Killers from Space (1954)
Killers From Space is a quick, crude, but strangely entertaining b-movie from 1954. A lot of people put this on their Worst Movies of All Time lists, and while it's rough at times, I still found enough here to keep me interested. Then again, I'm fairly easy to please...
And now on to our show...
We open with a stock footage festival, showing us an atomic bomb test out in the part of the Nevada Nuclear Test Site known as "Soledad Flats", and locally known as "Bronson Caverns, North Hollywood, California" (hehehe...).
We catch quick clips of a few F-86 Saber fighters, two Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation civilian airliners, a B-47 Stratojet bomber blasting off with JATO bottles (cool!), and a B-29 Superfortress carrying the actual atomic bomb for the test. We also notice in the stock footage the hundred or so US Army soldiers, reporters, and scientists positioning themselves in shallow trenches near the blast site "as close as they could get" to measure the effects. They all had cancer within 30 years, I'm sure.
Hey! As of Feb 2016, this review now has all new clean and awesome screencaps thanks to Dennis, thanks man!
Pilot in his plane.
Immediately following the ka-boom!, a jet is flying over the area, taking scientific readings and air samples. This is a horrendously bad model of a two-seat T-33 Shooting Star, sometimes suspended by wires, sometimes seen as a nearly transparent matte shot, and other times just hurled at the screen mixed in a bucket of crap.
In the backseat of the jet is our film's hero, Doctor Douglas Martin, nuclear scientist and red-blooded American male. Doctor Martin is played by 30-year old Peter Graves, one of those character actors who always hovered just below stardom, making a good living doing some fairly average movies. Perhaps his most notable roles were Jim Phelps on the TV series Mission: Impossible and as the hilariously clueless Captain Clarence Oveur in 1980's Airplane! and 1982's Airplane II: The Sequel. I loved Captain Oveur! (See how many quotes you can catch in this review...)
As they circle around the mushroom cloud, they spy a bright shiny light below on the salt flats, in an area where there shouldn't be any bright shiny lights. Descending to investigate, the jet's controls are suddenly frozen! The plane begins to spiral out of control (though exterior shots of the model show it just screaming straight down nose first, while interior cockpit shots show the clouds flashing by horizontally, suggesting a flat spin) and crashes in the desert.
A search party is immediately sent out, consisting of a few more stock footage planes, plus a really nice clip of a rare B-45 Tornado bomber. They find the twisted wreckage where it piled into the ground and call it into base, who sends out helicopter pick-up teams in a stock footage S-55 Chickasaw and a nice hard-to-find stock footage Agusta Bell AB-47 with the wheeled undercarriage. No chutes were seen, and it's clear to everyone that there could not possibly be any survivors from a crash that bad. There's some understandable confusion, however, as to why only the pilot's body could be found.
Captain Oveur's (get used to it) poor wife is brought in shortly to receive the bad news from the base Colonel. His wife is a pretty little thing who looks like a young Elizabeth Taylor and wears a lot of torpedo bras and pillbox hats. She also likes to overact, huffing and puffing through her every line like she's reading Shakespeare at the Kennedy Center and not in a schlocky b-movie.
The next morning, much to our surprise, Captain Oveur stumbles up to the main gate of the airbase! Looking a bit scruffy, with the well-placed dirt smudge and tousled hair, he looks more like he just woke up from an all-night warm Budweiser and French art-house film binge rather than a horrific plane crash.
He's taken to the base hospital where he's thoroughly checked out. Captain Oveur doesn't remember a single thing between the time the plane lost control and he stumbled up to the main gate. Other than that, though, he's in perfect physical condition.
Well, there is this odd cross-shaped scar on his chest that wasn't there the day before. The base doctor comments on this, asking all the right questions, to which Captain Oveur can only stammer, "Get me Ham on five, hold the Mayo!" Nor does Captain Oveur seem that concerned about the scar, waving it off as a superficial injury received in the crash, despite the fact that the doctor correctly identifies it as a skillfully-made surgical incision.
The doctor is spooky himself.
The doctor doesn't push the issue right then, but he does report his findings to the base commander, a Colonel Banks (played by the same guy I just saw as Major Andrews in 1953's Phantom From Space). Poor Colonel Banks has not one costume change the whole movie, sticking with his class A dress uniform the entire way. They discuss the weird marks and the general unlikelihood that Captain Oveur could have survived the crash at all.
