Invasion of the Saucer Men / Invasion of the Hell Creatures / Hell Creatures / Spacemen Saturday Night (1957) -**½
You know, people did some pretty strange things in the name of comedy in the olden days. I mean, Jerry Lewis? The fact that just about every movie of the time, no matter how serious-- no matter how grim, even-- somehow found itself saddled with characters that served no narrative purpose at all, but instead were included solely to bludgeon the audience with unfunny jokes? What about all those beach party movies-- have you ever tried to watch one of those things? I bring this up because if you took the comedic sensibility that produced Pajama Party and applied it to a monster movie, you’d come up with something very much like Invasion of the Saucer Men.
We begin with a pair of small-time con-men-- Artie Burns (Lyn Osborn, who had a small role in The Amazing Colossal Man the same year) and Jon Gruen (Frank Gorshin, who would one day make a name for himself as the Riddler on “Batman,” and would resurface many years later in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys) are their names-- looking for easy money and easier women. They apparently aren’t very good small-time con-men, though, because the town where they have chosen to ply their “trade” is the aptly-named hamlet of Hicksburg, where not a goddamned thing ever happens, nor ever has happened in living memory. But all that’s about to change, for tonight Hicksburg is fated to be the staging area for a singularly ineffectual invasion from an alien world. What has this to do with Artie and Jon, you ask? That’s easy. Jon will be the first and most direct witness to the landing of the aliens’ ship (one of the truly great crappy flying saucers of the 1950’s), and when he goes to investigate, his bourbon-addled brain reeling with visions of Big Money, he will also become the first Earthling to fall victim to the invaders.
Meanwhile, at Lovers’ Point, the courtship of teenagers Johnny Carter (Steve Terrell, of Dragstrip Girl and Motorcycle Gang) and Joan Hayden (Gloria Castillo, from Teenage Monster and Reform School Girl [not to be confused with Reform School Girls, my favorite women’s prison movie of the 1980’s]) is about to take on a new intensity. The two teens have decided they’ve had enough of sneaking around trying to outmaneuver the girl’s father (Them!’s Don Shelton), who not only inexplicably thinks Johnny is a no-good bum, but who also happens to be Hicksburg’s city attorney. Tonight, Joan and Johnny plan to elope. But as with Jon Gruen’s dreams of easy wealth, the two young lovers’ scheme will run aground when their path intersects that of the Saucer Men. As Johnny negotiates the winding, wooded road that leads from Lovers’ Point back to town (with the headlights turned off so as not to attract the attention of Old Man Larkin [Raymond Hatton, from The Day the World Ended], the curmudgeonly farmer on whose property Lovers’ Point is situated), some small, strange biped runs across the darkened road and winds up mashed on the underside of Johnny’s front bumper. At first, Joan thinks they may have hit an animal or maybe (God forbid) a child, but animals don’t wear coveralls, and children don’t generally have bulging, cat-like eyes, long, pointed ears, or huge, exocephalic brains. No, what Johnny and Joan have run over is a genuine Little Green Man.
Their efforts to alert the Proper Authorities backfire about as spectacularly as could be imagined. First, they discover that the car acquired a flat when it crushed the alien (actually, the tire was punctured by the dead alien’s severed hand [which is still alive and well, thank you very much], a limb that will cause our heroes no end of grief over the next hour). Driving into town is thus out of the question, so instead, Johnny and Joan go to Old Man Larkin’s place to use the phone. When they find the house deserted, but the door unlocked, they make the less-than-advisable move of letting themselves in to make their call. It’s bad enough when the police take their insistent phone calls to be a prank, but when Old Man Larkin returns, he’s about as happy to see two strange teenagers in his living room as he would be to wake up to a bad case of genital warts. When Larkin calls the cops, they listen, which is all the more unfortunate for Johnny and Joan because the aliens have recovered the body of their fallen comrade and replaced it with Gruen’s corpse by the time the police arrive on the scene.
But we still have a third plot thread to introduce. While Gruen and the teenagers are having their run-ins with the aliens, a special covert operations squad of the US Air Force has sprung into action in response to rumors that a flying saucer was sighted over Hicksburg. The team rapidly finds the ship (which is empty at the time-- all the aliens are off framing Johnny and Joan for no readily apparent reason), but their efforts to get inside it with acetylene torches merely cause the thing to burst into flames and explode. (Now where have I seen that before? It couldn’t have been The Thing from Another World, could it?) Considering that this team’s main mission is to conceal the evidence of extraterrestrial activity on Earth, you might think that this was a godsend, but because huge explosions in the woods tend to attract a good bit of attention in a small town, it comes close to blowing the cover on the entire operation!
