Saturday, August 2, 1975: The 27th Day (1957) / Decoy for Terror (1968)

Synopsis: Five people from around the world are abducted by a mysterious entity and find themselves gathered together aboard a spaceship. We’re introduced to them one by one: British woman Eve Wingate (Valerie French); newspaper reporter Jonathan Clark (Gene Barry); Chinese peasant girl Su Tan (Marie Tsien); German scientist Prof. Klaus Bechner (George Voskovec) and young Soviet soldier Ivan Godofsky (Azemat Janti).

Their mysterious host (Arnold Moss) arrives and asks them to refer to him simply as “The Alien”. He explains to them that he represents an alien civilization whose planet is dying; they need a new world on which to settle and have chosen Earth. Their ethics prevent them from invading another world. But they don’t see anything wrong with helping humans wipe themselves out.

Each of the five is given a container that holds three capsules. Each capsule, they are told, is capable of disintegrating all human life in a 3,000 mile radius. Only human life is affected by the capsules; no other damage occurs. All the user needs to do in order to deploy a capsule is say out loud the latitude and longitude of the target. Anyone can use the capsules once the container is opened; but the container itself can only be opened by its designated caretaker. Should the caretaker of a container die, the capsules within will become inert.


The alien adds that, should the capsules go unused for 27 days, they will become inert automatically, and the alien plot will fail. But he adds that given the violence and predation in human history, it’s a safe bet that at the end of the 27 days Earth will be completely uninhabited, as the combined destructive power of the capsules is more than enough to wipe out all human life.

The humans are returned to the places where they were originally abducted. Eve Wingate immediately throws her container into the ocean.  Su Tan commits suicide rather than risk her capsules falling into the wrong hands. Wingate contacts Jonathan Clark, whom, she learned on board the spacecraft, lives in Los Angeles. She tells him over the telephone that she’s taking the next flight from London and wants to meet with him.

But while Wingate is in transit, the Alien takes control of all radio and television broadcasts on Earth. He announces the existence of the capsules, how they are used, and then names the five people who possess them. A manhunt immediately begins for each of the five. Clark manages to meet Wingate at the airport and the two go into hiding. Godofsky attempts to flee but is captured by the Soviet miltary. Bechner is struck by a car and is badly injured; while authorities get hold of his capsules they are unable to open the container.

After torturing Godofsky, the Soviets are able to gain access to his capsules, and they threaten to use them if the Americans don’t withdraw their forces from western Europe. Meanwhile, Wingate and Clark hide out at a shuttered racetrack, trying to keep out of sight until the 27 days have passed….

Comments: Something of a sci-fi dramatization of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, The 27th Day was directed by William Asher, a producer and director who worked almost exclusively in television. He’s best known as the creator and producer of the long-running sitcom Bewitched, and he also directed a (sub-par) episode of The Twlight Zone, “Mr. Bevis”.

The enigmatic opening of the film, in which the alien’s shadow falls over Eve Wingate as she suns herself on the beach, is pitch-perfect, and immediately gets the audience interested in what happens next. The air of mystery about the alien and his intentions is apparently borrowed from The Day the Earth Stood Still, as is the alien’s knowledge about the brutality of the human species (not to mention a few seconds of outer-space footage). Exterior shots of the spaceship are lifted from Columbia’s sci-fi effort of the previous year, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers.

The 27th Day is often lauded for its intelligent premise. The central idea — that aliens would find our species so vicious and self-destructive that all they have to do is give us the tools needed to destroy ourselves and then stand back — is a powerful one. Had the movie stuck with that idea and carried it through to the end, it would probably be remembered as one of the best SF films ever made.


Unfortunately, the movie’s ending is also remembered as one of the most bizarre cheats in the history of science fiction films. The whole movie is built on the premise that no government could be trusted with the enormous temptation offered by the capsules — especially if that government knows its enemies have the same weapon.

But in its third act the film unexpectedly runs off in the opposite direction. Only the governments of communist countries, we’re told, would use the power irresponsibly. The governments of the West only want what’s best for humanity (our kindly military authorities politely try to convince their caretakers to open the containers, but would never dream of threatening or otherwise compelling them to do so). The movie’s capped off by a zany twist ending in which the capsules can be used to eradicate only “the enemies of freedom” (read: communists) from the face of the earth. Thus the movie tries to have it both ways; while the peace-loving western nations would never use the capsules against their enemies, that’s exactly what ends up happening.

