A Day at the Space Races, or...
The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960)
He jests at scars that never felt a wound.
Obligatory Historical Context
(A Lengthy Introduction)
Movies in the science fiction genre from the '50's often resembled older stories. For example, the planetary explorers encountering man eating plants or dinosaurs might just as well be on a remote island or plateau on Earth. Giant monsters roamed our countryside, but they weren't the products of evil magic; they were cursed by the atom.
There were also several movies during the '50's with aliens possessing (or appearing to) possess people. (See "Alien Head Games of the '50's" in the B-Note on Beast with a Million Eyes (1955).) However, stories about alien possession were like tales of demonic or supernatural possession. The only big differences between the new "scientific" stories and their older versions were changes in setting and vocabulary.
It would be easy to tag those stories with the Cold War ticket, with the aliens representing the Soviet subversion, but this would not always be the case. Several science fiction movies include Cold War conspiracy plots. For example, Red Planet Mars (1952) was about radio transmissions from someone claiming to be God, but then it's learned to be a nefarious plot. Others, like It Conquered the World (1956), can be seen as both a Cold War allegory and traditional "deal with the Devil" tale. And given the mindset of the West, there wasn't much difference between Leninist communism as practiced politically and dealing with the Devil.
Ask yourself if Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is anti-McCarthy or anti-communist or just plain anti-pod. In interviews, director Don Siegel voiced the third option. But if you could generalize the decade, the Cold War figured into the early '50's science fiction movies and generally mellowed out as the decade progressed. It matched the rise and fall of McCarthy.
But at the end of the '50's, the Cold War returned to the plots in science fiction movies again. Both the Soviet Union and the United States had fusion bombs by the middle of the decade, and the progressive deployment of these weapons became allegorical in cinematic science fiction. (For example, see The 27th Day (1957), wherein five people are given the means to destroy everything on a continental scale.). And then there was Sputnik 1. This was the event that frightened the West. Until then, the Russians were just a bunch of backward, vodka guzzling, dancing-while-sitting barbarians. Sure, they had the bomb, but they weren't sophisticated enough to beat the Americans and their allies into space. But in 1957, those backward barbarians put a satellite into orbit before the West could, and the possibility that they could beat the West in high technology became apparent. Sputnik hovered over the West like the Sword of Damocles. And the space race began.
Therefore, since the space race was a science proposition, science fiction became a channel for expressing concerns (and plain ol' playing on fears) about Soviet dominance in science, engineering, and military might. Stories resembling demonic possession faded into the background. Spy stories and brain washing stepped up to the foreground.
And that leads us to
Cape Canaveral Monsters. Phil Tucker had previously
entertained audiences with Robot Monster (1953), but the kind of
entertainment he was attempting was not the kind he produced. His
story about an alien gorilla robot with a bubble blowing radio chasing
down science inclined humans has become one of the most beloved bad movies
of all time. (You can read all about it in articles by Ken
Borntreger, and Dr.
Freex.) But despite his attempted suicide, Tucker proved
himself to be a "never say die" kind of guy. He made one
more movie about science inclined humans vs. alien invaders with a goofy
We open with two white balls whizzing by on a black background. They stop on a rock at a beach. A woman's voice says, "I told you we could find two physical bodies here." Nearby, a couple on the beach (Jason Johnson and Katherine Victor) pack up, get into their car, and leave. The music gets more exciting. (Strange. When leaving a beach, the sense of anticipation usually decreases.) The white balls fly into the heads of the couple. The car crashes.
After the crash, the bloodied couple gets up immediately and vacate the broken vehicle. (Some tough people in these parts.) Someone's left arm is sticking out from the driver's side. The woman says, "Hurry, Hauron! Your arm!" The woman leans in the to recover his detached appendage and says she'll sew it back on for him at the lab. (Is it universal that women get stuck with the needle chores?) Hauron says, "Hurry Nadja." (He pronounces the name with a voiced "j" and it sounds like "Nadsha.")
Go to stock footage of preparations for a rocket launch, which is mixed with new footage of this story's heroes. (We'll introduce these new characters as we come to them.) Over this, add opening credits. After the credits finish, the stock footage rocket blasts off. While our cut-in characters watch, the stock footage rocket goes unintentionally ballistic, catches on fire, and explodes.
A stout military type called Major General Hollister (Chuck Howard) asks the resident rocket scientist Dr. von Hoften (Billy Greene) what went wrong. von Hoften doesn't see what could've gone wrong. Tom Wright (Scott Peters), a young technician, asserts nothing was wrong at their end, it might've been an outside cause. The general asks Dr. von Hoften what he meant, but the stereotypical German rocketman blows off Tom's theory that their launches may have been sabotaged by aliens. (Could Tom be just the least bit neurotic? You decide....)
