Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952)
By: Paul Ryan on February 15, 2010  | 
Cheezy Flicks (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 167 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Fred C. Brannon
Starring: Judd Holdren, Aline Towne, Wilson Wood, Lane Bradford
Screenplay: Ronald Davidson
Country: USA
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Nefarious Martians (dubbed "zombies", for reasons that are never made clear) have landed on Earth, looking to assemble an H-Bomb for the purposes of blasting our planet out of orbit and replacing it with their own. Aiding them in this plan are a cadre of human mobsters (who are completely okay with the Martians blowing up their planet) and a turncoat scientist, Dr Harding. It's up to heroic government agent Larry Martin (Judd Holdren) and his trusty rocket pack to save the day, but he'll have to survive bank-robbing robots, derailed trains, knife-wielding aliens, and lots and lots of stock footage….

Coming from the tail-end of the era of chapter serials (which were rapidly being rendered obsolete by the arrival of television), Zombies of the Stratosphere isn't regarded as a classic of the genre, and is hilariously cheap, but still manages to be quite entertaining all the same. A great deal of the serial's effects footage is plundered from earlier Republic chapter plays (and repeated ad-nauseum to boot), along with props, costumes and sets. The dialogue is littered with state-the-bleeding-obvious comments and cloddish exposition, while the cast are all awesomely wooden. But the fast pace of the serial helps to make all these obvious defects less of a bother.

Originally intended as a follow-up to Republic's Commando Cody serial, Radar Men From The Moon, the Cody character was ultimately dropped and replaced with the less awesomely-named Larry, but the antics are pretty much in the same spirit, with flights, fist-fights and dangerous situations galore. Each chapter runs around 11-13 minutes (the 20-minute opener aside), keeping proceedings brisk. Oh, and Star Trek fans will definitely appreciate the presence of a very young Leonard Nimoy, as knife wielding Martian Narab. No wimpy nerve pinches here!
The video transfer appears to come from an analogue tape source, but as these things go, it's not too bad. There are minor, infrequent spots of tracking errors, and the image is a bit soft all round. Still, I've seen serials scrub up far worse than this on DVD.
The 2.0 audio is somewhat faint at times, with the odd bit of hiss and crackle, but dialogue is consistently easy to make out.
Extra Features
Theatrical Trailer (1.55m): Brief, brassy and lovably corny.

Intermission Time (6.31m): A collection of vintage cinema/drive-in advertisements, with promos for concession stands, popcorn, burgers and drinks. The kitsch factor is through the roof – especially the ad for a not-very-safe-looking drive-in heater, worryingly named "Bernz-o-matic"- and often hilarious. The picture and sound quality of the ads is mostly quite poor, but this is still a very welcome inclusion. And remember, "Any age is the right age for a hamburger!"

About Cheezy Flicks: A screen of info about the Portland, Oregon-based DVD label, who boast a library of some 10,000 titles. Yowza.

Bonus Trailers (10.49m): A reel of other titles available from Cheezy Flicks. These include trailers for serials King of the Rocket Men and G-Men Vs The Black Dragon (the latter of which looks staggeringly racist, even if you allow for it being made during WW2), sixties 3D horror opus The Mask (complete with 3D snippets), The Day Of The Triffids, X-The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, Bogart crime drama Dead End, kiddie oddity Dunderklumpen, 80s actioner The Firing Line, Hercules and the Masked Rider and anti-Commie sci-fier Red Planet Mars.
The Verdict
Cheap, cheerful and fast-paced, Zombies of the Stratosphere is an entertaining guilty pleasure. The DVD presentation is technically nothing special, but the extras are great fun.
Movie Score
Disc Score
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