Devil Girl from Mars (1954)

EPSON MFP image

three star

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If most people had access to a single trip in a time machine, they’d likely use it to do some kind of good deed: saving a life, preventing a tragedy, correcting a mistake, etc. If I could take a single trip in a time machine, I’d waste it on something stupid, namely getting drunk with Ed Wood & attending a screening of Devil Girl from Mars. So much of Devil Girl from Mars feels like standard Ed Woodian fare that I suspect the infamous weirdo schlockmeister would’ve gotten a kick out of the film & perhaps been inspired by it to make something truly astounding. Devil Girl from Mars takes the same lofty, but empty stage play dialogue of Plan 9 from Outer Space & marries it to the same absurdly cheap, but highly memorable sci-fi visual effects. Yet, the film feels oddly flat & uninteresting for long stretches in a way that Ed Wood’s sci-fi work could never be accused of. As is, Devil Girl from Mars is an interesting trifle with a killer high camp villainess. If it had the aggressively inane guiding hand of an Ed Wood behind it, it might’ve been a trashterpiece. It already had the building blocks on hand.

Part of what makes Devil Girl from Mars so interesting, oddly enough, is also exactly what makes it dull: a false air of sophistication. A British production adapted from a stage play, the film aims for the heady B-picture space of a Village of the Damned or The Earth Dies Screaming, but falls far short of the mark. The dialogue is just as inane & inconsequential as any other 50s sci-fi cheapie you can conjure, but it’s given the utmost respect & reverence in a way that makes for both a curious watch & a disappointing slog, depending on who’s talking, human or devil girl. The stage play machinations of gathering various archetypes (an escaped convict, a lady barkeep, a square jawed alpha male, a wise professor, etc.) holed up at an isolated inn are belabored to the point of exhaustion, as if there was confusion about what kind of movie drive-in audiences would want to see: a stuffy parlor drama or a high camp sci-fi train wreck. Luckily, there’s enough of the latter to make Devil Girl from Mars worthwhile, but just barely, as the two halves of the film seem to be at war with each other.

The key to the entertainment factor in this film is, duh, the Martian devil girl herself. Our titular antagonist is dressed like an S&M take on Darth Vader, commands a lazily-constructed robot in the shape of a refrigerator, and flies around in an adorably shoddy UFO miniature. The people of Earth (or at least the people of the tavern) take her word for it that she’s from Mars without any semblance of doubt, based entirely on her sleek space dominatrix uniform, presumably. She boasts at length about her invisible force fields, her killer robot, the mental superiority of the Martian people, and rambles about the 4th dimension, the War of the Sexes, and a newly-invented organic metal; the tavern folk listen in bewilderment. I love the audacity of rambling off these giant ideas while sticking to the most bare bones cast, set, and effects imaginable. Yes, the killer fridge-bot shoots deadly laser bullets, but its arms lay limply at its sides; the film felt no need to animate them. The titular devil girl zaps men with her own atomic age ray gun, but when they disappear there’s no skeleton or goop left behind; there’s no visual effect as they fade away, only the cheap trick of removing them from the frame.

Devil Girl from Mars is mostly recommendable for the ridiculous camp of its central villain, but should be approached with patience, as it takes its mediocre dramatic setup just as seriously as its goofy sci-fi horror camp. An airplane is zapped out of the sky before the opening credits even have a chance to roll (take that, Sully), but otherwise it takes a while for the men to gather & grumble in the tavern before they’re tortured by the film’s space dominatrix & her robot sub. There’s a few stray lines that make their ludicrous bickering amusing (“I’m a scientist! I believe what my brain tells me to believe,”) but for the most part it’s too dry to be funny & too inane to be prestigious, resting somewhere in a B-movie limbo. With an Ed Wood behind the wheel, both halves of these films would shine together as one ridiculous whole, but until I get the chance to waste a trip in a time machine to make that happen we just have to settle on celebrating the good & forgetting the bad in this one. If you watch the film & Ed Wood’s name is in the credits or attached to a remake, you’ll know that my mission was a success.

-Brandon ledet

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