W. Lee Wilder’s Terrible Trilogy that Wouldn’t Die! (Part Two)

*contains spoilers

The second movie made by Lee is the far more atrocious, yet in some ways more fun, Killers from Space.

Myles Wilder

According to Myles Wilder, who told Tom Weaver, the film was shot in six days using his father’s money and actual office for the office scenes as well as other cheap locations – one of course being Bronson Canyon – host of many a low budget feature including Robot Monster (1953), It Conquered the World (1956), The Brain from Planet Arous (1957) and Invisible Invaders (1959). It is one of the most recognisable locations used in low budget movies in the Hollywood area. Located in Griffith Park, it has access to easy parking and you follow a track up a hill to the Cavern, which is man made, which leads through to the other side into a Canyon. If you’re in Los Angeles try and see it, as it’s iconic. Probably the most iconic use is when the Bat-Mobile exits the Bat Cave in the 60s series – that’s the entrance of Bronson Canyon in disguise.

Bronson Cavern which leads to the Canyon is man-made

Star of Killers from Space, Peter Graves (1926-2010 heart attack), who went on to such success in the Mission: Impossible series in the 1960s said he did the film for the experience and the money, despite the effect of the alien’s eyes in the movie being created by ping pong balls sawn in half! Graves said he had to play it all totally straight in case he should never work in Hollywood again, even in a film as low budget as Killers from Space.

Originally titled the Man who Saved the Earth, the filmmakers decided to change the name as it seemed a bit presumptuous as that title should belong to Jesus Christ!

The film is integral as a science fiction story for its use of an alien kidnapping as a part of the scenario and alien experiments – although there is no posterior probes!

Ping pong was taken to new heights on Astron Delta

“Our ships have been sighted on numerous occasions by your people,” says one of the aliens who has kidnapped Graves. Dressed in what is almost a full body stocking/costume with a hood which looks somewhat like The Phantom, these bug-eyed creatures operate on downed pilot Graves using some type of soldering iron. In fact, they brought him back from the dead after his jet crashed, leaving a strange right-angled scar on his chest for the authorities to ponder over following his miracle return.

Refugees from the planet Astron Delta, these poor ping pong ball eyed creatures had no choice but to invade the Earth as their sun has all but been extinguished by time. In fact a billion of them are going to come to Earth once the human population has been destroyed, the head alien advises Graves.

Killers from Space (1954) trailer

“You must be insane! This is ridiculous!,” yells Graves at the sight of the aliens and their plans to take over the planet and he runs off into a maze of tunnels, which are obviously Bronson Cavern taken from every imaginable angle.

There they keep giant carnivorous insects and lizards ready to destroy all earthlings before the billion aliens arrive. If they are going to live above ground they’ll be wearing sunglasses to hide their protruding eyeballs and protect them from bright light and confusion with Marty Feldman. Perhaps Earth can build a wall to stop the billion refugees from Astron Delta from entering!

Actor Marty Feldman

When I first saw Killers from Space, it was on a Saturday night around the midnight slot on the television when most cheap films, many in the public domain, were shown. At the time, it made my top ten worst movies, as I couldn’t believe how anyone could take this movie seriously. I just didn’t get it after having seen such classics as It Came from Outer Space (1953).

Killers from Space is the ultimate “quickie” made for children and less discerning adults on the lowest of budgets. Yes, it is laughable, but that’s half the charm of the movie upon watching it in context. The head alien, who talks with such gravitas, while also walking around with ping pong balls balanced in his eye sockets like monocles, is a sight to behold.

Millions were spent on the painstaking make-up in Killers from Space

“You are a clever man doctor… too clever,” says the alien, who sends Graves back to base to retrieve information, so the invaders can carry out their nefarious plan which will help destroy civilisation on our planet. Such are the epic qualities of Killers from Space!

Killer scar you’ve got there from alien experiments

So will the world end and will Graves’ pouty and sex-starved wife ever be satisfied? This “camp” element of the plot was used to great effect in the dubbed spoof of the movie entitled Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (2002) which makes the aliens all homosexuals who hypnotise Graves into also being so. It’s pretty funny as it sends up gays in the military as well as the sci-fi genre. Try and find a copy.

Graves’ predicament, in that he has to help destroy the world so he might live, is never questionable. We’re sure he will be The Man Who Saved the Earth, despite the fact the aliens have a psychic connection with him. This connection is shown with “terrifying” floating heads of the aliens appearing superimposed during key moments of the film. Blink twice like you imagined it!!

The refugees can pick another planet, as the climax, which has Graves running around in his pyjamas and dressing gown through the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water Plant, ends with the aliens going up in a mushroom cloud. A common occurrence at the end of movies of this period!

Full movie of the “classic” Killers from Space

The most interesting and maybe the most expensive part of the movie, although the images were probably lifted from another source, are the models and images of Astron Delta. They ARE impressive, along with Graves’ straight face.

However, the mythology of the alien kidnapping and “lost time” are embedded for the first time, something which would become fodder for trashy tabloids over the decades to come.

The last of this quick-fire trilogy is The Snow Creature (1954) about the yeti, which has Bronson Canyon standing in for the Himalayas some of the time.

It is probably the first yeti movie, although the far earlier Werewolf of London (1935) is a yeti relative.

There is a Tibetan connection in Werewolf of London (1935)

In terms of the three movies, this one rates the worst in terms of the IMDb.