The general gets a call. Corporal Wilson (Tom Allen) reports that the dogs are freaking out. The general tells him to take them out to see what's got them riled up. Dr. von Hoften suggests going over the tapes from the launch to see if they can find out what went wrong with the launch.
Night. Hauron is lurking about. Enter Corporal Wilson and his vicious dogs, which are freaking out again. Wilson lets them loose. After a few confusing shots, one of them savages Hauron. The corporal arrives, strikes a pose, and starts shooting one handed. (Who does this guy think he is? James Bond?) While Hauron turns to run, we note he's got a deficit in the arm department again.
Afterwards, Nadja startles Hauron. He freaks out on her, shouting something unintelligible. Nadja reminds him that they are to speak only Earth English. (Earth English, as opposed to what? Venusian English? Martian Manx? Saturnian Slavic? Alpha Centaurian Chinese?) She pesters him about his missing arm.
Back at mission control, Dr. von Hoften gets nasty with Tom. Seems the young, healthy technician has been flirting with the scientist's niece Sally (Linda Connel). Sally gets defensive and reminds the over protective physicist that they aren't in Germany anymore. General Hollister steps in and reminds von Hoften that teenagers in this country have more freedom. (Yehaw! Three cheers for the red, white, and pointlessly promiscuous!) von Hoften says he expected better out of Tom; he personally selected him out of two hundred applicants because Tom had the best grades. (Sigh. If only real life could be like this.)
However, this mini soap opera is interrupted by the arrival of Wilson, who is armed. That is, he's carrying Hauron's arm. (OK, two points: First, it looks like the shirt sleeve is still attached. Second, it doesn't look so much like an arm as it does a stuffed black stocking.) The corporal explains that the dogs pulled this off a man, and he got several shots at him, too. After realizing what he said, he concedes he must've missed. (Whatcha get for shooting one handed.) General Hollister gives the errant appendage an Informed Attribute by saying that a dog couldn't pull off a man's arm like this; it looks like it was shorn off. ("This was no boating accident!")
Back to Hauron and Nadja. We get a better look at them now. They're wearing coveralls, and Nadja's face is crossed with several stitched up cuts. They walk into a cave, past a small light at foot level. (Who'd know people like this would need a night light?) They enter a chamber with several analog gauges. Hauron pulls back the cover on a small tank with a bubbling liquid. (Ah hah! That's their plan. They're going to open a fried food franchise here. Perhaps NinjaBurger.) Then he leans against a wall and goes limp. A small white ball of light floats out his head.
Nadja talks to the ball
of light, addressing it as Hauron. She expresses her displeasure at
being partnered with him on this mission. As far as she's concerned,
he's a good enough scientist, but he's weak when it comes to
violence. And they're going to have to replace his arm. (Ken
Begg, our patron on the web, has gone out on a limb and suggested this
could start an arms race.) The
ball starts zooming around.
Later, one of the machines in the lair, which has a large black circle on top, goes active. Nadja tells Hauron to get back into his body. After he does this, he tells her that tension between them is not going to help the mission. She tells him anytime he wants to go back, he's free to do so. They look over at the deep fryer. Hauron turns off the active machine, says he needs to narrow the beam, and leaves. (We assume at this point that this is either some kind of communication device or they're seriously into satellite TV.)
Elsewhere, Tom and Sally are on a double date with Bob (Gary Travis) and Shirley (Thelaine Williams). They've selected the '50's option of taking a car off the beaten path with some food at night. Tom shows them he's a serious science nerd by asking for sodium chloride instead of salt. Bob gives Tom a small gift: a portable AM radio. (This was back when that sort of thing was an important toy.)
After fiddling with a collection of metal objects outside, Hauron returns to the lair. He and Nadja play with the black circle contraption for a while, but they don't seem to be getting the results they want. (Maybe just as well. If it's a TV set, they'll bicker over what to watch.) Hauron tells Nadja to turn it on and off while he goes to make a few more adjustments.
Back at the car, Tom is picking up static on his portable radio. (Oh sure. Advanced alien life forms familiar with Earth would be using the AM band during covert operations. And this doesn't say much for Hauron's career as a beam tightener, either.) Tom is intrigued by the static because it shouldn't be there. He figures someone has a transmitter in the area. He wants to use his radio as a direction finder by walking toward of the strongest static. (Tom's dating habits seem to be on par with Hauron's beam tightening.)
In the lair, Hauron plugs an unidentified component into the black circle contraption while complaining that he has to fix everything himself. (This coming from a guy who can't keep an arm for more than a day.) He turns it on and they get static. (At least it isn't an AM radio station.) The static clears, and within the black circle, there's an image that looks like a rotating Pringle's potato chip. (Hereafter, we'll be referring to this image as The Great Spud.) The Great Spud talks to them, asking them how things are going on Earth. After Hauron tells The Great Spud they've successfully delayed Earth's space program, which is essential to their invasion plans, it tells them to be more careful with the human specimens they've been sending; the last one arrived dead. Nadja also takes this opportunity to tattle on Hauron's carelessness with his limbs. (We'd also like to take this opportunity to chide the notion that they're using an AM radio for what is apparently interstellar communications. Why complain? Well, for one thing, you'd get a hell of a lag....)
