Not of This Earth (1957)
Somewhere in this world stalks a thing that is...
Year of Release: 1957
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Running Time: 67 minutes (1:07)
Director: Roger Corman
Paul Birch ... Paul Johnson
Beverly Garland ... Nadine Storey
Morgan Jones ... Harry Sherbourne
William Roerick ... Dr. F.W. Rochelle
Jonathan Haze ... Jeremy Perrin
Dick Miller ... Joe Piper
Charles B. Griffith ... Man at Newsstand (uncredited)
This is the first in a series of flicks I'm reviewin' in tribute to the ten guys who I feel made the biggest, and in some cases, most important contributions to the Horror genre. And we're gonna start this series off, appropriately, with the guy who got the ball rollin' all the way back in 1954 with Monster from the Ocean Floor. I refer, of course, to the King of the Drive-In, Roger Corman.
An alien comes to Earth, masquerading as a human, to scout our planet for a new blood source. He needs the blood of humans to take back his planet of Darvana for his dying race.
Not of This Earth, remindin' us that vowing to end your planet's dependency on foreign blood sounds like a great campaign promise until your hypohemic constituents tap your jugular vein.
And speakin' of extra-judicial rulins, this week I was reminded of the sagely words of one of our nation's great philosophers, Ms. Roseanne Roseannadanna, who summed up the human condition perfectly when she remarked - "it's always somethin'." That chick was really onto somethin', 'cause yeah, if it's not one thing it's another - either your possum tears the shower curtain off the rod and ends up trapped in the laundry hamper, or the cops show up at your place of employment to accuse ya of winchin' a Redbox DVD kiosk to your '84 Mercury Topaz and dumpin' it in the river.
Guess that's what I get for livin' in a county whose only requirement for entry into the police force is the ability to prove that you've seen every episode of CHiP's - includin' the one where Ponch and Bobby hafta put the kibosh on some extraterrestrial jewel thieves. Bozos had the nerve to interrogate me right there in the Videodome in front of all the nice folks who depend on me to know which section we keep the unclassifiable junk like Glen and Randa in - it was damned humiliatin'.
"Alright, scab, confess now, and things'll go a lot easier for everybody," Deputy Dahl instructed as Lieutenant Duggen inspected the Topaz for signs of wanton destruction of mass-market media.
"Fine. I admit it - I can't drive 55. Do your worst," I smirked.
"Cut the crap, wiseass, you know why I'm here," he glared.
"You wanna rent Cruising again? Listen, I'm not usually one to judge, but we have a policy about returnin' tapes in the same condition they were lent, and all that pausin' and rewindin' you're doin' is startin' to push the boundaries of how far a tape can be stretched," I asserted.
I know I'm gonna regret that little remark later, and I prolly woulda regretted it that instant if Diedra hadn't completed 'er inspection and come inside just then, but I don't have much patience for bein' disrespected by a pork shoulder with a badge in my own house of worship.
"You lyin' sacka shi--" Dahl started to say before the cooler head prevailed.
"Excuse office Dahl, he hasn't been feeling well this morning," Diedra snapped in the direction of the incredible shrinking policeman.
"It's no trouble, Lieutenant. We all get flare-ups now and then. If it'll help out I've got an inflatable back here to go with the double glazed in his passenger seat," I offered, raisin' the hemorrhoid donut Bambi keeps behind the counter.
Scattered titters emerged from various parts of the store, but everyone releasin' 'em had the sense to hide behind somethin' so's to avoid detection and subsequent persecution.
"We're investigating the theft of a Redbox machine from outside the Jiffy Mart that occurred around 3:30 this morning," Lieutenant Duggen continued, suppressing a snicker of her own.
"Come on, Diedra, do you really think I'm gonna risk damaging a high-performance automobile like that just to put a piece of trash in its place?" I asked.
"You've got the means, the motive, and a well-established vendetta against the modern film industry," Dahl growled through gritted teeth.
"I am against censorship in all its forms, and while I *may* have enjoyed watchin' passing vehicles crunch the numerous copies of Superpets and Black Adam strewn about the street, you'll never witness me personally destroying physical media no matter how craptacular it is," I declared.
"Okay. But you must admit, the Redbox machine was a threat to your business," Diedra pressed.
"Look lady, it ain't MY business, it just looks that way because I do all the work around here - it's Edgar's business. I get minimum wage and a benefits package that includes the right to borrow three tapes a day free of charge. It's gonna take a little more than that before I'm out there committin' vehicular discslaugher to stymie the competition," I clarified.
