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Saturday, April 28, 2012


Some movies are what we call “horror” because they include monsters that are make-believe, existing only on film or in nightmares.  Some movies are “horror” because they are based on real people (or their types) who very much exist in the real world.  Lightning Bug is a horror movie of the latter type—the type that scares us because it’s a true story, too close for comfort simply because it exists in the world at all.

Green Graves (Bret Harrison) is teenager with more than one monster threatening his dreams to escape a nightmare.  His monsters are an abusive stepfather, the ultra-religious mother of a newfound girlfriend, and the townspeople in general who don’t understand people unlike themselves.  Earl Knight (Kevin Gage) is Green’s stepfather.  He’s a man of the worst type—one who abuses women, drinks excessively, uses drugs, and smiles at you one moment, ready to kill you the next.  Ms. Duvet (Shannon Eubanks) is a religious superwoman who considers Green satanic, because of his talent for special effects (which of course includes creating monsters of the latex sort).  She’s determined to cleanse her daughter of his influence, at any cost—even if it is involves committing sins herself.  As for the townspeople, the congregation of Ms. Duvet’s church is an iconic army of sign-wielding bible thumpers who, at times, resemble the vigilante mob in a Frankenstein movie.  They represent the religious superheroes in society—the extremists who intervene in secular issues to the point of being monsters themselves.  All of these are real in our world, affecting the unlucky among us with all the voracity of the worst in make-believe monsters.  Lightning Bug is the perfect storm of real-world horrors in an all-too-common microcosm of life.

How is Green Graves threatened by so many real monsters in Lightning Bug?  I suppose that is like asking why so many humans act like humans, creating so many chances for people to encounter their human behaviors.  Some people are just unlucky enough, like Green, to experience more than their fair share of bad luck in life.  As for being cursed with a wicked stepfather, the answer is simple and typical.  Green’s mother Jenny (Ashley Laurence), as the story begins, has arrived in small-town Alabama, because she has nowhere else to go.  She’s with Green and his younger brother Jay (Lucas Till) in front of a run-down trailer that’s barely standing.  Soon enough, Jenny is with Earl Knight drinking, doing drugs, and making up excuses for all of Earl’s abusive behaviors.  Jenny is a battered woman, with Earl, because of the money he provides, and because of her own dysfunctions, being addicted to abuse.  She couldn’t escape, even if she had the chance, because it’s all she knows.

As for how all the monsters are connected, it’s part of the genius of it all.  Some movies couldn’t handle so many monsters at once, but director Robert Hall does, and he does it well.  They are interwoven so well within the story, that they, at times, seem like only different arms of the same monster.  The way Earl, Ms. Duvet, and the town at large work to destroy Green, together unknowingly, would seem contrived, if it wasn’t for our common sense reminding us it’s real.  No matter how crazy it gets, we know that real life can be just as crazy.

Laura Prepon—the sassy redhead from That 70s Show—is Angevin Duvet, the standout girlfriend of Green who seems too savvy for the town.   She stands out like a torch, amongst everything else, with her big-city style and beauty, like a kindred spirit for Green.  She’s like a splash of color against a monochrome background, in every frame.  Angevin has a shady past that director Robert Hall keeps hidden, until the end.  Hall surprises us with the truth about Angevin that isn’t quite what we thought, long after we stop wondering.  Angevin serves as a possible obstacle for Green more than once, but emerges as more of an angel in the end.  “How’s that?” you say.  I’m not telling, even if you introduce me to Laura Prepon.  Just kidding!  Some things I can’t resist!

As you might imagine, Lightning Bug is a violent movie at times.  There is domestic violence, verbally-abused women and children, and graphic as well as implied images of murder.  However, at no point is the violence excessive or gratuitous.  There’s just enough to make the movie realistic and effective.  In the behind-the-scenes special on the DVD, I learned that a scene showing a bullet exiting a man’s head was deleted in the final cut.  This was a smart decision, as it would have been inconsistent with the more effective omission of such gore.  Just enough was just right!

