Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Teenagers from Outer Space

There's actually some interesting effects work and camera direction going on at the start of the movie as the aliens silently step out of their flying saucer as it arrives on Earth. But then they open their mouths, and the goofiness begins.
These aliens are looking for a planet that's suitable for them to raise gargons, an air-breathing lobster-like food staple on their planet. This will require the destruction of all life on earth. One of the aliens, Derek (played by David Love), sympathetic to native cultures, tries to stop the mission, but is defeated and has to escape to the nearby small town. The others leave the gargon behind and follow Derek into town to capture him.
Although cheap (the budget was reputed to be $14,000), the film is surprisingly well-directed and shot. Too bad there was nothing in the budget for actors. Actually, that may be unfair. Yes, everyone talks in that stilted 1950s monster-movie stylized dialogue where no one uses contractions and the aliens' performances are constantly in danger of going over the top, but there is some level of intelligence being brought to the usual technobabble of the genre. The film even does without the usual narration that seems to accompany most low-budget sci-fi ficks of the era. It never rises above silly melodrama but there are moments of adequacy in the film and, dare I say, near competence. But the limitations of the budget are all too apparent during the climax when the gargon reappears, having grown to resemble a giant lobster. Or rather the shadow of a giant lobster, since that's all we ever see of it.
This film is probably closest in spirit to a Wood film than any other so far. First, there is the title of Teenagers from Outer Space, which is similar to Grave Robbers from Outer Space, the working title of Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space. Also, this film features actor Harvey B. Dunn who also appeared in Wood's Night of the Ghouls (the sequel to Bride of the Monster).
But perhaps the greatest similarity is that this film was written, produced, directed, photographed and edited by Tom Graef. Graef, like Wood, presumably thought of himself as a one-person film studio, but Graef had some training in the industry as he had worked for Roger Corman. He even plays a small part in the film, as Wood would sometimes do. There were rumours that Graef actually starred in the film using the "David Love" moniker, but this turned out not to be true. Love and Graef were actually romantic partners and this film was presumably intended to launch both their careers. But Graef, unlike Wood, shows some talent. He makes the most of his limited budget, and even the ultra-cheap effects shots of the lobster-shadow show that Graef was aware of these limitations and did his best to compensate for them in his shot compositions.
This would be Graef's only film. In November 1959, just months after the film premiered to mostly negative reviews, Graeff suffered a breakdown and announced that God had spoken to him. He tried to have his name legally changed to Jesus Christ II. No one really knows what became of him for most of the 1960s, but later in the decade he tried to re-enter the movie business by seeking money for his new film, Orf. He committed suicide on December 19, 1970. He was only 41 years old.

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