The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
by Steve Habrat
Of the all Atomic Age science fiction films I have had the pleasure of seeing over the years, the one that has always stuck with me most was Robert Wise’s eerie plea for peace The Day the Earth Stood Still. Released in 1951, just as the Cold War was getting underway and nuclear weapons were being developed and stockpiled at an alarming rate, The Day the Earth Stood Still nudged its way to the front lines of the B-movie saucer men epics and became one of the most pivotal in the genre. While many films become a product of their time, preaching a message against a political backdrop of yesterday, The Day the Earth Stood Still manages to resonate even in this day and age. Looking at The Day the Earth Stood Still today, many may find that the special effects have not aged gracefully and Gort may look like a man in a giant rubber suit, but the otherworldly atmosphere complimented by the chilling extraterrestrial howls on the soundtrack and the fear mongering radio broadcasts playing in the background of every single scene allows the film to grip you from the very first frame. It is certainly a mature work of art for the science fiction genre, one that comes from one of the most versatile directors to ever work in Hollywood.
A sleek and shiny UFO barrels into Earth’s atmosphere and parks itself right smack dab in the middle of Washington D.C. The public, the press, and the military all flock to the UFO in the hopes of catching a glimpse of an extraterrestrial. After a while, the UFO opens up and two figures, Klaatu (Played by Michael Rennie) and Gort (Played by Lock Martin), emerge from inside the ship. Klaatu announces that they have to come to earth in peace and that he wishes to speak to world leaders about an urgent matter, but naturally the military gets jumpy after he pulls a strange device from inside his spacesuit and they shoot Klaatu. In retaliation, Gort, a massive alien robot capable of disintegrating anything in his path, turns their weapons into ash. Klaatu is rushed to a local hospital where he shocks the doctors over his rapid healing abilities. While in the hospital, the President’s secretary, Haley (Played by Frank Conroy), visits Klaatu and discusses his mission. Klaatu pleads with him to gather all the world leaders together, but Haley explains that it is too difficult to get all of them together in one place. After Haley leaves, Klaatu breaks out of the hospital and begins trying to get to know the ordinary citizens of earth. He soon arrives at a boarding house where he meets pretty World War II widow Helen Benson (Played by Patricia Neal) and her young son Bobby (Played by Billy Gray). As Klaatu spends time with Helen and Bobby, he discovers that they may be able to help him on his mission, but the press and the military are growing more and more terrified of Klaatu and Gort with each passing day.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is not the type of science fiction film that relies on tons of flashy special effects (well, flashy for 1951), elaborate martian costumes, and lengthy sequences of explosions to entertain the audience. No, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a thoughtful science fiction film, one that sends a chill through ideas rather than nonstop action. Watching the film today, one can’t help but pick up the eerie similarities between the constant fearful radiobroadcasts chattering in the background and the fear mongering news of today. Klaatu and Gort haven’t been on the ground an hour and the press has already labeled them a menace to the human race, evil men from Mars who are ready to blast earth to tiny pebbles. When they emerge from their ship and state that they have come in peace, the press grows even more skeptical, especially after the nifty Gort retaliates by firing a powerful laser from his eye. And then there is the message of world peace, a plea for every man, woman, and child to live in perfect harmony. Wise and screenwriter Edmund H. North are really asking a lot of the human race, but when we had nuclear weapons aimed at each other with thumbs twitching over the triggers, you certainly have to give them credit for trying. Wise and North make the point that we turn too quickly to violence and refuse to look at situations in a thoughtful and peaceful manner. Why debate and discuss when you have the ability to blow your enemy off the face of the earth?
While Wise and North toss around these massive ideas, the actors all bring their A-game to this science fiction chiller. Rennie is easily the standout as the Chirst-like Klaatu, a peaceful extraterrestrial that is dismayed over Arlington National Cemetery and awed over the Lincoln Memorial. Klaatu is kindhearted, warm, sharp, and when it is needed, stern with the jittery masses. His meeting with Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Played by Sam Jaffe) is certainly an exchange that will make the hair or your arm stand up. Neal is superb as Helen Benson, who slowly realizes that this strange man that has shown up at her boarding house is in fact the alien that everyone is talking about. She becomes Klaatu’s capable ally and even manages to save his life in a critical moment. Gray does the typical “gee-whiz” youngster with ease and he really shines when he takes the inquisitive Klaatu on a tour of Washington D.C. Jaffe channels a certain frizzy-haired scientist as Professor Barnhardt and Hugh Marlowe stops by as Helen’s nasty boyfriend Tom, who tries to hand Klaatu over to the dreaded military once he learns who Klaatu really is. Then there is Martin as the awesome Gort, who really only walks around slowly or stands motionless. He really doesn’t have to do much to be intimidating and his presence sends an icy chill right through you even if it is a bit obvious he is wearing a rubber suit.
