Teenagers from Outer Space
Sci-Fi, Horror | 86 mins | Released: 1959
Director: Tom Graeff
Starring: David Love, Dawn Bender, Bryan Grant, Harvey B. Dunn, Tom Graeff, King Moody, Helen Sage
Our Rating: 4
Black & White
An alien spacecraft comes to Earth, while searching the galaxy for a planet suitable to raise “gargons,” a lobster-like (but air-breathing) creature that is a delicacy on their home world. Thor (Bryan Grant) shows his contempt for Earth’s creatures by vaporizing a dog named Sparky. Crewmember Derek (David Love), after discovering an inscription on Sparky’s dog tag, fears that the gargon might destroy Earth’s local inhabitants, making the other spacemen scoff. Being members of the “supreme race” they disdain “foreign beings,” no matter how intelligent and pride themselves that families and friendships are forbidden on their world. Derek turns out to be a member of an underground group that commemorates earlier more humane periods of his world’s history.
Their one gargon seems to be sick in Earth’s atmosphere. While his crewmates are distracted, Derek flees. Eventually, the gargon seems to revive. When the Captain reports Derek’s actions, he is connected to the Leader (Gene Sterling) himself. It turns out that Derek is the Leader’s son, though Derek is unaware of this. Thor is sent to hunt Derek down, with orders to kill to protect the mission. They return to their base, leaving the gargon behind.
Meanwhile, Derek finds the home address found on the dog tag. He meets Betty Morgan (Dawn Anderson) and her Grandpa Joe (Harvey B. Dunn). They have a room to rent, and Derek inadvertently becomes a boarder. When Betty’s boyfriend, reporter Joe Rogers (Tom Graeff), can’t make their afternoon plans, Derek tags along with Betty. He shows the tag to Betty, who recognizes it immediately. Derek takes her to the place where the ship landed, and shows her Sparky’s remains. She doesn’t believe him, so he describes Thor’s weapon that that vaporizes flesh. Betty takes this surprisingly well and vows to help Derek stop the bad guys.
For the rest of the day Betty and Derek have several run-ins with Thor and Joe follows up on stories of skeletons popping up all over town, including in Alice’s swimming pool. Eventually Thor is eventually wounded and he kidnaps Betty and Derek for medical attention, he reveals Derek’s true parentage. Two car chases and a gunfight ensue and the authorities eventually capture Thor after plummeting off a cliff in a stolen car.
But there are bigger problems: the gargon has grown immensely, killing a policeman investigating the landing site and attacking numerous people. Derek and Betty go to the car wreck to look for Thor’s gun. They share a kiss, and Derek vows to stay on Earth. When the gargon ruins their romantic moment, Derek finds the gun just in time for them to escape. Unfortunately the gun is damaged and the monster is heading toward the town. They head out once again to confront it, using power lines to fuel the disintegrator. They kill the gargon, but it’s too late, as enemy ships suddenly appear overhead.
The whole gang, including Joe and Grandpa, hurries out to the landing site. Derek reunites with his father and makes the ultimate sacrifice by leading the fleet directly into the hillside, causing a massive explosion. Derek does not survive, but is remembered for declaring, “I shall make the Earth my home. And I shall never, never leave it.”
Teenagers from Outer Space, released as The Gargon Terror in the UK and originally titled The Ray Gun Terror, is a 1959 science-fiction film about an extraterrestrial space ship landing on Earth to use it as a farm for its food supply. The crew of the ship includes teenagers, two of whom oppose each other in their activities. The independent film was originally distributed by Warner Brothers. The film was later featured in episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Elvira’s Movie Macabre, and Off Beat Cinema.
Teenagers from Outer Space was filmed on location in and around Hollywood, California, with a number of tell-tale landmarks like Bronson Canyon in Griffith Park and Hollywood High School giving away the film’s hazy locale. One notable aspect of the film is that it was largely the work of a single person, Tom Graeff, who, in addition to playing the role of reporter Joe Rogers, wrote, directed, edited, and produced the film, on which he also provided cinematography, special effects, and music coordination. Producers Bryan and Ursula Pearson (“Thor” and “Hilda”) and Gene Sterling (“The Leader”) provided the film’s $14,000 budget, which was less than shoestring, even by the standards of the time.
According to Bryan Pearson, the crew employed many guerrilla tactics in order to cut costs. Director Tom Graeff secured the location for Betty Morgan’s house for free by posing as a UCLA student (while Graeff had attended the school, he had graduated 5 years earlier). The older woman who owned the house even let the crew use her electricity to power equipment.
Graeff shot in many nearby locations — mostly in the vicinity of Sunset Boulevard and Highland Avenue — to double as more important city landmarks. Graeff’s steady hand and framing kept most of the real locations under wraps, creating a great low-budget illusion of a small town.
