REMEDIAL SF 101: I Married A Monster From Outer Space

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An awful lot of science fiction is actually just horror or suspense, with aliens.  This is the case with the 1958 B movie I Married A Monster From Outer Space.

The plot is something of a reversal on that of Avatar: Giant glowing cockroach aliens arrive on Earth and take over the bodies of a number of men a small town presumably out in California (all these alien invasion films happened out there, for some strange reason).  The aliens come from a planet where all the females were killed off when their sun started to get unstable, and now the remaining males are trying to find a new planet to take over.

One invades the body of newly-married Bill Ferrel, whose wife Marge notices that his personality is different even on their wedding day.  Her unease increases over the course of their first year together, when in addition to Bill's emotional detatchment, Marge can't get pregnant.  Her doctor reassures her that "these things take time" and that he and his wife were married five years before their first child arrived.  He tells Marge she's perfectly normal, but suggests her husband could come around to see him.  This temporarily satisfies Marge's sense of unhappiness.

As an anniversary present, she buys Bill a cute little ragamuffin dog, which takes an instant dislike to Bill, and so Bill strangles it when Marge isn't looking, fearing it will give him away. 

Meanwhile, the giant glowing cockroaches have been taking over other men in town, so that when Marge finally follows Bill on a walk one night and watches in horror as the cockroach seperates from his body, leaving a dead husk behind (in what has to be the creepiest moment in the film, Marge goes to touch Bill, who topples over and lies staring wide-eyed as a centipede scuttles across his eye) Marge realizes that the town is being invaded by monsters.  Of course, she can't get anyone to believe her, especially since she's stumbling around in her nightgown and bathrobe in a state of wild-eyed shock.  Marge tries, but cannot get any help from the police, who have also been possessed by the aliens, including her god-father, the Chief of Police.  He puts her off with tender reassurances, only to be revealed as one of the aliens after he tells her to go home to Bill for fear of tipping him off that she's suspicious about him.

The threat posed by the eponymus monsters is more one of creeping menace than outright violence, since they're trying to live as ordinary humans.  The inability to crossbreed with the human females does pose a problem, however, and they realize they need to figure out a way to fix this, or their race is doomed.

In addition, the aliens seem to be allergic to alcohol, and when one of the masquerading monsters falls into the water and is administered oxygen to try to resuscitate him, he expires, which puzzles the doctor.

This doctor turns out to be Marge's only ally, and when he figures out that the one way to tell an alien from a normal human, is whether or not the man has had children in the past year (I'd've suggested "Offfer it a drink!" as being a little faster.  Liquor is quicker, in other words) he rounds up a posse to go find the aliens' space ship.  One of the rednecks has two ex-service dogs with him, and it's a good thing, too, because it turns out the aliens are impervious to bullets, but dogs can rip their breathing tubes out and they suffocate in the oxygen-rich air of Earth.  Any film in which dogs save the Earth from alien invasion, is okay in my book!

With the two guards so despatched, the posse enters the scout ship, and find the kidnapped men dangling in suspended animation.  The aliens had not taken over their bodies, but were using them in some sort of projection device (which made even less sense than "they can turn to mist and possess the bodies" which is what it looked like they were doing earlier in the film.)  As they destroy the projection equipment and revive the men, the dopplegangers in town start to die, turning to a nasty, foaming goo.  I guess the producer wanted the dramatic sequence of the aliens melting, yet he also wanted to reunite Merle with Bill, and so some changes were made on the fly to accomodate both outcomes.  The visual contradiction doesn't quite work, though, lessening the impact of the earlier scene in which Merle saw the alien vacating Bill's body.

The creature that was pretending to be Bill, despite admitting that his species was without emotion, had confessed to Marge when she confronted him that he had started to understand what "love" was.  I guess it was supposed to be bittersweet, but it only made things creepier, as poor Marge had to suffer the touch of this weird thing that was not her husband.  This was where it was sort of like Avatar--the alien controlling the human body had begun to develop feelings for the human woman he was mated to.  I kind of expected him to turn against his species, but he didn't, and he didn't apologise to Merle, either.

Tom Tryon, who played Bill, did a pretty good job at acting creepy.  He had the whole brooding menace thing down perfectly, and moved in a graceless, awkward manner, like he was wearing a costume that didn't fit right.  The other possessed men moved normally, but Bill came across as if he really was an alien being.

