AN ACCIDENTAL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
Cinematic Universes and Shared Universes are a big thing nowadays, mostly inspired by the thirty or so films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
We’ve seen the DC Cinematic Universe, the Dark Universe, DC Animated Universe, View Askew Cinematic Universe, and so on, along with the DC and Marvel Comics Universe. But these things go way back – Toho’s Monster universe in the 60’s and 70’s, Universal Studios monster universe in the 30’s and 40’s.
Most of these fictional universes are more accumulated than designed. Someone tries something, a story, a book, a television show, a movie. It succeeds. They do something kind of similar, that does well. They keep doing it. After a while, it just makes sense to connect these overlapping properties and have a crossover, if that works, there are more. A kind of over-arching narrative emerges, and voila, you’ve got a shared universe. Marvel is more designed than most of them, but even there, that’s basically it. It’s almost never as thought out as you might expect. Mostly, they just evolve.
There is a Cinematic Universe out there, under our noses, overlooked and forgotten. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…
THE RETROVERSE! The Universe of 1950’s and 1960’s Science Fiction Movies.
Late one night, I was watching an old Sci Fi double bill – This Island Earth and Queen of Outer Space. If you haven’t seen them, here are the plots: This Island Earth is set in the 1950’s, human aliens who are all men with high foreheads come to Earth to trick a bunch of scientists into working for them, it seems that there is an interplanetary war, and they’re losing badly. Queen of Outer Space is set in the 1980’s, a spaceship from Earth is swept out to Venus, where they discover a women only civilization, it seems that in the recent past they had a war with a planet called Morda ruled by men. It was a battle of planets and sexes, and they won.
It was late at night, I was a bit fuzzy. So, I was watching it, and I thought.
“What if it was the same war?”
What if the war that the Metaluna were losing so badly in This Island Earth, was the same war that the Venerians had won in Queen of Outer Space? What if those movies were connected. What if it was the same universe?
But if they were connected, what else is connected? The matte paintings of the alien city in This Island Earth were re-used in Killers From Space. The Earthmen’s uniforms from Queen of Outer Space are actually from Forbidden World. The spaceship set is from Flight to Mars. The spaceship footage is from World Without End. Eric Fleming who plays the lead Earth astronaut plays an identical role as an Earth astronaut on a mission to Mars in Conquest of Space. Laurie Mitchell who played the horribly scarred Queen Ylanna, of Venus’ amazons, was also in Missile to the Moon about a race of lunar amazons, where she played the similarly named Princess Lambda, whose romance with an Earthman results in her being face horribly. These two movies link to six other movies.
When you start looking, there’s a lot of overlaps and connections.
The spacesuits built for Destination Moon went into the costumes warehouse, where they requisitioned or rented, and eventually showed up in sixteen different movies and television series. Stock footage of a German V2 rocket launch was used over and over again. Effects footage of spaceships got re-used. Even monster costumes got re-used.
Actors showed up over and over in identical roles – John Agar kept fighting aliens, Morris Ankrum played an army man, Marilyn Hanold and Laurie Mitchell played space Amazons.
Even when movies didn’t share the same actors, or the same props, or the same special effects, there’s weird symmetry, this recurrence of tropes:
Imagine aliens who are single eyed creatures at the center of fibrous nests of tentacles. That seems pretty unique. But that’s the Trollenberg Terror, They Came From Outer Space, The Atomic Submarine, The Green Slime. Once would be interesting, two a coincidence. But the same peculiar type through four movies?
What about an alien world ruled by or made up almost exclusively of women? Or space travelling amazons come to Earth? Queen of Outer Space, Missile to the Moon, Cat Women on the Moon, Fire Maidens From Outer Space, Devil Girl From Mars, Frankenstein vs the Space Monster, Nude on the Moon, Abbot and Costello Go to Mars, Invasion of the Space Women, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, Los Astronautas, Space Ship Sappy, Flying Saucer Daffy, Invasion, the Astounding She Monster, Invasion of the Star Creatures, Ship of Monsters, Space Thing, Alien Women It shows up so often it’s almost pathological
Then there are questions: Why in the movies set in the 1950’s and 1960’s, every time we turned around, aliens were invading? And it was different aliens every time, representing Mars, Venus, Galactic Federations, Planet X’s. Sometimes they claimed to be from the same planet but had completely different motivations. We had so many alien invaders, they were practically stumbling over each other. It was like a freeway down here. We needed to put up traffic signs for all the visitors.
If they were all connected, why were they so contradictory – sometimes it was ‘We are on a mission of peace!’ Sometimes it was ‘Kneel before Zod, puny humans!’ Sometimes they were reanimating the dead. Sometimes they were blowing up rockets. Sometimes they were making people gigantic, or hiding out in caves stealing our cable, or trying to have sex with us. You just never knew.
And by the way, why were most of these invasions so puny, often one ship, a few crew, maybe some robots. You’d think if this was an interstellar or interplanetary civilization, they’d just squash us flat – send the space battleship and game over. And there are a couple of big movies where that’s sort of tried – War of the Worlds and Earth vs the Flying Saucers. But mostly, the average invasion force seemed to consist of one saucer, a bickering couple and their pet monster? I’m sorry? Their world is invading ours, and that was the best they could? If you watch enough of these movies put together, it feels like we’re the victims of passive aggression from outer space.
