UFO: Target Earth (1974)

Prologue:

The phrase “Lamest Space Invasion Ever” instantly brings to my mind the 1964 Larry Buchanan classic “Attack of the the Eye Creatures.” (Sic) In it, a small number of extras in appallingly cheap and incomplete costumes stumble blindly (ha ha!) around a backwater lover’s lane. They leave their plastic flying saucer completely unguarded, thus allowing a stunningly incompetent U.S. military to blow it up by accident. The aliens themselves soon meet their own demise when the 20 and 30-something “teenagers” of lover’s lane train their car headlights on them – thus blowing the “deadly” space invaders up! – Alas for me, MST3K has already done such a good job of sending it up that I just couldn’t pick it for today’s round table. (But I can recommend you hunt down that episode for an extra special cheesy treat.)

In looking for a substitute I briefly considered similar Buchanan fare such as “Zontar: The Thing from Venus” and “Mars Needs Women” – but decided to give poor Larry a break, and so plunged into the hoary netherworld of B-movie space invasions from the past. My daunting task – to find another batch of invaders so hopelessly pathetic the wonder isn’t that they fail to conquer the earth, but that they manage to find it in the first place. Did I succeed? Oh boy yes! But in a different way. Where Buchanan would spend $15 dollars on some of the goofiest props and costumes I’ve ever seen, and then blithely throw them up onto the screen, “filmmaker that time forgot” Michael A. De Gaetano came up with a bold alternative. Wanting to make a flying saucer movie but having no money, he simply eliminated the flying saucer and replaced it with reams and reams of pointless, incomprehensible gibberish! And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you:

UFO Target Earth

Written and Directed by Michael A. DeGaetano

Tagline: “UFO’s…The truth about them might just blow your mind for the last time”

Run Time: 80 minutes

Review by Sean Ledden

“We are beyond the jaws of darkness, where the light springs from the consciousness of your mind and bends upon itself to become the truth.”
– Alien TV Screen

“Curiously, what the hell do we know about electricity?”
– Distinguished Professor


The Plot:

UFO: Target Earth opens with (far too many) “recreated” interviews of “actual happenings that have occurred in recent months throughout the country.” (Are you scared yet?) I’m not – the interviewer looks likes the announcer from “Laugh-In,” only with a great 70’s mustache! (Sorry.) Anyways, Mr. Mustache earnestly asks people in and around Athens, Georgia about their recent UFO sightings. Good, plain country folk that they are, they oblige, at great length.

Even here, before the titles have come up, De Gaetano betrays his utter lack of skill. The most dramatic story, a classic alien abduction of a farmer and his wife, isn’t saved for the finale, but is sandwiched in the middle of several “lights in the sky” anecdotes. The “climax” comes when Mr. Mustache and two men solemnly stand around some small plane wreckage in a drab stand of leafless trees near a lake. One of them asserts, “Since there has been no probe into this crash – and there have been several UFO sightings in this area for some time now, that a – well, we know what we saw.” Huh? (By the way, are you scared yet?)

Finally! The Titles! And they’re accompanied by a groovy, dreamy rock ballad from the groovy, dreamy, post-2001: A Space Odyssey 70’s. Taken for itself, it’s not a bad tune, but as the title track to a UFO movie it can only fill the heart of a sci-fi fan with dread. “UFO- Target Earth” means to be “deep.” And “Spoiler Alert!” the grainy, fuzzy, black & white UFO photos that accompany the titles are the only UFO’s that appear in the movie.

UFO Target Earth

Creepy UFO’s hover over the heartland – I think.

UFO Target Earth

These are either more creepy UFO’s, or the blurred headlights of oncoming traffic at night. I’m not sure which.

UFO Target Earth

What the – !?!

By the end of the groovy, dreamy titles I’ve drifted off into a groovy, dreamy stupor – only to be jolted awake by a strident narrator’s voice:

“On the afternoon of March 26, 1974, Allen Grimes, a young teaching fellow at the University of Gainesville attempted to make a telephone call to a colleague to discuss some academic business. – It was a call which was to change his life!”

UFO Target Earth

Allen Grimes, a young teaching fellow at the University of Gainesville, attempts to make a telephone call to a colleague to discuss some academic business.

What this “academic business” is, we’ll never know – for Allen has somehow intercepted a call between two military men discussing a UFO radar sighting near the “Buford Power Project.” With a blank look on his face, Allen quickly grabs a pen and starts making notes as the two harried authority figures talk about a 15% drop in the power grid. (!) Freaked out by a feeling that “there’s something out there,” they decide to send some planes up to investigate.

