A blue and yellow announcement on the screen advises us that the scenes we are destined to witness have been rated R. Persons under the age of 16 will not be admitted to see what is about to unfold unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.
To the sounds of funereal music and the creaking of ancient hinges, two muscular male slaves in leopard-skin loincloths pull open the leaden double doors to an ancient burial vault. Inside, a round stained-glass window casts a disk of blood-red light over a stone coffin. In reverent unison, the two slaves ease off its dusty lid, then respectfully withdraw.
It is 1965, and the Amazing Criswell, never weary of this world for very long, rises majestically from his coffin, readying himself to address a movie audience yet again. A quick dissolve places him squarely before us. His presence fills the screen.
"I am Criswell," he states, his eyes focused on some distant, unseen dimension. "For many years I have told the almost unbelievable, related the unreal and showed it to be more than fact. Now I tell the tale of the Threshold People, so astounding that some of you may even faint."
Criswell's voice reverberates over scenes of an empty graveyard at midnight.
"This is a story of those in the twilight time," he continues, "once human, now monsters, in a void between the living and the dead."
White mist shrouds the cardboard headstones. The head of an enormous stuffed raven raises its stern, mysterious outline above the damp charnel-house fogs.
What would astound his audience even more, were they but to know it, is that, in a bizarre reversal of the prophet's usual practice, Criswell has already spoken these words once before. Back in 1958, he had also risen from his sumptuous casket to deliver the exact same lines. That was at the beginning of Ed Wood's ill-fated Night of the Ghouls; a nostalgic attempt to evoke in low-cost black and white the old horror flicks Universal ground out during the thirties and forties.
In a curious tale of ghosts, man-made monsters and haunted houses filled with mysterious corridors, Kenne Duncan, looking about as psychic as a set of brass knucks, plays turbaned swami Dr. Acula, bilking the rich, the gullible and the recently bereaved of their money with the aid of his phoney seances. Unfortunately, the special effects budget for Ed Wood's movie was so low that even the rigged spirit communications seem fake. They were good enough for Criswell, however. Under their influence, he crosses over from his usual role as the film's narrator to appear in its closing moments, revealing himself to be a creature from beyond the grave, conjured up from "the everlasting pit of darkness" by Dr. Acula's hocus pocus.
The film Ed Wood eventually sent to the Film Service Laboratory Inc. of Hollywood for processing ends with Criswell neatly and methodically swaddling the unconscious form of Kenne Duncan in the white satin tucks and ruffs of a coffin before sending him off "to the crypt" to be interred alive.
And that's how things stayed for over two decades.
The film was previewed for AIP and other drive-in distributors, but none of them wanted to pick up the tab for the developing, post-production and final prints. Night of the Ghouls would be forced to undergo its own premature burial on the lab shelves, accumulating storage charges which Ed Wood hadn't a hope of covering. It was the wrong time for such an old-fashioned tale of ghouls and gangsters to appear. Nostalgia for the recent past didn't suit the mood in the fabulous jet-age fifties.
Fate was kinder to Ed Wood's other stalled project, Plan 9 from Outer Space, which would finally appear the following year. By 1959, public interest in flying saucers was still high enough to give it some chance of success. Ed Wood had been sufficiently aware of this to have drawn upon the memoirs of USAF Captain Edward J. Ruppelt as source material for parts of the script for Plan 9. Ruppelt, a former chief of Project Blue Book, an initiative set up by the Air Force to investigate sightings of UFOs, had spent the early part of his retirement writing up his experiences. The resulting volume, published in 1956 as The Report on Flying Saucers, stuck firmly to the official Air Force line: there were any number of logical explanations for what the people of America had seen in the skies during the fifties, but none of them featured actual visitors from outer space. Perhaps only a director with Ed Wood's talents would have chosen to base his story of body-snatchers from outer space upon an account of the flying saucer phenomenon written by such an obvious and outspoken sceptic.
There are, however, advantages to such scepticism.
While Plan 9 was being readied for its final release, astronomer and author of The Case for the UFO, Morris K Jessup, was preparing to take his own life. Jessup, who held views on flying saucers diametrically opposed to those of Ruppelt's, had become increasingly disturbed after discovering that a copy of his book had been sent anonymously to the Chief Officer of Naval Research in Washington. Covered with strange annotations in different coloured inks, it gave every indication of having been read, studied and commented upon by intelligent beings with access to highly detailed, advance information on alien propulsion systems. The US Navy, however, remained unconvinced - on the surface at least.
In March 1959, one month before Morris Jessup asphyxiated himself with the exhaust fumes from his car, the US government revealed that in 1958 the Navy had participated in Project Argus, successfully launching three nuclear devices into space and detonating them 300 miles above the Earth's surface. The same day that this piece of news hit the wire services, ARPA representative W. L. Witson addressed a conference at the California Institute of Technology, declaring that, "The US has put in operation a network for the detection of satellites, which is complete in its basic aspects, in order to avoid surprise attacks launched from space by artificial satellites." He went on to explain that "such a network included a series of detection posts across several countries to the south of the US and would be used to localise satellites that do not emit radio signals, as would the satellites with "unfriendly" objectives." Whether this referred to Soviet Sputniks carrying something more lethal than Leika the Space Dog, or some potentially destructive piece of alien hardware was not made clear. Morris Jessup, for one, would soon be past caring.
