Don’t Open That Door!: #6 - 'This Island Earth' (1955)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950's horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: a raging cosmic hurricane crashes against the sandy shores of This Island Earth

This Island Earth

Director: Joseph M. Newman
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason
US Release Date: 1955-06-01

Alternate titles: I Never Metalunan I Didn’t Like; What Is It About Aliens and Bad Hair?


Big-budget production features lavish sets and good special effects

Committed cast turns in a solid performance

Sense of wonder engendered by what’s going on "out there" (and reinforced by the title)

Very cool monsters and an unexpected ending

It's in color!


Monsters, although cool, are thin on the ground

A great deal of setup is necessary for the plot, but drags a bit

SYNOPSIS: Ruggedly pretty Dr Meachum is an expert in a.) electronics, b.) nuclear energy, and c.) snappy banter with reporters. He's bewildered when a catalog shows up at his lab, however, selling parts for wacky machines that he's never heard of. Being the cautious, play-by-the-rules type, he orders one of everything and sets about trying to put it all together. When he's done, he has something called a "velociraptor" (I may have the name wrong) which is apparently a machine designed to test his ability to make rash decisions. Before you can say, "Are you sure this is such a good idea, Doc?" Meachum is chatting with a fellow named Exeter, who is cagey about his background but looks suspiciously like a space alien who has arrived on Earth looking for a decent haircut. He offers Meachum a ride on his plane, and Meachum—a pilot whose last flight ended in a green glowing aircraft that landed itself after losing power and steering—agrees. Maybe the doc figures he has good luck in abundance.

Meachum is taken to a secret facility, where he meets up with old flame Dr Adams, who pretends not to know him at first, and a pile of other science types, including Dr Adams's pal Steve. They set about trying to turn lead into uranium, which I'm pretty sure is something they outlawed in the Dark Ages, until an unforeseen turn of events leaves the secret facility in flames and Drs Meachum and Adams aboard a flying saucer, zipping through space along with Exeter and some other guys who share the same barber. Turns out these fellows are a.) from a distant planet called Metaluna, b.) at war with another planet called Zaygon, and c.) losing. Their planet needs an energy shield to protect it from attacks, and that means uranium, which they don't have, so that means lead-into-uranium. Everybody keeping up? To show their good will, the aliens have a.) abducted the scientists, b.) killed their colleagues, and c.) blown up the lab. Hey, maybe it's a cultural thing.

But it may all be academic for our professors, as Metaluna is in the process of getting thoroughly hosed by the evil Zaygons (weapon of choice: meteor). Metaluna has seen better days, and all the scientists want to do is a.) leave, b.) leave fast, and c.) get the hell out of Dodge while the gettin's good. Unfortunately, there's a large-brained but dim-witted mutant insect-crab-biped with other ideas, and even if the humans manage to escape, what's the point? Exeter is still in charge of the flying saucer, and it's not like he can go back home. The again, maybe he can fly to a.) another planet, b.) another galaxy, or c.) Hawaii.

Best line of dialogue: "In this place, I wouldn't trust my grandmother!"

What gets blasted to smithereens: A car and driver; a guy; a scientific facility full of scientists; a planet; a civilization; some guys with really bad haircuts; a spaceship; another guy with a bad haircut, who should've taken his hairdresser along with him.

What gets saved: In an interesting twist, the evildoers make it through just fine and are still out there, lurking.

It's on the Internet so it must be true: According to the Internet Movie Database, the German scientist who speaks after dinner at the research facility says the following: "Ladies and gentlemen, the meal was excellent, but after Mozart's marvelous music I need to be alone with myself for a while. Good evening." We will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Party game: Play "Meteor." Balance a child's playground ball on top of a paper or syrofoam cup. Players sit on the couch and take turns throwing balled-up wads of newspaper at it. First player who topples the ball off the cup is named honorary Zaygon. If this is too easy, try increasing the challenge by moving further away, standing on one foot while throwing, etc.

Moral of the story: Sometimes Super Cuts really is the best option.

Somehow their careers survived: Jeff Morrow (Exeter) was a veteran of many films, such as Siege at Red River and Roman drama Sign of the Pagan (both 1954), and would soon star in uber-turkey The Giant Claw along with the much better Kronos (both 1957). 1955 was a busy year for Faith Domergue (Dr Adams), who starred in this movie plus Cult of the Cobra and It Came From Beneath the Sea; the following year would bring Timeslip. Her career would continue until 1974's So Evil, My Sister and The House of Seven Corpses. Both Morrow and Rex Reason (Dr Meachum) would appear in The Creature Walks Among Us (1956); Reason would also star in westerns like The Rawhide Trail (1958) and The Miracle of the Hills (1959), before going on to a supporting role in TV's The Roaring '20s (1960-61). Russell Johnson (Steve) had been in It Came From Outer Space (1953) and would be seen in Roger Corman's 1957 weird-fest Attack of the Crab Monsters, as well as TV western Black Saddle (1959-60).

BOTTOM LINE: An early ancestor to Star Wars, this far-above-average space opera still holds up today.

NEXT WEEK: The Mole People






The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.


Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.