A mysterious man who is Not of This Earth, is wreaking havoc in Southern California in this low budget film by director Roger Corman.
The first Roger Corman film on Sci-Fi Saturdays is one of his earliest. It’s also one of his more famous films, having been remade at least twice. Why has this little B-film from the mid 50s endured so long?
I know very little about this film, other than it’s an early Roger Corman film. The trailer gives the impression that this is a vampire film. What makes it different from all the other vampire films of the time? Apparently this one comes from outer space, hence the title Not of This Earth! It promises great terror as this particular individual has come to destroy life on the planet! It appears to be a hybrid of horror and sci-fi, with the vampire elements from horror films, and then some strange machinery, possibly sucking blood from victims, and even a small creature that looks like an early version of a facehugger from Ridley Scott’s Alien. Let’s see how big of a B-movie this film really is!
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
A young girl is stalked and killed by a mysterious man wearing sunglasses and carrying a briefcase. Opening the case, he removes some tubes and begins draining her blood into vials within the case. The next day the man, Paul Johnson (Paul Birch), visits a local doctor for a blood transfusion. Dr. Rochelle (William Roerick) refuses to provide the transfusion without a blood test, and is shocked by what he discovers. Using some sort of mental telepathy, Paul prevents the doctor from revealing his secret, and also requests that Dr. Rochelle’s nurse, Nadine Storey (Beverly Garland), be permitted to work out of his house, providing daily blood transfusions.
Nadine arrives at Paul’s house and is met by his blue-collar Jack-of-all-trades Jeremy (Jonathan Haze), who comes on strong to Nadine, but she rebuffs him with calm superiority. Paul locks Nadine inside her room, much to her concern, before he retires to his room/the study for the night. Removing his glasses, it’s revealed that he has completely white eyes (well, mostly, due to the effects at the time). He uses a strange device to open a secret panel in his wall and communicates with his home planet of Davanna.
The floating head in the communication device reminds “Paul” of his five-step plan for saving their world of Davanna. Their entire race has contracted a rare blood disorder, and Paul’s work on Earth is to find a cure by examining the blood of humans, transmitting a live specimen to Davanna for further research, and possibly dying while investigating a cure. If the use of Earth blood succeeds, the Davannans plan to conquer and subjugate the humans to survive, while if Paul is to die, the Davannans plan to destroy the planet.
Paul begins in earnest to start investigating a cure. He kills a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman (Dick Miller), three homeless men, and a chinaman in order to satisfy the requirements provided by his homeworld. Nadine becomes suspicious and starts poking around his mansion, finding a furnace running in the middle of a Southern California day, as well as a strange black drink Paul takes instead of food.
She expresses concerns to her boyfriend, officer Harry Shelbourne (Morgan Jones), who urges her to leave the house. Harry meets Nadine and Dr Rochelle for lunch to find out more information about this mysterious Paul, but realizes the doctor is being evasive, due to the mental suggestions made by the alien. Paul meets with a female Devannan who has risked coming to Earth for a cure. Paul thinks he can help her with a transfusion and takes her into Dr. Rochelle’s office. Unfortunately, he uses blood tainted with rabies and she soon dies.
Nadine and Jeremy discover Paul’s secret communication device. She calls the doctor to warn him, but is soon chased out of the house by Paul, who attempts to stop her using his mental commands. The chase continues into a local park where Paul is able to command her to return to his house and teleport herself to Davanna. Harry, realizing that Nadine is in danger chases Paul’s car down with his motorcycle, running him off a cliff, breaking the mental bond with Nadine seconds before she teleports herself. Later, Nadine and Harry visit the Paul’s grave, expressing no regret for his death. The film ends with another man, wearing dark sunglasses and carrying a strange briefcase, walking up behind the couple and then straight into the camera.
“This killer is a fiend of the most diabolical kind. Interested in only one thing, blood!” – Police Sergeant
History in the Making
Roger Corman is known as the king of the B-Movies and for good reason. In his 60+ years of work his studio churned out 100s of films. He alone directed 56 films and produced another 342. That doesn’t count his television work, his scripts or acting roles he’s been involved in. He worked with many stars, both in front of and behind the camera, before they were famous. This includes actors like Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Sylvester Stallone along with directors such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, and James Cameron At one point during the 1980s it was thought he had given the start to over half the people working in Hollywood!
Not of This Earth was the 12th or so film Corman produced and the 9th he directed, all in the three years since he started his career. It was designed as an actual B-movie, filling in the second half of a double bill with Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters. But somehow, this particular film was the one that got more notoriety. Maybe that was due to more sci-fi elements in this film? Maybe Beverly Garland (her husband Richard was the male lead in Crab Monsters) was a bigger draw than Pamela Duncan? But at any rate, Not of This Earth continues to be talked about, and re-made, today.