"Besides that, every person who uses that machine is one less I gotta compete with to take home the store's copy of Sorority House Massacre," I punctuated.
"Then you won't mind tellin' us where you were at 3:30 this mornin'," Dahl demanded.
This's where the situation got a little sticky, 'cause "sittin' at home alone in my underwear watchin' Jaws III" ain't the airtight alibi you'd expect when you're infamous throughout town for your general lack of shame. Now, I swear, with my right hand on a copy of Chainsaw, that I had nothin' to do with that machine goin' missin', but even so, I was startin' to get that "who'm I gonna get to feed the dog while I'm in jail" dilemma risin' up through my gutbucket, when all the sudden...
"He was with me," Bambi announced a lot louder'n I appreciated, havin' apparently come in through the back door in the midst of the interview and, I would assume, keepin' a low profile in case the cops were there lookin' for one of 'er kids.
"All night?" Diedra asked, a hint of disappointment briefly flashin' across 'er face and vanishing just as quickly.
"All night," Bambi winked skankily.
"That so?" It was Dahl's turn to smirk.
I mighta been able to beat the rap but it prolly woulda required doin' their goddamned jobs for 'em and figurin' out who Jimmy Hoffa'd that mobile trash dispensary to clear my name. That said, I really couldn't afford to have my list of petty priors embiggened by somethin' this serious, so I did the only thing a guy in my situation could do.
"Yeah. I, uh, rocked 'er like a hurricane," I confessed, tryna hold down the rising tide of Dr. Pepper threatenin' to breach my digestive levee.
"Well?" Diedra looked at Dahl.
"Good enough for me. Ain't no way somebody'd admit to that just to get out of a public obscenity/grand theft video charge," Dahl whooped.
"'Atta boy. That's it, smile for the cops. Of course, you understand, I own you now," Bambi whispered creepily as she tucked 'er hand into my back pocket, wavin' at the departing officers.
I tried recantin' my story when I broke for lunch but nobody at the station would believe me. So, on the one hand, I'm effectively bulletproof on the criminal justice front, but on the other, Bambi's got Edgar wrapped completely around 'er cooter and now I'm stuck contemplatin' whether whatever she's got in mind for the payment of my debt is worth losin' the sweetest gig I've ever had if she decides to tell Edgar I got 'er drunk and ravished 'er or somethin' disgustin' like that. Guess you could say I fought the law and the broad won.
By the time I came back for the second half of my shift I was so depressed that I hadda pack away six Idaho Spuds and go lookin' for a Roger Corman flick to put on the store display to acquire a little perspective, so I ended up grabbin' the original Not of This Earth from 1957 and stuffin' it in the VCR. Normally I woulda gone with the '88 version but I didn't wanna permanently associate Traci Lords with the kinda vulgarity Bambi has in store for me so I decided to stick with the classic version. Sometimes ya need a Roger Corman flick when life starts feelin' hopeless 'cause there's a certain comfort in knowin' your problems aren't as insurmountable as they may seem. Take this flick for instance - Roger knows he can't afford to build an intergalactic Greyhound terminal, so he has two choices:
1) Wad up the script and go back to makin' Westerns.
2) Stick the transdimensional translocator in the coat closet and keep shootin'.
That's the kinda guy Roger is - unflappable. Lead actor quits? Double him. Monster too short? Give 'im a hat. Neighbors won't turn off their sprinkler system while you're filming? The scene now takes place on a dark and stormy night. The man always has an answer to life's little problems, so when the goin' gets tough, alls ya gotta do is ask yourself: what would Roger Corman do? Worst case scenario the Hells Angels put out a hit on ya, but that only happened that one time and really it was all just a big misunderstanding anyway.
Guy just seems to know what you needa hear to get your life back on track in times of tribulation, and although I don't know exactly *when* these particular factoids are gonna pay dividends for you personally, they seemed pretty heavy when they played out across the screen. So, for that reason, I'm gonna pass a few of the flick's Cormanic kernels on in the hope that you'll seek out more of the man's wisdom and become the dilemma demolisher you've aspired to be. First, beware of men with dark sunglasses and an aversion to high-pitched noises, 'cause whether extraterrestrial brain burglars or just hungover, they're always ill-tempered. Second, when serving breakfast to your wealthy benefactor, be advised that pancakes on a silver platter are considered tacky in certain social strata. And third, wise man say: man who sell vacuums for living has job that suck.
