Psychology and Mormon mages: this week’s reading

When I watched the special features for Hitchcock’s Spellbound earlier this year, they discussed how by 1945, psychoanalysis was familiar enough to the public that a psychiatric thriller would work.  THE ROMANCE OF AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGY: Political Culture in the Age of Experts by Ellen Herman does a good job explaining how that came about.

In the 1930s, almost nobody dealt with psychiatrists unless they were mentally ill or the kind of wealthy avant-garde people who could afford to indulge in psychoanalysis. WW II changed that. The military sucked up psychiatrists, sociologists, psychologists and related fields and put them to work: dealing with morale, figuring out what motivated soldiers, arranging psy-ops against the Axis. After the war things got even bigger: The VA was the largest employer of psychiatrists in the country and 60 percent of VA patients were dealing with mental illness or trauma.

On top of that, psychiatrists started to see themselves differently. Instead of dealing with mental illness they were out to develop mental health; even people who weren’t clinically ill could benefit from their care. The result was that millions of Americans were now familiar with various forms of counseling and therapy. I think the use of a psychiatrist as the voice of reason in Invasion of the Body Snatchers reflects this; twenty years earlier, the character would probably have been a relative, a priest or a homespun philosopher like RKO’s series character Scattergood Baines.

The military-psychiatry complex led to expanded professional employment and opportunities, and a much broader range of responsibilities. Could psychiatry predict which third-world independence movements were likely to erupt into revolution? How could they be discouraged? How could race relations in America be improved? How can the government improve mental health by fighting poverty?

While the professionals’ attempts were well-meaning, they were often blinded by prejudice or sexism. Mothers were “personality factories” who could scar kids for life (as Homeward Bound discussed); single black mothers explained the pathology of family life in the ghetto because having a mom as primary breadwinner was inherently traumatizing.  By the 1970s this led to the trend of “antipsychiatry,” arguing that paranoia, depression, anxiety, etc. were perfectly natural responses to modern living; by classifying them as mental illness, psychiatry was just a tool of The Man (a topic I may blog about at some point). Overall this is (obviously) a specialized topic but interesting if you’re into it.

THE CUNNING MAN by D.J. Butler and Aaron Michael Ritchey is precisely the kind of urban fantasy (technically it’s rural fantasy, but I think it qualifies) I’d expect to enjoy. It’s a 20th century-set historical story (Depression-era Utah), with the Mormon protagonist Hiram discreetly practicing folk magic (a “cunning man” being an old term for a wizard). When Hiram delivers some food to a starving mining camp he gets embroiled in their struggles — starvation, unionization, rumors of something monstrous at the bottom of the mine — and tries to find a solution.

But it just didn’t work for me. It may be the style but maybe not; I can’t really pin it down but I went DNF about 100 pages in. As so many of my rejection letters says, it did not suit my needs at this present time.

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Aliens coming for our women .. our dead … and Santa!

WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM? (2000) has Gary Shandling sent to Earth to impregnate an Earth woman as Phase One in their plan of conquest (one of the movie’s flaws is that they never explain how that was going to work). Despite their world having given up on emotions and sex, Shandling’s confident his training in seduction will make it easy to seduce a woman; after repeated failures he succeeds with Annette Bening only to discover that Feelings Are Good and Earth’s Way Is Better (“Why do we want to make them like us?”). This has some funny lines (“You made love to me while we ate — if I’d known you were going to do that, I’d never have ordered the soup.”) but not quite enough to make it work, alas. With Camryn Mannheim as one of Benning’s friends, Linda Fiorentino as an adulteress, John Goodman as an FAA investigator turned UFOlogist (“After 22 years I’ve finally seen something I can’t explain away.”) and Ben Kingsley as the aliens’ supreme leader. “We transfer all our dysfunction onto our kids and I don’t want to be responsible for that — I’ve already fucked up my dog.”

