More so than any other medium, cinema has shaped our expectations of potential alien life and visitation. From The Day the Earth Stood Still and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to Battleship, Prometheus and beyond, our hopes and fears of alien contact have been fuelled by the silver screen. But what messages does Hollywood impart to us about our possible otherworldly neighbours, from where do UFO movies draw their inspiration, and what other factors – cultural or conspiratorial – might influence their production and content? Silver Screen Saucers is a timely and revealing examination of the interplay between Hollywood’s UFO movies and the UFO phenomenon itself, from 1950 to present day.
The book grants the reader a rare, close-up examination of the DNA that builds our perceptions of the UFO mystery: one strand of this DNA weaves real events, stories and people from the historical record of UFOlogy, while the other spins and twists with the film and TV products they have inspired. With our alien dreams and nightmares now more fully visualized onscreen than ever before, Silver Screen Saucers asks the question: what does it all mean? Are all UFO stories just fever dreams from LA screenwriters, or are they based in something else? Could any of them be real and are they part of a bigger message?
From interviews with screenwriters and directors whose visions have been shaped by their lifelong UFO obsessions; to Presidents Carter and Reagan talking aliens with Spielberg at the White House; to CIA and Pentagon manipulation of UFO-themed productions; to movie stars and producers being stalked by real Men in Black, Silver Screen Saucers provides fresh perspective on the frequently debated but little understood subject of UFOs & Hollywood.
The book addresses questions such as:
• Does Hollywood fuel the UFO mythos, or vice versa? In other words, are our beliefs about alien visitation shaped by UFO movies, or are UFO movies shaped by our beliefs about alien visitation?
• Do Hollywood’s UFO movies fictionalize the UFO phenomenon in the public mind, actualize it, or both?
• If and when humanity makes full and open contact with an unearthly intelligence, would we, as cinemagoers, be able to divorce Hollywood’s historical imaginings from the reality with which we are presented? Indeed…
• Should we? After all, a great deal of Hollywood’s UFO movie content has been closely informed by supposedly factual UFOlogical literature, events and debates. Perhaps, then, there is more truth to be found in Hollywood’s UFO movies than we might imagine – which raises the question:
• Just how has so much dense UFOlogical theory (by its very nature ‘fringe’ and subcultural) managed find its way into Hollywood’s populist science fiction narratives? Is Hollywood’s incorporation of UFO lore attributable to a “Hollywood UFO conspiracy” designed to acclimate us to a UFO/alien reality, or is it merely the result of a natural cultural process?
With a foreword by Bryce Zabel, co-creator of NBC’s Dark Skies series, Silver Screen Saucers is bursting with ideas and information that will excite and intrigue any reader with a passing or serious interest in UFOs and/or science-fiction cinema.
About the author
Robbie Graham has been interviewed about UFOs and the politics of Hollywood for BBC Radio, Coast to Coast AM, Canal+ TV and Vanity Fair, among others. His articles have appeared in a variety of publications including The Guardian, New Statesman, Filmfax, Fortean Times, and the peer-reviewed journal of North American Studies, 49th Parallel. He holds an MA with Distinction in Cinema Studies from the University of Bristol. As a professional educator, Robbie has designed and delivered Film and Media courses at multiple learning levels at Stafford College and the University of Bristol.
Robbie is the editor of Silverscreensaucers.com
“We’re aliens; that’s what we do –
we come to planets, we destroy them, we move on.”
— Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), The Watch (2012)
Extraterrestrials seek to conquer our planet and claim it as their own. Their motivation stems either from desperation or despotism: their own planet is dying or its people are suffering due to a lack of essential resources, or else they have reached us as an inevitability in their cold quest for galactic empire. Whatever their justification for invasion, the aliens regard humanity as an obstruction that needs to be smashed, or as a pest that must be squashed.
This is a generic silver screen scenario. Hollywood loves a good alien movie, much more so if its aliens are evil: bad aliens do a good alien movie make – do they not? From The Thing from Another World and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, to They Live and Independence Day, to Battle: Los Angeles and Battleship, overwhelmingly, Hollywood’s aliens have been malevolent creatures; sometimes monstrous, sometimes invisible and parasitic, but almost always invasive.
But just how plausible is the concept of an alien invasion of Earth, and how realistic are Hollywood’s depictions of how such an invasion might unfold in light of what we know (or what we think we know) about the UFO phenomenon? Moreover, what do scientists and the military have to say about the possibility of an alien attack? Some of Hollywood’s alien races favour conquest by stealth, others through sheer fire power. This chapter takes a look at some of the silver screen’s most notable alien invasions, both silent and invisible, and explosive and spectacular, charting them chronologically and in parallel with real-world UFO occurrences.
~ UNITY THROUGH INVASION ~
Though it may come as a surprise to many, debates surrounding extraterrestrial invasion are not restricted to Hollywood and the UFO community. In recent years, mainstream science and even the US defense establishment have openly discussed ‘falling skies’ scenarios and what humanity might do to repel potential alien aggressors.
In April, 2010, Professor Stephen Hawking made international headlines by stating his firm belief that humanity should seek to avoid extraterrestrial contact: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the American Indians.” Hawking suggested that aliens “might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet” and would perhaps be “looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”
Two years later, on April 8, 2012, Professor Paul Springer of the U.S. Air Command and Staff College was granted special clearance by his employers at the Pentagon to discuss how the military would respond in the event of an alien invasion. Springer’s comments were aired in a televised interview for Australia’s Channel 9.
When asked by his interviewer exactly how an alien invasion might unfold, Springer replied:
“That really depends on why they are here in the first place. If they are here for the extraction of a specific resource, for example, they might just want to eliminate any resistance that might block them from their objective. If, on the other hand, their goal was actual occupation and conquest, then they would probably have to prioritize anything they perceive as a threat to their own dominance. So, they would probably start by wiping out as many communications networks as possible and eliminating as many weapons that might represent some form of threat either to them, or to the resources they are trying to extract.”
Springer suggested that the aliens would likely be concerned about our nuclear weapons, but not necessarily for the reason we might expect: “They might very well want to counter every nuclear weapon, not because it represented a threat to them, but because it might destroy whatever they’re here to collect.”
Springer’s comment about aliens wanting to neutralize our nuclear capabilities is especially interesting in light of the US government’s own declassified files documenting persistent UFO activity over nuclear weapons storage facilities over a span of four decades. In many of these instances, UFOs were reported tampering with the weapons themselves, activating and deactivating them with disquieting ease (see Chapters Four and Eight for further discussion of UFOs and nuclear weapons).
Springer was also asked by his interviewer: “Wouldn’t it be a strange situation if humanity had to band together, fighting alongside Russia, or I guess, the Taliban?” He responded:
“It would, but keep in mind that many of the greatest civilizations in human history have been formed, basically, to counter a common enemy. When you look at the great world powers of the globe today, you find a lot of them formed because of the fear of a common enemy.”
