Killers from Space
Attack by monsters from another planet!
Year of Release: 1954
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Running Time: 71 minutes (1:11)
Director: W. Lee Wilder
Peter Graves ... Dr. Doug Paul Martin
James Seay ... Col. Banks
Steve Pendleton ... Briggs
Frank Gerstle ... Dr. Curt Kruger
Barbara Bestar ... Ellen Martin
Shepard Menken ... Maj. Clift
John Frederick ... Deneb / The Tala
Nuclear scientist Doug Martin disappears after his plane crashes while he is investigating conditions following an atomic bomb test. When he appears at the military base later, he is taken into custody after he is caught spying. When he is injected with a truth serum, nobody will believe his incredible stories of alien abduction, world conquest, and control of animals and insects.
Killers from Space, remindin' us that if you're gonna administer truth serum and immediately disregard the person's testimony - Jack Daniels is just as effective and a whole lot cheaper.
Speakin' of people who could use a stiff drink though, I've noticed a lotta parents out there complainin' about how kids don't play outside anymore, and that it's cause they all have their greasy little faces glued to some kinda screen that's slowly turnin' their brains into waffle batter, but these people've obviously never hadda give up their Sunday to winch eight cars out of a collapsed Al Qaeda tunnel at the drive-in. I'd still like to know where'n the hell those little boogers hid all he dirt they hauled outta that thing, because from what I understand their coyote trainin' exercise started about a month ago and nobody seemed to notice. Anyway, the way I heard it from Eunice Washburn was that the two Pankins boys not currently in juvie, both likely ridin' a funnel cake high, noticed Apollo and Gank diggin' after a badger on the side of the drainage ditch just beyond the edge of the Grime Time parkin' lot, and took it upon themselves to help dig 'im out.
In a way you can't really blame 'em, I mean, it was either that or plant their lawn chairs in front of Edgar Mastrude's Firebird and listen to him and Bambi make noises like it was spaghetti night at the old folks' home, but word of these kinda projects travels pretty fast among children, so before long there were about twenty of 'em tryna root this badger out - and as you can right well imagine, preteens rarely observe the usual safety precautions adhered to by the National Mining Association. Sometimes people ask me why I never had kids, and the reason is, besides havin' been inside a Walmart once in my life - I remember the kinda stuff *I* did when I was a kid. Like the time Billy Hilliard and me duct taped a buncha kazoos inside the pipes on the church organ to liven the sermon up a little.
Like I was sayin' though, the kids eventually found the badger den, which'd been long since abandoned, and promptly forgot about it. But not before they'd tunneled a good 90 - 95 yards beneath the the lot. So when Dale and Gretchen Whelchel started testin' out the shocks in the back of Dale's '79 Dodge Warlock, the tunnel gave out and caused a chain reaction that cascaded all the way to the cattle guard and dumped the rear ends of every rig in the back row into a four foot foxhole and sent their front ends pointin' at the moon like that scene in Tremors when the subterranean slug monsters bury Bibi Besch's Crown Victoria.
I saw the whole thing from the deck of the projection booth and I wish I'd gotten it on tape, cause the look on Dale and Gretchen's faces when their hind end sank and they started rollin' to the end of the truckbed, mid aardvarkus, was about the funniest thing I've seen since Buck McGurk got stinko on Pole Cat beer and mistook the ball return at the Gutter Bowl for a urinal and took a 13lb Brunswick in the gondolas.
Of course the parents're all blamin' Skunky Hernandez and the movies he shows for not holdin' the kids' attention, so now they're P.O.'d because their little yard monsters *aren't* glued to a screen, and *are* playin' outside. Go figure. Don't bother me none if they wanna watch Disney princesses encourage a generation of children to latch onto the idea that all their dreams can come true if they just believe hard enough, long as it don't get in the way of their fetchin' my meatloaf order at the Flying J, or rotatin' the tires on the Topaz in a timely manner when they grow up and realize life ain't fair. But if they think we're gonna stop showin' pie plate flyin' saucer movies or hypnotic mad scientist flicks cause they got behind on their kids' Ritalin payments, they can go fall down the hole in the outhouse.
