle.

Note:  The Slime People (1963) are not slimy, rather crusty and intelligent spear-carrying bipeds that emerge from beneath Los Angeles and encase the city in an impenetrable fog.  The Creeping Terror (1964) is a distinctly low-budget effort with a troubled production that saw it released as a TV movie.

 

References

Hardy, Phil.  The Overlook Film Encyclopedia:  Science Fiction Film.  Overlook Press, 1995, c1984.

Holston, Kim, and Winchester, Tom.  Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Sequels, Series and RemakesVolume I:  1931-1995.  McFarland & Co., 1997.

Warren, Bill.  Keep Watching the Skies!  American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties.  Volume I:  1950-1957.  Volume II:  1958-1962.  McFarland & Co., 1982, 1986.

By Kim

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New Releases 9/19

Movies
Certain Women
The Hero
The Big Sick
Wonder Woman
The Bad Batch
Nise: The Heart of Madness
Behind White Glasses
By the Time It Gets Dark
The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
Do Not Resist
Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table

T.V. Series
Arrow, Season 5
Code Black, Season 2
Madam Secretary, Season 3
Bates Motel, Season 5
Modern Family, Season 8

Music
Concrete and Gold by Foo Fighters
Different Creatures by Circa Waves
Prophets of Rage by Prophets of Rage
Savage: Songs from a Broken World by Gary Numan
Electric Trim by Lee Ranaldo
Did it for the Party by Big & Rich
Memphis… Yes, I’m Ready by Dee Dee Bridgewater
Walk into a Storm by Lone Bellow
This Is Us Soundtrack
In Full Swing by Seth Macfarlane
Wide Open by Michael McDonald
The Laughing Apple by Yusuf Islam
The Aviary by Galantis

Audiobooks
Haunted by James Patterson & James O. Born
The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille
Release by Patrick Ness

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New Releases 9/12

Movies
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Beatriz at Dinner
It Comes at Night
The Mummy
The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble
Girl Flu
I Love You Both
Decline & Fall
The Stopover
The Apology
The Reagan Show
Buena Vista Social Club: Adios
Festival
Germans & Jews
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

T.V. Series
The Big Bang Theory, Season 10
Scorpion, Season 3
Silicon Valley, Season 4
Veep, Season 6
Orphan Black, Season 5
Broadchurch, Season 3
The Goldbergs, Season 4
Secrets and Lies, Season 1
Empire, Season 3
This Is Us, Season 1

Music
All the Light Above It Too by Jack Johnson
Life Changes by Thomas Rhett
The Bus Songs by Toby Keith
#Update by Yandel
Okovi by Zola Jesus
Every Country’s Sun by Mogwai
Sleep Well Beast by The National
Slowheart by Kip Moore
Mountain Moves by Deerhoof
Native Invader by Tori Amos
The Fellas by Melissa Manchester
Southern Blood by Gregg Allman
Search Party by ¡Mayday!
Hitchhiker by Neil Young
Current Mood by Dustin Lynch

Audiobooks
Enigma by Catherine Coulter

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2017 Emmy Winners

Below are the winners for the 69th Emmy Awards!

Best Drama Series
The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Actor, Drama Series
Sterling K. Brown, This is Us

Best Actress, Drama Series
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Supporting Actor, Drama Series
John Lithgow, The Crown

Best Supporting Actress, Drama Series
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Directing, Drama Series
Reed Morano, The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Writing, Drama Series
Bruce Miller, The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Comedy Series
Veep

Best Actor, Comedy Series
Donald Glover, Atlanta

Best Actress, Comedy Series
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy Series
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live

Best Directing, Comedy Series
Donald Glover, Atlanta

Best Writing, Comedy Series
Aziz Ansari & Lena Waithe, Master of None

Best Limited Series
Big Little Lies

Best T.V. Movie
Black Mirror: San Junipero

Best Actor, Limited Series or T.V. Movie
Riz Ahmed, The Night Of

Best Actress, Limited Series or T.V. Movie
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies

Best Supporting Actor, Limited Series or T.V. Movie
Alexander Skarsgrad, Big Little Lies

Best Supporting Actress, Limited Series or T.V. Movie
Laura Dern, Big Little Lies

Best Directing, Limited Series or T.V. Movie
Jean-Marc Vallée, Big Little Lies

Best Writing, Limited Series or T.V. Movie
Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror: San Junipero

 

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Jamie’s Staff Picks for September

The Graveyard Bookthe graveyard book
by Neil Gaiman
Read by Neil Gaiman

Summary: Nobody Owens is a normal boy, except that he has been raised by ghosts and other denizens of the graveyard.