The nations of the world being brought together to thwart an alien aggressor is a notion that has been discussed publicly by hugely influential individuals in the spheres of politics, science, and finance. Famously, in an address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 1987, President (and former B-movie star) Ronald Reagan said:
“In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside of this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us?”
Referencing this statement in July, 2012, renowned theoretical physicist Professor Michio Kaku told CNN: “Ronald Reagan was probably right – if we are ever invaded by the Martians or some advanced civilization we would hunker down, we would get together to fight off the Martians.”
In August of the previous year, the Nobel prize-winning economist Professor Paul Krugman made headlines when, during a debate on CNN with Harvard economist Ken Rogoff, he stated that an alien invasion – whether real or staged by the United States government – would actually serve to stimulate the US economy thanks to the massively increased defense spending it would justify. Krugman said:
“If we discovered that, you know, space aliens were planning to attack and we needed a massive build-up to counter the space alien threat and really inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months.”
Krugman’s statements elicited some interesting responses from other influential individuals, including SETI’s Professor Seth Shostak, who told The Huffington Post: “Any aliens that have the capability to come here and ruin our whole day by vaporizing Earth or terrorizing its hominid inhabitants, would be centuries – perhaps millennia – beyond our technical level. To spend effort preparing for such a lugubrious possibility would be like the Neanderthals organizing their society to defend themselves against the U.S. Air Force,” Shostak said. “That won’t do them much good on the battlefield. But who’s to say? Maybe it would improve the Neanderthal economy.”
These statements are notable, but the discourse on the possibility of alien invasion goes considerably beyond a handful of soundbites from public figures. Take, for example, the 2006 book An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion, which was written not by a tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist, but by a group of space scientists and engineers who have spent years working for the likes of BAE Systems, NASA, and the US Department of Defense.
According to the authors, their book is “a starting point for developing defensive and offensive concepts in the event of an attack from advanced extraterrestrials,” and is not an attempt to “refute, discuss, defend, or even enter into an argument about government conspiracies, UFO cover-ups, alien autopsies, or any other examples of the ‘UFOlogy’ genre.”
The book discusses the statistical probability of an ET invasion; the possible types of ETs that might invade our planet; their possible motives for invasion; the types of weapons they might use against us; and how exactly we might go about defending ourselves.
~ CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE DISTURBING KIND ~
In light of such fear-mongering, it is worth asking: have UFOs and their occupants ever exhibited an invasive or hostile intent? The short answer is: not really. At least, nothing to hang your hat on as a general statement of malevolence or a conscious desire to cause us harm. Indeed, as will be documented in Chapter Four, in a great many cases of reported human/ET interaction the Experiencer describes their close encounter/s as being at the very least benign, and often joyous and spiritually transcendental. That said, there are more than a few cases scattered across the decades that have sparked debate about whether or not the UFO occupants have our best interests at heart.
Foo Fighters were reported by military personnel in the theatre of war from the early-to-mid-1940s. Naturally, these reports were a cause of serious concern for governments, and details were collated and analyzed to determine if the mystery objects – seemingly physical craft under intelligent control – were the product of one or more terrestrial enemy nations (a theory that led nowhere). But, although Foo Fighters sometimes came perilously close to allied aircraft, none of these encounters could reasonably be interpreted as hostile. If anything, the Foo Fighters acted like benign observers, curious about our technology and our primitive in-species conflicts.
It wasn’t long, though, before the UFOs chalked up their first human fatality. On January 7, 1948, Captain Thomas Mantell, a 25 year old Kentucky Air National Guard Pilot, died while in pursuit of an Unidentified Flying Object. Mantell – who was honoured with the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the Battle of Normandy – was one of four pilots ordered by the 156th Fighter Squadron to investigate UFO reports coming in to a number military bases in Kentucky that afternoon, including Goldman Field at Fort Knox and Clinton County Army Airfield. The UFO was reported by military personnel as being up to 300ft in diameter, “very white,” and with “a red border at the bottom.”
The pilots – who were in radio communication with the control tower at Fort Knox – were ordered to approach the object, but it was now at a considerable altitude and appeared as little more than a dot in the sky. The pilots were then advised to break off direct pursuit and to level their altitude – a suggestion ignored by Mantell, who continued to climb in chase of the object. As Mantell got closer to the UFO he told the control tower it “looks metallic, and of tremendous size.” They would be his last words.
It is thought that he blacked out soon after due to lack of oxygen. His plane spiralled toward the ground, crashing on a farm south of Franklin, Kentucky. The cause of Mantell’s crash as listed by the Air Force officially remains “undetermined.”
Little Green Men
Another disturbing UFO-related encounter occurred in 1955. On the evening of August 21, two families at a rural farmhouse near the towns of Kelly and Hopkinsville in Kentucky were besieged by small, non-human entities.
Around 7pm, Billy Ray Taylor went outside for a drink from the farm’s water pump when he saw a bright disc-shaped object in the sky to the west. Excited, he rushed back inside to report his sighting, but his account was met with incredulity. An hour later the families began hearing unusual noises coming from outside, and the dog in the yard began barking loudly. This prompted Taylor and Elmer “Lucky” Sutton to grab their guns and investigate. Stepping outside, the two men observed a strange humanoid creature emerging from the trees nearby, which approached to within 20 feet of them. It was at this point that the men opened fire – one using a shotgun, the other using a .22 rifle. The men then heard a noise “like bullets being rattled about in a metal drum,” and the creature – apparently unharmed – disappeared into the darkness. Before the men could give chase, they noticed another creature identical to the first perched on the roof of the farm. The men shot it, knocking it to the ground below. Again, their gunshots elicited a strange rattling noise, and the creature appeared unharmed.
As the night wore on, a total of seven family members would set eyes on the creatures, which repeatedly approached the house, peering in through windows almost playfully and scurrying about on the roof – they were shot at repeatedly, but never wounded.
The witnesses described the creatures as two–and–a–half–feet tall, with silvery skin or clothing, large pointed ears, clawlike hands and large yellow eyes. Their arms and legs were spindly – almost emaciated – and, perhaps most notably, they seemed to defy gravity as they were seen floating above the ground, propelling themselves with a distinctive hip-swaying action and steering with their arms.
Finally, at around 11pm, the terrified witnesses piled into their cars and fled to the Hopkinsville police station, whereupon twenty officers were dispatched to the farmhouse to investigate.
Upon the officers’ arrival the creatures had vanished, but evidence of a recent violent commotion was plain to see. The witnesses’ account was corroborated in part by other individuals, including several local policemen and a state trooper who had been in the vicinity earlier that night and had seen strange lights in the sky and heard bizarre noises. The witnesses’ neighbors also confirmed having heard multiple gunshots from the farm house on the night in question. The local press reported on the incident the following day, referring to the creatures as “little men.” By the time the time the national news media got hold of the story, the little men had become “little green men,” despite the witnesses having described them as being silver.
