Night of the Blood Beast/The Creature from Galaxy 27/The Monster from Galaxy 27 (1958) *Ĺ
During the late 1950ís, American International Pictures released a trio of hour-long movies produced by Gene Corman, with big brother Roger as executive producer and Bernard Kowalski in the directorís chair, designed to fill out the bottom half of a double bill with slightly less shabby product from other filmmakers within the AIP stable. They were all pretty sad, as is only to be expected considering that weíre talking about the American International B-team here. After all, if youíre making supporting features for the likes of War of the Colossal Beast and She Gods of Shark Reef, thereís really nowhere to go but up from there. The first of these offerings from the Lesser Corman was Night of the Blood Beast, which has just shot into the upper reaches of my ďmovies I most want to see remadeĒ list. What starts off as an effectively eerie crossbreed between The Thing and The Creeping Unknown, with a surprising foreshadowing of Alien, quickly goes off the rails to become the kind of film that ends with a huge, humanoid parrot arguing heatedly with the remainder of the cast outside of a cave in what I take to be the ever-popular Bronson Canyon.
We start off with a conspicuously primitive yet somehow still extremely cool scene of a rocket taking off and going into orbit around the Earthó this blends seamlessly into the conspicuously primitive yet somehow still extremely cool animated main title sequence, which plays like a sci-fi version of the corresponding segments from the following decadeís Poe movies. Piloting that animated rocketship is Major John Corcoran (Michael Emmet, of The Giant Leeches), and heís in a bit of a fix. Something has plowed into his ship from behind, forcing him to abort the mission, but the equipment thatís supposed to slow his descent into the atmosphere is not performing as advertised. The retro-rockets donít seem to have the power necessary to cope with so steep a plunge, and when Corcoran deploys the drag chute, it simply tears off and goes zipping away into the upper atmosphere. When Dave Randall (Ed Nelson, from Swamp Women and The Brain Eaters) and Donna Bixby (Georgianna Carter), two technicians from the nearest space agency tracking outpost, locate the crashed rocketship, there isnít much left of it beyond its massively reinforced control module, and though the cockpit is mostly intact, Corcoran is dead, apparently of internal injuries. Thereís also a big-ass tear in the hull, and a great mass of some mysterious, mud-like substance covering whatís left of the rocketshipís outer skinó a mud-like substance which slithers off into the underbrush while Dave and Donna go poking around in search of the rest of the shipís wreckage. Thatís not the only strange thing about the situation, either. When the rest of the team from Project Goldenrodó lead scientist Dr. Wyman (Tyler McVey, from The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler), technician Steve Dunlap (John Baer), and physician Julie Benson (Angela Greene, of The Cosmic Man and Futureworld), the latter of whom was also Corcoranís finaceeó arrive on the scene, Wyman discovers that Corcoran isnít acting quite the way a dead man should. Sure, he registers no vital signs, but neither does he exhibit any trace of rigor mortis, or of the lividity that should accompany the pooling of his blood in those parts of his body that are closest to the ground. Understandably, the first thing the team does when they get back to the lab is to hook Corcoran up to every diagnostic device they have in the infirmary.
Sure enough, Corcoranís readings are totally wrong. Though she can detect neither heartbeat nor pulse, Dr. Benson reads Corcoranís blood pressure at 120 over 70ó normal enough, but only for the living. There are other indicators that he isnít as dead as he appears to be, too, but the precise combination of symptoms corresponds to no condition either Benson or Wyman has ever heard of. And of greater importance still, Julie discovers, while looking at Corcoranís blood through a microscope, that his entire system is full of big, strange, amoeba-like cells, which effortlessly repel the best efforts of his own leukocytes to destroy them. Normally, such a medical mystery would lead Benson to have Dave radio the nearest hospital, and call in somebody to pick Corcoran up. But that isnít possible just this second, because the radio doesnít appear to be receiving or transmitting, even though Dave and Steve can find no indication of anything physically wrong with it. Eventually, Dave decides to go outside to the tower and the external power transformer, and see if he can find anything untoward there. While heís at it, he is attacked by some large creature, which looms out of the underbrush surrounding the research station. Dave later describes it as being similar in size to a bear, but heís not at all sure thatís really what it was, and he suspects the handful of shells he fired into it from his pistol bothered it just enough to make it leave him alone for the time being.
The thing that attacked Dave breaks into the lab a bit later that night, causing quite a bit of damage in the infirmary. In fact, our heroes initially think that the creature has run off with Corcoran, because he is no longer on the operating table when they come running in response to the clamor attendant upon the intruderís rampage. The truth is weirder still, however; John Corcoran has regained consciousness. Whatís more, he now seems to be in some kind of mental contact with the creature, and when Julie takes another blood sample, there is no longer any sign of the alien cells. Thatís because (as a quick look at Corcoranís body under a fluoroscope reveals) the parasites have all withdrawn into his abdominal cavity, where they have merged and grown into a collection of monstrous, lizard-like fetuses. Well, I guess that explains the telepathy, now doesnít it? It also means that Corcoranís colleagues will rightly look askance at him when he assures them that the creature he inadvertently brought back to earth with him is both intelligent and benign, even after it breaks into the lab complex a second time, kills Dr. Wyman, and devours his head. But while the alienís beneficence is open to question, it most certainly is intelligentó it ate the old scientistís brain in order to absorb his knowledge, enabling it to communicate with those of the Goldenrod team who arenít carrying its spawn. And while it may bill its agenda as a charitable attempt to save the human race from its own self-destructive tendencies, Dave, Steve, Julie, and Donna donít buy that line for a second. After all, impregnating one man with a brood of space tadpoles and eating another manís brain for a crash course in the local lingo isnít exactly a good way to make a first impression.
So many good ideas, so little follow-throughÖ Most people focus on the shortcomings of the monster suit (which really does look like a cross between a giant parrot and a burlap sack), but I can forgive tható at least until after it eats Wymanís brain and starts talking in his voice. Huge burlap parrots that speak in the grandfatherly tones of an elderly scientist are beyond even my threshold of acceptable goofiness. What bothers me more about Night of the Blood Beast is that it isnít at all the film which its advertising campaign promises, and what we get in practice is much less entertaining in the end than what was initially offered. ďNo girl was safe as long as this HEAD HUNTING THING roamed the land,Ē you say? Ummó could I watch that movie instead? Furthermore, the first 25 minutes or so emphasize the awfulness of what is to come by mounting an enjoyably grim and moody treatment of one of my favorite recurring sci-fi themes, an invasion by biological means rather than technological. All is well so long as the audience is kept in the dark about what the alien is and what itís up to here on Earth, but the more we learn about whatís really going on, the sillier Night of the Blood Beast becomes. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the first act evaporates into a cloud of endless disputation as soon as Corcoran wakes up, as he and his four companions scour the surrounding hills for the monsterís lair, arguing all the while over whether the alien is an unspeakable menace, or simply misunderstood. The climax is a particularly spectacular botch-job, with Corcoran and the monster standing along one wall of a canyon and the rest of the cast on the other, angrily debating the ethics of brain-gobbling for what feels like a quarter of the film, until Dave finally gets tired of talking and throws a few Molotov cocktails. The first half of Night of the Blood Beast deserved much better than to be followed by the second.