The Doomsday Machine (1972)
If there was ever a crappy, grade-z sci-fi stinker whose murky and bastardized provenance has been beat to death with the snarkystick, it's this film. And I get why, the movie, as presented as The Doomsday Machine is atrociously bad, grass-killingly boring, and an insult to anyone who hasn't been lobotomized with a power drill yet (and after watching it, you'll be begging for the drill). It's also been pointed out ad nauseum that 60% of it was shot in 1967 and the other 40% in 1972 after an epic journey by the copyright holders to scratch up some funding. That wouldn't be so bad, a lot of b-movies have had similarly long production diaries, but the 1972 crew seemed to have simply not given a flying fuck about continuity or pacing or storytelling or character development or any of that stuff that costs money. And so, unsurprisingly, The Doomsday Machine has been a favorite and deserving whipping boy for b-movie reviewers for the last 13 years (was there really a time before the internet?) for all the right reasons. And now, after an inexcusably long delay, it's time we here at MMT sink our sharpened fangs into this juicy blood bag full of disco spaceship lighting and Jackie Kennedy sleek bobs...
Pam, before you start us out with an examination of Chinese pajama fashions of the early 1970s, help us all understand the proper etiquette of cat-tossing (visual aids will be appreciated).
What kind of bastard would throw a cute, fluffy kittywitty? You can stop now, Jack.
Cat-tossing is never a good thing to do, Nate, but this movie shows that sometimes it has its uses. For instance, when you're a spy trying to get into a building in Red China, a building that holds a device that can destroy the entire world, the only way you can make it past the incredibly tight security is to toss a cat over a wall, causing the sentry's dog to run after it, dragging its handler away from the entrance. This will allow you to enter the building freely and wander about the interior to your heart's content. So if you ever have to get into a heavily-guarded building in Red China, be sure to bring along a cat.
Ummm...yeah, so, we can still see you.
The spy is a young woman with a bouffant Jackie Kennedy hairstyle, and once inside, she skulks and slinks around in a way that would surely rouse suspicion if there was anybody else around, but there's not. Maybe everybody is huddled around the Doomsday Machine, armed to the teeth and on the lookout for intruders? The spy enters a locker room and helps herself to a white lab coat, complete with ID badge. Now we do see another person, a woman who enters the locker room and is promptly strangled by the spy, using the other woman's own braids. Leaving the body right there in plain sight, the spy goes to an elevator, where we see the second person in the building, an elevator operator.
That's not a red star on his hat, that's a Canadian maple leaf.
When the elevator reaches the fifth floor, the door opens and in walks a young man in a lab coat. He and the spy jump the elevator operator and knock him unconscious or kill him, also leaving this body in plain sight. The man removes a key from the elevator operator's pocket and uses it to send the elevator to the eighth floor, evidently a Super Secret floor. What, oh what, could be there? Well, at first glance it looks like a really fancy gumball machine, but the man in the white lab coat recognizes it as the Doomsday Machine, the most dangerous device known to mankind. It's locked in a cage made of metal bars painted red, since everybody knows painting metal red makes it stronger. Unfortunately the man doesn't have the key to the cage, so all the spy can do is photograph it and take the photos back to the West.
Jesus Christ, it's Tom Servo!
I'm not sure what good knowing what it looks like will do, but the spy evidently manages to make her way safely back to the United States, where we see three men looking at the photographs. The three men (and the guard in the background) are surprisingly calm at learning the Earth could go up in a puff of smoke at any moment, or rather in 51 hours. It's not explained how they know just when the device will go off, but one man decides that they need to notify the Kremlin, suggesting that relations between the United States and the Soviet Union have thawed in the face of mutual annihilation. It's never explained why China is blowing up the Earth in the first place. By the way, judging by the clothes and hairstyles we've seen so far, compared with the ones we'll see in the next scene, I would say that the footage we've seen so far was part of that made later.
