From the product packaging:
“After being exposed to a near-fatal dose of radiation, atomic research scientist Gilbert McKenna is lucky to be alive. After recovering, he soon finds his body has a terrible reaction to the sun, transforming him into a reptilian creature when sunlight hits his skin, and then back into a human when out of the sun’s reach. Desperate to find a cure, his assistant enlists the help of a leading authority of radiation poisoning and its effects who claims the scientist can be cured. However, they gravely underestimate the psychological toil that the horrifying condition is taking on McKenna.”
Occasionally there are some of these older, kinda/sorta forgotten Science Fiction and Fantasy stinkers that deserve a bit of praise. That’s what I try to do when and if I stumble upon them.
It’s safe to say that The Hideous Sun Demon is an easily forgettable odyssey by any practical measure. It appears at all times to be made on-the-cheap and with very little true ‘invention;’ but I will give it a few compliments based on the latest viewing. In truth, it’s a flick I’m familiar with – I remember seeing this one more than once as a little guy growing up in the days when SciFi features of the 50’s and 60’s were heavy in rotation in the TV syndication market – so maybe some of my kind words are a product of nostalgia more than anything else.
Starring Robert Clarke (an incredible 172 credits on IMDB.com) in the role of Dr. Gilbert McKenna, this truly was an early ‘vanity’ project as Clarke is also cited as having come up with the original story as well as co-directing the production alongside Tom Boutross (who shared scriptwriting responsibilities as well). According to Wikipedia.org (and I may be plugging my interpretation of their stated facts), Clarke was inspired by the (financial) success of his previous outing – The Astounding She-Monster (1957) – to dip back into the realm of SciFi and Fantasy, and he drew inspiration for his tale from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde,” itself a property that has inspired many, many cinema and TV adaptations.
While there’s a clear symbiosis between these works – i.e. both explore the prospect of one man wrapped up in a violent and vivid tale of two identities – Sun Demon really spends far too much time with the sane McKenna and too little time with his insane reptilian counterpart to make Clarke's comparison to Jekyll & Hyde any more relevant or relatable. Obviously, the good doctor is not quite himself when he’s responding to cold-blooded influences of the animal kingdom, but thankfully the script fleshes out a small bit of conflict for him to confront as a normal person as well (such as the ubiquitous love triange and even what appears to be a small-town mob connection).
For example, McKenna the man finds himself torn between two lovers – lab assistant Ann Russell (Patricia Manning) and torch singer Trudy Osborne (Nan Peterson). Just by their career choices alone, Ann and Trudy are clearly cut from different cloth; and their costuming couldn’t be more indicative – Ann appears in full-body dresses with sleeves and high collars while Trudy shows enough cleavage to alarm the casual network censor. (It’s even suggested that she’s in nothing but her birthday suit under McKenna’s trench coat for their romantic scenes on the beach! Oh, behave!) Small details like this do make these characters work on the aesthetic level, so kudos to whoever called those shots.
While much of the film feels as though it was a fairly routine construction, there’s actually one sequence deserving a bit of extra mention: late in the film, a small girl named Suzy (Xandra Conkling) goes out to play tea party with the dolls she keeps hidden away in a functional oil field shack (egads!), a place wherein McKenna is hiding out from the approaching police. Some excellent cinematography was at work as the scene is filmed from inside the shack with absolutely no supporting music or anything; it’s a stark setting punctuated by the odd metallic rhythms of an oil pump, and all of this somehow manages to ratchet up a sense of dread, almost as if the child was clearly walking into the most dangerous set of circumstances imaginable. It ends up being a fairly benign pairing between the man and the girl – I had a throwback memory to the scene in Frankenstein involving his meeting with a li'l lass – but I found this sequence to be a great piece of camera work evoking a dark, dreary, deadly mood while ending up nothing more than a kid with her toy China teacups.
Still, Sun Demon remains one of those older films that's probably best forgotten. There’s just nothing very distinctive about its story or its performances – the script is downright bland in sections dealing with exposition (the veritable screenwriter's wordy download in order to progress the plot) – and there’s just no real sense of urgency to much else in here, not even the race for a cure. The lizardman costume is better-than-average and yet the audience just spends so little time with the monster it never gets the love most classic creatures have earned.
The Hideous Sun Demon (1958) was produced by Clarke-King Enterprises. (Interestingly enough, this was their only productions according to IMDB.com.) DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by Corinth Films. As for the technical specifications? The sights and sounds of this DVD are solid; there’s an understandable bit of grain in a few places given the age of the film. As for the special features? Alas, this is a bare bones release, and there isn’t a single one! Gasp! The horror! The horror!
Audiences heading into The Hideous Sun Demon should be prepared for a slim monster movie, perhaps one of the slimmest. Though it would’ve been nice to see a bit more of this particular ‘lizardman,’ the story is structured such that our protagonist strives to avoid changing into the beast, meaning that this creature feature truly features this creature only briefly. Naturally, the ending gives us the best look at the monster, but it would’ve been nice to have more. (And, at that point, he's wearing slacks!) Still, there are a few nice sequences, although the script and pacing of the film did it no favors.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Corinth Films provided me with a complimentary DVD of The Hideous Sun Demon (1958) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.