Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are connoisseurs of terrible movies. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout of a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Ken: Jim, we’ve seen at least one creature feature attempting to ape the sci-fi cheesiness of the Space Race-era movies, but this month I thought it might benefit us to go back to the source of such inspiration. A time when men were men, women were bad at math, and everybody was white. I’m talking of course about Queen of Outer Space, starring no less than Zsa Zsa Gabor herself. How did this one strike you, sir?
Jim: This was one of those cases of a movie being absolutely what I expected it to be—no more, no less. Just looking at the trailer, it’s clear exactly what kind of sexist sci-fi adventure stew we’re stepping into here, although this film diverges from some of the early 1950s sci-fi efforts because of the later date—you can feel the 1960s sexual revolution starting to come on, around the edges of it. Still, there’s absolutely no reason this film couldn’t have been an entry in either the original Mystery Science Theater 3000 or especially its Netflix revival. This is exactly the sort of bad, but generally watchable and colorful film they look for.
Ken: I was astounded that it hadn’t already been sent up. My girlfriend happened upon this gem and immediately raced to submit it for our disapproval. And for those looking to enjoy a science fiction double feature picture show, our readers should note that this one ran in a double bill with Frankenstein 1970 from that same year, which was apparently a notorious stinker. Thank you for bringing that to my attention, Jim.
Jim, I submit we’ve seen some pretty regressive-as-hell movies, when it comes to misogyny and general sexism. Is this the most earnestly sexist one?
Jim: I mean … probably? You might try to argue that screenwriter Charles Beaumont, of considerable Twilight Zone fame, was satirizing other films from the same era, but if that’s the case it’s certainly too subtle for the contemporary audience of his day to understand what he was doing. To them, it must have just read like a lot of lighthearted jokes at the expense of women, but it also very much feels like a precursor to the sort of “bedroom comedy” movies of Rock Hudson/Doris Day (like Pillow Talk) that would start arriving only a year later. They’re definitely trying to make elements of it “sexy,” although that’s limited strictly to innuendo.
... and mashing their faces together, of course.
Ken: If it’s a Starship Troopers-esque parody, it might have done its job too well indeed. This popcorn muncher transports us to the far-off future of 1985 (if you pay close attention to exposition and do some math), where a crew of earnest astronauts whose names I seriously kept forgetting are given what sounds like a cakewalk of a mission up to one of the Earth’s space stations. Though the actual moon landing was still over a decade away, I kind of feel like the hilarious wrongness of some of the science is just there to fuck with us, Jim.
Jim: It does sort of feel like 1950s sci-fi simply picked a certain aesthetic at the beginning of the decade and then just stuck with all those designs—plus, this movie is FILLED with reused props and costumes from tons of other movies, like Forbidden Planet, World Without End and Flight to Mars, so that explains some of it.
Ken: I’m glad you mentioned that! Even I managed to spot something! The emblem on their caps is actually visible in a Twilight Zone episode which I just so happened to have been in the midst of watching, totally by accident. It was “On Thursday We Leave for Home” from Season 4, in fact.
Nothing gets by us, clearly.
Jim: As for the crew, I find them hilarious—they’re astronauts who don’t bother to hide their boredom with the basics of space travel, and don’t seem to possess any particular schooling or knowledge outside of how to “make rocket go now.” I committed them to memory with mnemonic devices. They are as follows:
A. Captain Squarejaw: The no-nonsense, level-headed leader. At one point he tells a woman, in total seriousness, “I understand you better than you understand yourself!”
B. Lt. Douchebag: The “handsome” womanizer of the group, who is always committing the most sexist offenses. When they introduce him, he’s sucking face with a disposable woman, feet away from the launchpad. She tells him “But Larry … spaceships are dangerous!”
C. Lt. Scrunchface: Looking like an angrier Don Knotts, he is perpetually making this face, and at one point expresses disbelief that the women of Venus could possibly have been the ones to build a particular “gizmo.”
How could the fairer sex possibly resist him?
And D. The Professor: The older, rotund gentleman who appears to be wearing a feces-colored, ruffled onesie.
Ken: At one point, the Professor starts to light up a smoke aboard the spacecraft and everybody has to jump to remind him, the Science Man, that they are sitting atop several thousand tons of liquid oxygen. It’s that kind of movie.
After they all strap in to their leather recliner seats, wearing no g-suits or other protective gear, they launch into space, but run afoul of a mysterious phenomenon.
Jim: The takeoff seatbelted gurney thing that the professor straps into is amazing. I love its little, rickety guardrails.
Ken: As my girlfriend said, it’s kind of like a toddler’s cradle. More hilarious though, are the faces the boys pull while they get up to escape velocity. Jim, tell us what happens before this movie throws up the title card.
Jim: Their supposed mission is to rendezvous with this floating re-supply station that the Professor developed years earlier, but right before they arrive, they witness it vaporized into dust by some sort of ray, instantly killing the hundreds of people who are apparently on board. Captain Squarejaw then orders MAXIMUM ACCELERATION! as an evasive maneuver, and the team duck and dodge very loud and annoying ray beams until they crash land on an alien world, where I believe one of them casually suggests stepping outside into an unknown atmosphere before another is like “maybe we should check and see if this place HAS an atmosphere first.”
Ken: No need to worry though! The Professor says that if the gravity is similar to Earth, the atmosphere must be too, right??
Jim: It’s Venus, by the way. Our boys are on Venus. Home to LADIES. And quite pleasant, under all that cloud cover, I might add.
The lovely Venusian foliage.
Ken: White ladies exclusively!
Jim: White ladies for white men. It is only right.
Ken: The snowy landscape outside apparently proves no challenge whatsoever, since the next scene features the boys down in a jungle area looking absolutely none the worse for wear, lugging along their small rucksacks and prop guns that have been spray-painted to look gold. After that, it isn’t long before they’re captured at gunpoint by busty bombshells, Jim, wearing skirts and heels in the jungle on their patrol routes.
Jim: From my notes: “The most efficient uniforms for soldier work are clearly low-cut dresses with short skirts.” Perfect for roughing it in the Venusian jungle. The soldier uniforms, oddly enough, seem to presage the classic Star Trek outfits almost perfectly. They’re even the same basic color patterns, for the most part.
Do you have something to tell us, Gene Roddenberry?
Jim: There is of course no mention of the Venusian women having any anatomical differences to Earth women. Nor is there any difference in the standard of beauty in these two places. Also, they all speak English just fine. Thank god we don’t have any basic hurdles to overcome in absorbing this story.
Ken: I want to point out, because it elicited howls from us, that Professor Science at one point just brushes off one of the lieutenants saying, “Uh, isn’t Venus’ atmosphere unlivable?” with “Well, I used to think so” and then never brings it up again. What, man, did you have a hunch?
Jim: “Scientific inquiry” is not this film’s chief concern, turns out.
Ken: It’s certainly not the point of this movie. The point of this movie is that these dopes need to survive capture by these irrational, emotional women! They are dragged before their queen, who wears a mask and insists that they must be invaders because they’re men. Jim, I don’t know if you’re a student of history, but what would you think our leaders’ first play would be, if we discovered that Venus is covered in hot blond women?
Jim: I suspect a coordinated campaign of head-bonking and then dragging off to various caves for consummation would likely be in order, if I’m looking at the historical record. Queen Yllana (of Outer Space) probably has every reason to be suspicious.
Ken: It’s at this point the mere fact Lt. Douchebag survives more than a few seconds becomes increasingly dubious. He can’t shut his damn mouth and not say the most sexist thing imaginable in a room where several women are training ray guns on him.
Jim: When women who look like luchadores are training disintegrators on you in a room that looks like a rejected game show set, you don’t gesture toward one of them and say to your comrade: “How’d you like to drag THAT to the senior prom?” This is his first thought. He doesn’t even bother whispering.
Queen of Outer Space/Bantamweight Outer Space Luchadore Wrestling Champion.
Jim: It’s not entirely clear what ages these guys are supposed to be, but they’re not in high school, right? They merely peaked in high school?
Ken: I’d say they all come off as a spry 37 or so.
Jim: Which is high school age, in terms of the casting of most high school movies of this era, of course.