In ways similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Not of This Earth is much more of a horror film than a science-fiction film. The trailer immediately talks about space vampires, and while the Paul Johnson character is not truly a vampire in the classical sense, it’s close enough to describe him as such. His character is a high-concept take on Dracula; what if a vampire came from outer space? Let’s compare: spooky guy, with strange accent, who lives in large house, who employs an eccentric assistant to capture others and steal their blood. He has the ability to control individuals through hypnosis or telepathy and can kill with a single look. He even has a strange alien “bat” that he sets loose to kill Dr. Rochelle.
Not of This Earth is also a great example of a low-budget film as well. While some low budget films are nearly unwatchable or lacking in quality (think the films of Ed Wood), Corman’s pictures always have something interesting going for them. While he would shoot feature length films in a matter of days, with little or no special effects, his unique casting provided on screen charisma that balanced out the lack of other amenities. This film uses a couple of other tricks to keep the budget low including shooting day-for night (filming night scenes during the day, and underexposing the film to make it appear darker), and his use of voice overs, which allows lots of the film to be shot without sound (MOS). This makes for quicker setups so more shots can be accomplished within a day.
Even with the low budget nature of the film, and some horrible dialogue, there are elements that really work for the film. The final chase with Paul going after Nadine, and harry following them on his motorcycle is sped up slightly to create a more thrilling and exciting chase. There’s nothing very fancy about the filming of the sequence, as all the shots are quite utilitarian, but the montage coupled with the music of Ronald Stein does make for an exciting chase. Also the fact that Corman sets up the high stakes that Nadine might be transported off planet before Harry stops Paul, thereby breaking the telepathic link, provides an equal amount of tension, which unfortunately is missing from the rest of the film.
I’m not sure that this particular Roger Corman film could be said to have any underlying commentary. In fact, it all quite straightforward, however ludicrous the plot may be. To think that a superior alien race would need to come to Earth for blood to solve a plague on their own planet, deciding to destroy the planet if the cure cannot be found – well, that sort of idea breaks down once it begins being examined. Even at the end of the film when Harry admits he feels sorry for “Paul,” being buried so far from home, but Nadine sees no remorse in the fact that he terrorized them, so they had to kill him. One could argue that there’s an undercurrent of xenophobia and subjugation of individuals as seen in real life in the 50s, but that seems like reaching.
One strong element for the time is Beverly Garland’s character Nadine, who is written as a strong, confident and sexy woman. The interactions she has with Jeremy, for example, show that she is not easily seduced or creeped out by his suggestive come-ons. She also prefers to give Paul the benefit of the doubt when it comes to strange goings on at the house. But like any horror film, the female lead needs to be attractive (check!) and able to scream and run for her life, which happens late into the third act. But even in this cliché, Garland’s character is strong and evades Paul’s repeated mental attempts to stop her, only succumbing after a long chase. This is out of the ordinary for a low-budget film, which is usually more exploitative of the female lead. Roger Corman liked strong leads in his films, whether they are man or woman, and as such broke several conventions of the time.
The Science in The Fiction
As with many low-budget films, sci-fi or not, science takes a back seat to the plot. About the closest this film gets to addressing anything scientifically is the discussion of blood and its components. Dr. Rochelle’s examination of the alien blood is based on the true science of blood and blood-borne diseases. Nadine reminds Paul that he must submitting to getting his blood tested, so they know which type of blood to give him during the transfusion. But as far as any explanation of any aspect of the Davannan technology is ignored as unnecessary. The main goal of this film is to terrorize and shock, and everything else is second nature.
The Final Frontier
In order for Roger Corman to shoot his films as quickly as possible, it was necessary for him to have a large stable of actors from which to draw. Many of the actors in this film had worked with him before and would continue to work with him later. Beverly Garland, a “queen” of B-films had appeared in his earlier sci-fi film It Conquered The World, and the vacuum cleaner salesman played by Dick Miller would appear in dozens of Corman’s film, plus become well known to modern audiences in the films of Joe Dante, including Gremlins, The Twilight Zone and Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
The film was remade most famously in 1988 with ex-adult film star Traci Lords playing the part of Nadine Storey, in what is considered a much more exploitive version of the film. As an example the three homeless “bums” were replaced with hookers for this remake. It was also remade in 1995 as a direct-to-video release with Michael York in the role of the vampire, Parker Stevenson as the cop-boyfriend, and Richard Belzer as Jeremy the man-servant.
While Not of This Earth doesn’t shine like some of the other sci-fi films examined here on Sci-Fi Saturdays, but it’s not the worst film I’ll review. There always is at least one thing that Roger Corman is able to create in his films that stands true, and we’ll be revisiting other B-level and Roger Corman films in the future.
Coming Next Week
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.