An FBI agent is called in (presumably an atomic testing ground in 1954 is crawling with FBI agents looking for Rooskie spies under every cactus) to talk it over. The FBI agent suggests that maybe the Captain Oveur in the hospital is not the original Captain Oveur, perhaps an imposter sent by the Soviets to steal atomic secrets. While the Colonel is doubtful, the agent says, "Well, we can suspect anything we want to." Yes, that's why McCarthy had such an impact, the FBI really believed it could do and say anything it wanted.
Anyway, some stock footage cops run some stock footage fingerprint tests and determine that he's no imposter, but they still can't figure out what's going on. Maybe they should call Mulder and Scully...
So, without any real evidence of anything nefarious occurring, they release Captain Oveur to his wife, who takes him home to their house off base. First she's admonished by the base doctor to keep him happy and content with diversions, but nothing that would get him "too upset or excited". She suggests "movies, bridge or drives", which is fine as long as she doesn't let him watch Farenheit 911 or Battlefield: Earth.
We now get some domestic scenes with him and the missus, which are not too hokey. The two actors seem to really like each other, and that leads to some effective scenes of them playing husband and wife. They sleep in separate beds, however, which is just so cute. They try to get back into their routine, but you can tell that Captain Oveur is antsy and fidgety. He keeps calling his bosses, telling them that he's ok to go back to work and all. They keep telling him to stay at home and eat waffles until he "feels better".
They do make a snuggly couple.
He's really pissed when they go ahead and have an atomic test without him! He gets up one morning, goes to get the paper, only to read on the front page, "Another Atomic Bomb Exploded!" and "New petitions against tax!" beneath that. This gets him really steamed (the bomb thing, not the tax thing. I think.) and he storms down to the base commander's office, where he rages and rants about being treated like a security liability. Captain Oveur proclaims that, "Dunn was over Unger and I was over Dunn!", but the Colonel basically tells him he's "still a very sick man" and to just go back home and bang his cute wife or he will be arrested and locked up.
The radio tells the news.
Some days later (or maybe the same day as above, it's not clear), Captain Oveur goes to his old office in the base lab, ostensibly to pick up a few personal things. He hides in his office, peeking out the door across the hallway at the office of his former partner, Doctor Kruger. Kruger's office holds a walk-in safe with lots of super secret atomic numbers and figures and such.
Captain Oveur waits until Kruger leaves for the day and then sneaks into his office, opens the safe and engages in some seriously damning espionage. What papers he takes exactly is neither stated, nor really that important to the plot, but just know that he has just committed treason to the highest order. Don't forget that the Rosenbergs were executed in 1953 for doing just this sort of thing.
Soon after Captain Oveur leaves the base, the open safe is discovered by overnight security and the FBI is quickly called in. At first, Doctor Kruger is the prime suspect, perhaps mostly due to his obvious Germanic background (he's a short blonde-haired man who looks like he should have his sweaty face pressed against a U-Boat's periscope as he stalks container ships in the Atlantic).
Doctor Kruger, call your office.
However, it's soon discovered that Captain Oveur was on the base when he shouldn't have been, and suspicion naturally falls back on him. An All-Points Bulletin is released over the area, and all the cops are on the lookout. We listen to this APB and learn that Captain Oveur is a male Caucasian, 32-years old, 6'3" and 195 pounds, with blonde hair and blue eyes and is driving a two-tone Studebaker Commander Starliner coupe, license plate number 1W67713. Make sure you keep an eye out, ok?
Eluding all pursuit, Captain Oveur makes his way out to the desert where his jet crashed at the beginning of the movie. Getting out he quickly succumbs to massive high-dose hard radiation and the movie ends...because this area was the site of the nuclear test and would still be hot as a griddle, right? [Editor Pam: Yes, it ought to be radioactive, and not only that, the ground looks relatively undisturbed, too.] Ah, I guess not, because Captain Oveur is fine, and he goes to leave a slip of paper containing all those stolen atomic secrets under a rock (I'll explain later).
Lots of cool old cars in this movie.
Suddenly, and most unbelievably, the FBI agent is here! Appearing from out of nowhere, and without any plot set-up explaining why he would be out here to begin with, the agent grabs Captain Oveur and there's a bit of a struggle. Captain Oveur punches him hard and screams, "Have you ever been to a Turkish prison?" The agent is knocked silly and Captain Oveur squeals off in his car. After a bit, the agent wakes up, calls his office and heads back into town.
Later, Captain Oveur is driving down the road to somewhere, we do not know where. Maybe he's headed for Mexico, maybe back home, who knows. He begins to hallucinate of ominous and spooky eyeballs, causing him to crash into a tree. He's found unconscious at some point and brought to the base hospital, where he's tied down and examined.