With its collectively strong performances, well-spoken script, and expert direction, it is quite easy to see why The Day the Earth Stood Still has become the classic that it has. Wise, who also directed films like The Haunting, West Side Story, and The Sound of Music, shows absolutely incredible range, even if this film was released before those three classics. It just absolutely amazes me that the same man directed all of those films. The Day the Earth Stood Still also manages to be fairly creepy at points, especially when Klaatu and Gort first emerge from the UFO and the stereotypical science fiction music oozes from the soundtrack. You’ll also be surprised to learn that the film holds up to multiple viewings and the suspense remains effective, especially if it watched with all the lights off. Overall, The Day the Earth Stood Still is probably the best and most important science fiction thriller of the Atomic Age. It is essential viewing for all film fanatics, especially if you’re a fan of the horror/science fiction/B-movies. Come for Gort and stay for the chilly warning of the final five minutes. You’ll be happy you did.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
That Old Haunted House: The Legend of Hell House (1973)
by Steve Habrat
If Robert Wise’s The Haunting is too tame for you, you’re in luck because there just happens to be a haunted house film that has plenty of gore and ghostly sex to please the edgier horror fan. That film happens to be John Hough’s 1973 film The Legend of Hell House, a film that is quite similar to The Haunting in the plot department but separates itself through the use of color and racy subject matter. While I personally do not find the film as creepy as Wise’s masterpiece, The Legend of Hell House has a suspenseful first act, one with slowly manifesting ectoplasm, supernatural intercourse, and tumbling chandeliers (those are the worst) but then collapses in its second act with corpses in hidden rooms and a seriously scrappy black cat (those are pretty bad too). Based on the novel by Richard Matheson, the man who brought us the classic vampire tale I Am Legend, The Legend of Hell House is never as understated and as slow building as The Haunting and it comes up short because of it. It can’t wait to show off a few special effects and throw a few of the snippy actors and actresses through the air. At least the film packs a hell of a séance sequence doused in vibrant red lighting and stunning exterior shots that conceal the house behind rolling walls of fog. It’s scenes like this that inject quite a bit of atmosphere and allow the film to receive higher marks.
The Legend of Hell House introduces us to physicist Lionel Barrett (Played by Clive Revill), who is sent to the legendary Belasco House, the “Mount Everest of haunted houses” to research the paranormal activity that is said to go on in the house. The Belasco House was originally owned by Emeric Belasco (Played by Michael Gough), a sadistic millionaire giant who enjoyed toying with the occult and may have even murdered people within the walls of the home. It is said that Emeric mysteriously disappeared after a brutal massacre at the lavish compound and was never heard from again. Barrett sets out for the home with his wife, Ann (Played by Gayle Hunnicutt), medium Florence Tanner (Played by Pamela Franklin), and Ben Fischer (Played by Roddy McDowall), another jumpy medium who has investigated the Belasco House before with another paranormal research team and was the only survivor of the previous investigation. As they explore the house, Lionel reveals to the team that he has created a machine that is able to rid the house of any nasty paranormal activity. Things become complicated when Florence becomes convinced that Emeric Belasco is not the one haunting the house but is actually his son, Daniel. As the group attempts to communicate with Daniel, madness begins to plague the group, possession is a daily occurrence, and repulsive horrors turn up behind doors that have been sealed many years.