Outside, Tom and Sally have been following the static. Suddenly, it stops. Without a lead on where to go next, they give up and head back to the car. Since they're pretty sure there's a transmitter nearby, and since Tom's still convinced there's been some sabotage on the rockets, they decide they should tell someone. Sally suggests they should tell her uncle, but Tom figures he should tell the general instead. (This does sound like a better plan. Want to picture how this would go if they did it Sally's way? "Well, you see, Dr. van Hoften, Sally and I were out parking when.... Uh, sir, why are you picking up that shotgun?)
Inside, Boris and Natasha, er, Hauron and Nadja resume bickering. She chides him some more about his absent appendage (the arm, dammit, and wipe that cheap smirk off your face), while he demands time to work on a gadget he'll be using tomorrow.
The next day, Hauron comes out of the lair carrying some kind of funky bazooka sized zap gun. He takes cover behind some rocks and looks ahead. Cut to a stock footage of an Atlas rocket on a launch pad. It's a few hundred yards away. (They're this close? What manner of moron is running perimeter security in this place? Not only have they missed a couple of saboteurs and their hideout a few hundred yards from a launch pad, nobody came around to hassle Tom and friends while parked at night in what should be a high security area.)
The rocket takes off. Hauron shoots at it with his funky gun, and the rocket goes out of control, crashing to the ground. (We're not sure how this highly advanced weapon caused the rocket to crash, but we suspect it may have something to do with transmuting the Atlas into a V-2. Thanks, stock footage man.)
That night, Tom and friends are having a nighttime picnic on a hill. They discuss how the general blew off Tom's news about an illegal transmitter. The boy wonder decides he's going to go back to where left off last night and try to trace the signal again. Sally goes with him, but Shirley's cold so she and Bob go back to the car.
While Bob and Shirley are in mid-snuggle in the car,
ominous footsteps approach. (We are shown the matching pant legs, so
it'd be no surprise that it's Hauron and Nadja in their coveralls.)
Shirley hears a twig snap and starts to freak. Bob, being the manly
guy on a date that he is (that is, taking advantage of Shirley's fear),
puts the top up on the car. (Waitaminute. We thought they went
back to the car because Shirley was cold, and they had the top
down?) From behind, Hauron and Nadja creep up on the car bearing
weird gadgets. (So, you see, kids, when you relentlessly track down
spies, nothing bad happens to you. But when you go neck in a car
instead of chasing the bad guys, that's when something bad happens to
you. Thus concludes our lesson in applied phenomenology.)
Elsewhere, Tom and Sally decide to call it a night. When they get back to the car, they note two things. One, Bob and Shirley aren't there. Two, Shirley's locket is in the car. Tom puts one and two together and gets four; he instantly deduces that whoever has been using the theoretical illegal transmitter has kidnapped Bob and Shirley. (Uh, no. Tom's not barking and foaming at the mouth. Why do you ask?) Tom decides the best thing to do is find the transmitter immediately. He discounts getting help because they're too far away from town, and forget hotwiring the car because there's a lock on the steering. Therefore, after Tom reassures Sally, they resume trying to find the source of the static before something terrible happens to Bob and Shirley.
Speaking of Bob and Shirley, Hauron and Nadja are in their lair telling The Great Spud about them. "They're a lot of fun," says Hauron. "Bob's keeping me and Nadja in stitches." Nah, just kidding. They're discussing plans for prepping the preppie couple for shipment to the home world. Also, since the next scheduled launch isn't for about a month, The Great Spud wants to maintain radio silence until then. (We suppose this has been set up to make Tom's quest for the theoretical spies more exciting. If he and Sally don't find the hideout real soon, they'll have to wait a month for another shot.)
And speaking of Tom and Sally, they're still tracking the static when the signal stops. Tom's pretty sure the transmitter is nearby, so he and Sally begin checking the terrain, possibly for a secret entrance. (Of course there's a secret entrance. All bad guys got'em.)
Back in the lair, Hauron and Nadja are prepping Shirley for her permanent vacation to the home world. This consists of sticking her with a big syringe, disrobing her, wrapping her up in metallic cloth (what they call it), giving her a big jolt of electricity (which causes her to have some kind of spirograph flashback), and standing her up inside a big transparent tube. Hauron hits a switch, and voila, the tube ices up and Shirley is flash frozen. Then Nadja double dog dares Hauron to stick his tounge on the tube. Nah, just kidding about that last bit. Throughout this story, Nadja has been one sadistic piece of work, but she passes on that one.
