FILMBOOK OF FEAR: Invasion Of The Saucer-Men (1957)

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Digging through the dusty basement today I came across a box of old VHS tapes that I actually forgot I had. While going through it, remembering what it was like to collect and watch these films on videocassette, I came across one of my favorite movies of the 50’s, Invasion of the Saucer-Men, from 1957. This copy, which came out in 1993, is unfortunately the only legal release of this classic film (in fact, most DVD bootlegs of this fun film are made from copying the official VHS release). Of all of the aliens that came out in the 50’s science fiction films, it is the saucer-men that are my favorite, created by legendary special effects artist Paul Blaisdell.

 

The movie starts by introducing some of the key characters. Joe Gruen (Frank Gorshin) and his drifter friend Artie Burns (Lyn Osborn) just came to town looking to make a quick buck. Though Artie is ready to call it a night, Joe is determined to paint the town red. Teen lovers Johnny Carter (Steven Terrell) and Joan Haydon (Gloria Castillo), making plans to elope, find themselves in a precarious situation; they must save the earth from the invasion of little green men who land their spaceship in the local woods near Lover’s Point, a favorite make-out place for the local teens.

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When the young couple leaves the Point, driving without headlights so as not to bother old man Larkin, who owns the property, they accidentally hit and kill one of the saucer-men. In a pretty gory scene for the time, the dead alien’s hand detaches itself from the body and pops the car’s tire using hypodermic-type needles that come out of the fingertips. Since they now have a flat tire and can’t leave to get help, Johnny and Joan then go to Larkin’s farmhouse to call the police.

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Joe, in his quest for a good time, preferably in the backseat of his car, sees the alien craft land. While driving to see if he can get a closer look he comes upon Johnny’s abandoned car with the alien body stuck under the front bumper. He immediately realizes that he has made the discovery of the century and that if displayed properly, this body could make him and Artie rich. Joe calls Artie, who is sound asleep, to tell him to empty the refrigerator because he has found something that would make them rich and that it is perishable. While trying to figure out how to get the body back to the boarding house where he is staying at, he is attacked by more saucer-men who saw their companion get killed. Using their needle finger tips, they inject an already drunk Joe with so much alcohol that it kills him. The aliens then replace the body of their companion stuck under the car with the body of Joe, making it look like Johnny and Joan hit him with their car instead.

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When the police arrive, Johnny and Joan are brought to the station under suspicion of drinking and driving, since the air is full of the smell of alcohol thanks to the aliens. When shown the body of the victim from under their car, the young lovers are surprised to see it is a human being and not the large-headed alien they actually hit. Though they try to convince the police that they didn’t hit this person, the evidence points to the contrary. While being interrogated Johnny and Joan are told that Joe had a roommate. Since the police will not believe their story of little green men they feel that reaching out to Artie is their only chance of clearing their names.

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Meanwhile the military has arrived at where the spaceship has landed. After many attempts to contact any beings within, they decide to use a blow torch to try to cut through the ship to get inside. This sets off a chain reaction, causing the ship to explode. An overlooked detail with the spaceship is that the model, which features a clear dome on top, clearly shows the head of an alien inside. So, the whole time the military is trying to contact the aliens, one is just sitting there staring at them, unresponsive.

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The explosion gets the attention of the police and while they are dealing with that issue, Johnny and Joan escape. They track down Artie, who comments that Joe had called him with a story that may back up what the teens are saying. He agrees to go with them out to Johnny’s car so that they can prove their innocence. When they arrive at Johnny’s car Artie gets the proof he needs by seeing the disembodied hand that is now trapped in the car. When he tries to take a picture of it, the light of the flash causes the hand to disappear in a puff of smoke. The secret to defeating the aliens is now apparent: light kills them! Artie is then attacked by the aliens who inject him with alcohol as well. Because he wasn’t drunk to begin with, he is able to survive the attack.

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Johnny then devises a plan and rounds up all of his friends at Lover’s Point and they lure the aliens there. On his command, all of his friends turn on their car headlights at the same time, shining the lights on the aliens, causing them all to disintegrate. The invasion is thwarted, through no help of anyone in authority. The police didn’t do anything and even when the military tried to intervene, they destroyed the alien craft. Johnny and Joan are then cleared of the charges as a result of the autopsy report on Joe which said that he died of a heart attack due to acute alcohol poisoning. According to the police he was dead even before their car hit him.

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The idea of teenagers saving the day is nothing new in these films, especially since teenagers were the target audience when this film came out on a double bill with I Was A Teenage Werewolf. The police are shown as incompetent as not only do Johnny and Joan easily escape the police station, but they do it in the police chief’s car. Even the military is shown as being inept by blowing up the craft, which then leads to a complete cover-up, saying that a military jet had crashed.

