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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Blood Beast from Outer Space

Shepperton Studios produced a modest sci-fi film in 1965 called The Night Caller. or Night Caller from Outer Space. When released in the USA, it was retitled Blood Beast from Outer Space (BBOS). The American distributors must have thought the British title was too subtle. John Saxon stars as Dr. Jack Costain. Maurice Denham plays Dr. Morley. Patricia Haines plays Ann Barlow. It is the somewhat typical story of an alien who comes to earth for “our” resources (women) and to warn us of the dangers of a nuclear future.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Radar detects an incoming asteroid that lands near London. When scientists and the army search, they find a beachball-sized translucent sphere. They take it back for testing, but it is obviously not of this world. While Ann stays late to type up notes, she feels sick and notices a glow in the store room. When she opens the door, a clawed hand grabs hers. She runs and sets off the alarm. No one is found, but a big clawed footprint is found in the dirt outside. Dr. Morley, Ann and Jack are certain the sphere is a transporter portal, sent from the 3rd moon around Jupiter: Ganymede. Dr. Morley wants to see the mysterious stranger, but gets killed by it. The stranger drives off the base in a nice Jaguar. Fast forward three weeks. 21 young women have disappeared mysteriously. Slowly, Scotland Yard and the scientists piece together that a mysterious stranger has placed an ad in Bikini Girl magazine, recruiting models. They disappear the day after their interviews. Scotland Yard sets up a trap for the stranger, now named Medra. Ann volunteers to be bait. She goes in, confronts Medra. They chat about about him wanting women for his planet. He then strangles Ann for knowing too much. Medra arranges one more abduction of a pretty girl. Police give chase to the Jaguar. They find it at a farm. Standing in front of a fire (for no apparent reason), Medra exposits about how his people are a thousand years advanced. They also discovered nuclear power and it all went bad for them. Most were wiped out. The survivors were mutants. Medra has one normal human hand, and one claw-hand - half a normal face and half deformed face. They want the pretty english girls as fresh breeding stock to clean up their gene pool. There’s nothing the army can do. Medra disappears. His portal ball shoots up into the sky as a fireball. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
British sci-fi of the 60s had a subtly to it that gave it a very different feel from American B-grade sci-fi. The director does a good job of keeping the alien hidden in the shadows. The fact that the “monster” amounts to just one rubber claw-glove, is nicely hidden.

Cold War Angle
Don’t Let This Happen To You — A common theme in 50s sci-fi was the cautionary tale. Sci-fi let audiences “see” the horrors of an unchecked nuclear future. This was the moral of the story in Rocketship XM (1950), in which the astronauts see the ruins of martian civilization, high radiation, and mutant survivors (as cavemen). BBOS repeats all these traditional Cold War tropes. Medra’s people suffered their apocalypse. They mutated into monsters. Medra tells the earthmen that it will happen to them too. Add in Medra’s mission, and his warning amounts to: Keep messing with nukes and you’ll wind up mutant monsters (like me) and you won’t have enough women.

Based on the Book — Frank Crisp wrote the novel in 1960, “The Night Callers.” The plot is essentially the same: an alien civilization is kidnapping young women, one by one. Crisp’s novel (and the ’65 film) have a very 50s feel to them, as they were a product of those times.

Klaatu The Abductor — Medra delivers a monologue at the end, which amounts to Klaatu’s warning from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). “A thousand years ago, we made our first stumbling steps into space. We visited the earth, only to find we could not survive its atmosphere. But we from Ganymede knew were were superior beings and had nothing to learn from you. We had knowledge that could lead to eternal peace and progress, but also embodying the darker powers of universal destruction, so our civilization ended, just as yours will.” Like Klaatu, Medra delivers his warning message and leaves. But this time, he took a bunch of earth girls with him. Medra wasn’t on a mission to warn Earth, so much as he was gathering breeding stock and got a little chatty before departure.

They ARE After Our Women — This old trope is sci-fi is sometimes hinted at, or danced around with visual metaphors. In BBOS, it is the essence of the plot. The aliens on Ganymede need earth women (with chromosomes free from nuclear-war mutations). Unlike in most films with this trope, the Earth men do not thwart the abductions by the “outsider” tribe. The aliens win. They get the girls. Still, the earthly parallel would be angst over “our” young women being stolen by immorality. Note how the ad is placed in Bikini Girl magazine and the bait of “modeling.” Note too, the glimpses of the seamy side of Soho and the greasy bookstore owner, Thorburn. Medra fits as metaphor for the dark side of society that “steals” the innocence of young women.

Transporter Device — An interesting tidbit to the story, is the sphere itself. Medra did not travel inside the sphere. Instead, it is a matter transporter that was launched at the Earth. Once landed, Medra could beam himself in and beam the girls out. In this, his sphere is reminiscent to Mr. Johnson’s closet in Not of this Earth (’57). But, instead of the vampire angle in NotE — beaming back people for food — Medra is wants his beam-back-ees to remain intact as women.

Advanced Killer? — In Medra’s monologue at the end, he boasts about how advanced their people are, and how they learned their lesson from their destructive nuclear past. However, Medra was pretty quick to kill earthlings who got in his way. This is what advanced looks like?

The Price of Equality — Rare for sci-fi films, the lead female is killed by the monster. He complements her as having “a mind nearly equal to my own.” Presuming Medra had an advanced mind, that meant Ann was actually the brightest of the scientists. However, as an equal, she was a threat to the abduction plans, so he kills her. No fancy ray guns. He just strangles her. It’s a bit grim.

Star Gazing — Beyond the more obvious John Saxon, watch for Aubrey Morris as the flagrant bookshop owner. He would later the equally questionable probation officer in A Clockwork Orange (’71). Fans of Fawlty Towers will see “The Major”, Ballard Berkeley, in a very Major-like role, but a pre-Fawlty serious one.

Bottom line? BBOS is a very British sci-fi, and fairly typical of the vintage. It is not an action-packed film, nor replete with special effects. It can be a bit talky at times. The expository ending feels like the writer ran out of time to tell the story, so just summed it up via the alien’s monologue. Still, BBOS has a mild and somewhat cerebral quality to it. The themes are the usual fare, but delivered without gore, or scary monsters, explosions or random nudity. Only the strangling of Ann and Medra’s mutant-half face would keep BBOS from being suitable for children.

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