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965) is every bit as bad as I’d heard, starting with the lack of any Frankenstein connection; the astronaut for a new space launch is an android named “Frank” and when he’s shot down by aliens he ends up running amok in Puerto Rico like a — Frankenstein! Meanwhile aliens whose women have all been wiped out in war show up Puerto Rico to take ours so we get lots of screaming and kidnapping before Frank puts a stop to that. “I’m not afraid — fear is either the result of physiology or superstition and ignorance.”

I’ve watched Ed Wood’s classically awful PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) so many times it’s almost impossible to look at with fresh eyes. However one thing did jump out at me, that it proposes a massive government cover-up of UFOs, bigger by far than Invasion of the Saucer Men: the aliens actually destroyed an American town (“It was a small town, I admit, but nevertheless it was a town of people!”) and the government blamed it on natural disaster (“You hear an account of a fire, an earthquake, a natural disaster, and you wonder.”). That explains why the desperate aliens are launching Plan Nine, resurrecting the dead to stage a March on Washington that cannot be ignored. Memorably and hilariously awful. “He’s dead — murdered — and somebody’s responsible!”

SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964) is also bad, but not as entertaining. It’s another example of old-school abduction by aliens, (i.e., without anal probes) as Martians kidnap that jolly old elf to pump some life back into their own kids (“Mars doesn’t have children — they have children’s bodies but adult minds!”). This is also an example of alien attack uniting the world as everyone puts aside their differences to save Santa (“Never in the history of mankind have the world’s nations reacted with such unanimity and cooperation.”). I feel safe in saying this will never become one of my Christmas perennials. “Earth has had Santa Claus long enough — we shall bring him to Mars!”

I COME IN PEACE (1990) is another bad film, with cop Dolph Lundgren discovering a series of bizarre murders are the work of an alien drug dealer extracting human endorphins because they’re a super-drug on his planet. Mindless gory action and the alien’s “I come in peace” (the only thing he says in English) never works as a catchphrase. “When you had me wondering if you were dead or alive, I was kind of rooting for dead.”

THE HIDDEN (1987) has cop Michael Nouri wondering why perfectly respectable people suddenly turn into psycho outlaws, while also putting up with oddball FBI agent Kyle MacLachlan horning in on the investigation instead of Nouri’s regular partner Clu Gallagher.The truth is that the outlaws are a succession of bodies an alien parasite is using an discarding; MacLachlan is an alien cop borrowing a human body to track the killer down. MacLachlan’s flattening of affect doesn’t express his alienness well (it comes as much poor acting as a choice) but the villain’s gleeful malevolence makes this more entertaining than I Come in Peace. “So you’re saying we’ve got spacemen?”

Critics Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltn both see I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011) as “Twilight with aliens instead of vampires” but it has just as much in common with the 1980s TV series The Power of Matthew Star (superpowered alien teen hiding on Earth from his world’s destroyers) or any number of angsty teen superheroes. While the YA novel it’s based on has received a half-dozen sequels, this film is forgettable, unremarkable stuff with alien villains who are almost generically evil. “My entire childhood was an episode of X-Files.”

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I may be running slightly out of steam …

Which may be due to lack of sleep — okay, it’s definitely partly lack of sleep — or that to get Alien Visitors done, I’m not taking any complete days off.

Either way, I realized this morning that I needed to take a break from the book. I did a Leaf, worked on Undead Sexist Cliches and finished the Golem article. That  required rereading Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem as my editor wanted to include it (fair enough — it was a critically acclaimed novel that sold a lot). I can’t say I liked it more than my first reading, but I can appreciate why it’s strangeness found an audience.

I still have to give the article a final proofread, but I think I’m done.

Earlier in the week, though, things went great. I have a solid draft of every chapter in Alien Visitors except the comedy and Men in Black chapters. The other chapters still need rewriting, but I think they’re at the point where it’ll go smoother, and hopefully faster, than these first drafts have.

I also got lots of movies and TV watched, including more X-Files, a British show called Undermind (doesn’t quite qualify) and a couple of episodes of Ben 10.

Wisp has resumed coming in overnight so apparently she’s over the trauma of being bunged in a cage last week. Snowdrop has been showing up regularly, though she doesn’t come in yet. She and Wisp seem on good enough terms Wisp doesn’t steal her food; then again, she’s quite happy to snarf Wisp’s if she can get away with it.