"The National Safety Council keeps accurate records on highway fatalities," Criswell warned darkly from the soundtrack to Night of the Ghouls. "They can even predict how many deaths will come on a drunken holiday weekend. But what records are kept, what information is there, how many of you know the horror, the terror I will now reveal to you?"
And Criswell should know. He is the real ghost conjured up at the fake seance: the one whose presence renders not only the future speculative but the past as well. As for Ed Wood, he went on to welcome in the sixties by writing, producing and directing industrial training films for Autonetics. An impressive list, it included such titles as Space Capsule in Flight, Radar and Minute Man Missile Program.
Criswell: Ah, the curiosity of youth. On the road to ruin! May ever be so adventurous!
- Orgy of the Dead
When, in 1965, Criswell crossed over one more time to face the camera and repeat his opening lines from Night of the Ghouls, it was to introduce A. C. Stephen's lurid sex fantasy, Orgy of the Dead. Criswell had the starring role. Adorned in a black satin cape once worn by Bela Lugosi in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein and demanding a night of ghoulish pleasures, he had left the black-and-white world of the fifties behind him for good. After all, this was the Space Age. The future Criswell had long been dreaming of, filmed in "gorgeous and shocking" Astravision and Sexicolor. And it was all happening from a script by Ed Wood.
Orgy of the Dead is a cleavage-baring Las Vegas floor show set in a moonlit cemetery; an exotic procession of Indian princesses, slave girls and phantom street-walkers, featuring enough dry ice to keep Los Angeles smog-bound for a month. Criswell, grinning like a pink and dissolute cherub, presides over the festivities as the Emperor of the Dead. Surrounded by his loyal entourage, which included the Wolfman and the Mummy on this occasion, Criswell apparently had difficulty learning his lines and chose to read them off cue cards instead. Clearly audible being flipped over on the soundtrack, they help to explain the permanently far-away and visionary look in the Emperor of the Dead's eyes. As was his custom, Criswell also slept in his coffin between takes. He is reported to have wept upon seeing the finished film, moved by how regal the camera had made him appear. In later years, Criswell would use his regular guest slots on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show to plug the film.
As the Space Age progressed from Mercury through Gemini to the Apollo series of missions, and the sixties quickly began to bury the fifties alive, Criswell was already busy getting us ready to face the future once more. In 1969, his latest volume of predictions, Your Next Ten Years, was published by Droke House Inc.; the same year that the Condon Committee Report on UFOs was also made public.
While Dr Condon and his associates at the University of Colorado went to great lengths to show that there was nothing going on in the sky to get too excited about, Criswell's new book revealed that there was plenty to exercise the spirit right here on Earth. As a record of the seventies, Your Next Ten Years makes astounding reading. During the course of this turbulent decade, half a billion people died of the Automatic Atomic Plague which caused their bowels to drop out, the children of habitual drug users were born with completely hollow heads, and a craze for devouring human flesh swept America, making The Cannibal Cookbook a national best-seller. There was also a global revival of Dixieland Jazz.
Considered from the vantage-point of the late-1990s, however, some of Criswell's predictions appear amazingly accurate, if a trifle premature. He writes convincingly about the world-wide spread of a wasting disease very similar to AIDS, the introduction of the fax machine and the microwave cooker, the commercial and legal ramifications of cryogenics, the rise of Louis Farrakhan's National of Islam and America's return to old-time religious fundamentalism. He also had this to say about the British monarchy: "Inner quarrels will become public ones, and violent, disgraceful charges will be hurled from all directions! The Royal Family will not be any different than the quarrelling family down the block from you!"
Let the record show that recent events have proved Criswell to be right once again!
In 1982, Criswell made one last, unexpected public appearance when Ed Wood's Night of the Ghouls was finally released after producer Wade Williams had paid off all of its outstanding processing and storage charges. Sadly, it was also the year that Criswell, a pall-bearer at his friend Ed Wood's funeral in 1978, chose to exit this world for good. In the summer of 1995, however, a copy of Your Next Ten Years turned up in a second-hand book and magazine store in Vancouver, where it had lain hidden beneath a stack of posters advertising old skin flicks from the sixties.
As the population of the Earth begins to count off the last years of this millennium on the fingers of one hand, perhaps this is the right time to reappraise Criswell and his work against a background of recent events. But be warned. A history that concerns itself with the future quickly finds itself adrift in time and space. Progression becomes meaningless. An accurate prediction is nothing more than an exercise in repetition, while an inaccurate one deflects the present moment into an endless series of parallel realities. "Why should you feel lonely when you have a trillion counterparts?" Criswell admonishes the reader in his foreword to Your Next Ten Years. "Do the other trillion feel as lonely as you? Are you fair to them?"
