The Ship of Monsters directed by Rogelio A. Gonzalez
There are certain films that are so outrageous, so bizarre, so very unique or dumbfounding, that the viewer cannot believe what he or she is looking at while watching them. Such motion pictures leave the viewer wondering things like: What were those filmmakers thinking? How can a movie like this possibly exist? Some of those films, such as The Great Gabbo (1929), The Shanghai Gesture (1941), Blood Freak (1972) and The Worm Eaters (1977), leave the viewer slack-jawed but with the desire never to see them again; they are unique but either tiresomely boring or unpleasantly repugnant. Others, such as Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), Gonks Go Beat (1965) and Barbarella (1968), similarly leave the viewer stunned by their outre quality, but with the desire to watch the films again sometime; films that must be placed into that dubious category “so bad they’re good.” Writing of Plan 9 is his wonderful reference volume Cult Movies, Danny Peary tells us, “To think that such an inept, berserk picture exists truly boggles the mind.” And yes, there is certainly something both endearing and awe inspiring about those bizarre, one-of-a-kind films that still make us want to experience them again … and again and again. Into that latter grouping, happily, must go the movie that I watched just the other evening, the Mexican wonder entitled The Ship of Monsters. Originally released in Mexico City in January 1960 under the title La Nave de los Monstruos, this unique, sui generis experience manages to conflate a singing cowboy, aliens, grotesque monstrosities from other worlds, comedy, a female vampire, musical/dance numbers and some truly delightful/awful special FX into one charming and unforgettable film experience. It is a film that I have seen clips of throughout the years, and indeed, any fan of sci-fi or horror films has most likely heard or read of this stunner from south of the border. Fortunately, in today’s Digital Era, the viewing of the film is now a relatively easy matter, as I was happy to discover just recently.
In the film, the viewer learns that all the men of Venus have been wiped out in some kind of atomic holocaust. Thus, the female leader of the planet (Consuelo Frank) sends out a space vessel with the supremely important mission of bringing back males from all over the galaxy to help repopulate the dying world. The two-women crew of this mission consists of the Venusian captain Gamma (Ana Bertha Lepe, the former Miss Mexico 1953, and future star of numerous Santo movies) and Beta (Lorena Velazquez, Miss Mexico 1960, and future star of 1964’s The Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy), supposedly the best navigator from the planet Ur (which this viewer took to mean Uranus), both of whom are major-league bombshells and appear throughout most of this film wearing one-piece bathing suits and high heels. The mission goes well, and the pair manages to find four alien males that they put into frozen stasis in their ship’s hold. But problems arise when the ship’s engine goes a bit haywire and the two are forced to make a landing on Earth, specifically in the area of Chihuahua, Mexico. There, they encounter Lauriano (Eulalio Gonzalez), a handsome, song-filled, good-hearted yet compulsive liar and braggart, who lives with his kid brother Chuy (Heberto Davila, Jr.). Passing themselves off as circus performers, Gamma and Beta introduce Lauriano to their robotic servant Torr (as lumbering a tin man as any since the one that appeared in 1954’s Devil Girl From Mars), stash their four frozen aliens in a nearby cave (for some obscure reason) while they effect repairs, and simultaneously fall for the charms of the handsome Mexican showoff. And just when the viewer begins to think that things cannot possibly get any wilder here, it turns out that Beta has the ability to turn herself into a bat, and is in fact a vampiress who attacks an unfortunate local and drains him of his blood! For this crime, the Venusian leader sentences her to death whenever she should return, declaring, “Drinking human blood is the worst crime in the galaxy!” And so, Beta does what any lusty and desperate bloodsucker might do: free the four frozen aliens and, with their assistance, plan to conquer all of planet Earth…
Packed into this fast-moving, 81-minute wonder are four musical numbers, an endless stream of very amusing one-liners, several scenes of goofy romance, two dukeouts between Lauriano and the assorted aliens, and a generous dollop of pleasingly inept special FX. Stealing the show, at least for this viewer, are the four aliens that have been captured by the two space vixens. First up for our delectation is the Martian Tagual, a diminutive, goggle-eyed, enormous-headed creature with a likewise huge (and very visible) corrugated brain. Uk, the muscle-bound cyclops, is very tall and very scaly, the self-described “King of the Fire Planet” (Mercury?), and is rarely seen without some thick white slaver dripping from his maw. Utirr, who calls himself the “Crassus of the Red Planet” (whatever a “Crassus” might be; and is that Mars again?), is a hairy and bipedal monstrosity with poisonous fangs. And lastly, and perhaps most bizarrely, is Zok, a skeletal alien whose race “lost their material form,” and whose head is reminiscent of nothing less than a bony rendition of Svengoolie’s Kerwyn. My poor powers of description cannot convey to you how truly outrageous these four appear on screen.
The Ship of Monsters grows increasingly delirious as it proceeds, never more so than in the scene where Lauriano tries to steal some kind of control device from Beta’s belt. Thus, as a distraction while in that torchlit cavern, he begins to sing a love song to the alien vampiress, pursuant to which the two break into a dance number. Mind boggling! Even more flabbergasting: the fact that the robot Torr, whom Lauriano has called Tractorr throughout, eventually winds up falling in love with a jukebox, which our hero strangely has in the living room of his “hacienda”! And the film builds to a socko conclusion, during which we are treated to a battle royale with Lauriano fighting Utirr, Chuy battling Tagual, and Torr duking it out with Uk. (Points off for the mysterious disappearance of Zok; I still can’t figure out what happened to his bony presence.) It is all outrageous, wonderful, unique and extraordinary entertainment. Trust me … you have never seen anything like it!
The Ship of Monsters has been directed with an emphasis on fast-moving fun by Rogelio A. Gonzalez from a script by Alfredo Varela, Jr. That script, as mentioned above, contains any number of amusing lines. For example, when Lauriano first sees a few of the alien monsters, he opines, “Bunch of rebels without causes here.” In regard to the horrendous Utirr, Gamma tells Beta, “He’s a male, a strange and terrible one, but a male nonetheless.” (Hmm, perhaps this viewer would make out alright on Venus!) In a conversation between Tagual and Beta, the Martian tells the voluptuous sexpot, “You’re ugly. You lack the red beauty of the women of Mars.” And when Lauriano first sees the cyclops Uk, he declares, “Oh, brother, you’re an ugly one. Looks like they carved you out with a hatchet!” As for those special FX that I mentioned, they are of the Ed Wood variety, surely, and like those in Plan 9, they are endearingly cheesy. When Lauriano accidentally triggers some kind of antigrav effect on that belt’s control device and floats into the air, absolutely no attempt is made to conceal the rope from which he is dangling. The creature costumes have been imaginatively constructed using a minimum of pesos, it seems, and the rocket ship’s interior is just barely more impressive looking than the one to be found in that Ed Wood classic.
The net result of all this is a truly unforgettable experience, and indeed, it seems to me that The Ship of Monsters will one day be getting its long overdue cult status. It is the kind of film that can be enjoyed by adults as well as by children. Little ones who are too young to read and follow along with subtitles — and I might add here that the print that I just watched of The Ship of Monsters was a very decent one with easily readable subtitles — should still be delighted with the enchanting visuals that this film dishes out in spades. This is the kind of picture that I can see being watched often, perhaps annually. Only the grumpiest of sourpusses will look upon this film with distaste; all others will surely be entertained on some level. As Lauriano himself might declare, it’s just “Asombroso!”
I got distracted by the fang monsters death-throes, but I want to say I’m very happy Torr got a love story.
I was once in love with a jukebox myself, but not, uh, physically attracted to it…. :)