W. Lee Wilder
Review by Thomas Scalzo
Posted on 04 May 2006
Source Goodtimes Home Video VHS
The United States of America in the early ’50s: a land of bridge players, whole-milk drinkers, cigarette smokers, and army men incessantly testing atomic bombs in the Southwestern desert. Into this serene existence comes an alien race from the planet Astron Delta, invading Earth in hopes of finding a new home. Sadly, the Astron Deltans’ sun is rapidly dimming and cooling, at once forcing their eyes to grow hideously large and obliging them to relocate their civilization. Arriving in spaceships so technologically advanced they are able to instantly shift course upon the first detection of a nearby enemy craft (offering a tidy explanation for all those UFO sightings), the aliens set up headquarters in an underground cavern somewhere in the Soledad flats, a spot which just happens to be a popular nuclear testing ground for the United States military.
The Astron Deltans’ plan? Harness every ounce of nuclear-test-explosion energy and use it to create an army of super-sized insects and amphibians capable of destroying every living thing upon the Earth. Once the planet is stripped of native life, the Astron Deltans will fire a gamma ray at their erstwhile killing tools, instantly reducing the creatures to a nutritious fertilizer that will serve to revitalize terrestrial vegetative growth. Thus in virtually no time at all will the Earth be rid of its bellicose tenants, and prepped for its new masters.
A key component in this complex design is the resuscitation of a dead army scientist named Doug Martin. When Martin’s plane crashes during a survey of the latest atomic blast, the aliens slyly retrieve his dead body, bring it back to life, implant it with some sort of restraining bolt that allows them to control him with their multipurpose gamma ray, and then order him to steal the timetable for the next atomic bomb. Martin calls them insane and tries to escape. Unfortunately, he runs afoul, first of the ever-growing insect menagerie, and second of the bug-eyed Astron Deltan leader with the ability to mesmerize people just by looking at them. Before you know it, Martin is rummaging through top-secret army files and playing the slave to his alien masters.
On paper, the outlandish ludicrousness of such a plot cannot help but bring a smile to your face. Although countless sci-fi monster flicks have employed chemically altered flora and/or fauna as central figures of terror, I am hard pressed to recall another film in which said mutated specimens are nothing more than compost-to-be in a multifaceted alien takeover scheme. In reality, however, the bulk of Killers From Space unfolds at such a lethargic pace that it is difficult to stay focused on the inherent lunacy of the story.
To wit, a substantive portion of the film, which could easily have been peppered with untold mutant-insect attacks, is nothing but talk. First the aliens talk about what they are going to do to the world and why they need Martin’s help. Then Martin (after a convenient dose of truth serum) talks to his superiors, his wife, and anyone else who will listen, about what the alien plan is and what needs to be done to stop it. Then Martin’s superiors talk to each other about how crazy Martin is. If you title your film Killers From Space, you need to give your audience a lot more killing, and a lot less gabbing.
On the positive side, it is quite fun to watch a young Peter Graves as Doug Martin scamper through the underground cavern in a vain attempt to flee from oversized insects. And the paltry alien make-up jobs, comprised solely of the aforementioned oversized eyeballs, are good for a laugh or two. The final chase scene, consisting of Graves bucking the odds, and the orders of his superiors, in an effort to cut off the Astron Deltans’ power supply and end their nascent reign of terror, also deserves mention as a well-paced and sufficiently tense conclusion to this tale of intergalactic terror.
As it is, Killers From Space is an enjoyable, if slow-going, sci-fi / horror diversion, and if these killers from space had somehow found a way to stop their yammering long enough to get on with some actual killing, the combination of Peter Graves, mutant insects and amphibians, a palpable atmosphere of ’50s atomic fear, and the directorial efforts of Billy Wilder’s brother, would have been enough to bump the film into the upper echelon of early sci-fi essentials.