Sunday, February 26, 2012

It Conquered the World (1956)

... aka: It Conquered the Earth

Directed by:
Roger Corman

Often dismissed as a cheap knock-off of the same year's hit INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, this one's main claim to fame for many is its incredibly silly-looking, Paul Blaisdell-designed alien creation, which many viewers compare to a giant vegetable. But if you can look past the creepy carrot, planet-hopping pickle, evil eggplant or whatever else you'd like to call it, and forgive some wooden performances and a clumsy final denouement delivered with stone-faced perfection by star Peter Graves, you'll find a good little film with heart and soul underneath. Like Snatchers, it's set in the contained environment of an ordinary small town, which works as an efficiently small scale reminder of what will happen to the rest of the world if the alien invader isn't stopped and stopped soon. It contains the same Cold War paranoia themes prevalent in so many other 50s sci-fi favorites and, like Snatchers, features a creature capable of possessing humans, who are then stripped of all of those pesky feelings that make us who we are. Conquered is, above all else, about the importance of human emotion - something else touched upon in Snatchers - but nicely expanded upon here. Screenwriter Lou Rusoff's message is not subtle, but it's given a sense of importance and urgency thanks to the firebrand performance of co-star Beverly Garland; playing the impassioned wife of a brilliant, though misguided, man who all but lays out the red carpet for the alien takeover.

Illustrious physicist and all-around genius Dr. Tom Anderson (Lee Van Cleef), who's retired because he's sick of not being taken seriously by the "fat heads" at the top, tries in vain to warn the military and NASA that their new satellite project is going to spell doom for the Earth. And when he says that we better keep out of the skies or else and that "alien intelligence watches us constantly" he means it. After all, he's been communicating with them by bouncing radio waves off of Venus for years! Everyone, including Tom's long-suffering wife Claire (Garland), thinks he's losing it when he says that Venusians are heading toward the Earth. Meanwhile, the satellite launched three months earlier has mysteriously disappeared. Military scientist Paul Nelson (Graves) - a friend of Tom's who's the head of the satellite project - and others try to get to the bottom of things. In the meantime, the satellite crashes by some nearby caves. Guess who hitched a ride on board? Why, one of the aliens, of course! It gets word out to Tom that it's finally arrived and he's kind enough to hand out the names of all the important people in town... including his best buddy. Coinciding with the alien's arrival, there's a strange power failure in most modern conveniences. Watches, clocks, cars, radios, phones, flashlights, airplanes and everything else has mysteriously stops working. Well, for everyone except those in cahoots with the alien.

Possession is achieved by use of "control devices:" small, flying, bat-like creature which latch onto the back of the victim's neck and sting them, making them blank-minded emissaries for the alien. The chief of police (Taggart Casey) is the first to get stung and goes on to gun down an innocent man for not cooperating and organizing an evacuation; herding the town's citizens into the desert. Next up is army general James Paddock (Russ Bender), who lies and tells his officers they're in the middle of a Commie takeover, as well as several other scientists at the military base. Dr. Nelson is even forced to gun down his own wife Joan (Sally Fraser) after she becomes possessed. Tom - lashing out at a world who has laughed at and ridiculed him over the years - is in full cooperation with the alien and its plans. Claire loves her husband regardless and makes some very sensible arguments against what he's doing. It all falls on deaf ears, though, so Claire finally takes it upon herself to try and stop the alien. During one of the most memorable scenes, Claire marches into the alien's cave dwelling brandishing a rifle and promptly informs it "You think you're going to make a slave of the world? I'll see you in hell first!"

Corman regulars Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze both have (rather useless) roles as army grunts and Charles B. Griffith (who'd go on to write LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and others for Corman) also appears in a small role. The score is by Ronald Stein and Frank Zappa's song "Cheepnis" was apparently influenced by this movie. Conquered was mocked on an episode of the cable series Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and was remade for TV by director Larry Buchanan as ZONTAR, THE THING FROM VENUS in 1966. Academy and RCA/Columbia issued VHS versions but the film has yet to get an official DVD, which is insane.


1 comment:

CavedogRob said...

I always found it funny how Graves, the egghead scientist towers over Miller's tough army sgt! Yeah, Zappa talks about ICTW at the begining of one version of "Cheepnis".

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