From the director of some of the best Universal Studios science fiction films of the 1950s comes this nearly forgotten tale of an alien visitor influencing a group of Earth kids into doing its bidding. Never before available on home video, Paramount’s THE SPACE CHILDREN gets a surprise Blu-Ray disc from Olive Films (who are simultaneously releasing it on DVD).
Technician Dave Brewster (Adam Williams, the star of 1952’s WITHOUT WARNING!) takes his wife Anne (Peggy Webber, THE SCREAMING SKULL) and their two small boys Bud (top-billed Michel Ray, THE BRAVE ONE) and Ken (Johnny Crawford, VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS) to the beachside “Eagle Point Missile Project” military base to start a new job assignment. With the family making themselves cozy in their new trailer, the boys quickly become friendly with six other children living on the base, all the offspring of scientists and technicians who work there. All the children gather nightly at a secret meeting place in a cave, but on this particular night, they witness a mysterious beam of light from the sky transporting an object to the ground, close to where they are. Locating the object, they discover it to be white, brain-like pulsating glob which communicates to the obedient children telepathically and appoints Bud, the elder Brewster boy, the leader. The alien’s objective is to prevent the missile known as The Thunderer to launch into orbit.
The same night, Dave is coerced into escorting all the children back to the cave and bringing the alien glob back to the trailer (it doesn’t stay there long, as it unexplainably grows larger at an alarming rate). The boys can’t reveal to their father what it’s all about, and what the repugnant visitor’s intentions are, and when Dave attempts to warn Colonel Alan Manley (Richard Shannon) that the launch might be in jeopardy, he becomes speechless and collapses. When the adults finally tie the children to a number of odd occurrences throughout the day, all related to awaited Thunderer launch, concerned scientist Dr. Wahrman (Raymond Bailey, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) tries to reason with the alien glob (now fairly enormous in size) but the children it still has full control of, stand together with their arms spread and guard it from outside its cavernous abode, as the pesky adults attempt to intervene during the climax.
Director Jack Arnold (who helmed such Universal sci-fi classics as THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) considered THE SPACE CHILDREN his personal favorite, likely due to its anti-war message concerning nuclear disarmament and the obvious care he put into it. But despite it trying to be a thought-provoking, intelligent sci-fi potboiler, it still manages to grasp all the expected B movie traits and plot holes, with a rubbery, shapeless monster at the center of it all. Running a brisk 69 minutes, the film’s low budget doesn’t deter from Arnold’s suspenseful, mood-filled direction and the stark black and white cinematography, and the special effects aren’t too bad either (what little there are). But the modest production values makes it easy to differentiate when it’s being shot in a studio as opposed to real locations. All in all, this is still a fun and campy 1950s cold war sci-fi, even if it does at times play out like an expanded “Twilight Zone” episode.
A veteran of several Jack Arnold pictures, Russell Johnson (here billed as “Russell D. Johnson), appears as one of the children’s fathers (actually a stepfather). He’s got a great bit part as an abusive, drunkard who you know has it coming to him (he also looks and dresses just like he did in his most famous role of “The Professor” on “Gilligan’s Island”). Obviously at a career low in the years before “The Addams Family” TV series, former child star Jackie Coogan also appears as one of the dads subjected to intimidation by the annoying extra terrestrial glob (at one point the bald character actor can be seen modeling a pair of ridiculous swimming trunks). Sandy Descher, the doe-eyed little girl from THEM, plays Coogan’s daughter, and although she’s a few years older, she’s instantly recognizable from Warner Brother's giant ant classic. Peter Baldwin (Barbara Steele’s co-star in THE GHOST) and a young Ty Hardin (BERSERK) can also be seen as missile base officers.
As stated, THE SPACE CHILDREN has never before been released on home video. Clips from it showed up in 1982’s comedy montage IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD, but I don’t think the film has been seen since it aired on the USA Network back in the 1980s (not counting the 1990s MST 3000 mockery). Olive Films rescues another Paramount vault title from obscurity by unleashing it on Blu-Ray in a 1080p resolution High Definition transfer displaying a fiting 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The black and white image looks quite good here, sharp throughout the presentation. The greyscale is nicely modulated, and black levels look fairly deep. The print source does suffer some scattered speckling and blemishes, but it’s never anything too distracting to the viewer. The 1.0 mono English track is encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio, and is strong for a cheap little 1950s film, with no detectable hiss or distortion. The dialog and sound effects are clear and crisp, and the eerie score by Van Cleave (CONQUEST OF SPACE) also comes through nice and powerful. There are no extras, but the film has been divided into eight chapters. (George R. Reis)
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