I think any Harry Potter fan would really enjoy this book. Orphaned boy? Check. Mysterious prophecy? Check. Magical underworld? Check. Someone out to kill said orphaned boy? Check. My only criticism is that I think Gaiman could go into more depth with world-building in this book, and I’m hoping he’ll eventually write a sequel (or sequels?) so that he can. I enjoyed Gaiman’s narration and the voices he did for the different characters; whenever I think of the name “Nobody Owens,” I now think of it in Gaiman’s British accent. There’s also something great about listening to characters express their lines in a book in the way that the author imagined it. Definitely worth checking out no matter what age you are!

Also available as an ebook and audiobook using the Libby and OverDrive apps here.

Episodesepisodes

Summary: Husband and wife writing team Sean and Beverly can’t wait to bring their successful British television series across the pond to make it big in America. But in true Hollywood fashion, it quickly becomes a laughable, cliched sitcom starring Matt LeBlanc who not only messes with their beloved show, but rocks the foundation of their relationship. So now, even if they survive the absurdity of show business, will their marriage survive Matt LeBlanc?

Matt LeBlanc must feel pretty vindicated that this show has gotten great critical reception after his disastrous Joey spinoff. He plays a fictionalized version of himself in a timeline where he just kept going from bad project to bad project after Joey, rather than taking a break and being more selective as he did in real life. He is driven by the desire to be taken seriously, but often finds himself accepting projects for the money. This version of LeBlanc is a less lovable Joey Tribbiani, and this show in general is far more cynical than Friends ever was. It really demonstrates that LeBlanc has great comedic range, however. Joey tended toward more bombastic and expressive outbursts, while the fictional LeBlanc is far more subdued but still funny. It also helps that the show is well-written and the other cast members are great– I was a fan of Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig from the excellent show Green Wing, and have also really enjoyed Kathleen Rose Perkins’ character Carol. Also, like all good shows, this one knows when to exit: the last season is airing now.

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T.V. Shows Canceled for 2017-2018

It’s that time of year when major networks begin to announce shows that have either concluded or have been canceled. I’ve compiled a list of T.V. shows that have either ended or were canceled without a promised conclusion. Any T.V. show that is canceled, however, has the possibility of being picked up by another network or streaming service. Stop by the library to check out and relive some of the shows you will miss.

2 Broke Girls – Canceled

Adventure Time – Concluded

Aquarius – Canceled

Banshee – Concluded

Bates Motel – Concluded

Black Sails – Concluded

BrainDead – Canceled

CSI: Cyber – Canceled

Castle – Canceled

The Catch – Canceled

Grimm – Concluded

Guilt – Canceled

House of Lies – Canceled

The Leftovers – Concluded

Marco Polo – Canceled

Masters of Sex – Canceled

Mercy Street – Canceled

The Middle – Concluded

Orphan Black – Concluded

Penny Dreadful – Concluded

Pretty Little Liars – Concluded

Reign – Concluded

Scream Queens – Canceled

Sleepy Hollow – Canceled

Star Wars: Rebels – Concluded

Teen Wolf – Concluded

The Vampire Diaries – Concluded

Vinyl – Canceled

 

You can check out a complete list of renewed and canceled T.V. shoes over at Rotten Tomatoes!

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New Releases 9/5

Movies
Lowriders
Megan Leavey
Rough Night
All Eyez on Me
Paris Can Wait
Guardians
Forgotten
Urban Farmers
The Churchills 

T.V. Series
Supernatural, Season 12
The Flash, Season 3
Criminal Minds, Season 12
Hawaii Five-0, Season 7
Narcos, Season 2
Kevin Can Wait, Season 1
Doctor Who, Season 10 Part 2

Music
Songs of Bob Dylan by Joan Osborne
Honestly by Boney James
American Dream by LCD Soundsystem

Audiobooks
The Family Lawyer by James Patterson
The Western Star by Craig Johnson
Enemy of the State by Vince Flynn & Kyle Mills
Proof of Life by J. A. Jance
George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl

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New Releases 8/29

Movies
Baywatch
My Cousin Rachel
Inconceivable
The Secret Life of Materials
Ireland’s Wild Coast
Visions of the Great Cities of Europe

T.V. Series
Delicious, Season 1
Gotham, Season 3
The Originals, Season 4
Chicago Fire, Season 5
Elementary, Season 5
NCIS, Season 14
Black Sails, Season 4
The Designated Survivor, Season 1
Grey’s Anatomy, Season 13
Mom, Season 4

Music
Happy Endings by Old Dominion
Fifth Harmony by Fifth Harmony
Birds by Seth Glier
Beast Epic by Iron & Wine
A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs
Villains by Queens of the Stone Age
Seekers and Finders by Gogol Bordello
Life is a Story by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real by Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
Exile in the Outer Ring by EMA
Genesis by Brian McKingiht
Heart. Passion. Pursuit by Tasha Cobbs Leonard

Audiobooks
The Right Time by Danielle Steel
Glass Houses by Louise Penny

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If You Enjoyed…

The 10th season of Murdoch Mysteries recently came out on DVD, and it has been flying off of the shelves. If you enjoyed season 10 of Murdoch Mysteries, or you need something to hold you over until your hold arrives, check out the list below to find a similar audiobook, movie, or T.V. series!

