Sunday, January 20, 2013

Raw Panic

One of the coolest robots of the 1950s takes center stage in TARGET EARTH, a talky sci-fi movie produced by Herman Cohen, who would go on to I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, KONGA, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, and TROG, among many other genre favorites. Paul Fairman’s 1953 story “Deadly City,” published in IF: WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION, is the inspiration for Cohen’s film, which marks the directorial debut of journeyman editor Sherman A. Rose. Four strangers roam a large city empty of people. Electricity is out, and abandoned automobiles won’t start. They figure they must have been left behind after a government evacuation, but why did everyone go?

The survivors’ first clue is a big, white, clunky robot that shoots an awesome death ray out of its “face.” It’s obvious Cohen had only enough money to build one suit, so it had to represent an entire Venusian invasion force by itself. Some of the dialogue (screenplay credit goes to KILLERS FROM SPACE’s William Raynor, ROBOT MONSTER’s Wyott Ordung, and James Nicholson, the co-founder of American International Pictures) is hilarious. Richard Denning (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) as survivor Frank Brooks is much calmer in the face of invaders from outer space than most people would be. He immediately figures out the enemy must be Venusian, because “as far as I know, it’s the only planet that might be capable of supporting human life.” He learned that in “college” from his roommate who read science fiction.

Shot in seven days on a $85,000 budget, TARGET EARTH works in spurts. Rose’s opening shot, a slow pan across a lonely apartment to reveal Kathleen Crowley’s Nora zonked out on sleeping pills, provides a brooding atmosphere, and scenes of Crowley running around empty streets (shot in Los Angeles early on Sunday mornings) are eerie. However, TARGET EARTH bogs down in uninteresting (aside from the humorous dialogue) conversations between robot attacks, which don’t happen often enough, and the senseless third-act arrival of a crazed gunman (Robert Roark) proves the writers were running out of ideas.

1 comment:

Brandon L. Summers said...

I love Target Earth. I can't defend it as a good movie, but I don't have to because it has my favorite kind of retro-robot, the boxy clank-clank clampy hand sort. The film correctly opens with one robot on the street and ends with another jumping into the room through the window. I don't care that the film is mostly people trapped in a lobby with a killer, because I know out there, there are robots. At a time when 150-minute long movies are celebrated singularly for having a "great Hulk moment" or only Anne Hathaway singing, I'm not going to apologize for liking a movie that has two shots of cool robots. And really it's the only atomic age B-movie with these classic style robots. Shame it's so rare. Thanks for the review!