Glowing spacemen from another world
Originally I was going to write something like this: “Hey guys it’s Halloween. I wanna watch a monster movie so this week we’re talking about C.H.U.D. (1984).” Then I did a foolish thing. I watched C.H.U.D.
Yeesh. Have you seen C.H.U.D. ? It’s terrible! Not in the obvious of-course-it’s-terrible-you-dingbat way where we have a huge laugh at all the fake-looking Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (aha! Acronym revealed!) but just really slow-moving boring and tedious. Not fun to write about. (Although I did accidentally find a DVD Easter egg revealing the uncut nude version of the shower scene. That was kind of fun.)
Fortunately I stumbled across a little-known low-budget gem called The Mercury Men (2011). This wonderfully retro little flick started out as a web series chopped up into tiny seven-minute chapters but you can watch the whole thing edited into a feature on Crackle.
Shot for about $7000 The Mercury Men does a great job of looking like a classic black-and-white B-movie from the ’50s. The setting: an ordinary office building after business hours. One stuffy bureaucrat (Mark Tierno as “Edward Borman”) is just trying to get home after another pointless day of not helping people when aliens invade his workplace. The panicky Borman flees from cubicle to cubicle as the glowing white “Mercury Men” hunt down and vapourize his co-workers one by one.
The aliens are a perfectly simple optical effect and they look amazing. Creatures of pure humming energy they stalk the office tower firing lightning from their hands and lurking with palpable malevolence. The actors (or actor I suppose; it could be just one guy) playing the monsters manage to make the human silhouette look incredibly creepy and twisted which adds to the menace.
The hapless bureaucrat seems doomed until he runs into Jack Yeager (Curt Wootton) a pulp-era hero wearing a bomber jacket and a leather aviator’s helmet and packing a cool-looking ray gun. The invaders get zapped and the rugged adventurer takes Borman aside and explains the plot to him.
It seems that the invaders are “the men from Mercury” and they’re not just here to mess with a single office building — their goal is the extermination of all life on Earth. They’ve installed a high-tech device that uses the metal structure of the building to form a type of super-magnet that will (gasp!) draw the moon closer and closer to Earth until it crashes into the surface obliterating us all. So cool!
Jack Yeager can stop this heinous plan but Jack Yeager can’t do it alone — his team of fellow monster-fighters The League won’t arrive in time to help so it’s up to cowardly office drone Edward Borman to watch Yeager’s back and to provide the occasional feat of selfless heroism.
This is gripping stuff and the monochrome photography is utterly beautiful particularly when we see the moon drifting ever closer to us. It’s a great example of how a handful of people with limited resources can make fascinating genre fare that succeeds where bigger budget attempts can fail.
Mind you the low budget does hurt a bit from time to time and the pace slackens considerably in the middle. This story probably benefited from being shown in bite-size chunks rather than one long slog. Plus the story is set in 1975. This explains the Mercury Men’s motivation (they fear humanity for having mastered space travel) but it’s at odds with the marvelous 1950s-style photography. And the film is absolutely riddled with anachronisms. (Surely a few people who remember 1975 were on hand to correct the filmmakers right? They shouldn’t have been hard to find.)
Feh these are petty quibbles. The Mercury Men looks and sounds fantastic and is free to watch. I suggest you do so.