Category Archives: Movies

Links on writing and media

“A hero who has it easy cannot prove his heroism. On the other hand, a villain who has it easy can prove his villainy. Villains need victims not heroes. A hero may only be as good as the toughest opponent s/he has faced. To make our heroes better, we’ve got to have better villains.” — Marvel Comics’ late Mark Gruenwald.

John Scalzi argues the public domain will not make your books more popular.

Don’t write crime. Write sin. says John Roger of Leverage.

A history of romance novels, pointing out how radical they were in many ways.

I knew Republicans arranged mass purchases of right-wing books to push them up the bestseller list. I didn’t realize how lucrative that could be.

It’s not just me. Movie dialogue really is becoming harder to understand.

Unsurprisingly as Republicans embrace white supremacy and fascism we’re seeing more demands to censor library books, backed up by threats. Here’s Texas lawmaker Matt Krause’s bizarre list of problem books. Some right-wingers just want to burn the books. Other parents are suing to purge gay-friendly books.

Netflix wants to become a real movie studio, just streaming.

Is there too much media to consume? A media studies professor finds himself conflicted.

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Still working through my Alien Visitor review backlog

ETERNALS (2021) is indy director Chloe Zhao’s dive into the MCU, as a handful of  ancient astronauts, including Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie and Gemma Chan spend centuries battling the monstrous Deviants before learning the terrifying truth about why the Celestials sent them to Earth.

I enjoyed the movie. It’s good-looking, has some great twists, and a solid cast. I particularly liked the running element that the secret of the Eternals’ existence is known to all kinds of people. The cast is solid.

I did not, however, massively enjoy the movie. The Deviants are bland foes and the concept doesn’t make as much sense here as it did in Jack Kirby’s comic book. There we can reasonably assume that even though we only meet a few Olympians (Zuras, Makkari, Thena) the rest of the pantheon exists. Here it’s quite specific that these are all the Eternals that exist which undercuts the Gods From Outer Space thing. And as someone pointed out online, Gilgamesh (Don Lee) arrives on Earth in Babylonian times, too late to be the hero of  Sumerian epic. Not dealbreakers for me, but definitely weaknesses. “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you … the plow.”

If not for rereading Keep Watching the Skies I’d have forgotten NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST (1958) exists. That would be a shame as it fits into my book’s discussion of alien rape and impregnation well. An astronaut returns to Earth, apparently dead, revives and discovers he’s been implanted with alien embryos by ETs who can’t penetrate the Van Allen belt otherwise. But are they here to save us from ourselves, or is this the fist step in colonizing the world? Like It Conquered the World, the ideas are more interesting than the presentation. “There’s a man in there alive who should be dead — something that’s never happened before.”

I only watched enough of STARGATE (1994) to refresh my memory for the Ancient Astronauts chapter. Engaging in spots but the scenes on Ra’s world now strike me as generic Lost Race stuff with heavy White Savior episodes. Still fun, but it’s odd seeing Kurt Russell when I expect to see the TV show’s Richard Dean Anderson. “This should read ‘A million years into the sky lies Ra the Sun God, dead and buried.”

According to Pictures at a Revolution, Sidney Poitier was slammed by critics for much of his career for playing non-threatening black guys who wouldn’t alienate a white audience. BROTHER JOHN (1971) is very different, and almost nobody watched it. John (Poitier) mysteriously shows up in his Southern hometown when his sister’s on the brink of death, then sticks around, reconnecting with old friends and unsettling the local white power structure who know he’s up to something — but only the town doctor (Will Geer) gets to learn what it is.

A number of online reviews describe Poitier as an angel, which makes me think the reviewers haven’t seen it. He’s actually acting as an agent for aliens who want to see if we’re anyone they can tolerate when we get beyond our own little solar system. John’s report is … not favorable. It’s a striking, unsettling film which writerScott Woods describes as Poitier playing “black machismo you don’t have to apologize for.” It definitely deserves to be seen more than it is. “I would like to leave my name somewhere beside the toilet at the Stuart Street School.”

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This was worth Apple TV

So as part of getting new iPhones, TYG and I got access to free HBO Max for a year and three months of Apple TV. I didn’t bother much about the latter until I saw they were airing a video of Broadway’s COME FROM AWAY. I signed up (don’t know I’ll keep it when the three months are up though), as I love the soundtrack.After the 9/11 airplane attacks, 7,000 air travelers were diverted away from United States air space and dropped off at an airport next to Gander, Newfoundland, which has a population of around 11,000. The results? Panic, romance, friendship, practical problems (“I went to the store for tampons and pads.”) and fish-kissing. While I”m long past the point at which 9/11 evokes strong emotions in me, the characterizations, conflicts and humor — not to mention the excellent music — worked for me; I imagine it might  work even for future generations for whom 9/11 is a historical footnote. A pleasure to see it after hearing it so often. “We have passengers down at the Moose Club who want to try elk — no, wait, it’s the Elk’s Club and the want to try moose.”

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Simon Pegg Meets Aliens (and more!)

It will be a while before I clear out all my viewing from working on Alien Visitors, but here’s the first catch-up post.

ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING (2017) has an intergalactic council (voiced by the Monty Python team) decides humanity’s survival hinges on whether Simon Pegg can use reality-warping powers for good or become corrupted. This is a good example of alien advanced science being indistinguishable from magic, as the council might as well have been God in Bruce Almighty or the bored deities gifting Roland Young with similar power in The Man Who Could Work Miracles.The results, unfortunately, are the predictable monkey’s paw effects of everything Pegg does turning out wrong though the alien’s standards turned out to be a nice twist (“It was good when he started all those wars, but now he’s stopped them — nothing is more evil than weakness!”). With Kate Beckinsale as Pegg’s dream girl. “The London Underground is worse than anything we did at Guantanamo.”

WORLD’S END (2013) has Pegg playing a self-destructive hot mess who reunites with his old school chums (including Martin Freeman of Sherlock) to re-enact the post-graduation pub crawl they never quite finished (making Robin Williams’ The Best of Times a logical double-bill). Unfortunately this plonks Pegg’s crew and Lost Love Rosamund Pike right in the middle of an alien takoever helmed by former teacher Pierce Brosnan. This has some clever writing in spots but Pegg’s the kind of overbearing jerk I just cannot stand. The alien stuff is simply too stock for me — like some of the shticks in Mars Attacks!, the pod people claiming We Make People Better could have been dropped in a serious movie without changing anything. “Does anyone know what ‘robot’ means?”

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016) is an interesting, if slightly too murky film wherein a father with a strange mutant child scurries to help him meet his Moment Of Destiny despite the efforts of the authorities to stop him and Mom Kirsten Dunst (yet another actor whose gone from kid star to Mom roles within my lifetime. Not that I’m old or anything). This is an effective SF thriller but would benefit from a little more explanation about why the kid is like this — I’d assumed an alien hybrid, but they don’t confirm or deny that. “What do you believe will happen Friday March 6?”

As CHARIOTS OF THE GODS (1970) was one of the films inspiring Tribulation 99, I gave it a look and had the pleasure of seeing TYG boggle at the bullshit (“That carving looks nothing like an astronaut!”). This pseudoscience documentary attempts to sell Erich Von Daniken’s theories about alien ancestors but even as a teen I was more intrigued than convinced by his ideas. Now I find his theories just ridiculous, nowhere near as interesting as Charles Fort (probably because Von Daniken has less solid material to work with). This makes me appreciate why some critics find Von Daniken racist, with the emphasis that the aliens did their work in Egypt and preColumbian America rather than, say, ancient Rome (the film mentions some Roman temples but only to claim their foundations were former rocket sites). Jack Kirby’s Eternals (source of the images here) is vastly more interesting.“Would Ezekiel have described visitors from space in any different terms?”

