Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Hideous Sun Demon (1958)

Gil McKenna is an alcoholic scientist, whose hangover caused a radioactive accident. This new isotope seems to have no lasting effect on Gil, until he's exposed to the sun, and he begins to transform into a lizard man. All Gil has to do is stay at home, and let doctors run some tests, but feeling antsy, he is compelled to continue going out on the town, with disastrous effects. With each transformation, Gil becomes more monstrous, and it takes longer for him to turn back...

The Hideous Sun Demon is a minor B-movie classic, standing the test of time as a memorable monster feature. As far as movies go, it's pretty decent. Entertaining, thrilling, silly, and takes itself completely seriously. It's over before you know it, meaning it's never a time waster, which is always something good you can say about a movie.

Whether or not the film lives up to the grandiosity of its title is up for debate (and no harm if it doesn't, since many b-movies ran afoul of the same issue), but Hideous Sun Demon at least manages to succeed by its own terms. It never tries biting off more than it can chew, and the result is a story that isn't the most high-concept in the world, but works as a lower key effort.

Being only an hour isn't necessarily a guarantee that a movie will feel short, but thankfully that's the case here. This is well paced. Despite some characters only appearing intermittently, there never feels like too much of a gap between their scenes (minus a large one of over 20 minutes!).

The message is a surprising one for such a film. Usually they had warnings against radioactivity, man's inhumanity to man, or the fear of the unknown (i., dem blasted Commies), but in The Hideous Sun Demon, the main brunt of the message is one portraying alcoholism! It may be frustrating seeing Gil continue to get chance after chance to make things right, yet squander them each time just because he wants another shot, yet in that same way it's probably an effective portrayal of the disease. If transforming into a lizard monster can be seen as an acceptable risk to take, it goes to show just how desperate such people can get.

Gil may be a dickhead, but he is quite the multi-dimensional character. Because of this we do sympathise for him being stuck in this predicament, even though it's all his fault. His better scenes are those of vulnerability, and his attempted suicide. He's all set to end things quite early on by jumping off a cliff, until he sees some teens down below, having fun on the beach. Unwilling to disturb them, he steps back and returns home.

Where I had no sympathy for Gil though was in his constant whining over how there's nothing doctors can do for him, "NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING!". Dude, even if there isn't, you can at least let them try! What've ya got to lose? Ideally you should be staying home anyway, so just read a book for the next few weeks, and if they find a cure, great, and if not, at least you all tried.

The fact that he's such an unfaithful louse rarely comes up, and I wished his girlfriend had a larger role. She was a little too passive for me, and could've stood to smack Gil on the side of the head a lot more.

As is the norm with b-movies, Hideous Sun Demon has some hilarious science. This is best demonstrated in the scene when a doctor shows a picture of a tarantula and declares "This used to be a grasshopper", with a straight face.

Aside from being the lead, Robert Clarke was also the producer and director, and he stands up to the task. The film looks surprisingly good! It masks its low budget with down-to-earth sets, and great on-location work, including a pretty neat finale at a gas refinery. Another thing the film really nails is the use of sunlight, which is impressive for a black and white picture!

Being a low-budget independent production, many of his friends and family populated the cast, including his sweet cousin. They all do decent enough jobs, with no bad performances in the lot.

The dialogue is pretty funny in places, in that cheesy monster movie way:
"Remember, whiskey and soda mix, not whiskey and science."
And the closing moral coda of "Don't cry Ann. Perhaps you should cry. The rest of us can only hope his life was not wasted." Well which is it, man?

The Hideous Sun Demon isn't the best of the 1950s b-movie cycle, but hey, they are b-movies after all, so you expect them to be flawed in some way. At the end of the day what's important is, did it entertain you? Yes! And does it teach a good moral? Sure! If you're predisposed to turning into a lizard man, by all means keep drinking, but for God's sake, have the booze sent up to your room!...

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