The witnesses themselves neither sought nor gained money or fame from their testimonies, and all stuck to their story until the day they died. The local police – who believed the witnesses had experienced something truly extraordinary – labelled the case as “unexplained.” Today, even UFO skeptics have few doubts about the sincerity of the witnesses, and the best Earthly explanation yet offered for the Kentucky farm siege attributes it to the misidentification of meteors. The humanoid creatures, say the doubters, were angry owls.
In May 1962, legendary US Army General, Douglas MacArthur, made public statements about what he perceived to be a potential threat to Earth from extraterrestrials. During a speech to cadets of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, MacArthur said:
“We deal now, not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe…We speak in strange terms, of harnessing the cosmic energy… of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy.”
MacArthur had made a similar statement to the Mayor of Naples, Achille Lauro, in 1955. In an October 7 meeting between the two men that took place in New York, General MacArthur told Lauro that the nations of Earth would one day be forced to “make a common front against attack by people from other planets.”
What inspired such seemingly bizarre comments from one of America’s most celebrated military leaders may never be known for sure, but it seems reasonable to assume that a general of MacArthur’s stature and longevity would almost certainly had at least some exposure to classified information pertaining to the UFO issue.
“It’s not an aircraft”
In 1978, yet another aircraft would be lost in an apparent UFO encounter. On October 21, at 7:12 pm, 20-year-old Frederick Valentich and the Cessna 182L light aircraft he was piloting mysteriously vanished over Australia’s Bass Strait.
Shortly prior to his disappearance Valentich had advised Melbourne air traffic control that he was being orbited by a large craft some 300 meters above him. Valentich said the craft was long, with a shiny metal surface and a green light on it. He then reported that the craft was approaching him from the Southwest.
Moments later, the young pilot made what would be his final statement to air traffic control – or to anyone: “[the] strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again. It is hovering and it’s not an aircraft.” This was followed by 17 seconds of “metallic scraping sounds.” No trace of Valentich or his aircraft was ever found. The cause of his disappearance remains undetermined.
It is examples such as these – coupled with the element of the unknown that characterises the UFO phenomenon and the terrifying possibilities that lurk within the unknowable – that have long appealed to creatives in the entertainment industry: where there’s the unknown, there’s fear; where there’s fear, there’s drama; and where there’s drama, there’s money. Add spectacle to the drama and, potentially, there’s sacks of money.
It makes sense, then, that the inherently spectacular scenario of alien invasion continues to play out at the worldwide box-office.
~ THE SAUCERS LAND IN HOLLYWOOD ~
In 1947, an event occurred that would forever change Hollywood’s relationship with all things extraterrestrial. Pilot Kenneth Arnold’s sighting on June 24 of nine unusual objects near Mount Rainer in Washington State sparked a media frenzy and opened the floodgates for hundreds of similar sightings in the coming months. Though not the first to report such things, Arnold’s description of the objects’ flight characteristics as being “like a saucer if you skip it across the water” inspired the press to dub the objects “flying saucers.” The other frequently used term at the time was “flying disc.” Witness descriptions of these phenomena varied in the fine details – some discs had no protuberances whatsoever, being perfectly circular or ellipsoid, while many others were reported as being topped with a dome or cupola.
Following the Arnold sighting, “flying saucers” embedded themselves into the zeitgeist, and it wasn’t long before Hollywood saw the dollar-potential of this new global hysteria.
The first film to exploit the “flying saucer” term – Mikel Conrad’s subtly titled (and Air Force-baiting) The Flying Saucer (1950) – was a shameless cash-in on the public’s growing fascination with the saucer enigma. Curiously, however, the flying saucer of the title eventually proves to be a soviet secret weapon – aliens don’t even get a look-in. Today, a UFO movie sans aliens would be a head-scratcher for audiences, UFOs and aliens now being synonymous in popular culture. But, in fact, the non-alien origin of Conrad’s saucer was in keeping with public opinion during the fledgling years of the UFO phenomenon.
The first US poll of public UFO perceptions was released by Gallup on August 14, 1947. It revealed that the “flying saucer” term was familiar to 90% of respondents. However, with regard to the provenance of the saucers, the poll showed that, of those who were willing to provide an answer (with 33% either having no opinion or refusing to respond), the majority favored a mundane explanation: 29% said optical illusions, mirages or overactive imagination were to blame, 15% thought the saucers were a US secret weapon, 10% a hoax, 3% a “weather forecasting device,” 1% believed they were of Soviet origin (presumably Conrad fell within this group), while 9% favored “other explanations,” including fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, secret commercial aircraft, or phenomena related to atomic testing.
Unfortunately for Conrad, by the time The Flying Saucer was released in 1950, the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) had come firmly into favour among UFO believers, and the movie failed to connect with audiences. Like many a real flying saucer, then, the film was seen by only a few people, and for a short time. But more UFO movies were to follow. They arrived in Tinseltown like an invading force, overwhelming industry output and capturing the imagination of an already saucer-saturated nation.
The Roswell ‘Thing’
When the Roswell Army Air Force (RAAF) withdrew its announcement in 1947 of having captured a downed “flying saucer” in the deserts of New Mexico, claiming instead to have stumbled across a common weather balloon, a trusting public failed to bat an eyelid. If officialdom said it, then it must be true – such was the attitude of the time. Yet Roswell was not dead, only dormant, and some three decades later this sleeping giant would begin to stir.
In 1978, UFOlogists William Moore and Stanton Friedman conducted research that led them, independently, and almost by chance, to a man of considerable interest: retired Air Force Officer Major Jesse Marcel, who claimed direct knowledge of the recovery of truck-loads of material near Roswell, New Mexico, in early July of 1947. The material, said Marcel, was not of this world. In the years to follow, other researchers began pursuing the Roswell case, including Donald Schmitt, Kevin Randle, Thomas Carey, among others. By the mid-1990s, their collective efforts had brought forth testimonies from scores of named individuals. Some were civilian witnesses, others were retired military officers formerly stationed at the RAAF. Some recalled hearing about and even handling bizarre, indestructible foil-like material from the wreckage, while others reported seeing a number of diminutive, non-human cadavers with disproportionately large heads and spindly bodies. Today, the number of testimonies supporting the extraterrestrial nature of the Roswell incident stands at approximately 600. Although some of these testimonies are slightly contradictory, the broad picture they paint – accurate or not – is one in which large quantities of debris, a partially intact craft, and between three and five alien beings (at least one of which was still alive) were recovered by military personnel and eventually were taken to, stored, and studied, at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
Four years after the events that would eventually put the sleepy town of Roswell on the map, a film was released that had striking parallels with the Roswell narrative as we know it today.
Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World (1951) saw a US Air Force crew and a journalist dispatched to a scientific outpost in the North Pole to investigate the wreckage of a crashed flying saucer. During their investigation, the Americans discover an alien body frozen in the ice nearby, which is then hauled back to their research outpost. Inevitably, the frozen alien soon thaws-out and begins terrorizing its human captors.
The chief scientist at the research outpost, Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), discovers that the ‘Thing’ is a form of plant life – a sort of intellectual vampiric carrot – and is impressed by its biological elegance (“No pleasure, no pain… no emotion, no heart. Our superior in every way”). But while Carrington wants to protect and study the creature in the name of science, the Air Force wants to destroy it and keep it hushed-up. All the while, the tag-along journalist Scotty (Douglas Spencer) wants nothing more than to bring his “story of a lifetime” to the world’s media.
Eventually the eponymous Thing is killed by electrocution and incinerated. Its ultimate motivation for visiting our planet goes unspecified. Championing the notion of a free American press, the film ends with Scotty broadcasting a message and a warning to reporters:
“Here, at the top of the world, a handful of American soldiers and civilians met the first invasion from another planet…The flying saucer which landed here and its pilot have been destroyed, but not without causalities among our own meager forces… Everyone of you listening to my voice, tell the world, tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the skies. Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!”
The parallels between The Thing from Another World and the Roswell incident have not gone unnoticed in the UFO community, or in Hollywood. Filmmaker Paul Davids – who wrote and produced the popular TV movie Roswell (1994), starring Kyle MacLachlan and Martin Sheen – notes:
“The Thing was the story of a flying saucer crash… All the themes of the Roswell Incident were there. The military covered it up. A newsman pleaded for disclosure. There was buried saucer wreckage. There was an alien body (that turned out to be still alive). There was secrecy. And in the movie, there was danger.”
Davids wonders if the purpose of The Thing may have been to take a factual and highly sensitive event and to couch it in fiction, the goal being to ridicule the idea of saucer crashes by associating them with superficially outlandish sci-fi cinema, and/or to subtly drip-feed these realities into the popular consciousness. Hawks’ movie was based on a science-fiction story called Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr., “But there are thousands of science-fiction stories,” says Davids, “and only a small fraction of them are produced as films. Was it a coincidence that a great producer put this tale to film just three years after [the Roswell incident]?”
Intriguing as it is, the idea of a conspiracy behind The Thing would seem to be ruled out by the fact that the USAF officially had denied its cooperation to the filmmakers specifically on the grounds that their movie dealt with the thorny issue of flying saucers. Still, this does not preclude the possibility that certain individuals may have acted independently of their colleagues at the Pentagon to influence Howard Hawks’ distinctly Roswellian UFO movie. Such influence could, for example, have been exerted through Howard Hughes, the billionaire industrialist and defense contractor who, at the time of The Thing’s production, owned the movie’s distributor, RKO, and had an intimate working relationship with the US Department of Defense. Indulging the conspiratorial reading of The Thing: perhaps, in return for business favors down the line, Hollywood/Defense mogul Howard Hughes allowed his lofty contacts at the Pentagon to tweak his movie’s script in accordance with their own UFO-related goals (“I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine”). In any case, and for whatever reason, the parallels between Roswell and The Thing are plain to see.
While the Thing of the 1951 movie was a hostile entity, there is no evidence to suggest that the Roswell beings came to us with mal-intent. If they had been part of a forward invasion force then, presumably, sometime during the 65 years since their crash-landing, we would have seen evidence of their plans in the form of charred cities across the globe. But perhaps this is over-simplifying the matter – our own history has shown that hostile agendas need not always manifest immediately or spectacularly.
Regardless of whether or not the Roswell beings’ agenda was evident upon their arrival in 1947, the US government certainly would have viewed these strange entities and their unfathomable technology as a grave threat to the United States – hence the RAAF’s retraction of its hasty “flying saucer” announcement and its speedy implementation of a cover-up that remains in place to this day (the architecture of the cover-up is detailed in Chapter Eight).
Panic in the Capitol
Following The Thing, 1951 saw the release of another iconic UFO movie: The Day the Earth Stood Still, a cautionary tale about the dangers of nuclear weaponry in which a flying saucer lands in Washington D.C. (see Chapter Four for a detailed discussion). Although the film’s alien protagonist, Klaatu, essentially came in peace, his ultimate message for humanity was less comforting: “Your choice is simple. Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration.” Apparently, even friendly aliens were to be feared.
Life closely imitated art the following year when, between July 12 and 27, 1952, multiple UFOs were spotted on radar and by numerous eyewitnesses over Washington D.C. The objects differed in appearance depending on the date of the sighting and the vantage point of the observer, but they were variously described as bright balls of light or disc-shaped objects that moved at high speeds and in a manner entirely unlike any conventional aircraft, sometimes stopping on a dime, making right-angle turns, and even vanishing into thin air. By the end of July, the sightings had whipped up a media frenzy, and the press reported – accurately – that USAF pilots had been placed on 24 hour nationwide alert against flying saucers and had received orders to shoot them down if they ignored orders to land.
Alarmingly, at one point, some of the objects were seen to pass over the White House and the Capitol Building and President Truman himself put in a personal phone call to Project Blue Book head Captain Edward Ruppelt demanding an explanation for the flying saucer wave.
The D.C. sightings were the cause of such widespread panic that the US Air Force was compelled to publicly address the UFO issue in an attempt to quell growing fears of an alien invasion.
On July 29, 1952, during the largest Pentagon press conference since World War II, Air Force Major Generals John Samford and Roger Ramey declared that the D.C. sightings were attributable to a combination of “temperature inversions” and misidentified stars and meteors. Few were convinced by their explanation.
Behind the scenes of the US national security apparatus, those in the know were beginning to sweat, and, with the uncomfortably high-profile D.C. sightings as a catalyst, the CIA decided in 1953 to establish the Robertson Panel, which quietly but aggressively set about “debunking and demystifying” UFOs through cultural channels, including film and television.
Enter the Martians
That same year (1953), William Cameron Menzies directed Invaders from Mars – a fascinating addition to the burgeoning UFO subgenre. The movie opens with young David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt) witnessing a classic flying saucer from his bedroom window. It is self-luminescent and makes a high-pitched humming sound. Its shape is exactly like that reported and photographed by controversial contactee Billy Meier in his alleged experiences from the 1970s onwards (more on Meier in Chapter Four).
David watches as the saucer descends and disappears underground not too far from his house. He then alerts his parents, and his father, a scientist (played by Leif Erickson), goes outside to investigate. When he returns the next morning, David’s father behaves like an automaton and we see a strange red puncture mark on the back of his neck where an implant has been inserted. David soon realizes something is amiss as he begins to notice that many other people in his town are also behaving robotically.
