CHARGED WITH MILLION-VOLT EXCITEMENT
Perhaps not. But worth watching? Perhaps yes.
B movies can be an acquired taste. To enjoy them, one has to be able to laugh at them and suspend not only belief, but sometimes logic and one's critical faculties. One doesn't watch them for acting or originality or Bergman-like depthB movies are fun and that's good enough. Sometimes it's okay to lick the frosting off the cupcake and toss the stump; this isn't about philosophy, we're talking about gangsters and monsters and aliens and juvenile delinquents (and vampires and G-men and all the usual suspects). Because of that, when one of these movies stands out for those reasons or something, it becomes that (paste) diamond in the rough. Still costume jewelry, but the sparkle catches the eye and raises it above the others. (Sometimes they're just boring or stupid. Still get to laugh and there's nothing wrong with that.)
Invisible Invaders (1959) could go both ways (such things wax and wane in their subjectivity). But in the end, it has a bit more in the asset column. The premise inspires imagined comedy skits about producers thinking "What a great idea for a moviethe villains are invisible. We'll save a bundle on actors and wardrobe." And, perhaps there was an aspect of that involved as it is clearly made on a shoestring. Sure it has a supporting (more like a cameo) role for the ever-ancient John Carradine who made maybe a million movies, most of which were crap (though generally the "fun" kind of crap and he managed to lend a sort of warped integrity to his roles) but there's no real stars here. John Agar, who despite being in two of John Ford's "Cavalry Trilogy"1 1949's Sands of Iwo Jima (director: Allan Dwan),2 spent a career in B movies.
No stars, low budget, weird premisealiens plan to destroy the earth if it does not stop nuclear testing; it'll be done by inhabiting the bodies of the dead to create an armydeck stacked against it. But Invisble Invaders pulls it off as well as anything born under that black sun could.
Made during the 1950the "Atom Age," as some would have called it at the timeit was one of the many, many movies that exploited the fear and ignorance concerning atomic radiation and its effects. Spurred on by the "race for atomic supremacy," a scientist dies in a lab explosion while working on a weapon. That scientist (Carradine) turns up later. Not too much later, though. At 67 minutes, the movie is short and it moves along quite fast with spare dialogue and a narrator (at times coming off in the sort of perfunctory manner of "Dragnet" or similar crime dramas). The narrator thing is both a crutch to speed pacing and cut the need for dialogue to explain things and much of the time pretty unnecessary. In other words: part of the fun.
Returning from the grave, the scientist visits a fellow atomic scientist and gives him the dire warning. "He" is from a race of invisible aliens who are able to inhabit the bodies of the dead (made up in a way that presages the "look" used by George Romero in his 1968 Night of the Living Dead). They are from another galaxy and visited the moon some 20,000 years ago. At that time the moon was inhabited. The aliens killed them off and turned the moon into an "impregnable base" for their spacecraft. The invisibility is due to their ability to "change the molecular structure" of their bodies. A nice thing about these movies is that, while the science sucks, it's so much fun.
Earth's people and technology were so underdeveloped that they were left alone. Alone, that is, until they began experimenting with nuclear and rocket devices. Now, Earth poses a threat and they demand that Earth cease and desist in its development of atomic power and weapons. If not, "the dead will kill the living." Of course he isn't believed:
CHARGES OF SPACE ATTACK BRANDED RIDICUOUS!
The Daily Capitol
THIS TIME IT'S INVISIBLE SAUCERS FROM SPACE
LITTLE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE FROM SPACE
[blank front page]
FIRST PHOTO OF AN INVISIBLE INVADER
New York Courier
Great stuff. Like the narrator, the papers are a stock device (the only thing left out is spinning them into view) to speed things along and dispense with dialogue and explanation.
The scientist doesn't know what to do. No one believes him and he may be doubting himself:
Dear Lord, I pray that I am insane. That all that happened is all in my mind. I pray that tomorrow the sun will shine again on living things. Not on a world where only the dead walk the earth.