With all our cast gathered around, Captain Oveur is given a dose of "sodium amatol", the "truth serum", which will "deprive his mind of any imagination". Under the sway of the truth serum (which improbably takes all of five seconds to totally work its way through his blood stream), Captain Oveur begins to spin his tale of mystery and amazement, "I'll tell you the whole story...". I'm not sure this is how truth serum actually works in real life, but it's a fairly cool way to move the plot along.
"Tell us all about it..."
A goodly hunk of the middle third of the movie is this extended flashback, picking up right after Captain Oveur awoke after his plane crashed. He awakes in a cavern "within the upper crust of the Earth", on a table, surrounded by freaky looking aliens! They have apparently taken his lifeless body from the wreckage of the plane, pulled out his dead heart, reanimated it, stuck it back in, sewed him up good (thus the scars), and woke him up.
The aliens are pretty damn cut-rate, just dudes in baggy black jumpsuits and mittens, with vacant, vaguely disinterested stares and slow, measured walks. Kinda like a 1950s era Blue Man Group. The most distinguishing (and easily the most laughable) features are the bug eyes, made from the bottoms of refrigerator egg holders with holes drilled in them and red veins painted on.
Is this the best they could do? Wow, his eyebrows are quite bushy.
Captain Oveur is taken to see the Alien Commander, who's got more veins in his eyes than the others, I guess. Using a spiffy multi-media presentation (apparently prepared just for Captain Oveur's benefit), the Alien Commander explains the situation. It seems that these aliens come here in spaceships "magnetically propelled across the electron bridge". They have been coming and going from Earth for several years (since 1947?), and while many have been sighted by humans, none have been caught.
Lots of cool tvs in this movie.
They are from "Astron Delta", a planet far, far away, one whose sun is dying. They need a new home, so they called their realtor, set up some showings and surfed around Yahoo! Real Estate a bit before finding the perfect fit for all one billion of them. In a storyline reeking of every other Godzilla movie of the 1960s and 70s, the planet Earth is the only place in the universe that is similar enough to their homeworld to support them. Unfortunately, the current homeowners (us) are asking too much (and the back lawn really needs some work anyway, and those gutters gotta come down). So the aliens decided to just stage a hostile takeover, going so far as to kill off the residents (us) and worry about cleaning up the mess later.
To do this they have sent an advanced team of aliens down into the caverns beneath the atomic testing grounds (southern Nevada is riddled with caves, actually, several of them already inhabited by Reptilian aliens and Nordic Grays...did I say that out loud?) where they have set up a laboratory in secret. The plan is to take over the Earth and kill us all by breeding normal desert bugs and insects into huge mutant killer bugs and insects! Bwaahaahaaa!!! Captain Oveur then takes an impromptu tour of the breeding cages, where he acts suitably terrified when confronted with back-projected stock footage montages of cockroaches, spiders, silverfish, grasshoppers, lizards and maybe even some baby turtles. Eek.
Rah, I'm a back-projected spider!
To power their genetic mutation machines, they're accumulating power from the atomic tests on the desert floor above them, routing it into a containment field of some sort, and using that stored energy to run their experiments. They need Captain Oveur to feed them information on the next atomic test (leaving the goods under a rock near where he crashed). It seems that they only need one more test to harness enough energy to breed their army of mutant bugs and take over the world! Bwaahaahaaa!!!
Now, being a red-blooded, beer-drinking, commie-hating American male, Captain Oveur says a big NO to doing dirty spy work for these pinko aliens. Looking to gain an advantage over his captors, he pauses, reflects a moment, and asks, "Do you like movies about gladiators?". It turns out that the Alien Commander prefers movies about construction workers, so he brainwashes Captain Oveur with some spooky lights and music cues, and sends him off like Ben Stiller in Zoolander to do his bidding.
And that's how he ended up stumbling up to the front gate of the airbase, with nothing but his jockstrap and a livid scar.
Chicks dig scars.
Now, this is quite a story, and clearly no one is going to believe these delusional ramblings of a captured suspected commie spy. Even after the doctor assures them that Captain Oveur is not delusional, or faking it, because the truth serum counteracts all that, no one believes him at all. Though, in his favor, they seem to forget about the espionage thing, and chalk up all of Captain Oveur's wild actions to some sort of mental trauma caused by the plane crash.
