Monday, 18 March 2019

Teenagers From Outer Space (1959)

A rather bad low budget 1950s sci-fi B movie with numerous flaws but performed by very earnest unknown actors. Some viewers no doubt will find this film to be good fun.

Directed by Tom Graeff
Produced by Tom Graeff
Screenplay by Tom Graeff
Music by Tom Graeff
Cinematography Tom Graeff
Edited by Tom Graeff
Production company: Tom Graeff Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 85 minutes
Budget: $20,000


David Love: Derek
Dawn Bender: Morgan
Bryan Grant : Thor
Harvey B. Dunn: Gramps Morgan
Tom Graeff: Joe Rogers
King Moody: Spacecraft Captain
Helen Sage: Nurse Morse
Frederick Welch: Dr. C.R. Brandt, MD
Carl Dickinson: Gas Station Attendant
Sonia Torgeson: Alice Woodward
Billy Bridges: Driver Picking Up Thor
James Conklin: Prof. Simpson
Gene Sterling: The Alien Leader
Ralph Lowe: Moreal (Spaceship Crewman)
Bill DeLand: Saul (Spaceship Crewman)

An alien invasion plot! 

Earth to become an alien food-breeding pasture! 
Ray-gun wielding aliens in flying saucers! 
Beware - The Gargons!! 
Alien mutiny and treason! 
An interplanetary romance! 


And Tom Graeff did ALL this?

Read on for more…..

Spoilers follow below…..

A couple of astronomers in a hilltop observatory briefly spot a strange object in the sky - and that is the last we will see of them in this film.

The object in question is an alien spacecraft seemingly drilling through the atmosphere before burrowing into the ground and burying itself up to its saucer-shaped main section.

A little black dog called Sparky attempts to make first contact and is rewarded by being incinerated by a disintegrator-gun wielded by an alien with the god-like name of Thor. Why? Because he can, and because the dog is there!

“Go below and bring up the young gargon specimen. Now the decision depends on its reactions” 

The aliens’ mission on Earth is to assess the planet’s suitability as a grazing ground for their Gargon herds that consist of air-breathing lobster-like creatures which are the aliens’ primary food source.

A chemical analysis (by means of an instrument strangely enough labelled in English, “Multi-channel Mixer!”) of the local air and soil determines that the planet meets the minimum requirements for Gargon survival. A Gargon hatchling is then used to confirm their findings.

Talk about convergent evolution! The hatchling looks like nothing more than a lobster destined to be served up at a restaurant. The aliens themselves look just like humans but talk and sound as if they are characters in some spaghetti historical epic movie with English-dubbed voices.

Derek: Wait, Captain. I have found evidence of intelligent beings on this planet! 

Thor: Of what concern are foreign beings? 

An alien crew member with the strangely ordinary earth-like name of Derek (why not Colin?) discovers an inscription on Sparky's dog tag among the poor pooches’ skeletal remains. Derek infers from this that only intelligent beings would provide an animal with an identification tag. Therefore, the presence of intelligent life would automatically make the Earth unsuitable for the introduction of Gargons, as the native inhabitants might damage the herds or that the fast-growing creatures will eventually overrun and destroy any other organism they come into contact with. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that may be the general idea!

“We are the supreme race. We have the supreme weapons” 

Derek is in fact a member of an alien underground movement that celebrates the more humane epochs of their planet's history. His crew mates, on the other hand, view such notions with disdain seeing that they consider themselves to be a part of a superior “supreme” race and view "foreign beings" with contempt no matter how intelligent they may be. Such notions as "families" and "friendships" are forbidden on their world. We vigorously shake our collective fists at you, damn alien Nazis! 

“When we return to our planet, the high court may well sentence you to torture and death for your treason.”

Realizing that his crew mates are looking at him askance as if he were some kind of tree-hugging, kale-nibbling, tofu-eating, left-leaning, liberal do-gooder, he quickly pulls a gun on his comrades to show that he means business. However, dopey Derek is soon overpowered and disarmed in a move that even Maxwell Smart wouldn’t have fallen for. 

Their ‘canary-in-the-cage’ Gargon begins to take a turn for the worse in Earth's atmosphere. While his crew mates are scratching their heads over this, Derek heads for the hills, flies the coop, hightails it outta’ there, goes on the lam, scarpers and makes himself scarce, before he can be marched off to the isolation chamber.

A short time later, the Gargon begins to revive. When the Captain reports Derek’s actions via a tele-radio conversation with the alien leader, it is revealed that Derek is in fact the leader’s son and heir to his home world’s throne. Derek, however, is unaware of this.

