I Married a Monster from Outer Space is better thought of now than when it was released in 1958. It was at first critically dismissed, in good part because of its drive-in B-movie aims...and perhaps because of its goofy title. But back in the days when women faced few professional options, many cultural and traditional barriers, and a wide disparity in rights, the movie reflected a great and intimate female anxiety, that matrimony could potentially be a stifling, even toxic, trap. The husband who seemed to be a good prospect could, in the morning, turn out to be a scientologist, or a budding Bernie Madoff, or a polygamist, or a secret member of the Taliban...or worse. It's the flipside of the similarly low-budget 50s B-movie The Incredible Shrinking Man which implicated male sexual fears.
By the 80s, I Married a Monster became a visual component of the feminist dialogue (though not as iconic--and not nearly as campy--as the Poverty Row cheeseball sister-in-arms Attack of the 50 Foot Woman which was made in the same year). The troubled relationships between men and women in these movies had some cinephiles arguing category, in that the low budget pictures had a lot in common with film noir, as much as they do with science fiction and horror. The premise was updated and upgraded to A-status in 1999 with the lackluster The Astronaut's Wife starring Johnny Depp and Charlize Theron. And though there are no aliens in The Stepford Wives, there is subsitution and displacement of humanity (oddly, pro-militants at the time miscontrued the movie as anti-feminist). Sexual politics wasn't the only subtextual theme in I Married a Monster; the title is too close to the earlier I Married a Communist (1949) not to conjure up paranoia of a more ideological stripe.
I Married a Monster from Outer Space is foremost a psychotronic horror film with a element of science fiction...and on this count the movie succeeds fairly well. It may well have induced shudders when it was released, but now it's defused into a general creepiness. A good litmus test as to whether you would like this picture or not is in how you regard Invasion of the Body Snatchers, preferable the Don Siegel version; if you enjoyed it, then I think you would be inclined to like I Married a Monster.
As produced and directed in by Gene Fowler Jr. (I Was a Teenage Werewolf), the movie is mounted much like a good Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode. It's filmed in widescreen black-and-white and sports decent production values considering the budget consciousness. What is perhaps immediately noir-ish about the movie is its lighting, frequently featuring bands of shadows and enveloping darkness. The narrative is on the conventional side of things, without much style or flair, but it's tight and the pace is brisk. The acting is a notch or two above what generally passes for histrionics in such productions--at least it's involving. The special effects, though modest (a fake body dummy and a superimposition optical are easily spotted), are effective in the long run.
I Married a Monster from Outer Space is set in small town Norrisville, USA and follows the relationship of a young, working class couple Marge (Gloria Talbot) and Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon before he became a novelist). The night before their wedding, Bill is waylaid by a grotesque alien on the road. Bill, or rather his doppleganger, nonetheless turns up late for the nuptials without a good explanation. It's not very long, however, before Marge notices a change in her handsome husband; Bill is emotionless and distant. On top of this, he no longer drinks alcohol and is able to drive at night without the headlights on. Marge becomes increasingly worried about him. Some time elapses before she also grows concerned about her ability to conceive as she wants children. She is told by her doctor not to worry, though he would like to see Bill for further tests. Bill agrees but without enthusiasm. Marge buys a puppy as a gift for her spouse, but the canine, while distinctly mellow at the pet shop, has a fiercely hostile reaction to Bill. It ends up dead in the basement of the house. Bill says with a note of remorse (feigned?) that it choked on its own collar. Still disturbed by the behavior of her husband, Marge shadows Bill as he strides out to a nearby wooded area one night where a spaceship is concealed. From cover, Marge is aghast to observe an alien being separate itself from its human shell, her Bill. She now knows that Norrisville is a beachhead for an alien invasion, but getting the word out is difficult as the aliens in human guise have, she learns, infiltrated the town and its police department by this point. In addition, they have taken the form of Bill's friends. It seems as though there is nowhere for her to turn for help...
If anyone wonders, I Married a Monster from Outer Space isn't a disparagement of marriage as an institution. On the contrary, the defense that rises in opposition to the otherworldly invaders is a force of fatherhood.
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