But then, the weird thing is, when you watch the movies set in the future, it’s like we encounter a completely different set of aliens. Where did all the invaders go? Where are all the ones who were invading us, or visiting with important messages? Instead, we just get the cosmic equivalent of the Swedish Bikini Team, and a lot of innocent looks and shrugs.
What exactly is going on out there in outer space? I’ve talked about connecting these movies, but there are as many contradictions as congruencies.
Aesthetically and thematically, these movies presented a unified vision of what the future looked like, inspired by Chesley Bonestell artwork, a vision of spaceships like silver needles with tail fins and cratered alien landscapes. It was a vision where aliens flew in flying saucers and women ruled in outer space. The practicalities of World War II industrial war production, and lurid artistic visions of pulp magazines fused together, giving a remarkably uniform visual sensibility and production design. Added to that was a visual documentary style that merged newsreels with conventional movies. Even when they weren’t borrowing each other’s props and costumes, these movies tended to look like each other. The vision of the future, or even of the sci fi present, was remarkably consistent.
The same ideas percolate through these movies – alien invasions, space travel, giant monsters, atomic war, mixing and matching, weaving in and out. They reflected the sensibilities and attitudes of the time. Russia and Communism is barely mentioned, but there’s a recurring theme of subversion, of being infiltrated, of being taken over. A lot of movies can be read as metaphors for cold war issues. Sexual politics are in full effect, but often confused, and subtly challenged. Sometimes it’s deliberate, quite often it’s just the ideas and attitudes floating around expressing themselves.
These movies came from a distinctive era, a kind of unheard of social consensus. This was the post-war era, where America had thrown off the depression and gone on to singlehandedly defeat both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, while containing the Soviet menace. It was a time where technology was progressing by leaps and bounds, literally from biplanes to fighter jets, to supersonic aircraft. During this period, space travel went from an impossible dream, to the first satellites, manned rockets, a Russian space station and American moon landings.
If you watch enough of these movies, if you start looking for connections – thematic, tropetastic, recurring actors/roles, props, stock footage, costumes you can find an underlying architecture – an entire alternate universe and history that hangs together.
FIVE MILLION YEARS AGO
Unravelling the Retroverse involves a bit of detective work. The Retroverse, all the movies that constitute the cinematic universe are like snapshots of parts of the big picture. Some of the snapshots are large, some are small, but none of them are the complete picture. The picture is what emerges from the connections.
For instance – In 2001: A Space Odyssey, mysterious unseen aliens come to Earth millions of years ago and uplift apes into humans, leaving automated installations on the Moon and around Jupiter. Five Million Years to Earth, gives us insect-like aliens came to Earth millions of years ago, uplifted apes into humans, and buried its own controls and coding in humanity. It doesn’t really make sense that two different races of aliens would come by millions of years ago and separately uplift humans. So… same aliens? Which means the 2001 unseen aliens were insectoids.
But then in the First Men in the Moon, and Melies much earlier Trip to the Moon, we see insectoid aliens in small colonies on the moon. The moon is a dead and lifeless world, and always has been. Anything or anybody living there came from somewhere else. So are the Insectoids in these movies the degenerated remnants of the race from Five Million Years to Earth? We know that the 2001 aliens were active on the moon.
Both 2001 and Five Million Years featured an incredible technological civilization and powerful psychic machines, some of which resemble black monoliths, which can manipulate minds and matter even today. But with the exception of a few small degraded remnants on the moon, they’re not around physically – they don’t show up overtly in the rest of the Retroverse. So they’re extinct?
Forbidden World is set on an alien planet where the original race, the Krell, is now extinct. We don’t know what they looked like, but they’re clearly non-human. But they have incredibly powerful psychic machinery which is still active millions of years later, as in 2001 or Five Million Years. Oddly, the Forbidden World features Earth animals and vegetation, including tigers. How do tigers end up on an alien world, humanity didn’t bring them. The implication is that the extinct Krell must have visited Earth millions of years ago and transplanted Earth life to their world.
This creates a piece of the picture for us, the deep history of the Retroverse. Millions of years ago, a race of insect like aliens, the Krell arose. They developed interstellar travel and powerful psychic machines. They travelled the universe, finding Earth, where they manipulated apes, evolving them into humans. The Krell civilization collapses for unknown reasons. Although their apparently becomes physically extinct on their home world, their machineries continue to operate. Relic populations survive in their lunar outposts until the late 19th century, having regressed to a primitive state. Eventually, in the future, humanity rediscovers their world, and names them as the Krell.
RISE OF THE PSYCHIC MONSTERS
The Krell may not have gone completely extinct, stick with me here. They’re definitely not around much in physical form. As noted, there are only a couple of movies which feature Insect-humanoids.
