THE KIDS AREN’T ALL RIGHT
Unsurprisingly, as drive-ins became more popular during the 1950’s the teen audience for sf (and movies in general) expanded. More films were aimed at that demographic, many of which had “teen” on their title. We’re going to take a look at two of these this time around, TEEN MONSTER and TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE. These movies have two things in common. One, they have little or nothing to do with teens, but were simply titled to appeal to that audience. Two, they are both bad films. But, yet…well, read on.
TEEN MONSTER can be disposed of pretty quickly. It’s really a western, set in 1880. A meteor played by a sparkler (yes, one of those things you light on the 4th of July and wave around until it quickly burns out) crashes outside a small town, striking a young boy with a mysterious ray that gives him radiation-like burns on half his face. Quick jump seven years later and he’s now a 50-something looking big hairy guy (nicely coiffed, though) dressed neatly in jeans and work shirt who occasionally (seemingly out of sheer boredom) goes off his nut and kills cattle and people. He is also functionally retarded, which adds a note of real cheeriness to this thin story. It runs only 65 minutes, but I swear sitting through it was like watching all three LORD OF THE RINGS movies (the extended editions) back to back, if the LOTR films were terrible, uninteresting in story-line and visuals, and utterly boring. I’ll wrap this review up by quoting the inestimable Bill Warren, since he sums it up in one succinct sentence better than I could: “This film is pedestrian, a boring tepid, unimaginative piece of junk.”
Rating: It gets a 1 because of the treatment throughout the movie of the mentally defective “monster.”
TEENAGERS FROM SPACE is about, well, a couple of teens from outer space (although they looked twentyish to me) who arrive in a teeny tiny flying saucer (more below) to survey the Earth to see if it’s a suitable environments for their “gargons,” animals which are their main food supply. (When they get take-out, they go really far out.) The good teen, Derek (great name for an alien) rebels against his soulless society and runs away to find his destiny on Earth. The psychotic, murderous teen, Thor (great name for a Norse god) is sent after him by the saucer’s commander, Robert King Moody, one of the two somewhat capable actors in the film. He later went on to immortality as the first Ronald MacDonald (what, you don’t remember him?). The ship then takes off to get a supply of gargons, after leaving one chained in a convenient cave.
Derek and Betty
As I said above, this is not a good movie. Absurdities abound, including but not limited to:
1) A flying saucer that isn’t big enough to carry a medium-sized dog, yet dispenses aliens (one at a time, after cutaways) like clowns popping out of a clown car.
2) These aliens speak English, a strange, robotically toned and cadenced English mostly without contractions (except when they forget) because this is how aliens would speak.
3) Both teens get into cars and immediately master them (standards, no less).
4) The gargons, as Robert King Moody notes, are excellent food beasts, because they grow “a million times their size in a day.” More, if you feed them. And no, I am not going to reveal what the gargons look like, because when you finally get to see one it’s one of the most hilarious moments in film history. I am not kidding.
5) The acting is almost uniformly awful, well below the standards of the modern-day porn film industry. Again, I am not kidding. The only exceptions were Dawn Bender (under an assumed name) as Betty, Derek’s quickly-acquired girl friend, who was a noted radio voice actress and does a credible job with the odd (to put the best light on it) script, and the aforementioned Robert King Moody, even if he did speak like a constipated robot.
And yet…I liked this movie. The script is naive and over-wrought at the same time, but its heart is totally in the right place. It seemingly sprung full-blown from the mind of Tom Graeff who wrote, directed, produced, photographed, edited, special effected, and co-starred as Joe, the spiffily dressed reporter who resembles a young, slim Elton John. Graeff and David Love (also an assumed name, if you were wondering), who played Derek (that was basically the extent of his film career) were lovers. Graeff hung around the fringes of the film industry for awhile and eventually, sadly, committed suicide in 1970. He had talent, but never was able to fully express it. Whether that was due to his own demons (he had some brushes with the law that suggests mental problems) or the awful prejudices of his day, it’s hard to say. Probably some combination of both.
“Quiet! I’m ACTING!”
This is one of those movie that, based on technical aspects, rates a 3. But for sheer crazy exuberance and sincere and heartfelt (if at times overblown) emotional content, I give it an 8. Thanks, Tom, wherever you are, for putting your heart and soul into this minor little gem.
Check it out, and watch for the gargon.