The movie begins with a man in a black suit who appears eager to discuss a recent UFO sighting with a gal headin' home from a date, 'cept she ain't too crazy 'bout the sharp-dressed man 'cause as soon as he catches up with 'er he takes off his x-Ray-ban shades and nukes 'er with his electromagnetic eyeballs so he can siphon all 'er blood into a chemistry set he carries around in one of those Haliburton briefcases Steve McMichael used to club people with on Monday Nitro. The man (Johnson) is either sufferin' from hypohemia or he's a vampire with compulsive hoarding disorder 'cause a few minutes later he drives to a hematology clinic to get topped off, only the doctor (Rochelle) won't stop askin' stupid questions about his blood type or whether he's on Keith Richards' payroll and so he hasta mind meld with 'im and reprogram his brain to make sure he doesn't discuss the particulars of his case while he's out on the golf course. Then Johnson poaches the clinic's only nurse (Nadine) and pays 'er to move in with 'im and administer his treatments under the condition that she follows a strict 9 'o clock curfew so she won't catch 'im makin' long-distance calls to Orson through the interstellar communicator hidden in the coat closet. With the exception of a few plumbing malfunctions in his new organic housing unit everything is proceeding according to plan, so when Johnson updates Orson on his progress that night Orson is pleased and tells 'im that if he does a good job with this intergalactic blood drive gig that he'll get to cut the ribbon at humanity's forthcoming extinction event.
The next mornin', Dick Miller drops by hockin' vacuum cleaners door-to-door and it quickly becomes apparent that Dick's life literally and figuratively sucks to such a degree that Johnson takes pity and allows 'im inside for a demonstration so he can zap Dick's eyeballs into creamed corneas and dump 'im in the furnace where the Bissell people can't hurt 'im anymore. Then Dr. Spacelove instructs his personal assistant (Jeremy) to go out and round up some hobos for dinner and they all have a real nice time until they end up gettin' fried into Johnsonville brats. By this point Orson's startin' to get impatient and decides he wants to see how the sausage is made, so now Johnson hasta abduct some unfortunate father of three who's headin' out for cigarettes and beam 'im back to the home office for processing. 'Course now Jeremy and Nadine're startin' to notice some similarities between the basement and the Hotel California, and so they hafta start askin' themselves the hard questions, like - what's happenin' to all their temporary house guests? Why've they been forbidden from goin' into the basement? And, if my boss is a secret homosexual cannibal, can I in good conscience remain in his employ for $300 a week, or should I ask for more money? Meanwhile, political tensions back home have reached the January 6th stage, and pretty quick another alien beams down to Earth to avoid havin' 'er vital fluids drained out and auctioned off to the highest bidder. She tells Johnson that his package showed up lookin' too much like a Salvador Dali paintin' to be of any medical use and that if she doesn't get a transfusion pretty quick she's gonna shrivel up into a little extraterrestrial avocado and putrefy into a Mexican side dish. Johnson decides to help 'er even though she borrowed the company transporter ray without permission and takes 'er over to Rochelle's office to get 'er a refill, only he doesn't read the label on the sample container and shoots 'er fulla Old Yeller's blood sample until she ends up developin' an intense hatred of the United States Postal Service and piddlin' on the rug.
An examination of the corpse by Rochelle and Harry (Nadine's boyfriend) determines that the deceased frequented the same optician as Johnson and that no matter how thick the prescription, her glasses were no match for the Svengali cataracts plaguin' 'er peepers. While that's goin' on, Johnson tries kidnappin' a parking attendant to see if a protective layer of bubble wrap'll get the guy back to the planet Needlegeuse in one piece, but some yo-yo blows his horn so loud that it scrambles Johnson's transmission and gives 'im Excedrin Headache #24, leavin' 'im no choice but to retinize the guy to death. Then Harry calls up Nadine to warn 'er about Johnson's laser-sighted iris irradiators and tells 'er to get 'er hinder outta there, but instead, she and Jeremy go rootin' around the house lookin' for proof until Jeremy finds Dick's skull in the furnace just as Johnson returns home and Jeremy ends up gettin' his brain fried like he just snorted a dozen lines of Dilithium crystal meth. Johnson thinks he's got the situation sewn up and goes to boil Nadine's noodle but she uncorks a shriek that temporarily scatters his medulla molecules and buys 'er enough time to escape and by this point Johnson's so P.O.'d that he says 'the hell with it' and transmogrifies a strip of salt water taffy into a flyin' twatterfly monster from the planet Androgyna and sends it out to take care of the doctor while he tests the offroad capabilities of his '55 Cadillac Fleetwood as Nadine flees through the woods. We've only got about seven minutes of movie left so I prolly oughta put a lid on it, but I'd be remiss if I didn't tell ya, upfront, that there will be no more scenes of Beverly Garland loungin' poolside in 'er one-piece. I'm not sayin' you should skip the ending by any means - only that you should temper your expectations.
