Home Video Reviews
Directing sensation Roger Corman hit his stride in 1957, pumping out a half-dozen separate features for the drive-in crowd. This 'teenage problem' movie adheres closely to the Production Code while talking a tough line of hood-speak. It features a full cast of name talent from the then-topical Juvenile Delinquent sub-genre.
Synopsis: After a gang fight, Barbara Bonney (June Kenney) is convinced she pushed Tarantula gang member Nan Baker to her death from a rooftop. While the Tarantulas consider her fate, Barbara runs to her con-man boyfriend Eddie Rand (John Brinkley), the leader of the rival Vandals gang. Various gang members have alcoholics, adulterers or repressive fools for parents. Younger sisters and brothers are neglected in sordid home situations. With a gang fight expected, Barbara has to decide whether to run away with Eddie or turn herself into the cops.
Teenage Doll does its best to talk tough. Corman regular Chuck Griffith's script sags under the weight of painfully neutered euphemisms like, "I don't give a flying flip," and "I was weaned on a .38!" The atmosphere is low-budget Corman all the way. Except for a junkyard and a few street scenes most of the settings are improvised on bare sound stages or poorly dressed soundstage exteriors. Floyd Crosby's lighting is professional but flat and Corman's direction rushed. A tame, brief gang fight is hyped with huge "punch" sound effects. Although provocative words like "naked" are frequent, the strongest visual is a close-up of a bra strap being hooked.
Corman may have recruited some of the cast from his acting class. Genre fans will feel right at home with familiar Corman faces Barboura Morris and Richard Devon, and June Kenny, Fay Spain, and Ed Nelson. Many of the performances, though, are downright embarrassing. The teens talk like 14 year-olds but look to be pushing 25. Each is afforded a fat 'audition' speech to strut their stuff, making the dramatic structure resemble a string of amateur improvs. Although Ziva Rodann does a nice job as a gang-ette named 'squirrel,' one young hood menacing Barbara ruins several scenes with his overacting. June Kenney looks distraught but keeps a perfect wave in her hair throughout, while Fay Spain barks out unconvincing threats and orders like a bad imitation of 'Anybody's' in West Side Story.
The rushed, cheap picture lasts only 68 minutes; some of Corman's science fiction and horror pix of the period are lavish by comparison. An Allied Artists release from the Woolner brothers, Teenage Doll is recommended for Corman fans and hardcore devotees of the teen-pix subgenre.
Image Entertainment's DVD of Teenage Doll looks clean and snappy. The crisp photography is handsome but the transfer may be slightly cropped at the sides. The accompanying trailer ("Hellcats in tight pants!") is almost identically framed.
This impoverished production was actually a winner in the 1950s independent sweepstakes. Warner Bros. reinvented Toho's Godzilla Raids Again as Gigantis: The Fire Monster and needed a co-feature to send out on a quickie double bill. A look at what was available turned up Tom Graeff's affable turnip of a space invasion picture, a homemade but rather handsomely shot poverty picture with a clear plotline and characters a seven-year old could understand. In fact, the movie played best to monster-crazy seven year-olds.
Synopsis: A flying saucer lands outside Los Angeles, disgorging four young aliens in search of a planet suitable as grazing turf for millions of giant Gargon monsters. Sensitive Derek (David Love) objects when he finds signs of intelligent life, and runs away. The commander dispatches the hateful Thor (Bryan Grant) to bring Derek back. Not realizing he's being followed, Derek meets cute Betty Morgan (Dawn Anderson) and her pleasant grandfather (Harvey B. Dunn). In his pursuit Thor 'skeletonizes' several unlucky people with his disintegrator ray. Government security agents and Betty's journalist boyfriend Joe Rogers (Tom Lockyear, actually director Graeff) track down Thor, while Derek takes steps to see that his alien comrades menace the Earth no more!
With a title like Teenagers from Outer Space nobody expects anything watchable, let alone good. By 1959 the 'teenage' craze was fading and the majors were driving cheapie productions off the market by releasing fantastic films in color (The Blob, The Fly, The 4-D Man). Tom Graeff's little one-man show is more coherent than many broken-down efforts from the same year, like Attack of the Giant Leeches and The Brain Eaters. It looks every bit as professional as television productions of the time, and plays out at the measured pace of a TV show like Father Knows Best.
The painfully literal script gives all the players expository speeches that pigeonhole them into neat character slots. The sweet girl-next-door adopts Derek practically as a replacement for her lost puppy. Grandpa fills every conversational gap with mellow happy-speak. Joe the reporter wears a hat suitable for 1930 and affects a gee-whiz manner to match. The soul-sick Derek, a disillusioned defector from a brutal interplanetary civilization, waxes philosophical about his particular cosmic predicament. He's a stranger in a strange world and adopts Earth as his new home. Everyone's speech patterns have a measured cadence; Graeff once offered the information that, because he could not afford live audio recording, he carefully timed out and then pre-recorded all of the film's speeches. The tapes were played back on the set and the actors did their best to match their lips to them, a method tried and abandoned by Orson Welles at RKO in 1940. Whether or not the dialogue had to be re-looped, the pitch of the performances was established before the chaos of filming, reducing director Graeff's workload on the set. The filming style must have been the exact opposite of improvisation.
