Teenagers From Outer Space, 1959. 6/10

Almost a fun movie. The premise uses the familiar early sci-fi device of a spaceship landing in a remote area. Feuding aliens with cool rayguns emerge, and slip into town. The bad one fixes to call down a hundred cattlecar ships to feed on unsuspecting, helpless humans, while the good one hopes to sabotage the mission. So far so good.

The concept of the rebellious alien shows how closely the era’s sci-fi themes mirrored the Cold War rivalry, and how human nature was subverted by the ‘alien’ nature of Totalitarian regimes. That’s a thoughtful view which has lost nothing with the passage of time. The residual nostalgia for the aliens’ lost ‘humanitarian’ culture survives in a clandestine few (Derek included), amidst the general dystopian culture.

The movie fails, though, in almost every other aspect. As others have noted, the title is virtually meaningless, because there’s no teen culture on display here. Look at The Blob or The Giant Gila Monster for a credible blending of rock-and-roll, high-school hijinks, hotrods, parties, dances, even period slang and dress with a monster/alien-on-the-loose film. In general, the characters are poorly-drawn: the girl’s grandpa, in particular, is just a dolt. Sometimes humor works ok in sci-fi, to establish an atmosphere of an isolated community with a sprinkling of eccentric types, but the guy isn’t remotely amusing, he’s just dumb. Derek and Thor are the only interesting characters.

I realize that this was an extremely low-budget movie, so I don’t really care that you can read the logo on the alien’s whatnot machine, or that there’s display [?] tabs riveted onto some of the skeletons. And there’s successful effects as well: the rayguns really dish it out. The shock value of the pool water vaporizing as the girl is reduced to a skeleton is one of the best scenes. As a display of superior alien technology, it’s just the thing. The stylized way both Derek and Thor speak about ‘earthling’ life (driving a car, going to a doctor, etc.) is convincing and consistent. Then there’s the mostly realistic car chase near the end (yeah, a different car going off the road, but at least they’re similar 40s coupes), even the small detail of the spacecrafts’ weird spiral landings is unique and interesting.

I just can’t deal with the unrealistic aftermath of the shootout at City Hall. In the first place, there’s not one uniformed officer or police car to be seen. I’d think that police uniforms, and even cars done-up in police livery would be fairly stock items in any studio warehouse. But beyond the prop issue, there’s a huge gap in logic. The police just disappear for the crucial sequence that allows Thor to escape. He’s hiding in a car that’s in the vicinity of the shootout, and yet the cops wait for Thor to leave before they follow up. That brings us to the lobsters, err, the monsters.

All we get is a back-lit/silhouetted lobster looming over his supposed victims. What, did the lobster that was with the aliens in the beginning wander off the set? Couldn’t they have used a pile of lobsters to ‘attack’ some toy cars, buildings, etc., as in The Giant Gila Monster? How expensive could that have been?

Thankfully, the plot almost saves the day. Derek fools everyone by convincing the bad aliens that he’s ‘back-on-board’, when in fact he manages to lure the waiting ships, filled with the carnivorous monsters, into crashing. But that’s achieved with an explosion so underwhelming that it could possibly account for only one crash, not hundreds. Give us cheap but hairy atomic-test footage instead.

This could’ve been a much more interesting movie, but Teenagers From Outer Space took so many shortcuts that it leaves a uneven, unfinished impression. Still worth seeing once, anyway. 6/10.

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