Alrighty, and with that Roger gets another flick in the can on schedule, under budget, and with enough film left over to start work on his next project without havin' to wait for his lawyers to pry his money outta the delinquent distributor. Not of This Earth was Roger's 11th flick as a director, and whatever else you might say about his films in general, there's always an uptick in quality when Corman directs himself. The script may strain credulity, and the special effects frequently fail to measure up, but you can usually count on a tightly-paced, padding-free flick that gets to the point and keeps its foot on the gas until the credits roll. Roger has always been more business-oriented than most filmmakers in the way he approaches cinema, but he's usually able to strike a good balance by hiring crews that view the industry as an art form and he's always had a knack for finding capable actors who will work for relatively small paydays - even if they occasionally get P.O.'d and quit before filming has wrapped, as Paul Birch did on this flick. Fortunately, Corman is usually able to come up with a workaround that prevents such a thing from impacting the production, and in the days before DVD extras you'd never have any idea that such a thing had ever happened.
Despite being known as one of the most frugal men in the business, he, like one of his most notable contemporaries, Herschell Gordon Lewis, has long had his finger on the public pulse, and thus, was able to strike when the iron was hot with films that touched on various social trends that larger studios wanted nothing to do with, such as biker films, LSD films, and rock 'n roll films, when not producing well-timed clones of big-budget hits or adding his own contributions to the genres that were hot at the time. Not of This Earth is one such title, and though it came out during the tail end of the '50s science fiction boom it's solid by the standards of the time - greatly outshining his most recent picture, Attack of the Crab Monsters, which bit off more than it could chew in terms of the required special effects. Sadly, Corman is almost certainly gonna be one of those guys who, when he's gone, gets showered with praise by newspaper articles and film critics who could, and should, be showing their appreciation for his tremendous (if sometimes silly) contributions to the medium of film now while he's able to see it. I, however, am not surrounded by hive-minded, upper-middle-class drones whose rejection threatens the very essence of my being and, as such, I'm makin' my gratitude known here and now. So Roger, if you're readin' (and I'm 99.997% sure you are) - you da man.
Okay, enough of that. Gonna stop gushin' over Roger's storied career and be objective about the film he produced even though he killed Dick Miller for no better reason than the man wantin' to be the best damn vacuum cleaner salesman he could be. The plot is kinda shaky in the sense that you never really understand the extent of the alien's mesmerism capabilities. It's best to assume that he's using them to their fullest extent, but because you don't know for sure you might well wonder why he doesn't just instruct his victims to go play in traffic when they become inconvenient. You might also ask why he chooses not to take control over the hired help he's witnessed snoopin' around, but again, maybe he's maxed out his mental mojo or somethin'. Either way, they probably shoulda spelled that out for the audience, and there's also the question of where the undercover extraterrestrial got the bread to score that posh pad in the Hollywood Hills, but these aren't questions that completely demolish the premise.
The acting is solid, with Paul Birch giving a good, if deliberately emotionless performance as the alien scout. By 1957 the stoic, menacing extraterrestrial had become a well-established trope that would lead some to draw comparisons to the dehumanizing effects of Communism with the invading spacemen standing in as a cosmic equivalent to the Soviet Union. Whether that was actually the writer's intent is debatable, and regardless, this type of alien was commonplace and generally what audiences of the era had come to expect - though that fact probably wasn't much consolation for the actors portraying them. Additionally, Beverly Garland and Jonathan Haze are likable as Birch's treacherous hired help trying to unravel the mystery of his intergalactic energy drinks and naughty basement happenings, and it's always great to see Dick Miller whose one-of-a-kind mannerisms, delivery, and sometimes ad-libbed dialogue help bring all his films down to Earth by providing us with at least one character we can relate to. Morgan Jones and William Roerick are fine as the motorcycle cop love interest and semi-hypnotized hematologist, but they're largely afterthoughts without much to do until Jones finally gets to earn his bacon at the film's climax. Essentially - no standout performances, but nor are there any weak links.
