Los Angeles. The lights go up inside the darkened shell of Merle Connell's Quality Studios, and the Amazing Criswell, his hands arranged neatly on the desk in front of him, stares confidently into the lens of a whirling movie camera.
"Greetings, my friend," he announces cheerfully. "We are all interested in the future - for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives."
A cold wind starts to blow in from the Other World. Beyond the lines of quietly parked cars and the soaring sky-scrapers of fabulous L.A., strange forces are gathering.
It is some time towards the end of November 1956, and the fate of the entire human race hangs in the balance. Criswell knows that time is slipping by: that the film in which he is appearing is more than real. It is as urgent and as immediate as life itself. He will only get one chance to say what he has to say. There can be no re-takes: the budget won't allow for it.
The future is on the other side of now, and Criswell has long been a favourite in the Los Angeles area as a television psychic, dispensing the kind of information that would cause a mass panic if it weren't presented with such a confident smile.
It was Criswell, with his blonde Marcel Wave and his natty bow ties, who predicted that nine old ladies would occupy seats on the Supreme Court of the United States and that by the 1980s entire cities would be populated exclusively by homosexuals.
It was Criswell, wearing a dark suit shimmering with rhinestones, who stated that an interplanetary convention of visiting aliens would be held in Las Vegas.
And it was Criswell, author of the best-selling book, Criswell Predicts, who announced that one day soon, the laws of gravity would stop functioning altogether.
"And remember, my friend," he admonishes, as the camera closes in on his face. "Future events such as these will affect you in the future."
Criswell started his television career as a newsreader who ran out of news one night. With fifteen minutes to go before the closing credits were allowed to roll and nothing left to read out on the air, Criswell decided that he might as well tell his audience what was going to happen the next day. When one of his predictions came true, Criswell the Incredible, amid scenes of public amazement, emerged a prophet.
And who understands his age better than the man who looks into its future?
Since 1947, scientists and mathematicians at the RAND Corporation have been developing the global formulae that will determine the outcome of any forthcoming nuclear conflict, while the United States Air Force has secretly begun compiling information on flying saucers at its base in Dayton, Ohio. That same year, David Lilienthal, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, made a public statement discounting, once and for all, any connection between UFO sightings and the effects of atomic radiation.
Criswell, who keeps a satin-lined coffin, studded and flounced with white silk trimmings, tucked away at home to sleep in, already knows what fate has in store for us. Humanity is playing for high stakes in dangerous times. He can feel the shock waves emanating from some cataclysmic evolutionary development that is even now bearing down upon us.
"You are interested in the unknown, the mysterious, the unexplainable," he says, slowly raising his eyebrows, one after the other, for emphasis. "That is why you are here."
Perhaps it will be on the set of this motion picture, here in this tiny Los Angeles film studio, that we shall, at last, have our chance to contact our future selves; to speak once again a language that one day we may find we no longer possess.
Monkeys in laboratory cages are already capable of electronically triggering the pleasure centres in their own brains. Soon they will rise up to meet the challenge of outer space.
Born in the back room of an Indiana mortuary, Criswell knows how film can bring the dead back to life - and so can the sound of his voice. About to conduct one more seance to get in touch with the future, he understands that he must keep talking just to keep this movie going.
As radioactive fall-out continues to swirl over Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, the Japanese Red Cross has just opened the Hiroshima Atomic Hospital to treat future generations of its victims. Over the next ten years, more than 200,000 patients will pass through its doors.
"My friend," Criswell confides in the impassively turning camera, "we cannot keep this a secret any longer."
His sudden blinking of the eyes adds weight to his words.
In a year which has witnessed the release of M-G-M's ~Forbidden Planet~, the most lavishly mounted and expensively made science fantasy to date, he is coming to the end of his opening speech in the cheapest sci-fi flick of all time.
"My friend," he urges, nodding his head for emphasis, "can your heart stand the shocking facts of... Grave Robbers From Outer Space?"