Next on their agenda is Bob. They put him on a slab and pump him with a syringe. Nadja leans over him with a surgical tool, sizing up a cut on the left chest.
Outside, Tom and Sally are still wondering around trying to find the lair. Every once in a while, the movie interjects a quick romantic scene with them. (Yeah, that's what made the Western World so great; hard science and hormones.)
But back in the lair, Hauron is working out the kinks in his new arm (which looks amazingly like his other arm). Nadja tells him that their instant body bank is dead. Hauron tells her that he thought this guy was too weak, and that's why he didn't just drop his current body and move into a new model. (And to this story's credit, I'm glad they put this line in there, 'cause we've been asking ourselves why he didn't do that in the first place.) Nadja looks at the dead boy and says he's got a nice face, except for a little scar. She stops talking when she remembers they've both got a couple of faces rougher than a back road in Louisiana. However, she still likes that chin....
Tom and Sally take a break from searching. Tom picks up a rock and throws it in frustration. (Not at Sally, dammit!) Instead of a thump, it makes a splash. Somehow, Tom decides this is significant, so he walks over to where the rock went. He finds a man made cave. (I believe the word "tunnel" might work as well.) Tom tells Sally about it and tells her to wait, but she'd rather go in with him. While they walk through the tunnel (which really does look like a cave, so how'd Tom know it was artificial?), they step into the path of that foot level electric eye thing.
Inside, Hauron is sizing up his new chin. (Guys, do you have problems with the women in your lives trying to remake your image, too?) An alarm goes off. They turn on a stasis field. (Those of you who don't read a lot of science fiction, stand by; we'll get to it.) Nadja picks up a funky ray gun and goes to see what they've caught. Hauron remains behind, flexing his new chin (which, amazingly, has the same complexion as the rest of his face).
Nadja enters the cave. Tom and Sally are standing there, but they've been stopped in mid-motion. Some kind of tiny sparks (which look like film scratches) fill the air, and that's the stasis field. Nadja puts on a big, evil smile.
Hauron and Nadja call The Great Spud again. (So much for their radio silence.) He congratulates them on their good work. Then he tells them to stop calling him at home and use his pager instead. Nah, not really. But he does say they'll be told later when to send 'em over.
In the background, Tom and Sally are stuck to a wall. After the conversation with The Great Spud, Tom starts asking questions. Hauron is happy to oblige, because he loves to talk shop and Nadja doesn't. Tom asks if that's really an intergalactic radio, but Hauron modestly says they're lucky to reach their own planet, which is in the same solar system. Then Tom asks what they're going to do with him and Sally, so Hauron, happy for an attentive audience, describes the relatively horrible body preparation. The final step, he explains, will be putting them in the deep fryer looking thing, and that'll transport them to the home world. After a couple more questions, Hauron tells Tom that the stuff in the tank is "like your hydrogen, but has a higher atomic weight." ("Your" hydrogen? What, are the laws of physics different where they come from?)
Nadja interrupts this impromptu exposition so she and Hauron can get busy prepping Sally. Tom squeezes one more piece of information out of Hauron by asking how this high tech Post-It thing that's keeping him stuck to the wall works. Hauron tells him it uses an element they call dragonon (or something like that). The talkative spy tells the boy wonder that he doesn't know what it's called on Earth, but it glows in the dark and can burn the skin.
End of conversation. Hauron activates
a control and Sally comes unstuck from the wall. He and Nadja take
her away to prep her for her upcoming trip. Tom looks at his watch,
mumbles, "Forgive me, Sally," takes off his watch, and waves the
face of it at the control panel next to him. He comes unstuck, and
beats feet out of there.
After a few scenes, Tom arrives at civilization, where "civilization" is defined as a realty office with a "Public Telephone" sign over a padlocked door. Tom takes the sign at its word by picking up a rock and breaking off the padlock. He runs inside, finds the phone, and calls the sheriff's office. His call is routed to the chief deputy sheriff. (The credits say this actor's name is Lyle Felisse, but we know him better by another name. See "The Who Cares Stuff, Notes on the Cast and Crew" below.) The chief deputy takes the call and heads out to meet with Tom.
Back in the realty office, an ominous shadow creeps up on Tom. He turns to see a man (Brian F. Wood) in his pajamas with a shotgun. He's got the drop on Tom. ("Last night I shot a juvenile delinquent in my pajamas. Why he got into my pajamas, I have no idea." Hahahahaha...aw, skip it.) He calls the operator and asks for a connect to the sheriff's office, but the operator tells him there was already a call from there to the sheriff's office. Although he's convinced Tom may be on the level, the gunman (who we learn is called Elmer) keeps Tom covered. Tom asks to make another call, but Elmer won't hear of it until he's heard the whole story.