Do we see the planes? No. Do we find out what happened to them? No. Instead we get to hang out with Allen in his dark and dreary office. A blank look on his face, he stares out the window into the stormy, nighttime sky of “the afternoon of March 26.” As “spooky” thunder rumbles over the sound track his mind drifts back to his childhood bedroom, where he complains to his mother about “that light.” It was like a “big star” and “it hurt.” Mom brushes off his fears by telling him it was a dream, then leaves him alone in his room. And………NOTHING HAPPENS! We’re back to grown-up Allen staring, blankly, out the window of his office. Oh wait, something is happening. Allen is making another phone call! He’s trying to track down a girl named Vivian because he “has to talk to her tonight.” What follows is a pivotal conversation, so I’ll quote it:

Allen:

“I’ve heard that you feel extra-terrestrial presences. Beings around us.

Vivian:

“Beings? – That word is too – dimensional. Energy. Yes. I feel that. I feel as if I might somehow…

Allen:

“Communicate with them?”

Vivian:

“No – with “it.” Yes, I would like that. – Why do I feel so aware now?

Allen:

(Blankly) “Listen, I have to make an appointment. Do you have some time

tomorrow?

Vivan:

“I don’t know.”

And….fade to black. (Is your mind blown yet?)

Next day finds Allen at a Planetarium lecture, where a distinguished professor blows our minds with the following information:

“The appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1066 A.D. neatly coincided with the conquest of England by William the Conqueror, and proceeded the raise of the Islamic Empire. It is also credited with such events as The Crusades, the Great Black Plague, the Reformation, the discovery of the New World, the decline of the Old.”

And so, apparently, though the professor mysteriously omits the sinking of the Titanic, Halley’s Comet explains everything. (Like, wow.) And he continues:

It is curious, in an age of science and Star Trek, that there is always a flurry of UFO sightings before and after a comet visits us.

What? No UFO sightings while the comet is visiting us? And why would Star Trek prevent people from seeing flying saucers?…..Anyways, after the lecture wraps up Allen and the professor stroll around the campus, gaze at photographs of space on the observatory wall, and engage in a rambling, abstract discourse on UFO’s and the plausibility of extra-terrestrial life.

UFO Target Earth

Allen and the professor ponder the vastness of outer space.

But it seems the professor believes UFO’s can all be explained rationally and, bizarrely, he thinks he proves this by showing Allen a comet through the observatory telescope. Finally Allen comes to the point:

Allen:

“Something is bothering me. Partly it’s a scientific curiosity. Partly it’s just curiosity.”

Professor:

“Do you understand the difference?”

Allen:

“Does anyone? With one you pry by asking questions and recording the answers. The other you follow hunches and wonder where the maze leads you.”

(Reviewer’s Note: Oh dear God!.)

Professor:

“Well?…”

(Reviewer’s Note: Yes? – Well??)

Allen:

(dramatic pause) “I think you should know…..”

And……fade to black.

(Reviewer’s Note: AAAAAUUUUUGGGHHHHHH!!!!)

When the lights come on again it becomes clear Allen has spilled the beans about the UFO phone conversation he overheard. Drama threatens when the professor refuses to do anything about it for fear of ridicule, but Allen merely replies, “I understand.” To which the professor helpfully adds:

“Curiously, what the hell do we know about electricity?’

(Reviewer’s Note: What???)

Allen:

“We know it’s a power source.”

(Reviewer’s Note: Huh?)

Professor:

“So is imagination.”

(Reviewer’s Note: GAAAGGGHHH.)

And so ends the conversation with the professor. Interestingly, it was a conversation whose only interesting portion was edited out. (Spoiler alert! – This entire scene has absolutely no impact on the rest of the movie.)

Soon afterwards a dazed looking Vivian finds a blank looking Allen mellowing out at a local bar. She complains about “an oppressive feeling.” Flatteringly, she explains that it emanates from him. (Ouch!) Allen seems mildly intrigued. And when she takes his hand a mild kind of hell breaks out in the bar as she gasps “Energy!” and “Stars! Stars!” The lights flicker on and off. The music starts playing r-e-a-l s-l-o-w. Then the lights stop flickering and the music returns to normal.

And…..fade to black.

 

UFO Target Earth

Vivian freaks out!

UFO Target Earth

Allen is concerned!

Phew! That was exciting. Fortunately things calm down in the next scene as Allen paces around some nice lady’s living room. Freaking out over Vivian’s freak out, he explains that “an hour later enough people reported UFO sightings to make the national news.” Do we see any of that? Of course not! (De Gaetano has soooo much to answer for….) And I’ll spare you a description of the rest of the scene because it’s just a needless repeat of what happened with the skeptical professor. (Spoiler Alert! – The undescribed scene has absolutely no impact on the rest of the movie.)

