Lust in Space

I.Q. Hunter (ed.) British Science Fiction Cinema. Routledge, 1999.

British science fiction movies have been dismissed as inferior to Hollywood's SF output. The films of the 1950s and 1960s have been regarded as poor imitations of the US product, and their low budgets, bad acting, and poor special effects, made them look even more pathetic. In general British SF has been seen to lack vision and confidence in the genre.

When aliens invaded British SF movies they tended to undermine our traditional values and stereotypes, and we dealt with them in the same way as we dealt with the Nazis. The power of science and Empire slipped away from Britain and more often than not British SF merged into horror film territory. Most chilling of all there was a whole alien women cycle. Women/aliens invaded the rational "man/machine" world and brought emotion and sexuality to the laboratory. The fear of women and how to regard them after the Second World War was as challenging as communism or nuclear war. Women could no longer be chained to the domestic sphere or kept under male control. As the 1949 film The Perfect Woman makes clear, a robot woman fits the male ideal far better than a real biological woman.

Most of these British alien women films were just a good excuse for juvenile sexual fantasy. In Devil Girl from Mars (1954) the female of the title is here to take the strongest Earth men away and use them as sex slaves. As Steve Chibnall notes, the female protagonist, Nyah "has stepped straight from the pages of a fifties fetish magazine" (p. 63).

By the 1960s and 1970s alien women became more representative of feminist shock troops with few sexual inhibitions. The Sexplorer (1975) has a female alien investigate London's Soho sex industry, and by the end of the film she abandons science for pleasure. The alien woman cycle returns to The Perfect Woman with Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce (1985). In form the woman fulfils male fantasies but her passion and force "can destroy worlds if not contained". Ultimately the female alien is attractive yet if allowed full reign she will destroy our whole military, political, scientific and social structures. The debauchery of unrestrained female sexual aggression is just too much of a threat to masculinity and the British Establishment.

Ridley Scot's Alien (1979) upset gender expectations and boundaries by having a man impregnated and giving birth to an alien. British SF films tried exploiting its success with Lifeforce, Inseminoid (1980), Xtro (1982) and Split Second (1991) but they tended to be more conventional in that the alien/feminine represented the monstrous "other" that had to be restrained or destroyed by masculine force. As Peter Wright puts it, the "British post-Alien intrusion film has expressed a remarkably consistent bourgeois and patriarchal attitude towards women and motherhood" (p. 151).

The essays in British Science Fiction Cinema show that there are many riches to be found in British pulp SF movies, and they reflect many social and cultural concerns about class, gender, nationality, fantasy and our origins. -- Nigel Watson, from Magonia Supplement 18, August 1999.

No comments: