October 3rd, 2015
|09:48 pm - 31 Days of October: Devil Girl from Mars|
The late Octavia Butler was a black, female1 writer whose works rank squarely among the best science fiction ever published. She credited the movie Devil Girl from Mars with inspiring her to write, and I mention this because it's easily the most positive thing you can say about the film.
When I was in elementary school, I borrowed a lot of activity books from the library, all of which seemed to be written by affluent educators living and parents living on the west coast; especially Oregon and southern California (namely Palo Alto, for some reason). One of my favorites was a small hardcover called Monster Fun by Stephen Mooser, which was mostly full of elaborate DIY ideas for costumes and Halloween parties. I wasn't especially interested in any of those activities, but I did like monsters, and the book was absolutely full of reproductions of scary woodcuts and stills from old movies.
One of the stills in Monster Fun was of a hulking robot descending the ramp from a spacecraft. The robot looks pretty stupid, but I've always liked the image. A few years ago I found a copy of the book for $0.01 (+ $3.99 shipping), so I purchased a copy and found that generally it does not hold up. It does, however, contain an appendix full of movie dubious recommendations (Zardoz, which teaches that "the gun is good, the penis is evil" is probably not appropriate for the book's "ages 8-12" audience), and a couple of pages of photo credits at the very end, which revealed the source of the image to be Devil Girl from Mars. I was pleased to finally know the source of the picture, and readers of my LiveJournal will recognize the Devil Girl and her robot as the image in the lower right corner of the page.
Unfortunately, it's not a very good movie. The plot: The Bonnie Charlie is a small inn and pub located somewhere in Scotland. The area is well-enough frequented that there always seem to be people going in and out, but it's rural enough that the authorities are not notified when a spacecraft lands in the nearby moors. The pilot of the spacecraft is the PVC-clad Nyah (pronounced Nye-uh), who comes across as both a dominatrix and an extremely sexless killjoy. Nyah is from Mars where a literal battle of the sexes has rendered the male population impotent. She has come to Earth in order to obtain a fertile male to prevent the extinction of the Martian race.
Even the resident barfly isn't crazy about the prospect of impregnating a planet of Nyahs, so she resorts to ultimatums: she threatens to kidnap a small boy, and release her robot servant, Chani, on the Scottish countryside. Chani is a big, lumbering thing that slowly stomps around vaporizing whatever gets in its way, and is much less threatening when you get a look at it. A good push would probably topple Chani over, and it wouldn't be able to get back up.
Devil Girl from Mars should be a sex comedy, and in fact, these ideas have been done that way before (What Planet Are You From? comes to mind), but it's all Deadly Serious, which makes it difficult to sit through. The gender politics explored by the film are also half-baked and filtered through the sterilizing lens of mid-20th content standards, so it doesn't really offer much social commentary, either.
Technically this is a science fiction film--not horror. The movie was made in 1954 (apparently based on a stage play, in case you're interested), but I tend not to distinguish between horror and sci-fi from that era because there's not enough science in the sci-fi to make much difference. Additionally, British horror movies have always been as good as their American counterparts, but their mid-20th century attempts at science fiction always come across as twee and cutesy to me. At some point that all changed and the British started cranking out excellent science fiction, but Devil Girl from Mars is definitely one you can skip.
Here's the trailer:
1 "Why", you may ask, "are Ms. Butler's race and gender relevant in this discussion?"
You're right, they're not, but if you've been paying any attention at all to the last year of science fiction fandom, then you'll know that there's an army of idiots who can't handle the fact that their favorite genre is beginning to better reflect the diversity of its audience. It's fun to point these things out because it makes them angry.