Thursday, 20 March 2014

I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)

I Married a Monster from Outer Space might sound like a silly but fun drive-in movie but surprisingly it takes itself relatively seriously. And, to a certain extent, it gets away with it.

The other surprise is that this movie was not the product of AIP or some other low-budget outfit. I Married a Monster from Outer Space is a Paramount Picture. Not just distributed by Paramount but actually made by the studio. Presumably Paramount were hoping to capture a slice of the increasingly lucrative drive-in market.

Madge (Gloria Talbott) is about to be married to insurance salesman Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon). What she doesn’t know is that Bill’s body has been taken over by an alien from outer space. He still looks like Bill, but his behaviour is slightly odd and distant. Unfortunately Madge doesn’t notice the strange change in Bill until after they are married.

Madge is increasingly worried by Bill’s emotional flatness. He also develops a tendency to go off on his own without any explanation. One night she follows him and discovers the terrifying truth - she is married to a monster from outer space.

Not surprisingly no-one believes her tale. This is partly because quite a few of the other men in the town have also been taken over by aliens, including the local police. When Madge tries to telephone the authorities in Washington she is told that all the telephone wires to Washington are down. When she tries to send a telegram to the FBI the clerk in the Western Union office tears up her telegram. And when she tries to leave town the local police tell her the road is washed out, even though it hasn’t rained for weeks.

Bill, or at least the alien now inhabiting Bill’s body, has his own problems. On his home planet emotions are unknown, but he now discovers that when you take over a human body you can start to develop human emotions. He starts to understand love, and it’s a very unsettling experience.

The aliens have a bigger problem. They were forced to leave their own world when their sun became unstable but before they could complete their spacecraft to set of in search of a new home all their females had died. Unless their scientists can find a way for them to breed with human women their race is doomed.

The aliens have not managed to take over all the men in the town and eventually they encounter opposition. But what can a few human men do against aliens who are impervious to gunfire? 

The plot has some very obvious similarities to Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers - the idea of aliens who look exactly like ordinary human beings, the protagonist who cannot convince anyone that her story is not the ravings of a madwoman, the isolation of the town by the aliens. In fact the basic plot is so similar that it is reasonable to assume that I Married a Monster from Outer Space was to a very large degree inspired by (or on a less charitable interpretation copied from) Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The main difference is that Invasion of the Body Snatchers is not overly concerned with offering plausible scientific explanations. Although an explanation is offered it remains slightly vague and mysterious and it has some major plot holes which it cheerfully ignores. The emphasis is on creating a sense of menace and paranoia. I Married a Monster from Outer Space on the other hand goes to great lengths to explain the alien plan in detail, and the fact that the aliens have entirely reasonable (from their point of view) motives for their actions makes it less frightening. Once a mystery is explained it loses some of its terror. Once you know who the enemy is and you know exactly what their plans are you have some grounds for hope rather than despair. I Married a Monster from Outer Space also doesn’t quite have the energy and driving sense of desperation that Siegel’s classic has.

Having said that, I Married a Monster from Outer Space is still a fairly effective science fiction horror thriller. And the idea that not only has the heroine’s peaceful little town been invaded by aliens, she is actually married to one, does give the movie a significant scary creepiness factor.

Gloria Talbott makes an effective heroine and conveys fairly convincingly the horror of the heroine’s situation. Tom Tryon is rather dull, but since he is supposed to be an emotionless alien his lifelessness can be seen as an asset rather than a liability!

The special effects generally work quite well. The revelation of the alien features behind the human faces when exposed to certain kinds of light is fairly well done. The makeup effects are very good.

Of course invulnerable aliens have to have some kind of Achilles Heel but the one chosen by the film-makers in this case is rather lame and is likely to provoke laughter rather than thrills. This is symptomatic of the movie’s major failing - these aliens just aren’t formidable enough to convince the viewer that Earth is in deadly danger.

There is however one very effective and genuinely chilling scene near the end.

Director Gene Fowler Jr does a solid enough job but the movie really needed a bit more intensity and a bit more energy.

The Warner Archive Collection made-on-demand DVD presents the movie in a very good 16x9 enhanced transfer. The movie was shot in black-and-white.

I Married a Monster from Outer Space is quite entertaining in an undemanding way. If you’re a fan of 50s sci-fi it’s definitely worth a look.

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