Friday, September 23, 2016

Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

This week's B-Movie Enema is a bit of a treat - and the man who made it is fascinating.  I'm going to take a look at Teenagers from Outer Space.

This film, made almost single-handily on a production level by Tom Graeff, is not exactly all that well-known.  It didn't receive particularly good reviews.  It isn't exactly remembered in any spectacular way.  In fact, the most famous it probably ever got was appearing on a 1992 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

However, I find it to actually be pretty decent and an interesting movie.  The title is not particularly important to the movie.  Yes, the main alien is, basically, a teenager, and there is some nice puppy love between him and the lovely Betty (played by Dawn Bender, though cast as Dawn Anderson officially), but it's not necessarily playing on anything societal other than to lure teenagers to come to the drive-in for a date.  So it's kind of a title that mirrors the exploitation of the late 50s and early 60s to entice a younger audience.

But let's get to the really interesting factoid about the filmmaker, Graeff.  As I previously stated, he basically bankrolled this movie solo.  He had gotten his start under the tutelage of Roger Corman so he had a bit of movie making knowledge.  When this film came out, the reviews weren't great, but not damning.  What tipped Graeff over the edge, though, was the poor box office.  Seeing how he wrote, produced, directed, and financed this movie himself, the poor box office caused him to suffer a mental breakdown.  The same year this movie came out, he proclaimed himself "Jesus Christ II" and demanded to be referred to as that.  He would be institutionalized (no shit, right?) and later would spend the 60s destitute and unable to find work.  In 1970, he committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage.  I definitely recommend you check out his page on Wikipedia.

Let's take a look at the synopsis from my Sci-Fi Classics box set and dive into this curious piece of 50s sci-fi goodness: "Beings from another planet are coming to Earth to raise the "Gargon Herd", an unstoppable torrent of giant lobsters.  When one of the aliens realizes that there is intelligent life on Earth, he heroically sets out to warn the population.  He must make the ultimate sacrifice to stop the incoming horde of deadly creatures."


That is one sweet beard this guy has.
As with many movies in the sci-fi genre in the 1950s, the movie starts with some scientists doing super important scientist stuff.  These guys are astronomers and using their giant telescope to look into the daytime sky.  One of the two astronomers sees a streak in the sky and calls over his mentor, a guy who has the most bitchinest beard ever to have him take a look.  By the time beardo comes over, the streak is gone and is played off as a trick of the eyes.  The guy who saw the streak makes an ominous comment about how it might be some sort of creature to come down and kill us all (in so many words).  The guy is kinda right because, well...  they are aliens to come down and breed their kill beasts.

After the ship lands, a dog yaps up a storm at the saucer and one of the aliens fires his gun and reduces the poor pup to a skeleton.  It's actually a pretty effective visual with a good edit and a pretty convincing collapse of the bones.  Well, done, movie!

The last to come out of the ship is our main teenager from outer space, "Derek".  He seems a little sorry for the dog that got disintegrated.  He finds a tag next to the bones that had been on the dog's collar.  He tries to convince the captain that this planet has intelligent life, based on the tag.  He holds the captain at gunpoint to prevent the rearing of the giant lobster creatures.  He also argues that the past civilization of his people cared more about life, civilization and love.  Derek shows the crew a book, as if they don't really exist anymore for these people's culture, that taught him of these concepts of peace.  When he shows the captain his book, he gets jumped.  The crew tests the sustainability of the giant lobster monsters.  At first, it looks as though everything will be fine, but the monster dies due to too much nitrogen in the atmosphere.

Hunky lead spaceman...  Derek.
Derek is pleased that this means they will leave the planet alone and search elsewhere, but he's going to be arrested and charged with his insurrection - what with the holding the captain at gunpoint and such.  He manages to escape when the crew is not keeping a close enough eye on him.  We learn that Derek is unaware that he is the son of the leader of these guys' planet.  Also, major bummer, the lobster monster revives and proves that Earth is suitable for them to live.  We are continuously told of the monsters' scariness.  Derek's pop says they need to recapture Derek and tell him of his parentage.  However, if he resists, he and anyone else he's come into contact with must be destroyed.

So, Captain Alien Guy sends Thor, his best man (but no Thunder God), to find Derek.

In town, Derek wanders about sticking out like a sore thumb in his space suit.  He learns where the destroyed dog came from and makes his way to notify its owners that aliens are here to cause some problems.  Thor also finds his way into town as well.

