Terror from the Year 5000 (1958)

Rating:

aka Cage of Doom

USA. 1958.

Crew

Director/Screenplay/Producer – Robert J. Gurney, Jr., Photography (b&w) – Arthur Florman, Makeup – Rudolph Liszt, Scenic Design – Bill Hoffman. Production Company – La Jolla Productions

Cast

Ward Costello (Dr Robert Hedges), Joyce Holden (Claire Erling), John Stratton (Victor), Frederic Downs (Professor Howard Erling), Salome Jens (The Visitor), Fred Herrick (Angelo)


Plot

Archaeologist Robert Hedges receives a mysterious statuette from his mentor, nuclear physicist Professor Howard Erling. Hedges is startled when carbon dating tests show that the statuette comes from the year 5200 A.D.. Hedges travels to Spooner Beach in Florida to meet Erling, only to find that the statuette was sent by Erling’s daughter Claire. There he finds that Erling and his assistant Victor have been conducting experiments where they have found a means to send objects into the future and in return the people of the future send an object back to them. Erling has closed the experiments down after finding that the objects being sent back are radioactive, however Victor has been conducting unauthorized experiments of his own. Now one of Victor’s experiments causes a deadly woman visitor from the future to come back through the portal.


Terror from the Year 5000 is a very minor B movie from the 1950s that is nowadays largely forgotten. It was made independently by Robert J. Gurney who had previously written/produced Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) and produced Reform School Girls (1957). Gurney only made two other films as director with the psycho film Edge of Fury (1958) and the nudie film The Parisienne and the Prudes (1964).

Terror from the Year 5000 is very much a film of its era. The opening voiceover makes a leap from the breaking of the sound barrier (in 1946) to the breaking of the Space Barrier (which had just happened the year before in 1957 with Sputnik) and looks forward to the breaking of the Time Barrier. It is clearly a film born of the post-Sputnik era and filled with the sense that we were on the immediate verge of the Space Age.

Terror from the Year 5000 is competently made as B science-fiction films of the era go. The first two-thirds of the film are slow. There is no threat of any kind during these scenes and the only thing that drives the action are the sporadic mysteries concerning the radioactive statue that is carbon-dated as having come from the future (something that would be technically impossible in actuality) and the assistant throwing suitcases into the river. The rest of the early sections are taken up with the routine stuff of John Stratton’s assistant conducting illicit experiments and the love triangle. In fact, during this time there is very little focus on the experiments and especially on the intriguing mystery about the trade in items with the people from the future.

It is during the last third of the film with the appearance of the alien woman, played by Salome Jens, best known as a tv actress and to genre fans as the female Founder in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1992-9), that Terror from the Year 5000 starts to become interesting. Her initial appearance is unearthly – she is seen attacking people where Robert Gurney has marked a series of dots over the emulsion of the film to striking effect. When she is seen closer up, she is wearing a fascinating black costume with circular mirrors all over it. (We learn later that this is meant to be a radiation suit, although the effect is somewhat undone when we see that the radiation suit also includes a pair of high heels). She is then seen attacking the nurse, followed by pulling a facemask out of a canister and putting it over the dead woman – and then turning up herself as the nurse. Later she demonstrates the capacity to hypnotize people by using her fingernails. The results are effectively otherworldly and mysterious. The woman from the future also comes with a reasonable agenda – needing genetic purity from the present to repopulate a future that has become corrupted by mutation and where a fifth of children are born mutated. (The same idea was also used in the time travel Millennium (1989) three decades later). However, at this point in science-fiction cinema, the nature of the genre was such that Salome Jens’s Visitor cannot be regarded as anything other than hideous therefore evil and deservous of death. The fadeout reserves some sympathy for her, although quickly turns this around into being one about the future being ours to choose.

There is also a prurient fascination lurking not far beneath the film. Robert J. Gurney, Jr seems greatly obsessed with seeing Joyce Holden undressing (at least as much as the censorship of the day allowed him to get away with) – into her bathing costume behind some bushes, down to her petticoat to get into bed in silhouette behind the blinds of a window, as well as the servant Angelo (Fred Herrick) peeping in and later being found by Ward Costello looking at dirty magazines in his room.


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