Alien Women

ANNOUNCEMENT: Next post is the big 100. Thanks to all my regular readers!

Since women scare men anyway, it’s only natural that there would be a lot of sci-fi movies in which the creature or otherworldly being is a female. Let’s take a look at some of the stranger ones.

One of the most intriguing (and most frustrating) films I saw at the drive-in was Curtis Harrington’s Queen of Blood (1966), starring John Saxon, Dennis Hopper and the unforgettable Florence Marly.

The distributing company, American International, had picked up an earlier Russian space film with spectacular (for the time) special effects, and Harrington was ordered to incorporate as much footage from it as possible into his movie. As a result, it’s a frustratingly heavily-padded movie whose intriguing central story would make a good “Twilight Zone” episode.

After aliens contact Earth to inform the population of an impending visit, their ambassador spaceship crashes on Mars. American astronaut rescuers find only one survivor on board (Marly)—a female with green skin, a Dairy Queen ice cream cone hairdo and a lust for human blood. The male astronauts are intrigued by their green guest, while the lone female astronaut, Laura (Judi Meredith) is suspicious, particularly since the alien woman—who is completely mute–reacts with disgust whenever she’s nearby.

Hopper’s character in particular is drawn to her, so of course he’s the first to go. The surviving astronauts realize they must protect themselves from her while assuring that she’s brought to earth safely for experimentation.

She can hypnotize the males, but not Laura. When this All-American woman catches the alien feeding on Brenner (John Saxon), a girlfight ensues, and the green lady is scratched.

Later, Laura and Brenner find her dead in a pool of green blood. They realize that she was a hemophiliac and was not able to clot after the scratch. She gets the last laugh, though—when they get back to earth and technicians start to search the ship, they find that the alien had lain glowing, throbbing red-green eggs all over the place.

Marly’s creature is great. Having no dialogue, her facial expressions, and the way her eyes are illuminated when she hypnotizes her victims, are quite memorable. But it really feels like about 30 minutes of the 81-minute film are filler: Rathbone speechifying, clips from the Russian film and long sequences of the astronauts walking around their training grounds and blathering. You can always do what I did—I recorded it from a cable broadcast, digitized it on my computer and made my own cut, which I burned to DVD. I think it runs about 45 minutes.

From England came Devil Girl from Mars (1954), a really low-budget sci-fier whose main interest (besides the great title) is the fact that it came from the U.K. at a time when its fantastic film industry was focused more on the Hammer remakes of classics horrors like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.

Patricia Laffan stars as the martian Nyah, a cross between Darth Vadar and a dominatrix, who lands in on earth to round up men to repopulate her planet. Since it’s based on a play (yes, really!), there’s a who-o-o-le lot of talking and not a lot of action, but if you’re fond of home country color with a bit of cheesy sci-fi thrown in, it might be right up your alley.

Some couples are staying at a little inn in the Scottish moors when Nyah struts in and states her purpose. Why such an out-of-the-way place to harvest men, you may ask? Her ship was damaged upon entry into the earth’s atmosphere, so she had to redirect from her original destination of the heart of London to the middle of nowhere. And instead of clamoring to get into Nyah’s ship, the men resist her plans because they don’t like—ahem—powerful women.

What little action the film has is buried by heaps and heaps of dialogue, but its most hilarious aspect is Nyah’s robot (pictured here). Intended to induce the same kind of fear Gort generated in the classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), this one is just hilarious.

Also of note are early appearances by genre stars Hazel Court (Masque of the Red Death) and Adrienne Corri (Vampire Circus), but this is another one that needs to be loaded on the computer and edited down into a highlight reel.

Another alien-woman-comes-to-earth film is The Astounding She-Monster (1957). It’s super-cheap, restricted to just a few sets, and basically the same action happens several times: alien comes into cabin, earthlings run out and go to the jeep. Alien confronts them on the road, earthlings rush back to the cabin.

There’s no synchronized dialogue during the outdoor scenes (they were probably shot MOS), so a loudmouthed narrator keeps advancing the plot along. The She-Monster (Shirley Kilpatrick) isn’t terribly astounding—she looks like someone who got a Divine makeover while wearing a body stocking.

