Space Monster (1964)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:


It! The Terror From Beyond Space

Destroy All Monsters

Prince of Darkness

Space Monster

Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamps.

Here's the button that makes
the coffee, and here's the button
that blows up -- oops...."
In the far-flung past of 1964 (let us here pause to listen for the sound of Dr. Freex sighing heavily), the year 2000 must still have seemed like a future impossibly far away. With the space race in full gear and the nuclear arms race just beginning to toddle around the international living room, technology was advancing so rapidly that it seemed there would shortly be a scientific solution for everything. Hollywood was positively in love with the possibilities -- why, by the year 2000 we'd have colonies on the moon, robot butlers, and the Holy Grail of scientific progress: flying cars! For the love of Pete, Americans need their flying cars!

The romance came to an end as more rockets were sent to secret silos than to NASA launch pads and our trips to the moon ceased. Fortunately, we movie buffs were left with a rich legacy of science fiction films, crammed full of gleaming visions of the future. Such flicks told us that the day would come when men and women would blast off for the stars, American flags stitched proudly to their jumpsuit sleeves. Leaning back in their naugahyde command chairs, they would look sharp in their beehive hairdos and crew-cuts as they checked analog dials, their square jaws set and their male chauvinistic attitudes firmly in place.


Leatherface meets the
Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Sadly, it's true: most of our cinematic previews of the future were remarkably myopic. With limited budgets and even more limited imaginations, moviemakers made up only the technological advances needed to make the story plausible and the filming possible. Everything else, including human culture, language, and interpersonal relations, were left just as they were, producing unintentionally comic effects -- some of which would not become apparent for a decade or two.

We're much fonder of movies that take real chances with their predictions, even if they border on the ridiculous. It's a lot more entertaining to see movies like Logan's Run, in which filmmakers follow their imaginations to surreal new places instead of merely transplanting themselves to a slightly more technologically advanced version of their own society. True, we appreciate it when storytellers put some thought into their fantastic creations, but if you're going to dream, dream big.

All of this rumination is mere prelude to the film at hand, Space Monster, which definitely fits into the Think Small category of science fiction films. Even worse, it thinks small even for its own era: just two years shy of Star Trek and four years prior to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Space Monster (aka Space Probe Taurus) would be better placed alongside 1950s movies like Kronos and It! The Terror From Beyond Space than with its contemporaries.

"You win the bet.
It was stupid to upgrade to
Windows XP in flight."
The movie drops us into the action by revealing the spaceship Faith 1, trapped on a radioactive planet. The sole surviving crewmember begs -- in his best Shatnerian English -- for the mission commanders to blow up his ship by remote control. Since the film hails from a time when a civilian space program was unthinkable, the generals who hover around the radio order the radio operator to push a large, unprotected button marked "destruct," and that's all she wrote for Faith 1. Yes, folks: they lost Faith.

Oh well, you can't win 'em all. The military brass sends up another ship, this one named Hope 1. Obviously, some part of the movie was missing from the tape we reviewed, because Hope 1's mission is never established for us, nor are we introduced properly to the four astronauts who will be our only representatives of humanity for the duration of the running time. Such are the pitfalls of seeking out obscure movies, but we forge ahead. We would also have liked a bit of clarification on how prevalent space travel is in the year 2000. On one hand, they are naming spaceships names like "Hope" and "Faith," suggesting these aren't routine missions. Also, Hope 1 is the first spaceship to carry a female crewmember (more on this later). On the other hand, there is an orbiting space platform, and when the Hope 1 runs into an alien spaceship they check to make sure no other Earth ships are in the vicinity.

Quark makes a cameo, thirty years early.
In any case, the Hope 1 launches from Cape Kennedy (the name of which returned to Cape Canaveral in the 1980s), and we meet the crew. First off is Col. Hank Stevens, the flinty commander, who doesn't cotton to women on ship. Then there's John Andros, who is onboard to explore the planet Taurus, the ship's destination. The mechanical expert is Dr. Paul Martin, an "Earnest Borgnine in Airwolf" type of guy. And last up is Dr. Lisa Welch -- hey, that's a lady's name! Predictably, there's a scene in which Hank lets everyone know that he isn't happy about the presence of a woman on the ship. With equal predictability, a romance develops between the two before the film ends.  One might also think that there would be a scene where Lisa proves to the men that she is as capable a crewmember as anyone with a penis, but not in this movie. Her role is to hand out the food pills and and to allow Hank to shove his tongue down her throat.

We are given a reason for Lisa's presence on the ship: the only other qualified scientist weighed one hundred and twenty pounds more than Lisa, and as Paul tells us, "We need every ounce of equipment we can carry." We can almost see the space academy now, with a sign over its door reading "No fat chicks."

That "every ounce of equipment" comment is put to the lie later on when the explorers have need of scuba gear -- and they just happen to have some. Okay, we're told that they thought they might have to explore the oceans of Taurus. But then we see that they brought a weight belt for the scuba suit! We may not be astrophysicists, but we're pretty sure that if weight were a consideration on our spaceship, we would leave the weight belt at home and use rocks when we got to the planet.

With fins for her pleasure!

Although it's difficult to tell from the tedious dialogue, the mission is critical to the human race: having (presumably) overpopulated and stripped the resources of their own planet, the people of Earth now seek to ruin another orb that can support life. To this end, the crew of Hope 1 rockets toward the planet Taurus. Before they can reach their destination, however, they encounter the aforementioned alien craft. Just when you thought this movie couldn't get any more phallocentric, along comes a spaceship that looks like a Kryptonian vibrator.

