One of my favorite episodes!
This episode is so wonderfully 20th century! Michael J. Pollard, Gil Gerard, Wayland Flowers and Madam references, right out of the gate. Mid-Century Modern architecture and decor- cashmere sweaters- gorgeous giant automobiles with fins- casual day drinking! And during a panicking crowd scene, we catch glimpses of a vanished small-town America that still boasted a wealth of unique, privately-owned little businesses.
This movie is like putting on that old but still super comfy pair of Doc Martens that broke in so beautifully during the happy Summer of 1991.
Joel manages to be both creepy and adorable as T. J. Stinky Muffin, Crow’s ventriloquist dummy.
TV’s Frank is sullen and seditious in this episode. I love when he gets like this. He’s usually so cuddly and likable that his prickly moods are like being flipped off by your favorite teddy bear.
Nothing a few chin rascals won’t cure.
Snow Thrills. I grew up where it never snowed- ever- so I never knew the inescapable horrors of icy tingling numb hands and feet, of skidding constantly on unseen ice on the sidewalk, of being forced to sit in your car for forty minutes till you can drive it, and that’s after you’ve spent half an hour scraping the frozen crap off of it. There’s also the joy of the white-knuckled commute to work, skidding through the red lights at intersections after you’ve carefully hit the brakes. I discovered all of those particular “snow thrills” relatively recently. So the thought of snow to me is as enticing as a big gift-wrapped box full of ticked-off Sydney funnel web spiders would be to an arachnophobe. My snow hate savors the comments from Joel and the ‘Bots about the realities of playing in the stuff- snapped ankles, blown knees, etc. I’ll say one thing- the people in those snow activities had nerve. Nerve- or a death wish.
The real-time practical effects of Joel and the ‘Bots Snow Thrills skit (and Joel’s antics, of course) are such fun to see. The cleverly crafted hand-made props and the DIY vaudeville ethos are one of the many aspects of this show that make it so timelessly appealing.
The talent of Lee Van Cleef, Peter Graves, and Beverly Garland manage to bring a level of bemused gravitas to this Corman vision of alien takeover. I admit- though the special effects in this film are neither special nor effective, when I saw this movie as a kid, the flying needle-tipped, rubbery bat-like (“New! from Wham-O!”) reprogramming creatures spooked me. I kinda dug the “Vlasic Pickle” Venusian overlord guy- his glowing eyes were cool. Also, he wasn’t obviously human-shaped. Silly as he was, Mr. Venus had an alien body type. He looked even more ridiculous in the sunlight, but hey- lots of stuff that looks neat in the dark can lose most of its visual mojo in the sun.
I guess this is after they boiled him. Ten gallons of drawn butter, please!
One of my favorite segments in any Mystery Science Theater episode ever is the scene where the satellite to Venus is supposedly being tracked at the “military installation.” A room containing a few flickering monitors and some various stuff from the hardware store tacked to the walls is attempting to pass as a JPL-like nerve center. We are reminded of “oh yeah— space” by various taped-up images of galaxies and star fields. Corman’s audacity in declaring that this is a satellite monitoring station, paired with the ridiculous exchanges between the actors and their oh-so-serious knob turning is- almost breathtaking.
Joel and the ‘Bots punctuate the laughable dialogue and switch flicking with a round robin of “Shut up,” “What? “Come on!” “Huh?” “Shut up!” This bit always kills me. It’s just so beautifully simplistic and silly.
Anyone who has had to deal with battling family members, snarling at one another over a meal, can relate- whether you want to or not- to the dinner skit. Yikes.
Some funny lines:
Joel: “Look at that crappy special effect- how do they get away with that?”
Tom: “Roger Corman.”
Crow: “Get your shoes on, we’re at the monster.”
Tom: “Hi. [gunfire] Um- you were all bad guys- weren’t you?”
Crow: “She’ll die first. She’s useless and outdated, and I’m going to tell on her.”
Joel: “Yeah. Everybody gets a day off at the end of the world. Didn’t you know that?”
The alien-mind controlled General Pattick invokes a “Communist uprising,” which loomed large in America’s consciousness during the 1950s. The Cold War inspired other alien takeover films of the era- “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “The War of the Worlds,” and “Them!”
Random: good old Dick Miller, alumnus of many Corman films, such as 1959’s beatnik murder fest “A Bucket of Blood” (with Bert Convy) portrays Sergeant Neil; the theme from Monty Python’s “The Cycling Tour” sketch (along with the Wicked Witch of the West’s cycling music) is sung as Peter Graves bicycles around; Ivana Trump and Gallagher references; snippet of the theme from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” in honor of Lee Van Cleef; Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and Smucker’s Preserves juicy-voiced announcer commercial references; a sprinkling of mentions of James Arness, Peter Graves’ real life brother. Arness starred in another alien with the intent to conquer Earth film, 1951’s “The Thing From Another World.”
Beverly Garland is the cool housewife you want to get to know in your subdivision. She’s casually a bad ass who, without a second thought, grabs a shotgun to kill the creature that’s taken over her husband’s life. Confront an alien with unknown powers alone, in a labyrinthine dark cave? Shotgun or no- that’s pretty brave. Mr. Venus attacking her is a great chance for Joel and the ‘Bots to showcase their gravelly, nasty alien voice- “I’m your new boyfriend ahhhh [disgusting tongue wiggling noises.]”
The Army guys in this episode are about as believable as the ones in “The Beginning of the End” and “The Creeping Terror.”
Lee Van Cleef finally has a show down with his former master. After telling it off, he vanquishes the Space Pickle with a blowtorch. He then dies poetically in the monster’s rubbery crab claw embrace- a victim of blind greed and avarice, disguised as- a gift of perfection.
And then- there’s this.
“He learned, almost too late, that Man is a feeling creature… and because of it, the greatest in the universe. He learned too late for himself that men have to find their own way, to make their own mistakes. There can’t be any gift of perfection from outside ourselves. And when men seek such perfection, they find only death… fire… loss… disillusionment… the end of everything that’s gone forward. Men have always sought an end to the toil and misery, but it can’t be given— it has to be achieved. There is hope, but it has to come from inside- from Man himself.”
This speech is showcased not once- not twice- but FOUR times in this episode, if you count the stinger. Well- it is a good speech!
There’s a particularly delightful viewer letter-reading sequence at the end. Lots of great drawings from kids who must get a kick out of hearing their letters read, and seeing their creations immortalized. And those kids doubtless have kids of their own… and the beat goes on.
I can watch this episode over and over. I like to play it as a double bill with “Gamera vs. Guiron.” It Conquered The World also works well as a first-time, introductory MST3K episode.
I have yet to see the Larry Buchanan 1966 version, “Zontar: the Thing From Venus.”
From Wikipedia: “It Conquered The World was released theatrically by AIP in July 1956 on a double bill with The She-Creature.
“The film originally received an “X” certificate in the UK, meaning that the picture could only be seen by adults. At issue, the scene of the creature being destroyed by a blowtorch was seen as animal cruelty. However, producer Samuel Z. Arkoff convinced the film board that the violence was against an otherworldly person, and not an animal, earning the film its passing certificate.”
Huh. I must have missed the scene where the sight of the monster causes Beverly Garland’s robe to unfurl.
Do you think that- somewhere— The Speech is still going on?
“He learned- almost too late…”