Saturday, October 23, 2021

Cardboard Science: Women Are From Venus

Year: 1958
Director: Edward Bernds
Cast: Zsa Zsa Gabor, Eric Fleming, Dave Willock
Run Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

So, now we sally forth into phase 2 of the Great Switcheroo, where Hunter Allen of Kinemalogue has assigned me three 50's science fiction B-pictures to examine for your spooky season pleasure, in exchange for three of my 80's slashers. He has already apologized to me for the trashiness of this particular slate, but I agree with him that the movies are short enough that it's hard to complain about literally anything they do. Also, today's subject, which is 1958's Queen of Outer Space, is another film with an incredibly misleading title but a not altogether dishonest poster design. If your pleasure lies in the form of watching scantily clad space ladies, look no further. 

This project also has a connection with previous years, coming from the director of 1959's Return of the Fly and starring Hungarian-American ultra-celebrity Zsa Zsa Gabour, who appeared in the Census Bloodbath entry A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors a scant 30 years or so later.

It's probably not a good sign that Elm Street 3 is listed higher than Queen of Outer Space on her "known for" page on IMDb, considering she's in that movie for about 12 seconds. Although, it's probably not a good sign that Queen of Outer Space is on her "known for" page in the first place.

So, I suppose there's a plot lying around somewhere. Interchangeable white squarejaws Capt. Neal Patterson (Eric Fleming), Lt. Mike Cruze (Dave Willock), and Lt. Larry Turner (Patrick Waltz) live in a not-too-distant future where space travel is still pretty exclusive, but people are out there doing it. They're charged with the inauspicious task of bussing the scientist Professor Konrad (Paul Birch) to the space station he created along with some supplies. However, somebody drew on the film reel with a marker they are attacked by a super deadly space laser that destroys the space station and sends them rocketing off into parts unknown.

After an undetermined amount of time (they've been knocked unconscious), they crash land on the surface of a planet, an idyllic indoor forest land with obvious blue wall backdrops. It turns out that they are on Venus, and they soon find themselves captives of the Venusians, which are a tribe of sexy minidress-clad women who have banished all the men they haven't slaughtered onto an orbiting moon. They are led by the masked Queen Yllana (Laurie Mitchell). Soon the men discover that not all the women are happy living under her iron thumb, because well... they're horny, mostly. And they have all these pickle jars that nobody can open. Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabour) attempts to help the men escape, leading a vague sort of revolution in the process. It turns out that most of the women on the planet aren't too keen on the Queen's plan of destroying Earth with a big evil nuclear space laser, because they aren't shrill man-hating harpies like somebody we know.

Her motivation for being evil is literally that she's ugly, because the 50's.

To be completely honest, I like almost nothing about Queen of Outer Space. At least in the previous trashy Cardboard Science entry, Robot Monster, there was a shirtless man wandering around for the entire run time. Obviously, I understand that for many straight people at the time, Zsa Zsa Gabour in a minidress was to this film what "the leading man is getting married with his nipples showing" was for me in that one. But I'm a gay. I need some great outfits to go on the pretty ladies in order to get me through, and only the Queen's jewel-encrusted cricket masquerade ensemble really delivers in that respect.

Obviously, this film wasn't ever going to depict an Amazonian feminist utopia, but it really is a shame that the humor is couched in such egregious sexism. It's so bad it does occasionally circle back around the horn to be ironically amusing for how unabashedly terrible it is ("how'd you like to drag THAT to the senior prom?"), but generally the jokes are the same basic-ass, stale "take my wife... please!" gags that cis male comic have leaned on for decades before and after this. As delivered by a bunch of wooden performers who cackle and smirk at one another incessantly. And this is a movie that really relies on its comedy, because it's too low budget to really do almost anything exciting visually.

The entirety of their effects budget is spent on a short clip of the space station and shuttle being attacked, a spaceship interior with a tiny little window through which a colorful light is shone, a big spider puppet that takes up about five seconds of screen time but still lands itself prominently on some posters, and burn makeup for Queen Yllana that looks like Mary Lou Maloney's burned face from Prom Night II. Oh, and they clearly got some actual footage of a spaceship blasting off, because they use every. second. of. it. in a hideously prolonged sequence.

They're living by the classic dictum that women are the cheapest special effect.

Let me root around a little more. Is there anything good in here? It's certainly not Zsa Zsa, who absently delivers her dialogue while squinting at cue cards that seem to be a couple yards farther away than they should be. It's also not the camera work, where the lenses warp and distort the edge of the frame every time they pan. Or the production design, which at least has the good sense to make things bright and candy colored, but only delivers a series of identical pink and blue hallways.

Oh hey, I found something! The music might be generic, but it's delivering on the electronic oogly-woogly score I need for a 50's movie set on another planet. And honestly, for all it's a boring slog that doesn't have anything remarkable to break up the monotony, I didn't actively despise Queen of Outer Space, so that's nice I guess. It's a warm bath of enough B-movie tropes that it goes down easy enough, even though I have at least a dozen films I would point you to before this one, thanks to being under Hunter's tutelage for almost a decade at this point.

