Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Invasion of the Saucer Men

A good archaeologist often learns more about a lost civilization from its trash than from its art. That is why the typical B-movie from the 1950s tell us more about the Golden Age of Eisenhower than any twenty epic productions of that period.

Which is also why Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) is a trash treasure-trove of the period. Cheaply produced and incredibly dumb, Invasion of the Saucer Men is also effectively spooky and indescribably fun. The movie is both god-awful and divinely inspired as it reveals the frayed threads behind the button-down minds of the period.

The plot is pretty straight forward. Invading aliens with large bubble heads attack teenagers at a lovers' lane in their attempt to conquer the earth. Pretty simple, very short, and extremely nonsensical. While the fate of the planet hangs in the balance, two teens (Steven Terrill and Gloria Castillo) are able to stop necking long enough to save the world. Meanwhile, a secret task force from the U.S. Army (two officers in search of the clue bus) ponders the defense implications of the whole incident.

Added to the mix is a pre-Batman Frank Gorshin as a booze-hound of a traveling salesman whose liquor consumption defies the alien menace (the short bulb-heads kill by using needles in their fingers to inject victims with massive amounts of pure alcohol). The more they inject him, the more he needs a chaser.

The movie offers a predictable mix of randy kids and fumbling adults. But it also offers a low-key but surprisingly more seamy view of small-town USA. The setting is largely a vast wasteland of sleazy bars and rambling corn fields, barely enlivened by the local drive-in. It weirdly prefigures The Last Picture Show in its latent sense of impending decay.

Invasion of the Saucer Men was directed by Edward L. Cahn, a man whose career never left the bottom of the barrel. Ironically, he would also directed the 1958 horror film It! The Terror From Beyond Space which ultimately served as the direct inspiration for the movie Alien. Cahn remains a curious but notable footnote in Sci Fi history.

With a running time of 69 minutes, Invasion of the Saucer Men manages to not wear out its welcome. Instead, it remains a genuinely scary delight.