But in Planet of the Vampires, space travelers visit a dead world inhabited by bodiless creatures of psychic energy. These creatures are able to occupy and animate dead bodies, or even temporarily possess living humans, they explain that they were once physical beings but ‘upgraded.’ That turned out to be a mistake, so they want off their dead world, and they need bodies and spaceships to do it. The big twist is that the human space travelers are aliens themselves, before the psychic monsters take over, they cripple their spaceship so that it can’t reach their world. The psychic monsters are forced to head for the closest planet: Modern day earth.
They Came From Outer Space features psychic monsters coming to Earth in a meteor shower (or possibly the fragments of a damaged spaceship breaking up in the atmosphere?), and proceeding to take possess humans, reanimate the dead, and start building rockets to go to the moon. They explain that they once had physical bodies, but upgraded, a decision they now regret. They were tooling around in a spaceship, but things went wrong.
It’s not really that hard to draw a line from Planet of the Vampires to They Came From Outer Space, and even back to Forbidden World and the Krell. After all, the Krell created powerful psychic machines, and the movie suggests that they were destroyed by their own psychic creations.
There is a hole in the story. Of course, there’s little evidence of the psychic monsters on Forbidden World like the ones in Planet of the Vampires. But perhaps, as they were being destroyed by their creations, the Krell managed to cleanse their world leaving only remnants in space. Or their creations fled the planet and were trapped in space or on outer worlds.
There are other, instances of bodiless aliens reanimating corpses, notably Invisible Invaders and Cape Canaveral Monsters.
Let’s think about it for a moment. What would it be like to be a bodiless psychic being, a creature of energy, unable to touch or affect the material world directly, except by possessing a host… and there are no hosts around.
What would it be like to spend thousands, maybe even millions of years in that state? People get squirrely if cramped up alone for a couple of weeks? Many of these psychic monsters would probably opt to end themselves. Some would hold it together, with some forming communities and working together, others operating alone. Some would go insane. Some would regress to brutal animalistic states, hungry only to occupy a body, any kind of body – like corpses in Night of the Living Dead, severed arm in the Crawling Hand, or even a crude machine such as the Killdozer.
A SPACE ATLANTIS AND ITS MATRIARCHY
Sometimes when you are putting a puzzle together, you get a missing piece. You don’t know what that piece is, or what’s in that piece. But you can tell it’s there from the other pieces around it. You can even figure out what shape it is, and what’s in the missing piece.
We know the deep history of the Retroverse, the rise and fall of the Krell, their creation of humanity, their destruction at the hands of psychic monsters that they created.
But there’s more history. For instance, in so many of these movies, when astronauts go out into space, they find people. They find people on the Moon in Cat Women on the Moon, Missile to the Moon, Twelve to the Moon; on Venus in Queen of Outer Space, Masters of Venus, Planet of Prehistoric Women; on Mars in Flight to the Mars, Rocketship X-M; around Saturn in Fire Maidens From Outer Space; and among the Asteroids in Phantom Planet.
In some cases, we find that these aliens are capable of and very much in favor of breeding with humans. Even a bit too enthusiastic: Mars Needs Women, Devil Girl From Mars, Frankenstein vs the Space Monster, Space Thing, Alien Women.
Well, stop and think. If it looks just like an earth human, walks like an earth human, talks like an Earth human, breathes the same kind of air, eats the same kind of food, lip-locks like an Earth human, and wants to make babies with Earth humans… Then they all have to be earth originally.
Did the Krell seed them all over the solar system? Doesn’t seem likely, the time line is wrong. There isn’t any evidence of other aliens in deep history.
So, if humans are all over the solar system, the logical conclusion is there must have been at least one previous civilization on Earth, before recorded history, that made it into space and established all these colonies. Call this Atlantis, the characters in the movies sometimes do. But this is not the classical Atlantis we think about, but an advanced, spacefaring high-tech Atlantis.
In fact, in some cases, the aliens trace their ancestry directly to Atlantis. The Fire Maidens From Outer Space, and the Masters of Venus both claim to be from Atlantis. In Warlords from Atlantis, the Atlanteans claim to be Martians who moved to Earth.
MYSTERIES OF ATLANTIS AND OUTER SPACE
So let’s assume that most of the aliens in the Retroverse, the ones that look human at least, are actually descended from earth humans, they’re from Ancient Atlantis, what can we tell about this Atlantis?
First thing – they’re not around any more. So obviously, something happened to them. Stick a pin in that one.
Second – it was a powerful civilization. It spread through the solar system and beyond, and established a multitude of colonies which have lasted into the present era. That’s engineering built to ten thousand year standards and beyond.
Through several movies, Wizards of Mars, Rocketship X-M, Angry Red Planet and Robinson Crusoe on Mars, we see that Mars has a (barely) breathable atmosphere, not quite enough to sustain life for long, but thick enough for animals, plants and for liquid water. That’s definitely not our Mars. Terraformed or partly terraformed? Again, that’s a powerful civilization.
There are a lot of space-societies that are literally women only, either totally female, or with only a tiny population of men: Queen of Outer Space, Missile to the Moon, Cat Women on the Moon, Fire Maidens From Outer Space, Abbot and Costello Go to Mars,Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, Space Ship Sappy and more.
