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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