Embracing more the macabre freedom that was surging through the veins of the horror film, The Legend of Hell House doesn’t settle on just telling us about the morbid back-story of the Belasco House. It dares to show us a little bit of the sleaze that took place and even enjoys some bloodletting from time to time. We hear about vampirism, orgies, alcoholism, mutilation, necrophilia, and cannibalism, just to name a few. Sounds like a kicking party, right? This is a film with plenty of sexuality boiling to the surface as characters plead with other characters for sex while even the shadowy spirits are getting busy. Most of it is unintentionally hilarious, especially when one character offers herself up sexually to a ghost (I dare you to watch that scene with a straight face). Despite some of the silliness, the film never seems to loose its grip on the gothic mood that creeps about it. The outside of the house is downright terrifying and certainly a home I would never dream of going in. The cherry on top is the black cat that waits in the fog outside, the ultimate Halloween touch. The interior of the home is crammed with shadows and hidden rooms that spit out decaying corpses and discolored skeletons. It’s all earth tones, which give the whole place a rotten feel, appropriate for what took place inside.
The Legend of Hell House does feature some pretty good performances, especially from Roddy McDowall as the spooked medium who refuses to help out. Only there for the large some of cash he was promised, McDowall’s Fischer is an irritating and prickly geek with oversized glasses who has to man up in the final moments of the film. I would never expect his character to suddenly become as brave as he does but that is part of the fun of his character. Revill plays Lionel much like every other head of a paranormal research team. He is deadly serious and always just a tad bit dry as he drones on about scientific theories. His wife Ann, however, suffers from a severe case of ennui and sexual repression, something the spirits of the Belasco House prey upon instantly. Wait for the scene where she tries to seduce Fischer. Rounding out the main players is Franklin as Florence, who seems vaguely similar to The Haunting’s Eleanor but also drastically different. She appears to be connected to the house and also a bit reluctant to leave. She is really put through the ringer as a nasty demonic kitty claws at her bare skin and a ghostly presence wishes to get busy with her. Franklin does get the film’s creepiest moment, a séance sequence that is lit entirely by harsh red lights. And keep a look out for Michael Gough as a very still Emeric Belasco.
While there are plenty of flashy moments strewn about The Legend of Hell House, it does take a page out of The Haunting’s playbook and does spend a good chunk of time allowing its character to really develop. They argue and fight much like they did in The Haunting but they are never allowed the depth that Wise’s characters were. There is no question that Edgar Wright’s fake trailer Don’t, which appeared in 2007’s Grindhouse, was inspired by the film. All it will take is a quick glimpse of the outside of the Belasco House and you will see what I am talking about. The second half of The Legend of Hell House is what really derails the film. The last act twist is sort of silly and doesn’t shock us nearly as much as it wants to. Despite how cheesy it may get, you can’t take your eyes of McDowall and his suddenly tough medium who was such a pain in the ass before. Overall, The Legend of Hell House is a fun little erotic spin on The Haunting and visually it is something to behold. The heavier use of special effects have caused the film to age poorly but as a lesser-known horror film of the 1970s, it actually manages to be a fun little ghost party. There is no doubt that you can do better but for those on the search for something they haven’t seen before on Halloween night, The Legend of Hell House may be just what the goth doctor ordered.
The Legend of Hell House is available on DVD.
That Old Haunted House: The Haunting (1963)
by Steve Habrat
I think that most critics and horror fans would all agree that Robert Wise’s 1963 chiller The Haunting is the king of haunted house films. Adapted from the novel by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting is a psychological spookfest that immensely enjoys developing its characters before it slow burns into a seriously terrifying blaze of unhinged madness and supernatural bangs. Reluctantly to get flashy with its special effects, Wise keeps The Haunting down to earth with only ghostly whispers just in the other room, shadowy faces crawling across the wall, and a buckling door, all of which scare the viewer more than a ghostly specter manifesting ever would. While it certainly won’t go over big with the blood and guts crowd, Wise crafts an arty and classy character study that certainly pushed the envelop for its time. While The Haunting didn’t initially blow me away when I first saw, repeated viewings and readings on the film have deepened my appreciation of Wise’s vision. The understated style of the film was the ultimate shock for me, that Wise was able to scare us so badly while barely lifting a finger. You’ll never hear knocking the same way again.