“This place gives me the creeps,” says one character about Bronson Cavern, before the yeti brings down the ceiling of the cave onto the Himalayan expedition and, sadly, upon himself, killing his own family in the process. I didn’t get the creeps and it is kind of incongruous that we should have to be told so! That’s called lazy or quick direction.

They sedate the creature and take him back to the United States a la King Kong but customs thinks “this is a very unusual case” and leave the creature in his rather flimsy cage in a holding area while the red tape is sorted overnight. Of course he escapes, murdering a woman while traversing Los Angeles by using the underground drainage system. The film is interesting for its location use of this system, something which the movie Them (1954) used around the same time with its giant ants. Both films climax in these tunnels.

The yeti itself isn’t too bad costume-wise as it’s just Lon Chaney Jr’s wolfman without the close-ups and the underground drain scenes really are atmospheric with its soundtrack of running and dripping water.

Hammer relation: the British The Abominable Snowman (1957) trailer

It’s just a shame that nothing really happens as Lee thinks people walking and running around passes for action. Of course the yeti perishes at the end and the film is notable for actually introducing the Abominable Snowman to us.

My favourite film by Lee, although it is not one of the Planet Filmways productions, and doesn’t belong with that trio, is 1957’s The Man Without a Body.

The striking robot design in The Colossus of New York (1958)

The credits open this one in their entirety and Lee is given co-director credit along with Charles Saunders (1904-97 no info) who went on to direct another good/bad movie The Woman Eater (1958) about a tree kept in a basement that, naturally, eats women. The Man Without a Body was shot in Britain, an English director had to be credited to get tax deductions/government funding. Lee is said to have directed while Saunders hung around the set. What I like about this movie is that it stars Robert Hutton (1920-94 complications of a broken back, fell off ladder) and the general nuttiness of the script. Hutton, who directed and starred in another very bad movie, The Slime People (1963) also appeared in other low budget items The Colossus of New York (1958) with its striking robot design and the zombie quickie Invisible Invaders (1959), whose zombies no doubt inspired George A. Romero. He was also in They Came from Beyond Space (1967) which was a reworking of It Came from Outer Space from the same source material.

The incredibly awful and yet satisfying The Slime People (1963) trailer

The Man Without a Body is the only credit for writer Richard Grote (no info) and was not written my Myles Wilder.

Hutton plays the brain specialist for actor George Coulouris (1903-89 heart failure) who has terminal brain cancer. George is a very rich businessman and since cryonics are not yet an option, there’s another – dispense with his head altogether and place the head of the centuries dead prophet and astrologer Nostradamus on his body! Seems logical!! All inspired by a guided tour of Madame Tussauds it would seem.

Hutton has had success with monkey heads, so George thinks it will be a cinch to steal Nostradamus’ head from his crypt in Europe – since all heads must have been kept in crypts and not buried in the ground. That’s just the way it works in what is “a very complex subject”.

Nostradamus wasn’t pleased!

Whether George wants Nostradamus to predict the stock market we don’t quite know yet but the noggin in question is stolen and painstakingly rehydrated.

“It’s alive, my brain – it’s alive!,” cries George rather woodenly, just before Nostradamus’ disembodied head awakens.

Nostradamus is of course a bit confused as George tells him his life story, and how to control oil wells, and when he asks him whether to buy or sell a certain stock, Nostradamus says: “Sell.” Of course, George doesn’t see that Nostradamus is a bit peeved with the entire situation, giving a false prediction. George is ruined as a result.

The most bizarre aspect of the film is George’s greed and how he is so short-sighted despite the fact he’ll soon be dead. It is just all-consuming greed. He has no belief in the after life, but at least his constant living in the present will mean he will never be depressed about his impending death. It’s seems to be common for greedy and evil people to never get depressed, unlike poor Nostradamus who doesn’t seem to even know where he is half the time! Such is the success of the experiment.

W. Lee Wilder’s The Man Without a Body (1957) trailer

When, finally, Nostradamus’ head is transplanted, it is not on George’s body but on Hutton’s assistant! Nostradamus and body escape but there is little panic as “it can’t move very quickly”, but he is quite demented and climbs the tower of the local schoolhouse with George in hot pursuit. They reach the top but it is too dizzying for George who plummets down the stairwell to his death, quickly followed by Nostradamus, who has tied his neck to the bell rope in the tower decapitating himself. It’s a dramatic end to what is probably Lee’s best movie – albeit totally bonkers. I guess the moral is greed isn’t good and let the dead rest in pieces! As The Snow Creature kicked off yeti movies, The Man Without a Body kicked off disembodied head movies such as The Thing that Couldn’t Die (1958) and The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (1962).

A lighter moment from The Brain that Wouldn’t Die

Myles Wilder would write his last movie for his father in 1960, which is the richly cast  – George Sanders (1906-72 suicide, Nembutal overdose) in the lead with Jean Kent (1921-2013 complications of a fall) and Patricia Roc (1915-2003 no info) – the not too exciting, until the end, Bluebeards Ten Honeymoons. Lee ended his career with the cheap, as usual, Philippines-shot The Omegans (1968), about a man taking revenge on his adulterous partner by having her take a dip in a radioactive river. I guess he made a bit of money over the years and retired.

W. Lee Wilder was in it for a quick buck and he wasn’t making timeless classics like his brother Billy, maker of  Sunset Boulevard (1950), Some Like it Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960). The original three movies Lee churned out have their merits – including the UFO mythology of Phantom from Space and Killers from Space – but it is the horrors of being brought back from the dead to a seemingly alien world for purely selfish purposes in The Man Without a Body, which is the most effective of his trifles. Proceed at your own risk…

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