He Watched It Sober.

Trust us. We won't let this happen to you.


Target Earth 

     "But there were over half a million people here in the city, and for all we know now, we're the only ones left alive!"

--  Nora    




Gonzoid Cinema




Mouse Over Image:

"Die, Earthlings! Die!"


Watch it!



Sights &
Target Earth
 Abtcon Pictures /
 H. Cohen Productions /
 Allied Artists

Newspaper Ads

I Was a
Movie Maker:
The Films of
Herman Cohen.

Bela Lugosi Meets the Brooklyn Gorilla

Target Earth

I Was a Teenage Frankenstein

Blood of Dracula

How to Make a Monster

Black Zoo




Our film opens with a slow, cosmic pan of our solar system. But things soon speed up as we accelerate toward the third planet from the sun, through the atmosphere, and zero in on a city. (I think it's Chicago, but it's never verified by the film.) We continue to zoom in closer ... to a street, to a building ... and finally stop at a window, revealing a small apartment behind the glass. Once inside, the pan continues, revealing a woman sprawled out on the bed, and finally settle on an alarm clock -- that reads 1:30 pm. And while pondering if this woman is a lazy late sleeper, we then slide down a little more to find an empty bottle of sleeping pills, right by her prone hand. The tragic signs are clear, but the woman, Nora King (Kathleen Crowley), stirs, and then wakes up, groggy and disoriented, with an enormous headache. (Yes ... it was an attempted suicide, but there weren't enough pills.) Trying to pull herself together, she attempts to wash her face but no water comes out of the spigot. Turns out the lights don't work either -- there's no electricity. Looking out the window, the city streets appear deserted and abnormally quiet for that time of day. Checking on her neighbors, Nora finds no one home -- but with the door unlocked and uneaten food on the table, these are just a few of the signs and evidence that they all must have left in one helluva hurry. 

Heading outside, there is still no traffic, no movement, and no signs of life to greet our protagonist; it's also very quiet, too quiet (-- he typed ominously), and thinking maybe she did die after all and this is her own version of hell, sheer panic starts to overwhelm poor Nora. And as her frantic search for some sign of life intensifies, she rounds a corner and trips over something. Then, once she recovers her footing, the girl soon realizes that what she tripped over was the dead body of a woman! Slowly, a shocked Nora backs away from the corpse -- right into another man. Thinking he must be the killer, Nora screams and runs away for him. But the mysterious man quickly gives chase, determined to catch her before she gets away...

First bitten by the showbiz bug while rapidly working his way from janitor, to projectionist's assistant, to usher, to head manager at a local theater in his native Detroit, Herman Cohen, after a brief stint in the Marines, and barely in his twenties, then took a job as sales manager for Colombia Pictures' Detroit branch, and later made the move to Hollywood to work in the same studio's publicity department. This was about the same time that fellow Detroiter Jack Broder began re-releasing Universal's old monster movie catalogue through his Realart Pictures. And wanting to produce his own films, Broder hired Cohen on as his production assistant, allowing his new hire to learn the nuts and bolts of the trade as Realart quickly and cheaply churned out two films: Bride of the Gorilla, whose production, including the tragic tale of lead actress Barbara Payton and her illicit ménage à trois with actors Tom Neal and Franchot Tone (-- that ended violently shortly after the film was in the can), is a lot more interesting than the finished product, and Bela Lugosi Meets the Brooklyn Gorilla, featuring the horribly -- make that painfully, unfunny antics of the Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis knock-offs, Duke Mitchell & Sammy Petrillo, which seemed to ignite the fledgling producer's life-long obsession with men in monkey-suits. And after a few more co-productions over in England with Nat [no relation] Cohen's Anglo-Amalgamated, Herman Cohen was finally ready to fly solo and make his own movie.