Unfortunately this all happened durin' the alien abduction scene in Killers from Space, where the head Popeye alien is tellin' Peter Graves about how their sun pooped out and so they hadda evolve ping pong eyeballs so they could see in the dark. I thought maybe I'd missed the part where they explained how they survived without warmth, or plant life, or why their planet didn't just get roasted like a squirrel on a spitfire when the sun went supernova, but the screenwriter didn't have time for that cause of the 71 minute runtime and I respect his artistic decision to omit these details. That's okay though, cause despite the fact that this is only the second best movie where Peter Graves gets projected in front of malevolent grasshoppers (it's no Beginning of the End) I still learned a lot, and if you'll indulge me a moment, you will too. First, if you're gonna glue ping pong balls over people's peepers, it's considered polite to assign them a Seeing Eye Graves. Second, if aliens ever harness the power of the 1950s housewife pout, we're done for. And third, if you found a way to time travel zillions of light years through the universe but still had to depend upon a Type I Civilization for energy, you'd be a little pissed off too.
The movie begins with Peter Graves testin' a nuclear bomb out in the desert to learn about the effects of radiation on some of the last species of animal you'd wanna tangle with in the event of atomic mutation, until somethin' on the ground starts flashin' its high beams at 'im, sendin' his plane into a nosedive rarely witnessed outside a Ric Flair world heavyweight championship match. Pete's a big wheel at the mathematics division of the global destruction corps, so the Air Force scrambles some stock footage to locate 'im, but can't see anything from 20,000 feet in the air and basically calls it a day. Next thing, Pete comes staggerin' into town at few days later lookin' like he tried buyin' a 42" flat screen on Black Friday and the Air Force doctors tell 'im he's doin' pretty well for a guy who went head first into the ground at 300mph, and that with the exception of an L-shaped scar where it looks like somebody tried amputatin' his left man melon, he'll be fine. Cept about that time this turkey from the F.B.I. (Briggs) shows up and starts runnin' 'im through the wringer lookin' for signs of Communism, pod-personism, Borg nanoprobes, midichlorians, white privilege, or any other plot device that might explain his miraculous survival, but ultimately comes up short and ends up havin' to release the guy into his wife's custody. Then Pete starts hallucinatin' ping pong balls with pupils outside his bedroom window and gettin' irritated cause Los Alamos is detonatin' more bombs without botherin' to read his thesis about the effects of WWII stock footage on the supply of migrant workers necessary to staff Donald Trump's hotel resorts, and when he goes to complain to the colonel he basically gets told to go home and relax or he's gonna be reassigned to shovelin' alien poo at Area 51.
Pete is P.O.'d, so he hides out in his office until closin' time and goes rootin' around in the filing room and finds out when the next test is supposed to take place, only he leaves the vault door hangin' wide open when he leaves and Briggs starts askin' a buncha questions about security and what the military's doin' with all that fundin' they're gettin' from Ike's 91% marginal tax rate on the upper class. Then Briggs gets ahold of the local radio station and starts soakin' up more airtime than Mike Bloomberg and by now Pete can't even stop for a sippa water outta the Caucasian Only drinkin' fountain without bein' harassed, so he peels out onto the highway tryna elude capture until the disembodied ping pong eyeballs come screamin' down the centerline at 'im and he crashes into an elm tree. When he wakes up he's in the Air Force hospital rantin' about "them" bein' here to destroy us like Senator McCarthy, and the brass tell 'im to relax so they can shoot 'im up with a little truth juice to get to the bottom of things and not to worry cause they wouldn't dream of doin' anything sketchy, like askin' him whether his wife looks fat in her yellow sundress and recordin' it for posterity. So once the truth serum starts coursin' through his noodula oblongotcha and pushes the brain clog outta there like extra strength Liquid-Plumr, he remembers bein' taken captive by these bug-eyed spacemen from the constellation Corneacopia who're hangin' out in a cave soakin' up all the energy released from our nuclear missile tests.
