The Cape Canaveral Monsters
Year of Release: 1960
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 69 minutes (1:09)
Director: Phil Tucker
Scott Peters ... Tom Wright
Linda Connell ... Sally Markham
Jason Johnson ... Hauron
Katherine Victor ... Nadja
Billy M. Greene ... Dr. Von Hoften
Gary Travis ... Bob Hardin
Thelaine Williams ... Shirley Carter
When a couple are killed in an auto accident their bodies are immediately inhabited by extraterrestrial beings. Taking refuge in an underground cave, the aliens attempt to sabotage the U.S. space program.
The Cape Canaveral Monsters, remindin' us that if America had actually ceased to be great there wouldn't be aliens flyin' 10 billion light years just to sabotage our space program.
And speakin' of things that'll give ya indigestion, I haven't had a Thanksgivin' this uncomfortable since '92 when uncle Enes stroked out and face-planted into the mashed potatoes after learnin' that aunt Mae helped elect a "draft-dodgin' Commie pinko" to the nation's highest office. Uncle Enes never came to dinner after that, which's fine by me 'cause I like to hollow out my dinner roll and stuff it fulla mashed taters and gravy, and it was five or six years before I could even stomach the idea after watchin' brain goo dribble outta the old guy's nose and seep into the spuds like that.
This Thanksgivin' was only a little more disgustin' than that though 'cause a coupla weeks ago I lent Shankles to the Ladies Sadie when they came to me lookin' to score some baby formula so they could declare their intention to bear children and be as miserable as us straight people.
I figured that carin' for a grumpy, geriatric possum for a coupla weeks'd give 'em a little insight into the potential pitfalls of bringin' a self-contained fertilizer factory into the world, but, well... I spoze I oughta stop stallin' and just tell ya what happened.
The idea of carryin' a box of Sadie's old Playboys into the bathroom to produce a specimen was already damned humiliatin' but, of course, that wasn't enough for Mrs. Sadie. She couldn't just invite our usual group of Thanksgivin' orphans, oh no, she also invited Duke Tankersley, Tetnis, B.J. Wilder, and Otis Turlinger too. At first I assumed she'd invited Duke and Tetnis to make sure I couldn't run away, but evidently, they were just there to mooch a meal and help pad out the spectacle.
Once everyone'd grabbed a plate and settled down in the livin' room Mrs. Sadie wheeled out a little cart with a cloth draped over somethin' -- a bassinet-sized somethin' -- and for a minute I thought about sneakin' through the kitchen and out the side door, only in the midst of formulatin' this plan my eyes briefly passed over the turkey baster and my guts seized up like a rusty bearing. I was still holdin' out hope that Mrs. Sadie's lady bits'd continue doin' the same, but as a general rule you don't invite nine of your friends over to tell 'em you've decided *not* to have kids.
By that point things'd started goin' blurry and I'd kinda lost track of my surroundins, but I remember watchin' Sadie and the missus wrenchin' on separate ends of the wishbone and already knowin' the outcome before it happened -- SNAP -- Mrs. Sadie got the larger piece; big surprise. I'd been hopin' the wishbone'd turn up in my stuffin' and that maybe I'd choke to death before the announcement. So much for that. Mrs. Sadie was tappin' 'er A&W mug with a spork now. The end was nigh.
"Everyone, Sadie and I have an announcement to make," Mrs. Sadie beamed.
"You two're gonna wrestle in pumpkin pie fillin' for dessert?" Duke suggested.
Sadie got up to settle Duke's hash but B.J. reached over and whacked his bicep with 'er spoon first.
"Ow! Hey! I just got a flu shot there," Duke whined, rubbin' his arm.
"Behave yourself, this's important!" B.J. chided.
"There's going to be a new addition, or additions, to our family," Mrs. Sadie explained.
"Apparently I missed a really important day in Health class," Otis said, scratchin' at the pitiful beard he'd been tryna grow since Halloween.
"Good for you, kid, can hardly even tell there's a bun in the oven," Tetnis assured 'er.
"Our good friend in the corner there is helping us with the... um... arrangements. And I'd just like to say that, without you, none of this would be possible," she declared, wavin' to the spot I'd staked out hopin' to avoid detection.
"Nife," Billy Hilliard nodded in my direction.
"This is such a wonderful thing you're doing, I--" Roxanne Bigelow started to say until she got all mucusy and hadda stop to wipe 'er nose on 'er paper towel.
