Since time immemorial, Earth has been invaded by all sorts of star-spanning creatures – at least in the annals of speculative fiction. H.G. Wells kicked the alien invasion genre off with his classic 1898 novel WAR OF THE WORLDS. Wells’ Martian vanguard were not anthropomorphic in nature – one head, two arms, two legs — but very decidedly weird, tentacled, slug-like Fourth World-ers intent on making THIS ISLAND EARTH their home.
During the 1930s and 1940s, movie aliens depicted in the serials were comic strip villains consorting with fifth columnist gangsters out for their share of spoils from an invasion — be it RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON or ZOMBIES FROM THE STRATOSPHERE. The lone exception being the first FLASH GORDON serial in 1936 — the most expensive serial ever made – which pitted the intrepid Buster Crabbe against the denizens of the rogue planet Mongo. Gockos, dragons, Shark-Men, Hawk Men and Men Men were summoned by the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Universe, Ming the Merciless, to dispatch Flash.
But by 1951 with the box office success of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, producers were quick to capitalize on allure of an extraterrestrial menace — a brief respite for moviegoers being deluged with monsters of radioactive origin in the wake of atomic paranoia.
Needless to say, B-movie producers came up with some of the weirdest, cheapest aliens ever to flit across the silver screen.
For every nearly-A-budget effort like George Pal’s adaptation of WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) in which Martians (shown above) are glimpsed briefly with tri-colored TV eyes, webbed fingered hands and teapot-like physiques, there were dozens of the crummiest, weirdest, slithering, slobbering denizens of deep space looking to subjugate mankind — despite many a meager budget!
Are you ready for a new scale of tawdriness as we examine the Top Five “Stranger than Strange” alien creatures to dare rule the box-office?
Cue the Theremin music… because Number One (with a bullet) is from the director of THINGS TO COME — production designer extraordinaire, creative super-genius William Cameron Menzies’ INVADERS FROM MARS.
A stylized nightmare seen through the eye of a ten year old boy (Jimmy Hunt) had an entire generation checking to see if their parents had been taken over by the mind controlling Martian invaders. Giant drone mutants in zipper-showing costumes do all the dirty work with their over-sized ray guns set to disintegrate as hapless citizens vanish beneath sand dunes to become thralls of the Martian interlopers.
Lording over the invasion is the real show stopper – a disembodied head encased in a glass globe, his tentacles flailing as it dispenses terror on a low budget. Even if it was ALL a dream (at least in the U.S. version) that fear flick gave us frightmares for weeks!
But for every sleight-of-hand winner there is inevitably a ROBOT MONSTER.
The titular terror is famed monkey man, George Barrows, in an ape suit with a plastic space helmet. The aptly named Ro-Man rules over the remaining survivors of a Martian (or is it moon men?) atomic attack. In a post-apocalyptic world, stock footage “dinosaurs” from ONE MILLION B.C. tussle and tumble off cliffs as Ro-Man uses his Bubble Making Machine to communicate with his fearless leader, The Great Guidance.
This 3-D weirdo, shot in California’s oft-used Bronson Canyon and produced for a whopping $16,000 from Astor Pictures (the cheapest of the cheap), is notable for two things — an existential breakdown for Ro-Man when he begins to lust for a hottie human survivor and an early soundtrack by film composer Elmer Bernstein who later scored THE GREAT ESCAPE. The opening titles are set against a backdrop of real 1950s comic books. Naturally, the whole thing is a dream (again). We can thank (blame?) director Phil Tucker and producer Al Zimablist for this one.
Our next entry IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE is a taut, terrifying thriller that was a major inspiration for Ridley Scott’s ALIEN.
Crewmen returning from a Mars mission are terrorized by a Martian stowaway played by former Western star Ray “Crash” Corrigan in a suit designed by SFX maestro Paul Blaisdell. IT is an unstoppable, rubber-suited terror that kills off the crew members one by one as he ascends from the lower levels to the ship’s bridge, furnished with rolling office chairs and surplus oscilloscopes. Because Corrigan was unable to be fitted for the alien monster during the design process, Blaisdell designed the mask to his own slight proportions. In the finished film, Corrigan’s chin can be seen jutting from IT’s mouth so Blaisdell painted his chin a darker color, appearing to be IT’s tongue. Wisely, IT is glimpsed briefly, in deep shadows, as it rips the crew apart.
The script by SF vet Jerome Bixby (best known for THE TWILIGHT ZONES ep “It’s A Good Life” and STAR TREK’s evil Spock beard fest “Mirror Mirror”) is a gripping suspenser which elevates the film to near-great status.
Aliens talking over the bodies of the dead was not the brainchild of Ed Wood’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Sorry, Wood acolytes that was the claim of INVISBLE INVADERS in which the ETs possessed the bodies of the newly dead.
Horror great John Carradine leads the white faced shamblers as they shuffle off into battle with the armed forces. Zombie kingpin GEORGE ROMERO even admitted that he “borrowed” the look for his NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD reanimates. After all, what could be cheaper than walking dead men with some white make up and blackened eyes? Bela Lugosi’s chiropractor stand-in? Vampira dragging the fake grass of a cemetery set behind her? Too close to call in the overall cheapness category but INVISBLE INVADERS gets the nod because of its influence on all the zombie flicks to come.
And lest we forget, Roger Corman’s IT CONQUERED THE WORLD — featuring a giant barely walking cucumber-like creature from Venus who makes disillusioned scientist Lee Van Cleef his slave and has the hots for Beverly Garland. It’s up to Peter Graves and Corman-regulars Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze to save the day. Designed by Paul Blaisdell, IT is one of the weirdest, unlikely world beaters to emerge from B-movie land. Nicknamed “Beulah,” the creature’s design has proved popular with garage kit enthusiasts the world over. Reportedly, when star Beverly Garland first saw the creature, she mocked “That conquered the world?” and promptly kicked IT over.
Makes one yearn for the good old days of Ming the Merciless… doesn’t it?