Production-wise, Teenagers from Outer Space is staged at the level of a high-school play. The aliens wear cheap jump suits, use Air Force surplus jet helmets and tote ordinary footlockers to carry their gear. One Gargon monitoring device bears the markings of an audio mixer. Thor's disintegrator gun looks like an antiquated dime store Flash Gordon toy, and the ray gun firing effect is simply a mirror reflecting sunlight. Graeff's clever cutting sells the idea of victims instantly converted to skeletons, as noted in the promotional hype about a "Ray Gun Rampage" and the sight of "Flesh Blasted from Bones." The skeletonized victims come complete with sawed skulls, metal brackets and wire rib holders, indicating that the "prop" had to be returned to the school science lab after filming.
The sight of the corkscrew-shaped flying saucer worming its way into the ground is cleverly done, but by the last reel the special effects go way downhill. The cast points upward and tells us that hundreds of Gargon transport ships are converging in the sky, but Graeff neglects to show any of them. The worst visual is the Gargon itself. Seen when small as an ordinary, unhappy-looking lobster, the giant Gargon is a crudely matted silhouette that may be the least convincing effect of the 1950s.
Tom Graeff's film works because its heart is in the right place. Derek is peace loving and gentle, Thor is a nasty baddie, and poor Betty loses both her dog and its romantic replacement from the stars. The primitive theatrics are actually quite touching -- the show finds its own humble level of dramatic integrity.
Image's DVD of Teenagers from Outer Space looks fine, and may come from Tom Graeff's original elements. His photography is consistent and clear. Hollywood residents will notice many locations. A high angle shot of the town is the entrance to the Beachwood drive enclave, and we get a good look at the side of the Cole Street fire station as well as an entrance to Hollywood High. The marble steps seen in the big G-Man battle (with scratched film representing the guns firing) may be the Wilcox Post Office, and a winding hillside road may be the one leading to the Hollywood reservoir dam.
Jacques Marquette must have made Teenage Monster with money left over from The Brain from Planet Arous, a much more enjoyable film. Originally titled Meteor Monster and shown under that title on television, this is one of the dullest of the late 50s drive-in quickies.
Synopsis: A meteor kills miner Jim Cannon (Jim McCullough) and scars his young boy Charles (Stephen Parker). Fifteen years later, Charles (Gilbert Perkins) has grown into a king-sized freak with a scarred face, ugly teeth and fur that covers his entire body. He's also a murderous half-wit. Charles' mother Ruth (Anne Gwynne) has kept him hidden all these years, but the mysterious killings escalate when they strike gold, and Ruth starts seeing more of Sheriff Bob Lehman (Stuart Wade). Charles abducts waitress Kathy North (Gloria Castillo) and Ruth attempts to bribe her into silence. Instead, the conniving Kathy uses Charles to murder Marv Howell (Charles Courtney), a faithless lover. A posse closes in on the Cannon's new house, eager to kill the now-legendary monster.
Critics and reviewers can't be blamed for calling Teenage Monster sordid, as 1957 was way too early for a genre picture that featured mental retardation with an unsavory sexual angle. Gil Perkins' stammering, whining furry killer doesn't evoke enough interest to be either pitiful or unintentionally funny.
The Freudian setup quickly becomes a bad joke as furry Charlie kills people left and right, only to be really sorry when his mother berates him. Then he goes out and kills some more, demonstrating that neither of them has learned their lesson. Put Ann Blyth and Joan Crawford in the Charlie and Ruth roles and this might have been the logical horror successor to Mildred Pierce -- What's a mother to do? Charles goes off the deep end as soon as he sees Mom getting cozy with her new boyfriend, the Sheriff. Charles immediately tries to kiss and cuddle with Kathy North, his kidnap victim, but the film is too incompetent to tell us who he really wants to sleep with.
The film is so primitive that none of the ugly subtext seems to matter. The same four interior sets carry the entire film, and exterior scenes frequently jump from day to night. Marquette's action direction is terrible. The people on horseback ride as if they had their first lesson half an hour before. Plodding from event to event, the film barely holds our attention.
Impossible characters defeat the actors, even favorite Gloria Castillo (Ruby in The Night of the Hunter). Castillo does her best to act like an evil woman (yes, yet another film that puts the Blame on Mame) but her big sad eyes give her away. Although the makeup man is the legendary Jack Pierce, Gil Perkins' proto-Wookie has no menace, looking more like a victim of The Curse of the Tribbles.
The movie and especially its conclusion appear to have been filmed at Stony Point, a rocky outcropping at the beginning of the Santa Susana pass between the San Fernando Valley and Simi Valley. Back in 1957 it had several impressive views; now it is hemmed in on all four sides by developments and freeways.
Teenage Monster is sourced from a better-than-average theatrical print with few scratches and only a couple of minor splice breaks. A trailer is included that cannot make the show look like anything but what it is...a real snooze.
Image's Teen Terror Collection isn't the best of Wade Williams' crop of 1950s oddities, as the third feature Teenage Monster will send any cult film freak back to the mainstream. All three are in better shape than many of Williams' offerings. The fat keep case holds three discs and is decorated with a collage of graphics from the original posters.
For more information about Teen Terror Collection, visit Image Entertainment. To order Teen Terror Collection, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson