Monsters and Matinees: Sun Block can’t Help The Hideous Sun Demon

Sun Block can’t Help The Hideous Sun Demon

The Hideous Sun Demon is a fantastic film title.

It screams Beware! Danger! Turn back!

I’m hideous and I’m a demon!

It’s such a robust title, that it deserves an exclamation point in the hallowed tradition of Them! Dinosaurus! Scooby Doo: Where Are You! The Hideous Sun Demon!

How great is it? An Australian band took the title as its name without seeing the movie.

And let’s give the 1958 sci-fi B-movie props for being way ahead of its time as a cautionary tale about the dangers of too much sun. (Always wear your sunscreen.)

Sadly, we must admit, The Hideous Sun Demon doesn’t hold up to the promise of its title and that’s clear from the first minute.

An accident with radioactive isotopes makes the sun deadly to a scientist played by Robert Clarke in The Hideous Sun Demon. Clarke also wrote, directed and produced the film.

The film opens in mid-sentence, so to speak, with action already in play and without a set-up or introduction to the characters. An alarm is going off at Atomic Research Inc. as a person is wheeled out on a stretcher into an ambulance.

Who? Why? We don’t know.

Then a dramatic blast of music and a square image colored in dark shades with a big white circle in the middle appears. The credits roll, proclaiming The Hideous Sun Demon.

The names of the cast and crew follow, but they sit stationary for a few seconds on that same, unmoving square until another set of names appear … on that same unmoving square, and so it goes.

The high-tech opening credits feature the same backdrop.

Though the sound is effective with that blaring music augmented by an ambulance siren, that darn square with the white circle is a clear indication of the (lack of) quality of what’s to come.

Don’t judge yourself harshly if this no-budget opening credit sequence is where you think that our much-anticipated Hideous Sun Demon is going to be a guy in a mask wearing gloves that imitate animal hands. You are right, but if you’re like me, you accept it as a necessary element in low-budget B-movies.

The plot? It’s thin. A voiceover tells us that no sooner had “satellites numbers 1 and 3” gone into space than the world is worrying about the dangers of radiation from the sun. (That’s all the background we get.)

Poor Dr. Gilbert “Gil” McKenna (played by Robert Clarke, who also directed, wrote and produced the film) is proof of why people should be worried. He’s the guy on the stretcher, a researcher who is the first victim of this danger from radioactive isotopes which are often blamed for bad things in 1950s sci-fi films.

In this fun shot, the sun that is superimposed over the face of Dr. Gil McKenna (played by Robert Clarke), will transform him into the title creature in The Hideous Sun Demon.

He was exposed to radiation for nearly 6 minutes and should be dead, but he’s not and that puzzles the doctors. In fact, he appears better than OK, looking handsome right down to the curls that slightly hang over his forehead where they stay for much of the film. Kept in the hospital for observation, he’s allowed time in the solarium, which is an elegant way of saying he sits on the roof in the sun with old people. (No, really, he sits on the roof with old people.)

It only takes a few minutes before he looks uncomfortable and sweats so profusely that he opens his robe and bares his chest as the sun beats down. The elderly lady sitting next to him screams “Oh your face!” and he runs off. Then more screaming! What’s wrong?

The explanation comes in one of those obligatory mumbo-jumbo scenes that I love where the scientists try to explain what’s going on. In the case of poor Gil, the sun exposure has caused him to regress – or evolve backwards – to the form humans were in prehistoric times. He has become scaly and lizard-like – half-man, half-lizard. A return to a dark room out of the sun brings him back to his normal attractive exterior, but each exposure to the sun will cause this “sun sensitivity” to occur faster and last longer.

A tough guy makes the mistake of forcing Dr. Gil McKenna (Robert Clarke) into the sun which turns him into The Hideous Sun Demon.

Now Dr. Gil isn’t left to deal with this alone. He has support from his colleagues including lab assistant Ann (Patricia Manning), a plain but pretty woman who is clearly in (unrequited) love with him. Compassionate scientist Dr. Buckell (Patrick Whyte) cares, too, but warns Ann about Gil’s hard drinking which he believes led to the radioactive incident.

“Whiskey and soda mix, not whiskey and science,” Dr. Buckell says.