At various stages in its strange and patchy career, Night of the Ghouls was also known as "Revenge of the Dead".
Criswell: Time seems to stand still. Not so the ghouls when a night of pleasure is at hand. If I am not pleased by tonight's entertainments, I shall banish their souls to everlasting damnation!
- Orgy of the Dead
"The FBI or the CIA would have been proud of me," Criswell wrote in the preface to Your Next Ten Years as he fondly recalled his early childhood in Princeton, Indiana. The freckle-faced darling of the local town gossips, the young Charles Jeron Criswell King was an absolute whiz at keeping tabs on all the latest scandal. He quickly learned how to observe, analyse and make deductions from everything he saw and heard going on around him. "The mind of a twelve year-old boy can be a fearful thing," Criswell later remarked, remembering the "Short History of the Future" he had compiled at the time. Its painstakingly hand-written pages had contained all of his predictions concerning what was in store for the good (and not so good) people of Princeton. Showing more foresight than his young son, Criswell's father immediately burnt the manuscript in the family hearth before anyone else had a chance to get a look at it.
As a prophet, however, Criswell suited his audience well and carried it forward with him. He might speak of his admiration for Nostradamus and of his desire to do his own translation of the great seer's apocalyptic rhymes but, actually, he had already achieved his goal. Your Next Ten Years reads like the Prophecies of Michel de Nostradame rewritten by the staff of the Saturday Evening Post. For a work supposedly produced during the full flood of the Aquarian Age, it is strangely redolent of 1950s suburbia and its attendant preoccupations: a combination of fashion tips, financial forecasts, amazing labour-saving devices, spicy gossip and gloomy tales of impending social collapse.
And why not? During the fifties Criswell had made an entire career out of offering his audience a chance to peek inside the peepshow of the future. With the strident tones of a side-show barker, he called the people away from their modern homes with their gleaming kitchens of chrome and formica, enticing them into his tent to watch the space-age burlesque that was in store for them. Nearly all of his predictions in Your Next Ten Years can be read as a nostalgic extension of that decade. It was, after all, a period that Criswell understood completely and he shared its concerns. He also spoke its language, making its vaulting confidence and breathless sense of destiny his own. It is a rhetoric conspicuously absent today, where the future seems to be over before it even reaches us.
Everything was sensational then. That's probably why Newt Gingrich wants to bring it all back. Time Magazine commented that his book, To Renew America, "celebrates family life as it was portrayed in the pages of Reader's Digest and the Saturday Evening Post from 1955." Gingrich, it seems, has pitched his tent on the opposite side of the carny from Criswell's and is now offering us a nostalgic freak show. We peer through its black velvet drapes at neatly aproned housewives who run past white-gated driveways and elegant strips of neatly manicured lawn, chasing after yellow school buses while holding out forgotten Tom Corbett lunchboxes for their Space Cadet children.
But all was not well in the suburbs back then. Teenage pregnancies were at an all-time high, and one in every three marriages ended up in the divorce courts. Kids in high school drove their teachers nuts chanting "Klaatu Barada Nikto" in class, and accounts of UFO sightings were turning up on a regular basis in such bedrock suburban staples as the Saturday Review, Look and Reader's Digest. Concerned housewives, doctors and white-collar professionals were forming apocalyptic cults in less time than it took to lay a crazy paving patio. One group even served tea and iced cakes in the shape of flying saucers while they sat around discussing the college football scores and waited for the latest spirit message from an entity called Sananda. The end of the world, they were convinced, was at hand, but - thanks to Sananda and the rest of the Space Brothers - a fleet of flying saucers would be laid on to rescue the true believers in time and whisk them off to safety. It was all going to happen on December 21, 1952; a date which saw the true believers huddling together in the rain singing Christmas carols while a crowd of 200 onlookers jeered at them.
The Space Brothers evidently weren't too impressed by this type of behaviour and refused to turn up. Maybe they had other things on their mind. After the Soviet Union successfully managed to launch Leika into orbit aboard Sputnik II, there was a small flurry of incidents in which boys almost had their dogs snatched by aliens. In each case, the attempted abduction proved unsuccessful, the only real pity being that Norman Rockwell wasn't on hand to illustrate it.
Criswell, remembering his small-town days in Princeton, was well placed to respond to this unease. It was an age which, despite - or because of - its sense of impending doom, seemed to express itself at the top of its voice. The titles of UFO best-sellers from the period, such as Adamski and Leslie's Flying Saucers Have Landed in 1950 and Donald E. Keyhoe's The Flying Saucers Are Real from 1953, almost seem to have a space after them to accommodate the missing exclamation marks. The text of Your Next Ten Years is littered with them. A born entertainer, Criswell made everything sound exciting, even the end of the world.
A growing desire for distractions and a reluctance to look back at the frenzy of the war years meant that the public needed new heroes and new horizons to fix their gaze upon. The first great wave of UFO sightings would supply them with both.
In 1947, Kenneth Arnold was credited with seeing the first flying disks passing in formation over Mount Rainier in Washington. He was piloting his own specially designed mountain aircraft at the time, searching for the wreckage of a crashed C-46 Marine transport plane.
In 1948, flight leader, Captain Thomas F. Mantell plummeted to his death while pursuing a UFO over Fort Knox, Kentucky in his F51. Project Blue Book, taking a rather romantic view of the incident, claimed that what he had actually been chasing was the planet Venus.
Major Donald E. Kehoe became interested in flying saucers when he was invalided out of the Marine Corps after cracking up his plane during a failed landing attempt. He later went on to become director of NICAP, the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, an organisation founded at the end of a four-day symposium on UFOs held in Washington in 1956. Among those present was William P. Lear, maverick aviator and inventor of the Lear Jet.
The mysterious Frederick Crisman, whose reports of crashed UFOs would lead retired Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt into a bitter war of words with Flying Saucer magazine's Raymond Palmer, first became interested in the subject when he encountered a laser-toting alien in a cave in Burma. At the time, he was convalescing after having been shot down over the Pacific while flying a combat mission in World War II.
These jocks were the jet pilots of the New Age: guys with the right stuff, hell-bent on creating a space programme of their own devising. They could almost smell the excitement of the future crackling like ozone in their nostrils. The only thing that seemed to stand in their way was the mordant scepticism of people like Philip J. Klass, who shared the official USAF line on UFOs. Klass, an avionics expert, wrote regularly for Aviation Monthly, but showed no natural aptitude for flying.
In the end, what stopped these fly boys from attaining their goal was the future itself.
Criswell: And what is this?
Ghoulita: A symbol, Master.
Criswell: What kind of symbol?
- Orgy of the Dead
"I predict that you will be shocked," Criswell wrote in Your Next Ten Years, "when our American astronauts find the ruins of an ancient civilisation in a remote section of the moon! A civilisation far more advanced than ours."
A group of American scientists in pastel-coloured space suits gather round a shiny black monolith that stands impassively at the centre of a recently excavated lunar crater. The soundtrack goes nuts. This should be one of the greatest moments in the history of the entire human race. Well, for a few of its members, anyway. The project overseer, Dr. Floyd, has already stressed the need for absolute secrecy when dealing with a discovery of this magnitude.
"I'm sure you're all aware of the extremely grave potential for cultural shock and social disorientation contained in the present situation," he tells his staff immediately upon his arrival from Earth, "if the facts were suddenly made public without adequate preparation - and conditioning."
The audience, who has heard speeches similar to this issuing from the mouths of any number of scientists and government officials since the start of the fifties, may be forgiven for not paying attention. This is 2001: A Space Odyssey, after all, the most lavishly mounted science fiction movie M-G-M has produced since Forbidden Planet back in '56, and there's so much to see and marvel at. It's also 1968, and the front rows are packed with the kids who had once thrilled to The Tingler, now whacked out of their minds on LSD and digging the Cinerama special effects for all they're worth. Totally oblivious to Forbidden Planet's measured discourse on the advisability of having your brain boosted artificially, they're here for the big light show at the end.
So much for discoveries of magnitude.
By the late sixties, the fierce medical debate surrounding the role of mind-expanding drugs such as LSD in furthering the race have ended in a series of legal quibbles with the FDA. Mankind's projected big breakthrough into the realm of cosmic consciousness got stalled some time around the Summer of Love; stranded within a society more divided against itself than ever.
At the same time, the sanctioned use of legitimate drugs in the therapeutic treatment of patients came to be regarded with suspicion by large sections of the populace. For them, that reference to "conditioning" at the end of Dr. Floyd's speech sounds a note of warning. It is clear that flaccid passivity on a mass scale rather than individual well-being is about all that they can expect from the kind of therapy he has in mind.
Hidden beneath the bright lights and the gleaming hardware featured in 2001 is the rather grim news that, at some point in the swinging sixties, planetary evolution had hit the bumpers. Perhaps the piece of information which Dr. Floyd should have been most concerned about eighty-sixing was not that other forms of sentient life exist in the cosmos, but that there is nothing more we can do collectively with the human mind except use it to create more complex forms of Artificial Intelligence.
At the dawn of the transistor age, it was still possible to talk quite seriously about "bootstrapping" mankind's mental processes onto higher planes of consciousness, but within a few short years this was to become an activity reserved exclusively for computers as the development of information technology leapt from one generation to the next.
These rapid advances, bankrolled by such commercial enterprises as Bell, Pan-Am and Howard Johnsons, whose corporate logos decorate the space station hotel orbiting the Earth in 2001, have helped to foster a new social elite in their wake. The bland, well-adjusted scientists who populate the space station and the lunar base make it plain by their calm and measured presence that there is no place in the future for the Kenneth Arnolds and William Lears of this world.
