Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)
“Teenage hoodlums from another world on a horrendous rampage!”
Director: Tom Graeff
Cast: David Love, Dawn Bender, Bryan Grant
Synopsis: Alien teens land on Earth to breed their lobsterlike space cattle.
Although Teenagers from Outer Space undoubtedly deserves its status as a gloriously bad film in which the apparent earnestness of all involved serves only to make its awfulness all the more hilarious, there’s the occasional, forlorn touch of modest inspiration in evidence to suggest that Tom Graeff, who not only wrote and directed, but also edited, acted, filmed, produced, co-ordinated the music (from stock material) and helped create the special effects, did actually possess some glimmer of talent. But then Graeff was a UCLA graduate of filmmaking, so you’d expect him to have retained at least a few useful scraps of whatever he’d been taught. Unfortunately, Graeff was also a highly unreliable and psychologically unstable individual who suffered a mental breakdown following the failure of Teenagers from Outer Space, and unsuccessfully tried to legally change his name to Jesus Christ II while proclaiming himself to be the second coming. Eventually, he would gas himself to death in a sealed garage in San Diego in 1970, which means that Teenagers from Outer Space stands forever as the only feature-length film he imposed on the world.
Teenagers from Outer Space begins in an observatory from which an astronomer observes a screw-shaped object flying through space. He reflects despondently on the Earth’s fragile place in the universe to a colleague sporting cinema’s most unconvincing beard. To this morose astronomer-cum-philosopher our planet is “hanging in space like a speck of fruit floating in the ocean, sooner or later to be swallowed up by some creature floating by.” Quite who he and his comically-bearded mate are we never learn, but it doesn’t matter because they play no further part in Graeff’s epic anyway. The action switches, instead, to the bad-tempered occupants of that screw-shaped UFO, which has now drilled itself into the surface of the earth somewhere around Bronson Valley, a location which featured in virtually every cheap SF movie made in the 1950s.
The occupants hail from a distant planet, and are on a mission to locate a suitable world on which to cultivate herds of Gargons, the creatures which form their primary foodstuff. These creatures grow to gigantic proportions, however, meaning that any indigenous life-form on the planet unlucky enough to be chosen by the aliens will quickly be wiped out. This means nothing to most of the ship’s crew, but young Derek (yeah, I know — an alien named Derek), played by Graeff’s lover, David Love, is more sensitive than his crew-mates, and when he finds an identity tag on the skeleton of a curious dog who’s just been zapped by Thor (Bryan Grant), the crew’s resident near-psychopath, he protests against the decision of his captain (Robert King Moody) to propose Earth as perfect grazing land for the Gargons. His attempt to turn his firearm on his mates is swiftly foiled, and earns him the promise of torture back at home, but Derek later makes his escape while the rest of the crew are fretting over the rapidly failing health of the Gargon they brought out of the ship to test the atmosphere. Making his way to the nearest town, Derek the alien tracks down Betty Morgan (Dawn Anderson), the owner of that dead dog, who lives with her Gramps (Ed Wood regular, Harvey B. Dunn — The Bounty Hunter). It’s clear from the off that there’s a mutual attraction between Derek and Betty, but danger is looming in the form of angry young alien, Thor, who is hot on Derek’s trail.
Teenagers from Outer Space provides us with a succession of scenes that are memorable for all the wrong reasons, and it’s little wonder that the movie provided such rich pickings for the MST3K team. Thor is little more than a trigger-happy thug whose weapon of choice is a ‘focusing disintegrator,’ which was actually a one-dime toy gun with a light bulb in the muzzle, while his and the other aliens’ uniforms were jump suits with masking tape for trim, and their space boots were socks pulled over dress shoes. What begins as a space invasion tale changes tack halfway through, mutating into a monster-on-the-loose film thanks to that Gargon the aliens brought with them. That initial moment of illness suffered by the Gargon proved to be a false alarm, and rather than dying, it thrives on our atmosphere, growing to mammoth proportions in a matter of hours. Sadly, Graeff’s budget wasn’t anywhere big enough to enable him to create anything approaching a convincing monster, so he opted instead for superimposing the shadow of a lobster on the California mountain ranges that form the movie’s backdrop.
Of course, it’s this tacky cheapness that makes Teenagers from Outer Space strangely endearing, and it’s difficult not to feel a sneaking admiration for the way Graeff managed to cobble together a film that, while definitely no masterpiece – or even remotely good, come to that — can at least claim to be superior to many similar drive-in B-movies of the 1950s which boasted budgets two or three times greater than that of the barmy legacy Graeff left to the world.
(Reviewed on 5th July 2014)