It’s rumored that Kilpatrick was actually a younger, thinner Shirley Stoler, who attained cult status with films like The Honeymoon Killers, Seven Beauties and Frankenhooker. Frankly, it does kind of look like her!

It is also rumored that Ed Wood had a hand or two in the making of this film, and the dialogue certainly sounds like it could have issued from his Remington typewriter. Monster‘s director, Ronnie Ashcroft, worked with Wood on Night of the Ghouls. And Kenne Duncan, one of Wood’s stock players, has a leading role. Even the trailer makes it look like an Ed Wood film. Hmm…

Finally, let’s take a look at a shoulda-coulda-woulda-been. Tobe Hooper, whose career has been revived more frequently than Zsa Zsa Gabor (sorry) got a cash infusion from Cannon Films in 1985 to make three films—Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2—and they all stink!

The plot of Lifeforce sounds great: batlike creatures and three humanoids emerge from the tail of Halley’s Comet and transform most of the population of London into zombies. Plus, the lead alien (Mathilda May) who’s responsible for the outbreak is frequently naked, for those who are interested. As a matter of fact, most of the positive reviews on IMDB are from fanboys who’ve become human tripods because of the nudity.

Well, it’s not. The movie is a mess. As a matter of fact, it makes no sense at all. I’ve tried to watch it at least three times and have just been worn out by all the frantic goings-on. It’s like Hooper, four years after his estimable triumph with Poltergeist and 12 years after Texas Chainsaw, is trying to prove how relevant he still is. I really, really wanted to enjoy Lifeforce, but there comes a time in every wrongheaded film when the viewer’s brain becomes unplugged and enthusiasm deflates. That happens to me every time.

Invaders from Mars, despite the promising casting of Karen Black, who plays a school nurse helping the kid (her real-life son, Hunter Carson) who suspects his parents have “changed.” The only memorable scene in this film that I can recall involves Louise Fletcher, as a teacher who’s been invaded, gulping a live mouse down her gullet.

So what’s my favorite female alien movie? Well, for sheer entertainment value, I’d have to go with Plan 9 from Outer Space. Even though Vampira looks like…well, Vampira…she’s supposed to be an alien. And from the cardboard gravestones to the spaceship’s shower curtain door, man—it’s so funny.

Criswell: “Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown… the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places.

“My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?”

Oh, and Hunter Carson was the original Bud Bundy in the unaired pilot for “Married with Children.”

Women of Weird Cinema

Here’s a gallery of some of the actresses who’ve made their mark in weird cinema I’ve had the chance to meet over the years. Most were acquired at the Hollywood Collectors’ Show in Los Angeles, first at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in North Hollywood, then at the Burbank Hilton. From left to right, top to bottom (click image for larger picture):

P.J. Soles. Had prominent roles in some of the greatest and most influential films of the 1970s: “Halloween,” “Carrie” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” as well as the comedy hits “Stripes” and “Private Benjamin.” Recently, she was underutilized in William Lustig’s “Uncle Sam” (good premise but surprisingly subdued effort from Lustig and “It’s Alive”‘s Larry Cohen). At least Rob Zombie cast her and killed her good in “Devil’s Rejects.” P.J. is experiencing a renaissance and is getting into voiceover work.

Vampira. I met her while Tim Burton was shooting “Ed Wood.” Burton consulted her at length during preproduction. She was very interested in seeing how the final product would look but commented that Lisa Marie, who was playing her in the film, had too large a waist! (Vampira was famous for having a midsection so small that you could cup it in your hands and your fingers would touch.)

Julie Newmar. Funny and gracious. Her resume reads like the “greatest hits” of 60s TV history, including “Star Trek,” “Twilight Zone,” “Get Smart,” “Beverly Hillbillies” and, of course, “Batman,” as one of three actresses to play Catwoman during its run. Does anyone here beside me remember “My Living Doll”?