Meanwhile, Nadja and Hauron have finished prepping Sally. They already know Tom has escaped, and they also know that he wouldn't have left without the girl unless he was going to get help. Nadja takes Sally to another cave with no exit. Hauron gets ready for the anticipated return of the girl's friend.
By this time, Tom has finished telling Elmer our plot so far. The chief deputy arrives with another policeman. They all go to check out Tom's story. When they get to Bob's car, they clearly see the signs of a struggle. (We don't, but let's play along.) Elmer tells the chief deputy that he doesn't believe this whole story because it depends on the existence of a cave, and there ain't no caves around here. (Come to think of it, this whole area doesn't look so much like Florida as it does Bronson Canyon. But let's keep playing along.)
During all this, Hauron has been running through the woods with Sally's clothes. (No, carrying them. Phil Tucker wasn't that much like Ed Wood. Honest.) He pauses to drop them in strategic locations along his path. After he drops the last article, he sneaks back the other way.
Tom has split off from the others. He finds one of Sally's bits of clothing. And then another. He follows the trail. Right into a cave. Where Nadja is waiting with her funky ray gun. She shoots. It makes a big explosion in the air, and Tom freezes in mid-motion (like in the stasis field).
Hauron sneaks up on the other searchers. He lies down and vacates his body. The ball of light zooms at the spare detective, knocking him over. It's enough to mess up his arm. The chief deputy takes him back to town for medical help. They leave Elmer to guard the car.
In the lair, they've got Tom and Sally stuck to the wall again. (We thought they were finished prepping Sally for her little trip, so we're kinda confused here.) Tom tries to bargain with them, knowledge for freedom. Not that it was part of his plan, but Sally lets it slip that there's a launch planned for this morning, and when they aren't there, the others will send help. They ask Tom how he got away, and the boy scout waves his watch at the control panel. He comes unstuck. He explains that that which they call draganon is what we call radium, and he has some one the face of his watch. (And that would cut him loose how?)
Then Tom ups the ante by offering info on
shooting down the rocket. Hauron's interested because his funky
bazooka ray gun won't be ready by the morning. Tom tells them since
there isn't any radium on the rocket, it should be easier to shoot it down
with their alien technology. (Don't expect me to explain it folks; I
just type them as they happen.) Hauron agrees to let them go after
he's shot down the rocket.
Early morning at the launch site. General Hollister tells Dr. von Hoften there's still no word on Tom or Sally. They continue the launch. Outside, Hauron has taken position with his funky bazooka ray gun. The rocket launches. Hauron takes aim and fires, but no go. The rocket continues up into the sky.
Much later, Elmer is still on guard duty, but asleep. Hauron sneaks past him, but the groggy guard wakes up. ("Be vewy, vewy quiet. I'm hunting Mawtians.") Elmer chases the slippery spy but can't get a clear shot. Hauron gets away. Just about then, some police cars arrive. It's the chief deputy, General Hollister, Dr. von Hoften, Dr. Martin (we met him earlier at mission control), and a few others. Elmer returns and tells them about the guy that sneaked past him. Oh, and he found the cave.
Back at the lair, Sally and Tom are still stuck to the wall. This time around, Tom's hands are tied. (Heh, at least the bad guys are learning from their mistakes.) Tom takes this opportunity to propose to Sally. (Aw, gee. How cute. Someone blast 'em already.)
Outside, the police and company approach the cave. The chief deputy takes a bullhorn and tells the occupants to come out. General Hollister takes the bullhorn and does the same. (What's the implication here? Did the general think alien spies would be more impressed by a stubby soldier than a county mountie?) Inside, Nadja freaks on her associate, but the cool headed Hauron tells her what they should do. They're going to use a big paralysis ray to capture the others, then go back to the home world and make their report. When they get back, they'll be able to use the knowledge of their captives to stop the space program more effectively.
General Hollister announces that this is their final warning. He trades the bullhorn for a semiautomatic pistol. That's when the action on screen suddenly fades to white with the sound of an explosion. Fade to Hauron and Nadja stacking Hollister, immobile and still holding his M1911A1, into a hole in the floor. (Or something like that. The budget must've caught up with the production at this point.) Hauron activates a switch, closing the door in the floor (or something like that). After Hauron tells the captives that they shouldn't bother escaping because the stasis field is locked on in the passage outside, he tells Nadja it's time to get tanked. Er, I mean, time to get into the tank. They vacate their bodies, and the balls of light settle into the deep fryer contraption and vanish.
After their captors are gone, Tom tells Sally to reach over into his pocket and get his key chain. It has a small slide rule with radium on the face -- a gag gift for him to do calculations at night. (Aside from the pure geeky enthusiasm of something like that, and skipping the easy innuendo associated with Tom's suggestion and Sally's action, let's take a moment to suggest that the reason Tom may not be a hit with the ladies may have something to do with keeping radioactive materials in his pocket.) Sally waves the trinket over the control panel, freeing her and Tom.