"Why don't you come up here and say a few words?" Sadie smirked.
So I did.
"If any of you, at any time, has ever had the tiniest shred of affection for me, please, grant me this one request," I said.
"What's that?" Cleave Furguson chuckled.
"Grab the electric carvin' knife and run it across my--" I started pleedin'.
"We're going to raise possums!" Mrs. Sadie squealed, pullin' away the drop cloth and revealing the cage where Shankles was nuzzled up against the Eve of this hare-brained scheme.
"Oh," B.J. muttered, visibly underwhelmed.
"That's... uh... really something," Otis stammered.
"Cool! Mom, can we have one?!" Jeannie bounced, grabbin' Roxanne's arm and pointin' to the cage.
"Shov' know'm aih'n no way you wuv geh'n wi' 'at," Duke reasoned between chews on a drumstick.
For my part, I handled the revelation with a mix of quiet dignity and unassailable class.
"Hallelujah! Praise drive-in Jesus!" I shouted, collapsin' in a heap and crawlin' over to the cage. "I owe ya one, buddy," I whispered, scratchin' Shankles behind the ear.
'Course I still had a question I needed to get off my chest, so once everybody'd gone back to chattin' and watchin' football I pulled Sadie aside to find out how the two of 'em went from a life-alterin' decision to an absurd commercial venture, 'cause that's a hell of a leap to make in the span of two weeks.
"Alright, how'd ya do it? Scared 'er out of it with before and after hooter comparisons, didn't ya? No, wait, I got it - Shankles got a poop mat on his hinder and she couldn't deal with it, right?" I queried.
"Nah. She'd already planned out an exercise routine to get back in shape, and the only trouble Shankles caused after the first night was when he got a little too friendly with Priscilla," Sadie shrugged.
"In his defense, there's no way that alleged dog ain't at least half rodent," I asserted.
"That 'rodent' probly saved you from knick knackin' your paddy whack into a test tube; you oughta be lettin' 'er lick that gravy off your face," she snorted.
"Fine. How'd you do it then?" I asked, nonchalantly sleevin' the potato lube off my cheek.
"Had mom send me the tape of me bein' born," she grinned.
"That'd do it," I said, fightin' to hold down what little food I'd eaten.
"Apparently part of the placenta tore off and got stuck to my face so it looked like I didn't have one. Really freaked 'er out," she shuddered.
"Wanna tell 'em we're runnin' Night of the Ghouls and play that instead?" I mused.
"Way ahead of ya," she cackled, pullin' the VCR remote out of 'er pocket and mashin' the 'Play' button.
After Sadie took the tape outta the VCR and coaxed all the male members of the party back with promises of pumpkin pie I stuffed The Cape Canaveral Monsters in and retreated back to my corner to collect my thoughts and watch zombie space invaders conquer the Bronson Caves. Some people might say, well, why would any reasonable man choose this flick when you could be watchin' Manos or Mesa of Lost Women, and the short answer is that in my present frame of mind, a flick where man faces total destruction and lives to tell about it felt topical. I will grant that Cape Canaveral Monsters missed the boat where it concerns zombies as an integral part of an interstellar invasion plot, but it was directed by the same guy who made Robot Monster and as far as I'm concerned, anybody who can crank out a turkey like that deserves to be recognized on Thanksgivin'.
It's no Plan 9 I admit, but it's important to mention that, here, the aliens aren't just resurrectin' the dead - they ARE the dead, and because it's likely that you were previously unaware of this distinction, I'm inclined to forgive you for thinkin' I only picked this movie 'cause it's short and that I was in a hurry to get outta Chateau Lesbo with my genetic material stowed securely in its protective undercarriage. But don't go thinkin' this flick has nothin' to offer in the way of higher learning just 'cause it only narrowly meets the definition of what constitutes a movie, 'cause there's a lotta big thinks in here just waitin' to be uncovered and to prove it I've gone to the trouble of pickin' out a few of my favorites to show my appreciation for the immortal Phil Tucker and his unique contributions to the world of cinema.
First, the paralyzing fear of intergalactic incineration at the hands of reanimated cosmic corpses is a perfectly sound pretense upon which to base a marriage. Second, makin' long-distance calls to the home planet in the middle of a radio quiet zone will result in detection by terrestrial authority figures and outrageous roaming fees. And third, sometimes when ya die the light you see is an extraterrestrial space lamp comin' to take possession of your body; so exercise a little skepticism before chargin' into it.
