SATURDAY AFTERNOON B-MOVIE CRAPFEST: “Killers from Space” (1954)

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 11/14/09

Gather ‘round, children, and listen to the tale of one of the most legendary of all possible bad films, “Killers from Space” - an utterly embarrassing, daft, incompetent stock footage festival masquerading as a movie. It was made in 1953, and stars a young Peter Graves, who’s obviously slumming. What makes it so painful to watch is that film was made just a year after his performance in “Stallag 17” and a year before “Night of the Hunter.”

‘Ah,’ you say, ‘well, it’s just a momentary aberration in a journeyman career,’ but no, you’d be wrong to say that. In fact, Mr Graves was continually pinging back and forth between A-list pictures and Grade Zed schlock fests like this. It’s weird. Evidently he had the same agent as Jamie Foxx.

PLAY BY PLAY

We see stock footage of an above-ground nuclear test in the 40s or 50s, with bad SFX of a jet flying around the mushroom cloud while Peter Graves pretends to take notes on science and stuff. The plane goes out of control, and crashes. Graves is presumed dead, and they waste no time in traumatizing his wife, but then Graves shows up on foot, bedraggled and with a very deep - and surprisingly realistic looking - surgical scar on his chest.

He’s got no memory of the crash. They decide to send him home with his wife and make him take it easy, but how easy can a man and woman who sleep in twin beds really take it? He keeps yammering over work, and trying to leave, but his wife manages to distract him by givin’ him some lovin’ (I think, it’s not entirely clear, but he seems happier afterwards and there are cigarettes around), but once that’s done, he immediately heads off to work, where he’s told he’s a security risk, and off the making-bombs-blow-up project.

He hides out in his office until after hours, then steals some information, which he writes on a piece of paper and attempts to hide under a rock at the crash site. An FBI goon stops this, and a really boring chase ensues, with Graves crashing in to a telephone pole. He wakes up in a hospital, and they pump him full of happy hypno-juice and ask him what the fracking frack is going on.

The second act of the movie is pretty much entirely flashback, with Graves coming to in a cave on an operating table immediately after the titular Killers from Space have put his heart back in and resurrected him. Turns out they’re from another planet (Hence “From Space”) and their star has burned out. There’s a billion of ‘em, and they’ve decided earth is the right color, matches the furniture they’ve already got, and isn’t far from local schools. Best of all, it’s full of really stupid humans that can easily be killed by giant cockroaches and stuff.

Graves attempts to escape, but his mad dash for freedom is foiled by the presence of a lot of rear projection screens showing stock footage of giant cockroaches and stuff. This goes on for, seemingly, 10 minutes.

Eventually, he agrees to be a mole for the Killers, and the flashback ends.

The final act of the movie has Graves trying to figure out a way to kill them. Initially, he wants a ‘really big’ atom bomb, but eventually he figures that if he just cuts off the alien’s power, their own incredibly unstable storage battery (Which he saw in the flashback) will go blooey, killing ‘em all and saving the world. Of course the FBI and USAF take this as the crazy talk it is - why would aliens - killer aliens, yet - use the local power supply to run their alien mojo? Wouldn’t the power drain show? Eventually, Graves steals a gun and we get a long chase through a power plant that’s slightly-less-boring than the cockroach thing, culminating with him flipping an ‘off’ switch, and the alien HQ explodes in the warm, purifying flash of Bikini Atoll Nuclear Test Stock Footage.

The End

OBSERVATIONS

We have to start with the aliens themselves, of course: They all dress like The Phantom and they have ping pong balls for eyes. Just look http://www.weirdwildrealm.com/filmimages/killers_from_space.jpg they’re not what you’d call ‘inspired.’ Here’s another shot http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/33/Graves_and_alien.jpg There’s repeated vaguely impressionistic attempts to show alien ping-pong ball eyes looming at Graves out of the darkness. These are obviously intended to be frightening, but they are - every single one of them - utterly hilarious.

There’s also a pretty unintentionally hilarious scene of Graves in the hospital, and his wife attempting to have a conversation with him, but he keeps completely ignoring her in favor of his work, which is way more important than any ol’ pretty blonde chick who wants to have sex with you, right? She gets increasingly annoyed and walks off in a huff, only to be gleefully happy in the next scene and explain to another character that Graves is ‘back to normal’ and ‘doing fine.’ Yeah, that’s a great little life you’ve managed to carve out for yourself there, Susan!

There’s probably more random wandering around in pajamas in this movie than any other non-stag film produced in the 1950s. Curiously, Graves seems to prefer his with the shirt unbuttoned, as though it’s a sport coat or something. It’s vaguely off-putting, like they anticipated pajamas would become the leisure suits of the decade, or perhaps it’s just that Graves seems a little too comfortable having people over to his house while he wanders around dressed like that. Hm. In his 30s…no kids…always showing off his chest, and wearing clothes that are inappropriate for having guests over…maybe he’s in to those kinds of special ‘hugging’ parties? Cue wah-wah guitar. [shudder]

I’m not joking when I say that this movie is an assembly of stock footage. It’s been said that if you played the ‘running’ footage from Chariots of Fire at normal speed, the movie would only be 45 minutes long. Well, if the stock footage were removed from this film, it would probably be about half its length. There’s a ton of it, with entire sequences cobbled together from stuff that was already in the can. There’s a helicopter sequence that uses footage of three separate copters - all ostensibly the same one - in the space of two minutes.

We’re shown some brief scenes of the alien’s homeworld, and, surprisingly, these don’t suck out loud. I’m assuming that they, too, were culled from some other film. Anyone got any idea where and what it is?

The Aliens Plan, by the way, is to release mutant giant animals to eat everyone on earth, and then kill the animals with a death ray. It’s not a bad plan as xenomorphing goes, but if you’ve got a death ray, why not just kill everyone with that, and cut out the middle man? Furthermore, why steel power from the local power plant if you’ve got starship engines around? There’s some shuck and jive about how their eyes got like that (Their sun grew darker over generations), but it really makes no sense whatsoever.

Though I generally like Peter Graves, and obviously he went on to (And came from) better things, he’s clearly not in to this one. He’s just kind of sleepwalking his way through the movie, and seems a little embarrassed at times (As he probably should). There are no particularly good performances in the film, but the doctor, Shepherd Menken http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0579684/ is particularly awful, especially in his earlier scenes. I’m going to be kind and say this is a directorial problem, since I’ve seen him in other things, and he’s always adequate. He had a long, successful career as a voice actor. By the way.

The movie goes by a number of different names. The print I watched was in pretty bad shape, had new (1990s) title cards, and some scenes where the negatives had obviously rotted in places. It’s watchable, it’s not headache-inducing, but clearly this isn’t a property anyone is interested in preserving. It is also know under the title “Aliens from Space,” so don’t get fooled and buy the same thing twice.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS MOVIE?

Well, there’s a framed picture of President Eisenhower in the background in several of the scenes, so, yeah, sure, why not?

Should you want to watch it for some reason, you can do so here http://www.archive.org/details.php?identifier=Killers_from_space

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