May 28, 2019

She Blinded Me with Science: Women Scientists and Doctors in ‘50s Sci-fi Films

We don’t normally think of the 1950s as a time of women’s empowerment. After World War II, Rosie the Riveter was given her pink slip and told to go home and have babies. Popular magazines were full of advice to single women on catching a man -- a 1958 McCall’s article, “129 Ways to Get a Husband,” suggested, among other things, reading obituaries to find eligible widowers or having your car break down in “strategic places.” (!!)

Rosie the Riveter
"Thanks for all your help Rosie. Go ahead and
clock out -- your last check is in the mail."
On TV, it was a time of Father Knows Best and the saintly stay-at-home mom exemplified by June in Leave It to Beaver. In the movies, working women were often depicted as lost souls to be pitied rather than strong role models to be emulated. Across the popular culture landscape, motherhood was extolled as a woman’s greatest fulfillment.

An interesting exception to the rule was the B sci-fi movie. Capable, courageous female scientists and doctors popped up time and again to help battle giant radioactive monsters or menaces from outer space.

Undoubtedly, the presence of women in lead roles added a romantic angle that had potential appeal for adult audiences. The women spent almost as much time fending off the awkward advances of their male colleagues as battling monsters (more on that below).

Perhaps too, their presence was a subtle acknowledgement that while men got us into this atom age radioactive mess, women were needed to help get us out of it. Whatever the motives, conscious or unconscious, these unassuming films went against the cultural grain and set the stage for the normalization of women’s achievement outside of home and family.

The following list of profiles in B movie courage only scratches the surface of strong female characters in ‘50s sci-fi. This time around I’ve limited it to women scientists and doctors with key roles -- even at that, it’s a selective list. Not included are the pioneering female astronauts, or, for that matter, the “ordinary” single women, wives and mothers who faced extraordinary sci-fi threats. I’ll take those up in future posts.

Along with each character’s resume and screen accomplishments, I’ve included a “cringe moment.” This was the ‘50s after all, and being subjected to chauvinistic acts and comments was the price women paid for inclusion in the monster fighters’ club. These vignettes serve to illustrate how far we’ve come, at least as far as the depiction of “normal” male-female relations in popular culture is concerned.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
Name: Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond)

Paul Hubschmid and Paula Raymond in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
"Hey mister, I've got a bone to pick with you!"
Resume: Hunter is an assistant to Prof. Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), world-renowned paleontologist, and an accomplished scientist in her own right.

Biggest screen moment: Nuclear scientist Tom Nesbitt (Paul Hubschmid) approaches Elson and Hunter with a wild story of seeing a huge prehistoric creature unleashed by a polar atomic test. Elson is completely dismissive, but Lee keeps an open mind, showing Nesbitt illustrations of dinosaurs to try to identify what he saw. After a fishing trawler is capsized by what witnesses insist was a sea serpent, Lee suggests they show the set of pictures to one of the survivors in a sort of creature line-up. When the sailor picks the same dinosaur as Nesbitt, Elson becomes convinced, and they arrange an expedition to track down the monster.

Biggest cringe moment: When Nesbitt and Hunter are alone discussing what he might have seen, he awkwardly tries to flirt with her:
  “Funny, a girl like you, a paleontologist…”
  “What’s wrong with paleontology?”
  “Classifying old bones…”
  “Old bones? If we didn’t study the past, you wouldn’t know anything about the atom. Dr. Elson says the future is a reflection of the past…”

Additional notes: After her role in Beast, Paula dived into TV, guesting on dozens of shows, including One Step Beyond, Perry Mason and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  She also appeared in two of the more obscure B sci-fi films of the ‘60s, The Flight that Disappeared (1961), and Hand of Death (1962; with John Agar).

Them! (1954)
Name: Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon)

Resume: Along with her father, Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn), Pat is part of a scientific team sent by the Dept. of Agriculture to help the authorities in New Mexico investigate a series of mysterious deaths in the desert near the White Sands atomic test area.