After ordering the gargon to be secured with (oohh, yeah!) “expandable leg-bands,” the captain and two of his remaining three crewman return to their base while Thor is sent to hunt down Derek, and if need be to kill him in order to protect their mission to Earth.

Derek decides to try and track down the dead dog’s owner using the home address he found on the dog's tag and apologize for what happened to their dog.

A gas station attendant directs Derek to the address contained on the dog tag, and in no time at all he finds himself standing face-to-face with Betty Morgan and her annoying fringe. She lives with her grandfather and they have a spare bedroom at their place which is for rent. Oh no, it’s Klaatu and “The day the Earth Stood Still” all over again!

Bear in mind that neither the grandfather nor his granddaughter have ever seen Derek in town before, and the fact that he is standing before them attired in a strange-looking jump suit decorated with masking tape. They somehow assume that this weird stranger has come to rent their spare bedroom, and then proceed to invite him in to show him around. This kind of stretches small town hospitality a bit too far.

Derek is now a boarder and it seems that young Betty is pretty much taken with him. But wait! Doesn’t she have a boyfriend by the name of Joe Rogers, local newspaper reporter, played by none other than Tom “everywhere” Graeff? Might such a scenario engender potential conflict and supply a handy sub-plot? No such luck. Joe’s paper is getting him to investigate reports of a flying saucer and he’ll be too occupied dealing with that.

When Joe informs Betty that he cannot make their swim date, Betty and Derek spend the day roaming around the local area together. Nothing there to make a boyfriend be worried about!

In the meantime, the mighty Thor has obtained a lift into town and has reached the gas station where Derek was given directions to Betty’s place. Thor in his usual foul mood, forces the attendant to tell him where Derek went. He then zaps both the car driver and the station attendant with his ray gun, reducing them to skeletons.

Derek turns out to be a quick study as Betty teaches him to drive a car before they proceed to her friend, Alice’s house.

“Derek! Hey, I like that. Come on in! The water's fine!” 

Betty introduces Derek to man-eater Alice who emerges from the water in the pool like a human female version of Jaws. Alice then offers Derek a pair of her father’s swimming trunks to wear. I mean, would you want to don a pair of someone’s old man’s over-sized trunks or underwear? Really? Shudder!

Derek suddenly drops the dog-tag into the pool. Betty reads the tag and recognizes it as being her dog’s tag. Leaving Alice to her predatory circling of the pool, Derek takes Betty to the place where the spaceship landed and shows her Sparky's sad skeletal remains. At first, Betty does not believe him, so he proceeds to describe Thor's weapon and points out that it can also vaporize humans. Betty vows to help Derek stop his crew-mate.

We next see clueless kindly Grandpa in his front yard watering his plants when all of a sudden Thor pulls up outside his house in a car. He too has quickly learned how to “pilot” a vehicle. Of course, Grandpa happily informs a totally weird-looking and insolent foul-tempered stranger as to the whereabouts of his own granddaughter and the equally weird-looking stranger he has just rented a room to.

What follows is a kind of loop consisting of Derek and Betty heading off someplace, Thor being hot on their heels and just missing them and somebody being turned into a skeleton.

Thor next high-tails it over to Alice’s house and makes his way to the side of the pool. “Dum, dum, dum ,dum dum, dum…Alice senses the presence of male prey and slices her way through the water. Thor isn’t here to dangle his line in the water and hook a tasty morsel. He simply demands to know where Derek and Betty have gone. Alice, having let one too many get away, becomes irate with Thor’s manner and threatens to call the police. The result? Extreme instant emaciation! Dem bones! Dem bones!
Back at grandpa’s place, Betty changes back into her dress and writes a note to her grandpa who is blissfully sleeping on the sofa coz what’s what grandpas are supposed to do. She and Derek then take off together.

“I'm not going to keep a job where this sort of thing goes on” 

Next to be vaporized and skeletized is the Head of the local college’s science department. Thor believes that Derek might have sought the professor out to alert the authorities to his presence.

The loop is mercifully broken in a shootout between Thor and the police, which leaves him wounded. Somehow, however, he manages to slip away.

"Oh look, there's Grandpa, trying to cross the street!" 

For some reason, useless Joe the reporter pops up on the scene, gives Betty the bad news about Alice, has worked out that Thor has forced Grandpa to drive him there and then proceeds to help Grandpa cross the road as he has inexplicably wound up on the opposite side of the road! Thanks for nothing Joe. You can go now and chase up skeletons that are popping up all over town, phone in the story or take off to the old mine, while your girlfriend further develops feelings for Derek or Colin or whatever his name is. We just don’t care, Joe.