So this guy and his 'stache are apparently in charge of America's national security...
We now switch to "Space Flight Center -- Project Astra." No clue where it is, but we are shown Colonel Crane, an Air Force officer, speaking to a group of reporters, including a pre-MASH Mike Farrell. The object of Project Astra appears to be to send seven men on a two-year mission to Venus, and it seems to have been in the works for some time. Colonel Crane will be commanding the mission.
Thank you, that's very helpful.
"And this is Venus. It's round."
However, plans must yield to changing circumstances, and the prospect of the Earth's imminent doom causes the Powers-that-Be to remove three men from the mission and replace them with three women. I suppose this is to enable the human race to re-establish itself on Venus, but four men, one of them quite old, and three women seem inadequate for the task. The men learn that their mission has been changed by hearing it on the loudspeaker, apparently the chosen method of communication on Project Astra, although they aren't told about the reason for the changes. The Colonel is quite unhappy about the change in personnel, and he expresses his displeasure vehemently, getting into an unseemly argument with a superior officer. According to the Colonel, it's "insane" to send women on a mission like this.
I love daylight scenes, they make my life so much easier.
The replacement flight surgeon is Major Marian Turner, a bespectacled not-very-young blonde, the new computer instrument tech (whatever that is) is Lieutenant Katie Carlson, a cute brunette, and the new copilot is Major Bronski, also not too young and a Russian! The Colonel's bad attitude seems to be prompted mostly by blind prejudice toward women, but to be fair he has some reason for concern about morale if the three women come along. Even during this brief introduction, we see Major Turner being downright nasty to the Colonel who is now her superior officer, and Lt. Carlson being inappropriately flirtatious. Only Major Bronski seems professional, but she doesn't seem to be very friendly, not the sort of person you'd want to be cooped up with for two years, and that's not even considering the cultural clashes that will probably arise. And if the purpose of founding an Earth colony on a new world was the reason for sending three women, I have to point out, inappropriate as it might be, that whoever was funding this mission picked two who were a little too long in the tooth to contribute many offspring to the new colony.
Top to bottom: Marion, Bronski, Katie (she's always on the bottom, if you get my drift).
However, like it or not, the Colonel and his new team are readied for launch. The spaceship interior shows that advances have been made since the days of Cat-Women of the Moon, since instead of making the flight in lawn chairs, the astronauts now rest comfortably in Laz-Z-Boy recliners. The interior is bathed in multicolored light which no doubt serves some technical purpose of which I, not being an astronaut, am ignorant. But we have liftoff, and I will now turn the review over to Nate.
Disco lights are so spacey!
Thanks, Pam. Well, the launch goes off without a hitch, though I do wonder about that four month timeline to reach Venus. Sure, the Venera and Mariner probes made it to Venus in about 100ish days, but those weighted, at most, a few tons and the energy required to get them up to speed was negligible. I'm ball-parking here, but the Astra, fully loaded with fuel and provisions plus seven crew, is probably comparable to a full-load NASA space shuttle of around 120 tons (and Astra has to be larger to hold enough food and stuff to keep seven people alive for two years). So, the energy requirements to push that much mass up to a speed where you can reach Venus in four months? Off the chart, even with an Orion-style nuclear plasma pulse jet engine thingie. But perhaps they have some Autobot technology they can use to speed up the trip because it's clear that the Astra is actually a Transformer, as it changes shape and configuration between every single scene. The various visuals aren't even vaguely similar, making me wonder if anyone even bothered to watch the completed movie before they cut the final print.
At least four different models were used, plus stock footage of both Mercury and Apollo missions.