We had a minor alarm with Trixie midweek, when she moped around as she does with a bad stomach upset, except she was happy to eat. We made an appointment for her but the next day she was fine. We canceled, though we both worried that once it was too late, the symptoms would recur. They didn’t. That’s a relief — I love my little terrier/chihuahua.

Come on, who couldn’t love that face?

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Spider webs

I very rarely manage to capture webs when I try to photograph them, but these turned out pretty well.#SFWApro.

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The Federalist: older men marrying teenagers is sound family planning!

I wouldn’t say the online magazine The Federalist is the worst right-wing website out there — the competition is stiff, after all — but they are an abominable mess of misogyny and stupidity (which is why none of the links are direct, though you can get to the magazine if you click through). It’s kind of black-humored funny that the magazine declared trans rights as a war on women when they’re so committed to waging one themselves.

They published an article by Georgi Boorman suggesting abortion isn’t necessary in cases of ectopic pregnancy, which is wrong. Boorman admitted as much later but seriously, that’s a very basic fact on the subject. She should never have made the mistake in the first place, no matter how devoted to the forced-birth cause she is.

Of course Amy Otto topped her with an article about that familiar undead sexist cliche, single women having sex destroys the world. It includes the phrase ““[Women] held a majority of the cards in sexual relationships and, facing a royal flush, decided to fold.” Um, nobody can beat a royal flush so folding is the only option. And contrary to Otto, women have never held all the cards in sex (click at the link for my critique).

We have Nicole Russell’s piece from 2015 gushing about how manly Paul Ryan looks with his beard, and how women need manly men to take charge of them more than they need independence. “Men who fail to embrace their masculinity are as bad as chauvinists who wield it like a weapon” No, they’re not.

The magazine’s senior editor, Mollie Hemingway, claims that women’s enthusiasm for 50 Shades of Grey proves feminism has failed and women secretly crave for men to dominate them (are we seeing a theme here?). Maybe they’d “prefer to be in a loving committed relationship with a dude than get successively better office jobs on the way to the corner office.” Strange how this hasn’t discouraged Hemingway from working her way up to the editorial suite.

From earlier this year, we have their accusation Jane Austen is getting cancelled! You will be shocked this is also a lie. More recently, we have one of their editors, Joy Pullman, writing that getting vaccinated against COVID is pagan — Christians should do without and trust God to protect them (as Pullman’s not advocating we give up all vaccines, safety belts and fire alarms, I presume she’s completely insincere and churning out propaganda for the cause).

Then there’s DC McAlister’s argument that women should make love to their husbands even when they don’t want to (which Jesus and John Wayne showed me is a common belief in the religious right — your husband’s reward for supporting you is sex whenever he wants it!).

But what got this article going was going down one of those Internet rabbit-holes and discovering a 2017 Federalist post by Baptist university professor Tully Borland, arguing that Roy Moore’s habit of (allegedly) sexually harassing teens when he was in his forties doesn’t make him a bad person (for the record, it’s far from the only problem I have with Moore). After all, if you want a large family, you need to start when the girl’s young, right? And to afford a large family, the man needs money which usually means being wealthy, right? Besides, everyone thought it was normal back then, why are we applying modern standards to the past!

No, we aren’t. As someone who was alive back in the late 1970s, I would have thought this was creepy as shit. Particularly if Roy was actively harassing the girls as they claim. I don’t think I’m alone — hell, Borland says he’d have assaulted Moore if it was his daughter (apparently other men’s daughters are fair game).

This piece actually generated some criticism outside left-wing blogs (I doubt many other people are aware of the Federalist outside the right-wing/forced birth/misogynist base) so co-founder Ben Domenech responded with a ton of cliches: isn’t it important to understand why people support Moore despite the charges? Sure, he personally thinks Moore’s a perv and didn’t agree with the article but “we publish the things we think make valuable contributions to the public debate, and represent the views of voters.”

