It Conquered the World (1956)
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Lou Rusoff
Tagline: "Every man its prisoner…every woman its slave!"
Run Time: 71 min
“This superior intelligence happens to be a personal friend of mine…”
- Dr. Anderson
“Stupidity restrains mankind’s progress…I’ve been a continual victim of it myself.”
- Dr. Anderson
I’m certain that the one thing that most people will remember after seeing this movie is the absolutely absurd alien that attempts to, ahem, "conquer the world". It looks something like an over-sized squash or cucumber with 2 elongated foam-rubber arms tipped with crab-like pincers. The top of the creature’s conical head is crowned with a pair of floppy horns, while the fang-filled mouth is fixed in a permanent sneer below 2 glaring eyes.
Rumor has it that the original monster was a ‘flat-topped’ affair which, after construction, turned out to be shorter than the leading actress! This vertically-challenge alien did not confer the aura of menace that Corman had envisioned, so he quickly added the familiar ‘cone-head’ enhancements to make it larger (and fortunately for me, goofier).
The plot revolves around a disgruntled scientist, Dr. Anderson (Lee Van Cleef), who is in touch with a "super intelligence" on Venus. Everybody thinks he’s a crack pot, of course, so he bides his time until he can once and for all prove that he’s correct.
To make a long story short, the alien makes its way to Earth via a captured satellite, and with the help of Anderson, begins to ‘take over’ the local populace by use of bat-like control devices. The ‘possessed’ people lose all emotion and identity, ala, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers".
Fortunately for mankind, Dr. Nelson (Peter Graves) resists and eventually convinces Anderson that becoming one with a band of Venusian super-cucumbers is probably not the best course of action (losing their wives to the menace was also a bummer). Anderson sees the errors of his ways and confronts the beast, killing it with a blow torch, and ironically dying himself in the process.
Our tale of alien conquest begins with with Dr. Nelson (Peter Graves) working in a satellite control center, preparing for the launching of his latest satellite. Somewhere else, physicist Tom Anderson (Lee Van Cleef) is meeting with U.S. Secretary Platt. Anderson is trying to convince Platt to cancel the satellite program. Hell, he’s been trying to warn the government not to send manned-satellites into space since he was working on the "perpetual missile program". Anderson is convinced that Earth is being observed by alien intelligentsia on other planets, and as soon as we send up a manned-satellite, said intelligence will ‘put us in our place’, with catastrophic results. (If you say so buddy.) Needless to say, Pratt thinks Anderson is a nut-job and the satellite launch continues.
Three months later (!), Nelson and Anderson (and wives) are having coffee. Nelson smugly notes that nothing terrible has happened to the Earth since the satellite was launched. Nevertheless, Anderson insists that aliens are watching us and it’s only a matter of time before one of them comes down to punish us for our impudence. (Do I have to mention that everybody thinks this guy is nuts?)
But wait, Anderson has a "secret" to share with Nelson (much to his wife’s embarrassment). The two scientists take leave of the women (leaving them to clean up, hey, I didn’t make this movie). Anderson shows Nelson (via a massive bank of blinking-light-and-oscilloscopes type equipment) that he is receiving signals from Venus…no not bouncing signal off of Venus as Nelson suggests is happening, but receiving …bum! bum! bum!
Although it sounds like static to everybody else, Anderson insists he can hear a voice (coo-coo! coo-coo!). A phone call interrupts this awkward demonstration. Nelson’s satellite has disappeared from the scopes, so Nelson rushes to the satellite control center to see what’s going on. Could it have anything to do with the "voices", hmmm.
Incredibly, Nelson’s satellite suddenly reappears on the scope, but unbeknownst to everybody except Anderson (who can communicate with the alien via his radio…), this time the rocket ship is carrying an unwelcome guest: …the cucumber monster from Venus. Ignorant of this frightful payload, Nelson orders the errant satellite to be brought back to Earth for maintenance. On the way down, the ship goes out of control and crashes in a remoter forested area. (Nice satellite, Nelson!)