Now, the origin of this inaugural effort began while he and Jim Nicholson -- yes that Jim Nicholson, who was Cohen's assistant at Realart at that time in 1953 -- walked past a newsstand where a certain pulp-magazine cover caught Nicholson's eye (-- or Cohen's eye, depending on which version you believe). In this particular issue of If ... Worlds of Science Fiction was a short story by author Paul W. Fairman entitled The Deadly City. Written under the pen name of Ivar Jorgenson, Fairman's tale of an apocalyptic extraterrestrial invasion picks up sometime after the belligerent aliens landed and leveled Michigan, and then picks up as they lay siege on Chicago. Focusing on the tribulations of four characters left behind after a mass evacuation (-- a suicidal prostitute, a salesman, a charming gangster and his submissive girlfriend), who are caught in the crossfire between the unstoppable invaders, the military, and an escaped psychopath, the gist of the story is more concerned with the crisis within than a tempest without, and like H.G. Wells' Martians, when all seems hopelessly lost, Fairman's aliens mysteriously drop dead. 

Giving Nicholson the first crack at adapting it into a screenplay, Cohen took his treatment and set out to secure financing. Somehow, the enthusiastic young filmmaker managed to get both Allied Artists and DeLuxe Labs to put up the money and cover the costs of the prints until the film went into circulation. Expanding the script with some help(?) from William Raynor (Killers from Space) and Wyott Ordong (Robot Monster), the cameras were soon ready to roll. One (shooting) week and one title change later, Target Earth was in the can for under $85000 and ready to be distributed. And even with the script doctoring, the overall sense of foreboding isolation and impending doom in Fairman's opening prologue still rings true in the opening of the finished film:

You're all alone in a deserted city. You walk down an empty street, yearning for the sight of one living face -- one moving figure. Then you see a man on a corner and you know your terror has just begun...

And as Nora flees for her life, the man calls after her, promising not to harm her, until he finally corners Nora in an alley. When she becomes hysterical, he manhandles her (-- rather roughly), and finally has to slap the girl to snap her out of it. Asked why she ran away, Nora replies because he's a murderer. Talking slowly and calmly to her, he rationalizes that he couldn't be the killer until she settles down. (If not, I guess you could just slap her silly again -- ya big bully.) Introducing himself as Frank Brooks (Richard Denning), he then relates his own tale of woe: 

Seems that while waiting out a train layover, our traveling salesmen mistakenly flashed a large bank-roll in a bar to the wrong people. A couple of thugs then rolled him after several drinks, knocked him out, and dumped him in alley, and he didn't wake up until sometime after noon. Nora offers she woke up late, too, but doesn't mention the pills. And now they're together. Alone. Meaning somehow, in the last ten hours, while they were both out of it, the entire city has been evacuated without them. But the bigger question is: Why was the town evacuated in the first place? Frank feels it must be some kind of natural catastrophe, while Nora fears an H-Bomb attack -- or worse, some kind of germ warfare. But Frank doesn't think that's likely; an enemy wouldn't give enough advance notice to evacuate a half million people. Regardless, with all the stray bodies he's come across, he feels they face certain death unless they can get out of town.

So, quite inexplicably, they head downtown. (Hey, Magellan! You're going the wrong way...) When they come across an electronics store, Frank breaks in, hoping to find a portable radio for a news broadcast. Nora tries the phone but they aren't working either. Finding only one portable radio is one too many because there are no batteries to be found. But before they can get too frustrated by this development, the sound of music slowly filters into the store. 

No. Not Julie Andrews and the Von Traps. Although I wouldn't mind seeing them all get melted by death-ray. Heh, that'd be kinda cool...

