Mars Needs Men

Here’s a trivia question for cult-science-fiction-film fans:  name two sci-fi films that take place in Scotland. (Take your time…)

One film should come easily to mind:  1951’s The Man From Planet X, probably the first of the outer-space-alien-meets-earthlings movies.  Directed by cult director supreme Edgar Ulmer, it’s known for its fog-shrouded Scottish landscape (meant to disguise the non-Scottish set borrowed from 1948’s Joan of Arc) and its odd title character, who speaks in musical tones.

Give yourself some points for guessing the second, a cult oddity supreme by any standards:  1954’s Devil Girl From Mars.

That’s Me!

Cult doesn’t begin to describe it…

As with the Ulmer film, this later one, although taking place north of Hadrian’s Wall, takes no advantage of stunning Scottish scenery.  Instead, the story happens on only a few sets (it was apparently based on a play), mainly a small Scottish inn where its characters (the innkeepers, a fashion model, a reporter, a scientist, an escaped convict) talk, drink tea, and then talk some more about the spaceship that’s just happened to land in the back yard.  Not your everyday backyard occurrence, I would guess.  Nor everyday is the title character who strides out of that spaceship:  the black-leather-clad, disintegrating-raygun-wielding Devil Girl, who has left her sterile planet Mars on a life-or-death mission—to find some healthy, adventurous Men of Earth to help her and the other Red girls repopulate her planet.

Yet in spite of such a tempting invitation (how much unpleasantness could repopulating a planet involve?), not one Earthman she meets wants to go.

Why ever not?

I’m inclined to think this reluctance a mite astonishing because of the actress who embodies the titular Demonic Lady From Way Beyond The Outer Hebrides.  As the Devil Girl, Patricia Laffan, in all her leather-laced glory, makes this movie memorable.  Most of us have probably seen Laffan in MGM’s 1951 production of Quo Vadis, in which, as depraved empress Poppea, she played her part like a debauched sophisticate who’s become bored with the whole Lion-eating-Christian thing and now wants to move on to something more entertaining.  That role seemed like a warm-up for her Devil Girl here.  Clad in body-hugging all-over-black, with black skirt, boots, skullcap, gloves, and stockings, and set off with an ankle-length black cape that would do Dracula proud, she’d fit right into any New York City East Village Goth scene, no questions asked.  Her outfit may bring to mind a high-priced S&M dominatrix, one who not only expects you to submit to discipline but like it.  And her face evokes a Man Ray mask—high, cutting cheekbones, a slash of a mouth, and slits for eyes, its angular planes carved into a permanent sneer, as if all she beheld displeased her.  It’s matched by Laffan’s grand-duchess-addressing-the-filthy-peasants voice, spitting out words with a glacially precise enunciation, lips shaping themselves around each syllable like a newly sharpened razor slicing round a chin.  It may not be musically toned, but for my money it’s far more … interesting to hear.

Given all of the above, perhaps it’s no surprise that the good, proper Earthlings who meet this Travelling Space Lady are shocked and slow to comply.  Bringing none of the customary intergalactic offers of peace or conquest, DG (if I may be so informal) ain’t your typical outer-space visitor.  Wrapped in that shiny black fabric (one wonders:  does it breathe?), and flaunting her space-age assets, she’s distinctly—different.  Yet all she wants are just a few good men to engage in some intergalactic canoodling.  What’s so, er, different about that?

I mean, really–what’s the diff?

Ah, well, no accounting for tastes.  DG just may be an acquired one.

What’s not surprising is how DGFM is today rightly considered a schlock-tastic classic (you can find appreciative entries for it in both The Psychotronic Encylopedia of Film, and its worthy follow-up, The Psychotronic Video Guide to Film).  With its retro sexual politics, off-kilter dialogue and plot (when the going gets tough, the Highlanders go for a dish of tea), made-up scientific jargon, low-grade sets and special effects, and an overall aura of you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me, it’s as guilty a pleasure as is DG’s mission.  Typical of its effects is the Devil Girl’s companion robot, which resembles a walking refrigerator with arms; it doesn’t do much except stand around as if waiting for someone to reset the ice maker.  (If the repopulating idea doesn’t grab, maybe DG should consider a future in home appliances?)  Another pleasure of the film is the presence of a young and utterly gorgeous Hazel Court, who plays the model, and whose glowing looks bring to mind a dewy rose—the kind that might easily inspire an Earthman to stay put on his home planet after all.

Dewy Rose Meets Man Ray Mask

Dewy roses aside, what’s also of interest is the film’s poster (seen at page top and now a collector’s item), which, in true low-budget cinema style, promises more than the film delivers.  Its images portend something Pretty Big in the hullabaloo department, particularly in its foregrounded illustration of a blank-faced Devil Girl in skintight suit, looking for all the world/s (here and on Mars) like a runway model in a space-age S&M fashion show.  Behind the lady can be seen images of intergalactic mayhem, including a space ship, a giant robot, and a death ray setting alight houses, trees, and members of the Scottish citizenry.  Almost none of this sizzling action happens in the film, but who cares.  Laffan’s black-leather ice princess, lips snarled in scorn, is what makes it worth watching.  Skip the tea and go for DG.  Utterly essential viewing.

BONUS CLIP: Too busy to watch a whole movie?  Courtesy of YouTube channel DiogeneDe3Rivieres, here’s Devil Girls From Mars (yes, she comes from Mars!) compressed into two minutes.  Note the emphasis on swishing black fabric and flung-open french windows.  “Come!” (DG says that a lot here):

This article was originally posted on Grand Old Movies’ Tumblr site, and has been reprinted here in slightly modified form.

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