Fans of classic schlock cinema received a treat earlier this month when it was announced that Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia Entertainment label quietly and surprisingly dropped a blu-ray double feature of two of the more infamous slices of early sci-fi cinematic cheese, Tom Graeff’s Teenagers From Outer Space and Gene Corman’s Attack of the Giant Leeches. As both films are now part of the public domain, genre fans may have previously encountered these films on the countless standard definition multi-movie collection packs that usually gather in the dump bins of your local department store. Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will undoubtedly remember both films from their inclusions on that show as well.
Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)
An alien spacecraft lands on Earth and the teenage crew members exit the craft. And by “teenagers”, I mean “guys in their thirties”. Their mission is to find planets suitable for farming of a lobster-like creature called a “Gargon”, which is considered a “delicacy” back on their home planet. And by “lobster-like”, I mean “lobster”. It’s a friggin’ real lobster!
Derek (David Love), the crew’s resident “softie”, fears that the Gargon will eat the planet’s inhabitants, aka “us”. As the Gargon have a tendency to grow to gigantic proportions, these fears really aren’t as crazy as they might normally sound. The remainder of the crew, however, doesn’t really give a shit, as demonstrated by fellow crew member Thor’s disintegration of a dog that has come to welcome the extraterrestrial visitors to our planet.
After a botched attempt to sabotage the mission, Derek flees from the clutches of a crew that has charged him with treason. Using the address found on the microwaved puppy’s dog-tags, he seeks shelter at the home of Earthlings “Grandpa” Joe (Ed Wood regular, Harvey B Dunn) and his granddaughter, Betty (Dawn Anderson). These two give Earthlings a bad name with their ridiculous level of hospitality. They don’t even think to ask if he’s an alien invader. Not only do they offer Derek a room in their home free of rent, but they even offer some of Betty’s brother’s clothing for Derek to wear. Ehh, why not? Betty’s brother isn’t using them anymore. Betty seemingly has something of her own that she’s desperately trying to “offer” to Derek as well, if you get what I mean. Ehh, why not? Her brother isn’t using that anymore either.
Derek tries to tell Betty what has happened to her poor pooch, the aptly named “Sparky”. However, Betty is seemingly more concerned with her poor cooch, and drags Derek off to parade around for her friends. She even breaks an engagement with her male “friend” (the film’s director, Tom Graeff) to do so. The first stop is to the house of her best friend, Alice, who is undoubtedly more open about her “intentions” towards Derek than Betty and her gap-toothed smile could ever be.
Meanwhile, villainous Thor is in hot pursuit of Derek, and is disintegrating every person that he meets as he goes. He finds his way to Grandpa Joe’s house. Gramps’ unchecked hospitality damned near endangers the entire planet when he helpfully informs Thor of where he can find Derek, whom Derek is with, what he’s wearing, and even detailed directions on how to get there.
Derek and his newfound friends must face a final showdown with not only Thor, but also with a seafood dinner that has grown to immense size. C’mon, you had to have known that was coming. I mean, I had even told you that they grow to “gigantic proportions”. So, yeah…. no spoiler. Besides, this movie’s almost 60 years old. You weren’t even born when it came out. Probably.
Teenagers is a fun slice of low-budget drive-in era entertainment. Sure, most of the “fun” comes from the film’s multiple flaws, as exemplified by its “riffing” at the hands of the MST3K crew back in the early 90’s. Undoubtedly, this is where a large number of the film’s current-day fans (such as myself) first learned about the film. While there are clear budgetary limitations in aspects such as costumes and special effects, the film biggest “laugh” may be the over-intensity of the dialog between Derek and Thor. While far from perfect, Teenagers From Outer Space is simply a fun movie.
Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)
Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski and produced by Roger Corman’s brother, Gene (although Roger does get a co-producer credit), Attack of the Giant Leeches is set in a small community near the Florida Everglades. It may be “set” there, but the film was actual filmed in California. Game Warden Steve Benton (Ken Clark) is investigating the recent disappearance of some local poachers. The bodies are soon pulled from the swamp and are found to have had the blood completely drained from wounds that appear to have been created by tentacles, much like an octopus or squid. Or leech.
The giant leech creatures are soon discovered by the local general store owner, who caught his promiscuous younger wife (Playboy centerfold Yvette Vickers) in a tryst with her lover by the swamp, only to watch them both carried into the murky waters by the monstrosities. However, no one believes the man’s ravings, and the case is treated as a murder. When more bodies surface with the same markings, a search of the swamp is called for. This leads to the discovery of an underground lair.
The “leech” costumes look like trash bags with prosthetic suction cups glued on and never come very close to being effective, especially by today’s standards. That said, the film still offers some cheap thrills and moves at a solid pace so as to never become boring. And really, that’s all films like this needed to be…. entertaining.
While the costumes are noteworthy, the undeniable “star” of the film is the sex appeal of Vickers and her ability to effectively steal all of her scenes as the sex starved and opportunistic unfaithful wife. Yet, she is still able to elicit at least a morsel of sympathy for the character, not only due to her backstory, but also because her husband is just kind of gross.
Teenagers receives its HD widescreen transfer via a print that features a couple moments of heavy damage, but otherwise looks much cleaner than most of the prints found on those aforementioned budget sets. While the film doesn’t have much in the way of impressive visuals or noteworthy special effects, the transfer is a vast improvement over earlier releases. The film’s outdoor locations, such as the legendary Bronson Caves, are more defined, as is more subtle features, such as clothing and hair. Less subtle is just how obvious the uptick in visual quality makes the Sasquatch-like hair on Dawn Anderson’s arms stand out. Ewwww!
Leeches, unfortunately, does not fare as well as its counterpart. Sourced from a 16mm print, the print starts off with heavy scratches, but cleans up considerably in short time. However, there is what can only be described as “heavy wobble” plaguing the transfer. In other words, the film appears to move, causing an effect that is almost comparable to the tracking issues that VHS owners would normally face.
Both films feature rather unspectacular audio tracks, which is something that the HD upgrade can’t do much for. Dialog and sound effects are clear and distinct, albeit with that “tinny” sound generally found in lower-end drive-in fare.
SPECIAL FEATURES: The only special features included on the disc are the original trailers for both films, as well as a “Double Feature” trailer from Leeches‘ theatrical pairing with Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood.
VERDICT: While both films are highly entertaining, and have become staples in my own movie marathons and rainy day binges, it’s hard to recommend this release to anyone other than fellow devoted fans of these two films. With the MST3K riffing not included, the “comedic value” that some may find in exploiting the film’s mistakes and shortcomings is surely lacking. Instead, viewers have no choice but to digest the films for what they actually are: fun, if flawed, pieces of vintage Americana and as cinematic representations of our early Cold War fears of radiation, mutation, and threats from other worlds.
Teenagers receives a pleasing transfer, even if there isn’t really much of note to see. The transfer for Leeches looks nice, but the “wobble” issues keep it from being much more than an “add-on”. The disc was released at a price point of $16.99. While respectable, even that amount may be a few dollars more than the “value” of the product. A better transfer for Leeches or maybe even the inclusion of additional special features would have made this release more of a recommendation to casual fans, but as is, only obsessive fans should take the plunge.