Not surprisingly, the two astronauts sent into deep space to make contact with the sentient beings responsible for placing the monolith on the Moon are so well-balanced they hardly function as individual personalities at all. Conversation exists between them only as a series of flat exchanges of information punctuated by long silences during which they seem to ignore each other entirely. Even their names, Bowman and Poole, are almost instantly forgettable. As such, they are the exact counterparts to the white-bread, high-ranking family men whom NASA finally did send to the Moon during the late sixties and early seventies. Buzz Aldrin broke ranks briefly and became memorable for playing a few rounds of golf in the lunar dust but paid dearly for it later, when he came crashing back down to Earth with an alcoholic bump.
As Stanley Kubrick pointed out in his previous sixties satire, Dr. Strangelove, individuality and self-reliance have become a dangerously sick joke in the modern world of vaulting technology. The mathematicians and strategists of the RAND Corporation must have had nightmares for a month after seeing Slim Pickens riding that nuclear device like a bucking bronco down to ground zero and Armageddon.
However, even for a personality "conditioned" to a state bordering on the comatose, survival in the future is not unconditionally guaranteed. The machines are rapidly developing minds of their own. At the end of Forbidden Planet, Robby the Robot was allowed to take control of the Skipper's flying saucer but only because of the inhibitions built into his wiring preventing the android from "harming rational beings". In 2001, HAL 9000, a homicidal computer so soft-spoken that he makes Tony Perkins sound like Screaming Jay Hawkins, can't wait to remove all human interference from the command loop by neatly terminating their life-support systems. Perhaps, after listening to them talk, he was frightened that his creators might bore the aliens to death. Perhaps all he wanted was star billing. Either way, HAL 9000's "malfunction" represents another exponential leap in the development of thinking machines; one that bootstraps them into a universe where human involvement is neither relevant nor necessary.
If Dr Strangelove was a satirical cooling down of the over-heated preoccupations of the cold-war fifties, 2001 puts the decade on ice forever by denying it the wild promise of the future it had so confidently predicted for itself. In this enterprise, Kubrick was aided and abetted by that master of "speculative" fiction and author of considered projections of things to come, Arthur C. Clarke, whose own career as a sci-fi writer had been launched in the pulps of the fifties.
The film's satirical edge may have seemed blunted at the time of its release, but that was probably because 2001 meshed too well with the age that produced it. By the late sixties, the future itself had been cooled down close to zero. Even the clunky practices of the fifties psychics had given way to the controlled laboratory procedures of the "parapsychologists" with their tests, statistics and strict scientific monitoring. By the end of the decade, the Central Premonitions Registry in New York had established a whole new category just to accommodate the flood of predictions relating specifically to the Kennedy family. The future had become a frozen flake of data - the preserve of business, fashion and science.
Dan Rowan saunters onto the set of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In to present a relaxed little item called "The News of the Future". A cigarette dangling suavely from his fingers, he makes jokes about what "President" Ronald Reagan will be up to in 1988. This is always bound to get a reaction from the studio audience, especially at a time when the Governor of California is considered either too stupid or too busy tear-gassing students ever to attain higher office. Reagan was already well into his second term when Dan Rowan finally succumbed to cancer. Back in 1969, Criswell had warned his readers that "you will no longer see any presenter or any commentator smoke on air" as it showed a lack of respect for the viewer and set a bad example for teenagers.
Set against the vast grandeur of eternity, the individual destinies of mere mortals can seem very small indeed. As the opening to Richard Strauss's tone poem "Also Spracht Zarathustra" fills the cinema auditorium at the climax to 2001, the public probably wasn't feeling too confident in its reactions to a giant glowing foetus suspended in deep space, heralding the coming of Homo Superior. It's amazing sure, but it's all a joke, right? Right?!?
Right. M-G-M followed up the success of 2001 with The Green Slime, a notorious international co-production which featured some of the most ridiculous-looking alien life-forms ever to infest a space station, although none of them seemed even remotely aware of it at the time. But then aliens have never been noted for their sense of humour.
Criswell: You will not be so fortunate. Your existence will cease within moments. No one wishes to see a man dance. -Orgy of the Dead
On July 31, 1969, at the Las Vegas International Hotel, a figure strides onto the stage of the Showroom Internationale whose face is so familiar that the audience almost fails to recognise him. Then they erupt into a spontaneous ovation of thunderous applause. In a specially designed black costume, tied at the waist with a macrame Karate belt, Elvis Presley has just taken his first few determined steps towards his own death.
He picked the right place to do it. The Las Vegas International Hotel - later renamed the Las Vegas Hilton - had recently opened and needed something spectacular to mark its first season. A colossal 30-storey structure situated off the Strip, it was the ultimate in leisure concepts; a 1500-room vision of resort entertainment in the future. Everything about it was big, new and ground-breaking. Even the swimming pool, with a capacity of 350,000 gallons, was hailed as "the second largest man-made body of water in Nevada." Elvis heralded in this new age by kicking off his show with a rendition of "Blue Suede Shoes". The last time he had sung that song in Vegas was during his disastrous two-week engagement at the New Frontier in 1956 when he ended up at the bottom of the bill to the Freddie Martin Orchestra and Shecky Greene and vowed that he'd never play the town again. But fate, as Criswell knew well, has some strange tricks in store for us. By the time of Elvis's triumphant return to live performance, fifties rock and roll was enjoying the first of many nostalgic revivals. Its king, however, was having none of it. He bashed through a string of his old hits as if they were an embarrassing joke he was happy to share with his new-found audience but was then just as eager to forget. A casino was no place for teenage passions. It required fantasy and spectacle in gigantic quantities to fill the place, and Elvis was ready to supply both.