Tracing the tune to a nearby nightclub, inside they find a woman playing the piano, who, after finishing the song, and her drink, calls to the bartender for a refill. Answering the call, another man pops up from behind the bar with more champagne. Despite the drunken couple's heated bickering, Frank and Nora risk talking to them in hopes of finding out what's going on. They're friendly enough, but our couple still have no luck; the lushes have been on a bender since the night before and remember nothing. (Thems my kind of people.) Jim Wilson (Richard Reeves) introduces himself and his girl, Vicki Harris (Virginia Grey), and being three-sheets to the wind, they're both blissfully unaware that anything's wrong. When Frank fills them in and suggests that they all head outside the city to safety, the sozzled couple shrug him off, more than content to just drink their way through the apocalypse. (It worked for me during the whole Y2K fiasco, even though nothing happened -- except one helluva hangover.) Not wanting to leave them behind, Nora conspires and suggest that they all hit the famous Club Royal together. Jim scoffs, saying that joint's five miles out of town. Catching on to Nora's plan, Frank offers there are plenty of places for 'pit stops' along the way. With that option, Jim and Vicki agree to a pub-crawl toward the city limits.

Outside, they spot an abandoned car. Well, not quite abandoned ... because they find the owner still inside it -- dead, just like the woman in the alley. The keys are still in the ignition but it won't start, and a quick check under the hood finds the distributor cap missing. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, another wretched refugee pops up and warns that all the cars have been sabotaged that way. Remembering a similar tactic used during the war, Frank tells the others it's so enemy combatants can't use any abandoned vehicles. Blathering on, Otis (Mort Marshall) says he came from the south part of town -- and it looks like a war zone, with more dead bodies and destroyed buildings. Suddenly, Vicki screams and points to a strange and menacing shadow looming on a nearby building -- and whatever is causing that silhouette is most definitely not human!

As they all scramble to get out of sight, Frank herds them into an abandoned hotel. Inside, the lobby is strewn with newspapers screaming of an INVASION! by unknown forces that landed just outside the city. Reading further, they discover that the military ordered the strategic evacuation that missed them all. The fidgety Otis doesn't think they're safe and should move on, but the others want to stay, regroup, and plan an escape route. Out-voted, Otis decides to strike out on his own, and strike out he does, when the little man doesn't get very far before a large, metallic (-- and more than a little goofy looking --) robot clunks its way outside the opposite building. 

As the others helplessly watch out the lobby window, the robot fires a death-ray from it's large, cyclopean eye that strikes the fleeing Otis, who quickly falls dead. Ordering everyone upstairs, Frank brings up the rear as they quickly get out of sight. Holing up in a large suite, the plan is to wait until dark before before trying to move on again. Feeling trapped, Nora frets but Frank assures her that the army must be doing something to handle the threat -- whatever the hell that metallic monstrosity really is.

Well, they are working on it, but without much luck. Like our stranded group, the military authorities have a lot of questions -- Who are they? Where did they come from? And how do they work? -- but few answers. The general consensus is that the rampaging robots are extraterrestrial in origin -- and probably Venusians. (Curse you, Beaulah!) And after an entire crack airborne division was completely slaughtered by the automatons [-- completely off-screen *yawn*], General Wood (Arthur Space), who's in charge of this fiasco, changes strategies and calls in an air-strike. (Cue stock footage!)

Back in the hotel, the noise of the jets draws everyone's attention to the window, raising fears that they may be sitting on ground zero. But, before a single bomb can be dropped on them, the assembled watch as an alien death-ray sweeps the sky clean, detonating all the airplanes in a series of fiery explosions. Twice witnessing their awesome and unearthly destructive capabilities, our stalwart group tries to deduce where the invaders came from. Since Frank's old college buddy was an avid sci-fi geek ['natch], he feels the invaders are from Venus, too. And while trying to plan their next move, they slowly realize there is no move to make: they came from the northern part of town; Otis came from the west; the aliens landed to the east; and the Air Force just got obliterated coming from the south; thus, they're completely surrounded by the enemy with no means of escape. Finding the situation rather ironic, Nora says yesterday she wouldn't have cared about dying today. When Frank asks her to explain, she confesses that the reason she slept through the evacuation was a failed suicide attempt. Frank suspected that, and asks if she's changed her mind about not having any reason to live. She says yes, and they both exchange a smile. 

