It Conquered the World

It Conquered the World

 

Much of my childhood was spent in the world before Star Wars, meaning that I grew up with a well exercised ability to suspend my disbelief (also instead of on a Xbox, the kids in my neighborhood played “Medal of Honor” by running around the front yard, hitting each other with sticks.) Saturday afternoons found me parked in front of a black and white TV, staring in wide-eyed wonder at the very same movies my father, probably wearing with the same amazed stare, saw in the movies houses of a generation before. The low rent films with rubber-suited monsters and pie pan spacecraft were not, to me, the object of silliness and ridicule. They were serious business; every bit as real to me as the latest and greatest computer generated wonders are to kids nowadays.


It Conquered the World is almost the gold standard of ” bad sci-fi,” a reputation that largely rests on the appearance of the monster, which looks like a giant traffic cone wearing a smile of sharp fangs. The visuals, harnessed to some world class bad dialogue and a screenplay that was more inspired by budget restraint than science fiction vision, a first blush, makes this seem justifiable.

I don’t agree. I love the monster. The design of the creature from Venus is strange and iconic, echoing the horrors from space that regularly graced the sci-fi pulps and comics of the era. The odd shape and features came the notion director/ producer Roger Corman had about how a creature might look evolving on a planet with heavy gravity and intense heat. Creature-maker Paul Blaisdell, the talent responsible for a half dozen nameless but none-the-less iconic bad movie monsters, was the cut-rate Rick Baker of his day. Maybe his creatures didn’t look as “real” or as frightening, but they were fun and conceptually complete. These are beasties that are home to me; monster comfort food for my monster soul. To the six-year-old me, the conical Venusian horror in It Conquered the World was pretty amazing.

Young Captain Midnight took it all in with dead seriousness, in part because all the actors in the movie seemed afraid. If the adults were worried, I should be as well. The fantastic nature of a monster movie appeals to me. That there are horrors, and monsters, and magic, and forbidden super science all lead up to asking in the most spectacular way: “What if?” “What if” is powerful idea, one that still occupies most of my thoughts.

On with the plot. Dr. Tom Anderson (Lee Van Cleef) is the smartest guy in the world. He is a man obsessed with “what if.” Unlike his best friend, fellow scientist Dr. Paul Nelson (Peter Graves), he’s not interested in operating in the context of the Cold War driven marriage of science and the military. “What if” drives his imagination, not “Let’s beat them Russkies.” Being an outsider with too many ideas, Anderson is marginalized and takes it personally. Who wouldn’t?

Anderson, who spends his nights playing around with his shortwave radio, picks up a signal from Venus. Elated, he makes contact with one of the aliens, who he styles as “The Benefactor.” Together they hatch a plot to bring The Benefactor to Earth to bring good order to a troubled world. This order comes in the form of bat-like creatures the Venusian Benefactor uses to implant mind control devices into the necks of unsuspecting humans. It’s a clever way of having the monster attack various people without the monster actually appearing in the scene. Mind control bats! Terrifying!

Nelson is having none of this and takes drastic measures to ensure the freedom of the human race from diabolical alien mind control. It’s the tired old communism metaphor repackaged.

It Conquered the World isn’t so much a bad movie as it is a low budget product of its time. For fans of raygun and rubber monster movies there is a lot here to savor. For my own part, it’s hard not to love a movie that is so earnest, fun, and totally lacking in self-awareness.

Note:
I found the idea of the intellectually isolated Anderson sitting up all night on his radio set chatting with advanced aliens an interesting parallel with the internet.

Horror fans will want to keep watch for a young Dick Miller, and Jonathan Haze, who played Seymour in Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors.

Starring:
Peter Graves
Beverly Garland
Lee Van Cleef
Sally Fraser
Russ Bender

Director:
Roger Corman

Screenplay:
Lou Rusoff
Charles B. Griffith

 

Two and half of Five Vincents

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