Joan Weldon in Them! (1954)
"I told them it was a bad idea to have a picnic
out here in the middle of nowhere!"
Biggest screen moment: When they find the underground nest of giant ants, special agent Robert Graham (James Arness) and State Trooper Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) launch phosphorus grenades at the nest to drive them underground, and then lob poison gas canisters after them. To make sure all the ants are dead, someone has to rappel down into the nest to check. Pat insists on going with them. When Graham states emphatically that “it’s no place for you or any other woman,” she is equally emphatic:
  “Look Bob, there’s no time to give you a fast course on insect pathology, so let’s stop all the talk and get on with it!”
  Her presence is indeed crucial, as she discovers that two young queen ants hatched and flew away before the nest was bombed. If they're not found and dealt with, it could be the beginning of the end for humanity.

Biggest cringe moment: Arriving in New Mexico on a military transport plane, Pat’s dress gets caught as she climbs down the ladder from the cockpit, revealing some leg. Standing on the tarmac, Graham and Peterson are ogling her.
  Peterson: “She’s some doctor, huh?”
  Graham: “Yeah, if she’s the kind that takes care of sick people, I think I’ll get a fever real quick.”

Additional notes: After Them!, Joan (who is still alive as of this post), acted in only a relative handful of movies and TV shows before retiring in the late ‘50s.

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)
Name: Prof. Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue)

Faith Domergue and Kenneth Tobey in It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)
Prof. Joyce inspects the lab equipment as Pete makes his move.
Resume: Joyce is the head of the marine biology dept. at The Southeastern Institute of Oceanography, and in the words of her screen colleague, Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis), the “outstanding authority on marine biology” in the country.

Biggest screen moment: Joyce and Carter are brought in by the Navy to examine a huge piece of irradiated tissue that was caught on the fins of an atomic sub during a mysterious encounter in the middle of the Pacific ocean. After extensive examination, the team concludes that it came from an octopus, but one so huge as to be beyond belief. Their theory is borne out as ships begin disappearing and a man on a beach is crushed by some enigmatic thing. After there is no doubt about the threat from the colossal octopus, Joyce, Carter and Cmdr. Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey) head up a task force to deal with the threat. When depth charges fail to kill the beast, it emerges from the depths to wrap its tentacles around the Golden Gate Bridge. In the situation room, Joyce calmly and authoritatively tells a Navy Captain to go to red alert.

Biggest cringe moment: Earlier, when the scientists are still trying to determine the source of the tissue, Matthews corners Joyce in the lab. She responds by egging him on:
  “When you’re driving that atomic submarine of yours, do you have much time for romance?”
  “Even if I did have the time, where would I find the opportunity? You know, women aren’t allowed aboard a submarine.”
  “Poor boy, I thought the Navy was equipped for every contingency…”

Additional notes: In addition to It Came from Beneath the Sea, Faith starred in 3 other sci-fi movies released in 1955: Cult of the Cobra, The Atomic Man, and most memorably, This Island Earth (in which she also played a scientist).

From Hell It Came (1957)
Name: Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver)

John McNamara and Tina Carver in From Hell It Came (1957)
"Hmmm, I can't tell for sure, but I think part of the
problem is that knife sticking out of its chest."
Resume: Mason (no relation to Perry) is a member of a medical team sent by the “International Foundation” to a group of South Seas islands to investigate health hazards caused by atomic testing, and to treat the sick natives.

Biggest screen moment: With the help of colleagues Dr. William Arnold (Tod Andrews) and Prof. Clark (John McNamara), Mason digs up an unearthly, weirdly human-looking tree that has suddenly sprouted near their encampment. The natives warn them that it is the dreaded Tabanga, which has grown from the body of a young native man unjustly accused of murdering his own father, and executed by authority of the local witch doctor. A ceremonial knife is buried in the monster where its heart should be.
  Back at the lab, Terry finds the monster has a pulse, but it’s weakening. Disregarding Arnold’s suggestion to let it die, she makes an executive decision to stimulate its heart (?) with an experimental serum of her own making -- a decision she will soon regret.