There are a lot of other societies where women are dominant, they’re the official rulers, they are the ones captaining or piloting flying saucers, clearly making decisions in their cultures: Invasion of the Space Women, Los Astronautas, Flying Saucer Daffy, Invasion, Astounding She Monster, Invasion of the Star Creatures, Ship of Monsters, Space Thing, Alien Women and more.
Of course, not all of the societies out there are female or female dominated. But preponderance suggests that Atlantis was originally a matriarchal or amazon civilization, one where women rather than men ruled.
They mastered human longevity – on some of these colonies, the inhabitants appear to be hundreds, even thousands of years old, notably Fire Maidens from Outer Space and Abbot and Costello Go to Mars.
Several appear to show psychic abilities, hypnosis, telepathy, forms of telekinesis, but this is far from universal. Still, this does suggest a connection to the Krell, and may imply that Atlantis was able to advance quickly because they discovered or rediscovered Krell technology. Psychic powers show up in Abbot and Costello Go to Mars, Nude on the Moon and Cat Women on the Moon.
They also learned to create mutants, including humanoid mutants with expanded brains, disembodied brains and other creatures. Examples: This Island Earth, Ship of Monsters, Invaders from Mars, It Conquered the World and Zontar the Thing From Venus.
They created humanoid and ambulatory plants as guards, soldiers and workers. Even after the matriarchy fell, some of these plant monsters persisted. Some regressing to tree-like forms on a subarctic Island, another was frozen in ice until it was revived in the modern era. Others were used as guards or agents – Navy vs the Night Monsters, Invasion of the Saucer Men, The Thing From Another World and Invasion of the Star Creatures.
THE BATTLE BEYOND OUR SKYS
The preponderance of all these human societies on the Moon, Mars, Venus and elsewhere tells us that once about a time, there a major civilization, Atlantis, and it fell thousands of years ago.
So what happened after that? Here on Earth, civilization started over from the ground up and built itself back up. Mostly this is the history that we know, with a few wrinkles here and there.
But what happened out there?
By and large, very little. We know from the fact that many lasted to this day that they were self-contained and very well engineered. Build a habitat that lasts ten thousand years or so is top notch stuff. They were all designed to be self-sustaining and self-contained. So they didn’t need anything from each other, and largely, they didn’t have anything to offer to each other.
At the same time, these societies, individually or collectively lacked the resources to rebuild. We know that because they didn’t. They didn’t sweep back from outer space to rebuild Atlantean’s civilization on Earth. They didn’t build new colonies create a new civilization beyond the stars. They were built good enough to survive, but not to grow. So the only real option was splendid isolation.
Isolation also allowed the colonies to evolve in different directions socially. One society on Venus reverted to primitive savagery, in Planet of the Prehistoric Women. Other societies opted for gender equality, or even male domination, as in Masters of Venus, Plan Nine From Outer Space and This Island Earth.
Over time, things would occur. Some of the colonies probably failed, leaving only ruins behind. In Catwomen on the Moon, the colony is failing and the air is running out. That’s why the ‘cat women’ are so desperate to escape to Earth. In Have Rocket will Travel, the heroes find an empty city on Venus, killed off by the cities master computer.
In other cases inbreeding and a small mutation spreading through the community might result in a colony diverging considerably from the human norm. They might start to have green skin or antenna, or in the case of one group of Martians, end up looking like scrawny Frankenstein monsters in Three Stooges in Orbit, or like goblins in Wizards of Mars and Space Monster. However, technology and incredibly long life spans probably guarded against that.
In at least some colonies there appears to have been reproductive dysfunction, with either loss of males, Devil Girl From Mars, or loss of females, Mars Needs Women and Frankenstein versus the Space Monster, or widespread sterility. In at least some of these cases though, the cause was war.
Which brings us to war. We’ve talked about This Island Earth and Queen of Outer Space, but they aren’t the only movies that mention a war between worlds. In Devil Girl From Mars, a Martian dominatrix comes to Earth when her flying saucer breaks down, so she and her killer robot harass patrons of a local bar. She threatens them with her “perpetual motion ray.” But mainly she’s interested in a little heterosexual action. It turns out that while no one on Earth was paying attention, her people had a gender based space war, and all the men got wiped out. So she needs replacements. Of course, the British don’t go for that sort of thing at all so eventually one of them blows up her ship real good. She should have threatened to spank them all very severely.
Meanwhile, in Frankenstein vs the Space Monster, Princess Markuzan, who apparently shops at the same fetish store as the Devil Girl, is coming to Earth to abduct women, also because of a gender based space war. Markuzan is played by Marilyn Hanold, by the way, who also starred as a space amazon from Venus, in the Three Stooges short Space Ship Sappy.
That actually happened a lot in these movies by the way, in addition to Laurie Mitchell who played a space princess in Missile to the Moon who gets face eaten by a spider, and a face scarred ruler in Queen of Outer Space, there are also: Tania Velia and Mary Ford show up on Venus as amazons in both Missile to the Moon and Queen of Outer Space, Renate Hoy showed up as an amazon in Missile to the Moon and on Venus as well in Abbot and Costello Go to Mars, Nina Bara (Alpha) in Missile to the Moon and also as amazon Princess Tonga in Space Patrol. It’s just one of those things.
But I digress.