Ok, back up here. Back in the cave, the Alien Commander was explaining a bit (bragging, really) about how they suck energy from the atomic tests and keep it in a jar o'buzzin'. Well, Captain Oveur, being a super-smarty head nuclear scientist, begins to wonder how the hell they manage to keep all this bubbling energy contained. Electricity! Of course, they must be using a truly massive amount of electricity to contain the nuclear energy.
But where do these underground aliens get all this energy? Did they bring their own Honda generators? Did they rig up a thermal tap into the Earth's mantle? Did they use some big mutant gerbils to run big flywheels attached to Tesla coils? No. They apparently just tapped into the underground power cables running from Las Vegas out to the airbase (which I assume is Nellis, though it's never said).
The problem is that no one believes his story about the aliens. In fact, they all think he's a mental case, and have no intentions of listening to his wild plans and schemes. Armed just with a pad of paper, a pencil and a slide rule, Captain Oveur works solo to figure it out. He realizes if he can turn the power off, then the alien's energy containment matrix will destabilize, causing it to overload and go boom really, really loudly. His poor wife looks on with concern, but he's driven to find the answer to save the world. He has to "estimate the conversions rates of their transformers" but he eventually comes up with the right number. And that number is ten, as in turn the power off for ten seconds and the aliens are blown to bits.
Doing the math.
So Captain Oveur has to take matters into his own hands to save the human race! All he has is his wits and determination, and a hospital gown and robe, and the keys to his car. Rushing past the toilet paper-thin security in the hospital, he squeals out of the parking lot. Burning down the highway, he heads for the power station. He's pursued (after a lengthy delay) not by the entirety of the airbase security service, but only by his wife, Doctor Kruger, the Colonel, and the FBI agent.
Captain Oveur arrives at the power station first, and ducks and scoots around the place for a bit, trying to find a way to turn off the juice. The Colonel and the FBI agent alert the power station staff, who all run around in their white shirts and black ties looking for Captain Oveur. Hmm...this place sure looks like Griffith Park Observatory, which I just saw in 1953's Phantom From Space, yep, there's the same workfloor and the same elevator lobby. Griffith must rent cheap.
A lot of running and looking and running some more here, pretty boring. [Editor Pam: I admire Captain Oveur's wife for being able to run in those high heels she's wearing.] Had time to notice all those clocks up on the walls that they run by, and how the times keep jumping from 10:44 to 10:00 to 10:25 to 10:41. I also notice the maps of Los Angeles on the wall, even though we're supposed to think we're in Las Vegas.
After punching and kicking and shoving a bit, Captain Oveur corners a foreman in the control room, holding him hostage with a pistol he stole from another worker (who keeps a pistol in a power plant desk?). As his wife, Kruger, the Colonel, and the FBI agent enter the room, Captain Oveur orders the foreman to turn off the power grid for ten seconds. Not wanting to take a bullet from this crazy man, the foreman flips the switches.
Location shots are the best!
The power now off, within eight seconds we hear a rumbling explosion and the camera shakes and shimmies for a bit. See, the power shutoff overloaded the alien containment field in their underground lab and it went ka-blammo! Running to the window, they look out through the Venetian blinds to see...a back-projected stock footage clip of the world-famous July 1946 Bikini Atoll atomic test, complete with ships in the foreground and water everywhere. Nice, very nice.
Is it time for the ending credits, now?
The Colonel says, "Soledad Flats, right on the button!"
Doctor Kruger says, "Just as he said!"
The FBI agent says, "You blew them to pieces!"
His wife says, "Oh, Clarence, you big hunk of flanksteak, make love to me like you did in the cockpit that night in Omaha!"
The foreman says, "I'm getting SAG credit for this bit, right? Because I'm gonna need that cheap health insurance."
The Malaysian Prime Minister says, "So, does this mean we're good?"
And as the music soars and the credits roll, Captain Oveur looks intently at a young boy who has just walked up and asks, "Joey, have you ever seen a grown man naked?"
Bonus! Some handy statistics for you:
12: Number of cigarettes smoked by our cast.
2: Number of close-ups of Captain Oveur's manly man nipples.
3: Number of atomic bomb blasts.
4:28 minutes: Length of time that a framed picture of President Dwight Eisenhower in the Colonel's office is on-screen, often in center-screen regardless of where the actors are speaking. That's darn near 7% of the entire movie's runtime. This was 1954, remember, in an era of commie witch hunts and blacklisting, and pandering to the President was a good thing.
He's watching you...
Written in October 2005 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...