Lightning Bug is also sometimes humorous, but only in the way real life can be—albeit sometimes in the most extreme of ways.  Ms. Duvet has an attachment to her ex-husbands pillow that must be seen to be appreciated (and laughed at).  The way this is used against her, to make her do what is right, is yet another humorous extreme to see.  The humor, while acting as a needed relief, also helps to emphasize the horror of real life otherwise.

The acting in Lightning Bug is superb all around!  There’s a wide variety of characters in the movie, and they are all played expertly by everyone.  Normally, it’s easy picking out the one or two actors who gave the knock-out performance—but not in Lightning Bug!  In the behind-the-scenes special I watched, the actors also talked about how they were not paid much for their work, as it was a lower-budget, independent film.  They also talked about how they were just as committed to make the movie a standout regardless.  They all proved again just how much people can accomplish, with or without big Hollywood budgets and premium pay.  This movie appears no less than the best of what Hollywood can do!

Bret Harrison does a knockout job of playing Green Graves!  He shows a believable transformation from a naïve boy to a young man who gains strength and wisdom in the face of all that tries to destroy him.  Although I’m partial to Laura Prepon, her performance as Angevin is perfect; her character has a well of emotions that Prepon is able to bring to the surface, on cue, in a most believable and natural way.  With more screen time, Bob Penny could have stolen the show as another of Green’s angels who helped and encouraged Green in the face of so many obstacles; Bob is a veteran actor who brings realism to anything he does.  Although others could have played the part of Ms. Duvet, no one could have done it better than Shannon Eubanks; a religious zealot can be a stereotype, but Shannon gave the cliché originality.  Kevin Gage played the part of Earl Knight well enough to make me wonder how much he might be like the character in life.  (No insult intended, Kevin.  You just did it too well!)

Director Robert Hall gives a big wink to horror fans when Ashley Laurence (Kirsty Cotton from Hellraiser) picks up a copy of Fangoria magazine, while in a supermarket.  Any serious fans out there will know exactly what I’m talking about, as soon as it happens.  Speaking of Ashley Laurence, I must add that I was most impressed with her performance as Green’s well-intentioned but dysfunctional mother.  Previously, I’ve seen her kicking Cenobitic ass, as the cunning, puzzle-solving cutie from Hellraiser.  In Lightning Bug, Laurence was totally convincing as an opposite character type—an uneducated, drug-using mom, complete with all the mannerisms and accents you’d expect.

“What do Lightning Bugs have to do with this movie?” you may ask.  I suppose the answer is subjective, as it is in most good movies that let the viewer decide.  I can only offer you my idea of what the connection could be.  Lightning Bugs, you see, represent many different things to many different people.  Their meaning may even change as we grow from children to adults (hence the ambiguity here).  Lightning Bugs, because of their pretentious nature as a maker of light, stand out among other insects.  They glow in the night, drawing attention to themselves, advertising their originality, and, at the same time, making themselves vulnerable to those who find them curious and different.  They are often captured in jars, kept, and watched for a night, until their short life in our world is over.  They are like so many people in the world who are like lightning bugs, captured because of their differences behind a glass jar—a jar representing the obstacles and circumstances in life.  Am I right about all of this?  Not necessarily, but that’s not important.  What is important is that the movie made me think.  It’s a rare movie that does that.  Is Green one of the lucky Lightning Bugs who escapes from the jar, despite everything against him, to go on and glow for all to see.  Or, is he one of those who remains trapped in the jar?  You’ll have to watch the movie to answer that question.

The true test for liking Lightning Bug may indeed be with its ending--whether or not it's what you want--and I do stress want as opposed actually expecting realistically.  Yes, many of us want--while later calling it too predictable--the boy and girl to fall in love and live happily ever after...together, no less.  But, does that happen?  We may also want the happy couple to take the little brother with them as well.  Does that happen?  Finally (in the possible absence of all else), does Green refuse to take Angevine's money as we want--even though she really, sincerely wants him to have it?  And again, does even Green himself manage to escape from the town?  Yes, we may want all of these clichéd things that make us feel better about humanity--while later criticizing the movie for being so much like everything else.  However, in the end, Lightning Bug is a movie where people act just like people sometimes do in real life, whether we like it or not.

