So here I am at what is evidently the jumping off, or jumping out, spot for all things extraterrestrial. Happily, the road leading up to it has been barricaded and the footpath isn’t marked. As a result, I am one of only three wayfarers milling about Bronson Cave. We are excited, and somewhat terrified as well.
Because I came of age in the Nineteen Fifties, the cave is instantly recognizable. It’s where just about every black-and-white, day-for-night, low-budget, B-grade scary film was shot, and why not? It’s in Griffith Park, directly below the big HOLLYWOOD SIGN and within easy driving distance from the nearest studio soundstage. There are no houses around, just furzy Southern California-style shrubbery. All a teenaged couple would have to do in the Fifties is just park there for five minutes, and directly some sort of flesh-eating monster would emerge from the bushes. If you were to follow the creature’s tracks away from the scene of the crime, they’d lead straight to Bronson Cave.
Probably my all-time favorite is Roger Corman’s 1956 sci-fi thriller “It Conquered The World,” in which an embittered scientist makes contact with a Venusian alien by means of a World War II surplus Hallicrafters short-wave radio. Said alien claims its goal is to bring about peace on Earth. How? By eliminating human emotions!
The scientist, played by Lee Van Cleef, agrees to help the creature and even volunteers his wife as a test subject. Soon a flying bat-like creature emerges from the cave and bites the scientist’s wife on the neck. Now “assimilated,” she sets out to recruit her husband; however, now Van Cleef is having second thoughts. Sure, she’s happy—but who wants a robot wife?
Kevin McCarthy has similar misgivings in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”—also made in 1956. Again, the alien invaders have a plan to end conflict—by transforming earthlings into compliant vegetables. But McCarthy wants no part of it. With a mob of lobotomized townspeople in pursuit, McCarthy grabs his fiancée Dana Wynter and makes a break for it—running straight for Bronson’s Cave. (Didn’t he see “It Conquered The World?”)
Last time I watched “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was at a campus cinema at Brigham Young University in 1963. It was much scarier than before because the people around me were all shouting, “They’re in the cave. They’re in the cave!”
What the hell? We’re not supposed to root for the pod people. Are we?