Regardless, it truly is amazing that Lt. Douchebag doesn’t get them all killed. When Queen Yllana accuses them of being spies, he says the following: “Why don’t you girls knock off this Gestapo stuff and be a little friendly?” He’s definitely the kind of guy who believes he’s doing the women of Venus a favor when he offers them his dick.
Ken: Inexplicably, Yllana does not render them into piles of ash on the spot, instead trooping them off to what seem to be rather comfy prison quarters. It’s at this point that Zsa Zsa Gabor finally makes her appearance. She is somehow both a lady and a scientist, Jim. And she’s interested in upending this violent gynocracy, because Captain Squarejaw is her type, I guess.
Fetch me my Science Ballgown!
Jim: Unrelated: Lt. Douchebag at one point says, “If she’s a woman, she’s my type.” And then I sort of gagged a little bit.
Ken: I kept hoping in vain he would die hilariously. Readers, he does not.
Jim: Zsa Zsa, on the other hand, I must say looks GLAMOROUS AS HELL in this movie, although her science ballgown is hilariously ill-equipped for the work she’s doing. You rarely see someone in a dress with a thigh-high slit, handling beakers and bunsen burners.
Va va voom.
Jim: Sadly, she is not much of a speaker. You have to love she’s the only person on the entire planet with a thick, inexplicable Hungarian accent.
Ken: She does seem to be having fun, and she is in fact the high point of the film. Apparently the only thing she needs to do to meet with Captain Squarejaw and the boys is to grab their tray of prison chow from the designated server and tell her to fuck off. The guards just let her in to brief the boys on the planet’s political situation. Turns out there ARE men after all, they’ve just been relegated to a prison moon. Zsa Zsa hides in the corner when Captain Squarejaw gets hauled off—apparently the guards at the door forgot she was in there.
Jim: We never actually see this prison moon filled with the surviving Venusian men, sadly. Can you imagine the passion of the gay trysts going on up there between male scientists, a decade into their banishment? No wonder they couldn’t find a way to work it in.
Ken: I would not have wanted that scene in this movie based on what we do get to see, let me tell you. Anyway, it turns out Queen Yllana is interested in more than just the size of Captain Squarejaw’s spaceship. She seduces the good Captain, which is when we find out what’s hiding under the mask. And it is gruesome.
Jim: It actually is pretty gnarly, I have to say. Her face has been terribly scarred by radiation in the fallout of the planet’s past wars—MAN’S WARS, she is quick to point out. This is obviously the source of her hatred of men, regardless of what planet they might be from.
Yeesh, little bits dangling off and everything.
Ken: It’s probably the best special effect in the film, really, although this is not a high bar.
Jim: We also find out she’s the one behind the explosion of the space station, having tested out her doomsday weapon on it. She next intends to use it to blow away Earth and its billions of detestable men, the women and children of the planet apparently having been deemed acceptable collateral damage.
Of course, Captain Squarejaw explains it as “atomic radiation affected her mind; that explains her hatred of men and war.” Because you’d have to be crazy not to love WAR, right?
Ken: Certainly you’d have to be crazy not to want men in charge!
Jim: How Venusian, to not crave war.
Ken: Zsa Zsa and her earnest rebels are determined to return Venus to the status quo, and they (rather easily) help the boys break out and flee into the jungle. At one point they take shelter in a cave and the most laugh-out-loud non sequitur ever occurs: One of them gets mauled by the least convincing spider monster I think I’ve ever seen.
“Now Bill, you’ll need to clutch this to your chest and sort of roll around to simulate a struggle.”
Jim: Oh wow, I’d completely forgotten this even happens. It comes and goes SO fast that you forget about it instantly. It’s a lot like that bit in The Princess Bride when Westley gets attacked by the giant rat; it just comes flying in from out of frame. You know it had to be there because some studio bigwig was watching dailies and thought there needed to be another bit of “action” in the third reel, in case the audience was getting sleepy. Or they just wanted to give them all an excuse to pair up with their women and make out next to each other, adrenaline coursing as it no doubt is after a giant spider attack.
Ken: It was a missed opportunity not to have Zsa Zsa see it first and shout for help and then have Lt. Douchebag roll his eyes at her feminine fear before getting mauled by it. Of course, everybody pairs up but the poor Professor, who mutters a sour grapes line and heads off for firewood, only to discover that they’ve been found.
