Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz!
I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “Moebius” with a minor in “Movies Based on Magazinesl”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week Supercult takes you beyond the future to a universe of awesome good and terrifying evil with Heavy Metal!
When an alien spacecraft comes to Earth planning to use it as a farm to raise their alien delicacies, the majority of the crew show little but contempt for the pitiful inhabitants. But the young Derek is different from his scoffing comrades and inadvertently finds solace with local girl Betty Morgan and her Grandpa. Can Derek save his newfound love from his former crewmates and their devastating disintegrator ray? And what of the alien creature the team brought with them? Only a miracle can save the Earth from…Teenagers from Outer Space!
Teenagers from Outer Space, not to be confused with the comedy tabletop RPG about teen culture obsessed aliens, is a 1959 sci-fi/horror film directed, produced, and written by Tom Graeff. Also, he did the cinematography, the editing, and the music, coordinated the special effects, and had a major acting role as reporter Joe Rogers. Oh, yeah, and the film was produced by Tom Graeff Productions. Also known as The Gargon Terror and The Ray Gun Terror, the movie is 90 minutes of off-the-wall, low-budget, Z-grade cheese. Plot-wise, it’s a pretty standard ‘aliens come to earth to teach us how to be nice to each other’, Jesus allegory plus lasers and spaceships…thing. The hilarious part though is that the whole story could be told in less than 15 minutes if the central characters actually met up and talked, but instead they shuffle around “just missing” each other for nearly an hour. What’s better than germs at stopping incoming alien invaders? Hormones of course! But the next best thing to annoyingly innocent teenage love-interests is to simply keep all the important people from ever having a face to face conversation.
Teenagers from Outer Space stars David Love, Dawn Bender, and Bryan Grant (born Bryan Pearson), many of whom are actually aliases and all of whom were in their 20’s and 30’s at the time of filming, note teenagers as the title would have you believe. Producers Bryan and Ursula Pearson and Gene Sterling (who also play “Thor”, “Hilda”, and “The Leader”, respectively) provided the $14,000 budget, which, even by the standards of the time, was less than shoestring. Even so, according to Pearson the crew employed many guerrilla tactics in order to cut costs.
Tom Graeff, who seems to have done almost everything on the film, shot in and around Hollywood California mostly in the vicinity of Sunset Boulevard and Highland Avenue. Though a number of tell-tale landmarks like Bronson Canyon in Griffith Park and Hollywood High School give away the locale, Graeff’s steady hand and keen eye for framing kept most of the real locations under wraps, creating a great low-budget illusion of a small town. Unable to afford time on a sound stage Graeff also secured the location for Betty Morgan’s house for free from an elderly woman by posing as a student at UCLA (which he had graduated from 5 years previous). The woman who owned the house even let the crew use her electricity to power their equipment during shoots.
Other cost-cutting techniques are more noticeable, however. The space costumes used were simply flight suits decorated with masking tape, dress shoes covered in socks, and a surplus Air Force Helmet, and many of the special effects were actually mildly edited stock footage. The giant Gargon space monster seen on screen is actually modified footage of a normal-sized lobster. Props included a single-bolted-joint skeleton complete with conspicuous markings in permanent marker, which was re-used for every dead body in the film, a multichannel mixer that the producers made no attempt to camouflage (even clearly bearing the label “Multichannel Mixer MCM-2”) as a piece of alien equipment, and a now infamous dime-store Hubley’s “Atomic Disintegrator” toy with an added flashbulb as the aliens’ deadly focusing disintegrator ray. In some scenes the words “Hubley’s” can clearly be seen embossed on the side of the gun. Now-a-days vintage Hubley’s Atomic Disintegrator toys can be bought on Ebay for upwards of $500.
In an unusual practice at the time, Graeff also pre-recorded some of the film’s dialogue for several scenes and had the actors learn to synchronize their actions with the sound. Even the score itself came from stock archives and has been recycled in countless B-movies such as The Killer Shrews and Night of the Living Dead.
Needless to say the film looks, sounds, and probably tastes like 24-carat crap, and this fact was not lost on producers Bryan and Ursula Pearson, who took Graeff to court in order to get back their $5,000 investment and a percentage of any profits. After a year of legal battling the couple got their $5,000 back but the judge ruled there was no profit to share. Tom and the Pearsons, who had been good friends during production, never spoke to each other again.
The film bombed at the box office, putting further stress on an already-burdened Graeff, and in the fall of 1959 Tom Graeff suffered a breakdown, proclaiming himself the second coming of Christ. After a number of public appearances followed by a subsequent arrest for disrupting a church service, Graeff disappeared from Hollywood until 1964 and committed suicide in 1970.
Yes, as with many of the best-worst films throughout history, Teenagers from Outer Space comes with a heaping side of tragedy, but we can be sure that Tom Graeff (or Jesus II as he probably preferred to be called later in life) would have wanted us to enjoy his beautiful, awful, so-astonishingly-bad-that-it’s-actually-pretty-stupendous movie in his memory!
Teenagers from Outer Space has a 3.5 on IMDB, a modest 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, has been featured on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and it’s even in the public domain!
Grab a dollar-store ray gun and your fake UCLA student ID’s!
The Supercult show is proud to present Teenagers from Outer Space!