The cheapest ever.
Criswell, whose first breath on this planet was tinged with the smell of formaldehyde and the chill of the mortuary cabinets, knows all the tricks of the trade. He is at home with the tawdry, defective props, the useless reels showing old, neglected actors, the stock footage snatched from the vaults of anonymous film libraries.
While the American Century gathers pace, and Bela Lugosi lies buried in a California cemetery, wrapped in his vampire's cape, the Amazing Criswell is here to tell us about beings from another world and their desperate attempts to avert the destruction of the entire universe by proving to mankind that flying saucers really do exist.
Greetings indeed, my friend, and welcome to Mondo Criswell.
Criswell is ready to declare, right here and now, before the studio lights go out for the last time, and the cameras no longer turn, that we are living in an Age of Wonders. Disneyland has opened its doors to the American people, and Einstein is dead.
We glimpse the future as an overwhelming mixture of grandeur and the ridiculous.
Thanks to the miracle of motion picture technology, we shall witness such marvels as the Interossiter, the Dictorobotary, the Markalite and the Calcinator Death Ray, as well as such dangerous substances as Solaronite and Urium 101.
With the aid of these discoveries, we will send back messages to ourselves, cryptic, coded signals emanating from the laboratories, test beds and sealed chambers of modern science, that gradually seep into our consciousness.
Even as it monitors and denies the existence of visiting UFOs from other worlds, the United States Air Force is already testing the AVRO Disk; a top secret jet-propelled flying saucer currently being built in Canada. Designers and technicians of the Ford Motor Company's Advance Styling Department are busy drawing up plans for the Nucleon, the American family car of the future, which will be powered by a replaceable, rechargeable nuclear reactor.
Unfortunately, the Jetsons will probably never get a chance to drive around in it.
Workers burying nuclear waste at a Uranium Processing Plant in Ohio have become so contaminated that the doctors can't get a Geiger counter near them without the needle jumping off the dial.
Anxiety about the future spreads like dry waves of static among the American people. A gigantic octopus has just attacked San Francisco, there are ants the size of Buicks building a nest in the Los Angeles sewer system, and the less said about the Attack of the Crab Monsters, the better for all concerned.
It's becoming clear that President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace programme is starting to have a few problems with this new energy source. No one, not even Criswell, really knows what the stuff will do. Its effects are just too damned unpredictable.
In an attempt to discover how much radiation the human system can absorb, the Weapons Division of the United States Air Force has established a research project in which Plutonium is injected into the bodies of selected test subjects without their knowledge or consent.
Throughout the 'fifties, the sick, the elderly and the infirm will become unwitting participants in a whole range of radiation experiments which have no medical value whatsoever. In teaching hospitals all across America, at the ends of long corridors, doors are being opened onto secret chambers:
"Step into the room, please."
"Will this cure me, doctor?"
"Please. Just go inside."
In one city alone, 829 pregnant women have all ready been given radioactive iron just to see what it will do.
The grim-faced doctors and scientists responsible for committing such acts upon those members of society most in need of its protection belong to a new breed of military researcher. Patriots, employed by the Department of Defence, they are concerned at the prospect of a nuclear conflict and are genuinely troubled as to what its effects might be.
The only thing that can be said in their favour is that they are probably just as terrified as everyone else.
No wonder the pharmaceutical companies of America have managed to produce such an explosion of aggressively marketed, mood-enhancing drugs.
First to go on sale was the tranquiliser, Thorazine, in 1954. Then came Miltown, followed by Stellazine, Mellaril, Valium Librium, Elavil and Tofranil.
And from the Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland comes Delysid, the brand name for a therapeutic drug so powerful that 250 millionths of a gram is enough to send you hurtling at the speed of light into your own personal heaven or hell.
More generally known to those studying its effects as LSD-25, this mind-altering substance is set to play a crucial role in the history of human evolution.
Intellectuals and movie stars are already taking it.