So what’s happening out in space is that over time a schism develops among the lost colonies of the Atlantis Matriarchy. While many or most remain female dominant, a minority evolve to egalitarianism or male domination. Perhaps coalitions begin to form. This minority calls themselves the Metaluna. War breaks out, the battle of the sexes is on. And the Metaluna are losing….
THE WAR COMES TO EARTH
Anyone remember the Great War? Also known as World War One? How about World War II? Anyway, both times, it came down to Germany and France facing off against each other. Millions of troops on either side, fortifications and defenses up the wazoo. Stalemate, neither side could win.
Until, the Germans figured out a way to beat France.
They invaded Belgium.
Belgium was this small out of the way country known for chocolate and sprouts, and for being the underachieving version of the Netherlands, or sometimes France-lite. Historically, the Belgians have been invaded by the Celts, the Romans, the Goths, the Franks, the French, the Germans, the British, the Dutch, the Danes, the Norwegians, the Spanish, the Germans again, the Americans, etc.. So apparently no one likes them, so I guess it serves them right for standing around in the middle of two world wars, you knew someone was going to do it.
But by invading Belgium, the Germans could bypass all of France’s defenses and fortifications and strike at Paris. It was a good strategy, it almost worked in WWI, and worked like a charm in WWII.
Earth was Belgium.
The reality was that the space people never really cared about Earth. It had 99% of the human population, and a planet full of resources. But on the other hand it was filthy, disease ridden, smelly, backwards and full of crude male dominated societies that thought beating each other with pointed sticks was the height of technology. The people there were barely human as far as the colonies were concerned. Once in a while a tourist might buzz the locals in a flying saucer, but that was about it. Nobody cared.
Except that the Metaluna were losing. They needed to pull a Belgium to survive, make a Hail Mary pass, do an end run, fight outside of the box.
So suddenly, the Metaluna got interested in Earth. Sure, smelly and primitive, but on the other hand, they’d invented flush toilets recently, radio, the combustion engine, the atomic bomb, rockets, they were making great strides, they had the beginnings of a crude industrial and manufacturing base.
The Metaluna were under pressure and short on everything. Taking over Earth could be a game changer. They would have access to Earth’s vast stores of radioactive elements and mineral resources, Earth’s power plants, it’s industrial base which could potentially be upgraded. They could access Earth’s greatest scientific minds, and perhaps with proper education, they could become useful. The Metaluna were losing and Earth offered a way to win.
And worse come to worse, if the Metaluna lost, they might need a new planet to live on.
Conquer Earth! Totally great idea. No downsides whatsoever.
Just one problem. All of the post-Atlantis colonies are small, they lack industrial bases. They’re tooling around with flying saucers that are thousands of years old. Some of them so poorly maintained that they’re leaking radiation and have to be flown wearing shielded suits in Earth vs the Flying Saucers.
To make matters worse, they fighting a defensive war, it’s not as if they have a whole lot of resources to spare. In the middle of Plan Nine From Outer Space, the invasion force gets cut back from three whole saucers, to one, with one guy and a henchwoman.
While we’re on the subject of Plan Nine from Outer Space, when you think about it, that means that they must have been at this for a while, if they’d already gone through eight previous plans. So what were the other eight plans? Looking at the movies, we can guess.
THE GREAT STRATEGY, NINE PLANS FROM OUTER SPACE
Plan 1 – Reconnaissance and Information Gathering: By the 1950’s, the Metaluna’s knowledge came from a very limited spectrum of radio and television, and actually travelling down to Earth to learn the ways of the locals. Think of it as ‘The Idiot’s Guide to Conquering Earth.’ This might lead to fairly innocuous encounters, Visit to a Strange Planet, a Martian in Paris. Or more dire operations such as kidnapping humans as in Thin Air, Not of This World, Cape Canaveral Monsters, Night Caller from Outer Space. Or field exercises in copying The Human Duplicators or Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Plan 2 – Disinformation: as primitive as the Earth people are, they’re coming along really fast and throwing atom bombs around, and there are a terrible lot of Earth people. Straight up conquest isn’t really viable. So just flying in with a fleet of saucers and squashing them, not really much of an option. Another bad idea? Telling the truth to Earthlings probably wasn’t a good option, they were a warlike, arrogant, difficult bunch. You probably didn’t want the United States to know that you were few thousands or tens of thousands of people on ancient colonies left over from a fallen civilization tooling around on thousand year old flying saucers. Big awesome mighty spacemen with godlike supernatural powers was the way to go. It’s like those old colonial stories where the European explorers come to the African or Asian village and pass themselves off as demigods with supernatural powers After all, Earthlings were also a cowardly and superstitious lot, so all they needed to do was dress up like bats… Wait, wrong comic! But you get the point: Never tell the truth, claim to be from Mars or some other planet, make up a planet, claim to be from a dying world, exaggerate, mislead, use biological robots, baffle them with bullshit… In Devil Girl From Mars, the devil girl threatens the locals with her ‘perpetual motion ray’? What does that even mean? … The point is that disinformation was part of every operation.