When he opened for the second time at the International in February 1970, he was wearing a gleaming white jump-suit, the first of many, which would mark his final transformation from old-fashioned fifties rock and roll hoodlum to entertainment superbeing. Elvis underscored the point still further when he addressed the Memphis Junior Chamber of Commerce with the following words: "I'd just like you folks to know that I was the hero of the comic book. I saw the movies and I was the hero of the movie." Pretty soon after that, Elvis was no longer walking out onto the stage unannounced. The swelling climax of Richard Strauss's "Also Spracht Zarathustra" now preceded him, allowing his audience time to prepare themselves for the magnitude of the occasion.
By the time of his death, Elvis had wreaked total havoc with the cosmic evolutionary agenda set by 2001. Reborn in Las Vegas, he proceeded to refashion himself into a bloated white foetus with the internal organs of a man twice his age. In fact, the autopsy carried out on Elvis's body revealed that his entire digestive system had ceased functioning altogether some time before his death. Ecce Homo. Glowing in the light of a million instamatic flashbulbs that glittered about him like stars, his mind and body ravaged beyond redemption, Elvis had become the trash ubermensch of our age.
It is in the nature of prophecy to concern itself with the death of kings. Such events can influence the fate of whole nations. Count Louis Hamon - better known to the world as Cheiro - foretold the deaths of Rasputin and Czar Nicholas II simply by looking at the palms of their hands. Mrs. Jeane Dixon set the seal on her career as a political seer by predicting the death of John F. Kennedy; a remarkable individual achievement considering that no less than 50,000 other people also claimed to have done the same, including the English psychic "Pendragon", a young boy dying of leukaemia in Ohio, the Reverend Billy Graham and one Dr. Stanley Krippner, undergoing his first "psychedelic session" under the - still legal - influence of LSD 25 and a recording of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition". Assuming that all 50,000 weren't in the pay of the CIA, it seems clear that the last person to know anything about the assassination of President Kennedy was Kennedy himself. Between them, Criswell and an alien "mothman", speaking through a human contactee, managed to foretell the death of Martin Luther King. Criswell also went on to predict the restoration of the Spanish monarchy.
Cheiro died a true prophet's death; alone and in disgrace, surrendering to a stroke in a Hollywood gutter while on his way to hospital. Criswell showed his wisdom by not naming names. Whatever premonitions he had about the death of Elvis Presley - that favourite son of the fifties - he chose to communicate them with considerable circumspection. References to the King's demise are kept carefully hidden: alluding to Presley's long career in movies and his constant weight problems, Criswell predicts death and suicide for many Hollywood stars related to the use of dangerous diet pills. He also makes specific reference to a new teenage craze for driving around town with a freshly purloined corpse in the passenger seat. This mix of fast youth and untamed automobiles places the body of the dead Elvis squarely at the driver's side.
Most terrifying of all, Criswell makes the psychic link between Elvis and the highest office in the land when he speaks of a forthcoming suicide in the White House. Elvis would, of course, meet with President Nixon in the Oval Office, in December 1970, to talk about the nation's drug problem. It was at this notorious summit that Nixon, showing a greater political cynicism than he was ever given credit for during his own life-time, urged Presley to run for President, reasoning that, given the King's popularity and grasp of the public imagination, he ought to walk it. Contemplating President Presley's shameful death, Criswell commented mournfully: "The dead man did not fail us, we failed him!" Is there an Elvis fan alive today who can doubt the truth of these words?
Noam Chomsky: There's a place out in Idaho, a mountain where everybody goes, a short distance from an airforce base. And at that airforce base, there are planes flying in all night, a lot of lights, nobody knows what's going on. But people go to this mountain in Idaho to see the extraterrestials, who are being brought in by the US Air Force, to commit genocide against the American people, unless we arm ourselves. Now you have to respect the feelings behind this kind of thing. The feelings are quite genuine, but because there is no constructive way to react, and people's minds have been turned to mush by decades of propaganda and crazy entertainment, this is what happens.
- Dazed and Confused, 1995
Criswell: Torture! Torture! It pleasures me!
- Orgy of the Dead
When, in 1969, Criswell predicted that "a monarch will vanish in Iran", provoking a major war in the Middle East, history took a left-hand path. For many years, the Pahlavi regime had been assiduously gaining friends in the West, most notably in America. The Shah of Iran even had an official residence in Hollywood; a futuristic flying saucer-shaped construction in glass and concrete in which Elvis is reported to have sulked, raged and partied his way through a disappointing film career after his release from the US Army. It is not surprising, therefore, to discover that when the prophesied war occurred, America became an increasingly enthusiastic participant. So enthusiastic, in fact, that its eventual squaring-off against Saddam Hussein bore all the signs and portents of a minor apocalypse.
