Written by: Carroll Jenkins on November 4th, 2009
Theatrical Release Dates: USA, 1952 (as a 12 chapter serial), USA, 1958 (a feature film retitled under the name Satan’s Satellites)
Director: Fred C. Brannon
Writer: Ronald Davidson
Cast: Judd Holdren, Aline Towne, Wilson Wood, Lane Bradford, Stanley Waxman, John Crawford, Craig Kelly, Ray Boyle, Leonard Nimoy
DVD Released: September 22nd, 2009
Approximate Running Time: 167 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Cheezy Flicks Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.95
Synopsis: Martians try to bump Earth out of it’s orbit and take it’s place. Can the rocket patrol save the day?
Interplanetary space operas with stars and planets usurped by desperate aliens threatened with extinction were brought to the pulps in gloriously hyperbolic prose by Edmond Hamilton in the late 20’s [see note]. These concepts were later explored by serials (Flash Gordon), television (Star Trek), and feature films (Star Wars). Only recently has technology made it possible for media to realize the grandiose visions of the pulp tales and illustrations.
Produced with a meager budget, Zombies of the Stratosphere makes no attempt to represent the central concept – they just talk about it a lot. Some of the special effects are rather enjoyable: spaceships, robots, Martians, and flying rocketmen. The poster art for the feature condensation (Satan’s Satellites, ’58) vividly depicts these delicious ingredients – though the original artwork (featured on the DVD cover) looks as rushed and cheap as the serial itself.
In fairness, what budget there was is spent rather well; a spaceship with a bubble turret, the robot. But as a cost cutting measure there are long stretches of recycled footage from other serials and features. In order to incorporate this footage the script jumps all over the place. Some is even pulled from westerns!
So, why doesn’t the jet pack for the rocketman ever fire off? Because the special effects are the same technique used in Captain Marvel (where it wasn’t an issue) – an elongated dummy sliding down a wire. He flies up by sliding backwards down the wire then projected in reverse, but the propulsion trail would be going up, not down. They also made no attempt to adjust the timing and as a result he always speeds up when flying down and slows down when flying up, which doesn’t seem advisable. Otherwise this footage is very effective, though also borrowed from prior productions.
This is a budget release, but the source is good and the authoring is satisfactory. The serial is presented in it’s 12 chapter form (including all 11 thrilling cliffhangers), with the entire 167 minutes on one single-sided disc. The original trailer and some intermission shorts are included. The episodes are short compared to earlier chapter plays, but marathon viewing of entire serials is still not recommended.
Serial enthusiasts will probably want this to complete their collection, though they’ve seen it all before. For the casual viewer it contains enough excitement and action to merit attention, especially as it features a young Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek) as a Martian. Novices, though, are advised to start with the classics of the genre such as Adventures Of Captain Marvel, Flash Gordon (Space Soldiers), Zorro’s Fighting Legion, or Drums Of Fu Manchu.
Note: The Interstellar Patrol tales of Edmond Hamilton have recently been published in a hardback edition by Haffner Press that is highly recommended.