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  Project X Mindwarp
Year: 1968
Director: William Castle
Stars: Christopher George, Greta Baldwin, Henry Jones, Monte Markham, Harold Gould, Philip Pine, Lee Delano, Ivan Bonar, Robert Cleaves, Charles Irving, Sheila Bartold, Patrick Wright, Maryesther Denver, Keye Luke, Ed Prentiss
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Dr Crowther (Henry Jones) escorts these officials down to the level of the complex where the bodies are stored in suspended animation, frozen until they can be revived and cured of whatever ailed them. But there is one individual who has been admitted to the chamber four days before who the authorities are very keen should be brought back, only Crowther is unsure of how far they can go to bringing up his vital memories. What they can do is establish an elaborate set-up: this man, Hagan Arnold (Christopher George), was something of a genius, and an expert in history, so what if they send his now fragile mind back to the past?

Producer and director William Castle was largely known for his horrors and thrillers, and that was a reputation he built up very carefully and with great dedication, so Project X, not to be confused with the later movies of that title, was something of a departure for him, being as it was pure science fiction rather than something to frighten the audience with Castle's accustomed showmanship. This was no thriller with sci-fi trappings, however, as it delivered a surprising dedication to its ideas in the manner of the genre literature of the era, having been adapted from two such novels by Leslie P. Davis with a faithfulness to the usual mindbending concepts contained within those pages.

For that reason more than one viewer has found Project X to veer towards the baffling when it is trying to explain precisely what it was up to, and if the finer points are lost in the welter of jargon and special effects, then at least it was science fiction where you had to keep up with it rather than the other way around. Those effects were provided partly by Hanna-Barbera, then experts in cheaply produced animation which was littering the television airwaves of the time, though don't go expecting the sort of rendering you would watch on The Flintstones or Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? because in this case a measure of care had gone into them, more than simply a quick and economical cartoon.

The main conceit of the movie was to have the Hagan character think that the year was not 2118 at all, but one hundred and fifty years before and that he is a bank robber hiding out after a big raid in a shack in the countryside with his gang. Quite why this would be useful is never really explained when you imagine there would be more obvious methods to bring about the return of Hagan's memories, and indeed it doesn't appear to have anything to do with the actual method of divining the precious information from his noggin they implement later in the second half of the film. What information is that then? Well, he is an agent who was busying himself in "Sino-Asia" - the Cold War has adapted into the U.S.A. versus China, it seems - when he happened on a plot of some kind, but was only able to relay a radio message of how much time the West had left before all hell broke loose.

Rather than seeming advanced in its concepts as far as the movie's enemy went, it more harkened back to the pulp fiction of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels of decades before, complete with an interestingly-bearded Keye Luke as the mastermind Sen Chiu who is glimpsed in heavily treated effects work. What they do know in the complex is that the East have planned a way of creating only male babies to be born there, however that would be useful, but there is a conspiracy afoot which only Hagan has acccess too, if only he could remember. This ends up with such images as a psychic projection of his grimacing face in a glowing red whirlwind flinging the double agent across the room, or a pulsing brain in a spherical tank with wires stuck in it: it may have been low budget, but Castle did well with what he had. After dispensing with the apparently 36 Hours-inspired "time travel" plot things turn truly psychedelic, a demonstration of the counterculture's influence on the mainstream, though none of the cast made much impression other than the excellent Jones suggesting reason as a form of madness. Music by Van Cleave.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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