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PROJECT X ***

Directed by William Castle. Starring  Christopher George, Greta Baldwin, Henry Jones, Lee Delano, Monte Markham. Sci-Fi, USA, 97 mins, cert 12.

Released in the UK on Blu-ray by 101 Films on 16th September 2019.

 

Originally coming near the end of filmmaker William Castle's run of gimmicky genre movies, 1968s PROJECT X is a film that feels very old fashioned - like a late '50s Cold War SWF thriller - and also quite contemporary for its time, still reflecting on the same themes from the era but with a look to the future. However, in amongst its STAR TREK-esque set designs, Hanna Barbera produced animated special effects sequences and trippy psychedelic flurries is a plot that is so confusing in its ideas that what you ultimately come away with is a film that feels more than a little desperate on the part of the filmmakers.

 

So what we essentially have here is a spy thriller set in the future of 2118 where spy Hagen Arnold (Christopher George – CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) is lying in a coma with nuclear weapons secrets lodged firmly in his brain. In order to retrieve said secrets a team of scientists – led by the extremely clever Dr. Crowther (Henry Jones – VERTIGO) – have to recreate the world of 1968, where violence and crime levels are high and Arnold believes he is a bank robber, in order to try and get Arnold to reveal what he knows. Why? They just do, because that is what 1960s science fiction requires and PROJECT X then spins off into a mishmash of convoluted and hokey theories to try and reach the inevitable conclusion.

 

And a huge melting pot of ideas it is, although the script doesn’t always let that be known as clearly as it might thanks to a lot of cod-scientific mumbo jumbo that is, thankfully, delivered by a genial – and slightly camp - Henry Jones who really carries the movie over Christopher George, whose character has to be led by the nose through some very weird scenarios to try and remember what he knows. Naturally this is the 1960s and so a pretty woman in a short dress is required to divert the attention of the lead and Greta Baldwin fulfils this role, adding the necessary glamour and a touch of Bond girl sass to a fairly thankless part.

 

As a movie on its own PROJECT X is a bit of a misfire, looking very cheap and feeling like the last hurrah of a filmmaker short on ideas. When you consider that the film was originally released around the same time as ROSEMARY’S BABY and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – two ground breaking genre movies that shifted away from fantasy and into a grounded reality – PROJECT X feels at least three years out of date, looking like an episode of THE PRISONER or STAR TREK that didn’t quite make the regular series. However, watching it through the filter of time - and a touch of irony - there is a kitsch charm to it that, viewed with the correct intentions (and possibly a stimulant or two to make sense of the plot), makes it enjoyable enough. What really helps, though, is the inclusion of an informative audio commentary courtesy of Dark Side Magazine’s Allan Bryce and The Reprobate’s David Flint plus MONEY BACK GUARANTEE: WILLIAM CASTLE’S INGENIOUS GIMMICKS, a 35-minute talking heads featurette detailing how William Castle used his showmanship to create his legacy. For newbies and aficionados alike it is a fascinating and fun little documentary that probably would have been more useful attached to a William Castle film that gives you more of a flavour of that showmanship rather than a spirited but ultimately confusing story. Nevertheless, PROJECT X is an intriguing little movie but probably not quite for the reasons that William Castle expected.

 

Chris Ward

 

 

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