Not of this Earth (1957) is one of director/producer Roger Corman’s earliest science-fiction efforts, and one of his best. It followed on the heels of Day the World Ended (1955) and It Conquered the World (1956) and directly preceded one of his more notoriously enjoyable titles Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957). These films possess charm chiefly through the obvious enthusiasm for the material, but in terms of filmmaking were never able to escape their poverty row production values. Not of This Earth is slightly different, and feels like a much more professional production. The performances are of particular note and Corman composes some finely structured sequences of suspense. But the major difference is in the tone and atmosphere of the piece. This film perhaps more than any illustrated the manner in which the horror film had been absorbed into science fiction in the 1950’s. The writers Charles B. Griffith (who also wrote a number of other Corman films such as A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and The Wild Angels (1966)) and Mark Hanna offer up an interesting interpretation of vampirism for a post war America paranoid about nuclear annihilation.
The brief running time of the film naturally means that much is left unexplained. For example how does Johnson come by his wealth? How long has he been on Earth? Why hasn’t his murderous actions raised greater suspicion? The police investigation is typically perfunctory, inefficient, and clueless. The question of Johnson’s wealth is important because he is able to install an alien device for transporting matter to and from his planet in a cupboard in his study without arousing suspicion. Furthermore the acrid stench of burning flesh that emanates from the chimney of his basement also goes undetected. This tells us a lot about American suburban life in the 1950’s - emphasis is placed on docility and an unthinking culture of trust - or maybe they're just plain dumb. Johnson has a novel way for killing his victims. Once the sunglasses are off we see his terrifying alien eyes (genuinely effective the first time) and he burns the victims brains out with his steely gaze. Despite these narrative shortcomings the ’otherness’ of Johnson is extremely well conveyed. It is the pliant and easily deceived human beings who lack credibility.
© Shaun Anderson - 2010