Biggest cringe moment: Arnold is mad about the good doctor Mason, and wants to make her his wife and take her back to civilization. He pleads with her:
  “Terry, will you stop being a doctor first and a woman second? Let your emotions rule you, not your intellect.”
  “Bill, I live by my intellect and my reason. If I let my emotions run away, I wouldn’t be any good in my work.”
  Undeterred, Bill embraces her and they kiss. He asks her if she loves him.
  “I don’t love you.”
  “Then why did you kiss me back?”
  “I don’t know, my metabolism… it’s unconscious, involuntary…”

Additional notes: The same year as From Hell It Came was released, Tina also appeared in The Man Who Turned to Stone, about a group of scientists who stay young by draining the life out of unsuspecting women.

The Giant Claw (1957)
Name: Dr. Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday)

Mara Corday and Jeff Morrow in The Giant Claw (1957)
Sally and Mitch go alien bird hunting.
Resume: Caldwell is a mathematician and systems analyst who, at the beginning of the movie, is working with electronics engineer and test pilot Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow) to calibrate new polar-based military radar systems and detect blind spots.

Biggest screen moment: When Mitch sees a UFO “as big as a battleship” shoot past his plane, no one believes him because the thing didn’t show up on radar. However, as more planes start crashing and reports come flooding in, it’s apparent that something big and dangerous is cruising the skies over North America.
  Sally comes up with an idea to check photographs from weather balloons, and sure enough, a huge, buzzard-like bird shows up in a batch. After analyzing one of the monster's feathers found in the wreckage of a plane, physicist Karol Noymann (Edgar Barrier) concludes that the creature is from another galaxy, and has an anti-matter shield around it that makes it impervious to all weapons. (!!)
  Caldwell uses her math expertise to help figure out a way to negate the shield. But her biggest “bad ass” moment comes when she and MacAfee discover the alien bird’s nest in a remote part of French Canada. There’s an egg in the nest, and they have to destroy it before another space buzzard hatches to terrorize the world. She picks up a rifle and aims. When MacAfee gives her a quizzical side-glance, she says matter-of-factly, “I’m from Montana…”

Biggest cringe moment: After they both survive a mid-air collision with the Giant Claw, MacAfee and Caldwell are called back to Washington. On the red-eye flight back east, MacAfee suddenly leans over and kisses her as she’s trying to get some shuteye. Caldwell is unusually composed:
  Caldwell: “Where did that come from?”
  MacAfee: “Left field maybe.”
  Caldwell: “I like baseball… Speaking of baseball and left field, somebody warned me you made up your own rules.”
  MacAfee: “Whoever said that is no friend of mine.”
  Caldwell: “But he’s a friend of mine.”

Additional notes: Mara Corday’s other sci-fi role in 1957 was in The Black Scorpion. She teamed up with Richard Denning, playing an American geologist, to battle giant scorpions freed from their underground lair by a series of earthquakes.

May 13, 2019

The X-Man meets the Puppetoons

Poster - The Power (1968)
Now Playing: The Power (1968)

Pros: Features an interesting cast of veteran character actors and B movie regulars; Ambitiously tries to marry the sci-fi and suspense-thriller genres.
Cons: Slow stretches and plot holes dissipate the suspense somewhat.
“Do we humans harbor within us vast mental powers beyond our imagination? Are some of us gifted with psychic abilities far beyond the norm, and if so what does that mean for us as a society? Whether one believes in extra sensory perception, mental powers, or any of the phenomena that go with them, some governments of the world have certainly at some point or another taken notice to entertain the idea. After all, wouldn’t such amazing abilities be useful for warfare or intelligence gathering? Governments around the world have long sought to try and harness the untapped powers of the human mind to mixed results…” (Brent Swancer, “Bizarre Government Experiments and Strange Psychic Powers,”, Nov. 17, 2017)
In his fascinating article for the Mysterious Universe website, Brent Swancer details a kind of international arms race that few Americans are aware of -- the race to harness psychic abilities for national security purposes. In the 1970s, U.S. authorities became concerned about Soviet research into these areas, and thus was born the Stargate Project, which recruited psychics to, among other things, surveil human targets and facilities through “remote viewing.”

