100 Film Favorites Countdown – #97: “Teenagers from Outer Space”
(Tom Graeff, 1959)
When a film promises “thrill-crazed space kids blasting the flesh off humans” right on the poster, you know you’re in for a good time.
To be completely honest, I had to cut some other, more critically-acclaimed films from the list to fit this one in and still keep a total of 100. We’re talking Oscar-winners here, bumped to accommodate space teenagers. But in my heart, I knew it was the right decision.
“Teenagers from Space” is one of many 50s science-fiction films in which aliens come to Earth. “What sets this film apart?” you ask. You might think it’s the “teenagers” in the title. But that’s something of a misnomer. I think the producers simply ran out of ink-money to print their “Mid-To-Late-Twenty-Somethings from Space” posters.
No, what sets this film apart is its fairly unique premise: Rather than seeking to conquer or destroy the Earth, the “thrill-crazed space kids” are simply looking for an out-of-the-way planet to use as grazing ground for their Gargons. What are Gargons? Well, you see, a Gargon is a delicious animal, which can grow to incredible size if given the room to roam. However, their great size and unruly attitudes make raising Gargons on the aliens’ homeworld too risky. So the aliens land in a field and, seeing no sentient life within their immediate vicinity, set about establishing their very own celestial dude ranch by releasing a young Gargon from their ship. Thor and Saul, the commanding alien officers, are ready to return to space, but Derek, another alien, believes a more thorough search of Earth is necessary to ensure that no sentient lifeforms are at risk of harm from the soon-to-be burgeoning Gargon herds. Thor and Saul chastise Derek for being a bleeding-heart and an all-around space wimp. Personally, I don’t think Derek is at fault for his sympathizing with the fate of Earth. I blame his parents. What do they think’s going to happen, giving their son an Earth name like Derek? Of course he’s going to forsake his own people and embrace the Earth ways. You want your alien child to grow up right? Adhere to the following chart:
Acceptable Alien Baby Names:
-Other Norse gods and unpopular Bible characters.
Unacceptable Alien Baby Names
-Any name which is not that of a Norse god or unpopular Bible character.
And so, the sympathetic and ill-named Derek embarks on his search. Eventually, he meets and gradually falls for an Earthling girl named Betty. It’s up to them to save the Earth from the other aliens, who by this point have caught on to the presence of civilization on Earth, and are intent on stamping it out posthaste. Nothing will stop these dedicated Gargon-farmers! Armed with ray guns that reduce any living target to bones instantly, Thor and Saul do their darnedest to wipe out mankind, with Derek, Betty, and Betty’s wacky grandpa intent on stopping them.
The high point of the film by far is the moment when our heroes are finally confronted by the now-gargantuan Gargon…which is very clearly a flailing lobster propped up with a stick. Having stolen one of the alien ray-guns, Derek amplifies its power using a grid of electrical lines and slays the Gargon with a mighty zap. So dies one of the great monsters of film history.
Derek sacrifices himself taking out the rest of the alien fleet, and the Earth is saved. But I ask you, is a Gargon-less Earth really worth living in?
All in all, “Teenagers from Outer Space” is remarkably well-made for its budget (only $14,000 , a paltry sum for an American film in the 50s…even Ed Wood’s notorious flops cost upward of $50,000). Regardless of production value, the film is worth watching for its sheer entertainment value. Good news: It’s very easy to track down. The film entered the Public Domain in the 80s, and can be found on many combo-pack DVDs for cheap. OR, you can see it the way I first did…upon beating the PlayStation 2 game “Destroy All Humans” (a loving homage to 50s B-movie schlock), the player unlocks the film in its entirety.
Well, this post has gotten rather long. So I’ll wrap things up by saying good night. And, in the words of folksy humorist Will Rogers*,
“If there are no Gargons in heaven, when I die I want to go where they went.”