Sunday, January 15, 2012
Oddball Film Report: INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES (1962)
Boy, what a misfire.
INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES began as a sort of inside joke about American International Pictures and the people who worked at the studio. The film was envisioned as a satiric play on the studio's bread-and-butter drive-in monster pictures, and a treatment was written as "The Monsters of Nicholson Mesa." Nicholson, of course, was in reference to James H. Nicholson, who co-founded AIP with Samuel Z. Arkoff. I once read a Filmfax interview with Johnathan Haze (who scripted the film to star himself and AIP regular Dick Miller as the hapless G.I.'s who meet the monsters) where the troubled pre-production history was discussed, although the years have faded the details in my memory. One thing is for sure, the final film should have been a lot more amusing than it is.
Take another look at that poster. Nothing to imply audiences were marching into a comedy (on double bill with THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE, no less!), or anything different from AIP's popular space operas being cranked out during the period. Strike one against INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES is the bait-and-switch nature of the ad campaign. Strike two being that the comedy isn't very funny.
That part has always sort of bugged me, since the stuff going on here SHOULD be funny. The military big brass all having decoder rings from a space club, and club membership is shared with a tribe of Indians who stumble through these shenanigans. One character, a vague Leo Gorcey-type occasionally breaks into celebrity impressions. Army guys finding beautiful seven-foot amazons from another planet who grow vegetable-based foot soldiers. The Army's most incompetent two men thwarting hostile invasion plans, and the space-babes being forced to marry them and stay on earth. All that should be pretty amusing. I can see myself writing that script.
The trouble is, everything seems so labored and stretched out. It's like they were working from a script for a half-hour television comedy and had to stretch it to fill a feature-length running time. Also hindering things is that while Haze and Miller would have been amusing as a comedy team, we're served up Robert Ball and Frankie Ray, who aren't the greatest comedians to ever grace the screen (though in fairness, nor are they the worst). Ball seems to've spent his entire career doing guest bit parts on nearly every major teleseries of the 60's and 70's. He can also be seen in the earlier THE BRAIN EATERS. Ray did even less. In fact, most of the familiar faces we'd expect to see in an AIP film are absent from this exercise. That doesn't help warm us to the project either.
In short, the plot is as follows: An underground atomic test has caused a crater to form which reveals a cave the brass wants explored. A squad is assembled that includes the camp's two daydreaming losers, Privates Penn and Philbrick. Penn and Philbrick get separated from their unit while exploring the cave and stumble onto the field HQ of an invasion force from another planet, manned by two comely seven-foot-tall babes in spacey bathing suits. The invaders are growing "veggi-men" to aid them in their conquest of Bronson Canyon. Our heroes escape and try to find help, but find themselves back with the space-gals. They manage to sabotage the operation, and strand the two women on earth. The women have no choice but marry the two men and make them the luckiest guys in the Army. Happily, the running time is kept to 70 minutes. Weirdly, even that amount of time seems labored when it should be fun.
I don't wish to imply that the film is a total waste of time or anything. Should you be extremely forgiving, there are some amusing moments here and there. There is also some novelty in the film being played for laughs when most genre fare of contemporary vintage was done straight. [There were some comedic Mexican movies of a similar vein to our current subject, -space-babes, monsters, and all- but none of them ever made it across the border for some reason.] Even INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, one of the first science fiction/horror/comedies not built around an existing comedy star or team, had its moments of genuine suspense. Then again, that may be part of the problem. Conceivably, the film would have played better if the monster stuff was played for menace. While the Veggi-men are indeed powerful, they look like exactly what they are: men wearing tights and burlap sacks with plastic vegetables attached. Larry Blamire's Mutant from THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA seems to be inspired mostly by these lacking specimens.
Timing is everything in comedy. The material here might have worked with tighter editing and a quicker pace. The flick could certainly benefit from the sort of madcap frenzy that one finds among the works of The Three Stooges or The Marx Brothers. It certainly SHOULD be funny, but that's one of the worst things you can say about a comedy. The film is sort of interesting as a failed experiment. At least the film isn't a total loss for fans of cheesecake, as the leggy star-women spend a lot of time on screen. (Granted, it seems like an eternity before they show up!)