Yes, booze is a problem for Gil who has a wild side that also includes women and fast cars. Plus he’s impatient and selfish. As his friends search for help from other scientists, all Gil must do is stay inside at least during the day. But no. He leaves at night, driving for hours in his small sports convertible with the top down, pushing the limits and playing games with the sun. But it’s hard to judge him when his inner anguish comes out as he stands on cliff ready to commit suicide. (The sounds of laughing children stop him. Sad.)

Despite advice to stay inside and out of the sun’s rays, Dr. Gil McKenna (Robert Clarke) can’t avoid the temptation of drink and women in The Hideous Sun Demon.

He meets sexy young Trudy (Nan Peterson) at a bar where she sings and plays piano. They make goo-goo eyes at each other, have a drink and make more goo-goo eyes.  Her gangster-like boyfriend shows up and, of course, they’ll fight over her (not for the last time either).

Gil and Trudy head to the beach where the sun peeks out from behind the clouds as they frolic on the sand, enjoy some hanky-panky and fall asleep until the sun rises. Gil, ever the gentleman, runs off in his convertible – still with the top down – as the sun bares down on him.

A little girl and her doll try to help a desperate Dr. Gil McKenna (Robert Clarke) not realizing he’s the monster everyone is searching for in The Hideous Sun Demon.

He’s in beast form by the time he arrives home, and things spiral out of control. The police go on a beast hunt, people lock themselves inside and his smart friends still try to help. On the run, Gil hides out in a shed on a large oil field where a child playing with her doll befriends him and offers to get him cookies. Mom will want to know who those cookies are for.

In a well-done and taut ending sequence, a chase sequence through the oil fields and up those large, circular natural gas tanks goes to dizzying heights. We can see the actors climbing the ladders and going higher and higher with the ground clear below. Clarke reportedly did his own stunts and it pays off as we watch Gil/the Hideous Sun Demon sadly racing closer to the sun.

The final sequence in The Hideous Sun Demon takes place from the dizzying heights of natural gas tank. That’s actor Robert Clarke doing his own stunts.

Making a monster movie

There are reasons to respect Hideous Sun Demon even though it wears its low budget on its monster mask and doesn’t live up to the awesome title.

Before this film, Robert Clarke had a long journeyman’s acting career with roles in such movies as Enchanted Cottage (1945) and My Man Godfrey (1957), plus a long resume of TV work on Perry Mason, Murder, She Wrote, General Hospital, 77 Sunset Strip and Dynasty. He is best known for his work in genre films like The Man From Planet X (1951), The Incredible Petrified World (1957) and Beyond the Time Barrier (1960). It was the success of the 1957 film The Astonishing She-Monster that led Clarke to direct his own low-budget film, hence The Hideous Sun Demon.

Outside of acting, Clarke was a first-time everything on The Hideous Sun Demon and it was a big undertaking.  By the end, he would be among three directors and four writers who put the film together. It was shot over 12 consecutive weekends using a crew of film students from the University of Southern California. Friends and relatives filled the cast. The original budget of $10,000 “ballooned” up to $50,000 but they kept things tight. The cast did their own hair, makeup and wardrobe. Only $500 was spent on the suit created by Richard Cassarino out of a wet suit.

Clark’s original idea was inspired by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and was different from his finished film. It was set in Guatemala where a scientist experiments with radiation on his son, who transforms into a reptile-like creature with sun exposure. The original title was “Saurus” or “Sauros” which means reptile in Latin and is a better description for the film, but not as cool of a title as The Hideous Sun Demon.

Nan Peterson made her film debut in The Hideous Sun Demon with Robert Clarke.


A film debut: It was the first film for Nan Peterson, who stars as singer Trudy in the film. Originally cast in the role was Clarke’s sister-in-law Marilyn King of the popular vocal group The King Sisters. She had to drop out of the role but wrote the song “Strange Pursuit” that is performed in the movie. There is even mention in the film on the radio of The King Sisters.

Film legacy: Robert Clarke gave his permission for the 1989 comedy What’s Up, Hideous Sun Demon that was redubbed with the voices of Jay Leno and Cam Clarke who reprised his father’s role. The unauthorized 1965 short film Wrath of the Sun Demon was a two-minute short produced by Donald F. Glut and starring Bob Burns, an archivist who owns the original mask.

 Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Toni’s Monsters and Matinees articles here.

Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., is an editor and writer at The Buffalo News. She shares her love for classic movies in her blog, Watching Forever and is a writer and board member of the Classic Movie Blog Association. Toni was the president of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now leads the offshoot group, Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs. She is proud to have put Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces in the spotlight as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown contest. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.

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