The movie begins with two white circles that've escaped the bonds of their 3-hole punch floatin' down from outer space and takin' over the bodies of a coupla beach blanket bungalites after they crash their car into an invisible farce field in the road and end up goin' to the big block party in the sky. Meanwhile, rocket scientists hard at work in the basement of a decommissioned laundromat are tryna launch a missile into space, only somethin' goes wrong and it ends up turnin' cartwheels at 10,000 feet before finally catchin' its tail and rainin' down souvenir shrapnel all over Cocoa Beach. Junior Spaceman Tom Wright attributes the failure to either extraterrestrial meddling or the unintended consequences of a Barbara Eden-related temper tantrum, but Dr. Von Yawn tells 'im to quit thinkin' outside the box and quietly curses the day he was captured by Allied soldiers. While that's goin' on, one of the installation's guard dogs gets a whiff of astrorot and chews the arm offa one of the little gangrene men before he can make it back to his secret laboratory hidden in the anus of Bronson Canyon. Then Tom clocks out and decides not to bother calculatin' the next mornin's launch data so he can drive out to Paternity Point with Von Yawn's niece (Sally) and his friends (Bob and Shirley) to try gettin' his pocket rocket to the moon. It looks like Tom and Bob're on their way to homerun city, but after a while the reception on their portable radio goes to hell 'cause the aliens (Hauron and Nadja) are sendin' transmissions back to their planet through the use of an electromagnetic pancake so they can report their success in foulin' the latest rocket launch. Space Lord Bisquick is pleased and instructs them to keep the pressure on just a little while longer until he can complete production on his fleet of starclass spatulas that'll give 'em the firepower they need to bury the Earth beneath a flood of delicious blueberry batter.
The next day another rocket goes up but Hauron's waitin' with a shoulder-mounted laser pointer that sends the capsule off course and brings it crashin' down into the outskirts of Tallahassee. So now Tom and Sally hafta head back out to the spot where the mystery broadcast was makin' their radio sound like a wolverine chewin' on a wad of tinfoil the night before, and while they're out searchin' for extraterrestrial intelligence it kidnaps Bob and Shirley without incident on account of all the noise canceling doo-woppery echoin' across the hillside. Then the Andromeda slain freeze dry Shirley and beam 'er back to their planet with a pneumatic tube and Benihana Bob up for spare parts, 'cept they get interrupted when Tom and Sally discover their cosmic cavern and trip the aliens' subzero blizzard snare and get froze up like a Commodore 64 tryna run Halo until they find themselves next in line to be beamed to Alpha Centauri to teach all the liberals livin' there a lesson about the dangers of illegal immigration by savages from backwater planets. Tom ain't real keen on the idea of bein' carted around the Venusian state fair circuit like the Minnesota Iceman, so he jams the alien magneto-majig that's holdin' 'im to the wall with a rare mineral found in the battery of his mass market Casio wristwatch and decides no East German bimbo's worth gettin' his junk freezer burnt.
Next thing, Tom breaks into a service station and tattles to the sheriff, but before he can call Von Yawn and tell 'im his niece's been taken captive by Zeta Reticulian zombies he gets caught by the shotgun-toting, onesie-clad shop owner (Elmer) who forces 'im to recount the week's events and fork over eight cents for the long distance charges. The sheriff and Elmer agree to help Tom seek out new life and new civilizations, 'cept when Tom heads back into the cave Nadja sets 'er Buck Rogers Concussinator Ray to the Herschel Walker setting and he gets dropped faster'n Kanye West after a race relations symposium. Then Heuron reverts back into an interstellar Titleist and shanks 'imself into the chunkheaded deputy's skull to slow the party down and by the time he gets back to the cave Tom's had a change of heart and decides to trade state secrets in order to save his nookie. Tom tells the astrotwats that there's gonna be a secret missile launch in short order, only Heuron's Milky Waylayer 5000 ain't got enough juice to down the rocket and pretty quick the best-laid plans of Martian men really start circlin' the ole toilet when Elmer rats out the location of the solar wind tunnel and the sheriff gathers a posse to storm the alien base. I know a few of ya prolly missed this one when it premiered on TV back in 1960 so I don't wanna go spoilin' the endin' for ya, but I will tell ya that Phil put a full five minutes thought into the twist endin' on this one, so if you weren't impressed with the cop-out ending of Robot Monster, you may wanna stick around to see what he's capable of when he really puts his mind to it.