The two whiz kids revive the others. (We're not sure how they do this besides shaking them awake.) They decide they have to destroy the lair, which should turn off the stasis field in the passageway outside. Tom asks Dr. Martin if he has any litmus paper on him. Why, sure he does. (And if I didn't carry some of that stuff on my person for a month because I didn't bother taking it out of my jacket....) Tom tells the others the stuff in the deep fryer contraption is like hydrogen, but he dips the litmus into it to find out. Dr. von Hoften looks at the paper and says it isn't hydrogen based, but Tom asserts that it's still something like it. Therefore, the stuff in the tank will react like hydrogen at about a hundred fold!
(Ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking. As you've just felt, we've hit some turbulence. Please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts for this next little while.)
So Tom says if the stuff in the deep fryer contraption acts like hydrogen, it should react with sodium chloride. (Thump!) Dr. Martin concurs, and he starts doing the calculations. They'll get a lot of heat. Dr. von Hoften says heat is fine, but they'll want an explosion. Science boy points out that polyethylene would be highly unstable in a mixture like that, so it would cause the desired explosion. (Thump-wham!) Getting the sodium chloride is easy, because he and Sally have packets of salt on them, leftover from the earlier picnic. (Bang-thump!) As for the polyethylene, it's a common plastic. Tom gets everyone to contribute all their belts and wallets. (Wham-bang-thump!)
(Ladies and gentlemen, you may now unfasten your seat belts. However, more turbulence is always possible, so please remain in your seats. And as always, thank you for flying Aire Apostic.)
Tom dumps the salt, belts, and wallets into the deep fryer contraption while the others run out into the hall. The room begins to fill with smoke, and Tom runs out of there, too. The stasis field is still on in the hall. The laboratory lair explodes, and the stasis field fizzles out. Everyone escapes. (You can ask how they managed to survive the explosion if you want. But before you do, ask how badly you want to lie awake worrying about it.)
Denouement. Everyone is congratulating themselves for getting rid of the monsters. Some of the group including Sally get into a squad car and drive away. The background music plays a few triumphant chords.
But as soon as the car turns the corner out of our view, the musical cues suddenly hit a dramatic chord, followed by the sounds of a car crash and Sally screaming. Fade to black, with the two balls of light approaching quickly. Roll credits. The end.
Hauron and Nadja are a fun couple. They don't like each other. They have a serious clash in personalities. He's all science and she's all political. Differences give them room for dialogue, and let them discuss things for the sake of exposition without falling into the trap of characters merely talking about things they already know.
Furthermore, Nadja is
deliciously evil and fun to watch. A high point is when she starts obsessing about Bob's
chin, and in the next scene, Hauron is stroking his new chin. The
whole thing is played as matter of fact, and this kind of (pardon the pun)
tongue in cheek presentation is good for a few surprising laughs.
Also, Katherine Victor knew how to turn on a good "cat who ate the
canary" smile. There aren't many effective female villains from
this period, so this character also has a strong novelty factor.
This movie has better weapon props than you'd expect. Hauron's disrupter rifle may look like a fancy bazooka, but it also looks credible. Nadja's needle blaster may look like it was built on a submachinegun, but the prop design is elaborate without being silly, and it does give you the feeling that you'd be in huge trouble if you were at the business end of it.
Although it's not technically a prop, we should also mention the
stasis field. Science fiction author Larry Niven popularized the
term a few years later, but to the best of my knowledge, this concept was not commonly used before
this movie was made. (Come to think of it, body banking also became a common plot gimmick in Niven's
Just as the character Ro-Man in Robot Monster had technology based on surplus WWII gadgets, the alien spies have the same bargain bin supplier. Things like analog pressure gauges and military style control panels (with the flip covers over toggle switches) run rampant at bad guy central. You could suggest that this is the way it should be, if the alien spies have been kit-bashing their stuff on Earth from whatever they can get their hands on. However, this is not stated in the plot, so we're stuck with yet another group of aliens that have technology that looks too much like ours.
Also, the portal to Hauron's and Nadja's home world, which has been derisively dubbed "the deep fryer contraption" in the plot description above, looks like, well, a deep fryer. Don't know what they were thinking when they came up with that prop, but it doesn't top a list of credible ways to travel between planets.
And then there's the spies' radio. What purpose does it
serve to show something that looks like a spinning pancake? Is that
what the chief alien looks like? If so, where did they come from,
the Interplanetary House of Pancakes? At least this radio
doesn't do something astoundingly goofy, like blow bubbles.