Turns out he didn't really survive the crash either, so the Optomatons hadda make like Motley Crue and kickstart his heart cause they need him to give 'em advanced warning of where the tests're gonna take place so they can absorb enough power to run all the flashin' lights on their mainframes and eventually conquer Earth cause they already sacked their nearest neighbors with their Battlestar Cateractica spaceship and now nobody'll rent to 'em. Then Pete tries to escape and runs into a buncha giant radioactive desert critters the aliens're breedin' to turn loose on humanity and tries to convince 'em he's willin' to defect, only they don't buy it and hafta contact Stellar Lugosi to hypnotize 'im so he'll get with the program. Course when Pete finishes the story the Air Farce don't believe 'im, so he tells his wife to contact one of his fellow mathematicians while he works out a buncha longhand Calculus to devise a plan to save mankind. Only when he tries tellin' the egghead scientician that they can destabilize the aliens' generator matrix if they cut power to Texas, New Mexico, and mosta Arizona, the flyboys say "no way, Jose," cause it's 109 in Houston and a lotta oil executives might keel over from heat stroke if they cut the power to their A/C units, and so Pete hasta break out and go take care of business himself. I'm not gonna tell ya how this baby ends, but here's a link to the flick if you wanna check it out for yourselves. It's ridiculous what some people'll let fall into the public domain just to avoid those $10 renewal fees.
Alrighty, well, they promised killers from space, and by God, they delivered killers from space. I guess when you get right down to it the killers from space only actually killed Peter Graves' co-pilot, but I can assure you they'd fully intended to kill off every last one of us with their rear projected creepy crawlies if they'd gotten the chance. Killers from Space is one of those really pitiful Science Fiction flicks that would've died in obscurity if not for one particularly goofy element - namely, the bulbous eyeballs jutting out from the aliens' faces. Although it's worth pointing out that said eyeballs weren't actually split ping pong balls as many have suggested, but the bottoms of egg cartons. You might wanna store that nugget away in your memory bank just in case your film school professor tries to stump the class during his public domain studies lecture. Mystery Science Theater never got ahold of this one, but Mike Nelson and his Film Crew did 17 years after MST3K bit the dust, and lemme tell ya - it got what it deserved. To say the movie has aged badly (the best example being the Air Force plane code named "Tar Baby 2") doesn't really do it justice, given that it's about 70 minutes long and padded with WWII stock footage just to reach that threshold. But that's not even the worst of it when you consider our leading man is portrayed by Peter "drying paint" Graves, of Mission Impossible fame (I got nothin' against Pete, but the man makes Perry Mason look like Sam Kinison). Which is okay for the 1950s since basically every single actor not associated with Hammer Studios or Roger Corman was boring, but by the time the '60s rolled around it really made you wanna buy Pete tickets to The Stones or somethin' just to see if he was capable of loosenin' up a little, even though he prolly wouldn't go cause he was too busy buildin' a model of Westminster Abby in an old wine bottle or somethin'. That said, this script doesn't deserve Graves' talents, but it was early in his career and when you're just startin' out you take the jobs that're available, and at the end of the day he does bring a bit of legitimacy to a flick about googly-eyed space aliens who cauterize wounds with the world's longest roach clip, and wanna squash us to death with giant radioactive critters despite havin' a death ray and the ability to hypnotize people with television broadcasts.
