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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Invasion of the Star Creatures

Sci-fi from the Golden era (the 50s) was sufficiently established as part of American culture that it was a candidate for parody. This wasn't new in 1963, of course. Abbott and Costello Go To Mars had done this ten years earlier. Invasion of the Star Creatures (ISC) is a rather amateurish effort at comedy and parody in the Abbott and Costello style. ISC was written by a second-teir B actor, Jonathan Haze, and directed by a third-teir B actor, Bruno VeSota, Like A & C, their story is about a couple of bumbling earth men and some leggy space babes. The poster suggests something more serious. This notion is quickly dispelled.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The opening credit is "An R. I. Diculous Production," so you know a farce awaits. Private Philbrick and Private Penn are two bumbling soldiers on a fictional Nike missile base in the southwest. They are sent with (some only slightly less bumbling) other soldiers to investigate a cave discovered in a nuclear test's blast crater. Philbrick and Penn, as human pack mules, are left outside while the other four investigate the cave. These four are chased by Vegemen, and disappear from the story line. Philbrick and Penn asleep outside, are captured by the Vegemen. They are monologued at by two tall and leggy beauties: Professor Tanga and Dr. Puna. Their planet is small and over-crowded, so they are scouting for suitable planets to conquer. Philbrick and Penn escape when Philbrick discovers that the amazons are rendered helpless by kissing. They flee the cave, but are pursued by Vegemen. The Vegemen almost succeed, but are called (telepathically) back to the cave. Tanga and Puna plan to depart in their rocket. Philbrick and Penn get their commanding officer and some random (un-PC) "indians" to help stop the rocket. The helpers get uselessly drunk on moonshine, so Philbrick and Penn must go it alone. They bumblingly launch the empty rocket, stranding Tanga and Puna. These two decide to make the best of being marooned by becoming Philbrick and Penn's wives. Philbrick and Penn are awarded a medal for saving the planet and then drive off with their 7' tall brides. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
This is tough, as ISC is almost painfully lame. Yet, some of the parody references can bring a small smile to fans of 50s sci-fi. Of course, Puna and Tanga aren't hard on the eyes, and may actually be the best part of the movie.

Cold War Angle
As a spoof, no serious messages exist in ICS.

Notes
Amateur Hour -- The two big forces that shape a movie, the writer and director, were both novice efforts. Jonathan Haze usually played bit parts in low-level B movies. For example, he played the contaminated man who dies pretty early into Day the World Ended ('55). Haze is more famous for his role in Little Shop of Horrors. He was not particularly adept at writing comedy. ISC was his sole effort at writing a movie screenplay. Bruno VeSota was another bit-part actor in B films. His lasting fame was as the fat shop owner in Attack of the Giant Leeches ('59), whose unfaithful wife got everyone out in the infested swamps. To his credit, VeSota had enough technical experience to get the job completed. Comedy/parody takes a skillful hand, which Haze & VeSota were just too green to have. The overall effect of ISC is sophomoric (especially the stereotype indian gags). ISC was VeSota's third and last film as a director.

Ro-Man Reunion -- Fans of 50s sci-fi will recognize the cave as the one at Bronson Canyon. This, ten years earlier, was the lair of the infamous Ro-Man of Robot Monster, and several other aliens too. Little wonder that Tanga and Puna set up their digs there too.

Budget Bud and Lou -- Bob Bell and Frankie Ray were cast as a low-rent version of Abbott and Costello. A budget pair Stooges might be more fitting. Penn functions as the "straight man" only because he's only slightly less idiotic than Philbrick. To their credit, they do try to act in stooge-esque fashion with many bits of slapstick. The script, however, contains only lame jokes. For instance, at one point, a Vegeman pushes Philbrick to the floor (for refusing to leave when commanded). Philbrick says, "That's the first time a salad ever tossed me! " Now and then, Ball occasionally lapses into a vague Jimmy Cagney impersonation for no particular reason.

Space Babes -- Even though parodied, ICS does manage to pay homage to the 50s tradition that outer space is populated with tall, leggy beauties in their mid-twenties. Part of that tradition is that said space babes are always man-hungry for earth men. While nothing new, this trope was at least amusing to see (again).

Space Rangers -- A running gag throughout ICS is a spoof of the 50s phenomenon of Space Rangers, those pseudo-clubs built around TV shows or movies which appealed to young boys. First Philbrick, then his commanding officer, Colonel Awol, the indian leader and even General Brass at the end, are all revealed to be members of the Space Commander Conners Club, which supersedes all other allegiances. Also, quick-eyed viewers will spot that Puna and Tanga's rocket is Rocky Jones, Space Ranger's "Orbit Jet."

A Thing For You -- The Vegemen are a mildly amusing nod to The Thing. They're plant men, grown in little flower pots, reminiscent of the famous '51 thriller.

Bottom line? ISC is a film which only devoted sci-fi collectors might endure. It may have played better to the drive-in crowd in 1963, who were children raised on 50s sci-fi. ISC has some archeological value as a time-capsule of base humor in the early 60s. To modern viewers, however, the jokes are lame or tedious.

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