Even with all the possibilities for disappointment, Lightning Bug is more than just a good movie; it’s a great movie!  It’s one of those rare types that make you think about it long after it’s over.  It makes you see things differently, humbles you, and, if you’re lucky, makes you feel fortunate in the end.  It makes you want to tell your friends about it, and even go out on the limb to recommend it.  Yes, Lightning Bug is one of the rare bugs that gets out of the jar and shines for all to see.  See it, talk about it, and, above all, enjoy!

Starring Bret Harrison, Laura Prepon, Kevin Gage, Ashley Laurence, Shannon Eubanks, Lucas Till, and Bob Penny, Written by Robert Hall, Directed by Robert Hall, Edited by Joshua Charson, Cinematography by Brandon Trost, Music by Jason M. Hall, Produced by Kevin Bocarde, Robert Hall, Laura Prepon, and Lisa Waugh

Friday, April 20, 2012


Movies that tell a story without words are some of the most powerful.  Because there are no words, the visual palate of the film must paint its imagery all the more vividly in the mind of the viewer.  Crestfallen is just such a movie that, in the end, makes us feel we’ve heard everything spoken…and seen far more—that is, far more than what we we’re shown.   In only 6 minutes, the movie tells a story of depth and emotion that seems to have lasted much longer.

Crestfallen begins with scenes from someone’s life, familiar enough that they could be our own or from someone we know.  A montage of memories—images of love, marriage, happiness, and joy—are mixed with music that’s ethereal, and suddenly ominous, in a loop that leads us to something surely foreboding.  A woman enters a room, becomes a silhouette and disrobes, almost as an angel.  The only light from a window makes the scene both heavenly and gothic; mystery and desolation are, again, more telling of something less than happy ahead.  The woman submerges herself in the water of a tub in darkness, and emerges to bathe her face in light; yes, the juxtaposition of contrasts is consistent and sets the tone well—musically, physically, and emotionally.  (It’s a metaphorical light and dark difference as a theme.)   The woman studies a dagger, as if it’s sacred, turning it to reveal its angles as it shines in the light.  Next, a coup de gras moment floods the screen with more memories—those of despair, betrayal, and regret—along with the blood of her mortality; blood mixes with water, revealing more memories as it spreads.   As the camera tilts and turns, we feel the woman’s life draining from her—the disorientation and surreal moments of death (or so we think).
Yes, Crestfallen is about suicide (or rather about the process of it)—both mentally and physically, as it affects one woman, or anyone; that detail simply can’t be avoided.  Trying to keep it a secret is futile…and even pointless.  However, mentioning it doesn’t include a spoiler; the film is, I think, really about something more important—the vanity of life seen through the eyes of death.  Changes of heart are really the darnedest things, especially when they happen while the heart itself is dying.

No, I’m not going so far as to tell you that the woman (called Lo in the credits) lives or dies in the end.  I must leave something for you to discover (or decide for yourself) in this film I know you’ll watch.  Even though that seems an important detail (surely like the biggest spoiler of all), you’ll see for yourself that it really isn’t.   Again, I’ll refer to the process—rather than the product—that, in the end, seems most important.

Deneen Melody is a natural in her role as the woman silently telling her story.  Her angelic beauty conveys innocence, no matter what her thoughts reveal; sadness is felt, pure and untouched, from her soul, as if she really is the character she portrays.  Deneen’s captivates us, making us a part of her; the despair in her eyes is real and convincing, as if from experience.  While others may have played her role, others could not have played it better.  Deneen is comfortable and absorbed in her character, and her performance shows it; she portrays the poetry of Crestfallen with a style that makes it one to remember—and even one to watch again.   Deneen has previously starred in other short films—including Lewis and Blood Kin; she will also appear in an upcoming film titled Rose White (where Deneen is the writer, actress, and producer).   I look forward to seeing more from Deneen in the future; with her talent, she’s a star with the brightest of careers ahead!