While the people of America, united as One Nation under God since 1954, sit back and watch TV, wondering what is happening on the Other Side, and their children pore over comic books, seeking out the clues that will help to turn them into a race of super-beings, a new architecture of the mind is being devised.
For the first time, chemically expanded human consciousness can reach out and grasp the infinite vastness of creation. With the aid of LSD, the secrets of the universe are ours for the asking.
Thank you, Sandoz!
American patriarch Henry Luce, founder and president of Time-Life Inc., has also sampled this new wonder drug. God seems to have approved of his decision.
Another glowing endorsement comes from San Francisco, where Myron Stolaroff, head of long-range planning at the electronics firm, Ampex, is hoping to use LSD as a means to improve production. He is convinced that it is "the greatest discovery that man has ever made."
Gordon Wasson, Vice-President of the Morgan Guaranty bank, is equally certain that psychedelic drugs have "played a vital part in shaking loose man's early imagination, in arousing his capacity for self perception, for awe, wonder and reverence."
An expert when it comes to hallucinogenic mushrooms, Wasson has been invited to write an article on the subject for Life magazine.
Meanwhile, Herman Kahn of the RAND Corporation has reviewed U.S. bombing strategies against mainland China while under the influence of LSD.
Not surprising then, that A.M. Hubbard, president of the Uranium Corporation of Vancouver and one of the drug's most tireless advocates, wants to create an entire LSD experience around Death Valley in California, where the first Atomic Bomb was detonated.
He considers it to be an extraordinary power spot.
Not everyone, however, speaks so well of LSD-25's benefits. In fact, some can't speak about it at all.
In 1953, Dr. Frank Olson of the Army Chemical Corps committed suicide two days after someone slipped LSD into his drink without telling him. He thought he had lost his mind.
Others have felt their entire personalities coming apart or found themselves being pursued by unspeakable horrors. The drug's effectiveness in treating mental disorders is also open to question, the results being patchy and inconclusive, to say the least. No two patients react to it in the same way, and what often appears to be a miracle cure can vanish overnight.
Another hopeful monster is on the loose, and no one - no, not even Criswell - really knows what the stuff will do. Its effects are just too damned unpredictable.
There is, however, in San Francisco, a house on Telegraph Avenue where psychedelic drug orgies occur on a regular basis. Unfortunately, none of the people taking part know that they have been invited.
Many an unsuspecting businessman, on a visit to the City by the Bay, has been lured here by a squad of specially trained good-time girls, not realizing that he is about to become a test subject in a behavioural field laboratory set up, financed and run by the CIA.
The main aim of Operation Midnight Climax, as it has been so thoughtfully named, is to conduct research on a new range of mind-control drugs, including LSD.
Just as the effects of atomic radiation are being tested upon people without their knowledge or consent, so must all those receiving the secret hospitality of the ClA watch carefully to see who is mixing the drinks. God only knows what'll be in them.
There may be a world of difference separating the young white-collar executive going out of his mind in the lurid confines of a California brothel from the elderly cancer patient receiving a fatal dose of radioactive ions at the end of some long, dark corridor in a teaching hospital, but they do have one or two things in common.
Neither of them has been told what's really going on, and neither of them may ever come back.
It was, after all, a CIA operative who slipped Dr. Olson that fatal dose of LSD back in '53.
Strange doors are being opened onto even stranger dimensions in America today, thanks to the Central Intelligence Agency, who have purchased from the Sandoz Laboratories sufficient quantities of the drug to affect the mind of every man, woman and child in the country.
This could mean the end of consensual reality as we know it.
We see a man lurching, wild-eyed, out of an alleyway. Hallucinating uncontrollably, he clutches a bottle tightly in his fist, hoping to convince us that his strange behaviour is due to his having had too much to drink.
He glances up at the sky, just as three silver UFOs swoop in tight formation over the bright California skyline.