Just as Nadja and Hauron are interesting bad guys, Tom and Sally are boring good guys. Oh, sure, they're supposed to be a young couple (even if Scott Peters looks a few years too old to be playing anything resembling a teen). And, sure, they're supposed to be a picture of contemporary couple harmony. Tom is very protective of her. He's obviously in charge. She's always compliant. They never argue.
Cripes, no wonder it's so easy to root for the bad guys in this one.
Tom is the archtypical science nerd turned hero. He uses his basic electronics trivia to find the bad guys' hideout and his chemistry trivia to escape the bad guys and blow up their lab. However, he gets to most of his conclusions by jumping to them. For example, when rockets crash unexpectedly, Tom's reasoning follows this line: We did nothing wrong (taken as fact). Therefore, someone else must've done something wrong. Perhaps alien gremlins.
Then Tom gets static on his brand new AM radio. There's nothing wrong with the radio (taken as fact), and nothing else but another transmitter could be causing the static (ditto). Therefore, there's an illegal transmitter in the area, and it must belong to spies. By the way, using a portable AM radio from that era to find a transmitter may be possible, but it's pretty improbable. Ya see, so much of signal strength received depends on which way you have it facing. Imagine trying to navigate by compass, but instead of looking at the needle, but you follow the ever-so-gentle tug of the magnetic field on the needle. That's what Tom would have to work with.
Then there's the restraint system the bad guys have, and the mystery element "dargonite" that makes it work. Dargonite glows in the dark and burns the skin. Conclusion: Dargonite is radium. Hell of a longshot there. And then Tom frees himself by waving his radium watch face at the control panel. We have no idea how this is supposed to work. Consider: Electronic semiconductors use silicone. Sand is silicone. Does that mean waving a sandbag at a radio will turn it off? Well, maybe if you drop it on the radio....
Finally, Tom uses the stuff in the tank to make
an explosive. The stuff is hydrogen based (taken as fact, 'cause
Hauron told him so). When a litmus test reveals the stuff is not
hydrogen based (this is so terribly wrong to begin with; go read an
article on litmus paper), Tom and Dr. von Often concludes it's a hundred
times more powerful than your run of the mill "hydrogen based"
stuff. So throwing a little salt in it will heat it up a lot (let it slide,
folks), and the resulting hundred fold heat can be used to detonate
household plastic. Oh sure, but did they mean plastique as opposed
Phil Tucker (writer, director) is best known for Robot Monster (1953). He worked with the legendary (and self-destructively outrageous) comedian Lenny Bruce as a writer, and the two of them worked together on Dance Hall Racket (1953) and Dream Follies (1954). (If you've ever seen Rocket Man (1954), which Bruce is credited as a co-writer, you might notice some similarity in tone to Robot Monster.)
Scott Peters (Tom Wright) was in various other B features, including a bit part in Invasion of the Saucermen (he was the guy with the bull horn) and Garrick in Madmen of Mandoras (1963, a.k.a. They Saved Hitler's Brain). He later found steady screen work as Detective Valencia in Get Christie Love (1974-1975).
Jason Johnson (Hauron) was also in Invasion of the Saucermen as the local police chief. He had various other bit parts throughout the late '50's through '70's.
Katherine Victor (Nadja) was in various B features. Born Katena Ktenavea, she became a regular in Jerry Warren movies, playing the mad scientist in Teenage Zombies (1959), Batwoman in The Wild World of Batwoman (1966), and Sheila Frankenstein von Helsing in Frankenstein Island (1981). She used to blame her limited acting career on her association with Warren. (Reminds me of a joke. Guy goes into a doctor's office, wiggles his arm, and says, "Hey doc, it hurts when I do this." The doctor says, "Then don't do that!")
The credits call him "Lyle Felisse," but we know the chief deputy better as Al Adamson. Yes, the same Al Adamson who would later make and remake some of the sleaziest horror and exploitation flicks of the '70's. Given what we see of him here, he was a much better actor than he was a filmmaker.
Richard Greer (producer, editor) mostly worked as an editor on TV episodes in the '60's and movies in the '70's. And this follows, since this movie has a strong "TV feel" about it.
Guenther Kauer (original music) also composed the Davey and Goliath (1962) theme.
W. Merle Connell (cinematographer) worked with Tucker and Bruce on various projects. Connell's own projects tended to be on the racy side for the '50's, including the cave girl fantasy Untamed Women (1952), artificial insemination soap opera Test Tube Babies (1953), and nice-girl-turned-prostie opus The Flesh Merchants (1955).
Phillip Scheer (special makeup creator) was in the monster making business. He did the makeup for AIP's teen monster trilogy (I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), and How to Make a Monster (1958)). He also did the wild hair-do and eyes for the hypnotized girl turned vampire in Blood of Dracula (1957) and the living dead army in business suits in Invisible Invaders (1959).