The flow of Crestfallen is as smooth as running water; scenes glide from one to another with the streaming consciousness of thoughts and memories.  As I watched it, I felt swept along with the story and the music; the flow of events and rhythm kept me moving at the same pace, never compelling me to check the time or think of what I else I could be doing.  I really wanted to know what would happen next, from one scene to another, until the very end.

Crestfallen is a work of art without words; dialogue would only have brought it down to a more common level, making it like too many other stories of its kind.  It’s an example of how a tragic but ordinary story can become tragic and extraordinary.  Countless stories like Crestfallen are played out each day in life, but few are told so well as a work of art.

I would normally not talk as much about plot in a review, but Crestfallen is a film that must be analyzed as much as it is reviewed.  It’s a short film that is very concisely and fully about ideas and meanings that are literally in every frame of its running time.  Watching the story unfold for the first time—with all of its style and imagery—still leaves plenty to be seen, regardless of what you’ve read here or elsewhere.  In other words, I haven’t spoiled a thing!

Crestfallen was directed by Jeremiah Kipp.  He has directed numerous other short films including The Sadist, Easy Prey, Contact, The Pod, The Christmas Party, Snapshot, Drool, and The Apartment; he was also the assistant director of one of my personal favorites—I Sell the Dead.  Kipp, teamed with Dominick Sivilli as director of photography, creates a movie in a way that the mind thinks most creatively.  In Crestfallen, Kipp and Sivilli sweep the viewer along with poetic visuals, linking images and scenes that speak to our way of thinking and wondering, making even the surreal seem familiar.  The camera, under their direction, focuses on the ordinary, giving it extraordinary meaning; just the right lighting and angles on Lo’s instrument of suicide turn it into an object for thought and meaning beyond what it literally is.  Drops of blood spreading through water symbolize the movement of memories, blending with life…and death.  The turning and tilting of our perspective as Lo’s life drains away—along with familiar thoughts—helps us identify with even what seems beyond us.

Harry Manfredini is another who must be applauded here.  His score for Crestfallen is perfect for the mood of the film.  Along with the acting of Deneen Melody and the directing of Jeremiah Kipp, Manfredini’s musical score is the vital third part of the whole that makes it soar above the ordinary.  His music is haunting and foreboding, while, at the right time, ethereal, hopeful, and uplifting; it develops, with a life of its own, the poetry in the story, beyond the level of a simple narrative.   In a movie with no words, music is even more important, and Manfredini delivers exactly what’s needed.

Crestfallen is more than a movie; it’s a work of art in motion.  It’s definitely worth watching once, at least to understand the reasons to watch it more than once.  It’s like reading a good poem that you read often; it doesn’t take long, but it sure gives you lots to think about afterwards.  Put Crestfallen on your movie-watching list today!  It’s one of the best things you could do in 6 minutes!

Starring Deneen Melody and Michael Partipilo, Directed by Jeremiah Kipp, Director of Photography/Editor: Dominick Sivilli, Written and Produced by Russ Penning, Special Effects Artist: Arthur Cullipher

Watch Crestfallen on the Space Jockey Reviews website at  

Saturday, April 14, 2012


More and more often, I find short films that truly deserve a full review, alongside any of the most mainstream movies out there.  The Guest is just such a movie that deserves its very own cinema showcase here on Space Jockey Reviews—and many other review sites out there.  The Guest, in its 14-minute running time, packs as much punch as most movies running much longer.  Suspense, dread, character development, plot, and all other essentials are generously included to make one seriously effective piece of horror that is sure to surprise all of those expecting the "same ole same ole."  In a world with so many predictable horror clichés, The Guest is one seriously welcome visitor!

As The Guest begins, we see the outside of any-house USA, and hear the familiar neighborhood dog and chirping crickets.  Inside, we see a girl—it could be any girl—washing dishes, in a dimly-lit kitchen, with the sights and sounds of a horror-movie victim in the background.  Yes, we feel vulnerable already, because it’s all so familiar.  Even if we don’t watch horror movies while washing dishes, the scene makes the viewer familiar enough to be a part of it.  The horror movie only makes us feel, reluctantly, a part of something dreadful ahead.  Suddenly, the news breaks to report a manhunt underway for—you guessed it—a man responsible for attacks and disappearances in the area!