First off, Borland wasn’t doing the equivalent of a “Trump safari,” telling us what Alabama voters think. He’s arguing that they should be voting for Moore. It’s a call for support not a deep dive. Second, even if Domenech doesn’t support Moore (it’s the Federalist. He could easily be lying) he obviously thinks “support the guy who sexual harasses teens” makes “valuable contributions to the public debate.” I don’t believe he’d say the same if I’d submitted a “why Christians should support Hilary Clinton” pitch back in 2016. I doubt he’ll ever run an article explaining why the majority of Americans favor the right to abortion unless the explanation is … Satan!

Third, according to the NYT link in the first paragraph of this post, one of the magazine’s major backers is Dick Uihlein who supported and donated to Roy Moore. So I’m not sure Domenech’s decision to run this piece was purely in the spirit of enlightening the public. But “we have to pay off the money men” doesn’t sound as cool as “free speech!”

Out of the crooked timber of The Federalist, no straight thing was ever made.

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One book, one movie, our place in the universe: This Island Earth

In Keep Watching the Skies, Bill Warren’s landmark book on 1950s SF movies, Warren made an interesting point. Even when the aliens come in peace, the tone of the films is often that we’re better off if they don’t come here. His specific example was comparing the novel and film of This Island Earth.

The 1952 novel (which I’m about to spoil, so be warned) by Raymond F. Jones opens with radio engineer Cal Meachum discovering a vendor has sent some strange, glasslike beads instead of the condensers Cal ordered (I had to look it up — a condenser is another name for capacitors that store electricity). When Cal tests them, though, it turns out they are phenomenally effective condensers, way beyond anything on the market. But the vendor claims no knowledge of them.

Cal and his sidekick Joe get a catalog that offers even more amazing products, and the equipment for building something called an interocitor. Cal succumbs to temptation, orders the components and eventually puts it together. The interocitor immediately opens up a communications line to a group called the Peace Engineers. They invite Cal to quit his job and work for them; intrigued, he agrees.

When he arrives, he learns the Peace Engineers are scientists and engineers dedicated to seeing their creations and discoveries used peacefully, rather than militarized. One of them tells Cal that if not for them, WW I would have been nuclear; WW II would have left Earth a dead world. Cal, having lived through WW II and now the Korean War, loves the idea. But he can’t help feeling there’s more going on …

There is, of course. It turns out the Peace Engineers are just a front for the Llanna, an alien alliance fighting against the malevolent Guarra (think Allies vs. Axis). Their resources are strained to the point they can’t manufacture interocitors fast enough (it’s a powerful psi-weapon as well as a communicator), so they’ve outsourced it to Earth. One of the aliens compares it to WW II: if you need land cleared and a base built on some Pacific island, you hire the natives. You don’t explain the geopolitics or the ethics of the war, you simply pay them to help you.

This goes pear-shaped when the Guarra decide Earth is valuable enough to their enemies they should annihilate it. The Llanna computer projections show Earth is doomed, but Cal convinces them that’s why they’ve been losing: the Guarra have learned to periodically ignore the projections of their own machines and make random, unpredictable attacks. If the Llana do the same thing, acting against the computers to protect Earth, it’ll blindside the enemy.

Heading home to Earth, Cal feels he’s done the right thing. Even if most of Earth has no knowledge of the Llanna or the war, their destinies have become tied together; the progress of the war will affect Earth’s future. It’s good that an Earthman got to weigh in on it. The subtext is that connecting our island to the vast space civilization is a good thing: “Like it or not, Earth was a member of the community of worlds.”

The movie version is different from the start: Cal (Rex Reason) is a Tony Stark like techtrepreneur, lionized by the press. There’s no Peace Engineers, simply Exeter (Jeff Morrow), the alien front man for what turns out to be the planet of Metaluna. Where the aliens in the novel can pass for human, the Metalunans have huge heads that would seem to scream Not Our Kind (I’ve read that the Coneheads‘ original skits on Saturday Night Live were inspired by everyone ignoring Exeter’s giant cranium).

