Unlike today, television in the early 1970s wasn’t on demand. We didn’t have hundreds of stations to choose from or satellites drifting silently overhead allowing us to stream movies. Instead, we relied on bunny years, a strong broadcast signal, and our cathode ray tube device. More or less, we had three networks to choose from: NBC, ABC, and CBS. By the mid 1970s, we had access to Channel 29, WUTV. Channel 29 was an independent broadcasting network operating out of the Buffalo, New York area. Eventually they would become a Fox affiliate – but not until 1986.
My sister and I were captive to whatever network broadcasting felt they needed to show us. This included WUTV’s “Movie for a Sunday Afternoon”.
Their movies were a treat for Karen and me. Without a lot to choose from, more often than not the network broadcasted black and white movies from the 1950s. Tarzan was one of my favorites. Johnny Weissmuller was always getting into some sort of scrap with various natives or, worse yet, with the “white man.” He also seemed to jump from cliffs a lot. When Tarzan wasn’t on, we’d sit in front of the set to watch science fiction.
By far, science fiction movies had the most impact on me. Take, for example, the 1957 The Amazing Colossal Man. It was the traditional man-is-exposed-to-radiation-and-grows-to-gigantic-proportions scenario. It’s main character, Lieutenant Colonel Glenn Manning of the U.S. Army, is badly burned when he is inadvertently exposed to plutonium radiation from a bomb blast. Although he survives and is magically healed, he also grows at an alarming rate. Unfortunately his size prohibits his heart from providing sufficient blood to his brain and he gradually goes insane. He kidnaps his girlfriend, terrorizes Las Vegas, and is eventually cornered at the Hoover Dam. After a brief moment of clarity, he releases his captive. He is then shot by every known weapon the U.S. Army has and presumably killed. His limp and gigantic body falls magnificently into the rushing Colorado River.
Is it me or does this plot sound remarkably like that of Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Grinch was written in 1957, the same year The Amazing Colossal Man hit the big screen. Like Manning, Grinch’s heart was too small and it made him a bit crazy. Like Manning, Grinch terrorized a town. Like Manning, Grinch has a moment of clarity. Thankfully Grinch was not shot and killed.
Apparently Colonel Manning wasn’t either.
The 1858 War of the Colossal Beast was the sequel to The Amazing Colossal Man and it scared the heck out of me. This time, Manning’s sister Joyce, convinced that her brother did not die in the fall, goes to Mexico to find him.
The film never quite explained how Manning got from the Colorado River to Mexico but he did. Joyce finds him but he’s horribly disfigured.
Like, yucky disfigured. He had scars all over his face, can’t talk, and is crazier than a bed bug. Worse yet, he has an empty eye socket. An empty eye socket!
I guess all those missiles and rockets were focused on his face.
Because he is, after all, a colossal beast (an amazing one at that), Manning is eventually captured, drugged, and taken back to America. Predictably, he escapes and goes on a rampage through Los Angeles and Hollywood. Towards the end of the film, his sister manages to make her brother come to his senses. In another moment of clarity, Manning does what any creature would do: utter his first and only word – “Joyce!” – before electrocuting himself on high-voltage power lines.
Another science fiction film that influenced me was Invaders from Mars. I’m not talking about the 1986 remake but the original 1953 classic. It gave me the creeps – and still does. In a nutshell, it’s the story about a boy who sees a flying saucer crash one stormy night. His father, a scientist, goes out to see. When he returns, he’s no longer the same. He’s cold, distant, and hostile. The boy notices a small puncture on his father’s neck.
Over time, the boy sees more and more people acting strangely – all with that same puncture wound on their necks. He even sees people getting sucked under the sand where the supposed saucer crashed. Half way through the film, he convinces a few adults that he’s not crazy for telling flying saucer stories and that something real is happening. This does not work out well for the adults. Along with the boy, they are sucked into the ground where they come face to face with the Martians.
Most of the Martians look like Sleestak from the original Land of the Lost television program. The main Martian, however, terrified me. Wikipedia described it as, “a giant green head with a humanoid face atop a small, green partial torso with several green arm-tentacles”. The Martian was also encased in a transparent sphere that made it even creepier.
I think was affected me the most was the end of the film. After everything the boy went through, we find out he was only dreaming.
To to this day the film makes me question reality. I find I’m asking myself whether the things I see, hear, touch, feel, and taste are real. Maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re Martians.
I guess I should check for puncture wounds on my neck.