Next week finds Allen and Vivian out on the open road accompanied by plangent 70’s folk-pop. He’s off to see Army general Gallagher, whom he suspects took part in the “phone call that changed his life.” It’s another talky and bizarre scene as the crafty Allen duels with the pissy general over “closed” and “open” communication systems. But while he learns nothing of the jet scramble, or even if the general is in the know, Allen succeeds in alerting a paranoid military to his interest in top-secret phone calls. So I guess it was a productive meeting! (Spoiler Alert! – absolutely nothing comes of all this.)

Later he and Vivian stop at a picnic table and review all they know. It seems that all recent and past UFO sightings form “a broad elliptical sweep around the Buford power project.” Becoming almost animated, Allen blurts out “It might be a power source never thought of before!” (Maybe it’s electricity Allen. I mean, what the hell do we know about it?)

Then there’s lots of prattle about mysterious “heat blisters” on structures at the Buford plant, but because of “tight army security” we’ll never see any of that stuff. Hell, we don’t even see the army security! Instead we go to the computer lab of Dr. Mansfield, who turns out to be that nice lady from the previous scene. Over the phone she decides Allen can use her computer to evaluate his “interviews and sensor data.” Cut to Allen and Vivian conducting one of those interviews, and one of the most astounding scenes in movie history. Not for anything that’s said, but BECAUSE THE BOOM MIKE, AND IT’S LONG HANDLE, ARE CLEARLY VISIABLE FOR AN EXTENDED SHOT. (See photo.) As the shot goes on and on, you can watch as the handle makes small adjustments to the mike’s position. It’s mesmerizing.

UFO Target Earth

Boom!

I had to rewind so I could catch what the old lady was talking about! It’s a long and involved story about an eclipse and UFO’s coming in and out of the local lake. So Allen and Vivian go to the local lake and have another important conversation.

Allen:

“Do you realize she probably gave us the one bit of evidence that couldn’t be co-incidence?”

Vivian:

“The split up of the lights.”

Allen:

“Absolutely. An energy force – with a flight pattern!”

And….fade to black.

(Reviewer’s Note: What…the…hell???)

A call to Dr. Mansfield’s computer lab finds her assistant Dan printing out their “wild, really wild” data. (What data?) And the computer, in it’s all knowing wisdom, counsels Allen and Vivian to place their “sensors” on the “opposite side of the lake.” “As far from your camp as possible.” …..OK.

Looking out over the pleasant if non-descript lake, Vivian tries vainly to create a sense of dread by noting the “strangeness of this place.” Like she’s “been here before.” A preposterous suggestion indeed! Then she really goes off the deep end, accusing Allen of trying to “buy my soul with your technology.” (?!?) To Allen’s credit, he doesn’t plant a strained smile on his face and slowly back away. Instead, he muses, “Well, we’re all bound by it aren’t we?” (Good answer!) He then assures her that “nothing will happen” (Oh boy, is he ever right!) before saying he has to boat over to the opposite side of the lake to place their “sensors.” Then we watch him, seemingly in real time, as he boats over to the opposite side of the lake – to place the “sensors.”

UFO Target Earth

Allen boats over to the opposite side of the lake, to place the “sensors.”

As Allen sets up the “sensors” on the opposite side of the lake, “as far away from their camp as possible,” Vivian waits nervously and clutches the walkie-talkie he left her. It’s here that the one and only creepy thing in the whole movie happens – a weirdly harsh “voice” starts calling “Vi-vi-an” over the walkie-talkie. Freaking out, she drops it and runs off into the woods. She’s still lost when Dr. Mansfield and Dan show up at the campsite and join Allen in a search party. They walk amongst the trees in the cheerful afternoon sunshine until they come across a dazed looking Vivian sitting on the ground and growling, “Get away from this place!” – as if she fears they’ll eat her toasted marshmallows. It’s right about here that “UFO-Target Earth” becomes a sort of mind-blowing, 1970’s “Blair Witch Project” – with all of the excitement and spectacle that that entails.

Then it’s back to the campfire, where the mystery of the lake is revealed through (sigh) more talking. Oddly, the explanation comes not from the freaky Vivian or the fixated Allen, but from rational skeptic Dr. Mansfield. Here it is:

What the old woman saw could have been an alien ship that experienced a major power loss during an eclipse of the sun. It fell not from the sun, but from space. And it plunged into the lake, where it has been submerged for all these years. But somehow, through technology that far exceeds our own the inhabitants have managed to remain alive. And periodically they send out satellite ships to secure power, from say the power plant.

