Lee Van Cleef invites some dangerous aliens to Earth in this Roger Corman movie.
In Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World (1956), Lee Van Cleef plays a kooky scientist who’s been communicating with a dying race of creatures on the planet Venus, feeding them directions and secrets they will use to take over and reshape Earth. His wife Beverly Garland loves him but seems always ready to phone the mental hospital when he sits in front of the massive radio panel in the middle of their living room, and calls up his Venusian overlords for a chat. When his friend Peter Graves and wife (Sally Fraser) come over for dinner, Garland begs Van Cleef not to mention his foreign friends but, confident in his plan and his future place in their kingdom, Van Cleef shows off his interstellar radio, calling attention to the obvious voice from Venus, whereas Graves can only hear electric humming (and possibly cuckoo birds). Graves is initially perplexed and has more concerns about his colleague’s sanity than usual, but when the creature arrives on Earth and shuts down all powered and mechanical objects, everyone discovers that Van Cleef was not kidding.
This Venusian creature is no Ray Harryhausen creation. It looks like a monster sized reamer from a manual citrus juicer, with prickly aloe vera stalks for arms and the face of grumpy cat. Not very scary, and pretty slow moving, so it’s amusing to watch it easily overcome and strangle so many hapless victims; in order to get caught they need to actually run into its arms or stand frozen in horror at the killer juicer while it rolls toward them at the speed of a roomba. To aid in its quest for world domination, it produces, out of its skirted bottom, several small flying stingray creatures that fly off in search of the chosen few humans that will be their Earthly representatives. To convert these elites (people that Van Cleef has named and helps them find) the “funny looking birds” as one soldier describes them, swoop down and stab the back of the neck, thus taking over the human’s mind. You can tell which people have been possessed because they give off a loud electric hum and act far too pleasant amidst all the blind panic.
Graves comes home to flop on the couch after navigating the chaos on his bicycle, and his now-possessed wife Fraser throws the Venusian bat at him. Graves manages to impale it with the fireplace poker and then has to decide what to do with his wife. The brainwashed lawmen and scientists manage to evacuate the town, take over the nearby military installation and cause general confusion so that the only people left around who know the truth about the invasion and Van Cleef’s role in it, are Garland and Graves. They put up quite a fight– Garland confronts the monster, calls it ugly and fires her shotgun but neither insults nor bullets can stop it– and in the end we discover the one weakness of both monster and Van Cleef.
It Conquered the World is extremely cheesy fun, definitely no match for something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which came out a few months before, but it hits a lot of the same concerns like paranoia, the dangers and horror of groupthink and the brave resistance to a New World Order imposed by a self-appointed elite who consider things like individuality and romance outmoded and evil. One of the mind-controlled even tries to frame the communists for the invasion, which you have to say is pretty clever for an alien being. The first thing that came to my mind as everything stopped working, whether it was a watch or a car or an airplane falling out of the sky, was the threat you hear of nowadays from electromagnetic pulse weapons that can disrupt and destroy all electronic or mechanical devices. So that was interesting to see and it proves what Graves says of Van Cleef’s wild theories: throw enough speculation at the wall and some of it is bound to come true. It also provides some comedy as Van Cleef has of course prepared for this event and has the only working car, icebox, lamps and telephone in the area, all powered by his ego, no doubt. There’s a funny moment when Graves answers his phone, knowing it’s Van Cleef, “it could only be you!”
Garland does a good job, as the wife who’s suffered for years having what she thought was just a delusional husband; now she’s horrified to learn it’s all too real and he’s a zealot who has no problem selling out all of humanity, never mind turning her into a mindless slave. Van Cleef is so smug, bitter and condescending with his lectures on how much better everything will be when his alien friends erase all those pesky emotions from human nature. He’s chilling when he says “the days when people made fun of me are over,” which sounds more like a playground taunt than the motivation of a renowned genius. Graves gets some good, long fist-shaking speeches about the value of a soul and the beauty of humanity’s feelings and imperfection. Despite those laughable effects and bunch of other problems, It Conquered the World is still lots of fun and effectively creepy, with a message that I always enjoy, about opposing Orwellian soul-sucking conformity and control over individual freedoms, even if it is served up in a messy grill cheese sandwich.