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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Killers From Space

This is a solidly B-grade film which harkens more from the Captain Video and Radar Men from the Moon style. Like the serials, the aliens are just men dressed in full leotards, with tight hoods. Here, they have ping-pong ball halves for eyes, and bushy eyebrows, but they still hang out in caves, littered with high school chemistry lab equipment. Yes, it's a cheesy movie, but it has it's points.

Killers from Space (KFS) comes from the same father and son team that brought us Phantom from Space (May '53). Apparently they liked the "(something) From Space" formula for a title. W. Lee Wilder directed. His son Myles wrote the story. They must have begun KFS immediately after Phantom. The credits say KFS was done in 1953. It was released in January of 1954. This gives you an idea of how quickly a B-movie could be whipped out.

Quick Plot Synopsis
At yet another A-Bomb test (much stock footage), a pilot circles his jet around the site so a scientist can take readings. After they see a bright light, the plane crashes. The scientist (Peter Graves) staggers back to the base the next day, unhurt, with no memory of the crash or what happened to him. He does have an unexplained surgical scar over his heart.Over the next few days, he acts strangely, arousing suspicions. He steals some secret test info and is caught delivering it to a drop point. Under "truth serum" he tells the tale of his abduction, heart surgery (since he actually died in the crash) and all about the aliens. They come from a planet (Astron Delta) very far away. The Astron sun is dying and the billion or so Astron Deltans are looking for a new home. They've been stealing power from the nuclear tests, storing some of it, using the rest to mutate earth creatures (bugs, lizards, etc.) into giants which will devour all humans. Then the Deltans will kill all their monsters with a sonic ray and take over the earth. Graves is shown too much. He figures out that they need massive amounts of electricity to manage all that stored power. Once out of his truth serum stupor, he tries to convince the authorities to either set off a really huge bomb, thus overloading the Deltan's power management system, or shut off the power grid to southern Nevada thereby releasing all that stored power. When the authorities refuse both options, Graves races to a power plant and forces the worker to shut of power. Just like he predicted, the alien's cave base blows up (stock footage of the Bikini Atoll test). The earth is safe. The end.

Why is this movie fun?
Seeing a young Peter Graves as the hapless Dr. Martin is fun. Graves tries to act with zeal and emotion, while most of the others act as stolid B-actors do -- woodenly. Seeing a remake of the old Radar Men from the Moon style is like seeing one's old school photos. Silly images of old friends. On one level, KFS is almost too silly to take seriously, but beyond that it has one fascinating claim to fame. It depicts the "classic" alien abduction years before the public got into the act. More on that below in the Notes section.

Cold War Angle
With all the nuclear testing, and security, there's enough fodder for nuclear angst themes. Add the mind-control by a hostile invading power and you touch a little of the Cold War anxiety mood. Following War of the Worlds, it's not too original to have the invaders fleeing a dying world. This aspect diminishes the Cold War theme a bit.

Detective Redux -- In a similar flavor to the detective story style of Phantom from Space, KFS spends most of its time following Dr. Martin's disappearance, reappearance and odd behavior. As before, the science fiction portion comes in rather late in the picture.

Why Are We Safe Now? -- Many 50s sci-fi movies end with the assumption that all is well when the aliens shown in the movie are stopped. Dr. Martin (Graves) is told that there are a billion Astron Deltans out in space, in space stations and saucers, waiting for the big bugs to eat all humans, so they can take over. Martin blew up the Deltan's base and their giant bugs, which certainly would set their plans back a bit, but there are still a billion of them up there. Surely someone on earth would be worrying about the rest of the Deltan's trying a Plan B (not a Plan 9). At least at the end of The Thing ('51) there was the warning to "watch the skies". In KFS, we're presumed safe because we blew up their base.

Screenwriting Shortcuts -- Having the chief alien, Denab, simply tell Dr. Martin all about the history of Astron Delta, their plans to conquer the earth, etc. comes across like a screenwriter who couldn't figure out how to let the movie action tell that story. Instead, we spend hundreds of feet of film following a confused Peter Graves. With little movie time left, the writers just let Denab tell the whole back story. This is only one step better than having a narrator do the same.

Abduction Debut -- One thing KFS has which should secure its place in history, is that it has almost all the elements of what would become the "classic" alien abduction account. KFS predates the Boas event by 4 years and predates the more famous Betty and Barney Hill abduction account by 7 years. Researchers would later find a pattern to all the abduction accounts, but the Wilder team had them all scooped. In KFS we have:
1. The Bright Light
2. The Capture
3. Victim Surgically Probed, or experimented upon or implanted with devices
4. The Conference. Alien(s) speak with abductee
5. The Tour (Abductee given tour of ship, etc.)
6. Loss of time. Abductee made to forget events, but recovered via hypnosis
7. Mystical experiences afterward (Dr. Martin sees the eyes and faces)
8. Sickness, phobias, ridicule by others. (Dr. Martin presumed crazy)
It is fascinating to find that the Wilders had put all of these "classic" abductee features into KFS. The only feature which showed up in later public accounts, but not in KFS, was a sexual encounter. Not all abductee stories has this either, but KFS definitely did not. Other than that, KFS had the classic abductee experience on film years before it entered a public mainstream.

Bottom line? KFS is old fashioned B-movie sci-fi fun. If one watches it with a movie serial or matinee mindset, it's reasonably entertaining.  The early example of whole alien abduction trope is amusing to see too. KFS isn't high art, but it's worth watching.


thingmaker said...

Thanks for reminding me of this one. I need to watch it again.

Unknown said...

Howdy Serious Movie Fans,

I saw this as a kid - it sort of scared me.

Seeing it as an adult - what a chucklefest.

I think this is to Peter Graves what Forbidden Planet is
to Earl Holliman.

Forgettable roles.

You might as well see it, just to say you have.

This is not in my collection of Golden Age movies.

Don't forget to put your ping pong ball eyes in your makeup kit,


Surely you must be kidding - Please don't call me Shirley!

Cigarette? - Yes, I know.