Friday, January 14, 2011

The Gems in the Junkheap

I live for the moments when memes converge in the most unlikely places and then step outside the boundaries of their ostensible origin points. They Came from Beyond Space provided one of those moments; it's a very low budget British sci-fi quickie from the 60s, the kind of junk that usually doesn't even scan with most people. But I can attest that you'll find strange symbolism pop up in these films like mushrooms in the New Jersey rain. And compared to the bilge that passes for genre entertainment these days, the storytelling is practically bulletproof.

Beyond Space offers up a secret army of alien walk-ins (one of my very favorite fringe sci-fi tropes, for reasons I can't quite explain) and a pretty obvious ripoff of the plot of Quatermass II. Then the film becomes a knockoff of yet another Nigel Kneale opus (via HG Wells, that is) First Men in the Moon, only with a stronger Theosophic tinge. Curiously, the lead characters are named "Temple" and "Mason"

So aside from the walk-ins, we have a whole host of secret society themes bouncing around. Somehow, that all makes sense for a UFO movie, even though it shouldn't. It all makes me wonder how long some of these groups have believed that the ancient gods were actually extraterrestrials and how the whole concept of walk-ins and soul transference would play out in that context. All the more so given that AAT really entered the public consciousness first with Quatermass and the Pit (a Mystery initiation narrative in disguise) and then with Morning of the Magicians.

The Temple/Mason surnames here give me that old telling tales out of school vibe, which seems to be uncannily common in these low-budget sci-fi/grindhouse quickies. What better place to leak forbidden knowledge than in a film that absolutely no one would take seriously? That way if someone started having inconvenient thoughts about secret societies and the space program or mankind being banned from the moon, they could quickly be dismissed as having watched too many cheesy sci-fi movies.

Like Starship Invasions, for example. UFO literature is filled with undersea alien bases and hybridization programs and so is this film. But it's interesting to note that the alien base in question is a pyramid and the film presents us with a war between opposing alien factions, one of them led by one Captain Rameses of Orion, played by Mr. Hammer Von Wickerman himself, Christopher Lee. Boilerplate stuff, you say? Probably, but that secret war trope is lent a bit of extra frisson by this sequence... which a UFO slams into a skyscraper. Fascinating little coincidence there.

Speaking of secret societies, I know I promised a review of The House of Anubis but I couldn't make it through an entire episode - even by tween standards, it's some truly atrocious television. I thought this clip was mildly curious, in that the Eye of Horus is distinctly a vesica piscis, but that's as far as it goes. Most of the show offers up the tedious teen angst of future hedge fund managers, agribusiness executives and European Parliament bureaucrats.

I realize the usual suspects are getting themselves all worked up by the "Illuminati" symbolism in this show but that's only because A., they secretly get off on it, and B., they're so convinced that Jehovah will soon make them a billionaire that they don't dare question the kind of corrupting, in-group privilege that is the real raison d'ĂȘtre of private school fraternities like the one we see in House of Anubis.

If anyone noticed anything of real interest in the show, let us know. Bonus factoid -- House of Anubis is based on a Belgian show- you can check out its site here. If you must.

On a much happier note, House of Anubis got me thinking about Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, which is worth a look even if it's not one of Hammer's finest hours. It's based on a Bram Stoker novel (Jewel of Seven Stars) that was made into a number of films, including the Charlton Heston vehicle The Awakening (1980), which was Mike Newell's first feature. Just to bring it all full circle, Newell also directed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the Potter novels are obviously a major influence on House of Anubis.

Blood centers on the whole walk-in/possession trope as well, just in case you're so distracted by Valerie Leon's epic curves that you can't make heads or tails of the plot. And just to bring it really full circle, Blood also stars Andrew Keir, my favorite Quatermass.

NOTES: The Libyan Sibyl explores a strange Oprah utterance about "human suits" here.

Todd Campbell talks about the alien walk-in narrative The Astronaut's Wife in relation to the Tucson horror, via Goro (who sees Tucson as Two Suns a la Jupiter/Lucifer in 2010). If any of you are wondering why I'm not writing about that myself I have a policy of avoiding any appearance of exploiting someone else's tragedy. Although you or I wouldn't see it that way, others most certainly do and I believe it's incumbent upon us to avoid seeming insensitive to others' suffering. I generally keep any research on these kinds of tragedies to myself.