Before the unit was shut down in the mid-90s, it also experimented with less benign applications of psychic powers, including the possibility of slowing or even stopping a heartbeat with the mind alone. The project was profiled in a 2004 book by Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was adapted into a movie starring George Clooney in 2009.

Stopping a person’s vital bodily functions through telekinesis is at the heart (pun intended) of producer George Pal’s The Power. Based on the 1959 science fiction novel by Frank M. Robinson, the film opens at a research facility specializing in space medicine (in this case, a government sponsored institute, not the military).

Arthur Nordlund (Michael Rennie) has been sent from Washington to liaise with a group of scientists conducting research into the limits of human endurance. Their research is crucial to ensuring the health and safety astronauts on long space missions. The head of the committee, Prof. Jim Tanner (George Hamilton) takes Nordlund on a tour of the facility, where he sees one volunteer in scuba gear lying at the bottom of a water tank, and another being subjected to intense heat.

Michael Rennie and George Hamilton in The Power (1968)
Prof. Tanner shows Nordlund his patented body tanning method.
Nordlund attends a meeting of the full committee, which is comprised of experts in all disciplines related to human performance: Dr. Margery Lansing (Suzanne Pleshette) is a geneticist, Prof. Talbot Scott (Earl Holliman) is a biologist, chain-smoking Carl Melnicker (Nehemiah Persoff) is a physicist, and Prof. Norman Van Zandt (Richard Carlson) heads up the institute.

There is a lot of brainpower on the committee, but the members are startled when the token social scientist in the group, anthropologist Henry Hallson (Arthur O’Connell), announces in alarmed tones that, based on anonymous questionnaires and tests he’s given to his fellow committee members, one of the group has an IQ that is “off the charts,” and possesses “a force of intellect far beyond anything known on the earth today.”

When Nordlund asks if that could include paranormal or telekinetic mental powers, Hallson responds in the affirmative. Nordlund proposes a test for the committee to take right then and there, to see if the super-man (or woman) among them will reveal him/herself. Melnicker works up a makeshift pinwheel with a pencil and piece of paper and sets it in the middle of the table. If there is a telekinetic mutant among them, it should be no problem for the person to set the paper spinning through just the force of mind.

After a couple of abortive attempts, the group around the table all stare intently at the pinwheel, and sure enough, the paper begins turning by itself as ominous music swells.

Testing for telekinetic powers at the committee meeting
Scientists at America's elite space research institute play Spin the Paper.

The scientists are spooked at the thought that a telekinetic-capable superhuman is walking among them. Things take a much darker turn when Tanner and Lansing discover Hallson dead in the cabin of the institute’s experimental centrifuge. Alerted by Hallson’s wife (Yvonne De Carlo) that he had not come home, the two had gone to the institute looking for the professor, only to discover the centrifuge whirling around at top speed. Mysteriously, the emergency kill switch didn’t work, and by the time they managed to cut power to the entire facility, Hallson was dead, crushed by the tremendous G forces generated by the contraption.

The only clue that Tanner finds among Hallson’s effects is a name, Adam Hart, scribbled on a piece of paper. Tanner immediately becomes a prime suspect in Hallson’s death when his widow inexplicably tells the police she did not call Tanner to check in on her husband. The hot water he’s in gets even hotter when the police inspector (Gary Merrill) informs him that there is no record of his attending any of the universities listed on his resume.

Mystified and alarmed, Tanner decides to do some investigating himself. When he learns that Adam Hart was a childhood friend of Hallson’s, he drives out to the remote desert town that was Hallson’s boyhood home. Things get even weirder when Hallson’s father and other town members give wildly different descriptions of Adam Hart’s physical appearance.