I know, by now you’re thinking you’ve got this one all figured out.  But, trust me, you don’t!  If I say any more about the plot, I’ll ruin the film.  So, from here I’ll try to ramble and confuse you a bit, discussing things in a round-about, somewhat irritating way—that is until you finally appreciate not knowing, while watching the movie I know you’re about to watch (wink, wink).

The first eye-popping essential in The Guest is the first-rate acting of Alyshia Ochse and Robert Seay.  Alyshia plays Dana and Robert plays “The Man.” Alyshia has previously played the role of Irina Cassadine on the soap opera General Hospital, and I admit that I had never heard of Robert Seay.  These two actors are a very talented pair indeed; together, they make The Guest the success that it is.  Alyshia Ochse is as natural as any of the most seasoned professionals I’ve seen in horror films.  She is totally believable in every nuance of the part she plays as Dana, bringing the character alive in every scene.  As the vulnerable girl alone, her emotions, expressions, and fears are real enough to make us forget it’s a movie and she’s just a character in it—at least for some time, before our left brain yanks us back again.  (Unless you’re one of those film-watching conservatives who keeps chanting, “It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie….”)  I actually can’t say enough good things about Alyshia’s acting, and I was blown away by her performance—especially with her ability to transform her character so completely!  She's so authentic as an actress that she makes us feel as if we know Dana, whether we want to or not!  Dana is a complex character, and Alyshia fleshes out those complexities very nicely.  As for what else Alyshia’s acting talents fool us with, I’ll leave that to surprise you later.  Let’s just say that she easily takes her place on the pedestal of short-film leading ladies!  I predict that we'll be seeing a lot more of Alyshia, and she'll be taking lots more pedestals wherever she goes!

Yes, Robert Seay (mentioned earlier) also does a knockout job in his role as “The Man.”  Even with such a generic credit title, Robert is no such generic actor.  He does a great job of keeping us confused about who he is, whether he's one type or the other, while making us wary of his stereotype at the same time—over and over, right down to the screaming, bloody end of it all.  Oops!  Did I just say (I mean type) “screaming, bloody end”?  Yes, I did!  Well, at least I didn’t say who is screaming and who is bleeding.  Again, I’ll leave that for you to see and…yes, hear…in the end.

Other refreshing surprises about The Guest are in the variety of directions the film takes in its short time.  Just when you think you have one thing figured out, there’s something else to surprise you, leaving you with yet another thing you think you’ve figured out.  Okay, I could go on and on with that, but I’m going to stop right here again—at least one more time!  (Or, at least I hope so!)

The Guest is produced by Upstart Filmworks and Final Girl Films in association with S.L. Productions and Busted Buggy Entertainment.  (In an interview with Alyshia Ochse, I learned that S.L. Productions is actually Alyshia's own production company.)  The Guest was written and directed by Bryan Ryan.  Hollywood would do well to take notice and give Bryan a call to do a few films.  Like the actors in The Guest, Bryan’s talents are as professional as I’ve seen.  His objective use of the camera never reminds us that we’re seeing it through anything else but our own eyes.  The movement is fluid, natural, and just as we’d see it, if we were really there to see it.  Yes, some directors keep making us think of the camera—the mechanical, technical nature of it all—but Bryan doesn’t.

Okay, I know you’re probably wanting to know how much blood and gore there is in the The Guest—either because it’s a plus or minus in your thoughts about watching it.  My guess is, if you’re reading this, you’ll probably add a plus when I repeat the cliché, “Yes, there will be blood.”  But wait!  Don’t get too excited.  It’s not excessive.  It’s mostly in the faux-horror-movie scenes playing as background, and copiously in another scene that makes you wonder whether it’s in the movie or elsewhere—perhaps outside your own home?  Wait again!  Did I just say “copiously,” after saying it’s “not excessive”?  Yes, I did.  But, I think it’s because I’m trying to confuse you again, so you’ll be more surprised when you watch the movie.  Yeah, that’s it (wink, wink).

