• Target Earth



    Released by: VCI Entertainment
    Released on: 4/29/2003
    Director: Sherman Rose
    Cast: Richard Denning, Kathleen Crowley, Virginia Grey, Richard Reeves
    Year: 1954
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    The Movie:

    Raw Panic The Screen Never Dared Reveal!

    Gotta love that tagline. I’ve got a t-shirt with the poster art and that tagline on it somewhere. Anyway, Target Earth is one of famed producer Herman Cohen’s pre-AIP films made fast and cheap way back when in 1954. While it’s not as well known as other films from the same genre made around the same time such as The Day The Earth Stood Still (I hear Michael Rennie was ill that day), it’s still got a pretty solid following and for good reason, as it’s a really entertaining and tight little movie.

    The plot is pretty simple – an army of giant robots from the planet Venus invade Chicago with their sites set on world domination. Though we never see more than one robot on screen at the same time (they only made one robot suit), we’re told there’s an army of them so we know this to be true. At any rate, the robots come in and do their thing and the government evacutes the entire populace of Chicago (except it’s not Chicago, it’s Los Angeles, and it’s obviously Los Angeles at that in a couple of scenes) off to safety.

    Or at least they think they did. Four people have been left behind by accident, and these very same four people – Frank (Richard Denning of Creature From The Black Lagoon), Nora (Kathleen Crowley of Female Jungle), Jim (Richard Reeves who popped up in tiny roles in a few Elvis movies) and Vicki (Virginia Grey of Uncle Tom’s Cabin!) – will have to take on that giant robot army by themselves or face whoknowswhat at their sinister clawed hands. Little do they know that not only do they have to contend with an army of killer robots but there’s also a maniacal killer named Davis (Robert Roark) roaming the streets with murder on his mind.

    When the movie begins and our four heros are wandering the empty, barren streets of ‘Chicago’ the movie has a similar atmosphere to the beginning of The Omega Man. The empty streets and desolate looking architecture give it some nice atmosphere that is even a little bit creepy at times. It all starts to come apart fairly quickly though once the dialogue kicks in and the robots come on screen. Not to say that it’s bad or anything, because it isn’t, but you won’t ever forget you’re watching a 50s b-movie during the quick seventy-five minute running time of this one.

    Performances are all over the place in this one, with Crowley and Reeves doing pretty good work in their two lead roles and Roark more or less making a fool of himself with his faux tough guy/gangster posturing. This unevenness does hurt the film a few times – just when the suspense is turned up a little bit someone will make a goofy face or utter some poorly written dialogue and then you remember that the robot is made of what look to be dryer hoses and spare parts.

    Even with that in mind though, Target Earth is a fun watch. There’s enough robot monster mayhem and strange stilted discussions as to their origins to make it consistently entertaining.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    VCI’s 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Target Earth is pretty darned impressive for a movie that’s over half a century old. Print damage is very minimal, grain is present but not overly abundant, and there aren’t any mpeg compression problems. Some minor edge enhancement does peek up at you once in a while but the contrast levels are dead on and for the most part, the movie looks great.

    The English language Dolby Digital Mono mix is free of any major hiss or distortion. Things sound a little bit flat once in a while but that’s like due more in part to the age of the film than the actual mix on the DVD. Dialogue is clean and clear and easy to understand and background music and sound effects are mixed in nicely to the proceedings. Overall, the movie sounds just fine on this disc.

    Starting things off is a full length audio commentary from Herman Cohen that’s been ported over from the laserdisc release. It’s a fun track, the late Cohen had a lot to say about the film and seemed to remember a lot about the production. The only problem with the track is that there is quite a bit of dead air. However, when he’s on, he’s on and his opinions and anecdotes about working with such a low budget are interesting and unique.

    After that there’s a twenty minute tribute to Herman Cohen that’s narrated by a friend of his which plays out over a wealth of stills containing images from much of the man’s career. This is basically a biography of the man done through audio narration over a slide show and it makes for a pretty interesting companion piece to the commentary track and the feature film itself.

    Cast and crew biographies are present as are trailers for the feature and other VCI DVD releases like The Headless Ghost and Horrors Of The Black Museum. Some interesting liner notes are also included.

    The Final Word:

    VCI has done a great job bringing Target Earth to DVD. Great audio and video quality and some tantilizing extra features makes this one an essential addition to any 50s sci-fi/UFO movie buff.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. JoeS's Avatar
      JoeS -
      Herman Cohen's debut as a Producer was one of the last remaining well known 50s sci-fi flicks I had not seen. It's another low budget entry in the alien invasion/apocalypse sub-genre with a small group of survivors battling to survive.
      Director Sherman Rose does a decent job with the opening scenes of Richard Denning and Kathleen Crowley wandering the streets trying to figure out why everyone has evacuated. Soon they come upon Virginia Grey and Richard Reeves in a dive bar taking advantage of the shelter -- and free booze. Some excitement comes when we see what appears to be a giant robot looming over the city, but alas it turns out to be a human-sized automaton casting a large shadow. They quartet eventually meet up with a couple more humans as they evade the Gort-like death-rays of the 'bots.
      While nothing great, the first part of the movie builds up some moderate suspense. Then, all of a sudden -- cut to a spendthrift military headquarters where the battle against the invaders is being war-gamed. It's a jarring transition and those scenes are routine despite the brief presence of Whit Bissell as a research scientist. From there on the film clanks to its predictable conclusion
      In retrospect the movie has significant similarities to the later British production, THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING. Like SCREAMING, TARGET revolves around a small group huddled from robotic invaders (and both films do so economically by having only one or two actual metal men suits made!). The main reason that SCREAMING is 13 minutes shorter is that it dispenses with the military subplot (and is stronger for it).
      TARGET EARTH is a minor entry, but, I'm happy to have finally caught up with it. Years ago, I actually got to speak with Herman Cohen about booking the film for a sci-fi film festival - even HE didn't have access to a 35mm print!