Friday, 25 February 2011

Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

Teenagers from Outer Space was the second of only two feature films made by Tom Graeff, a low-budget film-maker who always seems to get compared to Ed Wood.

Which is not entirely surprising. Like Wood’s films Teenagers from Outer Space is a spectacularly bad movie that was clearly made with love and enthusiasm, and like Ed Wood’s movies it’s outrageously entertaining. Graeff’s own life was even more troubled than Wood’s - after completing his second feature Graeff suffered a mental breakdown from which he never recovered, and he eventually committed suicide at the age of 41. Graeff had also made the mistake of losing control of the copyright of the film so he made no money out of it although it did quite well on the drive-in circuit.

Graeff was actual not totally devoid of talent. He wrote, directed and edited Teenagers from Outer Space as well as doing the cinematography and playing a supporting role as an actor. Despite the zero budget, a considerable general hokeyness and some excruciatingly bad acting there are occasional moments that do show some real flair, and Graeff did have a gift for coming up with interesting special effects that cost nothing. I like the way he only bothers with the top of the flying saucer, since presumably the rest of the spacecraft has buried itself in the ground, thus saving even more money.

It’s an alien invasion movie, and despite the movie poster it sadly isn’t about thrill-crazed space kids, although it does indeed include the promised ray-gun rampage. A flying saucer lands not far from a small town. It’s a scout ship, its mission being to find a suitable planet for raising vast herds of gargans. These monstrous creatures grow to enormous size and are intended to provide a massive reserve food supply for an alien civilisation. The gargans look just like lobsters, which is very handy since it allows the film-maker to use lobsters for all the monster shots.

There’s a falling-out among the aliens, with a member of the expedition with the somewhat surprising name (for an alien) of Derek rebelling against the idea of overrunning an inhabited planet with the fearsome gargans. Derek is something of a rebel already, being unhappy with a totalitarian society that treats people like mere cogs in a machine. Derek deserts from the scouting party and heads off to the nearby town. One of the other aliens, named Thor, sets off in pursuit.

Derek encounters a nice teenaged girl. Betty Morgan lives with her grandfather, and they’re looking for someone to rent a room in their home. They decide Derek would be perfect. But Derek is not destined to enjoy peaceful small-town life for long. Thor is on his trail, and is leaving behind his own trail - a trail of skeletons, the victims of his deadly focussing disintegrator ray-gun.

The movie is an odd mix. Most of the time it seems to be a goofy good-natured teen drive-in movie, but it has an extraordinarily high body count. In fact in its own way weird way it ranks as one of the most violent alien invasion movies of its era. And the nature of Thor’s violence - casual but utterly ruthless - has the potential to be just a tad disturbing.

Mostly though this is bizarre silly fun. It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite bad actor from this movie - they’re all so memorably awful, but each in his or her own distinctive way.

The copy I watched was a public domain download copy, but it was quite watchable. I imagine you could pick this one up on DVD for an absurdly low price if you shopped around.

If movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space are your idea of movie fun then you’ll definitely want to add this one to your collection.


SoupyTwist said...

Hello I just discovered your blog and I am impressed by the depth and breadth of your reviews. Reading this review I wondered if you were aware of the tv show Mystery Science Theater 3000. They did an episode based on this movie. If you're not aware of the show, it was an American program that ran from 1989 to 1999, and it basically consisted of bad movies, not all sci-fi, with a running commentary track making fun of the B-movies it showed. I'd be interested in your reaction to the show, if you have seen it or are aware of it, if not, virtually every full episode is available on youtube, and here is a part of the episode featuring Teenagers from Outer Space

Some people do not enjoy the show because it is essentially mocking someone's work of "art," but I enjoy the show greatly. I love movies of all kinds, and I can truly have fun watching what I know is a trashy picture, but I also have fun watching a movie like Teenagers from Outer Space with a running commentary. I don't know for certain, but given the kinds of movies on your blog I wouldn't be surprised if you've reviewed other films that were featured on the show.

Any thoughts on the show and whether or not films, even bad films, deserved to be mocked? (I think they do, if I didn't make that clear lol) Anyway, thanks for providing a good resource for cult films, as I've decided to watch The Snorkel and the first review I found on it was yours.

dfordoom said...

I've only ever seen bits and pieces of Mystery Science Theater 3000. As far as I know it was never screened here in Australia.

venoms5 said...

This was a sci fi version of those JD flicks from the middle of the decade. Hilariously bad, this one. If you enjoyed this one, D, you will likely enjoy the equally awful FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER which stars James (ROTLD) Karen and rejects from the planet Vulcan.

MST3K was right popular here. I watched it on occasion. My only problem with it is that it was seldom very funny, at least to me. Only a few of the shows truly made me laugh regularly.

SoupyTwist said...

Yes MST3K is mostly known in the United States, I recall there being a British fan club for the show, but I doubt it was ever shown on tv there with any regularity. As I said before, I greatly enjoy the show, as it combines B-movies with a combination of highbrow witticisms and lowbrow pop culture references. I don't want to detract anymore from this blog by discussing an American tv show, but I felt it was somewhat relevant because quite a few of the films reviewed on this blog I am only familiar with due to that show. To name a few, "Hercules Against the Moon Men," "The Rebel Set," "Kitten With a Whip," and "The Castle of Fu Manchu." Quite probably I wouldn't have been exposed to these movies otherwise, and in that there's at least one positive thing to take away from MST3K, even if you don't the idea of people poking fun at films, they gave these movies a second life. Anyway, thanks for your serious reviews on this blog, and if you'd ever like to see the "MSTed" version of any of the films you've reviewed, all the episodes are on youtube.

dfordoom said...

Kitten With a Whip is one of my all-time favourites! I love juvenile delinquent movies. Kitten With a Whip is probably the greatest of them all, with the possible exception of The Violent Years (scripted by Ed Wood) and Girl Gang.

And Hercules Against the Moon Men is great fun. I've reviewed them both here.