It also happens to benefit Johnny and Joan quite directly. They’ve been down at the police station, trying futilely to convince the police chief and City Attorney Hayden (Joan’s dad, remember, who never liked Johnny in the first place) that the body the police found under their car was not the creature they ran down. The two teens take advantage of the distraction provided by the explosion of the spaceship to escape out the window of the room in which they are being held, steal the chief’s squad car, and head off to the woods around Lovers’ Point to look for exonerating evidence. They find it in the form of that living hand, which they lock inside the police car, and then head back to town on foot. This time, though, they’re not going to the police. Instead, they’re looking for Artie Burns, the only person with an interest in the situation who might possibly believe them.
It’s a good thing for Johnny and Joan that Gruen had called Artie earlier that night to ramble drunkenly about how much money they were going to make exhibiting a real live flying saucer, because that little detail proves decisive in making up Artie’s mind to trust the two teens. He accompanies them back to the woods, where Johnny and Joan show him the imprisoned alien hand, but shortly thereafter, they find themselves surrounded by about half a dozen of the aliens, all of them brandishing their dripping, needle-like claws (by means of which they inject a venom that ultimately proves to be pure ethyl alcohol) and advancing as fast as their stumpy little 18-inch legs will carry them. Artie’s Walther P-38 doesn’t seem to faze the beastly little creatures, but fortunately, the spotlight on Joan’s car does. In fact, bright light proves quite lethal to the aliens, and Johnny, Joan, and Artie probably could have defeated the invasion from space right then and there had it not been for the terrible laxness with which Joan keeps her car maintained. Turns out the battery is just about dead, leaving their improvised weapon about as effective as a slingshot loaded with Chicken McNuggets. The aliens then overwhelm Artie and drag him off into the woods to be pumped full of intoxicating venom.
But all is not lost, for the rest of Hicksburg’s teenage population is still down at Lovers’ Point feeling each other up, and as Johnny so eloquently puts it, “the gang won’t think we’re making up stories just because we’re young!” In no time at all, Johnny and Joan have raised a veritable cavalry regiment of high school kids. They return in force to the site of the earlier encounter with the aliens, surround the creatures from space with their cars, and hit the headlights, disintegrating the throbbing-brained fiends in a puff of low-budget smoke.
What a demented little movie! Pretty much the only concession to logic that Invasion of the Saucer Men makes lies in its (probably budget-driven) symmetry between the alien threat and the force used to defeat it. For once, we’re presented with an alien invasion that a bunch of eerily clean-cut teenagers could plausibly handle! Of course, that raises the question of what alien civilization in its right mind would try to conquer the Earth with six guys and a highly inflammable spaceship, but sometimes it doesn’t pay to think too hard about these things. But in addition to the inherent craziness of the storyline, there are any number of completely off-the-wall vignettes, many of which were surely supposed to be funny, but some of which probably were not. The incredibly gory battle between one of the almost indestructible aliens and Larkin’s bull, for example, is played perfectly straight, but is so loopy that no reaction but uproarious laughter makes any sense in the face of it. The follow-up scene, in which the bull is revealed not to be dead, but merely drunk off his ass, is an obvious comic relief moment, but it isn’t nearly as funny. In fact, that pretty much goes for the whole film-- Invasion of the Saucer Men is almost painful to watch when it’s trying to be funny, but nothing short of hilarious when it’s trying to genuinely scare its audience. There’s no better example of this than the super-shitty rubber aliens, courtesy of the inimitable Paul Blaisdel; even if this movie were a completely unbearable turd, it would still be worth watching for those monsters. They have extra eyeballs on the backs of their hands! And while we’re on the subject of the aliens, don’t bother looking for him, because the monster suits leave none of the actors’ features visible, but one of the Saucer Men is played by Angelo Rossitto, of Freaks and Dracula vs. Frankenstein fame. The role is obviously one that wastes his talents, but it makes me smile just to know that there’s something almost resembling a name actor hidden inside one of those monster suits.