Suddenly a trail pf blood on the sidewalk is discovered that leads to the black car and SURPRIZE! Thor pops his head up from the back seat! He managed to enter the car without anyone, including armed City Hall police officers, seeing him. Perfectly believable!

Covered by the wounded Thor’s gun, Betty and Derek are forced to drive up to Dr. Brandt’s house to have the bullet removed from Thor’s arm. Dr Brandt reminds me a bit of Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler.

Thor shows Derek just how a real superior being has shrapnel removed from his body – without anaesthetic! After the doctor leaves the room to get some bandages and antiseptic, Thor begins to lose consciousness allowing Derek and Betty to escape from the room and together with the Doctor make their way to City Hall Police Station. 

Meanwhile, the nurse arrives at the doctor’s surgery and stumbles across the unconscious Thor laying on the floor. As she tends to his wounds the phone rings. Dr. Brandt has called her to warn her about the very person she is tending to. Oh No, this can’t be good!

Just as we thought, Thor kidnaps Nurse Morse and forces her to drive him to the abandoned mine – you know the one.

Joe or Colin or whatever, accompanied by a policeman named Mac or Colin or whatever, have arrived at the spot near the mine where old Sparky’s bones are being bleached by the sun in order to “check out that old cave.” Oh No, this can’t be good!

In the meantime, the Gargon creature’s growth thus far will provide the aliens upon their return to Earth with an idea as to the likely developmental rate of its species on this planet. By the time Joe or Colin or whatever and his cop buddy have arrived at the old mine, the creature has become very large – far too large for its shackles!

Cop enters cave. Screaming heard. First Gargon victim.

Next, a bit of a car chase ensues between Joe or Colin or whatever and Thor with his captive nurse. Shots are fired. Thor is shot in the chest and the nurse gets knocked out by Thor. The nurse soon regains consciousness and is propelled out of the car. The feisty old girl takes a tumble and a roll just before the car plunges off the road and plummets down an embankment. She recovers well from her stunt.

Romantic interlude & Joe has lucked out! 

Could be day, could be night. Search for ray gun. Cuddles on the ground. Expressions of deep affection. Oh my gosh, Derek really is an alien and wants to make Earth his home. Kissy, kissy and so on……

As luck or any predictable and cliched story would have it, the ray gun is found lying under a rock, right at Derek’s feet!

Rocks it turns out are not just useful for hiding ray guns, they can also be used for clobbering Gargons which Derek manages to do when they are confronted with one of the creatures and Derek’s disintegrator ray gun jams.

While Derek tinkers with the ray gun back in town, a search party is attacked by the Gargon. I thought my dodgy eye-sight had further deteriorated when I mistook the black shadowy image of the Gargon as being a giant dark floater in my eye!

Soon the military and officialdom spring into action with planes and troops supposedly flitting hither and thither and the populace cowering in their shelters – or so we are told.

Joe striving for some measure of relevance, drags old Grandpa off to catch up with Derek and Betty who are at this very moment at “the edge of town” about to confront the giant lobs…..Gargon! Perhaps Joe figures that Grandpa possesses secret powers?

Derek decides to climb a teleph…. power pole in order to use the teleph…. power lines as a source of power for his disintegrator. Before he can safely cut the teleph…. power lines, Betty phones the city electrical generating plant operator to convince him to shut off the power. This will allow Derek to connect the disintegrator to the teleph…power lines.

When the power is restored there’s a bout of power boosting, the speeding up of generators and the joining in of more circuits which threatens to blow up the lines. When we remove our hands from our eyes and emerge from beneath the covers, we let out a sigh of relief to see that sufficient power has been supplied to the disintegrator. Die Gargon, die!

A clearly conflicted Derek rushes off to confront the invading saucers followed by Joe, Betty and Grandpa. As Joe and his two companions pull up outside the house, Derek emerges out front clad in his old uniform. At ray-gun point, Derek forces Joe to take him to where Thor is being held prisoner. Before he departs with Joe, Derek looks Betty in the eyes and tells her to trust him. And I guess, so should we. He couldn’t possibly be turning evil, could he?

In keeping with the highly inventively named “City Hall Police Station,” we learn that Thor has not been transferred to the “City Jail” and is still at the “City Hospital.” Joe worked this out merely by gazing out the window! Perhaps it is he who has special super powers!

Yes, he must have for two policemen emerge from the hospital bearing Thor. Derek relieves them of their guns and forces Thor into the car with him. Derek intends to take Thor with him back to where he belongs.

