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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cape Canaveral Monsters

Phil Tucker directed the cult classic Robot Monster in 1953. He carried on the tradition with Cape Canaveral Monsters (CCM) which he wrote and directed. CCM sits squarely in 50s tradition of low-budget B sci-fi films. There is ample stock footage, marginal acting by relative unknowns, rudimentary special effects and an abundance of surplus radio gear. Yet, CCM manages to capture some of Robot Monster's quirkiness. No one could accuse Tucker of following well-worn paths. His tale of an alien invasion vanguard inhabiting a man and woman (now zombies), who then set about sabotaging America's nascent space program, was far from formulaic.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Two white dots come to earth and inhabit a man and wife driving home from a day at the beach. In the shock of (or adjustment to) inhabitation, they are both killed in a car crash. Yet, the bodies arise, the female now called Nadja and man Hauron. He lost his arm in the crash, but Nadja sews it on later. An atlas rocket is fired from nearby Cape Canaveral, but fails and blows up. Young Tom suggests it was sabotage from "outside". He is derided for believing in flying saucers. Later, a guard and his dogs chase a furtive man in the dark. Shots don't stop him, but the dogs rip off his arm. Tom and Sally, Bob and Shirley double-date parking. Their radio picks up interference. An illegal transmitter nearby? Tom and Sally go investigate. Nadja and Hauron are trying to raise the home world. They are told to send more specimens back, especially females. The invasion preparations are going slowly. Next day, Hauron causes another test rocket to crash. That night, the four young folk sit at a campfire. Tom and Sally go look for the transmitter. Bob and Shirley go back to the car. As they doze, Nadja and Hauron kidnap them. Shirley is prepped for sending back. Bob loses his arm for Hauron. Bob dies. Tom and Sally find the alien's cave, but trip a detector. They're captured. They're held in Hauron's lab. Tom and Hauron chat about science things. Tom escapes while Sally is prepped for shipment. Tom summons the authorities. Eventually, two detectives, two generals and a few other folks converge on the cave, ordering the aliens to surrender. Nadja simply captures them all. The aliens plan to return home with all their nice specimens, but while they're gone, the humans all figure out how to make some bubbly super-hydrogen explode using salt and common plastic. They do this and the cave blows up. It seems a happy ending, but the police car with Sally in it crashes and two white dots zip by. The end?

Why is this movie fun?
The plot is just too zany not to love. Aliens using zombies was not new, but these two villains are fascinating. Most of CCM is good old fashioned 50s B-movie fun, but with a hint of the bizarre.

Cold War Angle
CCM has the classic trope of aliens as stand-ins for communist spies. They're out to sabotage our space program. They also plan to invade our planet.

Notes
Horror Hybrid -- Science fiction and the horror genre have long seemed like siblings. CCM is another of the crossover hybrids that mix traditional horror elements, like zombies, with sci-fi. Many films featured aliens taking over living human bodies. Creature With The Atom Brain ('55) had a scientist animating corpses. Invisible Invaders ('59) had the alien take over Dr. Noymann. Plan 9 From Outer Space is the most famous example, with the aliens animating zombie Tor and Vampira to do their bidding.

Great Villains -- Tucker wrote some great villain zombie parts in Hauron and Nadja. Unlike the usual mindless zombies, these two have personality. The two are somewhat uneasy rivals assigned to the same mission. They bicker. Nadja nags Hauron about always losing his arm. Katherine Victor puts quite a sinister spin on the Nadja zombie. The other actors are so flat that these two steal the show.

Stasis Starts -- A "freeze ray" was especially new. Captain Video used one in lieu of a destructive weapon back in the early 50s. But Nadja's "stasis field" was pretty innovative for B sci-fi. She used it to stop Tom and Sally who entered in their cave. Stasis Fields would get a lot of use in later sci-fi.

Quirky, But Logical -- Much of CCM seems like a plot hole, but actually works if you think about it. As mere dots of light, the aliens needed human bodies to affect things on earth -- to sabotage our rocket tests. Naturally, their cave lab would be full of cobbled-together surplus earth equipment.

They're After Our Women! -- When Hauron gets the communicator tube working, the Leader says, "We need more earthlings for our experiments, especially females." We always knew the aliens were after our women.

Rocky Florida -- Even though the story is supposed to be set in eastern Florida, near Cape Canaveral, the landscape often seen is most un-Florida-like. It's hilly and very rocky like, well, Bronson Canyon, where Ro-Man lived.

Never Ending -- A few sci-fi movies of the 50s toyed with non-endings. Not Of This Earth ('57) suggested a new invasion when the first one failed. Jack Harris like to end his movies with a question mark. At the end of CCM, the police car crashes off camera, Sally screams and two white dots fly by. Nadja and Hauron in new bodies now? Two new aliens? The story didn't really end.

Bottom line? If you're a fan of quirky old B sci-fi, and maybe liked Robot Monster, then CCM will entertain you. If you expect good acting, a tight plot and special effects, CCM may annoy you.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Check out this awesome 50's Sci-fi spoof...Mutant Swinger from Mars!

Mutant Swinger from Mars is a 2009 Science fiction comedy film written, produced and directed by Michael Kallio. A cross between Young Frankenstein, The Nutty Professor and all of Ed Wood's movies, the film pays homage to all things sci-fi, horror and comedy. The film features the acting debut of Jack White (pre-White Stripes and Cold Mountain) of The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. Shot in 1998, but finished in 2009, it made its WORLD PREMIERE at the San Diego Comic Con on July 25, 2009. In early October of 2009, the film was awarded Best Sci-Fi/Comedy at the Fargo Fantastic Film Festival 7. The film's LA premiere will be at Screamfest 2009 on October 24th at 3:00pm at Grauman's Mann Chinese 6 theaters.


Watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KR3IlCRi0pM

Synopsis:
A brilliant scientist studying the rejuvenation of dead flesh is forced by three aliens from Mars to build them the perfect "chick magnet." The desperate Martians use this mutant lothario to lure cute Earth dames, because MARS NEEDS WOMEN! Can Rusty save Mitzy from the mutant charms and alien terrors that plague their town in MUTANT SWINGER FROM MARS? Packed with thrills that feature dancing, brawling, romance, and dangers from out of this world, this "long lost" film by "famous director," Orton Z. Creswell is SO terrifying, you'll laugh yourself to DEATH!!!!!

Cast: Mike East, Colleen Hayes, Pete Laduke, Bob Young, Bart Williams, Rhonda Belcher, Jack White, Mike Thompson, Rolfe Bergsman, Biff Anderson, Charelton Hen-ston
Directed By: Michael Kallio
Written By: Michael Kallio
Produced By: Linda Rosenfeld, George Lieber & Michael Kallio

Mary said...

great synopsis, i must see CCM now, i loved ro-man and movies like it

Erik Hammen said...

Great post, couldn't agree more. If you're patient with some meandering, this one is a lot of fun and weird as hell.

Erik Hammen said...

Great post - I loved this one, saw it on archive.org. With some patience, there's plenty of genuine weirdness in it to make for a zero budget good time.

ralph60 said...

I remember seeing this while growing up in the early 1960. it's is one of my favorites of the era.

I have always felt that, Phil Tucker had some great ideas, but he never had the money, or the right backing.