The animated CHICKEN LITTLE (2005) is unusual in that the protagonist’s Zero to Hero moment occurs well before the alien invasion, as his long-odds win in the Big Baseball Game redeems him from his previous panic over the sky falling. But then, when he starts squawking Aliens Are Coming…This makes the structure feel a little off, but the film ends up being a good example of an invasion that’s actually a misunderstanding (“You know how it is — when you’re a parent you do anything for your kids.”). Minor but watchable. “Prepare to be hurt — and not emotionally like me!”

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Shouldn’t women’s roles have improved by 1996?

Rewatching The Thing From Another World (1951) as I worked on the Monsters chapter of Alien Visitors gave me fresh appreciation for Margaret Sheridan as Nikki, the female lead opposite Kenneth Tobey’s Hendry. It’s not that she plays a role in fighting the Thing, but there’s no question she could do it if she had to.

Producer Howard Hawks liked stories about tough guys, and Hendry and his crew are plenty tough.  It’s not emphasized, just taken as a given that they’re willing to go up against this alien menace and fight to the last man to save the world. Scotty, the reporter (Douglas Spencer) establishes his bona fides easily: when Hendry says he should be away from the front lines, Scotty replies he shouldn’t have been at El Alamein or Okinawa during WW II, but he was there. ’nuff said.

The thing is, Hawks liked his women tough too. Contrary to the poster, Nikki never screams, never faints, never needs more protection than anyone else. She never stays behind when they’re going up against the Thing. We learn that on her last date with Hendry she drunk him under the table, a measure of toughness back in those days.

Fast-forward to 1988’s Predator. We have one woman in the cast (Elpidia Carrillo) and her role is a headscratcher. She’s working with a Russian special-forces team fomenting unrest in the region. We never learn what he role is: interpreter? Guide? Marxist guerilla? It comes off as if she’s there solely to provide exposition and avoid criticism the film’s a 100 percent sausage fest.

While Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his crew are tough, there’s more self-consciousness about it. One of the team (Jesse Ventura) carries a massive gun way too big to lug for jungle fighting; there’s the early scene where we watch Carl Weathers and Ah-nuld arm-wrestle with an emphasis on their muscles.

And then there’s Independence Day (1996) where as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a lot more worry that the male characters aren’t man enough. Jeff Goldblum lost his wife because he wasn’t ambitious enough for her; as a president, war hero Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is dismissed as a wimp because he compromises and negotiates. Both, of course, prove they’re Real Men.

The flip side of that is that the women have to be Real Woman, which is to say letting the men have all the glory. As the first lady, Mary McDonnell dies because she didn’t listen to her husband; Margaret Colin’s role as Goldblum’s ex is to see how awesome her husband really was; Viveca J. Fox gets to be a little heroic because she’s protecting her son, plus she’s doing what her boyfriend Will Smith told her to, in contrast to McDonnell.

It’s really annoying that Sheridan’s tougher and probably more capable than any of these later films. It should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? Similarly, the female lead in I Married a Monster (1997) doesn’t get to do more than in 1958’s I Married a Monster From Outer Space. All she can do is warn the town doctor and have him do the fighting. The 1995 Village of the Damned is marginally better than the classic 1960s film, but not much (I discussed this about a year ago).

Not that it’s startling news Hollywood is sexist, but it’s still annoying.

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Until last week, I didn’t notice the listening

One of the things that I regret about my looming deadline is that I keep noticing new stuff about the movies I’m writing about. It makes me wonder if waiting another six months would have allowed me to uncover some other amazing insight — but I don’t have six months, so it’s a moot point.

It was while writing about Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) that something new struck me. The core relationship in the film is between Matthew (Donald Sutherland) and Elizabeth (Brooke Adams). Unlike Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter in the original film, they’re not lovers but best friends. The movie does show they have romantic feelings for each other at the end, which annoys me — I’m not a big fan of friends-to-lovers tropes and their friendship makes the film enough of a tragedy.