"There comes a time in each man's life," Criswell intones with a terrifying certainty on the film's soundtrack, "when he can't even believe his own eyes."
In despair, the man throws up an arm to cover his face, takes another look at the bottle in his hand, then flings it away. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea, after all.
From now on, the nation's newspapers are giving front-page coverage to what he has just witnessed.
"Saucers seen over Hollywood."
"Flying saucers seen over Washington DC," Criswell announces as the martial music swells to a climax beneath his voice.
This is serious. Time to call in the army.
Usually, to arrive on another planet is to acquaint yourself with its wastelands and outer suburbs. Giant robots, mutant insects and rocket ships have all come hurtling in from outer space, only to land where the skies hang threateningly over decaying industrial parks, desert ghost towns, abandoned storm drains and empty graveyards. This terrain is then doggedly sealed off and protected by doctors, cops, soldiers and scientists, fighting a staunch rear-guard action against alien incursion armed only with army-surplus machine guns, rockets and bazookas. Occasionally, a jet fighter left over from the Korean War is thrown in, if things start getting rough, together with some of the more optimistic displays of our nuclear capability, where military personnel casually flick atomic fall-out off their clothes as if it were nothing more than a bad case of dandruff.
But to strike at the very heart of the nation's capital and start buzzing the Pentagon is going too far - even for a bunch of alien invaders. A rapid montage of newsreel footage shows an army convoy quickly taking up position. Missiles are primed and trained upon the sky.
"Colonel Tom Edwards, in charge of Saucer Field Activity, was to make the greatest decision of his career," Criswell informs us while an army officer is shown blandly focussing his binoculars on nothing in particular. "He made that decision," Criswell continues. "Colonel Edwards gave the signal to fire."
If only things were that simple.
This kind of engagement is out of place in the cold-war political climate of the 'fifties. It can't solve anything. Even as the last explosion dissolves ineffectually into the back-projected sky, and the three flying saucers are jerked up into the studio ceiling, all reports of the incidents are already being suppressed. Officially, the army has only been firing practice rounds at the clouds.
Encounters such as these, including the destruction by visiting UFOs of a small town unfortunate enough to be located too far away from Washington DC., are being hushed up by "the higher echelon" on a regular basis.
"They refuse our existence," mission leader Eros fumes to his Commander somewhere in deep space.
But the Defence Department aren't budging. The saucers can swoop down on civilian airliners in broad daylight or fly so low along Hollywood Boulevard that the cops are practically handing them speeding tickets, but no one at the Pentagon will confirm their presence on Earth.
"How can anyone be so stupid?" Eros asks in a disarming show of genuine amazement.
Colonel Edwards, on the other hand, faces instant court martial if he were to admit, even to a fellow officer, that what he has been firing at today really was there.
Both sides look set to continue threatening each other with the best possible intentions, with suspicion running like untreated paranoia among all those involved. This is the kind of movie in which everyone has trouble believing their own eyes, except perhaps for the audience who are, by now, convinced that the flying saucers are nothing but Cadillac hub caps dangling from pieces of wire.
Meanwhile, time is running out: humanity stands poised on the brink of destroying not only itself but the rest of the known universe as well. What is to be done?
With membership of the American Psychological Association having doubled in the six years since the beginning of the decade, and public consumption of tranquilisers running close to 150 million dollars' worth per annum by 1956, perhaps therapy is the answer.
The human soul is "too controlled" for Eros and his fellow aliens to work with, so they decide to adopt "Plan 9", which involves shooting long-distance electrodes into the "pineal and pituitary glands" of the human brain. This sounds like the kind of clandestine research project that any red-blooded American scientist would heartily approve of. Unfortunately, instead of getting a government grant and setting up shop in some local teaching hospital, the aliens choose to hang around a San Fernando graveyard, using their advanced space technology to resurrect the corpses of the recent dead. But why?
"Because of death!" Eros rages at Colonel Edwards when they finally meet each other, face to face. "Because all you of Earth are idiots!"
Perhaps he's right, and it is already too late. Splitting the atom has supplied us with a power far beyond the grasp of our limited intellects, and concern for the fate of this planet is not universal. This was the message telepathically transmitted to alien contactee George Adamski in November 1952, during an encounter in the Arizona desert with a long-haired celestial being wearing a one-piece silver space suit, who indicated by sign language that he was from Venus. All material relating to this incident has, according to Adamski, been cleared by the FBI and Air Force Intelligence, although both agencies have subsequently denied this assertion.
All the same, the evolutionary clock is ticking, and, with the second hand inching slowly towards nuclear High Noon, mind drugs like LSD-25 may well prove to be our only chance for survival.
Everything hangs in the balance. Will it be the split atom or the split mind that finally sends us hurtling into the next millennium? Who knows?
In his heart of hearts, Criswell knows that the future will happen in Technicolor. That's where the money is. By the final decade of the Twenty-First Century, men and women in rockets will land on the Moon, and by 2200 AD they will have reached the other planets of the Solar System. M-G-M's extravagant production, Forbidden Planet, is set, rather reassuringly for the human race, some time in the Twenty-Third Century. Aboard United Planets' Cruiser C57-D, somewhere in deep space, ship's physician Dr. Ostrow watches an artificial eclipse of the planet Altair IV.
"The Lord sure makes some beautiful worlds," he murmurs reverently. to himself.
Little does he know. Altair IV was once the home of the Krel, a mighty race of highly evolved intellectual superbeings who were wiped out in a single night, leaving their world a barren desert with a gigantic nuclear reactor at its core, still quietly generating the combined power of an exploding galaxy.
"There's just no sign of civilization at all," the radar operator complains, after scanning the planet, but Dr. Ostrow isn't listening.
"I think a man could get used to this," he remarks fervently, "Grow to love it."
Ostrow may take his orders from his friend the Skipper, but he is very different from the rest of the crew, who all seem to talk and act as if they last saw action fighting the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway.
Looking at them, we experience the same wave of panic that must have run through the American psychiatric community when it was first revealed that, out of 14 million service personnel tested during World War II, a staggering 14% were declared unfit due to psychological disorders.
Did the therapeutic strategies and personality tests devised in the wake of this discovery guarantee the future of the human race or was it plain, old-fashioned discipline? The Skipper is not a man who has much time for mental aberrations.
"I will have less dreaming aboard this ship," he thunders at one point, and everyone watching had better pay attention. The Skipper, after all, is in command of a flying saucer.
The future is a distance that must be piloted, and humanity is now so advanced that it has taken for its own the kind of spaceship normally associated with alien visitors. Symbol of a superior technology, it has also become a warning to all those who encounter it, a challenge to everyone to change their lives.
Not surprisingly, the gleaming, advanced design of the C57-D doesn't leave its crew very much to do except lift heavy objects, move them about a lot and then put them down again, as if they were still in the U.S. Navy, patrolling the Pacific somewhere. Throughout the film, they continue their sweaty labours. The message carried by this particular spacecraft is not meant for them, in any case.
Altair IV, it transpires, holds a strange and deadly fascination for men of the mind. Its only male inhabitant is Professor Morbius, the sole survivor of a previous expedition to the planet. Only his special love for the Krel kingdom has prevented him for sharing the same grisly fate as the rest of his colleagues: being torn limb from limb by some invisible, malignant force of tremendous strength and cunning. He has spent the intervening twenty years obsessively studying Krel science and bringing up his beautiful, blond-haired daughter, Alta. The Skipper, however, doesn't think he's done a particularly good job of either: Morbius should have shared his discoveries with the rest of humanity under United Planets' supervision, and Alta should go and put some clothes on. Somehow, Dad doesn't seem to have noticed that his little girl is running round dressed like an interplanetary cocktail waitress. The entire crew is making heavy breathing noises, but poor innocent Alta doesn't know what they mean.