Another boyhood friend of Hallson’s and Hart’s, Bruce (Aldo Ray), tells Tanner that he has something to show him that will reveal much more about the mystery man. When Bruce drives him out to the middle of the desert, Tanner senses that something’s off, and jumps out of the jeep. He seeks shelter in a patch of scrub brush and palm trees, but then quickly realizes he’s smack in the middle of an Air Force gunnery range -- and a squadron of jets is firing live rockets at him. He manages to light some brush on fire to get attention and the pilots abort the exercise.

Tanner (George Hamilton) runs from strafing air force jets
George Hamilton hopes with all his heart that
his film doesn't bomb at the box office.
When Bruce later admits that Hart had commanded him to kill anyone looking into his past, Tanner gets a healthy appreciation of the extent of the man's powers. Once back home, Tanner not only has to deal with a faceless psychic superman who apparently wants him dead, but also with his paranoid colleagues who think he might be the superpsychic killer.

As a sci-fi-based psychological/suspense thriller, The Power is an interesting product of its time. The idea of a genetic mutant masquerading as a government scientist and playing with normal humans like a cat toying with a mouse, seems emblematic, if in an unconscious way, of an era of mind-expanding psychedelic drugs and distrust of government authorities over the Vietnam war. (A couple of years before, Star Trek had featured a similar “monster” in the form of Charlie X, an orphaned human teenager who had learned fearsome telekinetic powers from the aliens who raised him.)

However, the film struggles somewhat under the weight of its ambitious premise. In the original novel, the protagonist’s investigations gradually uncover the mutant’s backstory and the extent of his powers. The movie’s 108 minute runtime doesn’t afford this luxury, so the viewer has to use his/her imagination to fill in plot holes and inconsistencies. For example, if Hallson’s boyhood friend Adam Hart is the culprit, how can he hide out at institute in plain sight, so to speak, without Hallson recognizing him? (The inability of Adam Hart’s hometown neighbors to agree on what he looked like is perhaps a clue.)

As the cat-and-mouse game begins in earnest, Tanner witnesses all sorts manifestations of the faceless Hart’s powers. At a crosswalk on a busy city street, Tanner watches as the Don’t Walk pedestrian sign suddenly morphs into an ominous message - “Don’t Run.” In another George Pal-esque scene, the weary Tanner stops momentarily at a toy store window, where to his amazement, a squad of tin soldiers become animated, line up, and shoot their toy guns at him. (This was a knowing wink to Pal’s early career as the creator and animator of stop-motion “Puppetoons” -- many of them depicting classic fairy tales -- that he did in the 1940s.)

The tin soldier sequence in The Power (1968)
Attack of the Puppetoons!
The game becomes potentially deadlier as Tanner stumbles aboard a kids’ merry-go-round at a downtown galleria. Before he knows it, the merry-go-round is whipping around at such great speed that Tanner’s facial muscles are pushed back by the G-forces, echoing the deadly centrifuge ride that killed Hallson earlier on. It’s a nice touch, having these seemingly innocent children’s amusements turned into weapons by the remorseless psi-chopath. Another nice touch is the overlay of a beating heart on the soundtrack as Hart hones in on his prey. It’s an eerie reminder that he can stop a human heart with just his mind.

Against the backdrop of these incredible powers, it’s perhaps a stretch when Tanner, on the run and with Lansing and the physicist Melnicker in tow, decides that the safest hiding place is among the teeming crowds of the big city. They crash a salesmen’s convention at a hotel, and additionally, Tanner warns his colleagues not to sleep. A scene in which they nervously keep watch as the clueless conventioneers dance awkwardly at an after hours party goes on way too long, especially for a scene that doesn’t make much sense. From what we (and Tanner) know of Hart, it should be no problem for him to get to the hapless scientists, regardless of whether they're asleep or awake, or in a big crowd or by themselves.

Some of the film’s logical lapses are explained by the twist ending, but not all. However, the end is punctuated by an hallucinatory, psychedelic montage that allows Pal to indulge in more of his beloved stop-motion animation.

Tanner (George Hamilton) is roasted in The Power's climatic psychedlic montage.
"Holy smokes! I turned the tanning bed up way too high!"