T.V. Series
Doctor Blake Mysteries– In 1959, Dr. Lucian Blake returns to his Australian hometown to continue his late father’s medical practice, but it is his additional responsibility as the town’s chief medical officer that leads him to investigating cases of suspicious death.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries– Our lady sleuth sashays through the back lanes and jazz clubs of late 1920’s Melbourne, fighting injustice with her pearl-handled pistol and her dagger sharp wit.

Father Brown– Celebrated author GK Chesterton’s beloved character, Father Brown, is brilliantly brought to life in this charming ten-part BBC series starring Mark Williams (Harry Potter, Doctor Who). With the warmth of The Vicar of Dibley, the intellect of Miss Marple, the humor of Father Ted and the intrigue of Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown is a fresh new take on a classic genre. Set in the 1950s in the heart of the English countryside, Father Brown is a kindly cleric with a particular talent for solving crimes. Many years spent hearing confessions have given him an uncanny insight into the workings of the criminal mind, and in each episode the enigmatic priest discovers the truth of a crime by looking into the truth of the soul, the passions, dark secrets, hidden desires.

Mrs. Bradley Mysteries– Assisted by her confidant George Moody, Mrs. Bradley solves the most complicated crimes with a sly combination of charm, intelligence, and wit. In this set of five mysteries, she gets the lowdown on the upper crust – much to the bemusement of Police Inspector Christmas.

Movies
Jane Eyre– When orphaned governess Jane Eyre arrives at imposing Thornfield Hall, she’s intrigued by her brooding, wealthy employer, Rochester. His dark moods and the strange occurrences in the house lead her to discover a terrible secret that he had hoped to hide from her forever.

And Then There Were None– It’s 1939 and Europe teeters on the brink of war. Ten strangers are invited to Indian Island, an isolated rock near the Devon coast in southern England. Cut off from the mainland, with their generous hosts Mr and Mrs U.N. Owen mysteriously absent, they are each accused of a terrible crime. As each member of the party starts to die one by one, the survivors realize that one of them is a killer and start to turn on each other.

Clue– Who killed Mr. Boddy? Was it Colonel Mustard in the study with the gun? Miss Scarlet in the billiard room with the rope? Or was it Wadsworth the butler?

Name of the Rose– Investigating the deaths of two monks, a visiting brother discovers a secret library containing rare books considered lost to the world and dangerous to the Catholic faith.

Audiobooks
Return of the Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett– Following the enormous success of ‘The Thin Man’ movie in 1934, Hammett was commissioned to write stories for additional films. He wrote two full-length novellas for the films that became ‘After the Thin Man’ and ‘Another Thin Man,’ in which he brought back his classic characters, retired private investigator Nick Charles and his former debutante wife Nora, written with classic, barbed Hammett dialogue.

Whose Body? by Dorothy K. Sayers– A naked body is discovered in the bathroom of a London architect’s apartment. Is it Sir Reuben Levy, the well-known financier who recently disappeared? Or is it a stiff dragged from the dissecting rooms of St. Luke’s Hospital? Lord Peter Wimsey must unravel the tangled threads that lead from a prostitute, to a well-known surgeon, and to a mysterious reunion at a London night-club.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle– A colonel receives five seeds in the mail–and dies within weeks. A young bride disappears immediately after her wedding. An old hat and a Christmas goose are the only clues to a stolen jewel. A son is accused of his father’s murder. These mysteries–and many more–are brought to the house on Baker Street where detective Sherlock Holmes resides. No case is too tricky for the world’s most famous sleuth and his incredible powers of deduction.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie– On a crowded train speeding through the snowy European landscape, one passenger lies dead in his cabin, stabbed twelve times. Hercule Poirot must sift through clues–some real and some planted–all while the murderer is still aboard the train waiting to strike again. John Moffatt stars as the legendary Belgian detective in a full-cast dramatization

 

Summaries taken from catalog.ccls.org.

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New Releases 8/22

Movies
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Real Boy

T.V. Series
800 Words, Season 2 Part 2
Dominion Creek, Series 2
Lucifer, Season 2
Supergirl, Season 2
Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 4
Blue Bloods, Season 7
NCIS Los Angeles, Season 8
Portlandia, Season 7
The Walking Dead, Season 7
The White Princess, Season 1

Audiobooks
Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs
The Saboteur by Andrew Gross
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

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