Alrighty, well, as Thanksgiving turkeys go, this one fits the bill to a tee and comes complete with a passive ability to ease you into that food coma you might otherwise try fightin'. I'd imagine a lotta folks come into this one expectin' somethin' akin to Tucker's classic Robot Monster and find themselves with a feeling of immense disappointment once the credits roll, and I've gotta believe that this stems from Tucker having become gunshy after the critical reviews for the aforementioned debacle. It's been said that Tucker attempted suicide after receiving the critical response to that flick, and whether that's true or not it's easy to see how he came to doubt his instincts and began playing it safe with low-budget affairs like The Cape Canaveral Monsters, which was actually made for television during a period where a lotta households still didn't have one. That said, where it concerns Tucker's own competency, it should be pointed out that he did write the script for Cape Canaveral Monsters, but the script for Robot Monster and all the absurdity that comes with it, was the work of another.
I guess what I'm sayin' is that Tucker was merely an unqualified hired gun brought in to bring the insanity of Robot Monster in on time and on budget, and was himself not the chief architect of its wondrous absurdity. Turns out Wyott Ordung was the mastermind behind Robot Monster, and without him, Tucker essentially just borrowed the premise (and locations) from Invisible Invaders and tweaked the aliens' motive. Don't get me wrong, I'm not tryna posthumously bury the man's reputation as a pioneer of trash cinema - I just think Ordung deserves credit for actually writin' the story about an ape in a plastic diving helmet who communicates with his home planet through a transmitter that blows bubbles while tryna reconcile his desire to make hot monkey love to the foxy scientist against his orders to eradicate all remainin' life on Earth which, up to now, Tucker has been given entirely too much credit for. That was daring cinema, and, unfortunately, The Cape Canaveral Monsters is a by-the-numbers alien invasion plot that covers its budgetary shortfalls by placing its aliens inside human bodies. All kidding aside, Robot Monster is fondly remembered for its naivety and the childlike innocence of Tucker who, somehow, must have believed he was making a good film, while The Cape Canaveral Monsters takes few risks and fails to meet the already low expectations of an audience jaded by years of lackluster films at the tail end of the 1950s science fiction boom. Ultimately, Tucker's greatest embarrassment was his definitive triumph, and although he probably believed that it killed his career before it'd begun, it punched his ticket to science fiction immortality, while The Cape Canaveral Monsters will rightly die in cinematic obscurity.
Everyone filled with holiday cheer? Good. Now let's get these outer space zombies up on the ole autopsy table and see what's lurkin' inside. The plot isn't irredeemably hackneyed, although you'd have to admit that, given the age of the galaxy, it's a remarkable coincidence that a civilization found us right as we're right on the cusp of bein' able to defend ourselves against their invasion, and that it would then determine that their best course of action is to send two saboteurs to keep us from achieving space travel for a matter of months, thereby granting them just enough time to finish construction of an invasion force capable of wipin' us out. That's cuttin' it pretty damn close, ya know? It's got its share of smaller absurdities as well, like the five-man mission control compound capable of launching rockets three days in a row, the machine that's supposed to transfer people back to the home world without their body ever leavin' the lab, and the aliens' conservative use of weapons that could fully eliminate their problems with a single squeezing of a trigger. But then this is far from the first science fiction film to underestimate the technological advances of a species capable of flyin' millions of light years through space 'cause, well, if they lived up to that level of potential we'd always lose. I guess the short version is - it's completely ridiculous, but with occasional flashes of originality.
The acting is pretty dicey, with Billy Greene and his inconsistent German accent amounting to a fairly impressive unforced error. I understand the desire to include a German scientist in an American space program given the "defections" of so many after WWII'd wrapped up, but it's not a necessity, and when the actor can't pull it off you've pretty well shot yourself in the foot for nothing. You'd have to say that Katherine Victor gives an amusing performance as the sadistic Nadja, whose first instinct tends to involve torture, and Brian Wood is both legitimately decent and hysterically entertaining as the hung-ho, stand-your-ground service station vigilante whose wardrobe and mannerisms draw an uncomfortable comparison to serial killer Ed Gein. The rest of the cast ranges from aggressively inexperienced to astonishingly dull, and while that might sound like a good time, the dialogue is so bloated with technical pseudo-scientific jargon that the opportunity for unintentional humor is often quashed by tedium.