Why hellllllo, Betty!
Derek arrives at the address on the dog collar and meets Betty Morgan and her Grandfather.  Now, I should probably go ahead and point out that Betty is pretty.  Like girl-next-door pretty.  She's like the perfect 50s girl too.  She's got those rockin' bangs, and, I can only assume, black hair.  Her waist is tiny too.  You know, these are all things that every girl in the 50s had, right?  ALL girls in the 50s had tiny waists and black hair with bangs.  Anyway, Derek makes what seemingly is a horrible first impression by talking about how he never knew his brother or his parents or anything like that when Betty talks about family.  But it's the 50s, so everyone gets real comfy around each other and Betty and her grandpa offer up her brother's room for Derek to live.

Betty's boyfriend, Tom (played by Graeff), comes by to visit, but when asked, is unable to go swimming with Betty, and now Derek, because he's a reporter and getting called to cover a flying saucer story.  Again, this is normal 50s shit, right?  So, Betty is now left alone with Derek to spend the rest of her day swimming, hanging out, flirting.  You know general stuff weirdos do with women who get left behind by their boyfriends.  Trust me, we're all real scumbags and want your girlfriends.

Back when girls named "Alice" were sexbombs.
While Betty and Derek head off to her friend Alice's place to go swimming, Thor begins to wreak havoc in the town.  He kills both the guy he hitched a ride with and the gas station attendant that Derek met earlier.  We're introduced to Alice, an overly sexed up girl who is very excited to meet Derek and lets them know that they have the entire place to themselves since Alice's parents and the "servants" are all gone for the day.  Derek drops the dog tag and it's then that he tells Betty that her dog, Sparky, has bitten the dust.  She leaves with him so he can show her where this happened.

Thor arrives at Grandpa's house and questions him about Derek.  Grandpa, because he's a trusting type, tells Thor how to get to Alice's place.  Out at the landing site, Derek shows Betty Sparky's remains.  This does beg a question...  Earlier, Sparky was killed just outside the spacecraft.  Now, they are looking at Sparky's bones, but there is no spacecraft.  Did the aliens move their ship to avoid a parking ticket?  Did I miss that the aliens were supposed to leave and come back to get Derek and Thor?  That seems dumb.  However, Betty did ask a very specific question to Derek to try to find out what's going on.  She point blank asks him if his buddies created a super secret weapon and then turned it against him.  That's weird.  What's weirder is that Betty tells Derek that she feels like she has always known him and they've never been apart.  This guy literally fell out of the sky THAT DAY and Betty is talking about how they have always been together.  She's... kinda crazy.

Which explains why I like her so much.

While Betty and Derek return home for her to change out of her swimsuit, Thor stops by Alice's and kills her when she doesn't cooperate.  Betty leaves a note for Grandpa to tell him they are going to see the science professor at the local college.  You know, because the professors at local colleges know everything about aliens, flying saucers, and disintegrating guns.  Thanks, again, to Grandpa's trusting nature, Thor finds out about the whereabouts of Betty and Derek.

Okay, so now...  This is a real sequence of events in this movie that kind of builds some tension effectively, but a little too realistic for movies, even back in the 50s.  Normally you'd keep this a little more condensed but here goes:  Betty and Derek arrive at the school and go to Professor Simpson's office.  They are told he's not come in yet.  Betty decides they will wait for him in the parking lot.  After they have exited the building, the Professor comes into his office.  Thor has also arrived at the school and learns where Professor Simpson's office is.  Outside, Betty sees the Professor's car and realizes he must be inside so they go back into the school.  In Simpson's office, Thor comes in and kills him when he's told no one has come to see him and threatens to call security.  Betty and Derek find Simpson's secretary and when they go back into the office to find his skeleton.  No shit, this all happened in the course of about two minutes.  Again, I appreciate the realism and how it kind of built tension because people kept shifting their locations, but damn...  Trying to explain all this is tiring.

They realize that Thor knew where they were because of Grandpa.  She calls him to tell him that he's not safe and tells him to go to the police station.  Grandpa nearly escapes Thor when he comes back to deal with the old man, but is forced to take him to where Betty and Derek are going - the police station where a bunch of cops are waiting outside to protect Betty.

Joe, Connector of Dots, and Grandpa, Revealer of Location.
While all this is going on, there is a solid B plot going on here that the director, Graeff, is starring in.  Remember, he's playing Betty's boyfriend, Joe, who is also a reporter.  He was, first, going to investigate what seemed to be a UFO story, but then got called to cover the two skeletons found at the gas station where Thor first stopped.  So he's trying to piece together these murders and what might be happening there.  When he's directed to Alice's house to find Betty, he finds Alice's skeleton and calls the police.  That coupled with Betty calling the cops after Simpson's remains were found connects the A and B plots rather nicely.  Again, not terribly written ideas.  It probably would have benefited from one more pass on the script to help tidy these things up and this would have probably been considered a fairly decent plot at the very least.  Those additional passes may have helped also clean up some of that messiness of Betty talking about her connection to Derek and so forth.

