Saturday, May 19, 2018

A 50-Foot Woman Scorned

Around the time of the Three–Mile Island nuclear accident, Saturday Night Live did a skit called "The Pepsi Syndrome."

It was a takeoff on the movie "The China Syndrome," which had been in theaters for about two weeks when the accident occurred and was said to have foretold the events at Three–Mile Island, but when I saw the original "Attack of the 50–Foot Woman," which debuted on this day in 1958, I concluded that the skit must have been partially inspired by that movie.

(I suppose you could also make a case for "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" as an inspiration for the skit — except it wouldn't be in theaters for nearly 10 years. A remake of "Attack of the 50–Foot Woman," starring Daryl Hannah, arrived in theaters in December 1993.)

Anyway, in the skit, Dan Aykroyd played President Carter, who was visiting the site, and Garrett Morris played a female maintenance worker at the facility. Both were exposed to radioactivity and grew to about 100 feet tall.

The independently made "Attack of the 50–Foot Woman" was similar in the sense that it was about a normal–sized woman who grew to 50 feet — after an encounter with an alien, not a nuclear accident. That wasn't an entirely new concept — except that all the previous films about gargantuan people that I can recall starred men. As far as I know, this was the first time a woman starred in such a story.

Nuclear power was still rather new in 1958, and it was probably still considered too futuristic to plausibly use even as the cause of such a bizarre growth spurt. Nevertheless radiation was introduced as a possible culprit in the story.

Alien encounters were pretty futuristic in those days, too, I suppose, but they were probably easier for audiences to understand.

Anyway, Allison Hayes played the title role in the 1958 version, but she didn't begin the movie as a 50–foot woman. She was an affluent alcoholic trapped in a bad marriage with a philandering husband who was only with her for her money. Nothing new about that plot angle.

She was out driving in the desert one night — which would also be implausible if the story were not set in the California desert (presumably not far from the infamous Area 51, which has figured prominently for years in tales of UFO activity) — when she encountered a glowing sphere and drove her car off the road.

Well, thanks to her alien encounter, Hayes' character grew to an enormous height, and she set out on a mission to avenge herself.

Ed Wood had a well–deserved reputation for making bad sci–fi movies, but "Attack of the 50–Foot Woman" may have been the worst of the non–Ed Wood projects. The title was cheesy enough to be from Wood's portfolio, and the special effects weren't even up to his standards.

But it was one of those movies that was so bad it was good, you know? Sometimes kitschy is all right.

Nevertheless, I preferred the remake — which is something I almost never say. The '93 version had a script that had more of a feminist slant (I suppose feminism wasn't a factor in the '50s), and it was more clever besides.