Many of the film’s production staff and cast were no strangers to sci-fi. The Power was the next to last feature film produced by Pal, whose resume was brimming with such classics as When Worlds Collide (1951), War of the Worlds (1953), and The Time Machine (1960), among others. Director Byron Haskin had previously helmed War of the Worlds and Conquest of Space (1955) for Pal, and Robinson Crusoe on Mars in 1964.

Richard Carlson was a sci-fi fixture, having appeared in such classics as Creature from the Black Lagoon (1953) and It Came from Outer Space (1953); he had even directed his own sci-fi feature, Riders to the Stars (1954) around the same time as those films.

Earl Holliman had the distinction of appearing in the one of the all-time great sci-fi films, Forbidden Planet (1956), as well as the inaugural episode of The Twilight Zone TV series in 1959. And of course, Michael Rennie will be forever known as Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

Veteran character actors Arthur O’Connell, Nehemiah Persoff, Yvonne DeCarlo, Gary Merrill and Aldo Ray are also welcome familiar faces, but the small roles don’t take advantage of their respective talents.

Suzanne Pleshette as Dr. Margery Lansing in The Power (1968)
Dr. Lansing suddenly remembers that
she left the oven on at home.
Leads George Hamilton and Suzanne Pleshette do a credible job looking attractive and registering shock and horror at the appropriate points. Even at this relatively early stage of his career, everyone’s favorite Crispy Colonel was exhibiting the beginnings of the preternatural tan that was to become his signature.

One of the biggest “stars” of The Power is the atmospheric musical score by 3-time Oscar winner Miklós Rózsa. The main theme features a cimbalom, a kind of dulcimer that is played by striking strings with light hammers. The result is eerie and otherworldly. I remember getting a little chill hearing it the first time, and it worked its magic again with the latest viewing.

The Power is one of George Pal’s forgotten sci-fi features. It has minimal special effects, relying instead on generating suspense via a mysterious unseen menace. It has slow moments and logic lapses, but it’s worth looking up for its unique story, good cast, and great score.

Where to find it: Purchase the Warner Archive DVD at fine online outlets like

May 1, 2019

Stream and Stream Again: Special May Day Edition

Spring is here. There’s a better than even chance that the sun is shining where you are; nature is blooming (time to stock up on the allergy meds); and at least for a brief moment, hope and renewal (along with pollen) waft on warm breezes.

We don’t really do May Day here in the States, what with its commie-hippie-fertility-tree-worshipping vibe that’s so at odds with our dog-eat-dog capitalism. Elsewhere, the old Soviet military parades are gone, but much of the world still recognizes it as International Workers Day, where workers of the world unite to binge on Game of Thrones and the latest Marvel blockbusters. There are even a few odd Europeans and Brits left who celebrate by dressing up and dancing around the maypole.

The maypole scene from The Wicker Man (1973)
"Okay kids, enough of this fresh air, let's go binge on
episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch!"
We’ve dispensed with the old Pagan maypole streamers in favor of net streams, but the dance is still the same -- we frolic around the great megalithic entertainment monolith, tied to it by our multiple streams, forever chasing after that elusive content that’s just one more subscription away.

Many of us have cut the cable and satellite TV cords, only to become entangled in a new Gordian knot of subscription streaming services. The cost of each by itself is reasonable, but put all of them together to get your Star Trek Discovery here, Game of Thrones there, and the Marvel Comics Universe behind the Disney paywall, and suddenly you’ve become nostalgic for the old cable bill.

Of course it all makes sense from the corporate monolith’s perspective. Why sell or rent your precious commodity one at a time when you can rope your customers into ongoing, monthly payments? Corporate suits are burning the midnight oil thinking of new recurring ways to separate us from our money: razors, clothes, food, you name it. “I’m sorry sir, that apple is not for individual sale, but I’d be happy to sign you up for our Apple of the Month Club.”

While the Fruit of the Month Club may be an easy pass, they really have us by the short hairs when it comes to our pop culture addictions. Disney is the new 800 pound gorilla in the streaming wars, pulling their content from other platforms to offer exclusively on their own service. The announced $6.99 per month cost is low compared to Netflix and other services, but it will be interesting to see if that price holds once they corral all their hottest properties -- Star Wars, the MCU, Pixar, etc. -- behind their paywall.

Even with its attractive entry price, I won’t be signing up for Disney’s streaming channel anytime soon. Because I’m a cheap old coot, I’m trying to hold the line at my outrageously expensive internet plan and the two streaming behemoths I’ve had for years now, Netflix (which just raised its rates again, daggummit!) and Amazon Prime.

Soviet leaders review a Victory Day parade, circa 1960s
The CEOs of Disney, Netflix, Amazon and Comcast wave approvingly
as their weapons of mass distraction parade by the reviewing stand.
Of course, Netflix has been moving in recent years from an emphasis on theatrical movies to original content and TV. I’ve sampled some of their original stuff, and overall it’s pretty mediocre. Every time they hike their rates I think about dropping it, but it has some shows my wife and I like, so I grin and bear it (yeah Netflix, you’re smiling now, but one more price hike, and you’ll be sorry!)

Amazon Prime is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates -- you never know what you’re going to get. B movie fans like myself can have quite a bit fun browsing through its catalog. Right now my watchlist is teeming with titles that are good candidates for the blog: Attack of the Mushroom People, Blood of the Vampire, Cry of the Banshee, Fire Maidens of Outer Space, Frankenstein’s Daughter, Invisible Invaders, Pharaoh’s Curse… it’s an embarrassment of B riches (or for some, just an embarrassment). Some of those licenses will expire, and other vintage Bs will take their place. The biggest downside is the queasy feeling I sometimes get paying dues to the online empire of the world’s richest, greediest man.

At least I summoned up the fortitude some time ago to cut the cable TV cord. We’d been bouncing between cable and satellite for years, shelling out for frequent rate hikes, tolerating poor signals and even poorer customer service, and marvelling, like millions before us, that there could be so many channels and so little to watch.

When we moved to a larger metro area, we finally cut and ran. I invested in an indoor digital antenna and a DVR for over-the-air broadcasts. In our location, the setup brings in not only the usual network channels and local news, but dozens of other channels as well. Fortunately for my interests, many of these are retro channels, including MeTV (with the beloved Svengoolie on Saturday nights), the Movies! channel, Comet, Decades, This-TV and many more. (A small downside is that occasionally the antenna needs to be adjusted to optimize the signal for certain channels. I have it hanging from a curtain rod, where it’s easy to move it back and forth to clear up the signal.)

The Citadel from Game of Thrones
Public libraries are a beacon of hope for all
those oppressed by high entertainment bills.
Another huge free resource is the local public library system. Again, living in a large city helps tremendously. Among all the branches, they get almost every title that anyone would want to watch on DVD, including blockbusters, foreign and independent films, and TV. If your local branch doesn’t carry it, you just put a hold on the title and it usually shows up within a couple days. We recently caught up with Game of Thrones by binging on library copies.

A big “secret” that people are finally discovering is that many libraries offer robust, free streaming services. Hoopla, a big player in the public library market, offers popular feature films and documentaries to stream, along with online courses and ebooks. Typically, each library card holder gets a limited number of views per month (but hey, it’s free!).

Our system also offers Kanopy, which has also been big in the higher education streaming market. Kanopy has a rich catalog of independent, foreign, classic and documentary films. For a relatively high-brow service, it also carries a surprising number of classic and B horror and sci-fi films. For example, my current Kanopy watchlist includes I Married a Monster from Outer Space, The Blood Beast Terror (with Peter Cushing), the Eurohorror classic Night of the Devils, and Sudden Fear (with Joan Crawford and Jack Palance). Like Hoopla, it’s a certain-number-of-views per month deal.

So, there are alternatives to selling your first born and your right arm for access to the movies and shows you love. Check out the local OTA broadcast situation and your local library. You may be able to stream and stream again without your wallet screaming “Uncle!”