8/20/07

FC002 Killers From Space

(1954, SciFi, b&w)

I will radiate blandness with everything that is in me.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Peter Graves prevents a race of bug-eyed aliens from invading Earth.

Summary:

Look at those eyes!  Terrifying!Dr. Douglas Martin (Peter Graves) circles his jet around the site of a nuclear test in progress when he sees something sparkling in the desert below. His pilot flies nearer to investigate; the plane engines die; and they nosedive into the ground. His government employers investigate the crash site, but find no survivors.

Dr. Martin stumbles blankly back to the military base a few hours later, with no memories of the gap between the crash as his arrival at base, and a well-healed surgical scar on his chest. Alarmed government lackeys quarantine him immediately, as the previously unknown scar can only mean that this new Dr. Martin is an impostor. Or actually, no it can’t, since fingerprints and other tests confirm his identity. They bar him from the base regardless, and release him into the custody of his wife.

Dr. Martin wanders grumpily around the house, haunted by visions of sinister disembodied Muppet eyes. Finally, he returns to base and demands to be reinstated to his former position. When they refuse him, he hides out until everyone leaves, then sneaks through the laughably porous security to steal sensitive documents and run them out to the middle of the desert. By this time, however, even the most dull-witted of government agents have noticed something wrong; they call out a county-wide manhunt to stop Dr. Martin from doing...whatever it is he’s trying to do. A surly cop prevents Martin from leaving a note under a rock. Martin escapes and drives madly away. He’s finally run off the road by more sinister Muppet-eyed visions.

He wakes up in the military hospital, surrounded by stern but worried colleagues. They feed him truth serum and record his newly restored memories of the time after the plane crash. These memories are of thick, bug-eyed men from a dying planet. They’ve been storing power from the nuclear testing to build an army of giant spiders, cockroaches, and lizards that will devour all life on Earth. Once this is accomplished, these creatures will somehow die off, leaving the world clean and ripe for resettlement. They need to know the strength and caliber of the next nuclear test so that they don’t overload their giant alien capacitors and blow the whole operation to hell, and have revived Dr. Martin from the plane crash to provide them with this information. (Apparently he died in the plane crash, not from any kind of blunt trauma, but from a heart attack. They replaced his heart and healed it instantly, hence the scar.) Dr. Martin refuses to cooperate and runs for the surface, but finds his way blocked by superimposed stock footage of the aforementioned enlarged vermin.

The pop-eyed interlopers recapture and hypnotize him. (This begs the question of why they didn’t just hypnotize him in the first place if they knew he was unlikely to cooperate, but never mind.) Once the tale is through, Martin’s incredulous cohorts make soothing, noncommittal noises at him when he demands they explode the biggest nuclear bomb they have over the site to overload the capacitors and destroy the alien base. They leave him restrained and in the care of his wife. Realizing that he is not being taken seriously, Dr. Martin makes several more calculations, during which he figures out that the aliens are stealing the electricity for their nuclear stabilizers from a nearby power plant. If he could interrupt their power supply for a few crucial seconds, the capacitors would overload on their own...

He breaks out of the rather poorly guarded military base again, making his way to the local power plant. After taking several hapless utility company employees hostage, he manages to shut down the power just as his beleaguered colleagues catch up with him. The alien capacitors explode as promised, along with most of the desert around them. Everyone gazes thankfully at the blooming mushroom cloud outside, and then the movie abruptly ends.

Introduction:

The love children of Ernest Borgnine and Kermit the Frog.Kevin carefully prepares a pot of exotic Turkish tea on a portable electric burner. Mike distracts him at a crucial moment; Kevin accidentally sticks a fork into something sensitive, is electrocuted, and dies. Bill arrives just as Film Crew chief Bob Honcho calls to tell dirty Peter Graves jokes and introduce the film. Kevin recovers sufficiently from death to join them in front of the monitor and mock the movie.

Lunch Break:

Kevin interrupts lunch to show several of his own sketches (purported to be original design sketches from the film) showing other concepts for aliens’ exaggerated physical features. For instance, the giant eyeballs depicted could have been just as scary if they were giant thumbs, giant derrieres, or giant outie belly buttons.

Epilogue:

Kevin amuses and horrifies his cohorts with his own pair of giant eyeballs. He takes them off when Bill breaks down sobbing. The trauma of all those jarring, blank-faced close-ups that constantly interrupted the action is still fresh in his mind. Mike explains what the shot is, and its history (he calls it something that sounds like Roubecheis, which I don’t know how to spell and thus cannot confirm its reality or unreality on the internet) and then goes on to demonstrate by interrupting his cohorts’ lines with unrelenting extreme close-ups of his expressionless face. Bill finally loses patience with it and socks Mike in the jaw.

DVD Extra:

Kevin reveals the alien language heard in the film to be a reversed loop of film. When viewed in the other direction, we hear that it is simply an actor with prosthetic eyeballs reciting numbers. Kevin then goes on to reveal that the actor in question very often butted heads with the blank-faced star during filming, and introduces a number of unused takes for our perusal. Going through them, we hear a suspiciously Mike-voiced actor backwards and forwards saying things like “Peter Graves is stupider than a Norwegian puff pastry,” and “I crapped in the corner of Peter Graves’ dressing room.”

Thoughts:

Now they tell us...Of course the invading aliens have a mortal flaw. These flaws are required by the Human Abatement Act of 1898, and refusal to include one in each and every plan of attack can subject potential invaders to stiff fines and penalties if the infraction is discovered during audit. Most alien races ignore the small, tacked-on proviso that requires them to inform the humans of their mortal flaws before the invasion proper, as it is not often enforced. That the aliens depicted in Killers from Space went out of their way to do so shows not only good manners, but an admirable respect for interstellar law and indeed society at large.

As a film, Killers from Space starts off slow, waiting more than an hour to introduce the aliens and their army of giant man-eating critters. Once introduced, though, the movie picks itself up and...just sort of plops itself back down. The ping pong-faced invaders talk and show stock footage for about fifteen minutes until the filmmakers yank the otherworldly shenanigans out of the film, as if to say, “There, wasn’t that exciting?” Then they fill the remaining time with an endless chase in a power plant. Of course the Film Crew makes it fun to watch anyway. When huge googly eyes appear to drive Peter Graves into the night, Bill says, “I gotta stop eating pot roast and watching The Muppets before bed.” As the eyes continue to haunt him on the subsequent drive, Kevin sings, “It’s time to meet your maker on The Muppet Show tonight!” As Peter Graves aimlessly wanders the stock footage-infested caverns, Mike says, “Poor slob couldn’t find his way out of a room with one door.” Also included are many, many comments about Mr. Graves’ apparent unwillingness to emote anything beyond mild surliness, and the arbitrary overuse of jarring close-ups.

The host segments start off promising with Kevin’s apparent death, and didn’t waste much time on Bob Honcho (thankfully), allowing them to get right to what they do best, which is make fun of movies. The Lunch Break segment about exaggerated body parts was funnier back when they were making fun of Torgo’s knees during Manos: The Hands of Fate, but it works well enough this time too. Mike and Kevin’s blank faces during the last host segment are particularly funny, especially as they increase the frequency of their close-ups until Bill finally snaps. The DVD extra is funny as well; I was curious about the backwards-talking alien anyway, and Mike’s reverse voice-overs punctuated the effect’s stupidity perfectly.

Disappointed as I was by The Film Crew’s last release, I’m glad they tried again. Of course the mockery is top-notch—it’s almost always top-notch—but this one features tighter host segments and a sillier film.