(Apparently, halfway through his script De Gaetano got so excited by eclipses he forgot all about comets…Sad, really.)

Why hasn’t the alien ship left yet? Dr. Mansfield has the answer! Unable to fix their main power supply, they can’t get enough thrust to overcome the gravity of “this galaxy.” (!?!) She adds wisely, “Even advanced technologies have limitations.” (Amazingly, this statement was made years before the advent of Microsoft Windows.) Then things get even freakier as Allen pipes up:

“You don’t believe a word of that. Why are you saying that?”

Dr. Mansfield:

“No Allen, I don’t believe it.” (!?!?!) “I don’t believe it because I haven’t seen it. But I say it because we must construct some possibility to begin our investigation.”

For a rational skeptic Dr. Mansfield certainly is bizarre! And though this would seem the perfect time for Allen to dramatically reveal his childhood abduction trauma, all we get is more of this:

Allen:

Possibilities. – Is anything possible?

Dr. Mansfield:

(Dramatic pause) I don’t know.

Allen:

(Vivian) accepts all this as fact. We perceive it as myth.

Dr. Mansfield:

My reason tells me I have nothing to fear. Your emotions give you the basis for your fear.

Allen:

I don’t know. I feel that we just have to watch, and wait.

And…..fade to black.

Watching the cast of amateur actors struggle earnestly with this nonsense wrings the heart. But De Gaetano “the merciless” doesn’t let up. He keeps the tension high (sarcastic laughter) and sets up the grand, if listless, finale with (sigh) more vague pondering, Vivian’s pointless backstory, and a dizzy spell suffered by Dr. Mansfield. Then Dan starts yammering about the “sensors” picking up a “high concentration of energy.” Get ready for a shock; it’s from “under the water. Under it!” And as the scientific instruments in the van flash, blink and draw curvy lines on graph paper, Vivian runs off and tells the semi-conscious Dr. Mansfield “They’re here!” Allen adds to the lethargic “climax” by wandering over to a TV set and gazing at the mind-blowing images that are coming in from the “sensors.”

UFO Target Earth

The alien presence makes its dramatic appearance.

UFO Target Earth

Allen’s look of stunned bemusement matches my own as I watch this movie.

Several minutes of confused non-action pass before the TV screen starts babbling at Allen. And what it says might just blow your mind for the last time!

"It is you we seek.

We are beyond the jaws of darkness, where the light springs from the consciousness of your mind and bends upon itself to become the truth.

We have waited for you, over 1000 years."

(Reviewer’s Note: Gosh. The old lady who saw the eclipse must have been really, really old!)

"You must choose between two time spans: yours or ours. Give us the power to return, and your time will be destroyed. Nothing will be left. You will die. Only a memory in the mind of your friends will remain. If you refuse, all will end within your lifetime anyway. Your planet will crumble. Already your mind purifies itself of the memory, transforming the imagination into our needed energy."

(Reviewer’s Note: Good luck in figuring out what it all means. Being high would probably help.)

"In the evolution of your race, only 3 have been chosen before you. You are the 4th to ascend."

(Reviewer’s Note: Thus does Allen Grimes, “a young teaching fellow at the University of Gainesville,” join the company of, just a guess here, Buddha, Jesus Christ and Mohammad – and ascend into Godhood. Wow! And he wasn’t even published! – It’s also interesting to note that in addition to its many other sins, UFO – Target Earth now commits blasphemy! – Nothing wrong with that.)

The stage is now set for a stunning rip-off of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Allen, his mind blown and his face covered with unconvincing “old man” make-up, wanders off to the portentous sound of a beating heart. Then we get three solid minutes of mind-blowing images from the Alien TV screen. Three solid minutes!

UFO Target Earth

The mind-blowing, 3-minute finale of UFO – Target Earth!

Finally, Allen makes it to the lake and sinks under the surface. Trying to fish him out Dan retrieves, get ready for a shock, nothing but his (dramatic pause) skeleton!

Is your mind blown? I know mine is! But we’re not thru yet – as the piped in classical music swells and swells up comes a poorly spelled quote from (sigh) The Bible.

UFO Target Earth

And I guess that explains everything.

The End.

Sean Ledden (May 2008)

Afterthoughts

Like….wow.