There's a bit of drama where the Old Doctor Perry has some unexpected heart problems on lift-off (nice, glad they checked his vitals before giving him a seat, John Glenn he's not) and Bronski has to come forward to save him (though she can't seem to open an oxygen bottle without a man around to help). This becomes a common theme here, where the women, despite being supposedly highly-trained astro/cosmonauts, are constantly deferring to the men, just because they are men, and spending more time on their hairdos than their jobs, just like regular suburban housewives from 1967, I assume. It's kind of annoying after a while, and I'm sure quite insulting to female astronauts of any era. Hard to imagine Valentina Tereshkova packing a pink baby-doll outfit on a spaceflight...
"This is so hard!"
Meanwhile, the launch velocity and g-forces seem to be giving Katie a wicked orgasm.
Now, the best way to strand these people in space is to blow up the Earth, right? Well, those dastardly Chinese have activated their dreaded Doomsday Machine and the crew watches in horror as our blue marble is torn asunder by violent internal explosions. Why the Chinese? Because this movie was (or so I hear) a co-production of a Hong Kong-based company, and if there was anything that had Hong Kong scared shitless in the late 1960s it was all the craziness going on across the bay. It would have been frighteningly easy to see how Mao was dragging China into the 20th Century at the point of a sword and extrapolate that one day soon the Middle Kingdom would be powerful enough to challenge the world (and blow it into pieces). Plus, Asian people freak us out because they're so short.
Earth go boom.
"No! My facebook account!"
Chunks of ex-Earth are now flying about at "meteoric speeds" and the crew has to dodge the debris (they're still in the neighborhood). Any drama in this sequence is sucked out due to some truly awful "special effects" and the fact that the actors/actresses have only the barest idea how to do the Enterprise Bridge Crew Shuffle. It's more like the Lean Slightly to Either Side Like My Grandmother is Driving the Car sort of thing and it fails to convey the danger of the situation (looks more like they are leaning a bit in their seats to fart). Of course, they do have the "internal gravity levels" set to normal, so maybe the g-forces are dampened (zero g effects cost real money).
What the hell is that? Why are pieces of blasted Earth suddenly spherical and orange?
Now that they have no where to go back to, the crew can settle into their new reality. They are on a course for Venus and there's no turning back (no point of doing so, really) so they kick the tires and light the fires and set course by the stars. The technobabble is thick and intense here, though nothing really that you haven't heard in countless other sci-fi movies (they thankfully resist the urge to have the spaceship powered by some stupid dilithium crystal-type spooky element). It's not long before they figure out that they are on a Noah's Ark of sorts and the future of our species depends on their seed/eggs. All thanks to the quick thinking of the Pentagon who saw the opportunity to save a sliver of humanity and took the chance to replace half the original all-dude crew with some of the fairer sex. Too bad they didn't have a bigger ship, because with seven pale-skinned Caucasians left you're not going to get much in the way of racial diversity in the "new" human race.
Doctor Perry takes his seat in the Gay Pride parade.
Not sure what good magnetic compass headings are going to do in deep space, but there you go.
On first viewing it struck me as odd that they make this big deal about these seven people being the last living humans because they were the only ones in space at the time. That, of course, was not exactly true, as it's proven fact that there were several hundred humans living in the Secret Nazi Moonbase. I assume they didn't mention them because once the Earth was destroyed, the moon would either be collateral damage from ejected matter or tossed into the sun when the Earth's gravity well collapsed. I guess that's possible, but it just seems strange that no mention was made of the Nazi Moonbase, it's like it never existed at all.
SNMb deniers and haters need not continue with this review. You may leave now.
Since this is a genre b-movie made for the drive-in set, you have to have at least a little cheesecake to get the kids to look up from the backseat for a minute. The Colonel takes off his shirt and sucks his stomach in for a few scenes and we get some PG-13 shots of the girls in their undies, all surely risque enough for the time. From the looks of it, each woman brought along at least five complete outfits, each a bit more come-hither than the last, including lacy bras and pink fuzzy bathrobes (and I hope they recalculated the weight ratios to account for all that extra shampoo). The men, though, stick to their buzz cuts and standard NASA coveralls (yawn).