Here's who matters and why: Scott Peters (They Saved Hitler's Brain, Panic in the Year Zero!, Attack of the Puppet People, The Amazing Colossal Man, Invasion of the Saucer Men), Jason Johnson (The Andromeda Strain, Invasion of the Saucer Men), Katherine Victor (Frankenstein Island, Mesa of Lost Women, Teenage Zombies, Creature of the Walking Dead, House of the Black Death, The Wild World of Batwoman, Curse of the Stone Hand, Invasion of the Animal People), Lyle Felice (Psycho a Go Go), David King (Tale of a Vampire).
The special effects are pretty rough even by the standards of the time, although they make that clear up front when the two intergalactic dots drift down from space and float around waitin' for a vacancy to open up inside their chosen specimens. The composite shots aren't entirely without merit, and the bloody makeup jobs on the two risen corpses are mildly gruesome for a flick produced in 1960, but the severed arm is positively silly, and the stock footage, while roughly consistent chronologically, isn't especially consistent with the overall quality of the film. The very first sequence is by far the cheesiest and it kinda works to the flick's advantage a little bit in the sense that by the time the aliens revert to dot form later in the film, you've almost moved past it enough to forget how goofy it is. From a technical standpoint they were right to shy away from trying to create a unique physical form for the aliens, but the movie really coulda used a ridiculous man in a suit to help perk it up a little and it will no doubt languish in obscurity due to the path they chose.
The shooting locations are both pitiful and inconsistent, as you'll come to know mere minutes into the flick when our saviors drive out into the scenic sage hills of Cape Canaveral. Now, you might think, "Hey, they did the best they could with what they had available," and were it not for the fact that the very first scene of the movie is filmed on Malibu Beach, I'd be right there with ya. After a while ya start feelin' sorry for the Bronson Caves given how many bad movies've been shot there, 'cause all things considered, it's a pretty cool location... it just also happens to be a highly accessible location for anybody shootin' a movie in California, which in those days was, oh, just about all of everyone. The interiors, incongruency aside, are decidedly worse than the exteriors despite being limited to a police station with a single desk and a few wanted posters tacked to the wall, and mission control, which bears a strong resemblance to a repurposed basement. For the budget I'll grant that the control room is reasonably loaded with mainframes, consoles, and other bits of eye-pleasing retro science stuff, but there's just no way for a production this size to create a realistic launch station for the nation's space program, and it was foolish to try.
The soundtrack includes a lotta disinterested flute music that goes through the motions as though it's not thinkin' about the task at hand, but silently wonderin' what all the other instruments're doin' after the recordin's all finished up. There's also a healthy dose of decidedly alarmed woodwinds and brass pieces, foreboding strings, and some of that dreamy harp music that's supposed to draw you into the flick by appealing to your sense of curiosity, but accidentally puts ya to sleep. It's also got a little comedic piccolo/trumpet piece that the editor uses for the scene where Elmer's playin' possum pretendin' to be asleep so he can track Heuron back to his base, but this flick is ultimately just another exhibit in the matter of the people versus samey soundin' science fiction scores, 'cause if that weren't so you'd really expect such a low budget offering to have a noticeably inferior soundtrack when compared to its big budget contemporaries and yet it doesn't. The difference in quality between the soundtrack for Cape Canaveral Monsters is within 10% of the soundtrack from The War of the Worlds, and no matter how many of these movies I see I still can't seem to get over it. So in case that wasn't clear, the soundtrack is the film's strongest asset by a considerable margin simply by having achieved mediocrity.
Overall, Tucker's last directorial effort brought his days behind the camera to a pitiful, whimpering, made-for-tv end, and it's a shame that he lacked the drive and self-confidence Ed Wood had because I think he could have been one of the great schlockmasters of his day had he been resourceful enough to continue fleecing oblivious financial backers, and able to get past the unkind words of the film critics. Regardless, The Cape Canaveral Monsters, even at 69 minutes, skews boring and is a pretty rough watch for all but the most dedicated bad movie aficionados. If ya dug The Beast of Yucca Flats this one might be up your alley - but if The Amazing Transparent Man broke ya, it'll prolly be up somethin' else.