Killers From Space

1954 | B&W | 71 min.

Starring: Peter Graves, Barbara Bestar, Frank Gerstle, James Seay, John Frederick, Shep Menken, Jack Daly, Ron Gans, and a cameo by BIG COLEMAN FRANCIS!!!

Directed By W. Lee Wilder

Billy Wilder was one of the most respected and successful directors in Hollywood from the mid ‘40s through the ‘70s, helming such well-regarded and award-winning films as Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, Some Like It Hot, and The Lost Weekend. During that same time, Mr. Wilder’s older brother, W. Lee Wilder (The “W” stands for William. Billy Wilder’s real first name is Samuel. I’m confused, too), a much less-well-regarded name in Hollywood, was busy grinding out low-budget b-flicks–most of which have now fallen into the public domain–such as Phantom From Space, The Man Without a Body, and The Snow Creature.

“No Mr. Gore, I’m certain your plane passed emissions testing…”

James Arness, too, was quite the big name in Hollywood himself during that period, appearing in two sci-fi classics–Them!, and the precursor to John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Thing From Another World–and playing Marshall Matt Dillon in the long-running TV western, Gunsmoke. Arness, like Billy Wilder, also had a brother making his own way in Hollywood; the stoic, perpetually-dapper Peter Graves. While you could certainly argue that in the end Mr. Graves had a successful career equal to, or even surpassing, that of his big brother–later landing a starring role in the Mission Impossible TV series and turning in memorable and hilarious performances in both Airplane! films–during the ‘50s it seemed Graves made a living appearing in the b-version of whatever big brother James was doing. While Arness kept busy with Gunsmoke, Graves spent the latter half of the ‘50s starring in a television series of his own, the NBC western, Fury. Just as Arness battled giant Ants in Them!, Graves, too, would tackle the giant insect genre, fighting off a ravenous horde of giant grasshoppers in Bert I. Gordon’s, The Beginning of the End. Five years after James Arness went up against the “Thing,” Peter Graves thwarted the invasion plans of a race of squat, Venusian pickle monsters in the glorious 1956, Roger Corman classic, It Conquered the World.

Oh, see there’s your problem.

According to my research (aka, The Internet Movie Database search function), James Arness and Billy Wilder never combined their talents (although Peter Graves did work with the more famous Wilder brother, appearing in Billy Wilder’s 1953 film, Stalag 17). However, the same cannot be said about their brotherly counterparts, Peter Graves and W. Lee Wilder. In 1954 the much less-accomplished (at the time, at least) duo joined forces for the sci-fi quickie, Killers From Space.

“That does it. No more Ambien and Maker’s cocktails for me!”

Peter Graves stars as Dr. Douglas Martin, a nuclear scientist whose plane crashes while on an observation flight during the aptly-named, “Operation A-Bomb Test” (naming things is hard). While the pilot is confirmed dead at the crash site, Dr. Martin’s remains are inexplicably nowhere to be found. Understandably, everyone is shocked when a disheveled Dr. Martin stumbles onto the base the next morning, seemingly unharmed, save for a mild case of amnesia and a mysterious L-shaped scar on his chest. The lead investigator for the FBI suspects that this Dr. Martin may be an imposter, perhaps even a Russian operative sent to infiltrate the U.S. nuclear program (the more things change…). Eventually it is determined that this Dr. Martin is indeed the real Dr. Martin, but questions still remain, like how did he survive such a hellacious crash and why can’t he remember anything that happened to him between the crash and his arrival back on the base?

Zorro’s less famous brother, Larry, strikes again!

The first half of Killers From Space is a rather dull affair featuring lots of military stock footage and endless, talky scenes in gray, featureless rooms. Things finally pick up a bit when Dr. Martin is given a dose of sodium pentothal, which allows him to recall his abduction and subsequent escape from a group of googly-eyed alien invaders holed up in a mountain cave system close to the army base. This flashback scene takes up over twenty minutes of screen time and is by far the most entertaining section of film, as we watch Peter Graves stumble his way through the underground lair in his desperate attempt to escape his goofy alien captors and their army of giant, mutated wildlife–including enormous lizards, giant spiders, and other various, gargantuan creepy crawlies.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Mount Rushmore of ugly.

Of course, no one, not even his own wife, played by the lovely Barbara Bestar (who, I swear, could pass for Beverly Garland’s sister), believes Dr. Martin’s outlandish story of irradiated mutant lizards and bug-eyed alien invaders. Predictably, all of Dr. Martin’s attempts to convince those in charge fall on deaf ears. Undeterred, the good doctor decides to take matters into his own hands, concocting a plan to take out the alien scourge using the very knowledge he gained from the aliens themselves, who, like the typical James Bond villain, were way too comfortable revealing their entire plan to the one man who could stop them. In the end, Dr. Martin saves the day, defeating the pop-eyed alien menace, while blowing up and irradiating a large chunk of desert in the process…neat.

Oh great. I’m pretty sure we’re all dead. Thanks, Pete…

Other than the early use of embiggened animals (several years before the undisputed king of giant critter effects, Bert I. Gordon, would spend much of the next two decades running the trope into the ground), hilarious design of the aliens (wooly bear caterpillars for eyebrows and ping pong ball eyes), and an early, uncredited appearance by Coleman Francis, Killers From Space does little to distinguish itself from the countless other sci-fi quickies of the time. W. Lee Wilder’s catalog features both far worse and far better efforts–Phantom From Space and The Man Without a Body, respectively–while Peter Graves’ filmography is rife with much more enjoyable b-movie classics such as Red Planet Mars, The Beginning of the End, The Clonus Horror, and one of this critic’s personal favorites, It Conquered the World (lovingly reviewed here). Too dull to leave a lasting impression and not over-the-top enough to rise to the level of absurdity needed to be truly enjoyable on a “so bad it’s good” level, Killers From Space is ultimately little more than a rather forgettable early entry in the alien invasion genre.



Reviewed by Derek “Embiggened Animal” Miller
Posted On November 3, 2017


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