The terrible, terrible Killers from Space 1954) is the best known of W. Lee Wilder's ultra-schlock anti-masterpieces. The design for the "aliens" from Astra Delta establishes this as so awful it's a marvel. Essentially an alien is someone chubby or slim in a tight jumpsuit with stocking hat & cumberbun, & pingpong balls stuck on their faces for eyes (well, actually they're the bottoms cut out of plastic egg cartons, but they look just like pingpong balls).
Those infamous pingpong ball eyes are just about unmatched for ridiculousness in budgetless horror & science fiction of the 50s. What makes it funniest is the humorlessness of the whole production, Wilder having in common with Ed Wood the intent though not the capacity to do something worthwhile & serious.
W. Lee Wilder was the brother of the great Billy Wilder & together they represent both ends of the talent spectrum for film direction. A "thinking moron's" director, his films tackled "serious" subjects. As an immigrant himself, Willie looked at iimmigration laws & how they applied to the Abominable Snowman in The Snow Creature (1954). For Killers from Space he looked at government paranoia & the dangers the Atomic Age.
After Willie's signature stockfootage newsreel-style opening, with narrator outlining contemporary worries about the Bomb, the story proper begins with an air pilot shuttling a scientist around a mushroom cloud to take radiation readings in Nevada. They spot a strange glowing spot on the ground & when they attempt to investigate, the airplane controls freeze up & the the airplane shoots straight down at full speed (with the clouds also shown sideways) & mashes to bits on the ground.
The pilot is instantly killed but scientist Dr. Martin (Peter Graves) is found soonafter wandering in a daze. He remembers little or nothing, but has a surgical scar over his heart that is inexplicable. The military complex overseeing his work on the Atom bomb becomes suspicious that he might not even be the same Dr. Martin & begin treating him with paranoid hostility cutting him off from all his work, without much justification though as it turns out they were absolutely right to worry, for Dr. Martin has fallen under the alien's hypnotic control.
In the hospital with sodium pentethol administered, Dr. Martin is able to recall the hypnotically suppressed events in caverns underneath the bomb test site. A team of aliens with pingpong ball eyes are breeding giant carniverous invertebrates & reptiles with which to destroy the human population. The chief alien very generously reveals the whole plan with enough information that Dr. Martin quickly figures out how to foil the plot to wipe out humanity so one billion aliens can take over the real estate.
The excitement is stretched out with a long series of scenes with Dr. Martin running about in the cave encountering giant critters which are of course small critters projected fuzzily as a backdrop for Peter Graves to stand in front of. We get to see a scary fence lizard, a gecko vs scorpion battle, a grasshopper, a tegu lizard, & several other things available from the local petshop for that day of shooting.
Dr. Martin only had to remember what he'd learned in order to foil the invasion. It seems the aliens are getting all their power by stealing it from the local electrical power company. All that needs be done is turn off the switch for eight seconds & the interruption in service will cause the subterranean alien base to explode into the biggest mushroom cloud yet. Good thing world-conquering aliens have such crappy technology that they have to rely on ours!
Although the primary charm of this stinker is the pingpong balls, a great deal can be said in favor of Peter Graves, who was god's gift to schlock sci-fi of the 1950s. He lent an amazing verisimilitude to the most laughable situations, commiting himself wholeheartedly to selling each script to the audience, never revealing the least embarrassment as an actor.
If Willie Lee Wilder's other films are slightly less memorable in their awfulness it is not because he never did anything else as silly as those pingpong balls for eyes, but because he never again had an actor as totally into it as was Graves.
In Phantom from Space (1953), Willie as usual starts out with stock footage & a newsreel style narrator. To images of ships at sea & what-not, the narrator tells us of the progression of a UFO from Alaska to Los Angeles, monitored by our government. The UFO falls from the radar near Santa Monica, & finally the part of the film that requires actors begins.
The aliens in Killers from Space were bad guys, but the lone Phantom from Space stranded in Santa Monica means no harm though the first humans he meets try to kill him & he's forced to defend himself.
This alien consists of a hat resembling a hardhat diving helmet with three pipes sticking out of it & a silver suit. When he takes this gear off, he's invisible, which saved the FX crew a bundle on pingpong balls.
The alien is harrassed through the night until it finally suffocates from its inability to breathe earth's atmosphere.
There's a surprising degree of sadness underlying the alien's fate, who tried ever so hard to communicate with humans but failed utterly. Even the most "reasonable" among us screaming dweebies stopped trying to communicate & screamed merely to glimpse his hand appear under an ultraviolet light.
Essentially misguidedly frightened humans run him to ground & he dies. The final images of him revealed in the Ultra Violet lamps trying to tap out his never-decoded message is reminiscent of certain episodes of Joseph Stefano's original Outer Limits wherein aliens were frequently friendlier & more sympathetic than we humans. It's an awful film, sure, but Willie invests some real emotion in it.
Films as accidentally funny as Killers from Space or Phantom from Space are difficult to render any funnier than they already are, whether with Mystery Theater 3000 commentary or by erasing the soundtrack & replacing it with completely new material.
As Woody Allen did with What's Up Tiger Lily (1966), & as many of us film fans have dreamed of doing with crappy movies, Doug Miles & Tex Hauser have taken one of the worst films they could get from the public domain -- in this case, Killers from Space -- & having erased the soundtrack, made up new dialogue & jokes. These are mostly fart jokes & fag jokes.
The result was titled Don't Ask Don't Tell (2002). It's hard to know which is more tragic, Willie Wilder thinking he was being serious or Doug Miles thinking he's being funny.
Peter Graves as Dr. Fartin (rhymes with the original's Dr. Martin in order to provide one of the biggest jokes of the show) is converted to "one of us" by gays from another world, so that he will help them keep the military from destroying all homosexuals & instead release the Gay Ray to make all straight people gay.
There is a lot of re-editing of the footage & insertion of mismatched new footage. It is symptomatic of the lack of comedy talent on the part of the entire crew that all new footage is less funny than was the original footage before anyone tampered with it.
The one exception (for my funny bone at least) was a little MTV music video event where new footage shows actors dressed up exactly like the Killers from Space aliens to do a song & dance routine in the subterranean laboratories cum disco club.
In the main, the allegedly comic Don't Ask Don't Tell just seethes with stupid where funny would have better sufficed.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl