Invasions and Degradations

It Came from Outer Space: adapted by Harry Essex from a short story by Ray Bradbury; directed by Jack Arnold; starring Richard Carlson (John Putnam), Barbara Rush (Ellen Fields), Charles Drake (Sheriff) and Russell Johnson (George) (1953): Surprisingly thoughtful and methodically paced 1950’s alien-invasion movie from the great Jack Arnold, with an assist from Ray Bradbury, who actually wrote much of the screenplay.

The Arizona landscapes make a perfect backdrop for a story of paranoia and infiltration that doesn’t go where one might expect it to, given its Cold War origins. That’s the Professor from Gilligan’s Island (Russell Johnson) as a power lineman. If any screen aliens are the parents of Kodos and Kang from The Simpsons, it’s these aliens. Recommended.

The Raven: written by Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston; directed by James McTeigue; starring John Cusack (Edgar Allan Poe), Luke Evans (Detective Fields), Alice Eve (Emily Hamilton) and Brendan Gleeson (Captain Hamilton) (2012): Often jarringly anachronistic dialogue is the only major problem with this solid period thriller (it’s set in Baltimore in the late 1840’s). John Cusack makes an interesting Edgar Allan Poe, doomed (as history and the opening scene tell us) to die under mysterious circumstances within days of the movie’s beginning.

But first he has to help a police detective stop a serial killer who’s modelling his killings on Poe’s short stories. Things look great, and the direction is moody and effective from V for Vendetta ‘s McTeigue. But boy, the dialogue stinks at points, and there are also several points at which the writers seem to lack a basic knowledge of Poe’s body of work (when asked if he’d ever written about sailors, Poe says no, apparently forgetting The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, and about half-a-dozen other stories. Well, he is drunk and opium-besotted much of the time).

Luke Evans is also effective as a hyper-rational detective right out of a Poe — C. Auguste Dupin, to be exact, the fictional ancestor of Sherlock Holmes. Oh, and there’s no Oran-Outan in the movie, dammit, though Poe does have a pet raccoon whose fate is left unresolved at the end of the film. They’ve also got Jules Verne (who homaged Poe in From the Earth to the Moon with the space-faring Baltimore Gun Club) starting his writing career about 20 years early. Either that or the serial killer is also a time traveller. Recommended.

 

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