Much has been made of Forbidden Planet as a slick, Freudian re-interpretation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, but that isn't the movie being shown to the public today. Most of the more detailed references to Alta's "innocence" and the destructive nature of Morbius' feelings towards her have been removed from the final print. Besides, the Skipper knows zip about Freud.
It is Dr. Ostrow's fate that concerns us now. Professor Morbius seems to have taken a liking to him, and pretty soon the two of them are relaxing in a Krel laboratory, testing each other's brain power with the Skipper looking on. Products of the therapeutic age, both men know their Intelligence Quotient down to the last integer, while the Skipper, as Morbius points out, just seems to have "a good, loud voice."
Alta, on the other hand, is simply dumb, and the Skipper quickly falls in love with her. She also talks to animals and has hallucinatory dreams of fire and devastation which grow stronger the more she and the Skipper embrace. Meanwhile, the invisible monster is on the prowl again, ripping crewmen in half at every opportunity.
The secret of its existence lies in the mysterious, atomic-powered Krel lab where Morbius was fooling around with the brain tester. A sophisticated form of "plastic educator" designed for Krel children, this device not only measures intelligence but also expands it greatly, allowing Morbius to project images of Alta directly from his own mind into three-dimensional space. To get nearer the problem, Dr. Ostrow and the Skipper decide to use the Krel Brain Booster on themselves, despite Morbius' warnings that the results could prove fatal. The Skipper thinks he should be the first to try it, but Ostrow, knowing that the authoritarian personality does not respond well to therapy, disregards the order.
"You ought to see my new mind," he moans afterwards, a burn mark the size of a silver dollar in the centre of his forehead. "...up there in lights. Bigger than his now."
Muttering something about "monsters from the Id", he then dies in the Skipper's arms.
Morbius, however, is unimpressed.
"The fool!" he raves. "The meddling idiot! As though his ape's brain could contain the secrets of the Krel!"
But apes' brains are exactly what this film has been about.
"Morbius, what is the Id?" the Skipper asks, proving once and for all that he really does know zip about Freud.
"It's an obsolete term, I'm afraid," Morbius replies distractedly, "once used to describe the elementary basis of the sub-conscious mind."
Before we have time either to absorb the fact that Freudian psychoanalytic theory has been consigned to the scrap heap by the Twenty-Third Century or to wonder why Morbius should regret it, the man from the flying saucer is ready to deliver his final message:
The Krel may have evolved their minds with the aid of brain boosters, but they forgot about their own baser selves. Once they became hooked up to the limitless power supplied by nuclear fission, the Krel's subconscious hate and lust for destruction took the upper hand and wiped them all out in a single night. Therapy is not only useless against the Id, it's positively dangerous.
"We're all part monsters in our subconscious," the Skipper concludes, "so we have laws and religion."
It's too late for Morbius, however, who has already unwittingly released the secret devils of his own mind. Guilty of murder and other unspeakable desires, he has no choice but to confront his monstrous self and die at its hands, taking the wonders of the Krel world with him.
As we watch Altair IV vanish into a ball of white hot vapour, 100 million miles away, the Cathedral of the Holy Rosary in Vancouver is offering prayers to the Virgin Mary, humbly asking her for guidance in the use of psychedelic drugs, "for the benefit of mankind, here and in eternity."
And what of those busy executives who stagger, none the wiser, from that house on Telegraph Avenue, their minds up in lights?
"The mind God gave you." Eros comments reproachfully.
Who would have thought that God could be so cruel?
Will any of them ever trust their own senses long enough again to tell of their strange experiences?
One can only conjecture. From the 1950s onwards, a series of situation comedies start to appear on American television which focus on the plight of young professional males forced to live in a social nightmare of seething paranoia.
