As space invasion flicks go,
Target Earth has been largely and unfairly overlooked.
Sure, it's creaky and threadbare but certainly not without
charm. Its central themes of isolation and survival were
not novel upon its release, and special effects had certainly
been better executed in similar films. But there is something
both appealing and unsettling about the film's handling
of these well-worn themes. As 1950s film scholars continue
to over-analyze America's radioactive paranoia, they often
ignore the cleareyed approach of this stark story: protagonists
simply wake up one morning to find everyone gone. On that
simplistic hook hangs a decent little film.
The name of Target Earth's
producer, Herman Cohen, is certainly a familiar one to
genre fans. The driving force behind a fistful of essential
teen-schlock films in the fifties (I Was a Teenage
Werewolf, Teenage Frankenstein, How to Make a Monster)
Cohen emigrated to England at decade's end, producing
a string of that country's more notorious horror capers
(Horrors of the Black Museum, Konga).
Prior to Target Earth, Cohen
had been a party to two of the decades' more dubious cult
film outings. Bride of the Gorilla (1951) featured
busty Barbara Payton as the simian's betrothed and seems
justly forgotten and rarely revived. But Cohen's next
production, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla
(1952), is atrocious on so many levels that it remains
eminently watchable 45 years later. Shoddily fascinating,
it stars a pathetically drawn Lugosi, and Martin and Lewis
impersonators Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo. Helmed
by the notorious William Beaudine, the movie is depressingly
cheap and stubbornly unfunny.
Eschewing the clumsy comedy of
Brooklyn Gorilla and the sodden sexual overtones
of Bride, Cohen's handling of Target Earth
was refreshingly straightforward: Four disparate citizens
of a major city awake to find themselves the only survivors
of some unremembered holocaust. There is no physical devastation,
no bomb craters or leveled buildings. Only abandoned cars
and the occasional lifeless body. As the shocked quartet
make their way to shelter, they spy a huge robot patrolling
the deserted streets. Able to slip past the alien sentry,
they hole up in an empty hotel for the night.
a team of scientists and soldiers is hard at work developing
an effective counterattack. Led by the ever-able Whit
Bissell, an alien specimen is captured and analyzed in
hopes that some vulnerability will be discovered. Eventually,
it's learned that a certain sonic frequency can penetrate
their alien armor. (The idea for a sonic super-weapon
was picked up and employed to better effect two years
later in Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers. More recently,
Mars Attacks utilized a similar sonic solution
to the alien problem.)
Low-rent though Target Earth
undoubtedly is, a case can be made that its meager budget
actually enhanced its depiction of desolation and sense
of isolation. Shots of the empty city streets as staged
by director Sherman Rose are a trifle bland but nonetheless
haunting. At first blush, the alien robots are laughable,
but there is something unsettling about their blank inhumanity
and complete earnestness of presentation.
The always likable Richard Denning,
comfortable in so many roles of this nature, makes for
an effective group leader. Denning, a veteran of several
television series including Michael Shayne and
Hawaii 5-0, went on to appear in genre shockers
like Creature With the Atom Brain, The Black Scorpion
and Creature from the Black Lagoon, rivaling John
Agar and Robert Clarke for the cult-film acting crown.
Richard Reeves, who slipped in and out of lovable oaf
roles throughout the fifties is likewise cornily effective.
Sci fi stalwarts Arthur Space and the aforementioned Whit
Bissell lend legitimacy to the film's stagy military scenes.
According to veteran director Herb
Strock who helmed three films for Cohen (Teenage Frankenstein,
Blood of Dracula, How to Make a Monster), Herman was
"pontific" in his approach to a production. Things
got done his way or not at all. Little wonder that each
of his films is easily recognizable as a Cohen production.
Cheaply sensational and solidly entertaining.
As previously stated, Cohen took
up residence in the U.K. following How to Make a Monster.
His British output proved to be a mixed bag of bummers and
bona fide shockers:
Of The Black Museum (1959)
by even casual viewers, an unctuous Michael Gough stars
as a demented writer exacting varied and hideous methods
of murder. Fans who haven't watched the film in 30 years
recall with disgust the "binoculars scene." Recently
re-released with its original "Hypno-Vista" prologue
The Headless Ghost
As patently dopey as Black Museum is horrific,
this trite tale of a trio of fortyish-looking college students
sequestered in a British castle doesn't deliver a single
thrill. Ostensibly a horror/comedy (!), the ghosts are bumbling
and grumpy and the insipid banter of the protagonists wears
thin in the early going. For what it's worth, the ad art
Michael Gough reprises his patented performance
as an effete madman in this odd pastiche of "ape-movie"
cliches. This time around, Gough plays a pontific scientist
with a growth serum he's testing on a chimp. The super-charged
simian sprouts to Kong-size and devastates London.
The expatriate producer
returned to the States for this one. Somehow, pitiable Joan
Crawford was coerced into appearing as a scientist working
to educate a laughable trogladyte. Once more, Michael Gough
goes through his endearingly irksome motions. Understandably,
this was Crawford's last film.