SETI Meets IKEA

The star of Roger Corman’s 1956 schlocker It Conquered The World is the title “It”—a special-effects vegetable, dubbed ‘Beulah’ by the crew, that looks like a satanic rutabaga carved into a sex toy. Beulah makes its (her?) entry nigh on near film’s end, as she rolls out of a cave in Bronson Canyon (the poor man’s—the VERY poor man’s—substitute for Monument Valley), waves a pair of lobster claws at the camera, and makes a mean face, before dispatching a few extras dragged onscreen for that purpose. It’s like a sci-fi Veggie Tales gone berserk.

Audiences must’ve been agog in disbelief. (And probably put off their feed when next offered tubers at dinner.)

There have been more memorable entrances in cinema (John Wayne’s first scene in Stagecoach, in—yes!—Monument Valley, comes to mind). But Beulah’s build-up has been pretty big by B-movie standards. Throughout the film Lee Van Cleef (whose supremely saturnine features look as if having been subjected to a similar carving as Beulah’s) has been in intimate communication with our titular conqueror, who, he says, is a Being From Venus. I can’t say I’ve met any Venusians myself, but my pop-cult impression is that such a celestial creature would be along the zaftiggy lines of Zsa Zsa Gabor. Meaning she’d be one sexy hot dish, if you catch my drift.

About the closest Beulah gets to a hot dish is that she seems ready to be peeled and baked into one, so long as you disregard the scowling attitude. But Beulah is more than a bad-tempered turnip. She is, boasts Lee, a Superior Intelligence, one who’s chews the fat with him via his communication device, which looks a high-end ham-radio set crossed with a convection oven. It’d probably come in handy if ever Lee, after a long conquest-plotting session with his carroty friend (with maybe a few gardening tips exchanged), gets the munchies and decides to whip up something into a healthy snack. Something like Beulah, perhaps.

Of course, it might be Beulah who does the whipping-up…

I’ve seen this film several times—OK, call me a glutton for punishment, if you like—but during my latest viewing a certain feature stood out for me. And that was, where Lee happens to have stuck his rotisserie-transmitter gadget when on the horn with his interstellar pal. I noted that he kept it on a desk right smack in his living room. Where, I must admit, it fit in with the rest of the furnishings as much as Beulah could be taken for a fourth Gabor sister. A lack of congruence, if you will.

Sisters Under the Skin

I don’t know about you, but if I were Mrs. Lee, and I saw my husband plonk down that oversized walkie-talkie next to my lacquered sideboard and coordinated sectionals, I’d be yelling Get-that-damn-thing-out-of-my-living-room-and-into-the-basement-RIGHT-now. Although it may be that Lee doesn’t haven’t a basement to shove it in. Or, if he does, maybe it’s been flooded. Or maybe he’s using it as a root cellar. I suspect the last; in fact, I suspect that’s where Beulah actually is, hiding out with the beets and brussels sprouts while she pulls off a neat bit of pre-Internet catfishery: fooling Lee into thinking he’s contacted a Zsa Zsa from outta this world. Instead of some jumbo radish in sore need of a manicure.

In any case, in the living room is where Lee has parked himself and his electronic homemaker erector set; and now he must find a way to make that gizmo as unobtrusive as possible among all the chic chintz, glass, and faux interior brick. And his solution is staggeringly simple. He merely puts the desk behind a curtain. You see the beautiful logic of this, don’t you? When the curtains are closed, the living room is for relaxing. Open, and it’s ready for work. A swish of a drape and personal and professional areas are neatly split. Creating, in effect, the B-movie version of the home office.

By Jove, I thought. Lee hasn’t discovered Life on Venus. He’s discovered IKEA!

It was as if a sudden stream of light (the kind that comes from a discreetly placed wall sconce) had hit me. I now understood what was really going on, Beulah-wise. It’s conquest, all right, but not the kind we thought. It’s something far more subtle, more—designed. Because guys like Lee don’t go around thinking up ways to partition small living rooms into stylishly multi-functional spaces. Searchers for extraterrestrial intelligence aren’t seeking home design solutions. What, you think Mr. Super Bad-Ass Lee Van Cleef came up with that space-segregating idea? Are you kidding me?

No, that notion had to come from Beulah. That’s been her conquest plan all along. After all, is it any accident that rutabagas are nicknamed “swedes”? All the time she’s been lurking in that sod vault she’s been ringing up Lee on that transistor microwave thingy of his and cooing sweet nothings in his ear—such as how a strategic placement of table behind drape can maximize space and produce two rooms within one. A tug on a curtain cord, a screen here and there, et voilà—a home-décor revolution is born. And it sweeps the world!

Hooray for Swedish meatballs!

Now we know what Lee really meant by Superior Intelligence.

So that’s how I figure how It Conquered the World: not through space ships but through space savers; not by divide-and-conquer but by room dividers. Thanks to Beulah, we’ve become space-savvy. We’re glutted with box stores and particle board; we think in terms of multi-purpose rooms, coordinated place settings, and fuzzy pillows. We know how to stash the shoes, arrange the armoires, and organize the ormolu. We store, shape, stack, even stock the veggies from the cellar. “At last every dream of man can be realized,” crows Lee. Meaning we’ve finally found a place for everything, and everything in its place.

(As long as we can keep track of where we stowed all that damn stuff in the first place.)

Face it, readers: fuzzy pillows are here to stay. ‘Cause Beulah says so.

And this is one bad-ass neep who won’t take no for an answer.

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