"They came from outer space…and they're "Fabulous!"—movie tagline
"I love the smell of lip balm in the morning."—voice of a gay Air Force pilot
Can re-editing and inserting new footage and dialogue with topical content transform a 50-year-old sci-fi stinker into a biting contemporary satire? The folks at Refried Flicks think so.
The DVD of their first half-baked effort, however, better suits a bland diet; and the jokes are strictly potluck.
Facts of the Case
In the late 1940s, W. Lee Wilder produced two of Anthony Mann's most unusual, though not quite classic films noir, The Great Flamarion in 1945 and Strange Impersonation in 1946. That same year Wilder jump-started his own directing career with The Glass Alibi, a neat little thriller that has garnered some respect in noir circles, while his follow-up efforts, The Pretender, Once a Thief, and Three Steps North remain a mixed bag. In 1953 he switched to low-budget horror—Phantom from Space, The Snow Creature, and The Man without a Body among others—and his future as a director hit the skids.
Wilder doesn't have the cult status of Ed Wood, but some nostalgia buffs consider his Killers from Space (1954) a camp classic. Maybe it's the absurd, bug-eyed aliens from Astron Delta, dressed in black body stockings, and their lame plot to steal nuclear information with the help of a brainwashed Earthling; or the 20 minutes of stock footage that pads the running time. Or maybe it's because the director's brother is Billy Wilder who, at the time, was adapting George Axelrod's The Seven Year Itch for the screen, a suave and sexy comedy that would make this low-budget programmer look like it had been beamed in from another galaxy. Whatever the reasons, fans of the film will no doubt be mortified and bluster with righteous indignation when they see what director Doug Miles and screenwriter Tex Hauser have done with their prized relic of schlock cinema.
The "refried" gay content of Killers from Space now has these aliens come from (where else?) Uranus, and "since the beginning of time [they] have roamed the universe destroying homophobia and oppression wherever it rears its ugly head." The nuclear information that would save a dying planet has become a secret code—"hidden on page 32 of the original manuscript of Giovanni's Room"—that will enable them to turn all Earthlings gay. And this time around, the mind-controlled human pawn has been surgically transformed into a homosexual with the process having a cumulative effect, much to the dismay of his sexually frustrated wife and paranoid co-workers. At first he simply uses the word "Fabulous!" a bit too often, but in no time at all he's dreaming of tattooed bikers in leather bars and searching for collectible action figures of The Village People.
As the newly-monikered Dr. Doug Fartin ( "That's Far-tayne!") gets gayer, the film gets lamer when Nurse Bendover meets Colonel Butz at the Fellatio Alger Military Base…Feel like you're back in the eighth grade yet? Read on.
Don't Ask Don't Tell starts promisingly with new narration (over re-edited stock military footage) delivered with stentorian March of Time gravity: "After decades of watching a decline in the moral fiber of the United States Armed Forces, a top secret Pentagon plan, Project Manhole, gets underway. The Enola Gay-Basher makes its initial run [headed for] 30,000 card-carrying homosexuals lured to Ground Zero (Sodom Flats) by the promise of a free 'Babs' Streisand concert." Aboard the plane is hunky Dr. Doug Fartin, played by the hunky young Peter Graves, a staple of early horror and sci-fi flicks having starred in Red Planet Mars (1952), It Conquered the World (1956) and Beginning of the End (1957), while providing solid support (usually playing military officers) in major productions such as The Long Gray Line and The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell, both in released 1955. That was a banner year for Graves, as his long-running family western, Fury, hit the TV screens, soon followed by another lengthy stint as Jim Phelps on Mission: Impossible. There is an inside joke in Don't Ask… about that show, but wisely avoided was any reference to Airplane! (1980) in which Graves's character harbored a predilection for asking little boys, "Have you ever seen a grown man naked?"
Dr. Fartin has been assigned to survey the aftermath of the bombing, but the plane misses its mark (hitting the town of Inbred, Texas instead) and crashes. The pilot is killed and Dr. Fartin has disappeared. When he staggers back to the base a few days later, he sports a huge L-shaped scar on his frequently exposed chest and thinks everything is "Fabulous!"
While Fartin struggles with his rapidly deteriorating heterosexuality, the military is gearing up for another homosexual bombing, and the aliens await the secret code that will enable them to zap everyone to gaydom come. Meanwhile the double-entendres fly, flashes of bouncing bare breasts appear almost subliminally to appease any straights who may accidentally see this film, and everything from Gaydar to Viagra to Trent Lott and dangling chads are tossed into the mix, leaving no toilet lid unlifted lest some potty humor be overlooked.