DVD NOTES:
If you have a damaged psyche, and would actually like to see “UFO – Target Earth,” you can find it as part of a triple feature DVD headlined by Larry Buchanan’s god-awful “Creature of Destruction.” (Larry’s back! – Again!) A goofy little 1950’s documentary entitled “Flying Saucer Mystery” rounds out the bill. All in all it’s a “mind-blowing” (ha-ha!) collection, for which we must thank the sick puppies at Retro Media Entertainment. – Thank you sick puppies!
And while I’m in cheerleading mode, let me make a bold gesture and nominate Michael De Gaetano to the same Hall of Infamy graced by Ed Wood, Larry B. and “Manos: The Hands of Fate’s” Harold P. Warren. Reader’s who have suffered through this review will, I hope, be nodding their heads enthusiastically at my idea. But in case there are any holdouts I will present five arguments why De Gaetano deserves such an “honor:”
1. No UFO’s appear in “UFO – Target Earth”
2. The shameless and foolhardy 3-minute bargain basement 2001 rip-off.
3. The astounding “boom” shot.
4. The flaccid, drama-free direction
5. The script.

Yes, I’m confident my nominee can stand up to even the most critical scrutiny. Go Michael!
“If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error.”
-John Kenneth Galbraith

Read more about UFO: Target Earth at

IMDB

12 comments to UFO: Target Earth (1974)

  • Guts3d

    Great review of a really bad film! I am glad I missed this stinker.

  • c.s.auaeginal

    It is actually a very good looking film. The locations, both interior and exterior, are splendid. It would be a good project for remake by film student, only this time, endow it with a very real and very well thought out script. While I’m here, would somebody kindly give one of my favorite films, “Target…Earth?” (1980) the “Monster Shack” treatment?

  • Guts3d

    And why would Star Trek prevent people from seeing flying saucers?…..

    Because they are inside their homes watching the show on the boob tube!

    Sorry Sean, I don’t think that I am strong enough to seek this stinkburger out and watch it.

  • Sean

    Yes it is a good looking film. And a low-budget remake could work if the filmmakers don’t get over ambitious and try to bring in a savior/destroyer God incarnate, and the possible end of the world. And what’s this? “Guts3d” doesn’t have the “guts” to see this movie???

  • Guts3d

    I have guts, but I’m not stupid! ( Contrary to my wife’s worthless opinion! )

  • Sean

    Glad to hear it!

  • c.s.auaeginal

    I am personally aware of two slightly different cuts being out there, and have seen running-time quotes of 77, 80 and 86 minutes. That infamous “Boom Microphone in the Shot” shot was certainly no accident. There was, in that era, a genre of deliberately sabotaged cheapo movies intended for certain audiences. Poster child for that bunch would probably be “Night of the Lepus” (1972). As for our “UFO: Target Remake”, nobody would mind if vast liberty is taken with the original story. Could we have, at some point, a pretty tree-frog filling the Super 35 screen, also a beautiful lodge for Alan, Vivian and Dr. Manfield and the gang to stay in during their visits to the lake distict? This film would be more about journey than destination; actually finding a crashed UFO is not essential, and the scares creep up from behind you.

  • Sean

    That’s an interesting idea that the boom mike in the frame was deliberate. It certainly makes the director and D.P. look better! And I guess the core of the creepiness in this story is aliens abducting a little boy for purposes of their own. Purposes he discovers when he’s grown up. There’s certainly a lot of potential here.

  • c.s.auaeginal

    We need a review on this site for “Night of the Lepus”. We also need one for “Phase IV” (1974), which was backed by a major studio and its ever industrious publicity department, and which got a lot of reviews which were perhaps too indulgent. I recall only one that outright called it an exploitationer. Is it in the same category as “UFO: Target Earth”? The antennas that are shown repeatedly are very obviously models, the radar dish very obviously rotates too quickly and, worst of all, it very very obviously is lacking a feed-horn. The list goes on. After these three films have gotten you thoroughly riled, better sit back and enjoy “Zardoz” (1974), also from this era.

  • c.s.auaeginal

    DO watch “Manuel’s Tavern, Atlanta” uploaded to YouTube by on 3 Jul 2009. The tavern scene was shot there. I’ll not steal Buttonwood’s thunder by saying any more. As for the remake of this film into the entirely respect-worthy flick that it could have been, please know that there is a Gainesville in each of six states, including Georgia and Florida.

  • c.s.auaeginal

    Google tossed up this journal citation: “UFO Target Earth and How It was Filmed” by Jerry Crowder, in American Cinematographer Vol 55 July 1974.

  • Sean

    I just checked out some of the Manuel’s Tavern videos on YouTube. I didn’t know it was such a beloved local institution. And it blew my mind that someone posted the Tavern scene from “UFO Target Earth!”

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