WIAC: Star Wars (1977)

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

WIAC: Star Wars (1977)

It is Tuesday May 24th, 1977 and in twenty-four hours Star Wars will seen for the first time by the general public and Hollywood will be changed forever.  Never before had a movie held the number one spot in the box office for as long as Star Wars did, it was in one of my hometown’s four theaters for an amazing seventy-two weeks at a time when each theater only had two screens each.  In order to understand how much this movie changed the landscape for science fiction movies I want to talk about what the landscape looked like before Star Wars was released.  That will be the basis for this new series I will be doing from time to time, what was being produced when groundbreaking films were released and it all changed.

In order to not be bogged down by writing about the eighty years of films that came before Star Wars or the years shortly after, I will be focusing primarily on science fiction films in post production or released between January 1st and May 25th of 1977. 

Domestically, the films that were being shown were:

Day of the Animals

The depletion of the earth's ozone layer causes animals above the altitude of 5000 feet to run amok, which is very unfortunate for a group of hikers who get dropped off up there by helicopter just before the quarantine is announced.

Release Date: 13 May 1977

Demon Seed

Married Drs. Alex Harris and Susan Harris are a computer scientist and child psychologist respectively. Their house reflects Alex's computer dominated work, their abode which is fully automated through a computer system they've named Alfred. They consider Alfred a small gadget of convenience. Susan doesn't much like Alex's work, which she feels has dehumanized him. Because of their differences, they are thinking about separating, this thought primarily on his initiative. He hopes to solve many of the world's medical problems through this work, especially leukemia from which their daughter died. His latest project centers on Proteus IV, a computer possessing artificial intelligence. Proteus IV gets to a point in its evolution when it begins to question human judgment, and requests from Alex an open computer terminal where it can more fully observe human behavior and openly communicate with the world. Alex denies the request, but Proteus IV does find an open terminal in the Harris home after Alex has left the house. Susan soon learns that Proteus IV has overtaken Alfred for control of the house - as well as taken control of an early prototype computer system named Joshua in the house's laboratory - and that it has thoughts of a biological nature in its artificial mind. Alex eventually understands Proteus IV's motivations in the work context, but it may be too late before it reaches its ultimate goal with Susan's unwilling assistance.

Release Date: 8 April 1977

Abar, the First Black Superman

Upon moving into a bigoted neighborhood, the scientist father of a persecuted black family gives a superpower elixir to a tough bodyguard, who thus becomes a superpowered crimefighter.

Release Date: 15 March 1977

The Crater Lake Monster

The heat of a meteor crashing into the lake incubates a prehistoric egg, which grows into a plesiosaur-like monster that terrifies the community.

Release Date: 15 March 1977

The Island of Dr. Moreau

Shipwrecked Andrew Braddock washes ashore on a remote, tropical island in the Pacific. There he is attended to by the seemingly kindly Dr. Moreau and his dour assistant Montgomery. Also living in Moreau's stockaded fort is the beautiful and exotic Maria, to whom Braddock is immediately attracted. The island's natives appear very strange to Braddock, who questions both Moreau and Montgomery on their unusual appearances and behavior. Not satisfied with their explanations, Braddock discovers that these monstrosities are actually wild predator animals that have been imported to the island and, as a result of genetic manipulation and surgery, have taken on human characteristics, including rudimentary speech. Lionmen, hyenamen, bearmen, and other mutant monsters are kept in check by their fear of Moreau's whip and surgical laboratory, "The House of Pain." Disgusted by these unnatural experiments and cruelty, Braddock attempts to stop Moreau's work... with tragic consequences.

Release Date: 13 July 1977

Kingdom of the Spiders

In the countryside, after the death of the awarded calf of the farmer Walter Colby, the veterinary Dr. Robert 'Rack' Hansen sends blood samples to be analyzed by the University. A couple of days later, the scientist Dr. Diane Ashley comes to the location and tells that the animal was bitten by spiders and killed by a massive dose of their venom. The skeptical Rack heads with Diane to Walter's farm and they find a huge spider nest in the field. Further, they find that the town is surrounded an enormous number of killer spiders and there is no way to run.

