Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Teenagers From Outer Space (1957)
Writer, Director, Producer, DP:  Tom Graeff
Special Effects: Paul Blaisdell (uncredited) Tom Graeff
Filming locations: Hollywood, USA

Alien teenagers – who apparently age faster on their planet – land in Hollywood to determine if Earth is suitable grazing land for their food stock. Turns out, after some initial confusion concerning nitrogen, the “gargons” will grow a thousand (or a million it’s not quite clear) times larger than their original size and do so really fast depending upon how much they eat (isn’t that always the case!) And these are not your average milk brained ungulates. They are, wait for it………Maine lobsters! You are familiar with the theory of panspermia and the existence of extremophiles aren’t you? There could be lobster everywhere in our puny universe. After all they are uniquely built for extreme and diverse environments. Give them wings and they are triphibians - man-eating, voracious, triphibian lobsters the size of houses sweeping the planet like a plague of locust. But enough of that. There is a fly in the drawn butter. One of the teenagers Derek (David Love) is pissed off.

I hate my Father!

 He informs us he didn’t know his parents (an important plot point) and was raised in a cubicle! I mean holy shit we can all identify with that. He describes their way of life as dehumanizing; an engineered existence of eugenics and selective breading.  Derek is pissed because, perhaps on the long trip during bathroom breaks, he read a book that tells of the way it was before a nasty autocratic dictatorship took hold. It tells of a better time before they went from planet to planet depopulating the inhabitants with their miraculously sweet tender enormous gargons. It’s a book about freedom and happiness the size of a little red book, or a pocket bible, or a tiny diary with ideas for shell fish and wine pairings randomly scribbled down.  Also inflaming Derek is shipmate Thor (Bryan Grant one of the movies investors), who is a raging psychopath with deplorable interpersonal skills who supports the whole kill the weak feed the strong thing. He uses a “focusing disintegrator ray” to kill the first living thing he sees, a pet dog. Distraught Derek attempts a mini-mutiny against the crew but screws up and must scamper away like the liberal idealistic rat he is almost being turned into a skeleton in the process. Thus the scene is set for David to get to know and save the human race. He is taken in as a border by a sweet young lady Betty Morgan (Dawn Bender) and her Gramps (Harvey Dunn who was in Ed Wood’s Night of the Ghouls two years later - Go Gramps!) In his pursuit of David, Thor kills 6 people in one afternoon as we see a skeletons drop like WW II French soldiers. In the meantime the one gargon, part of their initial test stock I guess, has become very big and is killing cops and such. At one point on a hill on the outskirts of town it rears up on its tail and screams bloody gargon murder. Luckily Derek knows just how to tap in to the local electric power substation with his ray gun while Betty calls the electric company to implore them to ramp up the power and zap! One fried gorgan. BUT WHERE IS THE BUTTER!!  Derek falls for Betty and they kiss. But it is a bitter sweet kiss AND THERE IS NO BUTTER.

Sacrificial Image from an Outsider Film

There are several car chases – with some cool looking cars – and Derek eventually surrenders to Thor repenting of his liberal freedom-loving ways. Then the reveal that Derek is the supreme ruler’s son. The supreme ruler, having been advised of the gargon favorable environment, is leading an invasion force – something like a large alien lobster version of a cattle drive I guess – and asks that his son Derek guide them in. But, perhaps swayed by his love for Betty and the other wonderful humans,  Derek sends them straight into the ground Blue Angels Style sacrificing himself in the process.

This movie, with all its low budget silliness, has a very down beat feel. There are no hot rods, malt shops, DJs or sock hops and these things would have cost money that wasn’t around. Still the sad back story of Derek who, only a short time after finding out who his father is, sends an entire fleet of  spaceships to their doom in a final suicidal blaze is a bit bleak to say the least.
The DIY director Tom Graeff (who also plays news reporter Joe in the movie) had enrolled in the UCLA Theatre Arts program as a teen. He made a 16 minute humorous recruiting film for Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa CA that was narrated by Vincent Price. He made a few other short films and worked as Roger Corman’s assistant on the set of Not Of This Earth. He then secured the money – in part from Bryan Grant who played Thor and his good looking wife Ursula who played the university secretary – to film TFOS working the same year that I Was and Teenage Frankenstein and I Was a Teenage Werewolf were released.

Of course the movie with its down beat feel and bottom basement effects didn’t make much more than the original investment. Two years later Graeff took out a full page ad in the LA Times proclaiming he was to be called Jesus Christ II (everyone deserves a sequel especially a director.) The next year Graeff filed to legally change his name to Jesus Christ II. This was opposed by the always vigilant and senseless Christian Defense League and he was denied. He then, apparently, left for the east coast returning to Hollywood in 1964 to work as an editor on the low budget film The Wizard of Mars. After trying to pedal the script for the unbelievable sum of $500,000 insinuating that Robert Wise and Carl Reiner, amongst others, were involved in the project he was outed by LA Times columnist Joyce Haber as JC II. This put an end to his Hollywood career.

Jobless and with no prospects he moved to La Mesa CA not more than two miles from my residence and committed suicide with carbon monoxide in his garage.

According to Wikipedia in a 1993 interview with Scarlett Letter magazine, Bryan Grant and wife Ursula stated that Graeff and co-star David Love were romantically involved. Shortly after the article many like-minded fans began to refer to him as the gay Ed Wood (no reference for this claim.) There is one line in the movie that struck me as Ed Woodish spoken by Derek to Betty: “You are not familiar with the focusing disintegrator ray? It projects an isolated beam which separates the molecules of living material in chain reaction…all but the solids, the skeletal braces.” That aside one can certainly read into the movie a definite outsider’s point of view. Disowned by parents, love unconsummated, harassed and condemned by colleagues. The IMBD message board says a biography is in the works. Let’s hope so. Three butter soaked Merkins. Check it out.