In the novel, cal meets Ruth, a psychiatrist helping the aliens deal with humans. Here, Ruth (Faith Domergue) is an old girlfriend who pretends they’ve never met. She and Steve (Russell Johnson) warn Cal that all is not well: the engineers working for Exeter are monitored constantly and some who ask too many questions change personalities overnight.

Finally Cal and Ruth make a break for it in Cal’s plane, only to be drawn up into Exeter’s ship. Like the novel, they’ve been working to build weapons for Metaluna; unlike the novel, it’s not good guys/bad guys. The Metalunans are losing the war and so their back up plan is to take over Earth.

Of course it all ends happily for Earth. Metaluna falls before its people can relocate; Exeter redeems himself by taking Cal and Ruth home, even though he’s dying. While the novel is more imaginative and interesting, the movie is good, though odd at the same time. Cal is much more swept along by events than steering them as most protagonist’s do; it works, but it makes it odd enough, I can see why MST3K picked it to mock some years back (they’re still wrong though).

The point here is that as Warren says, the movie takes the opposite view from the book. It’s good that we’re living on an isolated island. Space is scary, full of wars and unfriendly aliens who’ll exploit us for their own purposes. Better we stick to our own world.

This is not an isolated example. In Battleship, one character complains scientists should never be sending messages out into space: don’t they know any civilization advanced enough to respond and visit us will just treat us the way America treated the Native Americans? A stronger civilization will always oppress the weaker. Best we stay here on our own little island.

It’s very far removed from the optimism that made so many of us love Star Trek. And history shows some cultures have traded, negotiated and not immediately tried to destroy each other. So if we ever meet aliens, I’m hoping it’ll turn out Jones was right and the pessimists were wrong. Fingers crossed.

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It’s Tuesday, so let’s cover up!

So this Riviera strip club is patronized by cardinals with moon hats? Better strangeness from Diane and Leo DillonNext up, an eerie Frank Frazetta cover.Here’s an uncredited cover with S-E-X and sin on it.And the kind of based-on-the-movie tie-in book I’m not sure they make any more.#SFWApro. All covers are uncredited unless artist is identified. All rights remain with current holder.

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Blogging about bad Republicans is low-hanging fruit

But since I’m too tired for a deeper post, I’ll pluck it.

Football coach Jon Gruden was recently fired for his many sexist, homophobic emails. Erick Erickson protests that lots of people talk like that so what’s the big deal?

Lying anti-Semite Rick Wiles claims he only opposes Zionism, not Jews. Of course, he also says “Merrick Garland is a Jew. That’s why they’re taking over school boards.” Like I said, he’s a liar.

David Barton says only people who pretend to be Christians supported slavery. His son ain’t much better.

Trump says if the GOP doesn’t stop Democrats from cheating in 2022 and 2024, Republican voters should stay home. For once I hope they listen to him.

“Michael Gableman, the former judge leading the review, admitted days later that he does not have “a comprehensive understanding or even any understanding of how elections work.”  — a look at another fake audit of elections, this time in Wisconsin.

Will the GOP make the logical leap from “covid vaccine mandates are bad” to “no vaccine mandates for anything?”

Ohio Republican Josh Mandel complains about vax mandates at a school board meeting, and it’s not even his school district.

Texas’ child welfare agency yanked its LGBTQ resources page after a Republican complained.

A school official warns parents that the state could crack down on them if they give kids anti-Holocaust books without pro-Holocaust material for “balance.”

Rep. Claudia Tenney has spent $100,000 of campaign money on her own companies.

Cyber Ninjas in Arizona didn’t find the fantasized massive proof of fraud. So of course Mike “MyPillow” Lindell says they’re part of the cover-up. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Republicans want to search voting machines in Durham, one of the bluest parts of the state.

Contemptible as I find Republicans equating vaccine mandates with the Holocaust, it’s not a new shtick with right-wingers — I’d forgotten Sarah Palin referred to criticism of her “gunsight” ads as blood libel.

Here’s OAN host Dan Ball explaining not only are vaccine mandates turning us into Nazi Germany, vaccines have killed thousands of people. Which is what is known as a lie.

Michelle Bachman, former Congressional representative and permanent bullshit artist claims that firing people who won’t get vaccinated is no better than murder.