Other cost-cutting ideas didn’t pay off as well: the space costumes were simple flight suits clearly decorated with masking tape, dress shoes covered in socks, and surplus Air Force helmets. The use of stock footage in lieu of special effects and Spielbergian “looking” shots replacing actual visuals of the invading enemy spaceships seriously undercut the urgency of the ending. Props included a single-bolted-joint skeleton re-used for every dead body, a multichannel mixer that the producers made no attempt to camouflage (even clearly bearing the label “Multichannel Mixer MCM-2″) as a piece of alien equipment, and the infamous dime-store Hubley’s “Atomic Disintegrator” as the aliens’ focusing disintegrator ray.
In an unusual practice of the era, Graeff also pre-recorded some of the film’s dialogue for several scenes, and had the actors learn to synchronize their actions with the sound. The score of the film came from stock, composed by William Loose and Fred Steiner. Incidentally the same stock score has been recycled in countless B-movies, such as Red Zone Cuba, The Killer Shrews, and most notably Night of the Living Dead.
In June 1958, Bryan Pearson, who invested $5,000 in the production with his wife Ursula, took Graeff to court in order to gain back the original investment and a percentage of any profits. The Pearsons had learned that Graeff had allegedly sold the film originally titled The Boy From Out of This World (which was not true until early 1959), but heard nothing of their investment or the percentage of profits to which they were entitled. The legal dispute dragged on for a year, and once it was settled (Pearson got his $5000 investment back but the judge ruled there was no profit to share), Tom and the Pearsons, who had been good friends during the production of Teenagers, never spoke to each other again.
The film failed to perform at the box office, placing further stress on an already-burdened Graeff, and in the fall of 1959, he suffered a breakdown, proclaiming himself as the second coming of Christ. After a number of public appearances followed by a subsequent arrest for disrupting a church service, Graeff disappeared from Hollywood until 1964 and committed suicide in 1970.
The movie is included in the game Destroy All Humans! It is unlocked once the player beats the game.
The film opened on June 3, 1959 to negative but not crippling reviews. The Los Angeles Times review of the movie stated “what a curious little film this is […] there are flashes of astonishing sensitivity half buried in the mass of tritisms.” And of the director, Tom Graeff, “when he stops spreading himself so incredibly thin, I think his work will bear watching.”
In 1992, the film was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The film’s producers could not afford to construct a giant lobster, so only its shadow is seen – cast, no doubt, by a normal-sized lobster.
The dialog was recorded first and then the actors had to rehearse and lip-sync to the prerecorded dialog during the takes. This was the opposite of the normal procedure in which an actor’s dialog may be looped during post-production.
Although Warner Bros. distributed this ultra-low-budget sci-fi film, it was definitely not a Warner Bros. production. The studio needed a genre film to play as the second feature with the Godzilla sequel it was releasing under the title Godzilla Raids Again (1955) and bought this from producer Tom Graeff.
Unable to afford time on a soundstage to film Betty Morgan’s home, director Tom Graeff posed as a UCLA student directing a student project, and so obtained permission from an elderly woman to film for free in her home.
One skeleton was used for every dead body in the film. A hook/tag on the head and identification markings in permanent marker on the hip can clearly be seen on the skeleton in almost every scene. The skeleton also has curiously bolted limbs.
The filmmaker was on such a tight budget that the film’s ultimate weapon, the “focusing disintegrator,” was actually a Hubley’s Atomic Disintegrator toy cap gun, bought for a dime, with a flashbulb added as a beam. In some scenes the words, “Hubley’s” can clearly be seen embossed on the side of the gun. Atomic Disintegrators can be bought today on eBay for upwards of $300.
For many years, actor David Love was thought to be writer/producer/director Tom Graeff. Graeff does appear in the film, playing Joe under the name Tom Lockyear. David Love was actually named Charles Robert Kaltenthaler.
The super alien apparatus with the dials was actually an old audio mixing device (from the days of the bulky vacuum tubes).
The entire movie is an extra on the PlayStation 2 video game, Destroy All Humans! (2005). It becomes available once the main story campaign is completed.
This was King Moody’s movie debut.
The night watchman at Station 86 is reading a book titled “The Flying Saucers are Real” by Donald Keyhoe.
The trim on the aliens’ costumes is made from masking tape, and their space boots are men’s dress shoes covered by socks.
The ZAP visual from the ray-gun toys was accomplished using a mirror glued on to the nozzle and pointed at the camera, which was hit by the “deadly” glare.
The film was originally titled “The Ray Gun Terror” in the UK before being released theatrically as “The Gargon Terror”.
Dawn Anderson, who played Betty, was actually a former child actress named Dawn Bender. Like most movie teenagers of the period, she was in her early twenties when this film was shot.
The aliens and few humans use contractions when speaking.
Grandpa is missing most of the index finger on his right hand.
The night watchman at Station 86 is reading a book titled “The Flying Saucers are Real” by Donald Keyhoe.