Anderson is beside himself with excitement upon discovering that the Venusian visitor has survived the crash and will soon be in a position to save the world from all of its sadness and pain. Needless to say, his wife is rather nonplussed on hearing this wild tale and leaves the house in disgust and frustration.
When the alien leaves the crash scene, it wiggles its rubber horns and waves crab-claws in the air in a pseudo-menacing fashion. (They are rubber after all…) Suddenly, everything in the area stops working: clocks, telephones, cars, trains, cranes, printing presses, even welding torches (??). (How the alien could disrupt a spring-driven wind-up watch is left unexplained, but the point is made.)
While everybody oohs and ahhs at the sudden stoppage of, well, everything, Anderson is radioing the names of all the local officials to the alien. (It turns out the alien allows various items to continue functioning for those who serve its purpose; a rather convenient plot device actually) In an act of betrayal, Anderson even gives the intruder the name of the project leader: Dr. Paul Nelson. (Back stabber!) After including Nelson’s wife in the list (!), Anderson happily confirms that the 8 names he has given will match the 8 "control devices" that the intruder can "produce at this time." (You’ll see…)
Well, the alien gets busy producing his controllers. It wiggles its ‘bottom’ and out pops a little bat-like beastie that flies off to do the monster’s bidding.
Unfortunately for Nelson and his wife, their car has also stalled from the alien’s stop-everything-from-working powers, forcing them to hoof it back into town. While walking along the road, a ‘controller-bat’ dive-bombs Nelson’s wife, but he manages to chase it off by tossing a rock.
A local officer in town is not as lucky. A controller-bat latches onto the back of his neck and sticks 2 long antennae into his spine. The antennae break off, and the ‘bat’ falls lifeless to the ground. The officer, now under the alien’s control, picks up the bat carcass and casually tosses it into the garbage.
Nelson and his wife eventually reach Anderson’s house and stop in for a rest (and a drink). Mysteriously, all of Anderson’s appliances still work…raising Nelson’s suspicions to say the least. Anderson explains what’s happened as Nelson repeats in disbelief: "You mean a superior intelligence has come from Venus in my satellite, established residency, turned off the world’s power, and is about to take over the world."
Why yes. That would sum it up quite nicely, thank you.
When Nelson asks why Anderson doesn’t fight against the intruder, Anderson confidently states that "this superior intelligence is a personal friend of mine." (coo-coo! coo-coo!) And in fact, it has come to save the world, not destroy it! (Yeah, sure buddy. And I’ve got some swamp land for sale down in Florida…)
Back at the satellite control center , one of the ‘captured’ Army officers orders the puzzled soldiers to evacuate the premises ("go on a forced march!") and places the civilian staff under "martial law" because of a "Communist uprising (!!!)". (Wow!) The General explains that the Commies are responsible for the power outages (are they also responsible for stopped watches?). Keeping all the scientists locked down in one location will make it much easier for the alien to ‘recruit’ key personnel for his invasion of the world. Yes, I see it all so clearly now.
As the city of Beachwood is evacuated (complete with standard crowds-running-in-panic shots, including a guy fleeing with his saxophone!!!), Anderson sits by his radio and chats it up with the alien. The misguided Anderson has ratted out his buddy Nelson to the alien, and tells him where he lives in order to get him ‘recruited’ as soon as possible. (Boy, with friends like these, who needs enemies, eh?)
Back at home, Nelson notes the panicked crowds running down the street, but decides to head to the control center to check things out. He hops on a bike and cycles away, warning his wife to go inside and lock all the doors and windows until he returns. As soon as he turns the corner a ‘controller-bat’ attacks his wife…muwuhahaha!
Upon arriving at the control center, Nelson is greeted by a suspiciously polite Army officer who offers to drive him back into town, pick up his wife, and place them in "protective custody" along with the other control center staff. Nelson smells a rat (finally!) and grabs the officer’s pistol. Before the officer can react, Nelson bonks him on the head, shoves him out of the jeep, and races off.
