In the last installment, we took a brief look at five of the worst films to feature space invaders or visitors from beyond the stars. Before we continue with the trend and look at five more films that are even worse than that lot, it’s time to take a short break and examine some of the best films to feature Space Terrors. These are not necessarily films that feature invaders from outer space, but often feature some terrifying (or somewhat terrifying) creature encountered by mankind when he goes exploring amongst the stars. So without further ado…
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This Island Earth (1955) – A scientist gets an odd delivery and when he assembles the machine he has been sent, he learns that it is an interociter – a tool used by some funky-looking dudes with big heads that invite him to a remote location where other scientists have gathered. Soon, our hero is trapped along with the others and eventually discovers that the bigheads are from another planet. The planet Metaluna to be exact. He and the plucky female lead get whisked away in a flying saucer to that other planet and see the horrors of interstellar war close up for themselves. They also get menaced by a Metalunan Mutant, an ugly creature with goggle-like eyes, a large pulsating, exposed brain and the good sense to wear pants! With the planet doomed and all leads for saving it exhausted (that’s why the bigheads were on Earth), the humans are taken back home by the one alien that was a decent enough chap, who promptly drops his ship into the drink after his passengers disembark. While this film enjoyed a big budget and lots of publicity, it still is just a wee bit on the bland side. Things don’t pick up until we leave Earth behind, but from then on it’s great. The mutant of Metaluna is a classic science fiction monster. Its ubiquitous appearance in magazines and books would make one think it had a large part in the film, but it doesn’t. Too bad, I could have gone for more mutant action and less droning on by Jeff Morrow.
The Angry Red Planet (1959) – I have seen both 1959 and 1960 given as the year of release for this film. For purposes of this article I am going to go with the former. In this tale, a ship returns from the planet Mars and the only one coherent enough to relate the tale of what happened is the red-haired female scientist. This she does after her memory requires some coaxing. It seems the ship landed and encountered all sorts of weird lifeforms on the red planet. Eventually they had a run in with the local sentient species and in a true The Day The Earth Stood Still kind of moment, were told in no uncertain terms to sod off back to Earth and not return unless invited to do so, for fear of dropping the property values or something. This movie is famous for a number of things. One, all of its Mars scenes were tinted red. This was heralded as the “Cinemagic” film process, but really was a result of a film-developing mistake. Second, this movie features a giant amoeba that absorbs the most annoying member of the crew (ok, it wasn’t the redhead, so it was the second most annoying) and third (and most famous), it has the Bat-Rat-Spider-Crab, a truly weird critter whose legs the moron astronauts mistake for trees! What, these guys cannot see the huge body attached to the legs at the top? Also encountered on the trip to Mars is a man-eating plant and a triple-eyed Martian, who gets his voyeuristic kicks by spying on the crew through the portholes. What a perv.
First Man Into Space (1959) – Test pilots are inherently rebellious and are inclined to disregard the rules and their own safety in order to push the limits of whatever craft they are currently flying. At least, this is yet another film that puts forth this idea. The pilot in question is Dan Prescott, who, when piloting an experimental rocket plane, takes it much higher than ordered and encounters something…strange. The vessel soon crashes back to Earth and Dan’s brother (and commanding officer) Chuck, concludes that his brother is dead when no body is found in the wreckage (because it’s common knowledge how dead people make such a habit of getting up and walking away from fatal crashes). However, soon cattle and then people begin turning up drained of blood. What kind of sinister fiend could be behind the deaths? Why Dan, of course. Only now he is encrusted with the funky space dust he encountered when in orbit and is wandering the countryside in search of blood with which to sustain himself. Did I mention he looks truly hideous? Well, he does. That dust makes him look like a giant walking turd that has dried out in the sun for eight straight hours. While this movie is often long on talk and short on monster action, it still packs a few chills and thrills. Mostly because Dan is not some mindless monster driven by instinct. He is still very much human inside, which makes his choices and actions all the more chilling when one considers what they would do under similar circumstances.
It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) – You know how your mother always warned you about picking up hitchhikers? Well, that is good advice…especially when flying home from Mars. The last thing you want is one of the locals on board. Even worse, you don’t want one of them stowing away. Well, that is exactly what happens in this film. One ship lands on Mars and only one guy survives – the mission commander. A second ship arrives to take him back home to face the charges of murdering his crew. After all, no one believes his story about violent Martians. That is, no one believes him until one of those Martians hides on the ship and starts picking off the crew one by one during the return flight. The desperate humans try one method after another in an attempt to kill the monster, including firing off what seems like about 50,000 rounds of ammunition. This film is widely regarded as being one of two films that inspired Ridley Scott’s Alien (the other being Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires). The tension is definitely there, with the haggard crew pushed further and further into a corner as the monster claims more and more of the ship. As their numbers and space decrease, what will they do to end the threat? Besides rupturing the hull with bazooka fire, that is? The creature itself is the work of 50’s monster maestro Paul Blaisdell, who had an actual budget to work with on this one.
Forbidden Planet (1956) – This science fiction take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest is set in the future, when mankind has left Earth to explore the stars and has pretty much come to peace with himself, having formed an organization called the United Planets. A UP Cruiser is dispatched to the distant world of Altair IV to check up on a colony ship that left for those parts many years back. What they find is Dr. Morbius, the single survivor of that expedition, and his daughter Altaira (who was born on the planet). Morbius doesn’t want to leave and does his best to get the newcomers to bugger off, but they stick around to unearth a few things. Such as how the planet was once home to a mighty civilization called the Krell, or how Morbius has used the remaining technology to build a life for he and his daughter. Even more frightening is the fact that the Krell literally vanished over night. Coupled with the fact that some mysterious force killed all the former colonists and that same power seems to be at work killing the Cruiser’s crew, and the newcomers from Earth have quite the situation on their hands. This is a true classic of science fiction cinema, and while it isn’t exactly overflowing with hideous aliens bent on destroying mankind, it does feature the ID Monster, one of the freakiest critters to come along in quite a while. Good luck in stopping it – that is if you can even figure out where the invisible monster is at any given moment. Just be thankful it is invisible, as its true appearance is the stuff nightmares are made of, literally.