That which is indistinguishable from magic:
  • The comms systems in the futuristic space station look like nothing other than vibrators on their charging docks.
  • There is one scene where the Queen vaporizes a traitor with a ray gun and she vanishes in a puff of smoke, so that was pretty cool. Although it's an awkwardly blocked and orchestrated sequence, where the Queen pretends to pardon her before immediately shooting her in the back. It's clearly supposed to show how deliciously evil she is, but it's just confusing and muddled.
The morality of the past, in the future!:
  • Hilariously, Professor Konrad tries to smoke on a rocket that's about to lift off, before being reminded that the spark could kill them all.
  • The men joke around about how it would be totally impossible for women to invent things, let alone aim them (because they're such bad drivers and what if they get their period, think about it fellas), but then of course it's revealed that the Queen does keep some men alive for the purposes of inventing murder death rays.
  • My favorite caricature of Evil Feminism is the random extra who teleports from out of nowhere to throw herself at the captives, beat her fists against their heads, and scream, "I HATE THEM!"
  • The end credits describe the cast using outsized titles like "The Leaders," "The Lovers" and "The Lovelorn," really delivering the pomposity that the opening credits of The Rocky Horror Picture Show have always promised me.
  • My favorite scene is probably the moment where Zsa Zsa puts on the Queen's mask to impersonate her, a trick that works for exactly two and a half seconds.
TL;DR: Queen of Outer Space is a bland, generic, sexist film that just spits out low budget sci-fi tropes hoping you'll be too distracted by beautiful women to notice.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1368

Cardboard Science on Popcorn Culture
2014: Invaders from Mars (1953) The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Them! (1954)
2015: The Giant Claw (1957) It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)
2016: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Godzilla (1954) The Beginning of the End (1957)
2017: It Conquered the World (1958) I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) Forbidden Planet (1956)
2018: The Fly (1958) Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman (1958) Fiend without a Face (1958)
2019: Mysterious Island (1961) Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
2021: Robot Monster (1953) Queen of Outer Space (1958) The Cyclops (1957)

Census Bloodbath on Kinemalogue
2014: My Bloody Valentine (1981) Pieces (1982) The Burning (1981)
2015: Terror Train (1980) The House on Sorority Row (1983) Killer Party (1986)
2016: The Initiation (1984) Chopping Mall (1986) I, Madman  (1989)
2017: Slumber Party Massacre (1982) Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987) Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
2018: The Prowler (1981) Slumber Party Massacre II (1987) Death Spa (1989)
2019: Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge (1989) Psycho III (1986) StageFright: Aquarius (1987)
2020: Night School (1981) The Fan (1981) Madhouse (1981)


  1. And I meant my apology. I hadn't seen either of the latter two films on the slate (the other one's slightly better), but I did blind buy them during the last Warner Archive sale, so on the minus side, I used you as an excuse to watch them, but on the plus side, you didn't spend $22 on the pair.

    Even so, I think I might've actually disliked this one more than you? I don't have any positive feelings about it, and there's an argument that it's not even the best Evil Sexy Space Babe Movie. The shortest way to put it is that it's to its immense discredit that it can't just be a porno, because it wants to be a porno, and very rapidly it makes it clear that being a porno would be the only direction it could've gone and been of value to anybody. Even then, in its quasi-porniness, it's not like it's genuinely sexy in any way. It's more like a parody of sexiness, everyone running around awkwardly in heels from one side of a distorted screen to the other, and with neither the acumen nor the budget to even do male gazing properly.

    The thing that really gets me down about it, though, is that almost every single scene was done with self-conscious glibness. Stranded on an alien planet? Shrug and make a bad joke. Captured by Space Babes who want to kill you? Shrug and make a bad joke. Threatened with the genocide of all humanity? Shrug and make a bad joke. I guess the complete absence of seriousness is the point, but man.

    Okay, I did like one joke. It's 80 minutes in the making, given that the whole film has been about three of the four male leads pair-bonding with the lady subversives while the stocky middle-aged professor sits lonesomely in a corner; but at the very end, while our glib heroes merely get monogamy with their woman with dialogue, our professor gets everyone else. That's an ironic reversal and I recognize it as amusing. Thin reed, though. Ben Hecht!

    1. I do have a little bit of a soft spot for the camp of sheer heterosexuality, but beyond that I don't see how there's much room to like this movie LESS than I did. I'm sorry about your fiscal sacrifice at the altar of the Queen.

      Also seriously, if this is a Zsa Zsa Gabour vehicle, why isn't the movie named after her? Random Babe from Outer Space is a much more accurate title anyway.

    2. I mean, by implication, she *becomes* queen of Venus. Well, informal first citizen, anyway.