Before going home, Nelson pops into Anderson’s place to confront him. Anderson admits that he "paved the way" for the invasion, but mankind needs the aliens in order to create a better life for everybody. Furthermore, there are 8 more aliens on Venus, waiting for their chance to come to Earth.
Having heard enough of Anderson’s treacherous rationalizations, Nelson stands to leave and delivers his Morality Speech to Anderson:
"You want me to condone this reign of terror? To swear allegiance to this monstrous king of yours to kill my own soul and all within reach? Well, I won’t Anderson! I’ll fight it to the last breathe in my body, and I’ll fight you too because you’re part of it. The worst part. Because you belong to a living race, not a dying one! This is your land! Your world! Your hand is human but your mind is enemy. You’re a traitor, Anderson. The greatest traitor of all time…do you know why?! Because you’re not betraying part of mankind…you’re betraying all of it!"
Nelson rushes home and finds that his wife is safe and sound. She finishes her shower while Nelson plops on the sofa for a smoke break. It suddenly hits Nelson: the water works. (and the lights, which have been on for the entire scene, but never mind.) His wife comes out of the bathroom and says that she has a present for him. Bringing her hands out from behind her back, she releases a ‘bat-controller’ into the air. Leaving the controller to do its business, Nelson’s wife "goes for a walk" and will return when her husband has been "recruited".
After a brief struggle, Nelson manages to impale the beastie with a fire-place poker just as the phone rings. It’s Anderson (who has the only working phone, courtesy of the alien), who is a bit pissed that Nelson has killed the controller, since it’s going to be over a week before the invader can create a new batch of bats. Anderson invites Nelson over presumably to try to mend some fences (but really to kill him, orders from the alien, you know…).
Before leaving, Nelson has a few words with his wife. (She didn’t see that he had killed the ‘control-bat’ and now assumes he’s under control.) Realizing that his wife is, for all intents and purposes, gone forever, he pulls out his pistol and kills her. (This scene is surprisingly poignant. Imagine the effect it must have had back in the 50′s.)
After dispatching his wife, Nelson drives over to Anderson’s place. As they go inside to discuss matters, Anderson’s wife, fed up with his ‘Honey-I’m-going-to-take-over-the-world" malarkey, grabs a rifle and drives off to deal with the alien herself.
Nelson confesses that he killed his wife, well, what was left of his wife after the aliens took over her mind at least. Nelson makes one last effort to convince Anderson to change sides and help him fight the alien, or else he’ll be forced to kill him. Nelson needs a few minutes to think it over. (This guy does have guts, I must admit.)
In the monster’s cave, Anderson’s wife confronts the beast. Instead of breaking out in laughter when she sees the monster, she opens fire with the rifle, with no apparent effect. Anderson hears her screams and can only listen in mute frustration as the beast kills her.
Now convinced to fight against the aliens (things are different when it’s his wife…), Anderson races off to the monster’s cave while Nelson takes off to deal with the captured crew at the control center. (Seeing that his wife has taken the rifle, Anderson arms himself with a blow-torch!)
Ok, getting near the end now. Anderson sets aflame a possessed cop while a bunch of Army guys battle with the monster in its cave. (See the movie if your interested in details at this point.) The monster finally decides to come out of its lair and is promptly rewarded with a bazooka blast right to the kisser.
In a truly astonishing, *ahem*, battle scene, the monster somehow manages to kill a couple more soldiers (it helps that the soldiers jump onto the rubber arms in an effort to ‘help’ the alien kill them). Anderson arrives with his blow torch and finally confronts his extraterrestrial boss face to face, in a manner of speaking.
In a poignant scene (sort of), Anderson renounces his ‘friendship’ with the creature and to prove his point, he sticks the blow torch in the monster’s eye. Before expiring, the mortally wounded Venusian grabs Anderson in a rubber claw and they topple to the ground in a death embrace.
Nelson delivers a canned speech about the nobility of man as we see the Earth from space…
Dennis Grisbeck (May 2005)