Actually, Killers from Space was an ideal vehicle for this project, not only for the beefcake shots of Graves, but because the plot could be easily adapted to the new premise. Unfortunately, it also required shooting additional sequences to tie up the storyline and inject some desperately needed humor. This turned out to be a Major Problemo (coincidentally, one of the new characters) because all but one of these skits falls flatter than the blueberry pancakes that are eaten off a woman's ass midway through the film. Almost every character in the inserted town of Inbred is played by Lloyd Floyd, and rarely I have seen more incompetent performances. I tracked Mr. Floyd down via icaramba.com and found that he's a stand-up comic with more than 1,000 voices to his credit. In front of a camera, however, decked out in assorted wigs, dresses, and facial hair, he's the stereotypical epitome of lisping drag queens, frustrated librarians, Germans, rednecks, stupid cops, et cetera. To make matters worse, the director seems to have given him carte blanche instead of a script; improvisation and ad-libbing are not this man's forté.
On the other hand, the one bright spot in the entire film is the absolutely hilarious "Titler" number, and I wasn't that surprised to discover that it came from an outside source, courtesy of AtomShockwave Corp. The song was written and performed by Greg Roman, and the sequence directed by Jonathan Bekemeir. At their website, Titler is described as "a muscular man sporting a Hitleresque mustache and a well-fitting evening gown, who turns light-hearted show tunes into odes to fellatio through a series of off-off-beat a cappella songs whose lyrics shed some light on Titler's demented psyche." If only the rest of Don't Ask Don't Tell had been this imaginative and outrageous. You can see this little gem on its own by clicking the link under "Accomplices."
Other unsuccessful stabs boosting the Laugh Factor were done digitally but look cheesy nonetheless: turning a bomb into a giant frankfurter (I'd page Dr. Freud on this one, but Ziggy's already in residence as another of Lloyd's atrocious impersonations), and changing a background photograph of Eisenhower to one of Bush wrinkling his nose at the proceedings. I'm with you on this one, Dubya.
The picture is in 1.66:1 aspect ratio (though advertised online as full frame), and was blown up from 16mm to 35mm according to the closing credits. The poor quality of the transfer is what you would expect for a film in public domain and nothing was done to perk it up. The inserted scenes are crisper but appear to have been deliberately "stressed" to match the original; and when a new character is digitally positioned in an old scene, it's blatantly obvious.
The audio is Mono with no Dolby enhancement. The re-dubbed dialogue sounds muffled compared to the original, and shortly I'll explain how you can determine your own judgment. The new musical score sounds terrific, and it's one of the few assets to this disc.
The minimally animated menu has floating eyeballs for "Play," and a spaceship for "Alien Sector," which is the chapter access with 13 listed, but 19 showing up on my DVD player. Considering the concept and the minds behind it, I thought the icon for the Extras, titled "Probe Deeper," was a butt plug. It's actually a miniature version of the aliens' giant ray gun that was supposed to turn everyone gay—the same contraption Dr. Fartin thought was an intergalactic bug zapper. But rest assured: you can safely press your remote to enter the Special Features section without altering your sexuality. Here you will find two rather intoxicating audios, "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and "We Are the Men (Who Make Your Gay)," both reminiscent of the hypnotic Leonard Cohen songs opted for Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers and Atom Egoyan's Exotica. There's also a ridiculous "music video" excerpted from the film's "Disco Dungeon of Pleasure" sequence with uninspired choreography left over from Madonna's "Vogue" era.
The expected trailer and production photos are also on tap—but do you really need a step-by-step guide to replicate those bulging alien eyes when all that's required is half a ping-pong ball, a black magic marker and a steady hand?
The most unique extra is interactive, and it's something I think gimmick-meister William Castle himself would have appreciated and pounced on were he still around to take full advantage of its home video potential. At certain points during the film the viewer is prompted with an on-screen option of switching to the dialogue of the original pre-"refried flick"—strictly for comparison's sake so your can see just how clever the new material is—or isn't. But keep in mind that by doing so you extend the running time of an already overlong and belabored stunt that may test the limits of your patience.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
At $24.95, Don't Ask Don't Tell is too steep a price to pay. I suggest you pick up the original Killers from Space for six bucks, turn off the sound, and make up your own dialogue.
Don't Ask Don't Tell needed a cheekier attitude and some sort of agenda in its re-dubbing script instead of relying on repetitious stale jokes and the clumsy slapstick of the inserts. Director Miles and scripter Hauser should also have been willing to take some risks; and I would call "Titler"'s Roman and Bekemeir to the witness stand to show them how it's done.
Refried Flicks is found guilty of misrepresentation, misappropriation and ill-use of a film in public domain with damages to its nostalgic value yet to be determined. They are hereby sentenced to watch all future screen and stage performances by Lloyd Floyd.
Roman and Bekemeir are innocent of all charges, including guilt by association, and are free to go.
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