pop culture: mad professor mike
Hello, America, this is Mad Prof. Mike with the Headbanger Movie Review, bringing you the latest on those cool Sci-Fi and Horror movies your mom doesn't want you to see.
I'm going to present a name to you. Remember it, because it's my mission to see this name get the recognition it deserves.
The name is "Tom Graeff."
This man, Tom Graeff, deserves the same recognition showered upon Ed Wood Jr., the guy who made PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Ed Wood is universally acknowledged to be the worst director of all time. I freely admit that Ed Wood directed incredibly bad movies, but I truly admire Ed Wood, and I think it's unfair his Bad Movies have been attacked as they have been. Because for all his faults, Ed Wood truly believed in what he did. He believed in the messages PLAN 9, GLEN OR GLENDA?, and BRIDE OF THE MONSTER had to deliver, and that makes him a much more valid film maker than 9 out of 10 big time Hollywood slobs.
It's his passionate honesty that makes Ed Wood movies so noteworthy, and that makes them such easy targets of ridicule. Larry Buchanan's THE EYE CREATURES is every bit as inept as PLAN 9, yet it's not renown as a great Bad Movie because Buchanan just cranked it out as a piece of infected tripe, without putting any of himself or his beliefs into it.
Watch PLAN 9, and you'll see that Ed Wood truly thought he was making a film of paralyzing, existential horror. The idea of grave- robbers from outer space resurrecting the dead is absurd, but to Ed Wood, the idea was as mind-blowingly terrifying as going to your front door and seeing Great Cthulhu forcing its liquid putrescence up from the sewer, eager to scoop handfuls of human prey into its flabby, tentacled maw.
Watch Ed Wood's GLEN OR GLENDA?, his docu-drama about transvestitism and trans-sexuality. Ed Wood was a transvestite; he claimed to have worn panties under his kakhis as he stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Thus, GLEN OR GLENDA becomes a wildly passionate plea for understanding and tolerance of men who need to wear women's clothes. This very passion makes GLEN OR GLENDA? not a just a movie, but a wildly hallucinogenic foray into the depths of gender obsession.
And Tom Graeff, like Ed Wood in the creation of GLEN OR GLENDA?, pours his heart, his soul, his everything, in the creation of his epic Bad Movie, 1959's TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE... so much so that it, too, becomes almost hallucinatory. Graeff wrote, produced, directed, edited, and photographed TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE, and, by God, he even starred in it under a false name: David Love.
And Love is indeed the Great Theme of TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE: love between boy and girl, love for one's planet, love for one's family and friends, and in Graeff's case, love for one's own face. Under his direction, the camera caresses his handsome visage the way butter caresses hot toast. Graeff's narcissism provides much of the passion that makes TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE such an incredible experience.
The plot concerns Derrick (played by Graeff, of course), a troubled space teen on a mission to survey the Earth as a possible breeding ground for Gargons--huge, hostile Lobster Monsters his people use for food. He lands with his five or so comrades in a flying saucer so small, you could MAYBE fit two dwarfs into it. The aliens' high-tech super atomic atmospheric monitors (to see how well Earth can support Gargons) look like stuff you'd find in the attic of a VFW club--maybe parts of a P.A. system leftover from a sock-hop put on forty years ago.
Being too sensitive and melancholy, (sort of an extra-terrestrial Morrissey) Derrick can't allow a planet with intelligent inhabitants to be overrun with horrible Gargons. He goes AWOL from his flying saucer and escapes to the splendid, sprawling expanse of late 1950s Suburbia, amazed at the wonderful warm social utopia he finds there. He meets a nice Earth girl, is hunted by a homicidal fellow Space Teen, and saves Suburbia from a Gargon that runs amok.
The Gargon, by the way, is a lobster nailed upright to a board and pulled by a string in front of rear projected footage of terrified victims falling before its fearsome claws.
Worst special effect I've ever seen.
As if nuking a lobster weren't heroic enough, Derrick then saves the whole damn planet by single-handedly destroying his people's fleet of Gargon transport ships, laying down his life to do so. The film closes with a shot of Derrick's face, especially melancholy and handsome now that he's dead, looking down from Space Teen Valhalla upon the world he has provided salvation for.
Beyond Graeff's aforementioned narcissism, the passion he brings to TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE comes from his intense plea for the understanding of troubled teens everywhere, no matter where in the Galaxy they're from. Teens aren't people in this flick; they're Neo- platonic symbols for youth and innocence, beyond blame or corruption. In the Juvenile Delinquent obsessed world of the late 50's, that was nothing to take lightly. Unlike the teens in Roger Corman movies of the time, these kids don't even hot-rod or drink beer. They're pure as the driven snow. The presentation of 1950s teen angst is inspired by REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, on a level of melodrama that puts 1990s Beverly Hills 90210 angst to shame.
Such passion, such honesty, even in a movie so astoundingly bad, deserves a little respect... sort of in the same way a horseshoe crab deserves a little respect. After all, a horseshoe crab is stupid and unpleasant to look at, but if it hasn't evolved a bit in millions of years, you have to admire the purity of its vision, the tenacity with which it's true to its own sense of self.
I think Graeff has that same purity of vision.
On our Headbanger scale of 1-4, TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE, as a movie, gets 1 headbang. As a bizzarro curiosity, it gets 4 headbangs.
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