An architect finds he is sharing his office with a talking horse, a middle-management type discovers that his pretty blond wife is secretly a witch, while a third has to cope with the fact that his room-mate is really from Mars. What makes all of this so hard to endure in each case is that the central character remains the only one who knows what is going on. At the same time, however, his continued adherence to what constitutes normal behaviour obliges him to behave as if nothing whatsoever is the matter - even while the rest of his world goes to hell around him.
The therapeutic agenda set out for LSD-25 by the American psychiatric community seems to be giving way to an exploration of new levels of consciousness in which hallucinogens have all but guaranteed the human race one last, exciting throw of the evolutionary dice.
If the makers of Forbidden Planet present the Brain Booster to us as a dangerous and lethal discovery, it is because they don't actually care about the future. They're more concerned with who's going to be boss in the steadily worsening domestic situation back on Earth in the Twentieth Century.
There are monsters from the Id everywhere you look. Sweater girls and topless go-go dancers who gyrate before their paying customers, hot babes born with bongos in their pants, wife-swappers in search of kicks, smart hoodlums who know the law, and juvenile delinquents getting bounced into jail while noisily demanding their rights.
The Id has always been a hard pillow for society to lay its head on. Civilization and its discontents leave too many monsters lurking under the bed - and monsters have, by now, become a standard by-product of the evolutionary process.
In 1957, the therapeutic meddling with the unreconstructed Id causes Tony, the terror of Rockdale High, to turn into a slathering Teenage Werewolf.
"Hugo, prepare the scopolamine!" Dr. Brandon commands, intent upon unleashing Tony's primal self. "Mankind is on the verge of destroying itself. Its only hope is to go back to its primitive dawn and start over again."
Well, it's an interesting approach, and the results can't be any worse than those obtained by trying to raise our intellects to the dazzling heights achieved by the Krel with the aid of the Brain Booster, can they?
Actually, not only does Tony grow an excessive amount of facial hair, fangs and claws, but he also embarks on a wild spree of murder, rape and pillage that sends him back in time, not to the dawn of humanity, but to one of those creaking 1930s Universal horror flicks where the villagers hunt him down and kill him like the savage beast he really is.
Perhaps if Tony hadn't developed such an appetite for raw meat, things would have been different. Corporate America loves this current generation of youngsters. Easy to handle, eager to conform, they are heading a consumer spending boom the like of which has never been seen in human history. The hopes of an entire nation now lie with its teenage sons and daughters.
It must therefore come as a bit of a surprise to the demure and well-adjusted young Alta living in present-day America to discover that your dad is really spooky, old Vincent Price. We see him sitting in a pool of artificial light in the corner of the a darkened living room, reading a book on LSD-25 and its effects upon the human nervous system. At this point your boyfriend arrives to take you out on a date, but not before he slips your father a small package containing two vials of a strange-looking liquid.
While you two go off to a drive-in together, Dad's down in the lab, shooting up LSD. Rolling his eyes and gasping for air, he starts moaning into his Ampex reel-to-reel tape machine that the walls are closing in. They're suffocating him. He can hardly breathe - what a trip.
By 1959, the Id has been transformed by film director William Castle into "The Tingler", a lobster-like parasite living inside the spinal column of its human host. Vincent Price, it becomes clear, is busily experimenting on himself, trying to discover how this strange creature sustains itself by feeding off the waves of raw panic that start running through the body in moments of crisis.
The maker of low-budget shockers and devisor of such inspired cinematic gimmicks as insuring his audience against dying of fright during the screening of one of his movies and "Emergo", in which skeletons come out of the screen to fly around the auditorium, Castle is the favourite uncle of America's healthy, socialized youth. He has been scaring the pants off them for years, and they love him for it.
Now, with aid of rubber fright masks and bathtubs filled to the brim with fake blood, Castle is introducing his kids to the Wonderful World of LSD. Shot in lurid colour while the rest of the film remains in dreary black and white, the hallucination sequences look like creepy, heart-stopping fun. William Castle has taken teenage America for a ride on his Ghost Train through the chemically-enhanced brain, and the boys and girls all like what they see. Those big, bad Monsters of the Id, it turns out, were nothing but cheap theatrical effects. Illusions. Entertainment.