The only people willing to believe David’s seemingly crazy story are health-department physician Dr. Pat Blake (Helena Carter) and local astronomer Dr. Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz) who conclude that David’s flying saucer is the vanguard of a looming Martian invasion force. Soon the Pentagon is involved and the Army uncovers an alien plot to use mind-controlled human slaves to sabotage an atomic rocket project at a nearby government research plant. Invasion through infiltration.
The aliens themselves (referred to “mu-tants”) are humanoids with bald heads and large bulbous eyes (stock features of the now-archetypal ‘Grey’ aliens described in countless abduction reports in the decades to follow, and variants of which were described by Roswell witnesses). Their leader – who controls them telepathically from within the confines of a small glass sphere – is essentially a tentacled torso with an oversized head.
He is, we are told, “mankind developed to its ultimate intelligence.”
Eventually, the Army pinpoints the exact location of the flying saucer underground and surrounds it with explosive charges, which, when detonated, force the saucer to the surface and back into the air where it is quickly destroyed by the Army’s cannons.
Clearly, Invaders from Mars bears close UFOlogical scrutiny, but one scene in particular cries out for analysis from a conspiratorial perspective. The scene in question sees the film’s adult hero – the implausibly square-jawed astronomer Dr. Kelston – declare the Martians’ arrival as no surprise. He explains that the government has been studying the saucers for a number of years and is well aware that they are extraterrestrial in origin.
In the fashion of a public service announcement, Kelston goes on to describe various real-life cases catalogued by the Air Force’s “Project Saucer” (the popular name for the USAF’s real-life UFO investigations effort at the time, Project Sign), including the UFO-related death of Captain Thomas Mantell in 1948 and the “Lubbock Lights” (referring to several incidents between August and September 1951 in which numerous residents of Lubbock, Texas, claimed to have witnessed a spectacular formation of lights passing silently overhead. One of the witnesses – a university professor – estimated that the bright circular objects were at an altitude of around 600 meters and were travelling in excess of 600 miles per hour). Kelston illustrates his eight-minute lecture with genuine news-clippings and UFO photographs, including a famous shot of the Lubbock Lights: “Life can, and does, exist on other planets,” he intones, before displaying scale models of the multiple saucer types he says are known to exist by the Air Force.
This lengthy scene clearly was devoid of narrative function and it did not appear in the US theatrical cut of the film. Shot some time after principal photography had wrapped, it was too late for the scene to feature in the US cut, but someone, somewhere, for some reason, decided it should be inserted into the European version of the movie. From a filmmaking standpoint, the scene adds far more context than is necessary, stopping the movie dead in its tracks for over eight minutes. Without the scene, Invaders from Mars is 79 minutes in duration – short, but not at all unusual for sci-fi and horror B-movies of the time: I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) is 78 minutes, while The Flying Saucer (1950) and Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) are both just 69 minutes. Therefore, the extra scene being added merely as filler to extend the movie to a more acceptable run-time is an idea that holds little water. While the scene would have been cheap to produce, it would also have required a considerable amount of specialist research – a lot of effort to go to for no apparent reason.
That the scene was scripted and shot at all, then, raises questions about the possibility of subversive government involvement in the filmmaking process – a notion that cannot easily be dismissed in light of officialdom’s historical efforts to manipulate the content of Hollywood’s UFO movies. The Invaders from Mars scene may have been intended to fictionalise and debunk UFOs by injecting largely factual UFOlogical information into an otherwise outrageous and fantastical sci-fi narrative – as may have been the case with The Thing from Another World two years prior.
Another option to consider is that the government was not thinking merely in terms of actualisation or fictionalisation, but in terms of vilification. Just as the US propaganda machine (i.e. a complicit media) actively vilified the Nazis during WWII (not that they needed much vilifying), so, too, post-war Hollywood was wielded by Washington as an essential psychological weapon in a parallel ‘Cold War’ against what it perceived to be – in the words of General Douglas MacArthur – “the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy.”
Just four months after Menzies’ Invaders from Mars, director Byron Haskin would further vilify our imagined Martian neighbors with his spectacular movie adaptation of H.G. Welles’ classic novel, The War of the Worlds, in which Martians from a dying civilization view our thriving planet with envious eyes and launch a full-scale invasion to claim it as their own, only to be defeated by the tiniest of foes – the human germ. The film’s Martians were truly alien in their design – short stumpy creatures with no legs (only feet) and with one three-part eye embedded in the center of their torso. Their long arms end in long hands with spindly suction-cupped fingers. In step with the times, H.G. Welles’ original tripod machines were replaced with saucer-like craft, although the novel’s overly-convenient ending, in which the aliens suddenly drop dead en masse due to bacterial infection, remained intact. In reality, bacteria are the last thing that would foil an alien invasion of Earth. Any advanced civilizations interacting with our planet naturally would take every precaution to minimize or eliminate the risk of their becoming contaminated by our biosphere – either through a long process of physical acclimatization, or simply by wearing their equivalent of hazmat suits with a self-contained breathing apparatus.
By this point, audiences were leaving America’s movie-houses with a clear thought in mind – aliens were a force to be feared.
Not everyone bought into the fear-fest, however. One of the more enlightened perspectives on UFOs during this period came from the celebrated pioneer of rocketry, Professor Hermann Oberth, who, on October 24, 1954, told The American Weekly:
“It is my thesis that flying saucers are real and that they are space ships from another solar system. I think that they possibly are manned by intelligent observers who are members of a race that may have been investigating our earth for centuries. I think that they have been sent out to conduct systematic, long-range investigations, first of men, animals and vegetation, and more recently of atomic centers, armaments and centers of armament production. They obviously have not come as invaders, but I believe their present mission may be one of scientific investigation.”
Although the UFO-related death of Thomas Mantell in 1948 had sparked debate about the potentially hostile nature of the UFO phenomenon, and despite occasional reports of close encounters of the troubling kind, on the whole, throughout the 1950s, UFOs were more a source of fascination than terror. The freakish creatures that would frequent movie theatres throughout the decade only very occasionally ventured out into the real world (the Kentucky farm siege of 1955 being the most extreme of these occasions). Generally, beings described in UFO reports were less fantastical than those presented by Hollywood, and considerably less aggressive.
In 1954 – the same year Hermann Oberth opined that UFOs were here on a mission of “scientific investigation” – a global wave of UFO landings was occurring, with Western Europe and South America emerging as hotspots. In his study of this wave, computer scientist and now-legendary UFO researcher Dr Jacques Vallee examined no less than 200 reports of landings or near-landings of UFOs, 42 of which involved descriptions of “pilots” who were witnessed either inside of the UFO, or on the ground in close proximity to it. Of the 200 cases, 156 occurred in France, with the rest being spread across (but not limited to) counties such as Italy, Germany, Brazil, Venezuela, Spain, and Portugal. In the vast majority of these cases, the UFOs were described as “discs” or else as objects that were broadly disc-like in appearance. Many of the discs were reported as “spinning.” Some of them had “portholes” around their rim, while others were topped with a dome. The discs were variously described as “silent,” or else as emitting a “whistling sound,” or a “whirring sound.”