Special effects are also very well done, with the look of someone or something I won't describe (so as not to spoil it) having the effect of something on a much higher budget.  You won't see it coming; but when it does, you'll know what I'm talking about.  Overall, The Guest is a smaller budget movie with bigger budget effects.  Regardless of the cost, they're certainly "special," as well.

The Guest is another of the best short horror films I’ve seen, with an ending that’s far from predictable!  In a little over 14 minutes, it develops characters better than most films do in an hour and a half and packs as much suspense as well.  What’s more is that the acting is so substantial and exceptional that it further helps this short film seem more like a full-length feature.  I look forward to seeing more from Bryan Ryan, Alyshia Ochse, and Robert Seay; The Guest proves them to be quite a talented trio indeed!  In the meantime, enjoy The Guest in all of its 14-minute entirety, right here on Space Jockey Reviews; just make sure you don’t stay too long!

Watch The Guest on my website by clicking here, or visit the “Short Films” page there to view it in a slightly larger format.  Either way, I can think of many less productive ways to spend 14 minutes of your life—and I mean a list long enough to span light years of interstellar length!  Besides, if I don’t stop here, you’ll spend more time reading the review than watching the movie.  That just wouldn’t be right…would it?  Enjoy!

Starring Alyshia Ochse and Willam Seay, Director of Photography: Will Barrett, Music by Dwayne Cathey, Editor: Brian Smith, Executive Producers: Mel House, Robert Galluzzo, Courtney Daniels, and Bryan Ryan, Co-Producers: Alyshia Ochse, Suzanne Quast, and Katie Floyd, Produced by Heather Wixson, Written and Directed by Bryan Ryan
For an in-depth and very interesting interview with Alyshia Ochse on Dread Central, click here!  Visit Alyshia's Facebook page by clicking here!  See her IMDB page by clicking hereOf course, watch the film first!  VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED! 

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Yes, it’s another “It” movie!  And it’s a welcome addition to the list of 50s sci-fi favorites!  “It” comes from outer space, even before the opening titles, as a bullet-shaped fireball, with sparks flying, on a crash course for Earth.  The made-for-3D image fills the screen, head on, looking more like a golf ball than an alien ship.  But hey!  This is fan-favorite fun, from a bygone time.  (We expect nothing more or less.)  With the explosion, the title extends toward us—It Came from Outer Space.

Next, the narrator and main character John Putnam (Richard Carlson) tells us it’s late evening and early spring in Sandrock, Arkansas.   Sandrock is a simple place where the sheriff never wears his gun, and nothing out of the ordinary ever happens—nothing that is, until “It” arrives!  On this early spring night, John is with Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush)—his girlfriend—enjoying a romantic albeit Leave it to Beaver evening at home.  The couple walk outside, engaging in small talk, behind a telescope which again, with its long angle, screams 3-D.  Then, as if we didn’t expect it (wink, wink), they start to kiss.  Do they kiss?  Do their lips lock in passion that carries them away even for a moment?  Of course not!  In barges our falling fireball, on cue, sanitizing the scene for all to see.  Remember, this is 50s sci-fi!  We’ve got a G rating to maintain here!

Of course, John and Barbara go out to find it first.  John, all by himself, sees something otherworldly inside the golf ball…I mean spacecraft…within the crater.  Of course, no one believes him.  Of course, John will spend the rest of the movie running around trying to convince others of what he’s seen.  He’ll try to convince them that we’re being invaded, before he even knows himself.   Of course, that’s what we all do after we see an alien, and John’s no exception.