What I noticed is that Matthew listens to Elizabeth. When she tells him that her boyfriend has been replaced by a stranger he doesn’t believe her, but he doesn’t laugh or tell her she’s imagining things. He suggests she’s picking up on something she can’t define — Geoffrey’s having an affair, say — and suggests she meet Matt’s psychiatrist friend Kibner  (Leonard Nimoy) who can help her dig into it.

Kibner does not, as it turns out, help her. When she tells him her problems, he talks over her and hands out a canned solution, the same one he applied to another woman having the same fears about her husband. People are just getting into marriage too fast, without really knowing what they want, then they rationalize an excuse for leaving. Matthew tries to make him listen to Elizabeth but Kibner talks over him too. While they don’t emphasize the contrast, I think it’s noteworthy.

Then there’s the love thing. Much as I dislike it, they do it well. There’s never any indication Matthew feels he’s been friend-zoned or that he resents being Elizabeth’s friend instead of her lover. She’s made her choice, he’s not it; he may regret that but he accepts it. Their friendship is real, not some strategy to eventually win her away from Geoffrey.

That’s pretty cool.

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“You’ll be born again into an untroubled world”: Aliens and emotion

One of the hoariest cliches of alien-visitor films — and a lot of other SF — is that being superior intellects, they no longer possess emotions.

There’s an assumption in our culture that emotions are a leftover of our primitive past — references to our “lizard brain” driving our decisions for instance — whereas intelligence represents our more evolved future. As we evolve we’ll get bigger heads holding much larger brains — like the Curt Swan cover here showing a super-evolved Batman — but our hearts will shrivel. Once Batman accidentally super-evolves, he becomes cold, logical, ruthless: rather than share his advanced condition with Superman he uses the machine to devolve him into a caveman instead.

Similarly in Outer Limits: The Sixth Finger, coal miner Gwyllm (David McCallum) volunteers as guinea pig for an evolution experiment, hoping it will give him a path out of the coal mines. He gets the big brain and a sixth finger (greater dexterity) and begins lashing out with TK at everyone who’s pissed him off. Then he evolves again, beyond revenge but also beyond feeling. His disgruntled lover reverts him back to normal.

Alien visitors are clearly more advanced than we are so it’s a simple jump to assume they’ve also evolved superior intelligence. Not a logical jump: as far as I know, we’re not significantly more intelligent than Babylon despite having what would be unimaginably superior technology to theirs. But it’s a staple assumption: they have higher intelligence so they must have given up on feelings. Nothing left but cold, rational logic. If it’s logical to eliminate us as a threat or to conquer us, they’re going to do it. Dispassionately of course.

In the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) informs Matthew (Donald Sutherland) that the pods taking over the world isn’t anything personal, just a matter of survival. The pods aren’t destroying us out of hate or malice; they’re as incapable of those as of love.

In another Outer Limits episode, Keeper of the Purple Twilight (an evocative title that has no relation to anything in the episode), the alien Ikar gives a human scientist his people’s emotionless mindset, taking on the scientist’s emotions in return. In a nice, twist, this is a scam: the aliens need the scientist to build a stargate that will let them invade. Without emotions, he’s willing to dive into the research without distractions such as his wife. Ikar, of course, starts to discover feelings, particularly for the scientist’s wife, are good. At one point he informs her that on his loveless world women exist solely as breeders: if they can’t contribute to the race, they’re eliminated.

The implicit assumption that logically women have no other purpose but childbearing is way sexist. It gives me fresh appreciation for Star Trek where Vulcans repress emotion but they’re apparently egalitarian, appointing T’Pau as one of their leaders. Repressing emotion on Vulcan doesn’t mean becoming malevolent or misogynist; they’re pacifist. In comparison to most emotionless aliens, they’re outliers.