The “flying saucer” term did not feature in any of Vallee’s case studies – a fact he attributes to the UFOs exhibiting “an avoidance of population areas,” meaning that the UFOs in the 1954 wave typically were witnessed in regions less immersed in popular culture than cosmopolitan areas. In other words, those who lived in back-water locales had restricted access to audio-visual and print media that would otherwise inform their perceptions of the burgeoning UFO phenomenon. Quite simply, the “flying saucer” term had yet to reach the ears of many rural folk by the mid-1950s.
With regard to the UFO occupants themselves, in sharp contrast to Hollywood’s elaborate alien creations, Vallee noted that his case studies “always involve beings which are near-human in appearance, sometimes absolutely human… these human operators are always said to be ‘of European type’ with few variations [even in non-European countries], and are never described as wearing respiratory devices [which would support the notion that most ET races visiting us are fully acclimatized to our biosphere and are not in the least bit concerned about Earth germs. Sorry, H.G. Welles].”
A typical report from the 1954 wave came on December 9 from a farmer in Linha da Vista in Brazil, who observed on his land three men and a “machine” (a landed craft), which was enveloped in a haze. Two of the men were outside of the craft inspecting their surroundings, while the third was visible inside it. The craft made a noise “like a sewing machine.”
Shocked at the sight before him, the farmer dropped his pitchfork. One of the men then approached, picked it up, examined it, and handed it back to the farmer. The two beings on the ground then joined the third in their craft, motioning the farmer not to come too close. The craft then took off. The beings in this case wore “brown coveralls, ending with shoes which had no heels.” They were “of average height, had broad shoulders, long hair, very white skin and slanted eyes.” Hardly the stuff Hollywood nightmares.
In most of the cases Vallee studied, the UFO occupants seemed to be engaged in “sampling,” and actively avoided direct contact with their human observers, usually departing the scene soon after being sighted. Still, despite the non-hostility of the majority of the UFO occupants in the 1954 wave, many of the witnesses “showed signs of extreme terror,” in some cases fainting “either during the experience or immediately afterwards.” In six cases examined by Vallee, witnesses actually required medical attention as a result of their experience. Non-hostility, then, does not necessarily always equate to a pleasant experience for all involved.
It is notable that human-looking extraterrestrials piloting flying saucers would show up the following year in the 1955 film This Island Earth (see Chapter Four), but this would be a rare silver screen appearance indeed for their type – Hollywood now, as then, expressing little interest in attractive space beings.
Body-snatchers and soul-eaters
In 1956 came Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which alien invaders replace humans with ‘pod people’ – duplicates that are superficially identical to the original victim, but which are utterly devoid of individuality or emotion. Film critics have since interpreted Invasion of the Body Snatchers – as well as many sci-fi movies of the Cold War era – as political allegory.
Discussing the idea of allegory in alien invasion movies of the 1950s, film writer Peter Biskind notes that “critics of popular culture have always been quick to point out that the Other is always other than itself, which is to say, the pods and blobs are “symbols” standing for something else.” Because the Other in films of this period frequently was linked to radiation (as in Them! (1954)), or to mind control and loss of identity (as in Invaders from Mars (1953)), it has been customary in film studies to equate aliens with the dangers associated with atomic power or communism. But Biskind argues that critics often give Cold War sci-fi movies too much credit and that many of them were not political allegories at all, but literal reflections of cultural preoccupations. For the preferred reading of many of these films, says Biskind, “all we have to do is look at what’s before our very eyes.” When asked how to account for the tremendous appeal in the 1950s of the science fiction genre (dominated at the time by the UFO movie), actor Billy Gray (who played the character of Bobby Benson in the original The Day the Earth Stood Still) was unequivocal: “It correlated with reports of UFOs. At the time it was just rampant – every other person had seen something mysterious in the sky. I think that’s what made science fiction popular at this time.”
Invasion of the Body Snatchers would be memorably remade in 1978 by Philip Kaufman with Donald Sutherland in the lead role, before being lamentably ‘re-booted’ by Oliver Hirschbiegel in 2007 as the Nicole Kidman vehicle, The Invasion. Body-snatching aliens have also appeared in many other Hollywood narratives, including, most notably, Tobe Hooper’s Life Force (1985); The Hunted (1988); The Faculty (1998); Dark Skies (1996-97); Invasion (2005); and, more recently, The Host (2013), based on the Stephanie Meyer book in which alien entities called “Souls” silently conquer Earth by occupying the bodies of its inhabitants.
The central concept of all these ‘body snatcher’ narratives – that the human will (and even the soul) can be invisibly hijacked by a malevolent alien power – is one that has become increasingly popular in recent years within the most paranoid factions of the UFO/conspiracy community. British TV-sports-presenter-turned-conspiracy-icon David Icke has been chiefly responsible for the popularization of the idea that many of our world leaders secretly are lizard-people from outer space. Icke’s massively popular books and lectures posit that the world as we know is, in fact, a hologram designed and maintained by a race inter-dimensional reptilian beings – known to ancient Mesopotamian cultures as the ‘Annunaki’ – who feed not only on human flesh, but off the suffering of the human soul. According to Icke, many prominent figures of the global elite are descended from the reptilian bloodlines and are working in secret to enslave humanity. In his development of these theories throughout the 1990s, Icke borrowed notably from Ancient Astronaut scholar Zecharia Sitchin, who first made the theoretical connection between the Annunaki and extraterrestrials in his 1976 book, The 12th Planet.
But while Icke’s premise may have come from Sitchin, the finer details of his elaborate narrative seem at least partially indebted to Hollywood entertainment. Some 16 years prior to Icke’s first book on the ‘reptoid’ agenda in 1999 (The Biggest Secret), the television mini-series V (1983–1984) was spinning its own compelling yarn about flesh-eating reptilian aliens who disguise themselves as humans and exert their influence on our society and politics. The 2009 ‘rebooting’ of V explored similar themes to the original, but this time, ironically, seemed to owe more to Icke’s by-now fully developed reptilian lore, with the show’s alien ‘Visitors’ craving not only human flesh, but the human soul itself.
Keyhoe vs. Hollywood
But back to the 1950s. One of the most significant productions of the decade to deal with alien invasion was Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), which was very loosely based on Donald Keyhoe’s 1953 non-fiction book Flying Saucers from Outer Space.
In the movie, the last of a dying species of aliens arrive on Earth seeking a new home. Although the aliens request a meeting with world leaders to discuss their desires for occupation, the US military, with the help of one America’s top scientists (played by Hugh Marlowe), formulates a plan of attack involving the use of sonar canons mounted on trucks and fired at the aliens’ flying saucers (the sonar supposedly interfering with their propulsion and navigation systems and disabling their force fields).