Meh...  Just a thought.

The police are able to force Thor off by wounding him in the arm.  This ultimately saves Grandpa and Betty's life.  Joe arrives and tells Betty about Alice and goes to help Grandpa.  Derek and Betty are captured by Thor and forced to take him to a doctor to get his arm patched up.  Derek says it's impossible, but Betty says they have to do what Thor says.  What team is Betty on anyway?

Derek and Betty find a doctor for Thor and, when he refuses anesthetic, he reveals that Derek is the son of their leader.  When Thor nearly blacks out, Derek, Betty, and the doc who removed the bullets from Thor's arm escape.  They hope to get back to the landing spot and stop Derek's people from releasing the lobster monsters.  Thor resumes his chase when the doctor's nurse shows up for her office hours shift and helps patch up Thor.

Thor is eventually captured when the car being driven by that nurse who helped him wrecked near the landing spot where the lobster monster was being kept in a cave.  Joe and another guy who wanted to check out that site discover the monster's escaped and the other guy gets eaten while Joe reports the existence of the lobster monster.  Betty and Derek arrive so Derek can investigate the crash site and find Thor's disintegrater gun.   Betty, who is no damn good at staying in a car when told to do so for her safety, goes looking for Derek only to stumble down a hill and be caught by Derek.  They get wet for each other (joke's on Betty, Derek's people's junk is switched so he too has a vagina), but the moment is ruined by Derek telling Betty that he isn't from Earth.  Betty claims she knew all along.  Even though I said this script could use another pass or two to clean stuff up, this actually makes sense.  By the way Derek talks and acts, it doesn't take a genius to realize he's not from Earth.  They kiss and I immediately feel sorry for poor Joe.  No wonder the guy who made this movie, wrote this movie, and played Joe had a breakdown.  His ladies are getting stolen by moon men from Mars.

Then this happens!

Yes, that is the lobster monster.  A silhouette.  It's amazing.  I-I don't have anything more to say about this.  It's just the best shadow puppet ever formed.

This giant shadow puppet is headed for the town.  Derek finds the disintegrater gun but it is damaged.  He gets the idea from seeing the power lines strung from pole to pole that it can be used to help defend against the monster.  Derek wires the weapon to the power and until the man at the controls at the power station is able to pump just about everything he can into the lines he doesn't have enough juice.  Finally he is able to power the weapon and destroys the lobster.  Derek realizes that his people are returning to get him and he drives off to try to escape them.  Joe and Grandpa pick up Betty and take her home.  Betty reveals to them that Derek is from outer space and they, understandably, believe Betty is pulling their legs.  She's able to convince them by connecting the entire UFO story that Joe was originally to cover before he got wind of the murders.  She warns that more monsters and aliens are on the way.

They find Derek at Betty's house dressed in full uniform.  Against Betty's wishes, Derek demands Joe to take him to where his people will pick him up.  Betty pleas with Grandpa to take her out there too.  She doesn't think Derek will break the promise he made about never leaving.  She is scared of what will happen.  Before going out to the desert, Joe takes Derek to the police station where they break Thor out and take him with them.  Everyone winds up in the desert and Derek's people's ships land and he's greeted by his father, the supreme leader dude.

Derek requests that he be the one to send the landing signals to the fleet.  When he is told to go into the ship, he locks them out and tells the ships to come in too fast causing them all to crash, killing the entire group of aliens, Derek included, and all the lobster monsters.  Betty, Joe, and Grandpa look up in the sky and a ghostly image of Derek appears and we hear his voice over saying he will make Earth his home and never leave it.  I guess he sure came through on that promise!

This movie is more interesting than it really is good.  And as I stated at the beginning there's an entire history of behind the scenes stories about Tom Graeff's sexual preference (and his likely relationship with David Love, who played Derek), his insanity, and even stories about how Dawn Anderson (aka Dawn Bender) eventually died of alcohol poisoning.  That's not a true story by the way, because as of right now, she is still alive and well.  It is interesting that this is the last performance Dawn Anderson made on television or in film.  She was a major star of radio though - performing in hundreds upon hundreds of programs.  For a little known movie that had a title that the only logical connection I can bring is some mad love between Derek and Betty and Derek deciding to commit suicide (sadly, a very teenager thing to do), this movie has its place in Hollywood Babylon which only fuels the fascination I have with watching this movie play out.

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