In the 1950s, the status quo was America’s greatest concern. Efforts to maintain cultural stability were widespread, lest another event on the scale of World War II deal society a crushing blow. This, of course, led to the unofficial enforcement of the “American Dream,” and those who didn’t hold the idea of boatloads of kids and white picket fences true to heart were looked down upon with scorn and suspicion. It was an era that birthed countless how-to PSAs on preserving order and being a better patriot, but once in a while, a work of art rose up to criticize these supposed ideals right under peoples’ noses. 1958’s I Married a Monster from Outer Space is just such a movie, and while it may resemble some third-rate Body Snatchers riff on the surface, it’s one of the most daring and subversive films of its time. The flick still has the spaceships, death rays, and rubber aliens that warm the cockles of any sci-fi lover’s heart, but it also has both an agenda and the ability to properly smuggle it in the guise of a nifty little genre thriller.
Something’s not right about newlywed Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon). All smiles in the days leading up to his marriage to the lovely Marge (Gloria Talbott), Bill suddenly adopts a cold and emotionally distant personality just before the ceremony. Marge chalks it up to the usual wedding jitters, but a year of living with this weird behavior passes before she can no longer explain it away. As she soon discovers, there’s a good reason why Bill doesn’t seem like himself — he’s not. Bill’s body has since been hijacked by an alien being, one belonging to a dying race that desperately needs to reproduce. More invaders swing on by to assimilate the townsfolk into their collective, biding time until they come up with a way of making our biology compatible with theirs. Marge refuses to remain prisoner in her sham of a marriage any longer, but with the aliens starting to outnumber her friends and neighbors, she’s left with little time before they expand their nefarious plans on a global level.
Since it’s a product of the ’50s, I Married a Monster from Outer Space is obviously restricted with what it can show, though what it does get away with is kind of remarkable. The flick’s clues and insinuations aren’t laid out in the most subtle manner, but that it so brazenly challenges what “normalcy” was dictated to be during its era takes serious guts. Marge is essentially trapped in a loveless marriage, to a being who concerns himself almost completely with breeding and deflects his inability to do so onto her. The feeling of domestic horror here is very palpable, especially as those in a position of authority become assimilated and assure Marge that everything will be fine. It’s an uneasy atmosphere that’s played almost perfectly, making you feel the claustrophobia and powerlessness that closes in on our heroine as her situation worsens. The “Main Street, U.S.A.” setting helps the mood come across doubly freaky, making the alien threat more insidious when it’s being carried out under cover of Norman Rockwell-style Americana. Part of this is probably the result of not having a whole mess of pennies to spend on special effects and whatnot, but it’s still a testament to the crew’s creativity, since the story’s creepiness resonates all the same.
I Married a Monster from Outer Space is quite terrifying on a conceptual level, but don’t take that to mean there’s no visual cheese for vintage sci-fi nuts to enjoy, too. The spaceship action is scarce, but we’re given plenty of glimpses at the invaders in their true, towering, tentacled forms. Though they may seem a touch on the ungainly side — resembling costumes stolen from a third-grade Cthulhu Day pageant — the aliens are creepy in their own ways (especially when they die and leave chunky goop in their wake). Plus, we also get a pretty cool effect where the invaders suck up their victims inside big swirling clouds that just never gets old. However, the movie does experience its share of missteps, particularly as it nears the finale. Not to spoil anything, but after spending the whole flick unable to convince anyone of the aliens’ schemes, that Marge so easily gets some random guy to buy her story just in time for the big finish is way too contrived. Tryon does convincing work as the emotionless extraterrestrial presently wearing a Bill suit, though far less successful are the script’s last-ditch effects to have us sympathize with him. It also would’ve been nice to see Marge take more of an active role in the climax and not leave all the fun to your standard-issue angry posse, but Talbott’s performance is firm and heartfelt in any case.
In short, I Married a Monster from Outer Space offers genre aficionados more than just little green men. Not only does it possess ideas, the picture also manages to get them across without forgetting that, deep down inside, it’s bona fide drive-in date night fare. Though it falls just short of the masterpiece status earned by contemporaries like The Day the Earth Stood Still, credit galore goes out to I Married a Monster from Outer Space for simultaneously exhibiting cheesy charm and disturbing dread.
I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) was reviewed by A.J. Hakari.
Directed by Gene Fowler Jr. / Written by Louis Vittes / Starring Tom Tryon, Gloria Talbott and Peter Baldwin
Certificate Unrated (USA)
“Shuddery things from beyond the stars, here to breed with human women!”
I Married a Monster from Outer Space is available to purchase through the Warner Archive Collection: http://www.warnerarchive.com
I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) is also available on DVD (Region 1) from Amazon.co.uk; and if you decide to make a purchase after following this link you will have supported Attack From Planet B, so thank you.