"Hey, sailor, how 'bout a good time?"
Anyway, it's a four month voyage to Venus so they have a lot (a lot!) of time to get to know each other. Unfortunately, by this time in history, they seem to have done away with the rigorous psychological and emotional stability requirements that were the hallmark of the early NASA astronaut programs. Of the four men (the Colonel, Doctor Perry, Kurt and Danny), two of them are clearly dangerously unstable from day one. Clean-cut Osmond child Danny is twitchy and overemotional, prone to irrational outbursts and moody abject fatalism. Like Private Hudson from Aliens, he's always around to remind everyone that they are doomed in the most comically hysterical way, not exactly the type of guy you want to have around for a one-way trip to another planet.
"Game over, man! Game over!"
Kurt is even worse, as he's a violent, domineering, misogynistic asspirate who has a creepy, Appalachian-ex-husband-on-parole type of relationship with Katie. She led him on in the beginning, but that was before she knew he was a groping, raping sociopath, and after a few days in space cooped up with him she's looking for a restraining order and a can of mace. Kurt is so jealous of Katie that he even punches buck'o'nine Danny when he tries to help her lift something (glad to know the future of the human race is in their hands...).
"You woman, me man, now take off your pants!"
And while Kurt is clearly not going to be voted Father of the Year anytime soon, at least he and Katie make a viable breeding pair, which is really the point here. Short term, you have three fertile women (though you can make a case that the cosmonaut Blonski, having been exposed to her fair share of cosmic rays during her career, might be sterile) and four fertile men, so you could, in theory, restart the human race if all goes well. Of course, long term, if you are going to have subsequent generations, you are going to eventually run into the ugly consequences of inbreeding that come from incestual relations, even if they have no other choice. Plus, at some point you are going to have to "share the women", if you know what I mean, which is not going to go over well as you've already had some pairing off (Kurt/Katie and Colonel/Marion for now). That's going to cause some interpersonal conflict for sure, the same sort of oft-violent human jealousy that always brings down those idealistic free-love hippy communes in the end. Plus Doctor Perry is old and wrinkly and that's not sexy.
Known each other for a week.
And, genetics aside, you also have to feed and care for a lot of babies eventually. That's hard enough to do in rural Indiana with a Wal-mart just down the road, you can imagine how (impossibly) difficult that would be on a either a smallish, cold, metallic, unforgiving spaceship or on an inhospitable alien world. And make no bones about it, Venus is a venomous hellhole of poisonous fumes and blast furnace temperatures, all wrapped in a swirling, metal-shredding vortex of superheated toxic atmospheric gases. There's not a Baby's-R-Us to be found there, and good luck getting a chickie nuggie Happy Meal at the Venus McDonald's.
"Yeah, the computer doesn't lie, recycled air plus dirty diapers does indeed equal living hell."
Of course, I'm forgetting the inherent intelligence and ingenuity of NASA astronauts, who, after all, managed to get Apollo 13 back to Earth with little more than a ballpoint pen and some duct tape. Surely they could figure out how to make diapers and baby powder and breast pumps out of what they have onboard, they would just have to pool their collective knowledge and wisdom to make a go at this. I mean, there are seven of them, right?
She just figured out that they don't have any pickles and popcorn for her pregnancy cravings.
Whoops, I mean five. Because Kurt's raging misplaced jealousy and unresolved sexual aggression finally get the better of him after being spurned once again by a suddenly not-so-slutty Katie. He's busy raping her in the airlock when she accidentally bumps the "Open Door" button. The filmmakers do their best to show us "explosive decompression" on a budget with the actors dangling on ropes with catsup pouring out of their eyeballs. Too bad, Katie was quite the looker, she would have made some cute kids to repopulate the cosmos.
Sure, that's fine.