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This movie works both as a science fiction film and a comedy. Though the saucer-men may look comical in appearance to some, there really is something terrifying about their design. Paul Blaisdell, who created the saucer-men, also created some of the most iconic monsters of the 1950’s. His work can be seen in such films as It Conquered the World, It! The Terror from Beyond Space and The She-Creature. His designs were always imaginative and you really have to be impressed with what he created on such limited budgets.

 

Though they are called little green men in the film, and all advertising shows them as being green, the actual color of the masks and hands were brown. In my opinion, this makes them even scarier looking but since it was a black and white movie, it really didn’t matter. For 1957, this film featured two scenes of gore not normally seen in these films. When the disembodied hand is seen moving around, there are strands of tendon and exposed bone clearly seen trailing behind the crawling hand. During one scene where a saucer-man attacks Larkin’s bull, its eye is gouged out by the bull’s horn, in oozing detail. This particular scene was actually cut from many television prints of this film.

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Like I said before, the only time this film has been officially released on home video was in the 90’s on a nice VHS copy. As of this writing there has been no official DVD or Blu-ray release with none in the works. The reason for this is that Susan Nicholson Hofheinz, ex-wife of the late James Nicholson, who owns the rights to this and many other AIP classic films, refuses to let them see the light of day. Because of this, if you want a copy on DVD, especially if you no longer own a VCR, you have to buy bootleg copies. It is a shame that Hart is so stubborn that she won’t release these films, allowing bootleggers to make all of the money! Things actually started to look hopeful when Lionsgate started releasing a series of double feature DVD’s under the “Samuel Z. Arkoff Collection: Cult Classics” moniker. These collections feature some great releases in a fun format. Alas, only four sets came out with no plans of more in the future.

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Invasion of the Saucer-Men was remade in 1965  by director Larry Buchanan, in the vastly inferior The Eye Creatures. This was an almost scene-by-scene remake, only this time in color and with aliens whose appearance do not even come close to Blaisdell’s saucer-men design. Everything about this movie falls flat and it is pretty much unwatchable. From the acting to the special effects it just fails on every level. This is not even a movie that is so bad it’s good; it’s just really bad. Of course, if you really want to see how bad a remake can be (Buchanan also remade It Conquered the World with Zontar, the Thing from Venus) then it is worth seeing just once. Interestingly enough, both The Eye Creatures and Zontar have been officially released on DVD. As an interesting side note, The Eye Creatures had its name changed at the last minute adding Attack of the to the title. Unfortunately, the person doing this was not paying attention so that in the final prints, the movie title is Attack of the the Eye Creatures!

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Invasion of the Saucer-Men still holds up today in my opinion as a fun film and a great representation of the alien invasion films of the 1950’s. It must’ve been great to see this film at the drive-in. Until the day comes when this movie sees an official digital release, we will have to be satisfied with our videocassettes of yesteryear that have been watched so many times that they are starting to fall apart and show wear. It’s too bad that we, as movie fans, have to support bootleggers when it comes to classic films like this!

Lastly, in 1983, mask company Distortions Unlimited, out of Colorado, released one of the most desired of all masks by this company, their version of the Saucer-Men. According to owner Ed Edmunds a two part mold system was used. First off, he was able to obtain, with some difficulty, one of Paul Blaisdell’s original molds of the head. Then, by using a screen-used original mask, he took a mold of the face area. Then he was able to make a master using the head and face pieces combined.

Ed displaying the original screen-used Saucer-Man and one of his versions! Special effects maestro Tom Savini with his copy (pictures provided by Ed Edmunds).

Ed believes only two or three dozen were actually made so many years ago and they retailed for $400. When they do find their way onto eBay today, they go for big money. Unfortunately no other mask companies have taken on this creature in latex form because of the size the mask would have to be to be accurate and costs involved. Ed has expressed interest in re-doing this piece in the future, much to the delight of this author so only time will tell!

In the meantime I am satisfied with the pieces I do have commemorating this most memorable monster. I am not sure who did the mask or hand as they were both found on eBay many years ago. The bust came out in 2009 and is made by Executive Replicas and is one of the few collectibles actually licensed and authorized by Susan Nicholson Hofheinz, the very same woman who will not release the rights of the actual movie. This bust was also released in a very limited edition brown version and for a short time, a scaled hand was available for both the green and brown releases. Lastly is this model kit diorama that I also got off of eBay many years ago. I believe this is the classic Billiken kit.

~David Albaugh

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