I apparently didn’t choose wisely for Halloween, spending my time with relatively high-quality fare like The Valley of Gwangi and Mighty Joe Young. I realized I never had time to indulge in the really guilty pleasure of watching absolutely awful horror films, and that’s an itch that really needs to be scratched. So in the coming weeks, I’ll be featuring some rally awful stuff, mainly themed around movies I saw commercials for as a kid, but never had the opportunity to see.
But not this time. For today’s Vault, I picked something almost at random off of Hulu, something I’d never seen before, and found something interesting.
First Man Into Space was released in 1959, during that period after the development of rockets and satellites, but before manned spaceflight. The film opens with stock footage of a Bell X-1 rocket plane which segues into special effects of the plane climbing into the upper atmosphere.
Back in proto-Mission Control, led by Commander Chuck Prescott, they deliver lots of nonsensical sciency jargon as they monitor the flight of what we’re told is the Y-12.
Prescott’s younger brother, Dan, is the test pilot, and as he approaches the limits of his test flight, something strange happens. He is overcome by a kind of euphoria (or should I say, “space euphoria”) and ignores instructions to turn the plane around and return to Earth.
He wants to continue out into space, but loses control of the craft, which goes into a spin and begins to fall back to Earth. His craft disappears from radar.
Some time later, the space plane is found, crashed in New Mexico not far from where it took off, and we learn two things. Number one, the filmmakers have never been to New Mexico, because the plane is found in a forest, and number two, Dan is alive and unhurt. At least he’s well enough to ditch the state cops who were taking him to the hospital, and goes instead to visit his girlfriend for a little physical therapy. Chuck shows up and berates him for not following orders.
But the doctor in charge of Aviation Medicine convinces Chuck to let Dan pilot the next mission on the Y-13. Dan promises he’ll follow orders this time.
But as soon as he hits the same altitude, he is overcome by the same euphoria and decides to be the first man in space. He hits his emergency boosters and climbs to an altitude of 250 miles, where he encounters an odd storm of meteor dust. He ejects his emergency pod as the cockpit canopy disintegrates.
Much later, the emergency pod is found empty (again, not all that far from the base–apparently the earth doesn’t rotate at all) and coated with a rocky crust.
Dan is nowhere to be found and is obviously dead this time. While Chuck is examining the wreckage, one of the state cops mentions that several cattle have been slaughtered on a nearby farm. Chuck begins to get suspicious as reports of mysterious murders mount, even more so when glittering dust like that meteoric crust is found at the crime scenes. His fears are confirmed when he finds Dan’s oxygen mask near one of the dead cows, crusted with that same dust.
The doctor speculates that the indestructible meteor dust coating somehow kept Dan alive through a storm of cosmic rays (which destroyed the uncrusted portions of the Y-13), but his metabolism changed so that he’s not getting enough oxygen, hence the blood drinking. Or something. It’s hard to follow. Point is, he’s now an immensely strong monster who appears to be made of crusty rock.
Eventually he returns to the base, where Chuck manages to lure him into a pressurized chamber that can simulate high altitudes.
Able to breathe once more, Dan becomes more coherent and is able to describe what happened to him. He also manages a reconciliation with his girlfriend before dying.
Look, as shoe-string budget, sci-fi monster movies go, it’s not horrible. The science is ridiculous, the dialogue is bad and the acting is worse. But there are some nice moments, and the effects are pretty good for a low-budget picture like this.
But the thing that stands out to me about this picture is this: it’s about a test pilot taking the first flight into space, encountering a mysterious storm, and returning to Earth as a monstrously strong creature with rocky skin. You know who would appear two years later who fits that same description?
Ben Grimm, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing! I’m not saying this crappy low-budget film actually inspired the creation of Ben, but you never know.