A judge in Tennessee had some black elementary school kids carted to jail in handcuffs. Their crime? Well they watched a schoolyard fight and the judge decided that could qualify as a crime, so …

A Tallahassee police chief says as a Christian, he can proselytize to his employees. Which is a)not legal and b)it would be front page news if a Muslim said that.

Michael Flynn tries to convince his fellow QAnon supporters that he hasn’t switched sides to Satan.

Right-winger Charlie Kirk claims we Democrats want Americans living in sexual anarchy.

It’s always projection with the right-wing. They think we’re out to brainwash their children because that’s what they want to do.

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The Secret Origins of Superman? Maybe (A books read post)

Based on a recommendation from my friend Ross I checked Brad Ricca’s SUPER BOYS: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster out of the library to gain more perspective on the Alien Superheroes chapter (which focuses on Superman for obvious reasons). Ricca does a very good job chronicling the guys’ lives and early creative endeavors (Siegel wrote some remarkably funny columns for his high school paper) to the later years when Shuster did kinky illustrations for one magazine and Siegel was working on Archie Comics’ way too camp line of superheroes (curiously, given Ricca mentions Siegel’s fondness for the Shadow, he doesn’t mention his work on Archie’s painfully bad Shadow comic).

Ricca also does a very good job showing how Cleveland, the guys’ home town, was an inspiration. Cleveland was a city of notoriously reckless drivers; Superman makes war on reckless drivers in a couple of stories. Some of his early stunts weren’t that far off from what professional strongmen touring the Midwest were doing. However his determination to trace everything Siegel wrote to a real-world root or some element of Siegel’s tortured soul gets old and unconvincing fast. Overall, though, a good read.

DISGUISED AS CLARK KENT: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero by Danny Fingeroth is less persuasive in arguing that contrary to popular assumptions about comics’ many Jewish creators (that the field was desperate enough not to have issues hiring Jews that more prestigious publication avenues might), Jews were naturally drawn to create characters who championed the oppressed and the vulnerable.  And wasn’t Superman losing his entire planet a reflection on how Jews had been cut from their culture when they emigrated, then later on the impact of the Holocaust (while Peter Novick argues the Holocaust wasn’t a major issue for American Jews in the 1950s and ’60s, I suppose a subconscious reaction isn’t out of the question)?

Some of this was interesting: while the idea of the X-Men as a metaphor for Jews isn’t new to me, I had no idea Claremont was half-Jewish himself and specifically referenced that and anti-Semitism as an influence. A lot of the time, he comes off as reaching — the idea Doctor Doom as a Roma is lashing out because of his people’s deaths during the Holocaust doesn’t fit the Silver Age take on Doom at all. This was worth a look but not as insightful as it might have been.

Moving from one project to another: the editor on my golem article specifically asked me to include Marge Piercy’s HE, SHE AND IT in my revisions so I read it this week. While I knew Piercy equated a cyborg character to a golem I wasn’t aware it went beyond that, to include an entire retelling of the Golem of Prague legend.

The story concerns Shira, a Jewish woman in a dystopian, corporate-dominated near future. Having lost her son in a custody dispute, she returns to her Jewish hometown and discovers her mother’s neighbor, Avram Stein, has built a cyborg, Yod, to defend them (yes, the use of “stein” for the scientist is not coincidental). Both Joseph the golem and Yod the cyborg have no problem dealing with ruthlessly with threats, but have to ask if that’s really how they want to live their life.

Unfortunately Piercy’s writing embodies everything I hate about literary SF — constant info-dumps, lots of navel gazing, characters who can understand and discuss the torments of their soul with crystalline clarity, then talk about them at length. I forced myself through so I can finish the article but I am massively underwhelmed.

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Interesting movies, not all successful

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967) was an unqualified success and will be one of the spotlights in my Gods From Outer Space chapter. The big screen adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s BBC drama Quatermass and the Pit, it stars Andrew Keir as Quatermass, bristling at the news his rocket-research group will be placed under the orders of military martinet Julian Glover, with an eye to militarizing space. Then comes a distraction — a rebuilding project at an London Underground stop turns up impossibly old human skeletons, then an unexploded bomb .. which turns out to be a spaceship. What’s going on? How does it tie in with the haunted history of the street called Hobs End?