Here's who matters and why ('cept for Dick Miller 'cause y'all know Dick): Paul Birch (The Beast with a Million Eyes, Queen of Outer Space, The 27th Day, Day the World Ended, The War of the Worlds 1953), Beverly Garland (The Alligator People, It Conquered the World, Hellfire), Morgan Jones (Forbidden Planet, Untamed Women), William Roerick (The Wasp Woman 1959, Gold Told Me To), Jonathan Haze (The Little Shop of Horrors 1960, Invasion of the Star Creatures, It Conquered the World, Blood Bath 1966, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, The Terror 1963, Teenage Cave Man, Day the World Ended, Monster from the Ocean Floor), Roy Engel (Kingdom of the Spiders, Zombies of the Stratosphere, Killers from Space, The Indestructible Man, It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Mad Magician, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The Magnetic Monster, The Black Castle, The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, The Man from Planet X, The Flying Saucer), Tamar Cooper (Ruby), Gail Ganley (Blood of Dracula), John Clark (The Butcher of Binbrook), Tom Graeff (Teenagers from Outer Space), Charles B. Griffith (Eating Raoul, Death Race 2000, She Beast, The Little Shop of Horrors 1960, Attack of the Crab Monsters, It Conquered the World), Hank Mann (Space Master X-7, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, Phantom of the Rue Morque, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Neanderthal Man, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, M 1951, Two Lost Worlds, Phantom of the Opera 1943).
And the titles suitable for discussion at holiday meals: Paul Birch (Mike Malone on Cannonball), Beverly Garland (Casey Jones on Decoy, Barbara Harper Douglas on My Three Sons, Dorothy West on Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Estelle Reese on Port Charles), Morgan Jones (Commander Donovan on The Blue Angels), William Roerick (Theodore Adams on The Clear Horizon, Henry Chamberlain on Guiding Light).
The special effects are, wisely, limited based upon the financial support the production was able to dedicate to them. You've got the disembodied head that appears during Birch's interstellar Facetime communications with the home planet, the excruciatingly uncomfortable clouded contact lenses that had been plaguing low-budget science fiction actors for the past few years, very minimal bloodletting, and what has affectionately become known as the "umbrella creature." Only the latter comes across badly, and honestly, it's not a bad-looking effect until somebody tries to move it and it becomes apparent that it's both very inflexible, and that nobody really knew how to hide its strings or articulate it with natural movements. The monster seems very much like an afterthought that Corman decided to throw in at the last minute, and for that reason, it's not as damaging to the production values as it would be were it given a lot of screen time, but that doesn't change the fact that it's pretty silly and likely to invoke laughter from those who see it.
The shooting locations are adequate but don't really add anything to the movie atmospherically. The production manager was at least given enough money to decorate the clinic's waiting room, the hematologist's office is well-stocked with test tubes, beakers, bubbling fluids, and all the usual stuff we'd expect from a chemistry lab, and the alien's base of operations is suitably charming with its classic mid-century aesthetic, but if we're being honest the locations do little to bring any kind of specialized identity to this particular movie. You might assume (as I did) that the police station was an ordinary office made to resemble a police station given how tightly it was photographed, but the scenes filmed in the police station were actually shot in the LAPD's Hollywood office, and (less surprisingly) the hospital exteriors were actually those of a real hospital in Hollywood, while the final chase scene through what looks to be a campground was shot in Griffith Park in L.A., so even though they don't do much for the production values, you certainly can't claim a lack of authenticity.
The soundtrack is standard '50s sci-fi fare and includes a lotta woodwind pieces, and dreamy, fantasy-style harp interludes that aren't especially frightening, but that do a convincing job of promising spooky happenings to come. They do manage to build a little suspense with some creative, otherworldly-sounding violin pieces, and I suppose that if one was to rate the overall score against its peers from the same period and genre you might even say Ronald Stein's compositions were above average, but even the best ones rarely create anything unique enough to definitively identify with a particular film. That said, Stein was well-versed in this genre, and composed soundtracks for many other low-budget titles of the day, including The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues, It Conquered the World, The She-Creature, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Dinosaurus!, and one of his sillier scores that I kinda liked - Invasion of the Saucer Men. My personal opinion aside - the guy's resume is fairly stacked, and if you enjoy the generic, interchangeable tunes from these old science fiction films, you'll probably enjoy this one.
Overall, Not of This Earth is closer to good than to bad, but it's very middling in terms of where it stands as a '50s science fiction flick - not good enough to be considered a classic, but much too good to be counted among the memorable top-tier dreck like Robot Monster or Plan 9 From Outer Space. Still, if one was to rate it solely based upon the standards of its time after having checked it out at a drive-in, it would probably rate reasonably well against a lot of the bargain basement crapola bein' pumped out at the end of the decade in a last-ditch effort to squeeze what little profitability remained in a genre that was beginning to overstay its welcome. Bottom line - it's not great, but you could do a hell of a lot worse.