Plan 3 – Peaceful Contact and Pacification, aka We come in Peace: Send an emissary, claim to be from some Galactic Federation, tell the rubes you come in peace, lecture them on their warlike ways, and try and get them to roll over. This actually describes the Flying Saucer contactee movement of the 1950’s. Basically, back then, what would happen is that some random person would be walking along and a flying saucer would land in front of them. Some Nordic blondes would then come out, they’d offer the random person a joyride in their saucer, they’d say things like ‘nice planet’ don’t screw it up, mention that nuclear war and environment degradation was bad. Sometimes they’d offer muffins (I’m not kidding). The most famous contactee was George Adamski. In terms of the Retroverse, the most famous visitor was Klaatu and his big robot Gort, in The Day the Earth Stood Still, but there were a handful of movies in this vein, The Cosmic Man, Rocket Man, Red Planet Mars. Variations included coming to peacefully ask for help for their dying world, as in The Man From Planet X, or just messing benignly with people. Typically, the effort to peacefully take over by pulling the wool over our eyes didn’t go well, probably because of our stupid stupid minds. Sometimes the Metaluna would start off ‘we come in peace’ and then get nasty, as in Santos vs the Martian Invaders.
Plan 4 – Covert Cells and Subversion: Classic spy stuff – set up an operation on Earth. Earth accomplices are enlisted in It Conquered the World and Zontar, the Thing From Venus. A criminal gang is enlisted in The Flying Disk Man of Mars. This Island Earth was a covert operation to enlist a bunch of Earth scientists to work on their problems. Three Stooges in Orbit features an alien effort to steal an inventor’s military technology. The Flight That Disappeared seems to be about stealing scientists. Killers from Space tapped into America’s power grid.
Plan 5 – Takeover by Mind Control and Possession: So the Earthlings don’t want to do what you say. Simplest way to conquer them? Take over the leaders. Admittedly, a bit of practice was required to make sure you’ve got it right. So first take over some low level humans in out of the way spots and refine the techniques, try a few different approaches. It Came From Outer Space, Invaders from Mars, Quatermass II, They Came From Outer Space, It Conquered the World, Zontar, the Thing From Venus, The Brain From Planet Arous, Space Children, The Bubble, No Survivors, Not of This Earth. It’s a terrific plan, they kept trying and trying. They just never quite got it right.
Plan 6 – Replacement with Doppelgangers: Mind control can be a bit iffy. Why not just replace Earthlings entirely. This was the entire plot of the 60’s Sci Fi TV series, The Invaders, it’s also I Married a Monster From Outer Space, The Human Duplicators, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Day Mars Invaded Earth. The only downside was that the doppelgangers were often clumsy and obvious. Again, they never quite got it right.
Plan 7 – Destabilization, Disasters and Giant Monsters: What would make a takeover of Earth nations easier? Throw a few disasters their way. That way, if they’re off balance and running around coping, they won’t notice if you take over or replace a few leaders here and there. Even better, you can show up and ‘rescue’ the Earthlings and take over while they’re busy being grateful. For some reason, this seemed to translate to using giant creatures. This was actually part of the plan in both Robot Monster and Killers from Space, they were going to unleash giant lizards on human civilization. An alien is directly responsible for the Fifty Foot Woman. Monsters are unleashed in Teenagers From Outer Space, The Creeping Terror and Invasion of the Animal People. In The Strange World of Planet X, aliens ‘coincidentally’ intervene to rescue humanity from super-sized insects. Back in the 1950’s, there were a lot of giant monster incursions – giant ants in Them, giant grasshoppers in The Beginning of the End, giant scorpions in The Black Scorpion, The Giant Mantis, Tarantula, The Giant Claw, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, etc. They always followed a pattern – these creatures would show up out of nowhere, mature and full size, often in large numbers, and then they’d start on an almost military campaign through small towns before heading straight to a large center… almost as if they were being arranged and directed, by some mysterious agency behind the scenes. What happened here? Mainly, Earth humanity was a bit too good at blowing things up.
Plan 8 – Invasion: This whole conquest of Earth thing was just not going well. The various plans were not well coordinated, and different plans kept moving ahead at different times in different locations. Information gathering was flawed, Earthlings were too suspicious when you were nice to them, too stubborn when you took over their minds, replacing them with doppelgangers never quite worked right, and they kept blowing up the giant animals. A perfect strategy to quietly take over Earth had turned into a shambles of competing, under-resourced schemes getting in each other’s way. Meanwhile, the war with Venus was going from bad to worse. The Metaluna were getting desperate. Even if they weren’t ready, it was time for the full scale invasion…. As seen in Santos vs the Martian Invasion, Earth Dies Screaming, The Day Mars Invaded Earth, and particularly, the big push Earth vs the Flying Saucers. In the end, this too fails, the Metaluna simply don’t have enough ships to carry it off, the grand strategy is a mess, the humans are too tough and Venus is about to win its war and destroy Metaluna.
Plan 9 – Reanimation of the Dead aka They’re Out of Ideas: Seriously, this got dumped to the bottom of the list because it was a bad idea, but someone importants’ nephew proposed it and no one could outright say no. Plan Nine From Outer Space, Invisible Invaders, Night of the Living Dead. If they’ve gotten this far down the list, they’ve pretty much lost hope.