“Prepare for attack by an unknown enemy.” 

Betty and Grandpa have returned to the location of the abandoned mine followed by Joe (why is he still in the film?), Derek, and Thor.

Derek and Thor head over toward the saucer which has just landed. The Captain followed by the Supreme Leader who sports a facial toupee, emerge from the saucer.

The Supreme Leader informs Derek that they will return immediately once the Gargons have been unloaded from the ships. Time is of the essence as the leader’s absence might spark another revolution. The aliens might want to consult with the likes of Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping as to how to control the populace and maintain absolute power!

As the rest of the alien fleet need to be guided in by means of a radio beacon from the Leader’s ship, Derek requests that he be the one to guide the ships in for landing…. Wait a minute! We can see where this is going!

While Derek is in the saucer twiddling knobs and doing other strange things, Joe (why is he still in the film?), Betty, and Grandpa take shelter in the cave as the saucers come in for a crash landing thanks to Derek’s subterfuge. It seems that crashing saucers tends to produce active volcanoes on Earth judging from the footage.

“I shall make the earth my home, and I shall never, never leave it” 

And so, it seems that Derek has sacrificed himself for the people of Earth and that he did indeed keep his promise to Betty that he would never leave.

As Derek’s head appears superimposed over a sunset, a pitiful trio consisting of Betty (I need a new look - perhaps a new hairdo?), Joe (Yes! I’m back with a chance!) and Grandpa (where am I & how did I get here? I'm tired. I think I'll go home now) shuffle somewhat forlornly away from the cave and back to the car.

Points of Interest 

Teenagers from Outer Space was also known as The Gargon Terror in the UK and was originally titled The Ray Gun Terror.

Teenagers from Outer Space was distributed theatrically by Warner Brothers on a double feature with Gigantis the Fire Monster, the English-dubbed version of the 1955 Japanese giant monster film Godzilla Raids Again.

Teenagers from Outer Space was filmed on location in and around Hollywood, California with most of the shooting conducted in the vicinity of Sunset Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The filming was performed in such a manner so as to effectively convey the impression of a small town.

Tom Graeff: Jack of All Trades 

The film was largely the work of a single person, Tom Graeff, who played the role of reporter, Joe Rogers and who wrote, directed, edited, and produced the film in addition to providing cinematography, special effects, and music coordination.

There was an obvious disparity between Graeff’s epic ambition, and the end result due to the inadequate resources that made it impossible to realize that ambition.

Graeff’s film failed to perform at the box office, and in the fall of 1959 he suffered a breakdown where he reportedly proclaimed himself as the second coming of Christ. Graeff disappeared from Hollywood until 1964 and in 1970 he committed suicide.

One could well imagine Tom Graeff being a young indie film maker these days getting his hands on an iPhone and gathering together a few of his mates to put together a low budget sci-fi film. I wonder how he would go? 

At least he had a go, unlike most of us who wouldn't be bothered to get up off our asses / arses to try and realize a dream and are more content to lounge about spewing invective on others on social media. 
Cost-Cutting Corners

Producers Bryan and Ursula Pearson who played respectively "Thor" and "Hilda" and Gene Sterling who played "The Leader" provided the film's meager $14,000 budget.

Director Tom Graeff secured for free the location used for Betty Morgan's house by posing as a UCLA student. The owner of the house even let the crew use her electricity to power their equipment.

The aliens' costumes consisted of flight suits decorated with masking tape, dress shoes covered by socks, and surplus Air Force flight helmets.

The props included a single-bolted-joint skeleton that was re-used for every vaporized dead body seen on screen, a multi-channel sound mixer that was clearly labelled “Multichannel Mixer MCM-2" as a piece of alien equipment, and a cheap "Atomic Disintegrator" toy as the aliens' disintegrator ray gun.

Story & Premise

The rather elaborate plot allows the story to move along at quite a cracking pace despite the running time of the film.

The film’s premise is rather atypical of 1950's sci-fi films in that the aliens don’t wish to simply conquer and devastate the Earth in order to re-populate it. Instead, the aliens need the planet to ensure their own survival by using it as a location to breed the creatures they use as food.

Instead of wasting too much time and energy searching for plots and conspiracies, a film like Teenagers From Outer Space shows us that we can definitely count on certain principles that seem to govern human behavior and perhaps even the universe itself:
  1. The furthering of vested interests.
  2. Self-preservation and survival.
  3. Exercise and display of incompetence in achieving the previous two.

Full Movie 

©Chris Christopoulos 2019

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