The secret story of Operation Desert Storm begins with a series of events recorded in missing time.
It all started late in November 1989, when, on the eve of a year spent in frantic diplomatic visits with Saddam Hussein while the rest of the world was being led sleep-walking into armed conflict, Secretary General to the United Nations, Perez de Cuellar was abducted by aliens. This incident was witnessed by an Italian-American housewife living on the lower East Side of Manhattan, herself an unwilling victim of extensive nasal surgery performed by hands that were not of this Earth. For what mysterious reason did the aliens sweep the United Nations' chief representative up into their glowing craft? Was it to change the course of world history? To tip the balance between peace and war on this planet, or simply to stuff electrodes up his nose? Who can say? So far, Mr. de Cuellar has remained strangely silent about the incident.
The Apocalypse came a little closer, however, in July 1990, when, three weeks before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, six US Army intelligence specialists deserted their posts in Germany and headed for the little town of Gulf Breeze in Florida. Their self-appointed mission: to seek out the Anti-Christ there and kill him. They also hoped to accomplish this in time to welcome the alien spaceships whose arrival would mark the end of the world.
They couldn't have chosen a better place. Described by Jacques Vallee as "the UFO mecca of the United States," Gulf Breeze was the home of "Mr X", a.k.a. "Mr Ed", better known as building contractor and secret alien contactee, Ed Walters, who claimed not only to have been abducted by aliens but also to have photographed their ship in the process. These revelations attracted a good deal of public attention, resulting in a $200,000 deal on a book which appeared in February 1990, and everything was going tolerably well until a papier mache model of a flying saucer was found in Mr Ed's attic in June that same year. Enter the Gulf Breeze Six, in search of the Great Deceiver, with Army Intelligence, the CIA and the NSA all hot on their tails.
One global conflict later, the September 8, 1992, issue of The Final Call, the official newspaper of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam movement, put a whole new spin on things with its front-page story: "UFOs AND THE NEW WORLD ORDER". Illustrated with a picture of a flying saucer hovering over the White House, the article claimed that the United States government was bent on a course of world domination assisted by extraterrestial hardware that was actually being manufactured on Earth.
This must have come as no big surprise to the people of Baghdad who had been threatened by weird lights in the sky since Day One of Operation Desert Storm. The whole world had watched while an alien invasion force of superior technological might had been directed at them in form of smart bombs, pilotless drones, cruise missiles and "silent" Stealth fighter planes, all programmed, scheduled and guided by the computers back at Master Control. HAL 9000 was now in complete charge of Armageddon and busily running things with his usual calm efficiency, proving once again that the only entities to have made any quantifiable evolutionary leaps since the 1950s were our thinking machines.
And the aliens, of course.
In 1976, the residents of Lake City in Pennsylvania marked the American Bicentennial by officially dedicating a landing site for UFOs, their argument being that it was the nation's future that should be celebrated, not its past. This was at a time when US opinion polls disclosed the fact that more of its citizens believed in the existence of flying saucers than in the probity of the President. If, however, Sananda and the rest of the Space Brothers have yet to appear before the American people, it may be because they no longer need to. According to the conspiracy theorists, the President has already cut a deal with them. All the evidence suggests that the invasion is already under way.
The evolutionary agenda for mankind is being rewritten once more. Whether we like it or not, the future is back again. For good.
On April 24, 1964, patrolman Lorrie Zamona reported seeing a flying saucer land near Socorro in New Mexico. In this famous incident, he is also said to have witnessed two of the spaceship's occupants wandering around outside their craft. For once, the United States Air Force was unable to question the reliability of the witness - nor, surprisingly, could its higher echelons offer one of their customary explanations of the event. They were apparently in no position to do otherwise.
Within a few days of patrolman Zamona's report, the first contact between the United States government and extraterrestial beings is supposed to have taken place in New Mexico, at the Holloman Air Force Base. It was an historic moment and produced an historic agreement: in return for some of their advanced technical know-how, the aliens would be allowed to continue their own private researches into human biology unhindered. That same year Betty and Barney Hill revealed under hypnosis that they had been abducted, medically probed and traumatised by visiting space creatures.
According to the Hills' testimony, Betty had been strip-searched and a long needle inserted painfully into her abdomen while Barney had a sperm sample taken with the aid of a mechanical suction device, which left a ring of warts around his pubic region. Both of them experienced unexplained neuroses and sudden fears for many months afterwards.
Although the actual event had occurred three years earlier, this anxious married couple were the first of an estimated 6,250,000 American citizens to be snatched by extraterrestials. A broad survey of the recorded experiences available suggests that the Space Brothers have a weird idea of fun. Their medical examinations sound more like rape, and their experiments always seem to involve the use of devices specifically designed to inflict the maximum amount of pain upon their victims. A list of alien activities, in fact, reads more like the daily duty roster of the Shah of Iran's secret police, the Savak, rather than expressions of kindly concern for humanity's future.