But it is all too true and the invaders make a show of their abilities. These warnings are very serious. A fatal air crash (into the high mountains of Syracuse, New York). A car crash (taken from the end of the 1958 Robert Mitchum movie Thunder Road). A model truck that crashes off the road into a model dam. The dam explodes (unclear if they are supposed to happen at the same time or there is a cause and effect thing going on) . Perhaps the greatest "warning" is the extensive use of stock footage of floods and fire. Lots of fire. Buildings collapse. An invader takes over the booth at a hockey game and warns the populace again (obviously the best venue for such thingsaccording to the footage used, people listened to hockey games in large outdoor stadiums back then).
PANIC GRIPS U.N. AS WORLD GETS WAR WARNING
New York Courier
EARTH WARNED OF MASS ATTACK FROM SPACE!
Earth is given three days before all humans will be destroyed. Meanwhile, the invaders perpetrate their "worldwide reign of terror" and "sabotage." The helpful narrator speaks of the "vast army of destruction that could not be killed" causing "panic" and turning the "civilized peoples of the Earth into howling mobs."
But the plucky earthlings refuse to give up. The scientist is brought to an underground bunker by the military so he can figure out how to fight the invaders (who really aren't invisible once inside their "army"). An invader is captured using an acrylic spray (the scientist hypothesizes that they enter the body through the pores"osmosis"). It escapes but during the escape they find the aliens' weakness. The means to triumph over the invaders involves "resonance created visibility." Really. And a specially constructed (goofy-looking) gun.3
Snatched from the jaws of defeat, we learn that "Nations of the Earth could work together for a common cause. But out of the holocaust of war, in which a dictatorship of the universe had been defeated, a lesson had been learned."
Probably something about how atomic energy is bad and results in the horrors of stock footage.
Though low budget, the "invisible" effects actually work pretty well. The invaders don't seem to walk, but shuffle along the ground. By puling something through dirt, they were able to make it appear that something was pushing the dirt ahead of it as it walked. When they arrive in the cemetery, the tree branches pull back and are released after they pass. Doors open and close by themselves, a microphone lifts into the air. The air is sucked out of a seat cushion to show one had sat down. Sure, it's all cheap and simply done, but it works for the movie.
The view of the not-so invisible invaders (wait until the end) is all post-production addition to the film. They appear as glowing phantoms leaving the bodies. And that "resonance" hinted at above is shown by concentric circles pulsating around the victim's head, like some comic book Spider Sense. Okay, that is a cheesy effect.
Even has a nice, percussive score. The sort of fun sci-fi flick that once made Saturday afternoons fun.
So, perhaps It! The Terror Beyond Space (1958) wasn't entirely a fluke. Director Edward L. Cahn made movies from the beginning of sound until the early 1960s. Rarely working in "A" pictures, he produced dozens of sometimes solid, but fairly unremarkable movies in a variety of genres. Between 1957 and 1960 he made a series (along with more of his standard programmers) of horror and/or sci-fi films.
Cahn is best known for 1957's Invasion of the Saucer Men and the movie already mentioned. ...Saucer Men, a fan favorite, introduced bug-eyed aliens to the unsuspecting citizenry and It!..., his masterpiece (depending on how one's tastes run for B movies), involves a crew trapped in a spaceship with an alien predator. (Familiar? Think Ridley Scott's classic 1979 film Alien.) With a low budget, Cahn was able to come up with some genre films that have stood as classics of their sort, fondly remembered from childhood and the guilty pleasures of an adult.
Though Invisible Invaders is hardly in the category of It!... or up there with some of the others, it's still a nice little B picture. For those who've acquired that taste.
1Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). The third film in the trilogy was 1950's Rio Grande.
2In which John Wayne offers a cigarette to a soldier just before being shot and killed. I can't be the only one who finds that wickedly comic.
3If actual science was necessary (or desired) here, one would eventually start to wonder why creatures with interstellar spacecraft need to inhabit bodies to do their dirty work (they are tangible entities). Sure, there's a possible explanation floated around but come on. Or why not a single one thinks to use a weapon (say: a gun) until the very end. This stuff shouldn't keep anyone up at night. Stop thinking so hard.
(Sources: DVD double feature with Journey to the Seventh Planet, the opening quote was taken from the movie trailer available on the DVD; The Internet Movie Database was used to date/fact check and for some trivia)