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Science fiction double feature

The Day of the Triffids (1962) is an old-time science fiction movie that often played in San Francisco's revival theaters when I lived there. I love old-time science fiction movies, but always avoided seeing Triffids at the cinema, because it looked sorta stupid. Watching it via streaming is free, though, so what the hell, I gave it an hour and a half yesterday. 

Here's the set-up: There’s a meteor shower, but something's gone horribly wrong and everyone who looked at the night sky has gone blind overnight. And also, there are giant killer plants exhaling deadly spores and wandering all over England. Either idea could’ve made an enjoyably schlocky sci-fi movie, so why not both?

People wave their hands in front of themselves, suddenly blind. People get fatally hayfevered by giant walking plants that look like hairless Wookies. Stuff like this can be a blast in a low-budget sci-fi flick, and they had plenty of money — it’s in color, in Cinemascope, filmed on location, with mid-level stars and everything — but it's super-stupid. 

We follow a handful of people who, for various reasons, weren't blinded: an always-grumpy marine biologist and his stereotypically long-suffering wife/colleague (their relationship is never quite clear) as they dissect triffids, and a perky sailor with a young girl and a woman he’s picked up along the way (though where they’re going is never explained). With only the rarest exceptions, none of these characters say or do anything interesting. There are also numerous minor characters who say and do nothing interesting. There’s one chuckle, but if you watch this movie you'll earn that chuckle, so I won’t spoil it for you.

The movie crawls along dully, and at almost the halfway point — long after we’ve come to understand the worldwide plague of blindness — a blind airline pilot is still telling a blind stewardess to tell the blind passengers that everything is all right and the plane will be landing soon. Upon hearing this announcement, all the plane's passengers seem to suddenly realize they’re blind, and they unbuckle their seat belts and start screaming.

There’s only one memorable moment that isn't stupid: The ophthalmologist’s suicide, seen through opaque glass. That scene was well-written, well-staged, and well-performed. Everything before and after was not.

Rocky Horror says, “And I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a triffid that spits poison and kills,” but she doesn’t even fight a triffid, really. Mostly she screams and lets the man fight the triffids. All of the women in this movie scream, but the men never do, even when they’re dying.

The plot's conclusion won’t stand up to ten seconds of thought, and here's one last thing I don’t understand: This movie was “produced by George Pitcher,” whoever that was, so why didn’t we get an on-screen credit that says it’s "a George Pitcher picture"? That seems like a lost opportunity to me, same as the rest of the movie.

Teenagers from Outer Space (1959) — I saw this years and years ago, but all I remembered was that the actors playing teenagers were way too old to play teenagers. Other than that, I clicked 'play' with no preconceptions.

Even before the opening credits, TFOS has better special effects than anything in Day of the Triffids, and this movie (made for $20,000, says Wikipedia) is far superior in every way.

A spaceship lands on Earth, and a teenaged space-Nazi (who looks like an ordinary 25-year-old white man) rebels against his commander's plan to use Earth as grazing ground for the gargons. (I could explain what gargons are, but the movie barely does, and it's not important anyway. They're supposed to be scary, and we don't want them grazing here, OK?)

The space teen, with the spacey name ‘Derek’, escapes, and comes to a small American town. He knows nothing of our Earth ways, but nobody much notices his ignorance of concepts like 'rent' or 'family'. Everyone in town remains clueless when the evil space-Nazis come around, looking for Derek and killing anyone who doesn’t answer questions quickly enough, and some who do.

Dawn Anderson, playing an innocent teenaged girl, was 24 when this was made, and delivers her lines in an annoyingly fake little-girl voice reminiscent of especially bad porn. Other than the voice, though, her character is the only smart human in the movie.

Am I making Teenagers from Outer Space sound silly? It is silly, of course, and they knew it was silly when they were making it (what's the title again?), but it’s classic-silly, enjoyable-silly. Slice through all the hooey and hokeyness, and it's a good movie. Don't tell anyone, but the ending made me weepy. 

Memorable moments:

• Giant lobster shadow!
• Baby-voiced teenaged girl phones the town’s electric generation plant, and tells them to increase the power they're generating. The man who answers the phone quickly does what she says, of course, because “There’s no time to ask questions!”
• “I shall make the Earth my home, and never leave it.”

itsdougholland.com 

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