‘Teenage hoodlums from another world on a horrendous ray-gun rampage!’
Teenagers from Outer Space – aka The Gargan Terror – is a 1957 [released 1959] science fiction film written, directed and produced by Tom Graeff, who was also responsible for the editing and cinematography. He also appears as a reporter.
The film stars David Love (Graeff’s real-life lover), Dawn Bender, Bryan Grant, Harvey B. Dunn (Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls) and King Moody. The film’s score came from stock, composed by William Loose and Fred Steiner. This same stock score has been recycled in countless low-budget movies such as The Killer Shrews, and most notably Night of the Living Dead.
In 1956, Tom Graeff was hired as Roger Corman’s assistant on Not of This Earth and also played a minor role. When filming wrapped, Graeff decided to pen a science fiction feature of his own and look for funding.
Securing a modest budget from actor Gene Sterling, Graeff placed an ad looking for more investors. British actor Bryan Pearson responded putting up $5000 in exchange for playing the villain, Thor, and casting his wife Ursula Pearson in a small role.
Filmed entirely on location in Hollywood in the fall of 1956 and winter of 1957, the low-budget film went through several titles before it was released by Warner Brothers in June 1959.
Though the film was profitable, Tom and his investors saw no money. Bryan Pearson eventually sued Graeff to get his original investment back. Teenagers appeared as the lower part of a double bill alongside Godzilla Raids Again, released under the title Gigantis the Fire Monster, and was shown largely at drive-in theaters throughout the country.
In the early 1960s, Teenagers was sold to television, where it played frequently for the next thirty years, noted for its infamous ray gun that turned living things into instant skeletons, an original effect that showed up again in Tim Burton’s blockbuster Mars Attacks!.
In 1987, Teenagers from Outer Space entered the public domain (in the USA) due to a failure to renew the film’s copyright registration in the 28th year after its creation.
An alien spacecraft comes to Earth while searching the galaxy for a planet suitable to raise “gargons,” a lobster-like creature which is a delicacy on their homeworld. Thor (Bryan Grant), the lead alien, shows his contempt for Earth’s creatures by vaporizing a dog named Sparky.
Crew member Derek (David Love), after discovering an inscription on Sparky’s dog tag, fears that the gargon might destroy Earth’s local inhabitants, making the other spacemen scoff. Being members of the “supreme race”, they disdain “foreign beings,” no matter how intelligent and pride themselves that families and friendships are forbidden in their world. Derek turns out to be a member of an underground which commemorates more humane periods of his world’s history.
Their one gargon seems to be sick in Earth’s atmosphere. While his crewmates are distracted, Derek flees. Eventually, the gargon seems to revive. When the Captain reports Derek’s actions, he is connected to the Leader (Gene Sterling) himself. It turns out that Derek is the Leader’s son, though Derek is unaware of this. Thor is sent to hunt Derek down, with orders to kill to protect the mission…
In 1959, Graeff placed an ad in the Los Angeles Times proclaiming that he was to be called Jesus Christ the Second and that God had shown him truth and love. The next year, Graeff filed to have his name legally changed to Jesus Christ II. After this incident and a subsequent arrest, Graeff vanished from Hollywood, fleeing to the East coast.
Graef returned to Los Angeles in 1964 and is credited as an editor on David L. Hewitt’s 1964 ultra-low-budget film The Wizard of Mars.
In 1968, Graeff took out an ad in Variety, announcing that his screenplay, entitled Orf, was for sale for the unprecedented sum of $500,000. After the ad appeared, he was publicly lambasted putting the final nail in his career.
Unable to find work, Graeff moved to La Mesa, California, near San Diego. He committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage on December 19th, 1970.
In a 1993 edition of Scarlet Street magazine. an article featured interviews with Bryan and Ursula Pearson, who revealed that Graeff and David Love/Chuck Roberts were romantically involved.
For over twenty-five years, major publications, including Leonard Maltin’s movie guide, had erroneously written that Love and Graeff were the same person.
“Though it is only slightly longer than the comparable films AIP and Allied Artists were cranking out at the time (just shy of an hour and a half, as opposed to 75 minutes or less), it tells a much busier, more involved story, and seems to follow the five-act structure of Elizabethan drama rather than the more familiar three-act model favored by most filmmakers.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
” …it’s surprisingly well acted (the hero and heroine are sweet, earnest, and noble). […] The premise, the cinematography, and the special effects are on par with other movies of the era. On the one hand, the dialogue veers between the outlandish and the pedestrian, and the climax involves a fight at Bronson Caverns with a 50-foot lobster that trumpets like an elephant.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers
“Pretty standard, low budget late 50s sci-fi fare that moves quickly and is enthusiastically performed by its cast, although I kept expecting Love to burst into song at any point, serenading his new found lady fair Bender about the wonders of earthly love.” Horror 101 with Doctor Ac
“Tom Graeff is to be congratulated on his near-single-handed piece of filmmaking. But the movie is still dreadful, apart from very occasional flashes of interest.” Alan Frank, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982
“Perhaps due to a lower than low budget, the film often is inescapably inept. Lighting is poor, interiors are pallid, the monster is pathetically makeshift. The film is impudently grandiose in its tone and is more likely to elicit shrieks of amusement than horror. But the film is also carefully thought out, concocted of exploitable elements yet different from its many predecessors. While Graeff may not have made a good picture, he has made an interesting one that every now and then smacks of brilliance.” Variety
Full film – free to watch online:
Bronson Canyon in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California
Hollywood High School, Los Angeles, California
The soundtrack score comprised of stock music library themes that were later also used in Night of the Living Dead (1968).