Arnold Moss makes for an effective alien captor, his smooth, Shakespearean cadence providing the weight needed to sell the unlikely premise. Moss is probably best-remembered today for playing Fouche in 1949’s Reign of Terror, and despot-turned-Shakespearean-actor Anton Karidian in the Star Trek episode “The Conscience of the King”. Columbia contract player Valerie French is quite capable as the level-headed Eve Wingate. I suppose I could complain that Eve is so thinly-drawn she only functions as the love interest, but in fact none of the other four abductees do any better. We don’t really learn anything about Gene Barry’s Jonathan Clark either, except that he’s a newspaperman and a stock one at that: he’s predictably jaded and world-weary. Bechner is a stock German scientist, Godofsky is a stock Russian soldier, and Su Tan is such a stock peasant girl that she kills herself before speaking to anyone, doesn’t get any lines and the actress who plays her, Maria McClay (née Tsien), isn’t even credited.

A 1970 ad from the Delsea Drive-In in Vineland, New Jersey. The Delsea is still in business today.

Synopsis: Amateur artist Bill (William Kerwin) is painting a young woman by a peaceful-looking lake in Quebec. But she will not hold perfectly still and, enraged at her squirming, Bill picks up a nearby spear gun and shoots her. This is witnessed by a passerby, and soon Bill is running through the woods to evade the police.

Meanwhile, there’s a pool party going on at a lavish country house nearby. College student Betty (Linda Christopher) is leaving the next day to return to college with her sweetheart Bob (Canadian singer Neil Sedaka, in his only screen credit) but Betty’s oversexed sister Arlene (Jean Christopher) is less than subtle in her attempts to get Bob’s attention. Late that night, Arlene slips into Bob’s bedroom and seduces him.

The next morning, Bob and Betty leave, and Arlene’s father departs on a hunting trip, leaving Arlene alone in the house. Bill wanders onto the estate and Arlene, clearly attracted to him, offers him a few days of handyman work around the house. While he seems to show no interest in her brazen sexual advances, he does seem interested in painting her, but once again, when she moves around too much while posing he loses his temper and murders her.

Another attractive young woman shows up at the house, this one in response to a newspaper ad for employment as a caretaker. He talks her into posing for one of his paintings as well. Once again, her inability to pose correctly drives him over the edge and her murders her. Soon he has the women’s corpses arranged in the walk-in freezer in the basement, posed the way he wants, and he is able to continue his painting of them.

A friend of Arlene’s appears at the house on the pretext of visiting her, but when told she is gone she doesn’t seem disappointed. Attracted to Bill, she agrees to pose for him, but when she can’t hold still he knocks her out and drags her to the basement, where he hangs her by her arms in the basement….

Comments: This bit of Canadian drive-in fodder was filmed in the Montreal area, as was another north-of-the-border horror film, David Cronenberg’s Rabid — but more on that in a moment.

Like the worst of the Psycho rip-offs, Decoy for Terror tries to gin up some psychological motive for the killer, but in the end we’re supposed to accept that he just has some serious issues with women — especially when it comes to their sexuality — and that’s why he kills them. What becomes clear in these kinds of exploitation films is that there is a good deal of misogyny at the heart of them: we are meant to identify with the killer, rather than with his victims.

This was an early title funded by the Canadian Film Development Corporation, a government-funded entity designed to kick-start film production in Canada. The government project became quite controversial in the 1970s after it was used to fund David Cronenberg’s aforementioned Rabid. Tonight’s film, Decoy for Terror (released in its home country as Playgirl Killer) did not generate similar controversy, perhaps because it was unceremoniously dumped into drive-ins and vanished without a trace. The irony here is that Rabid is a far superior film to this one. If people wanted to complain about misapplied government funds, Decoy for Terror is a much better target.

The screenplay was written by William Kerwin, who starred as the nutcase drifter / artist Bill. Kerwin writing the lead role for himself probably explains why all the beautiful women in the film are irresistibly drawn to a twitchy weirdo drifter. Kerwin is not much of an actor — no one in the film really is — but real-life sisters Linda and Jean Christopher do well enough as sisters Betty and Arlene. 50s pop-singer Neil Sedaka is in over his head as Bob, and it’s no surprise that he never appeared in another film.

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