SO WHAT’S THE PLANET OF LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
While the Metaluna are desperately trying to take over Earth in the vain hope of saving their bacon, what are the Venerians doing? Mostly they’re winning their war.
They don’t really care about Earth. It’s full of smelly, primitive misogynists, and they’re happy enough to let the Metaluna flounder. Now and then, as in Flying Saucer Daffy, or Invasion of the Star Creatures, they might buzz around to see what the Earthlings are up to. But really, not a priority.
But after the war, the Venerians start to get a little concerned about Earth. Earthlings are fine, on Earth. They’re welcome to it, it’s a giant toilet. They can have it, good for them. Earthling’s in space? That’s a lot less appealing. They might be wanting to put a stop to that.
And in fact, the early space program runs into a lot of obstacles. Such as a mysterious layer of wildly growing spores in Earth’s upper atmosphere, so that anything that goes up comes back down contaminated, as we see in Space Master X7, The First Man Into Space, The Quatermass Xperiment, The Blob, Agent From H.A.R.M., and The Flame Barrier.
Female aliens attempt to obstruct the space program in Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, Moon Pilot, Unearthly Stranger, Alien Women. There are other attacks on the space program by unidentified forces.
A series of asteroids move into a collision orbit with Earth, in Death From Outer Space and When Worlds Collide, some of them contaminated with mysterious spores in the Green Slime and The War Between the Planets – Earth is literally in a shooting gallery.
THE WARS OF ALL THE WORLDS
The universe of the Retroverse is largely a history of ancient alien relics and ruins, and small human civilizations scattered in pockets around the solar system with their robots and biological constructs. It’s a history of a war between genders and worlds, happening above our heads, that we are barely aware of, and confused, poorly planned and equipped missions to Earth whose only real successes are deception and confusion. By and large that accounts for most of it.
There is one big anomaly. A genuine alien civilization, not human men, not human women, not insects or psychic constructs, mechanical or biological robots, but true genuine honest to god aliens, who appear in sufficient numbers and with sufficient power to squash humanity like a bug. That’s the ‘Martian’ invaders of War of the Worlds.
You were wondering what happened to the Matriarchy of Atlantis?
We find out in the Terrornauts. In this extremely low budget British production, an astronomer intercepts mysterious signals from the outer edges of the solar system. He makes contact with an automated installation and discovers that over ten thousand year ago, there was a star travelling civilization. It encountered another race they know only as the Enemy – a race of cold intelligences from smaller, colder worlds with tri-lobed ships using beam weapons, and implacable hostility. In the war that ensued, the Enemy were beaten back, but only at the cost of the fall of the civilization as the Enemy found a way to regress humans to savagery. But before it fell, it managed to construct a semi-automated defense installation, in case the Enemy ever came back. This installation requires humans, particularly a woman, to operate its weapons (apparently that requires wearing shower caps). And the Enemy are coming back.
The tri-lobed ships of the Enemy aren’t quite the ‘Martian’ war machines of War of the Worlds, but there’s a passing similarity. The fact that they come from ‘smaller colder worlds’ is also suggestive.
The time frame in the Terrornauts, the fact that the installation was built to protect the solar system, and the fact that it requires a woman to be fully operational all seem to point towards the Matriarchy of Atlantis. So now we know what happened to them, why the matriarchy fell, why Earth was reduced to savagery, and why the colonies were left on the vine. It also means that the events of Terrornauts were the first battle in the new War of the Worlds when that Enemy returned finally.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars, a manned mission goes wrong, leaving our hero as a castaway. Luckily he learns to survive, and even meets a ‘Friday,’ but from time to time, they’re hunted by the war machines from War of the Worlds, which are established to be from deep space. Friday’s word for the war machines? It’s the same as in Terrornauts: The Enemy.
The new War of the Worlds wasn’t confined to Earth alone. Robinson Crusoe explicitly establishes that the Enemy had invaded Mars, just as they did Earth. In fact Mars shows signs of the Enemy in other films. Angry Red Planet gives us a glimpse of a three eyed giant. Rocketship X-M features a ruined Martian city so recently destroyed that it is still radioactive, with the inhabitants reduced to savagery. Ruined cities show up in Angry Red Planet and Wizard of Mars. Like Robinson Crusoe, the Wizard of Mars, Rocketship X-M, Conquest of Space, Flight to Mars all feature crash landings. Mission Mars and Angry Red Planet features astronauts meeting a mysterious force hostile to their presence. Clearly Mars was attacked and devastated, generations later, they are still hostile to outsiders.
Although there’s no evidence one way or the other, it’s likely that the Enemy attacked the matriarchy colonies on Venus as well. If so, then the Venerians, after ten thousand years of relative peace, suddenly within a generation, have fought two savage wars, one against the patriarchy of Metaluna, and another against the old Matriarchy’s nemesis, the Enemy. Do they really want to risk another interplanetary war, this one against the thuggish primitive patriarchies of Earth? Perhaps this is one of the reasons why, in the era of space travel there is so much early opposition and hostility to Earth going into space.