When radio signals to the ship go unreturned, Col. Stevens decides to suit up and pay a visit, since the airlock looks to be open. With the plucky Andros in tow, Stevens zooms over to the ship with his handy jet pack (ya might wait until you get outside the Hope until you turn that thing on, Hank) and starts sticking his nose where it doesn't belong. After a few minutes, the extraterrestrial pilot comes down to see who's messing with his engine room. Hank advances towards the alien with his hand out (maybe not the best plan when you're trespassing on someone else's spaceship), and the alien responds by jumping on John. All diplomatic avenues clearly exhausted, Hank pulls out a revolver and blows the alien away. And lest anybody find out about his little first contact "boo boo," Hank leaves behind a "grade A bomb" as a final gift to the first extraterrestrial to encounter humanity.

And on the runways of Paris
in the year 2000, space vests are all the rage.
Back on their own ship, Hank and John rationalize the slaughter of the innocent alien in two ways. First of all, Hank explains that the alien was ugly. Then John weaves a complex theory about minority resentment which allegedly proves that any encounter between aliens and humans will end in genocidal warfare. Ah, the good old days of the year 2000.

Now is a good time to mention that John wastes a lot of time and precious oxygen on his plans to make money from this trip: his first reaction to meeting and killing an alien is to consider how much to charge a magazine for the story. Later, he speaks of the book he'll write upon his return to Earth. When not planning to live the good life from the proceeds of his glory-filled scientific work in outer space, John tries to seduce Lisa. Lisa does the only rational thing she can think of, which is to compress the crew's meals into pill form. Naturally, John complains that she used too much garlic. Comedy!

The Hope continues on its way. They run into an asteroid shower (apparently composed of still-flaming charcoal briquettes), which they fend off with the "force shield," which must be the Swiss Army knife of this spaceship, because Hank turns it on at the slightest provocation. ("My coffee is cold! Activating force field!")  But one 'roid gets through the shield and damages the ship's computer. How it damaged the computer without leaving the crew sucking vacuum is never addressed. And just so we're clear, when we say "computer" we mean a whirring device the size of three refrigerators, complete with spinning wheels of magnetic ribbon. The human race can generate artificial gravity, but we can't conceive of a digital storage medium more convenient than ten-inch diameter reel-to-reel tapes.

This lucky crew.
They get to play Asteroids...
Somehow the computer damage causes the ship to hyper-accelerate, and the crew ends up landing on a "rogue moon thrown off its own orbit" in the Triangulum Galaxy. They land in the ocean (just because they're incompetent that way), and we spend a good half hour watching our intrepid heroes try to figure how to kill time before taking off again. And then the movie ends.

No, really. The entire balance of Space Monster is spent on the sea floor of the rogue moon (which somehow still sports liquid water and sunlight, not to mention abundant life), as Hank & Co. scratch their heads and wonder why the ship won't take off again. (Personally, we think the engine was flooded.) Giant crabs attack the ship (or rather, regular-sized crabs attack a miniature in an aquarium) and Hank turns them away with his trusty force-field before returning to work on the damaged computing machines. As Hank and Paul attempt to repair the computers with screwdrivers and bailing wire, John grabs his mask and fins for a quick scuba trip to the surface.

Yes, that's right: and not only did they bring along scuba equipment, but the Hope 1 is also equipped with a periscope and sonar! Boy, those American engineers know how to build 'em, don't they?

Those particular gaffes are only a couple of the items that don't belong on a spaceship, but which exist aboard the Hope 1. Other such items include:

• a chemistry lab with unsecured glass beakers and hanging tubes
• automated doors that take a full ten seconds to open
• a revolver
• multiple clocks set to different time zones
• heavy naugahyde chairs
• a scientist who believes that "the first mammals were fish"
• a woman (at least if you listen to Col. Stevens)

...and watch Animal Planet.
To return to the (ahem) plot: John recovers the scientific evidence needed to prove that the moon will support human life, but on his way back to the Hope, he is ambushed by the local equivalent of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. John eventually drives the Gill-Man away, but not before sustaining mortal injuries. This allows Lisa the opportunity to weep pitifully over Andros' corpse and cling even more pitifully to Hank's chest. Paul finishes the repairs to the computer and the Hope 1 lifts out of the water using exactly the same flight path it took to get into the sea. Before anyone can notice that neither one of the "space monsters" after whom the film was named spent more than five minutes on screen, Hank names the planet Andros 1 after his wise-cracking buddy. The End.

Most of the future prediction flubs in Space Monster are of the scientific variety: for example, the idea that we could somehow invent artificial gravity by the year 2000 (if at all) is laughable, but it sure does explain away the fact that the crew doesn't float around inside the spaceship. Similarly, the gadgets on board probably looked futuristic to their creators, but today they look positively arcane. John's scuba equipment is horribly dated, as are the spacesuits with their exposed air tubing and transparent bubble helmets. Let's not even get into the proliferation of analog dials and gauges.

The worst transgression, however, is the idea that society has made no strides in the realms of social convention or, for that matter, fashion. We would have been happier with the wacked-out notion that feminism was beaten back entirely than to think that it merely stagnated for thirty-five years. (Certain ladies in the room while we watched the movie might disagree, but at least it would have been more interesting.) And why would women still wear their hair in 1960s fashions? The women in the '60s weren't wearing 1920s-style fashions -- why did no one in this production think "Hey, it's the future -- let's try something different?"

This brings up a scary possibility. Just because we know movies made in the '60s were wrong-headed about the future hasn't stopped us from making movies about the future. Will A.I. date as badly as Space Monster? Only time, and the bad movie reviewers of the year 3000, will tell for sure. 

Review date: 08/11/2001

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