Tuesday, December 22, 2015


One of the creepiest premises for a movie is the one where your loved ones turn out to be aliens.  Gene Fowler Jr.’s  I Married a Monster From Outer Space probably takes the idea as far as it can go, jamming it all into the title. Unlike Invaders from Mars, or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, two superior but similar features, it has no time for subtlety or finesse. It was simply a cheaply made but entertaining follow-up to Fowler’s previous hit,  I Was A Teenage Werewolf, a smash for American-International, shot in eight days and returning a few million dollars on a budget of approximately $80,000.  It was a time where even the big studios were cashing in on the monster craze, and Fowler, who’d started out as a cutter for the likes of Sam Fuller and Fritz Lang, made monster movies that were a notch above the usual. 

I Married a Monster from Outer Space doesn’t go for the paranoia of Don Siegel’s Body Snatchers.  It creates suspense in a more comic book and ray gun fashion, its aliens looking a bit like Man-Thing from Marvel comics. These creatures have come to Earth because the women on their planet have died out;  the plan is to take over the bodies of male earthlings and mate with the women here. The aliens move quickly, inhabiting several men in a small town, including members of the local police force.  But the men in town aren’t a particularly strong lot. A pair of female barflies complain about the men at the next table, “Those guys aint even giving us a hard look.” 

That line cuts in more ways than one. What’s a poor barfly to do?  Strapping young Bill (Tom Tryon) is deeply in love with his fiancé Marge (Gloria Talbott), a feisty young woman with Bettie Page bangs. But once the alien takes over, Bills walks around with dark circles under his eyes, stalling until his planet’s scientists have figured out how the whole reproductive thing works. The honeymoon, not surprisingly, is a botch.

The screenplay by Louis Vittes, a 48-year-old writer who had done most of his work for television, is filled with quirky dialog that zings by so quickly it's almost unnoticed. When all of Bill’s friends have been turned into aliens and are still sitting around at the bar, one of them announces that he sort of likes the Earth women. “Believe it or not,” he says, “it can be fun.”  He practically winks. Even if the scientists back home are still baffled, he’s found something he likes.

The marriage of Marge and alien Bill gets worse. She wants children. After a year, he’s still  unable to reproduce. When she  suggests Bill see a doctor, he refuses.  Naturally, this creates more tension in the half-alien household. 

Alien Bill has other problems.  On his own planet, the women were strictly for breeding purposes. On Earth, though, he’s starting to have feelings for Marge. This isn’t something he was prepared for.

The charade goes on until Marge follows alien Bill on a late night jaunt to a space ship hidden in some nearby woods. There, she witnesses him transform into his alien self. When the horrified Marge runs through town looking for help, movie and television buffs will recognize the streets from other Paramount movies and TV shows, specifically the old Andy Griffith show. In a sense, Marge is running through Mayberry. When she stops at a bar for help, she gets none.  “Funny,” says a fellow at the bar. “She doesn’t look like a lush.” The bartender (Maxie Rosenbloom) answers, “They don’t wear badges, you know.”

Curiously, Marge remains with the alien version of Bill, gradually grasping the situation. But she’s not happy when he explains that the hybrid babies are going to look like the beings from his planet.

When one of Marge’s friends announces that her previously uninterested boyfriend has proposed to her, Marge guesses that another Earthman has been overtaken by an alien. She tries to talk her friend out of the marriage, but this woman has waited a long time to be married.  (Adding to the Andy Griffith link, the woman is played by raspy-voiced Jean Carson, known to Griffith fans as one of the “fun girls.”) There’s a through-line in the film about women and their yearning for husbands, even if their only choice is a loser. There’s an especially poignant scene where a good-hearted barfly tries to seduce a man on the street. Her target happens to be an alien who hasn’t found a human host. When she sees his real face, she shrieks and runs away. With his cover blown, the alien zaps her. Is there a message here about men and women? Perhaps in the sense that if women really knew the truth about men they’d run screaming? 

It’s also interesting that the posse formed to combat the aliens are found at the local maternity ward;  the ability to procreate is a sign that you’re an Earthmen and not an alien. The message - breeding is good; not breeding is bad - was weird then, and it’s weird now. Fortunately, the aliens are easy to kill. A German Shepard bites one on the tentacle and it bleeds to death. So much for the alien menace. Thanks to a few good dogs and some seed-carrying American males, the aliens abort their mission. Real Bill reclaims his body and all ends well. But didn’t it seem, just for a moment, that Marge and alien Bill were coming to an understanding? She had seemed genuinely moved when he admitted that he was starting to love her. This sort of unexpected moment is what makes Fowler’s movie better than most of its ilk.

The one-two punch of I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Married a Monster from Outer Space guarantees a special place for Gene Fowler Jr in the 1950s schlock hall of fame, if only because the two titles were so reviled in their time. An editorial in an Oswego newspaper railed that I Married a Monster…and films like it were, “geared to appeal to incipient psychotics in the ten-year mental age bracket.” Yet, the films aren’t bad at all. Werewolf hurtles like a rocket towards it climax, and I Married a Monster is probably the last good entry in the 1950s body snatching genre, creating a nice bookend for Siegal’s film of a few years earlier.  “The premise,” Fowler told FilmFax in 1990, “was kind of sad. The aliens, after all of their women had died off, were searching the galaxy for women to propagate their race. They were desperate. As far as they were concerned, what they were doing was very honest and very necessary. The fact that they were kicking the shit out of the Earth men was beside the point!”

I Married a Monster…began as a title without a story, as many low budget features did at the time. Fowler did a lot with a little. The alien ship, for instance, was just a door covered by some foliage, yet it looked immense and ominous.  And though Fowler bragged to UPI that Monster was “the cheapest picture in Paramount history,” he always “tried to put characterization into the monsters.”

Do Fowler’s two horror movies stand the test of time?  I think they do.  I prefer his Werewolf to the ones that came before it because of its energy and intensity. As for I Married a Monster From Outer Space, Tom Tryon allegedly hated his role, which Fowler later said accounted for his wooden performance. Yet, it’s Tryon’s very woodenness that makes him so eerie. I like the way his small, dark eyes glaze over when people talk to him. It’s how, say, an alien might look when he couldn’t understand his surroundings. In another movie, Tryon’s stiffness wouldn’t work. In this one, he’s perfect. Good enough, in fact, to impress the psychotic 10-year-old in me.




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