Monsters and Matinees: The Handsome Face of Horror in ‘I Married a Monster from Outer Space’

The Handsome Face of Horror in ‘I Married a Monster from Outer Space’

When classic movie fans think of the faces of horror, we rightly go to some of the most iconic creatures in film history: the Universal monsters and the images that have defined the look of vampires, Frankenstein’s monster and other creatures for nearly 90 years; grotesque aliens and horrific mythological creatures.

But let’s look at it in another way – a disturbing way – and consider when the face of horror is attractive, familiar and even loving. Like … what if you married a monster from outer space?

One of the great publicity shots in I Married a Monster from Outer Space shows
Gloria Talbott being carried by an alien.

It happened – at least in the effective 1958 sci-fi horror film I Married a Monster from Outer Space. Seeing this movie again recently was a reminder of this subtle and insidious type of monster.

It was one of many films in the 1950s that fed off growing Cold War fears and anxieties about communism invading America with stories about alien invasions. Often these films had aliens taking over human bodies so we couldn’t see the horror right in front of us.

The best example of this film paranoia would be Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Don Siegel’s terrifying and masterful story of a small California town taken over by pod people. I find this film so unnerving that it’s difficult to watch.

Instead, I wimp out and watch movies that are easy to shake off.

There’s something not right with these two usually friendly guys in It Came from Outer Space. (That’s Russell Johnson from Gilligan’s Island on the right.)

Like It Came from Outer Space (1953) with aliens who crash in the desert and temporarily take over human bodies, but don’t mean any harm – for now.

Or Invaders from Mars (1953) with little David who sees a spaceship land near his house and then convinces a town – and the military – that evil aliens have taken over the bodies of his loving parents and respected townsfolk.

And especially the underrated I Married a Monster from Outer Space about a newlywed who realizes something is not right with her husband.

* * * * *

The film opens with Bill (the tall, dark and handsome Tom Tryon) enjoying drinks with the boys the night before his wedding.

A glowing alien limb grabs Bill (Tom Tryon) in I Married a Monster from Outer Space.

On his way home, he pulls over thinking he has hit someone and is grabbed by a grotesque glowing limb, enveloped in a billowing cloud of smoke and disappears all to a creepy musical cue.

The next morning, Marge (Gloria Talbott and her super short bangs) is nervously awaiting Bill who is late for their wedding. When he arrives, he’s out of sorts but everyone brushes it off. It’s downhill from there.

The honeymoon night is a disaster with Bill inexplicably cold toward his confused new bride. Things don’t improve. On their first anniversary, Marge is writing to her mother about her “horrible” marriage that has left her frightened and bewildered. “Bill isn’t the same man I fell in love with – he’s almost a stranger.”

Oh Marge, you have no idea how right you are.

She does more than wonder as inexplicable things pile on like Bill’s furious reaction to the anniversary gift of a sweet little dog and the dog’s quick demise. (Clearly the movie rule that you don’t hurt animals didn’t exist in the 1950s.) Marge seems to buy his excuse about what happened, but smartly doesn’t let it drop.

“If it weren’t so silly, I would say you’re Bill’s twin brother from some other place,” she tells him.

She’s getting closer.

Marge is horrified to see an alien emerge from her husband’s body in
I Married a Monster from Outer Space.

Growing more troubled, Marge follows Bill out of the house, boldly running after him through the woods in a night gown and coat where she watches in horror as her husband is shrouded in that familiar smoke from which a creature emerges in front of a spaceship. The alien and its human hybrid face each other and it’s eerie even if the superimposed alien form isn’t too scary.

Marge seeks help but is stymied as male friends and the police all act in the same odd way and tell her to just go home. We can feel her growing paranoia as she realizes how far things have gone: she can’t make a long-distance phone call, can’t send a telegram and is stopped from leaving town.

Marge (Gloria Talbott) realizes she’s on her own when even her godfather the police chief refuses to help in I Married a Monster from Outer Space.

Is there anyone she can trust? There is and his idea for finding help is genius and even ironic from the aliens’ viewpoint. But is it enough and how will other complications play into things? No spoilers here.