Yep ... she's fallen for the big lug-nut -- and I don't mean the robot!

Back at army HQ, General Wood receives word that the atomic field-artillery pieces have finally arrived but it will take some time to get them operational before they can, hopefully, bloody the invaders nose a bit. Obviously, the General doesn't like using atomic weapons on American soil -- but he has little choice, because nothing else seems to be working. Knowing his beleaguered lines can't hold out much longer, and the enemy is threatening to break out of the city, Wood is about to sign the order to fire-when-ready when word comes that they've finally captured one of the invaders. 

Surprised to find the prisoner in the science lab, Wood is then informed that the POW -- and all the invaders -- are just robots, not some aliens in body-armor. Completing his initial examination on the defunct machine, the head scientist (Whit Bissel) sadly concludes that the only reason they caught this one is because it probably malfunctioned somehow, with the only visible damage a cracked faceplate. Even a cursory look at the robot's exterior shows that it's far beyond our own terrestrial technology. Deducing that it must be remote-controlled by electromagnetic impulses keyed to a cathode-ray tube socked somewheres inside the robot's head piece, the gathered experts try to determine how far away the transmitting aliens could be. Hoping to triangulate the source signal, and then wipe it out, Wood asks how big are the robot's antennae. But the robot has no visible aerial, leading to more theorizing that the whole chassis is probably used to pick up the signals -- so who knows where it's coming from, meaning there is no chance of tracing or jamming the deadly frequency. Further study of the robot "corpse" reveals that the cathode ray tube that processed the signals somehow broke, rendering it useless. (Cheap Venusian crap!) Wood takes that as good sign; the seemingly invincible invaders can be stopped. But the scientist reminds him that the robots are bullet proof, so another frontal attack would still be fruitless until they figure out what cracked the tube. Asked for more time, General Wood reminds them that time is quickly running out.

Later, at the hotel, the women are starting to panic. Seems the men went out to find some supplies but aren't back yet. Luckily, they soon arrive, un-atomized, with food and candles. Eating quietly, Vicki wonders how long they'll have to stay holed up. When Frank says it's up to the army, Nora asks which army: Ours or theirs? On that sour note, they couples spread out a bit. And as Jim and Vicki start bickering bitterly again, Nora confesses to Frank it was the same way with her own husband -- like the time they were driving home, where it got so heated that he didn't see the car that hit them. When Nora woke in the hospital, she was told her husband was killed. That was six months ago, and the survivor's guilt finally caught up with her last night. Assuring her that it wasn't her fault, Frank encourages her to get some rest. Indubitably, since this is the 1950's, Vicki and Nora will take the bedroom while Frank and Jim sack out in the living room. Later, after they all fall asleep, Nora hears someone trying to break in and screams. Alerted, the men try to hold the door but two gunshots convinces them to open up -- revealing a very greasy-looking assailant. Assuming he's a looter, the intruder claims valuables aren't what he's after and turns a lecherous eye toward the women. Bullying his way inside, he takes them hostage and constantly reminds them he's in charge because of the gun.

Early the next morning, Vicki swears she's seen Davis (Robert Roark), the armed intruder, somewhere before and notes his gun looks like a police revolver. Ignoring her, Davis follows Nora into the kitchen and tries to get a little too friendly, offering she can be safe with him or dead like the others. Seems Davis plans to use them all as decoys, bait, to lure the robots away, and then sneak into the sewers and walk under the enemy to safety. Nora slaps him and says he's crazy, but Davis just shrugs the rejection off and herds everyone down to the lobby...

Back at army HQ, with the clock rapidly ticking down, General Wood opens the latest briefing by insisting this is the scientists last chance to give him a non-nuclear solution. With about five minutes left before the missiles are fired, the head technician starts cranking up an oscillator, bombarding the robot's head with sonic waves. The metal casing does begin to vibrate, but stubbornly refuses to break. Desperate, they crank up the volume...

