Movie: I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)

The cliché says you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  By that logic, you probably shouldn’t judge a movie by its title, either.  But somebody designed that book cover and somebody named that movie and, by doing so, they were trying to convey something to appeal to certain audiences.

So I pounced immediately when I saw an import blu-ray of a 1950’s sci-fi thriller I Married a Monster from Outer Space.  Having seen it now, I wasn’t disappointed, but I also partly got something other than the thick slice of movie cheese I anticipated.

Things start out pretty silly, as a group of guys gather at a bar for a bachelor party on the eve of one of their numbers tying the knot.  This bar is such as obvious set.  Also, back when I used to drink, I don’t think I ever patronized a bar so orderly and subdued. 

But already there were a couple of flourishes which made me suspect there would be more going on than is par for the course for this genre. 

First, there was a long crane shot that follows one car into the bar’s parking lot and then follows it in a pan across the lot.  It isn’t the opening of Touch of Evil, but a lot of effort went into what would usually be a static establishing shot. 

Then, when a character steps into the bar, we have a hard cut to black, which it turns out is the inside of the guy’s jacket on his arm.  This is the kind of transition Hitchcock employed in Rope to give the illusion it was one long continuous take.

The plot is deceptively silly.  An alien race, of which all its women died, is on an interstellar booty call to try to find species with which they can breed.  They secretly take over the bodies of bachelors who then get hitched as soon as possible as to commence the sweet baby making.  The ol’ alien beast with two backs.  The zero-gravity horizontal mambo.  I’ll stop now.

If there is one aspect of this plot I find eye-rollingly daft, it is that the aliens only take over the bodies of bachelors.  They don’t bother commandeering the bodies of men who are already married.  There is a town prostitute who seems to be going out of business by the end of the picture, yet the aliens don’t bother utilizing that service. 

I suspect this was necessary to get around censors at the time (after all, this was the era of married copies always shown in separate beds), but it seems ridiculous.  These are aliens that are deeply reverent of the contemporary moral standards of the planets they intend to colonize.

The effect used when a man is overtaken by one of the aliens is quite impressive.  It looks like they are enveloped by a billowing pillar of smoke that emerges from off-screen.  I’m guessing the effect involved pouring a liquid like milk into an aquarium, but its beyond me how they controlled the shape of this cloud or how they superimposed it over the footage.

There are some other awesome effects here as well.  There are occasionally flashes, literally, of the aliens’ true faces over that of the humans they occupy.  We also get some aliens in their true form, which are obvious rubber suits, though they have a neat pulsing glow to them.  At one point, the aliens get shot and we see the bullet holes seal themselves up.  There is even some truly startling gore when a dog tears off part of one of the aliens and blood (well, alien blood) shoots out in spurts.  I am stunned the censors let that go by.

Another aspect of this picture I enjoyed is an ominous feeling that builds over its runtime.  For something that starts out appearing to be high camp, it ends up being a pretty unsettling riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, complete with some similarly noir photography. 

There is one scene where a raincoat-clad figure on an empty street on a dry night is standing stock-still facing the windows of a closed store.  The town’s (only?) lady of the evening crosses the road to talk to the figure but it doesn’t even seem to know she’s there. As the suspense built, the hairs stood up on the back of my head.

I Married a Monster from Outer Space is already one of my favorite 50’s sci-fi films.  Sometimes you watch a film because you think it be a good laugh, and then it surprises you by being unexpectedly, honestly enjoyable.  It isn’t completely original, and it has some flaws, but it has so much in it which is distinctive that I know I will be revisiting it eventually.

Dir: Gene Folwer, Jr.

Starring Tom Tryon, Gloria Talbott, Peter Baldwin

Watched on Imprint blu-ray (import)