Release Date: November 1977

Damnation Alley

In the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust a group of survivors, mostly US Air Force personnel, travel from the western US to Albany, New York from where a radio broadcast has been received. Led by a no nonsense Major, Eugene Denton, they travel in specialized vehicles built specifically for survival in harsh conditions. Along the way, they are joined by an attractive young woman when they stop in Las Vegas, are joined by a young boy when they meet desperate survivors in the desert, must face hoards of killer cockroaches and survive a major flood in Detroit.

Release Date: 21 October 1977

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Cableman Roy Neary is one of several people who experience a close encounter of the first kind, witnessing UFOs flying through the night sky. He is subsequently haunted by a mountainlike image in his head and becomes obsessed with discovering what it represents, putting severe strain on his marriage. Meanwhile, government agents around the world have a close encounter of the second kind, discovering physical evidence of otherworldly visitors in the form of military vehicles that went missing decades ago suddenly appearing in the middle of nowhere. Roy and the agents both follow the clues they have been given to reach a site where they will have a close encounter of the third kind: contact.

Release Date: 16 November 1977

Outside of Close Encounters and Demon Seed the list is made up of eco-horror and cautionary tales.  At the time Star Wars was made for a budget of $11 Million which was unheard of, so most likely the rest on this list were made for much less than that and maybe four at the most anyone today has even heard of.  The films being imported at that time were:

Terror of Frankenstein (Sweden/Ireland)

Terror of Frankenstein, an Irish/Swedish coproduction, avoids the gimmickry and anachronisms which have distinguished previous versions of the Frankenstein story. This is done through the simple expedient of returning to the source, the original 19th century Mary Shelley novel. Terror is virtually a page-by-page retelling of the Shelley book, taking us from Dr. Frankenstein's earliest efforts to create synthetic life, progressing through the creation of his monster and the horrible consequences, and ending with the Doctor dead and his doleful monster exiled to an ice floe. This would remain the most faithful version of the classic horror novel until Kenneth Branagh's overproduced, underdeveloped version in 1994. Curiously, Terror of Frankenstein (also known as Victor Frankenstein) has been generally overlooked by film buffs, probably because it lacks star names or a "cult" director at the helm.

Release Date: March 1977

Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds (Japan)

A curious geologist and his female photographer explore a remote area near Mt. Fuji. Legend has it that dinosaurs once roamed the area and there are even reports that some large lizards remain. The pair poke around hoping to find something that will bring them wealth. Changes in the weather awaken a plesiosaur in the nearby lake who eats anyone that enter its waters. Meanwhile, a pterosaur is about to hatch high in a mountain ice cave. The explorers get way more than they bargain for when these two prehistoric giants clash in an inevitable battle worthy of their legend.

Release Date: 29 April 1977

Tentacles (Italy)

Several people disappear from and at the sea. Their bodies are found gnawed to the skeleton, even the marrow is missing. The scientists have no idea which animal could do such things. Dr. Turner begins to suspect that the company which builds a tunnel beneath the bay might have poisoned the environment and caused an octopus to mutate to giant dimensions. Just at the same time a great sailing regatta with many children is started - among them Turner's nephew Tommy.

Release Date: 15 June 1977

The People That Time Forgot (UK)

A sequel to The Land That Time Forgot. Major Ben McBride organizes a mission to the Antarctic wastes to search for his friend (Doug McClure) who has been missing in the region for several years. McBride's party find themselves in a world populated by primitive warriors and terrifying prehistoric creatures, all of whom they must evade in order to get back safely to their ship.

Release Date: 17 August 1977

In addition was a re-release of the Raymond Burr added Godzilla, a condensation of the Buck Rodgers serial from 1939 and a handful of films I couldn’t find either a poster or plot summary for. 

Jump ahead to 1979 and a quick list of the top five sci-fi movies are:

  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  • Moonraker
  • Alien
  • Parts: The Clonus Horror
  • Spaced Out

Needless to say, do you think any of those would have been made if not for Episode IV?  Maybe, but not for the budget they were, nor would marketing have pushed those films into so many theaters.

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