Wizard of Mars (1964)

Genres - Horror, Science Fiction  |   Release Date - Jan 1, 1965 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 81 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Fred Beldin

Schlock horror/sci-fi director David L. Hewitt is responsible for many of the most endearingly awful titles of the '60s (including Monsters Crash the Pajama Party, Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors, and The Mighty Gorga). Fans of naïve science fiction will adore the transparently cheap but wonderful Wizard of Mars, which might fail as bargain basement kiddie adventure but charms with colorful (if unconvincing) special effects and boneheaded science. Flimsy cardboard sets are decorated with construction paper and hi-fi equipment, sea serpents are fashioned out of motionless latex tubes, and the great John Carradine's entire role as a ghostly apparition is projected on a papier-mâché wall like a home movie. But the film's vivid artificiality, bathed in hot orange light, is sure to please anyone jaded by ubiquitous CGI effects in modern cinema. The foil-suited astronauts creep across tinted California desert rocks and float through canals gazing at stock footage of underground caverns. A Martian skyscape is suggested with boiling seas of orange clouds, creating some shots of startling composition when contrasted against the cold surface that the spacemen explore. The story moves slowly, the actors (including Hewitt regular Vic McGee) don't project any kind of personality or engagement, and nothing makes any sense, but it's prime Saturday afternoon matinée stuff, sure-fire nostalgia bait for a certain demographic of film buffs. Despite the title and a few familiar stolen ideas (a lady astronaut named Dorothy, a "yellow brick road" discovered under the Martian sands), Wizard of Mars isn't a slavish remake of the L. Frank Baum classic, allowing the film to be retitled numerous times as Horrors of the Red Planet, Journey into the Unknown, and most improbably as Alien Massacre.