What is “It”?  What does “It” look like?  Well, let’s just say that “It” is indeed the best adjective to use in describing it.  It’s a one-eyed, floating, squid-like, creature with hair, blinking with white lights. “It” even enshrouds its victims with vapor and leaves a trail of glitter as it movies (and yes, I believe it’s really glitter).  “It” could best be described as looking like the Joshua Tree it’s mistaken for several times in the movie itself.  Now, after describing all of that, I’m sure you still have not a friggin’ clue as to what “It” looks like.  That’s where the photo below will come in handy.  Does “It” always look like this?  I’m not telling you that, no matter how many flaming golf balls fall from the sky!

Part of what I so love about 50s sci-fi is in the statement it makes, serving as a capsule of the times—a historical record of how things really were; a curious contrast of now and then.   Some of the contrast is in the societal norms portrayed.  Everyone in town thinks John is nuts when he claims to have seen a spaceship and an alien in the crater.  He’s the subject of jokes, insulting newspaper headlines, and radio show laughs to name a few.  By now, you’re probably saying, “How unusual is that?”  Not so unusual at all.  People would still call you nuts for that today.  However, the consequences for Ellen, as the girlfriend of John, are unusual.  Ellen is a teacher.  Her principal actually calls the sheriff’s office to inquire about Ellen and her relationship with John, just because he claimed to have seen an alien.  Sheriff Warren (Charles Drake) then warns Ellen that she is a teacher, and she has a reputation to uphold in the community.   Wow, again!  This is another of those time capsule moments, making the norms of the day seem as much a fiction as the science.  I’m sure glad some things have changed!

Women in 50s sic-fi films are always a treat to see!  This is no less the case in It Came from Outer Space—especially with Barbara Rush!  What a looker!  Barbara is a beauty of the rarest kind, natural and always coiffed to perfection.  In every scene, she’s dressed to the nines in form fitting fashion, like a model fresh from a photo shoot.  Whether running from aliens in the desert or the streets of town, Barbara’s haute couture style as Ellen is striking.  Her high-necked blouse, feminine tie, and waist hugging skirts are still sexy—as much today as they must have been then.  After Barbara is abducted by aliens, she’s dressed as elegantly as ever in a black evening gown, with a matching sash and diamond earrings.  Wow!  That’s what you call being abducted in style.  To top it all off, in the limited end credits (typical of the times), there’s actually a woman listed as being in charge of the “gowns.”  With women dressing as did in 50s sci-fi, I guess that was a credit that couldn’t be left out!

There’s really something to say about the women of 50s sci-fi in general.  Every woman in It Came from Outer Space, as in other such films, is dressed for a night on the town in whatever scenes, with whatever peril or danger.  Jane (Kathleen Hughes) is the svelt and stylish blonde, equally chic at the police station, inquiring about her missing boyfriend.   Even women playing as extras in the background looked as well-manicured as those getting closer screen time.  “Why is this?” you may ask.  I can only say that it must be a reflection of what people expected, or rather, what filmmakers expected women to look like, quite literally, all of the time.  The reasons for that may be as strange as the mystery of “It” from outer space.

Oh, but wait!  It’s not just the women.  Even Richard (John Putnam) is dressed in a suit and tie throughout most of the movie.  The only exceptions are the few times that he has his suit coat off; even then, he’s usually carrying it, slung over his shoulder, ready to put it back on at a moment’s notice.  Yes, men and women alike are dressed for ballroom dancing in It Came from Outer Space.   Just chalk this up, I suppose, to more trends of the times and mysteries from beyond.  In any case, it’s all fun just the same!  You won’t hear any complaints from this Space Jockey!

Oh, and let’s not forget the theremin—that marvelous musical instrument with the trademark sound of 50s sci-fi.  No review of such a period film could be complete without mentioning its etherial effect on the film it serenades.  Each time we get the aliens-eye view the theremin lets us know.  Each time, we know, without knowing more, that “It” is not of this Earth.  I often wonder just how classic 50s sci-fi would be today, if not for such an alien rhythm, unlike other earthly sounds.   Though I’m not sure of the total effect—whether the movies would still be classics—of one thing I am sure; things surely wouldn’t be the same.  How could the aliens be so alien?  How could the ships have come from so far away?  How could anything be quite as classic as it is today?  Thankfully, we’ll never know.   It Came from Outer Space makes as much good use of the theremin as any sci-fi classic I’ve seen.

