Missile to the Moon (1958)

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With recent remakes like Ben Hur, Blade Runner, and Ghosbusters, it’s easy to get into the mindset that reboot culture has recently gotten out of hand, but the truth is that it may have always been out of hand. Consider the case of Missile to the Moon. This throwaway sci-fi B-picture is a five-years-later remake of the ludicrous camp oddity Cat-Women of the Moon. Delivered by the same indie production company that made the much more fun original, Missile to the Moon merely added more moon monsters & extraneous plot lines to Cat-Women of the Moon’s exact narrative structure and casually slapped on a new title. It’s what we folks in a post-Dark Knight world would call “a gritty reboot.” Whatever you want to call it, its existence feels entirely unnecessary, especially once you start splitting hairs over the film’s baffling decision of what to keep from its source material & what to discard.

I’ll try not to waste too much time on a plot description here, since Missile to the Moon largely resembles hundreds of other B-movie space pictures & standalone episodes of serials like Roy Rogers. A rocket ship (picture the most generic toy rocket ship imaginable; you’ve got it) travels to the moon through some dangerous meteorite turbulence and once the crew lands on the alien terrain they face mysterious dangers posed by lunar monsters. In Cat-Women of the Moon these monsters only included a gigantic moon spider & a misandrist society of alien women determined to steal the crew’s rocket ship & use it to take over Earth. Missile to the Moon repeats this dynamic with only a few slight changes: the spider puppets look a little better; they’re joined by entirely unneeded Styrofoam rock monsters; the cave-dwelling women are no longer misandrists. That last point, of course, is what sucks a lot of the fun out of the source material’s dynamic. Instead of a man-hating city of women dressed in black catsuits, we get a vague harem of one or two alien baddies who are a little power hungry, but mostly in desperate need of a man’s loving company. Boring.

Much like with the case of Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! dry run Motorpsycho!, Missile to the Moon is only interesting as a comparison point to a far better work that shares its basic dynamic. In the original film the lone female member of the astronaut crew is a navigator with a key role central to the plot. In the remake she’s a stowaway & a scientist’s fiancée, not even as central to the plot as a pair of escaped convict ruffians who also wind up on this lunar expedition. Her biggest concern is that the moon women might lure away her future husband, which leads her to mutter catty things like “If I knew there was going to be this much competition, I would’ve undressed for the occasion.” In Cat-Women of the Moon the titular aliens function in villainous peace & harmony; here they have petty, jealous fights over space idiot love interests who say endearing things like “Don’t think, honey. Just be beautiful.” There’s even an added moment of threatened sexual assault, you know, to liven things up. All the transgressive elements of the original are stripped from its derivative follow-up in favor of some barely-better special effects, increased violence, entirely unnecessary rock monsters, and a few baffling tweaks to the details, like swapping out the moon gold of the first film for the radically different treasure of moon diamonds. Whatever.

Everything about Missile to the Moon is secondary. As a remake, it feels purposeless and only interesting in the schlocky shadow of its predecessor. As a sci-fi horror cheapie in its own right it doesn’t even look as interesting as the other half of its double bill: Frankenstein’s Daughter. Just about the only moment of joy I got from the film was the cattily jealous fiancé asking of her leading man, “Do you think I’m prettier than that girl?” mere moments after watching her fellow crew members die a grisly death. And even the humor of that moment points to the film’s central problem: a complete lack of the playfully transgressive misandry of its predecessor.

-Brandon Ledet

Cat-Women of the Moon (1953)

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“The eternal wonders of space & time. The faraway dreams & mysteries of other worlds, other life. The stars, the planets: man has been face to face with them for centuries, barely able to penetrate their unknown secrets. Someday, the barrier will be pierced. Why must we wait? Why not now?”

Judging by the above prologue, the 1950s writers behind Cat-Women of the Moon really wanted to fuck outer space. Like, all of it. The film’s phallic symbol space rocket searches the cosmos for something to “pierce” & “penetrate” from minute one, but the film doesn’t find a tangible target for its desire of interstellar sexual conquest until more than halfway into its measly 60min runtime. The titular cat-women of the moon, played by the less-than-infamous “Hollywood Cover Girls” don’t appear until more than a half hour into their own film. The movie mostly functions like a cheap version of a Planet of the Vampires or The Angry Red Planet, with a bewildered crew of astronauts exploring a strange alien terrain (this time not venturing any further then our own moon) and facing challenges presented by the life they unexpectedly encounter there. When these alien monster obstacles take the shape of meteorites & giant moon spiders the film remains fun & lighthearted, but more than a little indistinct. For some reason, it’s the hidden Dark Side of the Moon city of sinister women in black catsuits with a passion for misandry & ritualistic dance that distinguishes Cat-Women of the Moon as above average, 3D-era schlock. I just can’t place my finger on it.

The men of the doomed astronaut crew are outnumbered & made vulnerable when their only female member, the navigator, falls under the hypnotic spell of the lunar cat women and leads them to peril at the underground city where the sexed-up aliens dwell. Her strange directives are at first perceived as a “touch of space madness” and her crew is already in danger by the time her unwitting betrayal is revealed. The men of this lunar expedition (it’s not clear if it’s the first mission to the moon, but they’re certainly the first crew to breathe oxygen in a moon cave, which is something) sought to “pierce” & “penetrate” the mysteries of space and initially believe their buxom alien hosts to be a great conduit for that conqueror’s spirit. However, the moon women prove to be far more powerful than the Earth men could imagine, commanding abilities that include teleportation, telepathy, and hypnotism. While the men make plans to make love & swipe some precious moon gold, the cat-women plot to steal away their only female crew member & pilot their rocket ship back to Earth where all men will be killed or enslaved to make room for more lunar cat-women. There’s an interesting push & pull between the film’s posturing bravado & its villainous “We have no use for men!” misandry that makes this a really fun, almost anachronistic watch. This isn’t quite the man-bashing roadster gangs of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, but it might be somewhere in the same ballpark in its own silly way.

It’s kind of incredible just how much of Kubrick’s 2001 blew this entire space-exploration B-picture genre apart, but the painted lunar backgrounds & tiny rocket ship models presented here are still beautiful & interesting in their own quaint way. The cat-women’s moon city in particular has a quality to it that looks like a cross between a chess board and a De Chirico painting in an interesting way. As you can tell by the film’s title, though, visual craft is far from what makes it interesting or distinct. Cat-Women of the Moon’s mix of man-hating sex kittens, gigantic spider puppets, hostile lunar terrains, and the men desperate to survive them is what makes the film a blast as a quick, cheap B-picture with a  killer titular hook. If watching something this unrepentantly silly & leering sounds a little exhausting at an hour’s length, I at least urge you to watch the film’s trailer below. Its promise of alien women who are “everlastingly beautiful … and without men for centuries!” just waiting to “lure men into the den of bloodthirsty moon monsters” is just as silly as anything that happens in the film, which it should be mentioned features red-blooded Americans carrying cigarettes & guns on the moon’s surface, as is their cosmos-penetrating right. I recommend the film for a cheap, schlocky thrill not too far off from a visually realized work of erotic fiction, but this two minute ad is also a work of art in its own right.

-Brandon Ledet