In the hotel lobby, Davis threatens to shoot Jim if Vicki won't check outside for robots. She concedes, and spots one down the street, heading away from the hotel. Then, when Vicki finally recognizes Davis as a convicted killer, the creep cops to killing a guard and stealing his gun during the evacuation, and then reveals his plan of using them all as bait. But Jim refuses to be his pigeon, and Vicki concurs, saying there are four of them, and one is bound to get him -- and the whole thing is moot, anyway, because she doesn't think he has the guts to shoot. (I pause to remind you, m'dear, that he has killed someone already!) With that, Davis shoots Vicki ... twice. (I told ya!) Frank makes a lunge at him, and takes a bullet in the arm, giving Jim the opening he needs to get a hold of the creep and strangle him to death. Alas, all the noise has alerted the robot to their presence, and, as it crashes through the window, Jim empties the revolver with no effect. As the robot opens up with its death-ray, the dwindling group retreats back up the steps. Chasing them all the way up to the roof -- well, give him a second, Mr. Clunky is having some trouble negotiating the steps -- Jim tries to hold it off at the door while the others try to find another way down. No go; they're stuck. And after the robot bursts through the door, it blasts Jim with its death-ray and then closes in on Frank and Nora. 

Trapped for good this time, Frank embraces Nora and they wait for the end, together. But salvation comes when the air is pierced with a strange, high-pitched shriek. Then, the robot starts to falter as the noise gets closer. Looking over the side, the couple spots a convoy of army jeeps mounted with loudspeakers moving down on the street. After the robot finally keels over and expires, Frank signals the convoy and they stop. 

Asked if they know they're in a live combat zone, Frank gives them the quick version of their predicament, and then asks what that noise was. A Captain explains it's an oscillator, and the sound vibrations are disrupting the inner workings of the robots, knocking them out, and rendering them useless. Nora asks if it's over, then. To which the Captain replies, that yes, they've stopped them -- this time! And they were lucky: if the cathode-ray tubes were made out of the same metal as their armor, instead of glass, then all the oscillators in the world would have been useless. (I wouldn't say that very loud, ya idiot.) He assures Nora not to worry, though, because their top scientist are working on how to counteract that variable even as we speak. He then tells them to pile in and they'll get Frank to a medic. And after the oscillator cranks back up, sending out the world saving signal, they head for home. 

The End

One of the biggest changes that Herman Cohen made to Fairmont's original story, aside from dropping Nora's given profession, was turning the howling and mostly unseen alien invaders into lethal robots. The story breaks down a little here: the aliens have the technology to build these nearly indestructible machines, and can control them all the way from Venus, but the technology is still based on tubes and transistors? Okay... Upon first glance, these robots will also probably have you giggling. Their refrigerator-box frame and air-duct origins of the arms and legs are hard to overlook, but if you can manage to get past all that and notice the robot's squat nature and odd body proportions, you realize it doesn't necessarily scream out ... "Look, there's a guy in a bad robot suit." Designed and constructed by David Koehler, the suit was worn by Steve Calvert, who also played the gorilla in both of Cohen's earlier films -- in fact, Calvert's entire career consisted of playing gorillas and other strange beasties. And at some point you'll also probably notice that we never see more than one of these automatons at a time. Well, there's a good reason for that. With such a meager budget Koehler was only able to produce one robot suit, and that's why we never see the advancing robot army -- just the "advanced scouts."