The Haunting begins with a lengthy back-story of Hill House, a sprawling mansion that has seen its fair share of suicide, death, and horror over the years. The film then speeds ahead to present day with Dr. John Markway (Played by Richard Johnson), a paranormal investigator, searching for supernatural evidence at Hill House. He has invited three other guests, Hill House inheritor Luke Sanderson (Played by Russ Tamblyn), psychic Theodora (Played by Claire Bloom), and supernaturally sensitive Eleanor Lance (Played by Julie Harris), to join him in his search. As the group settles in, they are given the history of Hill House and taken on a tour of the massive structure. While most of the occurrences are debunked instantly by Dr. Markway, the night unleashes horrors beyond the group’s imagination. To make things worse, Eleanor begins to loose her grip on reality and becomes convinced the house wants her to stay. Things go from bad to worse when Grace Markway (Played by Lois Maxwell) shows up to make sure her husband isn’t having an affair.
Right from the get go, Wise makes sure we know that Hill House is the star of this show. The house is certainly a character here as Eleanor constantly complains that the house is watching her and that it is demanding that she stay there forever. While it seems to have some ghostly spirits wandering its halls, the house itself appears to spring to life as doors swing shut, horrific banging can be heard echoing through the halls, and faces appear in the walls. We don’t need the characters to tell us that the house is evil, all we have to do is take a look around. The real beauty of The Haunting comes in the way it handles its supernatural inhabitants. There is no elaborate monster waiting to leap out of a darkened closet or damp basement and there is no doorway to Hell waiting under the stairs. It just seems like it is a home stuffed with bad energy and that is creepy enough for me. A good majority of the time, I wondered if the home was truly haunted or if one of the other guests had a sick sense of humor and was just out to give Eleanor a heart attack. For a while, Wise allows us to believe that I must say it adds a bit of comfort before he really allows his spirits to have their hair-raising fun.
When Hill House isn’t busy stealing the show, Wise keeps his camera aimed at the splendid Harris and Johnson. Harris is unforgettable as the emotionally fragile Eleanor, who falls apart at every little bump or whisper. She is incredibly naïve and repressed as she longs for the affection of Dr. Markway. Johnson never ceases to amaze as quickly tries to explain away all the activity that is taking place around Eleanor. He probes her inner demons and really digs deep into why she seems so emotionally unstable. Bloom holds her own as the lesbian psychic Theodora, who pines after the worrywart Eleanor. Wait for the scene in which a loud banging noise has Eleanor jumping into bed with Theodora. You’ll see why it raised a few eyebrows at the time of its release. Tamblyn is mostly a background player, a hard-drinking playboy who seems more interested in turning Hill House into his own private Playboy mansion rather than really getting to the bottom of anything substantial. When his fear claws its way to the surface at the end, he sure does make us feel it. The only one who I can honestly say is underused is Maxwell as John’s suspicious wife, Grace. Her character seems like it is only there to create more pandemonium but it sure is effective pandemonium. I just would have liked to see more of her.
I can’t praise The Haunting enough for showing us just how effective the tool of atmosphere can really be. Atmosphere is everything in a horror film and The Haunting has plenty to go around, that I can assure you. There is no doubt that the lengthy character development at the beginning is exhaustive but it pays off when the tragic climax freezes our blood. Wise adds another supernatural layer by the way he uses his camera throughout the course of the film. At one point, the camera zooms from the highest point of Hill House down to the face of Eleanor. Wise also twists and turns his camera while shooting the interior of the house, almost distorting it in small ways and making it seem otherworldly. Released in 1963, there is no doubt that the vague sexual repression and explicit lesbianism struck a chord with viewers. Intelligent and eloquent, The Haunting rightfully earns its spot among the horror elite. It dares to show us that very little can actually be quite a bit, something that more horror directors should pay attention to. Overall, The Haunting is one of the scariest, most unsettling films of the 1960s, one that rewards with multiple viewings and continues to terrify to this very day.
The Haunting is available on DVD.
Feature: Attack of the Communists! Seven Notable Science Fiction Films from the Cold War and The Atomic Age!
by Steve Habrat
During the Communism scare in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the Communist party was viewed by the general public as being an unseen or outside evil that could strike and corrupt you at any second. The science fiction films that were made during the time of the Communist scare were heavy on promoting this idea. The outside evils that are found in these films are mostly found in the alien force that is threatening our world. I think that these films are a great window into the era and actually comment on the way that our government portrayed the Communist party and how we should react if we are to come in contact with them. The nation was perceiving them as monsters or aliens that could arrive at any moment and try to destroy our forms of government and destroy us as individuals. The alien attacks in these films could also represent the idea that the Communists would attack and try to start a revolution. These films also play well into the paranoia that was working its way across the country. They play on the fear of the atomic bomb and the idea that a force that we are not familiar with could have a weapon more powerful than anything that we have. These films suggest that we could be attacked at any time and that there would be no warning. Each one of these films presents a different aspect on the atomic bomb scare and the idea of a foreign or outside evil.