In sci-fi favorites before, we’ve had aliens invading, aliens bringing us knowledge, and aliens with warnings about our future.  This time, we just have aliens wanting to get the hell out!  All they want to do is fix their ship and get away from Earth and humans altogether.  Yes, you read that right…”get away from Earth and humans.”  When asked why they don’t come out in the open, John says, “Because they don’t trust us.  Because what we don’t understand, we try to destroy.”  This, sadly, is also mostly true!  Never was this truer than during the time the movie was made.  During the 50s, people had moved from the wake of World War II to the paranoia of the cold war.  Science and communism had become the new forces to fear, and space was as good a place as any to act as the vent for those fears.  Aliens were metaphors for communists, their spaceships symbolized fears of technology, and their weapons were the atomic bombs that could destroy us!  It Came from Outer Space, with its pacifist aliens, sent a peaceful message, during a time when such messages were hard to find.  Yes, the cold war was raging, and It Came from Outer Space was another reminder.

As for special effects, they were as good as or better than others of the time.  The alien (although I’ve heard was done last minute) was a most original and well-done creation.  Unlike the monster from The Thing from Another World (1951), the creature was in no way anthropomorphic, and in every way alien.  The ship crash was state of the art, and the 3-D effects were also innovative, holding their place as some of the best even today.  There’s even a time when John appears with his alien double, in the same scene, using effects I didn’t know were possible at the time.  While “It” may not have had the highest budget on record, it was far from a B movie.  As you evaluate “It”, remember…this was the 50s!

It came from Outer Space was directed by Jack Arnold in 1953; he went on to do The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Tarantula (1955), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1956), and Gilligan’s Island (1964).  “It” was edited by Paul Weatherwax, and produced by William Alland.  The screenplay was written by Harry Essex and based on an original story by Ray Bradbury.  Along with Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush, “It” also stars Charles Drake (as Sherriff Matt Warren), Joe Sawyer (as Frank), Russell Johnson (as George), and Kathleen Hughes (as Jane).  All do a more than solid job of crafting this classic cautionary tale, from a nostalgic time gone by.

It Came from Outer Space was the first movie to do several things, and one of the first to do others.  “It” was the first to use alien perspective—letting the viewer see the Earth through the eyes of the alien.  “It” was the first of the desert sci-fi films, using the otherworldly landscape of the desert as a setting.  “It” was also Universal’s first experiment with their own brand of stereoscopic 3-D effects; this was done mostly as an economical alternate to Natural Vision which required the use of rented cameras.  “It” was one of the top 3-D movies of its time (and possibly for all time).  “It” was also one of the first to use the theremin as part of its musical score—as mentioned earlier.   Yes, “It” set many records of its own, and was part of many others!  “It” was a classic in many ways even beyond the quality of its story.  (Specific facts in the preceding paragraph are found in The Universe According to Universal—produced, written, and directed by David J. Skal)

In the end, do the aliens conquer the world?  Do they kill us, eat us, enslave us, take our young, or steal our gold?   Are they forced to battle the war-hungry humans, teaching us a lesson in the end?  Or, does just one person, with uncommon insight, overcome the ignorance of the many, ending the story with everyone happy in spite of themselves?  Even if you think you know the answer, it’s not important.  What’s more important, as always, is the process of getting to the end—seeing, yet again, how different things were and how far we’ve come, or regressed.  I can never see enough of Barbara Rush and her kind—those haute couture coquettes—high heeled and running to escape aliens from other worlds.  Bring on those sparkler-propelled space ships, one-eyed monsters and more.  And always, above all, keep reminding us how our flawed human nature will do us all in.  We need reminding!  Though the lessons are never learned, the movies are always fun!

Starring Richard Calson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson, and Kathleen Hughes, Directed by Jack Arnold, Cinematography by Clifford Stine, Edited by Paul Weatherwax, Music by Irving Getz, Henri Mancini, and Herman Stein, Produced by William Alland