It won't be long before the kids are back, screaming for more.
Barely two years separate the discovery of LSD in Switzerland in 1943 and the detonation of the first atomic device in Death Valley. Both projects have embraced, in their own way, nothing less than the total destruction of the known universe: one perceptual, the other actual. While atomic radiation evades detection by the human senses, LSD vastly amplifies our sensory apparatus, shattering the delicately balanced unity of our individual egos in the process.
Their effects unspeakable and their practical applications forever in doubt, they have become locked together in some impossible, mythic contest: the invisible monster from the nuclear Id pitted against the alien chemistry of the Brain Booster.
It's a dangerous game that no one can win; and no one can win so long as the Soviet Union remains in sole control of outer space. Since 1957, Sputnik has been brazenly traversing our skies, bleeping triumphantly and proclaiming the effortless superiority of the Communist mind.
America, however, has responded by secretly setting up the Advance Research Projects Agency, dedicated to developing the next generation of intelligence-gathering computers. We are about to enter the Transistor Age, a point in the history of human development at which our concerns for the future are transferred from ourselves to our machines.
In 1959, the United States Air Force finally puts the AVRO disk on public display and then promptly scraps it. The Ford Nucleon will probably never make it beyond the design stage, but perhaps this last year in a decade of wonders will prove to be the most remarkable yet.
Alien contactee George Adamski has already caused a storm of protest when he appeared in public with Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, at the first national convention of the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America, a political coalition formed to lobby the U.S. government into releasing its secret UFO files, a London taxi driver wearing a pair of dark goggles has relayed messages to Earth from "Mars Sector 6".
At the American International Toy Fair in New York City, the first Barbie Doll has gone on display. Available in the shops from May 1959, she is the first of a whole new race of Americans to be made entirely out of plastic.
Can our imaginations keep pace with it all? Barbie's creator will go on to design electronic guidance systems for nuclear missiles.
The universe grows smaller every day. Some of the gleaming technological equipment seen in Forbidden Planet has been broken up and re-used in a light-weigh piece of fluff called ~The Invisible Boy~. A year later, in 1958, the crew's uniforms from the C-57-D, their futuristic blasters and some of Alta's slinkier costumes all turn up in Queen of Outer Space, starring Zsa Zsa Gabor. If Freudian analysts are still asking themselves what exactly it is that women want from the evolutionary agenda, this must surely be the movie to set them straight.
"We have no life here without love," the scientifically-minded Miss Gabor announces as the world gets ready to be annihilated in the powerful rays of the "Beta Disintegrator".
But that's another story for another time. For, after three years without a distributor, its title now changed to ~Plan 9 From Outer Space~, the movie which Criswell narrated back in 1956 under the inspired direction of Edward D. Wood Jr., is finally to be released to the American public. Eight prints have been struck by the film's new owners, and it will go out on the drive-in circuit in July, at the bottom of the bill.
"It is safe to state," the trailer for Plan 9 confidently predicts, "that the grandchildren of some of the people in this theatre will not be born on Earth."
Meanwhile, we sit in the shadows, a lonely, uncertain nation; watching the screen and dreaming of life in outer space.
Plan 9 has already opened in a tiny theatre on 41st Street in New York where it is so popular that it will continue to play for over a year and a half.
"Can you prove that it didn't happen?" Criswell challenges us at the movie's conclusion, and then blinks once more for emphasis.
And once more we see him, at the end of his story: Blond Criswell, Amazing Criswell, sitting under the studio lights in fantastic L.A., capital city of the Space Age. Its concrete and steel towers hold their breath in fear and admiration, waiting in the dark for their moment to come.
Criswell rises slowly to his feet, an elder statesman of the Twenty-First Century, about to deliver his closing message.
"God help us in the future," he says.