The film The Day the Earth Stood Still, directed by Robert Wise in 1951, is a very well known film from this era. The film is about two aliens, Klaatu and Gort, that come from another planet to Washington D.C. to send us a warning about our violent ways. Klaatu warns us that if we do not start living peacefully, then we will be destroyed by a race of super robots that were created by Klaatu’s planet. This film is implying the idea of an evil outside force that patrols the galaxy and tries to keep everyone in line. This is alluding to the paranoia of an outside evil attacking with a very powerful weapon that we are not able to control. This also goes along with the ideas that if we ignored this outside evil and kept living a certain way, then we would eventually be met with a revolution that would change the United States.
Throughout The Day the Earth Stood Still, the alien Klaatu is also portrayed as a normal man who walks around with the humans and is not even noticed. This can go along with the thought that Communists can be anyone and anywhere. The film implies that we could be mingling with a very someone very dangerous and we may not even realize it. It is also made very clear to us that the aliens are ahead of us when it comes to science and technology. Klaatu says that if we do not live peacefully, then they will unleash an army of super robots that are capable of destroying whole planets. This plays off the paranoia that was felt about the Soviets working to try to create an atomic bomb.
The second film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed by Don Siegel in 1956, is much more outspoken about its themes about the morals of the Communist party. The film focuses on a small town that is being over run by a mysterious alien force that duplicates the people that make up the town. This force, which comes in form of alien pods that change people from unique individuals into mindless machines who show no personality or emotion. Once again, just like Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still, the alien duplicates are normal, everyday people that blend in. This plays along with idea that communists could be anywhere, in any town and that they were slowly building a following in the United States. At the end of the film, the main character, Dr. Bennell, has a conversation with Dr. Kauffman, who has been attacked by the body snatchers. During this conversation, Dr. Kauffmann says “Love, desire, ambition, faith-without them, life is so simple, believe me”. This line of dialogue alludes to what the United States public believed that the Communist party stood for. It points out that anyone who considers himself or herself a party member is someone who is trained to have no emotion and live by certain guide lines thought up by an outside force.
The weapon scare idea can be found throughout Invasion of the Body Snatchers although it may not be as obvious. The weapon can be found in the alien pods. These pods can be used as a weapon of mass fear. It is used to change the people from one way of thinking and then completely changing their whole personality. The pods are also used to keep the citizens in line and not to try to retaliate against the forces that are using them.
Them!, which was directed by Gordon Douglas in 1954, plays on the idea of an outside evil in a different way. Instead of aliens from space, the outside evil that threatens the country is giant, mutated ants. These ants slowly start emerging and killing anyone that they come in contact with. Soon two queen ants escape the nest and disappear. The army is racing to try to find these two queen ants before they can start other colonies of ants. Them! makes it very clear that it is tackling the subject of the experimentation of atomic weapons and the dangers that can arise. The film is quick to criticize that development of atomic weapons and the damages that they can have that don’t necessarily consist of destroy cities. The ants could be alluding to all the deformations that happened to some of the people once we dropped the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During this era of paranoia about outside evils and atomic weapons, it was widely known that atomic bombs caused body deformations from radiation. The ants also could be representing the weapons that have come from a foreign place. The army has a hard time trying to find a way that can stop the ants from their wave of destruction.
Them! also touches on the paranoia that Communists can be anywhere and that it is essential to find them and destroy them. This idea shows up in the two queen ants that escape and are trying to start other colonies. It mirrors the thought that Communists are somewhere in our country trying to make their numbers grow and eventually take over the world. This runs with the themes found in The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The propaganda that was presented that the Communist party was growing in numbers in this country and that soon they would take over the world.