Of course there are lots of aliens who, like Ikar, discover emotion is actually fun. In the alien-abduction stories Taken, Beyond the Sky and Visitors of the Night, the aliens are studying us because they’d like to regain the ability to feel. In Starman, Jeff Bridges admits his people’s peaceful unity lacks some of Earth’s fun, like singing, dancing, food and sex.

Antonio Damasio’s Descartes’ Error argues persuasively that the higher/lower approach to Brains and Heart is wrong in any case. Emotions can be an effective part of our decision-making process; if we don’t know what we want, decisions would be abstract navel-gazing. For example the logical response to someone offering to pay for sex with our child “Hmm, the odds of getting punished are low, I’ll have a fortune left over even after paying for Mandy’s therapy” or to flatten the scumbag with a lug wrench? But in fiction, the divide remains strong.

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X-files and kids! Movies and TV viewed

X-FILES‘ third season made a major addition to the mythos in the form of a black, oozing oil that can take over the bodies of whoever it comes in contact with. It’s tied in to the alien agenda, though as usual its hard to say how or what it wants. This also establishes the conspiracy is tied in with Paperclip (the operation that brought Nazi war criminals to the U.S. to work for us) and with various Japanese WW II experiments on POWs. The highlight though was Charles Nelson Reilly as smirking author Jose Chung in “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” Chung is doing a book on UFO beliefs and his clout has gotten him access to the X-Files so he follows along on Scully and Mulder’s latest investigation. As he interviews people we get a great moment where someone who encountered the agents assures Chung they were extraterrestrial men in black (“Her hair was a shade of red not found in nature.”). Overall, a good season.

S4 was a lot less interesting to me. The highpoint was the non-mytharc episode “Never Again” in which Scully refuses one of Mulder’s assignments and then asks the obvious questions: why does he always pick the assignments? Why doesn’t she have a desk in their basement office? Lampshading the sexist aspects doesn’t solve them but it was nice to see her rebel. Otherwise things proceed as normal, though with an unusual finish, “Gethsemane,” in which Mulder apparently commits suicide after learning he’s a dupe. A man tells Fox that the government uses UFO sighting to distract people from other issues they don’t want them thinking about so Mulder promoting the myth is serving the officials he thinks he’s exposing. This isn’t convincing — he’s hardly a public figure, after all — but it is a clever twist. Overall though, the show is running out of steam for me. “The lies are so deep, the only way to cover them is with an even bigger lies.”

LILO AND STITCH (2002) has a mad scientist’s genetically engineered agent of destruction escape confinement and flee to Earth, where it’s taken in by lonely little Lilo in the belief he’s a strange-looking dog. This would double-bill well with The Iron Giant for another example of a living weapon tamed by a child’s friendship. It becomes quite charming as it progresses but in the early scenes Stitch isn’t that different from ALF. With Ving Rhames as CIA agent Cobra Bubbles, Tia Carrera as Lilo’s big sister and caregiver and David Ogden Stier as Stitch’s creator. “In case you’re wondering, things did not go well.”

ALIENS ATE MY HOMEWORK (2018) has a tween boy enlisted by action figure-sized alien cops to help track down an alien supervillain plotting the conquest of Earth. Unremarkable kidvid, based on the first of a four-book series by Bruce Coville. “In a civilized galaxy, cruelty to others is the greatest crime of all.”

I had more fun with CAN OF WORMS (1999) in which a teenage nerd’s Worst Day Ever convinces him to call outer space for someone to take him away, as he’ll clearly never be happy on Earth. This gets him saddled with an oozing blob of an alien lawyer (“We could sue the pants off planet Earth!”), a wise talking dog voiced by Malcolm McDowell and a villain exploiting a legal loophole (contacting galactic civilization proves Earth’s advanced enough it doesn’t need protection). This had way too much teen angst for me to get into it, but it definitely had its moments. “You made me feel something no-one else did — that I belonged here.”

