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Shock-O-Rama: Babes from Out of this World
Look into my eyes!
By Chuck Francisco
September 15, 2012
A dark suited stranger carries an odd briefcase. His mannerisms are difficult to place. Is he a foreigner? His intentions are unreadable behind sunglasses, which he never removes until it's time to dish out a look which can kill. Doggedly determined to carry out his mission, this man from another world works with ruthless, single minded precision. The blood that courses through earthmen's veins may be all which can sustain his dying people. Through mind control, bribery, and murder, the alien Mr. Johnson's plan to save his world will lead to the subjugation of ours. Will the skills of a nurse and her policeman boyfriend be enough to combat his powerful technology? I'd say it's likely, though I've seen all three versions of Not of This Earth, and lived to tell the tale.
Believe it or not, that same plot description could be aptly applies to each version. There's something to be said for a strong story, possessing enough appeal to be successfully used back to back to back with very little modification. It's true that the last version, released less than ten years following the excellent second incarnation, wasn't actually very successful and was, in fact, utterly forgettable in the wake of the luscious Traci Lords. Let's take a good look at each one, though, in order to best address it's strengths and weaknesses.
Not of This Earth (1957)
Mania Grade: B
Director: Roger Corman
Writer: Charles B. Griffith, Mark Hannah
Distributor: Shout! Factory (2010)
Made for (according to Corman) around $70,000 and in only twelve days, the original Not of This Earth is a textbook example of independent science fiction cinema of the 1950's. It was built quickly and cheaply as the second part of a double feature being sold to theaters (featured with Attack of the Crab Monster). It's short run time, 67 minutes for the theatrical cut and 71 for the TV cut (which included repeated scenes to pad it out), was perfect, neither seeming too short, nor over staying it's welcome. And, as with nearly all Roger Corman films, it made money. One of Corman's many claims to fame is that only one of his films ever lost money. Ironically that film, The Intruder, was his most personal, and was huge break from his normal fluffy fare (it was an indictment on southern racism in 1962 staring William Shatner).
In this version, Corman stock player Beverly Garland owns the role of the nurse Nadine, employed by the alien Mr. Johnson to look after his house. Paul Birch plays the mysterious and powerful man from another planet, possessing the ability to hypnotize human minds or vaporize their eyes and brains using his pupil-less eyes. His only seeming weakness is hypersensitivity to loud noises, which leads to his undoing during the film's climax. Notable also is a wonderful performance by Dick Miller as a sleazy vacuum cleaner salesman, a role which he apparently shaped himself, comprised of lines he supposedly add-libbed on the spot. Keen eyed viewers will notice that later shots of Mr.Johnson in the film are of a double, as Birch got into a fist fight with Corman and had walked off the production.
This version is in the public domain, so you can watch it on both archive.org or YouTube.com. If you're looking for better quality (and more bang for your buck), it's also available from Shout! Factory as part of the Roger Corman Cult Classics series. The release is a two disc, triple feature which includes Attack of the Crab Monsters and War of the Satellites, in addition to Not of This Earth. There's also a great interview of Corman discussing the making of these films.
Not of This Earth (1988)
Mania Grade: B+
Director: Jim Wynorski
Writer: Jim Wynorski, Mark Hanna, Charles Griffith
Distributor: Shout! Factory (2010)
A man's got to have a set of cojones on him the size of small moons to bet Roger Corman that he could remake one of him films on the same twelve day shooting schedule, and on the same budget (adjusted for inflation). Jim Wynorski is that man. Rumor has it he rides with his nuts next to him on the passenger seat (I made that up). Not only did he manage to keep to the budget, but he finished filming in only eleven and a half days. The opening sequence, which portrays the destructive war on Mr. Johnson's home world (the impetus for his trip to see if Earth is suitable for colonization), is actually comprised of various monstrous alien shots from a number of other Corman films including Humanoids from the Deep, Battle Beyond the Stars, and Galaxy of Terror (and several others which I wasn't able to identify).
I've always found this version of Not of this Earth to be the most entertaining. Plenty of that credit has to go to Traci Lords, whose charism and screen presence bring a sense of fun to the film. This was the first legitimate acting role for the former porn star, who sadly would not go on to continue working in the Corman system because she (ironically) didn't want to appear nude in subsequent films (though she is on glorious display here). Arthur Roberts adds both some extra menace to the role of Mr. Johnson, as well as a touch of sympathy. It's true that he plans to subjugate Earth, but he's only doing so to save his people.
If you're looking to check out the flesh on display here, and you're looking for an interesting and funny science fiction film (They don't have to be mutually exclusive!), you should absolutely put this on your list. It's the epitome of cheesy B movies (even though it was never the second part of a double feature). Shout! Factory again rides to our rescue, putting out an excellent DVD release that includes an in depth interview with Traci Lords and a commentary track from director Jim Wynorski. It's also currently available via Netflix streaming (if you're in to such things).
Not of This Earth (1995)
Mania Grade: C-
Director: Terence Winkless
Writer: Charles B. Griffith, Phillip Moore
Distributor: New Concorde (1995)
And we nerds complain about the state of remakes in today's Hollywood! Here's another take on the original, a mere seven years following the fantastic Traci Lords version. However, with most remakes, a completely separate group of people take someone else's idea and give it life through their own imagination. Corman's at the helm again here as the executive producer and reeks of familiarity. More than anything else, this take fails because we'd just gotten the definitive version less than a decade earlier. Even Basil Exposition himself, Michael York, can't elevate this reheated fast food to worthwhile levels. The proof is in the home release pudding, as is said: this hasn't seen a home release since got a DVD pressed in 2003. If you're a glutton for punishment, there a number of "new" copies available from sellers on Amazon, but you're much better off with either of the previous incarnations.
If you aren't already hooked on the Roger Corman's Cult Classic series from Shout! Factory, I can't recommend them enough. Randomly grab one of the double, triple, or quad feature packs; gather a few friends, and make a kick ass Saturday night out of it; that's what cheesy movies are for!
Saturday Shock-O-Rama Streaming Suggestions
Want to watch something schlocky right now? Try on a few of these suggestions, available right now from the listed service (most of which are FREE!).
Last week I suggested that you check out the FREE HD feature length films available on Hammer Studio's YouTube page. This week's free features can be found on Troma's new YouTube page, which doesn't only include their films, but also films they distribute. The price can't be beat.
And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema. You can hear him on awesome podcast You've Got Geek or follow him out on Twitter.