Forbidden Planet, directed by Fred M. Wilcox in 1956, is a film that explores outside evils and atomic paranoia in a different way than the other films I have discussed so far. Instead of the fear of attack on our own soil, we are presented with some of our citizens stumbling on a different way of life and how we react to it. The film is set in the future and follows the crew of a United Planets Cruiser who is set out to explore a planet that all life seems to have disappeared from. The crew meets Dr. Morbius, who warns them to leave the planet and to save themselves from some sort of danger. The perception of Communists soon presents itself in Dr. Morbius’ daughter Altaira. In one particular scene, Commander Adams and Altaira kiss and afterward she asks him what the point of kissing is. She tells him that she feels no emotion from the kiss but as the film goes on she slowly starts showing emotion for Commander Adams. It is also clear that Dr. Morbius is very protective of his daughter and has slowly trained her in almost a Communist way of thinking.
Outside evil also shows up in Forbidden Planet, and it comes in form of an invisible monster that attacks without any warning. The monster attacks the crew multiple times and plays into the paranoia of a foreign attack. It soon becomes known that the monster is being created by Dr. Morbius. The crew learns that the planet was made up of an extremely intelligent race that created all different kinds of inventions including a device called plastic educator that allows the user to increase their intelligence. This aspect of the film could be addressing the fact that the Soviets were racing to try to develop new technology. It shows that this is supposed to apply to the race to create an atomic bomb. It all points to the idea that Dr. Morbius may be a dreaded Communist! He only lives to work and push things forward rather than stop to experience other aspects of life.
Invaders From Mars, directed by William Cameron in 1953, is heavy on the themes of outside evils and paranoia of atomic weapons. But there are several small parts to this film that are different than the films I have talked about so far. The film follows a young boy named David, who sees a UFO crash into the field behind his house. He then tells his father, George, who is a scientist and believes that his son actually did see something. George goes out to investigate the field and to see if his son is telling the truth. After George does not return for several hours, his wife calls the police and reports him missing. Soon after his disappearance, George turns back up at the house and he seems very different. He is turned from a kind and loving father into a cold and emotionless person. We soon find out that George has had some sort of chip implanted into the back of his head and this chip is what has altered his personality. It turns out that some aliens have burrowed underground and have set up a base. The aliens once more are the outside evil that threatens our country. After George is brainwashed by the martians, he starts going out and finding other people that can be turned into emotionless machines who go out and do errands for the head martian. There is one particular scene where we see George lead the character Colonel Fielding out to the fields and we see the aliens capture him and turn him into a mindless slave. This goes along with theme that Communists could be anyone and even be a part of our own government and army. This theme also shows up in the character of the police captain, who has also been brainwashed and means to do harm. This theme alludes to the ideas that Communists were recruiting for their party in our own country.
The unusual part of Invaders From Mars is the aliens themselves and even the head martain that controls all the slaves. At the end of the film, we get to see the martians that serve the leader. They are presented to us as mindless slaves who only live to serve their leader. These slaves all look identical with their green suits and faces that look very similar to gas masks. The whole point of the martian attack is to try to sabotage weapon development that is taking place in the town where they landed. This film falls perfectly into propaganda and paranoia felt at the time of the films release. The slave’s uniforms eerily resemble the protective suits and gas masks that were worn by scientists and the suits that were advertised to the public to protect against an atomic bomb attack. The lead martian is also interesting because he could be mirroring the ideas of the people that made up the heads of the Communist party. It seems to say that they only wanted to benefit themselves and were not concerned about any of the general public. There is even one scene where David begs the head martain not to hurt his family or friends. We get to see the leaders reaction to his pleas, which is indifferent and he just disregards the young boy. Just like the other films, particularly Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the film is very vocal that it is attacking the Communist party and wants to explore the views of the Communist party.
The Angry Red Planet, directed by Ib Melchior, is the only film that I screened from the 1960s but still has quite a bit of meaning when it comes to outside evils and the fear of some kind of attack. The Angry Red Planet is about a group of astronauts that were sent to explore Mars but once they reached the planet, strange things start to occur. The themes of outside evils are present but they are presented in a very unusual way. In the other films that I screened, the outside evil was always very blatant, but in The Angry Red Planet the outside evil blends in with the landscape. At one point, the astronauts leave their spaceship to go out and explore the planet. One of the astronauts, Iris, breaks away from the group and happens to find a strange plant. Once she gets close enough, the plant begins to attack her and tries to kill her. This presents the outside evil in a drastically different way than the other films have so far. The idea that the outside evil could be around the corner and that we run the risk of walking straight into the trap of the enemy. This also shows up in the monster Bat-Rat-Spider-Crab monster that at first only appears to be some sort of tree. When the astronauts stumble upon this creature, they hack at one of its legs with a machete, which then awakens the monster and causes it to attack the astronauts. Near the end of the film, one of the astronauts, Thomas, is attacked by a giant ameba but survives. His arm is badly injured and seems to only get worse. When the astronauts return to earth, the doctors who examine the astronaut can’t seem to find a way to fix Thomas’ arm. The doctors trying to find a cure for his arm could be hinting at the hunt that was taking place across America. This could be a direct reference to the government trying to find a way to stop Communism from spreading across the United States.
At the end of The Angry Red Planet, the martians that inhabit Mars send a message to earth with the astronauts. The message goes: “Men of Earth, we of the planet Mars give you this warning. Listen carefully and remember. We have known your planet Earth since the first creature crawled out of the primeval slime of your seas to become man. For millennia, we have followed your progress, for centuries, we have watched you, listened to your radio signals and learned your speech and your culture. And now, you have invaded our home. Technological adults, but spiritual and emotional infants. We kept you here deciding your fate. Had the lower forms of life of our planet destroyed you, we would not have interfered. But you survived. Your civilization has not progressed beyond destruction, war and violence against yourselves and others. Do as you will to your own and to your planet, but remember this warning – Do Not Return To Mars. You will be permitted to leave for this sole purpose – Carry The Warning To Earth. Do Not Come Here. We can and will destroy you, all life on your planet, if you do not heed us. You have seen us, been permitted to glimpse our world. Go now. Warn mankind not to return unbidden”. This message heavily reflects the mentality during this time, playing on the idea that a foreign force is watching and studying us. The claim that they have weapons that could destroy us seems to be a reflection of the fear of atomic weapons that are possessed by a mysterious foreign power. This end warning is very similar to the warning that Klaatu gives at the end of The Day the Earth Stood Still.
It Came From Outer Space, directed by Jack Arnold in 1953, takes the issue of foreign outside evils and weapons scares in a slightly different direction form some of the other films that have been mentioned so far. The film still deals with the same fears that were circulating through the country, but it more attacks the propaganda that was very popular for the time. The film plays on lies and rumors that were getting passed along. The film is set in a small Arizona town and follows a scientist, John, and his girlfriend, Ellen, as they try to examine a strange meteor that falls to earth. They soon learn that the meteor is actually a UFO that has accidentally crashed. The alien’s possess bodies of certain civilians and turn them from normal, everyday people into emotionless machines. John soon learns that the aliens mean no harm and all they request is time to repair their ship in peace. This plays on the idea of an outside evil but it also suggests that sometimes we deem something evil when we actually do not know much about the subject. We go off what we pick up from certain places and lies that could be fed to us through propaganda. At the end of the film, the sheriff of the town decides that he does not trust the martains and sets out to kill them. The sheriff also has a large group of people with him that want to kill the martians. This could be reflecting the hostility that the United States had against the Communist party. The people who want to kill the martians in the film do not quite understand them and by not having all the facts, they label the martians as an outside evil.
While It Came From Outer Space is heavy on the issue of propaganda, it also finds time to address that atomic bomb paranoia. The martains do say that if we are not to leave them alone while they work, they have a weapon that can destroy our planet. This is revealed to us at the end of the film in a speech given by one of the aliens, which is very similar to the messages in The Angry Red Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The film encourages a more peaceful way at looking at certain topics but it leaves a slight sense of unease, as we are still unfamiliar with these visitors.
All these science-fiction films of the 1950’s and 1960’s were obviously made to dazzle the audience. It is hard to believe that these films were also presenting more intelligent information rather than just entertaining you for an hour and a half in typical B-movie fashion. They are perfect reflections of a time when paranoia had the upper hand over a majority of the population and the constant fear that something foreign could cross over and find a way change our way of life. These films could almost be looked at as parodies of all the propaganda films that were being shown. If you look beyond the surface, you will see more than just flashy special effects. You will also find well-stated ideas.