War of the Worlds is the War and Peace of the Retroverse, it is the great era spanning epic. This is not only the one true massive alien invasion, with clearly genuine aliens, it also connects us to many other films. . Byron Haskins, the effects director, went on to helm Robinson Crusoe, which is why the Martian war machines are identical in both movies. While it doesn’t recycle costumes, sets or props from other movies, as was so common in this era, actors in War of the Worlds appeared as other characters in 37 other sci fi movies of the Retroverse. And it’s loosely linked to other movies, most critically the Terrornauts. It may have been even vaster than we knew on Earth.
Here’s a final speculation about the Enemy and the War of the Worlds. In the end, the Enemy were destroyed, not by anything Earthlings could do, but by simple bacteria. So the human race got lucky. Or did it?
Given how utterly alien the Enemy were, what are the odds they’d be affected by any earthly bacteria. Maybe it wasn’t luck. Maybe the bacteria had been designed and seeded into Earth’s atmosphere by the ancient matriarchy long ago, or by the Venerians as their contribution to the war. Food for thought.
ONWARDS TO THE FUTURE…
There’s more to the story of course. More details, more nuance. There’s all these background connections between the movies, shared spaceships and stock footage, shared props and costumes, actors in the same roles, similarities in themes and stories. Some of them in quite surprising places. There’s cheesy stories to dissect, background information to match up.
There are overlooked chapters: Lost matriarchy relics on Earth. An earlier history of space travel using cannons to reach outer space. Monsters to explain. There’s a World War Three, which, while destructive, humanity manages to survive.
There might be a glancing history with another alien race – those one eyed, tentacle monsters that show up now and then. And perhaps the story of the psychic monsters and the plant beings is a little more nuanced and complex than we’ve alluded here.
There’s time travel, and alternate universes. Not many, but a few. Time Travel is harder in this universe, people go forward, but it’s not so easy to go back, and changing history is seldom done.
Going into the future? America, reaches out into space. So does England, and peculiarly Italy and Mexico. There’s an entire history of homemade rockets and space ships built by private companies and rich enthusiasts. Obviously impossible in our world, but in this one, there’s a lot of crashed flying saucers, leftover wreckage and technological odds and ends from the Matriarchy, the Venerians, the Metaluna and the Enemy, so maybe that has something to do with it.
The people of Earth go out into the Solar System, meet their long lost cousins. The Solar System is revitalized. This becomes the era of TV shows like Space Patrol, Tom Corbett: Space Cadet, Rocky Jones: Space Ranger. Humanity goes out to the stars together. That the ship from Forbidden World is a saucer suggests to me that the two branches of the human race have reconciled and united, to eventually boldly go where no man has gone before.
And that’s it.
I recommend these movies. I think you should look up some of them, check them out. Give them a look.
One of the fun things about the Retroverse is that it invites a completely new reading of each film, one from the point of view of the ‘aliens’ operating on a history and an agenda which may be completely different from what these primitive humans have been misled to think. You can watch these films in new ways, and perhaps see them in a larger context as part of some greater design.
I’ll be blunt, a lot of them probably haven’t aged well. These films weren’t state of the art when they were made, and often they were pretty low budget and shoestring by the standards of the time. We’re light years away in terms of special effects, dynamic cinematography, pacing… everything about movies has advance. They’re often naively sexist, and good luck finding a person of color anywhere. Their idea of diversity is to have an Italian in the crew. They’re very much an artifact of their age.
If you watch them, you can probably have a lot of fun mocking them, groaning at clichés or ridiculousness in the stories, implausibilities in the plots, zippers on the monsters, and strings on the spaceships. It’s weird, but I think that the cheesier movies hold up better today, their ridiculousness and shortcuts add more of a sense of fun. I don’t mind that, I’m snarky myself. But I think mine is affectionate snark.
But overall, there’s something about the science fiction movies of this era. There’s an … optimism, a sense that whatever challenges the world poses, we can overcome. There’s a faith in these movies, not in religion, but in humanity and in science. These are movies where people come together to meet their crises, sometimes imperfectly, but they come together. Where the state or the enterprise is not indifferent, but has people’s backs. Perhaps it’s naive, but its uplifting.
I think Star Trek was the last gasp of that idealistic, optimistic sensibility. Star Trek picked up the torch from the Retroverse and built its own universe. Good for them.
The world was changing by the end of the 1960’s, Vietnam, Watergate, the oil crisis and stagflation sapped people’s confidence. Suddenly the future wasn’t bright, or even clear. There was an era of rudderless dystopian science fiction, stuff that matched the trepidation of the 1970’s.
Then in the 80’s and 90’s, we had Giger’s Universe, dystopian landscapes of aliens, terminators and road warriors. These were battered and dusty worlds, a bit worn and weathered, ruled, when they were ruled at all, by authoritarian governments and faceless corporations, neither of which could be relied upon. Instead, people were thrown onto their own resources fighting as individuals, or small beleaguered groups. It reflected a more cynical, more brutal era.
But the sci fi of the 50’s and 60’s, I think there was something special there. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of the Retroverse, a cinematic universe in hindsight, built of ancient civilizations, gleaming silver rocketships, flying saucers, brave men and alien women.