The made for TV cheapie Atomic Rulers of the World introduced me to the inane, interplanetary wonders of Starman, a blatant Superman rip-off & star of the Japanese mini-series Super Giant. Super Giant was cut down & re-edited into several made-for-American-TV movies, starting with Atomic Rulers, which was mostly a standard atomic age plot about the alien council of the Emerald Planet deploying Starman to prevent an inevitable nuclear holocaust by disrupting the dangerous gangsterism of some shady arms dealers. Invaders form Space starts with the exact same introduction, a shot-for-shot copy of the Emerald Planet council’s scene in the first film as they choose to employ Starman to once more save Earth. This helpful preamble provides not only context for Starman’s origins, but also a concise overview of his powers, both the ones he was born with (he’s made of the strongest steel) and the ones afforded to him by his fancy “globe meter” wristwatch (flight, radio activity detection, language adaptability). Thankfully, though, Invaders from Space didn’t repeat much else from Atomic Rulers’s basic structure. Instead of fighting off evil nuclear warmongers in this case, Starman does away with an alien invasion of artsy theater types with a proclivity for witchcraft and the results are deliciously ridiculous.
The titular alien invaders in this film are known by name as the Salamander Men of Planet Kuliman. When undercover, they dress like mobster types with black surgical masks covering their hideous alien faces. When letting their freak flags fly, however, they’re alien-frog humanoids with steel-tearing claws and radioactive fire breath. Their uncovered, mutilated faces recall The Joker or a nameless Dick Tracy goon. They fly UFOs seemingly made entirely of light and hide among humanity as “an unusual dance troupe” who put on a “weird performance” at an arts theater that makes its entire audience sick with radiation poisoning. The one female Salamander is a witch that chases children around a suburban home; the salamander people’s temporary home on Earth is a phallic palace with a blatant dickhead on its tallest tower; their second life as an avant-garde dance troupe means that there’s tons of cartwheels & gymnastics included in their hand-to-hand combat styles. So much of Invaders form Space resembles the exact tone of Atomic Rulers of the World that it’s impossible to ever forget the series’ origins as a television property instead of proper cinema. The film still stands out on its own in comparison to Starman’s introductory title, Atomic Rulers, though, mostly because of the absurdity of the Salamander Men of Planet Kuliman are such a perfectly comic strip-oriented type of foe for our bargain bin Superman to thwart. Another film where Starman bucks against arms-dealing G-men might’ve been a monotonous slog, as we’ll see in a future sequel, but the UFO attacks & interpretive dance combat of Invaders from Space make for a highly entertaining sequel, one that might even surpass the original film on the basic level of enjoyability.
Cobbled together from the 3rd & 4th entries in the Super Giant series, The Mysterious Spacemen’s Demonic Castle & Earth on the Verge of Destruction, Invaders from Space finds the Starman franchise hitting its full stride. The introduction of Ken Utsui’s spandex-clad space alien hero in Atomic Rulers was a delightful novelty, but just like most superheroes, the strength of his world relies heavily on the shoulders of his villains. The Salamander Men of Planet Kuliman don’t exactly elevate Invaders from Space into a higher tier of cinematic quality above Atomic Rulers; this is still an even keel of made-for-TV schlock that the Super Giant series is operating on. They do, however, keep the series interesting after the initial charm of Starman & his atomic menace foes settles and the reality of watching four of these ventures becomes a potential chore. Starman’s introduction remains static & carbon copied at the top of each feature. There’s no room for him to grow or change as a character from movie to movie, so it’s up to the villains he defeats to provide a sense of variety & continual novelty. Modern dance fish people from outer space who exhale radiation and live in a dick castle are more than fascinating enough as villains to maintain that novelty and Invaders form Space is one of the most interesting entries in the Super Giant series thanks to their gloriously weird presence.