I'm thinking that most of these alien possession-type movies were metaphors for the Red Scare, where you weren't sure who was a closet Communist.  Merle's vain attempts to get help from the police were frustrating to watch, as she gets tut-tutted by the Chief, prevented from driving out of town by the smiling patrolmen (who had earlier shot and killed a guy who Merle had tried to tell her monster story to) and had her telegram to the FBI torn up by the Western Union clerk.  It could also be hinting at miscegenation, or mixed-religion marriages, or any number of hot-button topics from back in the days when people just did not cross barriers without terrible consequences.

In the end, once the scout ship is breached, the dying police chief radios the alien fleet to warn them that the humans were onto them, and that they should look elsewhere for a home, as the landing party was utterly destroyed.  The last shot shows the fleet of saucers flying away from Earth orbit.

A strange subtext of the film was that the Earthling men didn't seem to like their women very much.  In the beginning of the movie, several guys are giving Bill his bachelor party in a bar, getting pretty lit in the process, and bemoaning his "last night of freedom" and how awful it was to be married.  Bill is the only one present who seems to want to have a wife, which is fortunate, since it's his wedding they're "celebrating."  The whole refrain of "Who in his right mind wants to be married?" seemed rather heavy-handed.

  However, once they get taken over by the aliens, they all quickly seek to tie the knot, with varying degrees of success.  One character says he loathes the inferior humans, while another seems to be enjoying the pleasures of his new body.  But the women are still treated with something bordering on contempt, or at best, condescension.  Yet only Merle seems tro notice anything is odd about the menfolk, probably because Bill acted more weird than the others. 

The sexual tension in the film provided most of the suspense.  It's a little surprising to see how such a topic could be used to drive the plot of a sci-fi film from the late 1950's, but then that was the era when animosity between the sexes was ramping up, and lots of pop culture references played off the theme that marriage was a trap, and that men and women were constantly at war.

The film did not get explicit about how Merle felt once she realized she'd been having sex with a cockroach from outer space for a year, but then it didn't have to; her sense of alienation from her husband got the point across as she cringed away from him and jumped at the sound of his voice.  This film could just as easily made Bill a criminal, or on drugs, or anything else which would have caused his personality to change him into a stranger to his wife.  Who knows?  It may be that they weren't having sex at all.  When my wife noticed the twin beds in their bedroom, she shouted at the TV, "Here's a hint--if you want kids, GET A DOUBLE BED!"

In my opinion, the film would have worked better had the audience not known from almost the very beginning that Bill had been posessed by aliens; if he had just come home acting weird, and Merle became increasingly suspicious of him, the plot twist that he was an alien doppleganger would have made for a much more stunning reveal.  As it was, I felt myself getting impatient with the plodding pace of the plot, as Merle starts to think either she or her husband is going insane, but I already knew about the aliens.  Had that part been held back, the discovery that Bill isn't crazy or on drugs, but posessed by a life form from a distant galaxy, would have been a greater shock, especially when Merle sees the being evacuating her husband's husk outside the scout ship.

Would Conservatives like this movie?  Well, Merle is a pretty traditional female character, in her wanting to have children, but there are a number of elements in the story that some might find distasteful, such as the boozing opening sequence and the floozy in the bar who tries way too hard to land a "date."  And the characters are also not exactly "nice" characters--I got the impression that these were the hot rodders who grew up and had to get jobs as insurance agents and store clerks.  They drink too much, smoke too much, drive big, flashy cars (but to be fair, all the cars were big and flashy back then) and generally radiate a wise-ass attitude.

 

It's actually not that bad of a film, despite its awful title, but it would have worked better as a psychological thriller than as science fiction.  There is certainly an aura of "The Twilight Zone" about it, so if you're a fan of that series, you'll love this movie.  It can be argued that this is a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but at least in this film, we get a motivation for the alien invasion--so this is more of an Invasion of the Booty Snatchers.  As such, it's a much better film than other aliens-want-to-have-sex-with-Earthlings films, like Devil Girl from Mars, Species, Mars Needs Women, or even Abducted By The Daleks.

 

Which, if you admit to having seen, we will be sending you your complimentary quart of brain bleach.

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