Schlock Value: Teenagers from Outer Space
Back in the 1950s, the world was still reeling from World War II, and the Cold War was just getting underway. The threat of nuclear war was on the rise, and paranoia was at an all-time high. Thus began the atomic age of cinema. The Hollywood machine started churning out film after film after film about alien invaders, such as The Thing from Another World, It Came from Outer Space, The War of the Worlds, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Sure, some of these visitors came in peace, like The Day the Earth Stood Still, but more often than not, they were terrifying monsters hellbent on the destruction of mankind. These ranged from radar men and cat-women, to robot monsters, giant insects, and blobs. I’ll be getting to some of those eventually, but this week, I’m taking a look at a film that gave us the one threat no one ever expected: TEENAGERS from Outer Space!
The marketing campaign for Teenagers from Outer Space was a classic oversell, promising “teenage hoodlums from another world” running around, “[blasting] the flesh off humans.” The somewhat bland poster mostly relied on ad copy rather than exciting artwork unfortunately. However, it did feature a wonderful before-and-after illustration of a woman emerging from a swimming pool, being vaporized by a ray gun (“Before - a beautiful girl. One moment later - a skeleton!”). And yes, this scene is actually in the movie. The trailer also gives the hard sell of terrifying visitors from the sky, with a warning of “teenage terror ten-thousand times more terrifying than your maddest nightmares,” while a young man in what appears to be an alien uniform runs around town, vaporizing everyone in sight with his ray gun. I'm still not sure what's going on, but I'll be damned if I'm not sold on this already!
The film opens with a flying saucer landing on Earth. The first to emerge, clad in a strange jumpsuit and fighter pilot helmet, immediately vaporizes a nearby dog with a ray gun, reducing him to nothing more than a skeleton. This asshole, we will learn, is Thor (no, not that Thor). A handful of others climb out of the saucer, including the captain and Derek, a young man who notices the dog’s tags, and intuits the planet they've landed on is home to intelligent life. Thor scoffs at this. He believes theirs is the “supreme race” in the universe and all others, no matter how intelligent, are inferior. We also learn the aliens’ plans: they're seeking a new planet to raise “Gargons,” a delicacy on their planet which are basically giant air-breathing lobsters. Derek, an Earth sympathizer, attempts to stop his fellow aliens, suggesting they move on to a different planet, but his insubordination gets him arrested immediately. However, he manages to escape and run off into town. The captain then sends Thor after Derek with orders to capture him (or kill him, if need be). Meanwhile, the rest of the aliens leave Earth to send for more Gargons, as Earth appears to be a perfect planet to raise them.
Sprinting into town, which looks like it was pulled straight out of an episode of Leave It To Beaver, Derek searches for the address on the dog tag. It eventually leads him to the home of doe-eyed Betty Morgan and her Grandpa Joe. We also meet Betty’s boyfriend, the hunky Joe Rogers, who is a reporter for the local newspaper. When Joe can’t make his afternoon date with Betty due to a hot lead, Betty decides to take Derek around town. They end up at the home of Betty’s friend Alice, where they plan to go swimming. It’s here that Derek reveals the dog tag to Betty, who immediately recognizes it as the tag that belonged to her dog, Sparky. He then takes Betty up to the spot where his spaceship landed, to show her Sparky’s remains, and explains what happened to him. Betty, who takes this news incredibly well, agrees to help Derek apprehend Thor.
Meanwhile, Thor has hitchhiked into town, following Derek from place to place, continually being just one step behind. He manages to vaporize just about everyone in his path for one reason or another before eventually catching up to them. By this point, though, the Gargon has grown incredibly large in Earth’s atmosphere, and it has already killed a police officer, and attacked several others. With Thor leaving a trail of human skeletons in his wake, and a colossal lobster on the loose, it’s not long before the local authorities are scrambling to restore law and order. This leads to car chases, gunfights, and a fantastic climax with Derek and Betty racing to stop the Gargon.
Okay, I’m not going to bury the lead here. I loved Teenagers from Outer Space. Sure, it’s all pretty amateurish and bad, but it’s loaded with plenty of that classic 1950s “aww shucks” cheese, making it absolutely hilarious, and a hell of a lot of fun. David Love and Dawn Bender (Derek and Betty) turn in pitch-perfect performances as the young, clean-cut teenage heroes, while Bryan Grant is an effectively ruthless villain as Thor, chewing the scenery every chance he gets. The real star of the movie, however, is Harvey B. Dunn as the innocent, avuncular (and completely oblivious) Grandpa Joe. He’s so good-natured that it’s impossible not to love him. The script is also pretty solid. Despite a lot of hammy dialogue, there are plenty of great moments that build suspense, up the stakes, and keep the movie chugging along, and many of the action sequences, though not flashy or elaborate, are legitimately thrilling, adding some much-needed contrast to all the silliness. And speaking of silliness, the sequences involving the giant lobster are possibly my favorite parts of Teenagers from Outer Space. You see, there wasn't enough money in the budget for giant lobster effects, so all you see are giant lobster shadows accompanied by loud screeching followed by shots of terrified townspeople. It's so funny I nearly peed myself.
Bottom line, go check out Teenagers from Outer Space. It’s a quintessential so-bad-it’s-good schlock sci-fi classic that will have you howling with laughter from start to finish. You can find it in Mill Creek Entertainment’s Sci-Fi Classics collection, as well as on YouTube.