It's gonna take a lot more than the tired use of the Bronson Caves and a heat lamp disguised as a phaser cannon to keep me from my whinin' though, so let's dig a little deeper and see if we can't find something endearing about this schlock for all the Boomers out there who fondly remember gettin' whacked out on Satellite Wafers watchin' this sucker with their folks at the drive-in. The plot, as is often the case in low budget Science Fiction flicks of the '50s, is ridiculous, and more than a bit tedious. We've got aliens who can travel interstellar distances at faster-than-light speed, but hafta soak up the sloppy seconds from our atomic bomb tests to get enough power to nuke us like the cheap Banquet TV dinners we are. They also seem to be suffering from the effects of Bond Villain Syndrome eight years before the first Bond film, given that they demonstrate their ability to kill things with their ray gun AND hypnotize people with broadcasts from space and insist on breeding giant nuclear desert insects to eat us. It's all pretty convoluted and rife with unforced errors, but that's kinda to be expected with these flicks. The acting is mechanical and dull when the more talented actors are on screen, and awkwardly amateurish when the less gifted ones appear. I think the strangest thing about the acting is how casual the authority figures are in this thing, as they're normally portrayed as emotionless, uptight drones in these flicks... or maybe it just seems that way when they're acting with Graves, who's Gravesly serious at all times. In any event, the characters are all one-dimensional facsimiles with whom you'll never, ever identify or develop any emotional attachment to, and the performances feel largely phoned in.
Here's who matters and why (cept Peter Graves, cause ya oughta know him by now): James Seay (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Phantom from Space, The Amazing Colossal Man, Beginning of the End, The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, When World's Collide), Steve Pendleton (Blood Bath, Target Earth), Frank Gerstle (The Neanderthal Man, The Bamboo Saucer, Monstrosity, The Wasp Woman 1959, The Magnetic Monster), John Frederick (Prehistoric Women, The Alligator People), Jack Daly (The Couch, Return of the Fly, The Snow Creature, Phantom from Space, The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951), Ron Gans (Not of this Earth 1988, Heartbeeps, Hell Night, The Thing with Two Heads, voiced Nikolai Volkoff on Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n Wrestling, voiced Q.T. the Orangutan on Dumbo's Circus), Ben Welden (Spook Chasers, Phantom Ship), Burt Wenland (Phantom from Space), Lester Dorr (Flying Disc Man from Mars, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, Samson and Delilah, Batman 1942, The Mad Doctor of Market Street, The Shadow 1942, The Shadow Returns), Robert Roark (Target Earth), Roy Engel (Kingdom of the Spiders, Zombies of the Stratosphere, Not of this Earth 1957, 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), Coleman Francis (The Thrill Killers, This Island Earth, The Beast of Yucca Flats).
As far as the special effects go, we've got egg carton eyeballs, rear projected stock footage from 1940s National Geographic shorts, superimposed eyeballs, and some model cities that're about one step above the ones used in the Mystery Science Theater intro. In short, they're sparsely utilized, but not sparsely enough to save any dignity the filmmakers might have had. Fortunately these are the kind of god-awful visual delights B-movie fans crave, so they definitely bring the movie's cheese factor up a notch, making it more palatable for the folks who live for these movies. But outside the scene where Graves recounts his abduction experience, it's even lacking in that department. The shooting locations consist of Graves' residence, a gas station, the military base (which looks like a school or an office building), and the Bronson Caves; that's pretty much it. Nothing against the Bronson Caves mind you, but anybody watching a flick like this one is likely to have seen them a dozen times before (in better movies), and consequently, they're becoming a bit tiresome. These are probably still the film's strongest assets just by virtue of how low that particular bar is set, but they don't contribute much atmosphere. The soundtrack is typical of 1950s Sci-Fi, but does have a few sections where its gloomy string/piano arrangements come across with a bit of charm, and successfully add a teensy-weensy bit of mood. Some of these bits bear a slight resemblance to parts of This Island Earth, released the following year, but that's about the strongest compliment I can muster for an otherwise forgettable musical score. Overall, unless you're on a mission to see every low budget Science Fiction film of the 1950s, I wouldn't go anywhere near this one. It takes itself deathly seriously but isn't quite incompetent enough to make it endearing to the viewer in the way titles like Robot Monster, or Plan 9 do, and it's just too talky for its own good. You're better off skipping it in favor of something genuinely good, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or something wonderfully awful, like Cat Women of the Moon.