If I was a producer, I too would have changed the title of my movie from The Creature from Galaxy 27 to Night of the Blood Beast (1958); of course, Roger Corman being that producer means there’s a good chance that the dollar is stretched a little thinner even as the talent is recognized. And this one doesn’t disappoint; Night of the Blood Beast (a boffo title, really) is similar to many of the other Cold War paranoia thrillers of the day in all ways but one: as far as I can tell, this is the first sci-fi film to deal with male impregnation. Take that, O’Bannon and Cronenberg.
Released by American International Pictures (home of Corman and his co-producer brother Gene) in December, Night went out on a double bill with She Gods of Shark Reef, stretching that buck ($68,000 or so) even further. And of course it worked, making back its bones through drive-ins and theatres across the lands; that’s just the Corman way. The response was pro forma from the critics, who usually found Corman’s acumen more amusing than his content; this was no different, although some critics couldn’t help but point out the unusual pregnancy angle. To be fair to its detractors, that pregnancy angle is the only thing separating it from a dozen other Red Scare thrillers. But it’s a doozy, and deserves the praise.
We start with an ingenious animated title sequence, in which a rocket is seen soaring above the clouds on its way to the outer limits of space; or in this case just enough time to show our astronaut, Major John Corcoran (Michael Emmet - Attack of the Giant Leeches), mysteriously dying upon re-entry to earth. Mysterious because John has the blood pressure of a living being, yet lays in a state of deadness otherwise; and as the crew wait to see if John is revived, they find out that something hitched a ride on the rocket back home.
While the crew deals with the beast outside, John awakens. He’s not alone however, as we see through a fluoroscope that John has a batch of what look like sea monkeys in his belly (growing, natch); left by the alien - I’m not asking how - to control John...and start a new race! Can the rest of the faceless, Ovaltine-drinking do-gooders stop the alien and save John?
Every single second of Night of the Blood Beast is inundated with tropes and cliches if not seen firsthand, then witnessed through decades of Saturday afternoon flicks and 4 a.m. dumps; clocking in at 62 minutes, Night has the good sense to get out before the seams on the suit completely pop. (Don’t worry, this costume is papier-mâché!) All the films of this ilk tell basically the same story - with a variant in design, probably location, but a similar Boogeyman and the Unknown runs through them all.
An ingenious theme, truly: couching the uncertain in the familiar helps with your low budget, and bakes that paranoia in right from the get go. But Night externalizes the horror, in the shape of our beaten down school mascot; luckily, he doesn’t appear for much screen time and we’re left mainly with an indistinguishable crew, talking.
Sounds deadly dull, to be sure, but I always fall hard for scientific exposition that sounds better with increased intoxicants and/or dosages; a lot of blood chat and radiation and magnetism and what have you and you’re best off indulging your more passionate desires, because you could be tits up tomorrow and then where would you be? Tits up, exactly.
The appeal of Night of the Blood Beast is simple: man gets knocked up. And after decades of Alien, Rabbit Test, Spaceballs, Life of Brian, and Shivers, tracing the bun in the EZ Bake is a kick to see it extend back that far. I naturally thought (and I’m sure many others have too) that Cronenberg birthed that particular conceit; how could one not when right from the first he had bodies revolting against themselves? Of course, Cronenberg used his opportunity to comment on rampant sexuality in a decaying society; director Bernard L. Kowalski (Sssssss) and writer Martin Varno (with a story co-credit to Gene) choose a different yet equally fascinating route - a decidedly pro-choice film in an age of back alleys and shame.
When John discovers he is with sea monkey, his protective instincts kick in; he refuses to give up his offspring, should they ever be born (hatched?). A strong psychic connection between John and the alien also has him give pause; perhaps the thing comes in peace? Maybe the impregnation is how they welcome people to their world - who’s to say? It’s quite a sight to see a man deal with the existential wonder of pregnancy and have those same feelings manifest in a character from an era when displaying female traits equaled weakness - empathy, unconditional love; it seems subversive that our hero would turn out to be our heroine.
That’s not a word used a lot in conjunction with Roger Corman: subversive. Huckster externalism is the point of several of his films; they wouldn’t be Cormans if they didn’t flaunt their exploits - that’s why we’re there. But Night of the Blood Beast manages to massage a little pointed commentary in between the (infrequent) monster melees; not something one expects in a film that otherwise trades in store shelf chauvinism, but is most welcome.
Night of the Blood Beast is available on DVD from Alpha Video.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: DEMON WITCH CHILD (1975)