Everyone kisses in this movie by just sort of smashing their faces together as hard as they can.
Jim: This is one of the more inconsequential escapes and recapturings that you’ll see in film. It just chews up like 15 minutes of time, and they end up right back where they were before. There’s some shenanigans afterward in which they try to dress up Zsa Zsa as the queen to foil her plans, but it falls apart immediately. The queen then gets around to proclaiming that they all get to watch as she obliterates Earth with her death beam.
Ken: Captain Squarejaw, by the way, won’t even smooch Yllana’s Fallout Ghoul face to save the whole planet, when she gives him the chance. Locking lips with an ugly chick is a fate worse than extinction, Jim.
Jim: Haha, I also found this very amusing, his grimace in particular. He thinks it over, and is like “nah, fam.” Around this point, all the other women finally see Queen Yllana’s scarred face for the first time, and even her closest supporters don’t bother trying to hide their disgust. You can see rebellion fomenting instantly, which is just a lovely message: The physically ugly have no place in society.
Ken: It seems as if all is lost and a model of the Earth will be blown up. But then it turns out Zsa Zsa’s spies just sabotaged the thing and everything is fine. Yllana is overthrown, Zsa Zsa becomes Queen of Outer Space, and the boys find out that horror of horrors, they’ll have to wait a year for a rescue ship from Earth to take them back home. Darn.
Jim: They’re all beside themselves with joy over this prospect, of course, with the implication being that for everyone, including even the rotund Professor, they’ll be having a year-long, endless fuck-u-copia of women desperate to sleep with one of the four men on the planet. No mention is made, naturally, of bringing back the men from the prison colony on the moon.
Ken: Eh, nuts to those guys! What have they done for us lately?
Jim: If they were real men, they never would have gotten overthrown!
The Professor’s dating profile is going to read “I am one of only four men on this planet, and the other men are quite busy already, I can assure you.”
Ken: Jim, I think it’s pretty clear to our readers that the subtext of this movie is basically just text. I know you said nothing about this thing surprised you, but maybe you can tell me what made you laugh or roll your eyes the hardest. That spider did it for me.
Jim: There were two moments we didn’t mention. First is when the men choose to discuss their plan to seduce the queen, right in front of her guards that are waiting to take them to the queen, as if the guards wouldn’t casually mention the prisoners’ conversation.
Ken: Oh god I forgot about that! The guards just spoke English to them!
Jim: Yes. Second is the big catfight brawl at the end, while Queen Yllana’s death beam is melting down, in which about two dozen people, mostly carrying guns, all struggle and roll around on the ground with one another, and not a single gun is actually fired.
Ken: Ray gun ammo is expensive, I guess.
Jim: I also appreciated the shot of Yllana’s charred corpse. Although basically, it was just making the rest of her body match her face. Is that too close to something that Lt. Douchebag might say?
Queen of Carbonization.
Ken: He would somehow find a way to make it even worse, but I am firmly declining to try to access the locked-off part of my brain that might supply his dialogue.
Jim, clever satire or un-self-aware cheese-fest though this may be, I think we can definitely agree it comes from a completely different time in cinema history. I can’t even think of what sort of movie fills this niche today.
Jim: If its badness is indeed earnest, there’s almost no modern corollary. The closest thing is a “sexy,” made-for-TV Syfy monster movie with babes fighting insects or whatever, but those are almost all made by filmmakers who are at least somewhat parodying earlier eras of film.
Ken: I was most reminded of Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You by this one, just because of the vibe of it being a sleazy movie that’s supposed to get your best girl to act frisky in the theater with you.
Jim: If your girl wants to sit through Queen of Outer Space with you, for whatever reason, then she is indeed your best girl.
Ken: Well ain’t I a lucky guy? As for our next film, I suppose you will probably pick something a bit more Earth-bound for us next month. And hopefully with better FX.
Jim: It’s all just setup for our return to the world of Netflix’s A Christmas Prince in December, of course.
Ken: Don’t remind me. Until next time, sir.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and you can follow him on Twitter. Kenneth Lowe is a contributing writer for Paste, and you can read more of his writing at his blog.