But, lemonade from lemons, Kurt's and Katie's demise is something of a blessing for the rest of them, because there's a potentially fatal flaw in the spaceship's engineering. It seems that they don't have enough radiation shielding to protect them all for the entire four month trip to Venus (why?). So they have to speed up the ship to get to Venus faster (what, why?), but they were way too over-loaded to make the numbers come in (fucking Einstein and his E=MC2). However, with two people gone (plus/minus 350 pounds) they're in better shape to make it to Venus on one tank of gas. Of course, they're now down to just two fertile females to get the human family tree growing again, which is still workable in theory if they could just keep from killing each other before they get the chance to knock boots with the three remaining men. Just the thought of trying to use recycled transmission fluid as makeshift lube makes my naughty bits shrivel, so I'm going to pull the pin on this grenade and roll it back to Pam, it's just too much for me to handle anymore.
Of course, if Bronski would just jettison her two-year supply of hairspray they'd be able to make it there without trouble.
Recycled transmission fluid doesn't float my boat either, Nate, but I'll carry on with the review. I really don't see much chance of the human race surviving with only these five people left, and soon there may not be even five. It seems the spaceship is still overweight, and there's much argument over who will throw himself out of the airlock and make the noble sacrifice. (Since this is not a contemporary movie, each is fighting for the chance to sacrifice himself, not fighting to shove somebody else out. When did nobility disappear in movies for popular consumption? Sigh...) For now, though, the Colonel says that it's either all or none, and everybody sits down.
Their spacesuits seem to be made of aluminum foil.
But not for long. The last stage of the rocket refuses to disengage as it's supposed to, and this spells doom for our intrepid adventurers. However, Danny volunteers to go out and free it. The Colonel says confidently that once Danny breaks the last stage free, he can ride it like a raft back to the ship, although if I were Danny I'd be thinking that if the Colonel is so sure it's possible to get back to the ship that way, then maybe the Colonel should be the one to go out and pry the ship loose. I suppose military discipline keeps Danny from voicing this opinion, and he meekly equips himself with a prybar (!!!) and what looks like a bazooka but may be some sort of handheld jet propulsion unit and sets forth. Danny seems very confident of his skill, or else just suicidal, because he doesn't bother to tether himself to the ship before he starts prying the last stage loose. I'm not an astronaut and I'm no expert on rocket ships, but really -- it is even remotely possible for one person to pry loose one stage of a rocket ship with only a two-foot-long prybar?
The bazooka is spray-painted NASA silver, so it must be important!
However, what may be impossible for you or me seems to be possible for Danny, at least with a little help from his friends. Major Bronski suits up and goes outside to help him, and they actually do manage to pry the last stage loose. They're left sitting on it as the rocket ship speeds off. There's a little aimless chitchat between the two of them, and we can see that Major Bronski didn't forget to put on lipstick, eyeliner, and false eyelashes before she left the ship on what seems like a suicide mission. We know who the true professional of the crew is!
"Here, you're doing it wrong, just let me do it. Men."
No matter what the Colonel said, Danny and Major Bronski are sitting there looking as though they're surely doomed, which seems true, but just then what does Danny see but another spacecraft floating nearby. He says it's a miracle, and I totally agree, but he and Major Bronski clasp hands and push off toward it. Again this seems suicidal, although they don't have much choice when you think about it, but since it's only about 20 feet away they make it. Why they didn't see it from the rocket ship is anybody's guess, but I just want this movie to be over so I'm not going to think about it anymore. By the way, Danny is still clutching the bazooka-like object, but since he hasn't bothered to use it I still don't know what it's for. Back in the rocket ship, the three remaining crewmembers realize they're now going to make it to Venus. They appear to have forgotten about Danny and Major Bronski already.
"But I'm half your breeding population!"
Are you curious to see what's inside the other spacecraft? I'm not, but the movie is going to show us anyway. (Oh, god, there's still 12 minutes left...) The lighting inside the ship is very dim, and the camera stays far enough away so we can't see inside their helmets. That short trip over has made some changes: Danny no longer has the bazooka-thingie, and their voices are completely different. Major Bronski has entirely lost her accent. Yes, you guessed it, this is footage added later.
