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Latitude Zero: Chapter Three

June 12th, 2008

Up ’til now, you may not have understood why I was so entranced by my initial viewing of Latitude Zero. Sure, it’s hokey, talky and far too impressed with its science-utopia, but the same could be said for a number of ’50s and ’60s sci-fi flicks.

It’s the third act where the wheels come off the bathysphere and and it descends into batshit insanity. You could blame the Japanese, who turn out unfathomably odd pop cultural artifacts faster than you can say “hentai Pokemon.” But I’ll lay it at the feet of its American screenwriter, Ted Sherdeman, who based it on his own ’40s radio serial. Time magazine’s review of the radio drama suggests that some of the odder details were there from the start. (In fairness to Sherdeman, he also wrote the screenplay for Them!, one of the very best ’50s monster movies.)

To recap the story so far:

MacKenzie and Malic are superscientists with inexplicably extended lifespans. They fight.


 

Our story continues as MacKenzie prepares to rescue the kidnapped scientist Dr. Okada and his daughter from Malic’s island fortress. He orders that special modifications being made to his submarine, the Alpha, be completed within the hour. Feeling indebted, Perry, Ken and Jules volunteer for the mission. The “Frenchman” asks how they should prepare for the dangers of Blood Rock. “First,” says MacKenzie, “the Bath of Immunity!”

It turns out to be more of a Spa Pool of Immunity, a bubbling tub of greenish water that grants 24 hours of protection. The gang is surprised when Anne joins them in the skinny dip. (It’s still the ’60s, so the nakedness is only implied.) It’s supposed to be humorously titillating when the boys have to exit the bath first with their junk dangling, but it’s really just sort of awkward.

Concerned about shrinkage. Get a good look, guys. This is all you get.

And how do we know that this is truly a Bath of Immunity and not just MacKenzie’s ploy to see Richard Jaeckel’s wee-wee? The good captain has one of his minions shoot him with a revolver. Plucking the bullet from the air, he says to Perry, “We’d better test you too.” And before any of our heroes can suggest something less drastic–a bad paper cut or poke in the eye–each is shot square in the chest. Ah, the scientific approach.

Call it job satisfaction.
“Wow, I didn’t even feel the kinetic energy!” “Me? Hey, you never shot the broad!”

Next, they are issued shiny jumpsuits made of “corvexa,” an alloy of gold and platinum and therefore impervious to all temperatures. Just like real gold and platinum are.

Back on Blood Rock, Malic taunts Dr. Okada by telling him that he knew about the homing device secreted in his prisoner’s spare eyeglasses all along, then smashes the frames with his foot. (Honestly, there’s evil and then there’s just plain dickishness.) He orders that the captives be brought to the observation gallery.

In the operating theater, a bat creature wheels in a gurney like a Chiropteran orderly. Strapped to it is Kroiga, once-loyal submarine commander and romantic rival of Malic’s “companion” Lucretia. As Lucretia prepares to jab her with a scary needle, Kroiga’s last words are “You monster! You fiend! Damn you! I hope you die…die…DIE!”

Keep this in mind. It’ll be important later.

On the next episode of Grey’s Anatomy “Seriously, die…dieDIE!

“I’ll demonstrate my skill,” Malic declares to Dr. Okada, “by creating the creature destined to kill your Captain MacKenzie.” As he walks over to a control panel, the nearby actor in the bat suit appears to think, “Well, I can’t just stand here doing nothing,” and so begins to quiver with palsied menace.

A pair of sliding wall panels reveal another actor, this one in a thoroughly unconvincing lion costume, and a puppet condor. Anesthetic gas pours into the lion’s cell.

On the Alpha, MacKenzie cracks out the rest of the gear. They include rocket-powered “elevation belts,” and gloves with a variety of weapons built into the fingers: miniature flamethrowers, paralyzing gas and lethal lasers.

Back in the operating room, Shaky the Bat watches as Malic begins to saw into the cranium of the still-conscious guy-in-a-lion-suit. From the gallery, Okada’s daughter cries, “I can’t stand it!” only to receive a dressing-down from another nearby bat creature.

“No, I do not want a neck rub!”

Malic’s intention is to transplant Kroiga’s brain into his beast, so that it’ll be able to “understand and obey” his orders. Okada offers to give up his anti-radiation formula, but it’s too late. Malic pulls out his rotary saw, and orders Lucretia to anesthetize the condor!

Perhaps a little too happy about his work. Fun Fact: “Anesthetize the condor” is a popular euphemism in the Malic household.

The Alpha arrives at Blood Rock and parks underneath a cliff face. Stepping out onto the landing ramp, the invaders activate their elevation belts and rocket upwards.

We are Devo. This does not in any way look ridiculous.

As they make their way toward the fortress, a magnetic force locks their elevation belts and holds them in place, but Koubo manages to lift them safely onto a nearby ledge.

Lucretia is alarmed as she watches their escape on a monitor, but Malic is otherwise engaged as he saws at the condor’s wings. “It doesn’t matter! Don’t bother me!” he snaps. This was the moment I realized that Latitude Zero had transcended to the ranks of the truly, wonderfully awful, as I witnessed Cesar Romero manically butcher a puppet bird.

Thanksgiving at Blood Rock was always a little strange.

Malic finishes assembling his creation, a winged lion with a human brain! He addresses it as “Kroiga,” and crows in triumph when it recognizes its name. Oh, but that’s not enough for Malic, now showing off like a toddler using the toilet for the first time. He brandishes his “amplification serum,” which will cause the gryphon to increase three times in size.

Now, as none of us are mad scientists, consider this for a moment: you have betrayed your lover (whose last words, remember, were “I hope you die, die, DIE!”), cut out her brain, stuck it in the body of a half-lion/half-bird, and made the resultant monster three times bigger. Really? This is your master plan? Have you really thought it through?

Malic’s mind is elsewhere. He cries “Go! Find MacKenzie and kill him! Kill MacKenzie!”

As the gryphon soars into the sky, we take our leave from Blood Rock for now…

  • Will Kroiga really “kill MacKenzie?”
  • Is creating a giant monster that hates your guts a good idea?
  • Does this corvexa jumpsuit make Joseph Cotten look fat?

Stay tuned, for the final chapter of Latitude Zero!

Next: Rodents of Unusual Size!

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