Beyond the robots, the movie stays fairly faithful to the story. Turning the directing reins over to long time film-editor, Sherman Rose, the interior scenes were shot at the old Charlie Chaplin studios while the exteriors were filmed on the streets of Los Angeles over several weekends without permission or any permits. Shooting very early in the morning whilst everyone else was still asleep, Sherman managed to get what they needed while the streets were empty. In an interview in Tom Weaver's Attack of the Monster Movie Makers Cohen relates how one shot was ruined when a church service ended and the congregation spilled out onto the street. Despite all these technical stumbles, I think the film overachieves well past its limited budget. With a minimalist and no-nonsense approach -- both in front of and behind the camera -- the end result is a creepy, atmospheric tale filled with a impending paranoia and claustrophobic dread.

L to R: Director Sherman Rose, Venusian Robot, Producer Herman Cohen

Breaking it down even further, again at first glance, the feature comes off as another, typical entry in the alien invasion/Red Scare-paranoia genre of the 1950's. Described as being inhuman and indestructible, with no fear or sense of feeling, the aliens behind the robots sure sound like some godless heathen communist to me! And the Captain's warning at the end resonates because we we're lucky to stop them this time. And we must always be prepared, and vigilant, because those commies -- excuse me, the aliens will be back; but the film assures us that we'll be ready for them, though. But once you get past that and look a little closer, the film is also very atypical of the genre. The heroine tries to commit suicide; the hero doesn't have all the answers, and in fact, leads them into danger instead of out it; and the other protagonists are both raging alcoholics. The late entry of the armed killer seems a little forced, but I guess they had to get them out of the hotel room somehow -- and it should be noted that the weak-link actor playing the creep was the son of one of the financiers.

And that's probably the main reason why I like this movie; it wasn't afraid to try something different. It starts strong, with it's sense of isolation -- so much so, that it borders on desolation despite the fact that everything is still standing. Admittedly, it falls apart in the third act a little, but it still works for me. Why? That's easy: I like sci-fi movies with big clunky robots in them as opposed to those more streamlined models that look like us (-- or replace us? Creepy.) I also like cosmic death-rays blowing things up; and square-jawed heroes who can think fast and use their fists; and I like pretty heroines who do more than scream and can handle themselves; and I really, really like it when the military comes to the rescue and kicks a modicum of alien butt before the closing credits roll.

Target Earth definitely fits that bill, rather easily. I'd hesitate to call it a genre classic, but I like it. A lot. 

Of course, Cohen used the film as a springboard to further B-Movie infamy with the teen-angst inspired hits I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Teenage Frankenstein, and Blood of Dracula for his old pal Jim Nicholson and American International Pictures. In fact, according to Cohen, Nicholson had asked him to be his partner first when he formed the new production and distribution company but had to turn him down because he was contracted to United Artists at the time (-- a contract that quickly fizzled after a couple of box-office duds. For more on that, check out my review of Cohen's Konga.) Nicholson and his eventual partner, Sam Arkoff, would go on to produce hundreds of films, including another feature based on a Paul W. Fairman story, The Cosmic Frame, that eventually translated into Invasion of the Saucer Men. As for Cohen, after a few more pictures stateside, he moved his operations to England and Anglo-Amalgamated, where he produced the likes of The Black Zoo and Horrors of the Black Museum. Then later on in the 1970's, his career closed out with a couple of Joan Crawford vehicles, Berserk and Trog.

And with Cohen's passing in June of 2002 after a lengthy battle with throat cancer, we lost yet another valued member from the B-Movie's golden age. And what's really depressing is there aren't that many of them left! Luckily for us, we still have their films, like Target Earth, to look at, laugh at, love, and enjoy.

Target Earth (1954) Abtcon Pictures :: Herman Cohen Productions :: Allied Artists / P: Herman Cohen / D: Sherman A. Rose / W: William Raynor, James H. Nicholson, Wyott Ordung, Paul W. Fairman (Short Story) / C: Guy Roe / E: Sherman A. Rose / M: Paul Dunlop / S: Richard Denning, Kathleen Crowley, Virginia Grey, Richard Reeves, Whit Bissell

Originally Posted: 06/23/02 :: Rehashed: 12/23/2011

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
How our Rating System works. Our Philosophy.