Dale Knight (one of the two sound engineers credited) worked
with Connel (see above) on Untamed Women. He also worked with
Edward D. Wood, Jr. on Bride of the Monster (1956) and Plan 9
from Outer Space (1958). He followed up his association with Wood by
doing the sound for Orgy of the Dead (1965).
Rocket Busters. Nadja and Hauron weren't the only ones taking it out on a space program.
Project Moon Base (1953) - The first expedition to the Moon by three people in 1970 (hmmm...) is threatened by a spy.
Gog (1954) - Things begin going wrong at a space exploration development facility. But who's the culprit? Foreign spies, the supercomputer built for the project, or...?
The Invisible Boy (1957) - Those darn supercomputers! This time around, one tries to hijack the space program with the assistance of Robby the Robot and the relatively annoying title character.
The Space Children (1958) - Pesky giant alien brain uses kids to stop a rocket program.
From the Earth to the Moon (1958) - Rival scientist decides a new power source will not benefit the human race, so he screws with a ballistic space capsule that uses the stuff. Based on the novel by Jules Verne.
The Three Stooges in Orbit (1962) - Two Martian agents put a death ray on an experimental combination submarine/tank/space capable aircraft, but the Stooges are on board. Not the Stooges' finest moment. (No puns on Larry's name, please.) Cf. Abbot and Costello Go to Mars (1953) and the Stooges in Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959).
Lost in Space (1965-1968) - You know the drill. The "space family Robinson" get into this mess because Dr. Smith snuck on board to sabotage their mission to Alpha Centauri.
Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965) - Rude aliens looking for women mistake a space exploration launch for an anti-alien missile. Unintentional comedy ensues.
Star Trek (1966-1969) - In the episode "Assignment: Earth," Kirk & Co. encounter an alien trained agent planning to sabotage a space launch in the late 1960's. Given the potential for a time paradox, should they stop him? Pilot for a spin-off that didn't spin enough for NBC.
Thunderbirds Are GO (1966) - The Thunderbirds are called in to provide security for a manned space launch because the last launch met with sabotage. Flying toys and puppets run rampant.
You Only Live Twice (1967) - A Soviet space mission is sabotaged in flight, and James Bond discovers (1) it's part of a plot to trigger World War III, (2) the whole thing is being run inside a volcano in Japan, and (3) with cosmetic surgery to his eyes, he looks as Oriental as the average Vulcan.
Rocket to the Moon (1967) - Spoof on From the Earth to the Moon. Set in Victorian England, but runs jokes on events contemporary to the movie. This includes a Russian spy and a couple of unrelated saboteurs. (Spoiler ending: The capsule is launched while the two saboteurs and the Russian spy are on board. After the capsule ironically lands in Russia, one of the two saboteurs thinks they're on the Moon. A group of laborers start dragging the capsule away while singing a work tune. The other saboteur asks, "If we're on the Moon, why are they singing in Russian?" "I don't know! Maybe they got here first!")
Earth II (1971) - TV series pilot about an idealistic international space station. In the prologue, a Chinese saboteur with a high powered rifle tries to stop it from being built by shooting at a preliminary launch. Later, they get more brazen by lobbing a bomb at the completed station. (Sidenote: China could get away with these actions because, in this future, it wasn't a member of the UN. After real life events ran contrary, critics laughed at this movie's historical inaccuracy. Nowadays, we don't have international cybercrime laws....)
The Groundstar Conspiracy (1972) -
Suspected saboteur is captured after an explosion at a space
research facility, but his face has been blown away and he has
amnesia. Awesome opening, but turns into a conventional spy story from there on out.
So how does Cape Canaveral Monsters fit into the historical perspective in the introduction?
Hauron and Nadja (and my what an East European kind of name that is) could, in any other story, just as easily been Russian spies sent to America to sabotage the space program. They have to stop the space program because it will make America vulnerable to a planned invasion. (If Hauron and Nadja have friends in the Soviet Union committing the same acts, this is not even hinted in the story.)
Furthermore, Hauron and Nadja are beaten not by superior arms, but superior knowledge.
A group led by a young science student stops their sabotage efforts and destroys their lab.
The moral of this movie is that the future of freedom loving democracies depends on the scientific skills of the young. That's a good
sentiment now, but it was more important back then; the space race was on.
Too bad the movie poorly presents what young people should be good at. You get the feeling that the film's author must've
loved reading good, hard science-fiction, but with what we have here, it's
a darn shame he wasn't writing what he loved to read.
Two alien saboteurs mess with the space program, but a young scientist and his friends are onto them. The bickering aliens are fun, but the harmonious heroes are bland. Earnest attempt at hard science fiction with poor reasoning. Cold War based story from the end of the '50's, when it became fashionable again to worry about the Russians, but made by a decidedly less than fashionable crew. Strongly recommended for B movie enthusiasts only. Period. All others need not apply.
Originally published 1 September 2000