The stunt actors are also both dudes, you can tell by the way they walk and stand.
They recognize the spacecraft as being Russian and decide to explore it. It's empty, except that in the control room they find a corpse sitting in a chair in front of the control panel. From the way his face looks, he died when he face-planted into a bowl of oatmeal and drowned. Wait, I guess that's not possible, he's wearing a spacesuit with a helmet. Oh, well, I'm not a doctor, so who knows. Major Bronski, who is a doctor, makes no remark about the unusual condition of the corpse, and as a matter of fact, now that I look closer I can see that there's a several-inch gap between his suit and his helmet, and his helmet appears to have no glass where the faceplate should be. So maybe I'm right about the oatmeal.
And he needs those eyebrows tweezed something fierce.
Man, I need to get this review wrapped up, clearly I'm not thinking straight. To resume and continue, they move the corpse away and Danny sits down in the vacated chair. Oddly, neither one wonders what could have killed this person, or what happened to the rest of the crew. Danny fumbles around with the controls while Major Bronski stands behind him, both moving V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y, probably to denote a state of weightlessness, although their feet never leave the deck. Obviously the funding for the new part was even stingier than the funding for the old part.
Wouldn't it be more helpful if the person who actually can read Russian flies the ship?
This part seems to last forever, especially since the lighting's so poor you can hardly see anything, but Danny finally discovers that the radio is working. He reaches the spaceship, but although they can hear him (and gets called Dick) he doesn't seem to be able to hear them, although he is picking up some kind of signal. Major Bronski, in complete contrast to her previous behavior, stands there and says almost nothing, obediently following Danny's instructions. The spaceship seems to have some sort of beam that Danny's planning to follow to get back to it, but quite abruptly and for no apparent reason the signal stops.
When did Venus become so blue?
The Russian spaceship now seems to be close to a planet of some sort -- Venus? -- although before it was drifting in empty space. Then we get a brief shot of a new spacecraft, which I believe is the Japanese JX-1 from Gorath, a shot of a distant galaxy, and a hollow voice announcing that their old spacecraft and comrades are no more. What's more, the voice is the collective mind of Venus, and no way is Venus going to let any stinking Earthlings sully their fair planet. Danny and Major Bronski find nothing to say to this, but there is a consolation prize: the voice announces that a wonderful adventure lies ahead of them, and their spacecraft suddenly fires up and streaks off into the unknown.
I hope you sent your royalty check to Toho!
Talk about your abrupt but open endings. Was it possible, even remotely possible, that somebody contemplated making a sequel to this movie? Were they planning to show us the further adventures of Danny and Major Bronski? How, when the filmmakers obviously had to empty their pockets of spare change and dig down beneath the sofa cushions to scrape up enough money to make even this pathetic excuse for an ending? Hope springs eternal, I suppose, and I guess a movie is easier to make if you stick to the practice of not sweating the small stuff, like continuity or a halfway plausible plot.
Is there anything you want to add, Nate?
Not much more to say, ot...wait, Intern Kelby just passed me a note. Ah, oh yeah, hey remember way back when they were still on Earth and they were debating who could have caused WWIII? Remember how one of them said that it might be the Russians, but another guy pshawed that off, saying that the "Russians went out with miniskirts"? As if to say that in this movie's timeline, in the alternate year 1975 there is no more Red Menace threatening to sap and impurify our precious American bodily fluids? Well, while I'm pleased as apple pie that the Commie Scourge is extinct, Kelby is more worried about the "no miniskirts anymore" part. He's not comfortable imagining a world without scantily clad young women and he for one is glad this movie's predictions never came true. Shockingly, Kelby is still single, so ladies, feel free to email him...
Kelby chooses Communism.
Written in July 2011 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
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