Craftsmanship can elevate even the cheapest, cheesiest sci-fi movie

Craftsmanship can elevate even the cheapest, cheesiest sci-fi movie

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: We greet the hostile extraterrestrial visitors of The 5th Wave with more movies about alien invasions.

It Conquered The World (1956)

Many know “King Of The Bs” director Roger Corman because of the names who trained under him: Coppola, Scorsese, Cameron, Dante, Roeg—and that’s just scratching the surface. But Corman’s real talent lay in teaching people how to rise above their material. A sci-fi flick like It Conquered The World demonstrates how intelligent filmmaking can make up for a lack of stars and quality special effects.

A pre-spaghetti-Western Lee Van Cleef stars as Dr. Tom Anderson, who comes in radio contact with a Venusian alien named Zoltar. Convinced by dubious plans of world peace, Anderson helps the being fulfill the title’s promise. Zoltar has a mishmash of ’50s sci-fi powers, which Corman shows off with subtlety. When Zoltar knocks out the Earth’s power, à la The Day The Earth Stood Still, the director relies on suggestive imagery (a record player stops spinning, dead silence over shots of a construction zone) to create the chilling sequence. The alien then uses flying bat-like creatures (some papier-mâché ingenuity) to literally knock citizens over and gain control of their minds.

Corman has little on his mind, thematically speaking, but he does have a knack for tense staging in unconvincing locations. A good deal of the film takes place in Anderson’s living room/radio room; using various changes in lighting and composition, Corman plays with tone to upend expectations. When Van Cleef’s character explains the mind-control system to his wife (a dynamic Beverly Garland), the two play the sequence sensually, and a slow camera push accentuates the intimacy. It’s a good demonstration of Corman’s ability to balance quiet moments of humanity with global-disaster stakes.

It Conquered The World goes for a big ending, cross-cutting, D.W. Griffith-style, between various forces trying to chase down the evil Zoltar, who’s really just a tentacle costume with a sticker face. The alien might be silly, but Corman shows a knack for keeping the film moving at a full-throttle pace. The director took formal construction seriously no matter the project, which is what so many filmmakers learned from him.

Availability: It Conquered The World is not currently available on Blu-ray, DVD, or the major digital services. It is, however, currently streaming in its entirety on YouTube.

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