- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2007

Let us now consider “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman,” which, contrary to popular belief, is not a campaign slogan for 2008. Not yet, anyway.

This is the title of a 1958 science-fiction movie that showcases monumental girl troubles. According to old production notes, the film tells the tale of “a wealthy heiress whose close encounter with an enormous alien being causes her to grow into a giantess. She uses her new size and power to seek revenge against her philandering husband.”

Uh-oh.

Now there’s an inside-the-Beltway plot if there ever was one. The colossal lady in question just should have hired the crisis-management department over at Porter-Novelli, then gotten a pedicure.

Ah, but we digress here.

It is time to saunter down a dim aisle lit by the single beam of an usherette’s flashlight, back to the days when 50-foot women, overprotective leviathans and smartly attired Neptunians benignly ruled the nation’s theaters. Got the popcorn, the Junior Mints? Then have a seat.

Contrary to the cheerless, visceral horror fare of recent decades, these vintage films were not intended to leave audiences psychologically disturbed, questioning core values, fretting about end-of-life issues or nauseated. These modest little movies were untrammeled escapist fare therapy, really on a Saturday afternoon. They were what they were.

Plot devices involved radioactivity, secret serums or secret radioactive serums. Spaceships looked like pie plates and sounded like Sunbeam Mixmasters. The Neptunians wore snappy silver lame coveralls, the heroines capri pants. There usually was a nurse recoiling from something off-camera, and the music was heavy with the dulcet, intergalactic tones of the theremin. There were always heroic roles for a boy and his dog or anyone wearing horn-rimmed glasses.

The monsters themselves had considerable wardrobe malfunctions, lurching forward wrapped in herculon, chicken wire, papier mache. Gamely bearing up under headgear reminiscent of a punch bowl, creatures trudged through the plot, only to fall off buildings, into volcanoes, down chasms, out of cargo planes.

Audiences of the day, in fact, had to earn their right even to see the monster, who would make an appearance in the beginning, then be talked about, alluded to and tracked by a cast of scientists, military officers and girls named Trixie or Vera. A certain discipline was involved, though.

Filmmakers of the day did not subject their audiences to endless high-tech gore. As responsible audience members, the viewers in turn responded by following webbed footprints or the telltale clattering of a Geiger counter for 90 minutes before the monster at last reappeared to tear down an electrical grid and head back to sea, ears wiggling.

Surely feministas around the galaxy could have no quibble with the fabulous ‘50s B-monster-movie heroines, who were, well, empowered, to say the least. There’s always the 50-foot woman to consider along with these titles: “Cat-Women of the Moon,” “Astounding She Monster,” “Bride of the Monster,” “Fire Maidens of Outer Space,” “Queen of Outer Space,” “She Demons,” “Devil Girl From Mars” and “She Creature.”

Whole species got in on the act in “Attack of the Mushroom People,” “Attack of the Crab Monsters” and “Attack of the Giant Leeches.” There were “The Mole People,” “The Slime People” and “Killer Shrews.” Anatomy was showcased in “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die,” “Fiend Without a Face” and “The Head,” while a veritable king-size portion of movies began with either “It Came From ” or “I was a Teenaged .”

We offer a quick disclaimer to film professors, campy horror buffs, et al.: We purposefully have not included the true biggies of the era, such as “The Creature From the Black Lagoon,” “Them,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “The Blob” or “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

This is an exercise in citing those giddy obscurities that were produced without apology for $26.95, herculon and all. They have become beloved in their own way, a destiny that might not await today’s heavy-handed slasher fare.

In all its shabbiness, subgrade sci-fi is glorified by academic teams that have penned treatises such as “The Biology of B-Movie Monsters” (University of Chicago) and “The Psychological Appeal of Movie Monsters” (California State University). The intellectual population also has argued for years and issued multiple Top-10 lists about which of these films is the best of the worst, usually pitting “Plan 9 From Outer Space” against “Robot Monster.”

The latter, however, has its own moral.

Produced by 25-year-old director Phil Tucker in 1953, the black-and-white film features a bubble-emitting radio, a death-ray gun and a guy in a gorilla suit sporting a deep-sea diving helmet with TV antennae affixed to the top. Mr. Tucker made the film for $16,000 in four days. It grossed $1 million shortly after opening. Not bad.

The moral? Never underestimate the power of ray guns and gorilla suits.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and killer shrews for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at jharperwashingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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