Lynn Lowry. Revered for some of the keystone films of the 70s: Cronenberg’s “Shivers,” Metzger’s “Score,” and Gershuny’s “Sugar Cookies” with Mary Woronov, but most importantly as the murderous mute hippie in David Durston’s “I Drink Your Blood.” Her porcelain beauty and huge blue eyes led directors to cast against her looks: she seemed innocent but she could reveal a vicious and/or perverse streak, and she delivered time and time again! Durston was so taken with her when they met that he wrote the role of the mute for her (because it was too late to add dialogue) in “I Drink Your Blood.” She looked great and eagerly talked about upcoming projects.

Susan Tyrrell. She could play both insane harridans and raving beauties and did both with gusto in such films as “Fat City,” “Andy Warhol’s Bad,” “Nightmare Maker” and John Waters’ “Cry Baby.” I met her at a Los Angeles performance of her one-woman show, “My Rotten Life: A Bitter Operetta” in 1999. She came out into the foyer after the show and generously mingled with the appreciative audience. Losing both her legs to a rare disease in 2000 has not stopped her zest for life. She just relocated to Austin; she still works, has her own myspace page and is as vulgar and outspoken as ever.

Linda Blair. This woman has done it all. After the landmark horror of “The Exorcist,” she became the troubled teen in TV movies like “Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic,” and “Born Innocent,” whose broomstick rape scene provoked so many viewer complaints that congressional hearings about “family hour” were held. In the 80s she became the WIP (women in prison) go-to girl and even showed her stuff in Oui Magazine. Now she crusades for animal rights and is doing a terrific job. She’s also a very nice person. I worked with a woman who bought one of her rescued dogs. Last time I saw her was at a PETA benefit screening of “The Exorcist” in 1999. Elvira introduced her, and the audience participation during the movie was hysterical.

Francesca “Kitten” Natividad. One of Russ Meyer’s most famous beauties, she is also very gracious and projects a surprisingly innocent quality considering what she’s been up to! Her filmography is an interesting mixture of adult projects, horror and spoofs. Tragically, she was forced to undergo a double mastectomy in 1999. Sweet and charming, she wasn’t hesitant to offer me — ahem — some special videos she had under the counter.

Beverly Garland. Beloved late actress and owner of the eponymous hotel that the collector’s show was held at for at least fifteen years. When I met her, she was witty and charming, and we laughed about the “alien carrot” in “It Conquered the World” as she signed the photo. My favorite story of hers, though, is during the shooting of “The Alligator People.” A mad scientist in the Louisana Swamps is attempting to merge men with alligators. Why? Because he’s mad! But in a key scene the creatures, who are in mid-transformation, come through a door to menace Beverly, but she thought their bandaged heads look like urinals. She laughed and laughed and it took forever to shoot the scene.

Betsy Palmer. The original Mrs. Voorhees in the original “Friday the 13th,” she was first embarrassed by the film, saying that she took the part because she needed a new car! Now she has embraced her cult status, and there was even talk of her doing a cameo in the remake. Frankly, it would have been a waste of her time. Betsy was a regular on numerous television game shows in the 1950s, and this still is from “Queen Bee,” a film she made with Joan Crawford.

Candace Hilligoss. Star of the surreal classic “Carnival of Souls” as well as Del Tenney’s “Curse of the Living Corpse” (Roy Scheider’s first starring role). She worked fervently to launch a remake of “Souls” in the 1980s with original director Herk Hervey (back before this new generation of love muffins), but by the time it came to fruition, it was a direct-to-video “Wes Craven Presents” disaster in 1998 and she was not involved.

Denice Duff. Star of the Full Moon “Subspecies” vampire series and “The Young and the Restless,” she has gone on to direct a vampire film of her own. She was embarrassed that she had signed my photo “Bite me,” but I thought it was great! It’s about time for another “Subspecies” installment.

Carroll Baker. Star of the taboo-shattering “Baby Doll,” which is still rated R on video for “thematic elements,” Ms. Baker made a few other Hollywood films and then went to Europe for a series of bizarre Italian thrillers (giallos). She played the suburban hitwoman in “Andy Warhol’s Bad,” and was in-person as you would expect: cool, reserved and probably had lots of stories to tell if the mood was right.