Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Killers from Space (1954)

Directed by:
W. Lee Wilder

Despite having a reputation as one of the worst of its day, I really didn't think this was that bad. Operation A Bomb Test is underway in Soledad Flats, Nevada. While an Air Force pilot and atomic scientist Dr. Douglas Paul Martin (Peter Graves) fly above the mushroom cloud in their plane Tarbaby 2 (!!), they spot a fireball-like object beneath them. The light has magnetic properties that draws the ship straight down, where they crash. A helicopter rescue unit is sent out to the wreckage and the pilot is found dead, but Dr. Martin's body is nowhere to be found. He eventually wanders back to base with no recollection of what happened after the crash. He's miraculously unharmed aside from a strange surgical scar on his chest. Thorough testing is done on him, which uncovers nothing peculiar about his health, so he's eventually released into the care of his wife Ellen (Barbara Bestar). At home he has a hard time sleeping and has visions of floating eyeballs coming at him from the window. Paranoid they're continuing on with the atomic tests, which he's been a key part of, back at the base without him, Douglas returns against the orders of his superiors.

Because of the mysterious circumstances behind his resurfacing and the fact he hasn't been acting himself as of late, Dr. Martin is taken off the project by Colonel Banks (James Seay). Before he leaves, he sneaks into his colleague Dr. Kurt Kruger's (Frank Gerstle) vault and gets his hands on some top secret information before disappearing again. A Code 4 emergency is put out for his capture. Detective Briggs (Steve Pendleton) eventually finds him in the desert - right where the plane had crashed earlier - trying to place a piece of paper under a rock. Dr. Martin punches him out, ends up in a car accident after seeing the floating eyeballs again and awakens in the hospital in a daze yelling "They're here! They're here! They're going to destroy us!" There he's given truth serum and remembers what happened immediately after the plane crash. He'd actually had an alien encounter.

Actually killed when his plane went down, Dr. Martin was taken from the accident site to an underground cavern (Bronoson caves) where the aliens have been hiding out and revived with a heart transplant. The beings are from the planet Astron Delta in a different solar system with a dying sun who now need a new home and solar system to call their own. They're intelligent and have sophisticated technology but lack of sunlight for a prolonged period of time has caused their eyeballs to grow and bug out. The current members of their race on Earth are scouts who've been sent here to prepare things so 1 billion more of their kind can take over the planet. To accomplish this, they've tapped into our electricity to run their machines and have been harnessing the energy from nuclear explosions for other reasons. Those 'other reasons' include creating an army of giant carnivorous animals and bugs to eventually unleash on the surface and wipe out all existing life as we know it. Amongst their collection are giant lizards, horny toads, tarantulas, hissing cockroaches and the all-important grasshoppers.

Because Dr. Martin was unwilling to cooperate willingly with their schemes, they went about giving him amnesia and then hypnotizing him to provide them with further information. But the truth serum has helped Martin remember an idea he had while discussing things with alien leader Deneb-Tala ("John Merrick" / John Frederick). Recalling how dependent the aliens are on our electricity, Martin makes a mad dash for the local power plant to cut the freeloaders off...

Standard issue low-budget 50s sci-fi, this is from the director of PHANTOM FROM SPACE (1953), THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY (1957) and numerous other horror and sci-fi pictures. Wilder was the brother of acclaimed director Billy Wilder and his other brother Myles Wilder wrote the story from which this is based. Fx are hokey (and those silly bug-eyed / bushy eyebrowed aliens in their hooded black jumpsuit designs are somewhat famous in bad-movie-lover circles) but there's an OK story and OK acting. Graves makes for a likable hero and gives a better performance here than he did in Corman's IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956). Not great, but it adequately passes the time.

This was deemed bad enough to include in the 2004 documentary THE 50 WORST MOVIES EVER MADE, but since that list also included movies like THE KILLER SHREWS (1959), SPIDER BABY (1964) and GREETINGS (1968), few actually take it seriously.


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