It turns out our beliefs in the devil (“and the pit” refers both to the construction project and an old way to refer to hell), gargoyles and the Horned God are racial memories of the Martians who genetically engineered our ancestors. That included implanting traits in us that would make us mentally Martian as well, and the time for those to kick in is now … Probably the best Gods From Outer Space film, though predating Erich Von Daniken popularizing the concept. “Then to the extent anyone is — we are the Martians”

TRIBULATION 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1991) is auteur Craig Baldwin’s “collage film” composed of an assortment of clips from SF and low budget movies along with news footage. Combined, they show how America’s long history of supporting Latin American dictators has really been a fight against alien survivors from the shattered planet of Quetzal. The invasion of Grenada? To stop alien psi-vampires from stealing the minds of Americans attending medical school there. The invasion of Panama, where dictator General Noriega had been our ally? A necessity once the Quetzalians replaced the Good Noriega with his evil alien clone! And so on.

Baldwin says on the commentary track that this was meant to satirize both U.S. policy and pseudo-science documentaries such as Chariots of the Gods (which he says makes up for its high level of bullshit by being very well made). A deft parody, though it also shows the perennial problem of satire aging out of relevance: thirty years after Bush I sent our forces into Panama and Iran-Contra is a historical footnote, what will younger viewers make of it? “After 33 assassination attempts against Castro and 50 million dollars spent they realized with horror you cannot kill something which was never alive.”

Getting to the not-so-successful stuff: IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956)has a Venusian monster resembling a giant cucumber with teeth hitch a ride to Earth on one of our satellites. With the help of a resentful scientist (Lee Van Cleef) who’s tired of his ideas not getting the respect he thinks they deserve, it shuts down all power in the area and begins turning key people into obedient, emotionless robots. And they’re only the beginning … Can Peter Graves convince his friend to see things differently? Can wife Beverly Garland (pictured) convince Van Cleef emotions are still good.

Silly monster, heavily padded story (Dick Miller and a bunch of soldiers wander around in the woods interminably) but not without some good thoughts. When Van Cleef refuses to betray his ally, Graves argues that only emotion makes loyalty possible — the roboticized agents, having neither loyalty nor courage, would prioritize their own lives over allies or causes. That’s a novel take on the emotion vs. logic debate.

In light of Peter Breggin’s theories in Seeing Is Believing about how 1950s movies either side with Regular Folks or Smart Folks, the conflict here is Smart Guy vs. Smart Guy. Though I don’t think that disproves Breggin’s thesis: clearly it’s Smart Scientific People who ultimately decide the fate of the world, even if they don’t agree among themselves. “You’re smiling like a man who’s inherited Texas.”

THE PHOENIX (1981) stars Judson Scott (much better known as Khan’s son in Wrath of Khan) as Bennu, an Egyptian God From Outer Space found in a tomb in Latin America. No problem, archeologist Darryl Anderson explains — we have evidence space gods existed (“Electric batteries thousands of years old. Maps in the 16th century that could only have been chartered from the air.”) so why shouldn’t they have shaped the Americas as they did Egypt. Bennu, of course, revives and founds himself the focus of scientists (E.G. Marshall) and Mexican (I think, though they don’t specify) official Fernando Allende, who wants to drag Bennu home as a living historical artifact. Bennu, instead, breaks out and winds up falling for pretty photographer Shelly Smith while figuring out his destiny (he should have been thawed out a hundred years later, dang it!).

Bennu himself is a very flower-child/New Age ET who’s also a Christ figure (“The gods sent to Earth a child of their so that he might teach men the knowledge of the greatest of gods.”). Scott isn’t great but it’s not like anyone could have breathed much life into this, or the brief series that followed. Interesting for my research, but the writers aren’t exactly in Nigel Kneale’s class. “This is the closest thing man has found to a god since creation.”

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