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As usual it’s alien-watching time!

ALIEN TRESPASS (2009) is a pleasant pastiche of 1950s Alien Visitor films with Eric McCormack as a pipe-smoking professor temporarily possessed by an alien cop to hunt down its escaped prisoner. This, however, leads to both the professor’s wife and a pretty student getting thoroughly confused by his behavior; meanwhile, teenagers spot the monster but can’t convince the cops. A low-key pastiche, this is more enjoyable than Mars Attacks! However in a time when the real deal’s available on DVD or YouTube, I’m not sure there’s any point to this either. “What we saw out there on the butte was a common variety meteor. Case closed.”

THE FACULTY (1998) is a flawed but fun film in which  handful of teen outcasts (including Josh Hartnett and Clea Duvall) plus Alpha Girl Jordana Brewster discover alien parasites have taken over teachers Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Piper Laurie and Famke Janssen.  And of course, they plan to infect everyone else.

This is an effective Body Snatcher film and Famke Janssen is outstanding. She starts out in bad hair and glasses, then metamorphoses into Sexy when she gets taken. That’s an old shtick (“Why Miss Janssen, without your glasses — you’re beautiful!”) but she makes it work with body language. At the start she radiates shyness and social awkwardness, then she becomes almost swaggering, telling Hartnett that “I’m going to shove my foot so far up your ass you’ll be nibbling my toes until graduation.”

Another problem is that Kevin Williamson name-checks Puppet Masters and Invasion of the Body Snatchers but apparently he hasn’t read them. Neither book involves defeating the invaders by killing their queen (Williamson may be thinking of the Puppet Masters movie in which they’re a hive mind) and the Finney novel is not a knockoff of the Heinlein (I’ll spare you the details).

As a Kids vs. Aliens film, it’s interesting to compare with 1958’s The Blob. There the teens’ problem is that nobody believes them about the monster because they’re teens and considered borderline delinquents; here, it’s all about their personal crises. Hartnett’s a brain/drug dealer with a bad family life, the high school quarterback wants to quit football and try academics, Stokely (the Duvall character) is an outcast by choice (sort of) and so on. It’s reminiscent of Buffy but more upbeat about the square pegs eventually finding they can fit comfortably into round holes. “This is where your land of fiction gets it right. We win — end of story.”

EYES BEHIND THE STARS (1978) is a Spanish film of very little interest, concerning the Men in Black trying to repress a photographers proof UFOs Are Real. I used it as a talking lamp and don’t regret it.

Based on my memories I was satisfied SPECIES (1995) wouldn’t fit the book — but when I watched it this week I realized I’d never seen it before (I’d confused it with Mira Sorvino’s Mimic for some reason). This has Ben Kingsley as scientist who’s not only Mad but also Stupid — after aliens contact him with useful scientific info, he decides their attempt to create human/ET genetic hybrids can’t possibly turn out wrong. Spoiler: it turns out wrong. It’s a version of the Midwich Cuckoos approach to conquest — grow your own kind on the target planet and let them do the work. So we have alien hybrid Natasha Henstridge trawling single bars in the hopes of getting a bun in her oven (Invasion of the Bee Girls would make a good double bill). Despite a cast that includes Marg Helgenberger and Forrest Whitaker, this is a gory and uninspired mess. Three sequels followed. “We decided to make it female so it would be more docile and controllable.”

THE ALIENS (2018) turned out to be completely off-topic for Alien Visitors as it concerns a UFOlogist carrying on his father’s research by spending every Saturday night waiting in the desert for the aliens to come. Only he’s gotten a date who doesn’t think he’s a total loser, and he’s met another cutie schlepping illegal aliens across the border — is his life turning around? A character study/rom-com rather than SF, but a cute one (though there’s an attempted rape scene I could have done without), showing such films don’t have to be Aliens vs. GUFORS.

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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?”

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