* * * * *

A low-budget film with big-budget aspirations

I Married a Monster Space was made for only $125,000 and released with low expectations. It’s never gotten the fair shake it deserves most likely because of the campy title and matching publicity material. (Sorry, but an alien never carries the bride in her wedding gown.)

Yet it gives us more than we expect with a strong heroine, solid acting, two-dimensional aliens, surprisingly good filmmaking and a sci-fi yarn that delivers on suspense. (Moments where the alien’s face flickers briefly on its human’s is chilling.)

During a lightning storm, the alien’s true face is revealed over its human host.

The trio of director Gene Fowler Jr., writer Louis Vittes and cinematographer Haskell Boggs gives the film higher production values than we are used to in sci-fi B-movies.

Framing of scenes is wonderfully tense with architectural arches often closing in on Marge, mirroring what is happening in her life. Physical distance is exaggerated between the young couple in their home.

This is one of the scenes that effectively uses darkness in I Married a Monster from Outer Space. You can see Marge’s silhouette on the left while on the right, Bill’s arm is raised up ready to turn on the light to startle her – and viewers.

The fact aliens can see in the dark is used for dramatic effect with shadows and entire scenes in darkness. Light is used as a jump scare as when Bill turns on a light to show his wife he’s been watching her in the dark.

The way Marge is written is refreshing. We expect the young housewife to be meek and spend the film screaming as similar characters have been portrayed in movies of the time. But she is smarter and tougher than she seems, as she looks for explanations into her husband’s strange behavior. She’s not afraid to ask questions and to confront him.

In one effective scene, Bill finds Marge in the dark and wants to turn the lights on to which she responds “you don’t need any.”

When he asks what she knows, Marge doesn’t hold back.

“I know you’re not Bill. You’re some thing that has crept into Bill’s body. Something that can’t even breathe the same air we do,” she answers

When Bill asks, “Aren’t you afraid to be telling me all this?” we’re thinking the same thing.

Yes, she is afraid but is resilient. Love, it seems, can make you fearless and Talbott plays the scene to great effect.

Marge (Gloria Talbott) doesn’t sit by quietly as she notices the many changes in her husband.

Presenting Marge that way elevates the film as well as actress Talbott who has been labeled a Scream Queen in sci-fi and horror films. She shows she’s better than that.

I like that the story makes the aliens multidimensional. They are desperate creatures who face extinction from an unstable sun that has killed all the women on their planet. The yuck factor is that they’ve come to Earth so human women can breed their children. Since it’s a 1950s film, it is only talked about in theory as Bill shares it’s not possible yet.

They also aren’t immune to human emotions and that comes through in the one honest conversation between Bill the alien and Marge.

Bill: “Something happened that we hadn’t foreseen. Along with these bodies, we inherited other things as well …. human desires, emotions.”

Marge: “Are you telling me you’re learning how to love.?”

Bill: “I’m telling you I’m learning what love is.”

Well that was unexpected.

And that’s the appeal of I Married a Monster from Outer Space. You may think you know what you’re getting in a film with such a sensational and direct title, but it has its surprises making it a marriage worth watching.

How you know them

Gloria Talbott. Gloria started as a child actress in films like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but was given the title of Scream Queen after starring in such films as The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957), The Cyclops (1957) and The Leech Woman (1960). One of her most notable performances was as Jane Wyman’s daughter in All that Heaven Allows (1955).

Tom Tryon became a successful author.

Tom Tryon. The handsome actor starred in a variety of films including The Longest Day and The Cardinal as well as television work in Western shows and as the title character in Texas John Slaughter movies for The Wonderful World of Disney. But you may know his name more as an author. He left acting in 1969 to write horror and mystery stories and was a success with such novels as “The Other” (1971), which he adapted for film, and “Harvest Home” (1973).

Gene Fowler Jr. The producer and director had a long career as a film editor for the likes of Fritz Lang and Samuel Fuller and those skills are evident in I Married a Monster from Outer Space. Although he won a Golden Globe and four Emmy awards, he remains best known as director of I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957).


 Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Toni’s Monsters and Matinees articles here.Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., is an editor and writer at The Buffalo News. She shares her love for classic movies in her blog, Watching Forever. Toni was the president of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now leads the offshoot group, Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs. She is proud to have put Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces in the spotlight as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown contest. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.

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7 Responses to Monsters and Matinees: The Handsome Face of Horror in ‘I Married a Monster from Outer Space’

  1. Nicely witten on Horror and Scary movies which have been made by Hollywood since many decades. My most favourite movies are old House of Wax, Psycho, Demons, Christopher Lee’s Dracula series, Nost ferratus starring Klaus Kinsiki. The spectrum of these movies were changed entirely during when OMEN (1976) starring Gregory Peck was made in dignified manners and affectionated by millions of fans worldwide. Exhortist starrig Linda Blair, Nightmairre on Elm Street starring John Saxon and Johnny Dep, Alien directed by Ridley Scott and it’s sequel “Aliens” by James Cameron provided most scary and wonderful master-piece and my most favourite especially on big screens. Apart from these movies, Francis Ford Coppola gave us most beautiful movie ‘Brahm Stolker Dracula” starring Garry Oldman, its costumes were marvellous. Other movies were made on mass scales blood shedding in cruel and filthy manner like Evils Dead and it’s sequals, Saw and it’s sequals and so on as B grade movies.

    • Toni Ruberto says:

      Thanks for reading and for your compliment. I enjoyed your thoughts on horror movies, too. I’ve enjoyed some that you mentioned, but I have to admit I can’t quite handle some of the modern horror movies like “Saw” – they are too scary for me! Enjoy. Toni

  2. Craig Talbott says:

    I do think that this is a rather classy and classic film considering its restrictions (budget and the like). I don’t recall when I first viewed it but I must have been rather young. This movie does seem to get overlooked somewhat and perhaps really ought to get its deserved due share of more attention. The title may have originally killed its chance of better success but now it’s probably hard to consider anything which could have replaced it. And I do possess a “bit” of a biased opinion towards this flick as the lead actress, Gloria Talbott, was my auntie. So I find the whole production (by both cast and crew, presentation- and acting-wise) to be very good indeed. Almost certainly ahead of most of the other creature feature creations from the 50s Eisenhower-era. And to have viewed this on Blu-Ray merely makes it all the more enjoyable.

    • Toni Ruberto says:

      Hello Craig. Thanks so much for reading. I hadn’t seen the movie in quite a long time so it was like I was watching it again for the first time and I was amazed at how good it was. It truly does get overlooked. I agree with you 100 percent on its title: I’m sure it kept people away but I also couldn’t imagine it today by any other name. I’m especially excited and honored to hear from someone in Gloria’s family. Thank you for that. If you want to share memories of your aunt with the classic film community I would love to talk to you more. Just let me know. Again, thanks for your kind note. Toni

      • Craig Talbott says:

        Yes indeed, Toni. This one could afford to gain more attention. A somewhat deeper meaning film as well when considering. It’s almost as if producer Val Lewton and director Douglas Sirk had collaborated. Some should recall that this was originally paired-up w/ “The Blob” @ its initial release, and the color feature took precedence over the B&W number in preference, but now the majority seem to agree that while they still very much enjoy the Steve McQueen picture, the same audience much prefers “IMAMFOS” overall. Just the fact that the posters for the flick are iconic 50s memorabilia and may fetch a hefty sum for the first printings should be evidence enough. And Gloria sure asserted herself in the picture when figuring the time period it was released and there wasn’t a vast amount of positive feminist affirmation roles out there in motion pictures or television (@ least w/o a catch of some sort in those which were projected). As you and others have indicated, she definitely was no shrinking violet or damsel-in-distress here. Anyway, if you desire to communicate more regarding my auntie, indicate how you would prefer to do so. In the meanwhile, persevere and keep on soaking-up those spooky movies.

  3. Jan S Ostrom says:

    Excellent!! Haven’t seen this in a long time and now I’m tracking it down. Love Gloria. Good analysis, thank you!! 👍👏

    • Toni Ruberto says:

      Hi Jan: Let me know what you think when you have the chance to see it again. I really enjoyed it when I finally saw it again it. (It’s not often shown on TV.) Toni

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