Intriguingly, this fictional battle strategy seems to have been directly inspired by real-life UFOlogical events which occurred just one year prior to the release of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers when the legendary scientist Wilhelm Reich claimed to have used his “cloudbuster” invention to attack UFOs (which he believed were hostile) by sucking the energy out of them.
Reich’s cloudbuster was an atmospheric device constructed from two rows of 15-foot aluminium pipes mounted on trucks and connected to cables that were inserted into water. Its appearance and functionality were strikingly similar to that of the sonar cannons in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Reich believed that his cloudbusters served to unblock cosmic ‘orgone’ energy in the atmosphere, which he said would be beneficial to human health. Apparently Reich also found them handy for shooting down alien spacecraft in what he described as a “full-scale interplanetary battle” in Tucson Arizona in 1955.
The production history of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is similarly intriguing. In 1955, Donald Keyhoe – then a jagged thorn in the side of the US government’s UFO secret-keepers – was approached by a group of Hollywood producers seeking to buy the rights to his aforementioned non-fiction book. The producers told Keyhoe their film was to be a serious documentary about UFOs. Although initially suspicious, Keyhoe eventually went along with the deal. Big mistake. Upon its completion in 1956, the “documentary” turned out to be the schlock sci-fi B-movie of our discussion. Keyhoe was outraged and demanded that his name be removed from the film’s credits, but to no avail. Someone, it seemed, had it in for this outspoken advocate for government transparency on UFOs (likely the same “someone” who, two years later, censored Keyhoe’s statement on live television that flying saucers were “real machines under intelligent control”).
Keyhoe’s book, despite its pulpy title, was a serious examination of UFOs that drew extensively from the USAF’s own investigations into the phenomenon. The movie that the book inspired, however, was an outlandish affair, presenting scientists and the military fighting-off ridiculous rubber-suited aliens with plans to occupy the Earth. This deviation into kitsch fantasy is especially frustrating because the film also retained a considerable amount of fact-based UFOlogical detail from Keyhoe’s source material. The film’s saucers, for example – designed by Ray Harryhausen with a stationary central dome and a rotating outer-rim with slotted vanes – were based exactly on real-life saucer descriptions collated by Keyhoe. Harryhausen also sought advice on his saucer design from UFO ‘contactee’ George Adamski (whose controversial accounts are detailed in Chapter Four). Additionally, the shrill sound emitted by the movie’s saucers also has been a common feature in UFO close encounter reports from the 1940s to present day, with witnesses often associating high-pitch whirring, humming, or hissing sounds with UFOs.
Particularly interesting is a scene in which Foo Fighters make a casual appearance. The scene in question sees heroic scientist Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe), his wife Carol (Joan Taylor), and the latter’s father, General Hanley (Morris Ankrum) having a family lunch while discussing their work on Project Skyhook – an American space program that launches research satellites into orbit. Suddenly, two glowing balls of light appear above their house, hovering silently.
“Look! What are those lights?” asks the General. “They’re what the pilots call ‘Foo lights’”, Carol replies, “there have been so many around the project the last couple of days we all just take them for granted.” This is an unmistakable reference not only to Foo Fighters, but to the many UFOs – specifically anomalous fireballs – reported by military personnel around sensitive government facilities in the late-1940s and which lead to Project Twinkle – a two year study program at Holloman Air Force Base that sought to solve the mystery.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers even has echoes of Roswell in the form of its alien invaders; not as they appear in their cumbersome space-suits, but in their true form underneath.
When the protagonists remove the space-suit from one of the dead aliens, the being bears an uncanny likeness to the Roswell beings as described by firsthand witnesses from 1947 – but these testimonies would not come to light until more than twenty years after the release of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. How do we account for this apparent cinematic prescience? Were the Roswell witnesses influenced after the fact by Hollywood, or was Hollywood influenced by intelligence operatives with knowledge of the Roswell Incident?
A sharp contrast
In 1956, while millions of cinemagoers were watching Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, far fewer were reading a then newly-released book about flying saucers written by retired USAF captain Edward J. Ruppelt, who, from 1951 to 1953 served as head of the USAF’s Project Blue Book. Today, Ruppelt’s book – The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects – is regarded as one of the most important ever written on the UFO topic, not least of all for its popularization of the “UFO” acronym, which, for its clinical ring, was favored by the USAF over “flying saucer,” a term that had become synonymous with alien visitation in the public mind.
Ruppelt’s book left the reader with little doubt that Unidentified Flying Objects, despite their apparent non-hostility, continued to be a source of deep concern and puzzlement to the United States Air Force and even revealed the existence and mandate of the now infamous CIA Robertson Panel. Perhaps the most jaw-dropping revelation in Ruppelt’s book was that, in 1948, the USAF’s Project Sign (the forerunner to Blue Book) had concluded in a Top Secret report that the flying saucer phenomenon was “interplanetary” in nature. Ruppelt noted that the report – titled “An Estimate of the Situation” – so alarmed Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg that he ordered all copies of the document incinerated; a few survived, however, one of which was examined by Ruppelt.
But while the government continued to treat the UFO phenomenon with the utmost seriousness, the vast majority of Hollywood filmmakers took the opposite approach (which, perhaps not by chance, worked out nicely for the government).
The back end of the 1950s saw the release of numerous ultra-low-budget alien invasion movies, most notable among which were The Blob (1958) – a charming ‘teens-vs.-giant-gelatinous-space… well… blob’ flick, in which a rampaging meteorite excretion is finally defeated by being frozen and dumped in the Arctic; and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) – Ed Wood’s gloriously nonsensical film in which aliens resurrect Earth’s dead as “ghouls” in a bizarre attempt to stop humanity developing a doomsday weapon that would destroy the universe.
Also ludicrous was Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), which saw teenagers do battle with anti-social spacemen. The movie is gleefully outlandish – especially so when a dead alien’s hand detaches itself, grows an eye, and runs amok. But, as with other invasion movies of the 1950s, the influence of real-life UFO encounter reports is evident. The movie drew considerable inspiration from the famous Hopkinsville, Kentucky case of 1955, in which impish creatures are said to have terrorized a farming family for several nights. In Invasion of the Saucer Men, the aliens are aggressive little creatures with green skin who get their kicks by violently harassing the residents of a rural American town. In one scene, the heroine of the piece (played by Gloria Castillo) even refers to one the aliens as “a little green man,” just as the press had (erroneously) used the “little green men” term when reporting on the Hopkinsville case.
~ TIMES (AND UFO MOVIES) THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’ ~
During the 1960s and 1970s, the fascination of the saucers (by now more commonly referred to as ‘UFOs’ thanks to Edward Ruppelt) was diminished slightly. Public interest in UFOs, though still considerable, took a back-seat to more overt socio-political issues: civil rights, free love, Vietnam, women’s lib, political assassinations… this revolution, of sorts, paved a sprawling road to the future, and left many cultural artefacts from previous decades – including flying saucers – strewn along the wayside. This was despite the fact that the 1960s witnessed some of the most important and high-profile events in the history of UFOlogy, including the apparent alien abduction of Betty and Barney Hill in 1961 (the first such event of its kind to be widely publicised), and, in 1964, the close encounter between police sergeant Lonnie Zamora and what appeared to be a landed UFO and its humanoid occupants in Socorro, New Mexico. The decade also boasted a major American UFO wave, beginning in 1964 and peaking in 1966, during which literally thousands of UFO sightings were reported by seemingly reliable observers.
One of the most impressive UFO encounters from the late-1960s occurred not in the United States, but in neighboring Canada, and resulted in serious injury for the unfortunate witness. On May 20, 1967, while prospecting for quartz near Falcon Lake in Manitoba, Stefan Michalak observed two glowing cigar-shaped objects descending, one of which landed around 160 feet away from him. Michalak estimated the craft to be 35 feet in diameter and 12 feet in height and said it made hissing and whirring noises. He watched the craft for half an hour before a door opened in its side and Michelak could now hear human-like voices coming from within. Assuming it was a classified military test flight gone awry, Michelak – keeping his distance – attempted to communicate with the voices in a number of different languages, but received no response. He cautiously glimpsed inside the door, but was unable to see any sign of life.
Suddenly, the craft spun round on its axis and Michelak was now faced with a grid-like exhaust vent, which expelled an extremely hot burst of gas into his chest, knocking him to the floor and setting his shirt alight. Luckily, he was able to pat out the flames, and the craft flew away as he did so.
Soon after his encounter, Michalak began to suffer from sickness and a pounding headache. Later that day he was treated in hospital for a first degree burn covering his chest. It was shaped like a grid. In the weeks and months that followed, Michalak suffered from a variety of health problems including hair-loss, lack of appetite, weight loss, swelling, and fainting spells. After being examined by a total of 27 doctors – all of whom were at a loss to explain Michalak’s symptoms – Dr Horace Dudley, a former chief of the Radio-Isotope Laboratory at the US Naval Hospital in New York, reached the tentative conclusion that Michelak’s symptoms presented “a classical picture of severe whole body [exposure to] radiation with X or gamma rays.” Dr Dudley estimated that the patient had “received in the order of 100–200 roentgens,” and noted that “it is very fortunate that this dose of radiation only lasted a very short time or he certainly have received a lethal dose.”
UFOs on the box
As UFO events unfolded throughout the 1960s, sci-fi TV shows continued to develop the alien invasion narrative. ABC’s The Invaders (1967–1968) depicted beings from a dying world who have taken on human form in order to infiltrate our society and ultimately destroy Mankind. The series was superficially inspired by the real UFO phenomenon – as evidenced in the design of the aliens’ flying saucers, which was based closely on the testimonies of Rex Heflin and George Adamski.
Heflin, a Highway Traffic engineer, snapped three impressive pictures in August 1965 while working near the Santa Ana freeway in California. They showed a metallic, flat-hat-shaped object glinting in the sunlight as it hovered at close range above the road. Heflin said the object departed at high speed, leaving a ring of smoke its place (also photographed). The veteran UFO investigator Richard C. Hall described Heflin’s as “a highly credible, thoroughly investigated case that meets all the criteria for significant evidence of a real, structured, craftlike UFO.”
Adamski’s photos – which continue to divide opinion in the UFO community – also left their mark on The Invaders’ saucers. Numerous photographs taken by Adamski from the early 1950s through to the mid-1960s show a bell-shaped craft with three semi-spherical protuberances equally spaced under its rounded flange. The saucer design in The Invaders featured the flat top from the Heflin case, combined with the lower bell shape of the Adamski case. It even had semi-spherical protuberances on its undercarriage – but while Adamski’s craft had three, the TV show’s had five.
The other two sci-fi TV series of note in the 1960s were The Twilight Zone (1959–1964) and The Outer Limits (1963–1965) – anthology shows featuring many episodes that drew from UFOlogical literature and debate. A memorable episode from The Twilight Zone, ‘To Serve Man,’(broadcast in March, 1962) saw a race of seemingly benevolent nine-foot-tall aliens land on Earth and solve humanity’s most pressing problems, including hunger, energy, and the threat of nuclear war. Before long, Earthlings are volunteering to visit their alien saviours’ home planet, unaware that they are offering themselves up as ingredients in an alien cookbook, titled… ‘To Serve Man.’
In ‘Chameleon’, an April 1964 episode of The Outer Limits, A flying saucer lands in a remote part of the United States and destroys a military patrol sent to investigate. Fearing that the aliens are planning a nuclear attack, the government calls on Mace, a loose-cannon CIA operative, to infiltrate the ship and save the day. Once inside, however – and having undergone genetic modification to blend in with the aliens – Mace begins to question not only his allegiance but his own human nature.
Despite TV breathing new life into the ‘dastardly alien’ meme throughout the 1960s, scientific UFOlogy remained level-headed about possible extraterrestrial agendas. In July of 1968, during Congressional hearings on the UFO issue before the House committee on Science and Astronautics, one of America’s leading atmospheric physicists, Professor James McDonald, echoed the conclusions of Professor Herman Oberth and Dr Jacques Vallee: “My own present opinion, based on two years of careful study, is that UFOs are probably extraterrestrial devices engaged in something that might very tentatively be termed ‘surveillance’”.
During the same Congressional hearing, however, McDonald also suggested that the great North-East-America power blackout of November 9, 1965, may have the result of UFO activity: “It is puzzling that the pulse of current that tripped the relay on the Ontario Hydro Commission Plant has never been identified,” said McDonald. “Just how a UFO could trigger such an outage on a large network is however not clear. But this is a disturbing series of coincidences that I think warrant much more attention than they have so far received.” The idea of aliens causing mass power outages and feeding off of Earth’s electricity was explored in forgettable fashion in the 2011 movie The Darkest Hour.
Just as TV was beginning to fully embrace UFOs, movie studios were turning their backs on them. Simplistic narratives about flying saucers and space blobs suddenly had become passé as a new generation of cinemagoers were opting for more socially-progressive, highbrow science-fiction fare such as Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey (both 1968). Old-school fare such as Moon Pilot (1962), First Men in the Moon, Robinson Crusoe on Mars (both 1964), and Bamboo Saucer (1968) seemed curiously out of place in America’s rapidly expanding socio-cultural landscape.
Found out more about Silver Screen Saucers at www.silverscreensaucers.com
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published September 2014
Size: 229 x 152 mm