Once again, we find ourselves struggling with a scenario in which the US government is not only aware of what's going on but is also directly implicated in it. Innocent people are being rousted from their beds or picked up on lonely roads at night, denied their most basic human rights and subjected to unspeakable torments, just so the President can establish good trade relations with outer space. If ever there was a time for using exclamation marks, it must surely be now.
In contrast to the breathless, urgent titles of the books describing alien encounters in the fifties, the more recent abduction studies favour a cooler, more enigmatic approach - such as Budd Hopkins' Missing Time and John Fuller's The Interrupted Journey, both of which were inspired by the Hills case. The Space Brothers have also cooled their act down a bit, transforming themselves into amorphous, cartoon-like "Greys". The term suits them. The ruthless and impassive way in which these muppets go about their business has also transformed the cosmos into one vast totalitarian state; oppressive, humourless and totally devoid of any feeling for others.
After an estimated six million abductions in the United States alone, you'd be forgiven for wondering exactly which part of the expression "it hurts" the little buggers are finding so hard to understand.
Maybe it's a question of no pain, no gain. There are those on Earth who see the future of the human race reflected in the aliens' black, expressionless eyes. Abductees, they argue, have been singled out for a special initiation into the higher values of the New Age. Such a spiritual rebirth is always going to be a painful process. The mysterious alien intelligence in 2001 was only able to transform its human guinea-pig, the astronaut Bowman, into a born-again superbeing after first ripping his mind apart, rapidly aging his body and laying him out on his death bed. To be violated by the cosmos is to become cosmic oneself. It is an experience that detaches the individual from the broad sweep of the masses and places the subject on a plane of existence unmarred by any trace of ideology. As Criswell once casually remarked on the subject of America's antipersonnel weaponry of the future, "all mankind is basically depraved."
Faced with a world destined to end with a minimum of collateral damage (in the West, at least), the old suburban apocalypse cults of the fifties have been replaced by the New Age seekers of today who look to the aliens not for rescue but for that elusive evolutionary leap into higher consciousness. These groups are less interested in the nuts and bolts of conspiracy theory than in how having an alien shove a nine-inch spike into your genitals makes you a better person. Either way, until someone proves incontrovertibly that the origins of Velcro lie in deep space, the Greys have so far failed to make a significant contribution to human happiness as it is understood on this planet.
This still doesn't explain, however, the weird goings-on at Nellis Air Force Base, near Groom Lake in the Nevada Desert. Just a car-ride away from the glittering towers of Las Vegas, this is rumoured to be site of the mysterious "Area 51"; an underground research facility in which grey aliens and government officials trade pieces of advance technology for bits of human beings. Security is impressively high, and there have been reports of strange lights in the sky and stories of a flying machine so advanced in its design that ground staff are forbidden to look at it whenever it leaves the hangar. Most likely, the United States Air Force don't want to repeat the mistakes they made in the late eighties over the Stealth fighter programme; a project so secret that they denied that the plane existed even when kids could buy plastic F117A model kits at their local stores. Even Criswell knew about Stealth, predicting as early as 1969 the appearance of "new jets so silent even delicate hearers cannot pick them up. They will even evade the radar screens!"
It has been suggested, consequently, that the stories about aliens and UFO operations in the Nevada Desert are being spread by the United States Air Force itself to deflect public attention from the new Aurora spy plane, currently under development. The most earnest propagator of this misinformation turns out to be, in some wild throw-back to the fifties, none other than John Lear, the youngest son of William P. Lear and a daredevil aviator in his own right. Surprised? Don't be. This kind of thing happens all the time.
Criswell: She was?
Ghoulita: As I said, a worshipper of snakes and smoke and flames.
Criswell: Oh, yes. A religion of sorts.
Ghoulita: It would seem so, Master.
- Orgy of the Dead
Is it possible to remain normal when confronted with such an abnormal world? Doctors are already prescribing Prozac for eight year-old children. Criswell predicted that "the use of advanced drugs, therapy and hypnosis" would eventually empty America's asylums, thus allowing them to be converted into Golden Hours retirement homes for the nation's elderly. But, in an age of laboratory sanity, where does the triumph of the therapeutic, that Cinderella science of the fifties, now reside?
Since 1990, the Intruders Foundation, set up with joint funding from a Las Vegas businessman and the Prince of Liechtenstein, has been establishing a formal network of therapists, physicians and hypnotists to treat people suffering from the after-effects of alien abductions. Those taking part broadly share the view of the organisation's founder, Budd Hopkins, who accepts the literal truth of the abductees' experiences and believes them to be of a profoundly negative nature. While helping these people to cope, the IF is also busy accumulating and corroborating the data necessary to map out the collective trauma of America's abducted millions. The terrain might have changed, but the methodology - and the intentions behind it - have not.
One individual who has shifted his location, however, is John E. Mack. A Harvard professor and founder of a psychiatric clinic, Mack is a close friend and allay to Budd Hopkins. Although he may not share Hopkins's take on the saucer phenomenon, he has even less time for the orthodoxies of modern psychoanalysis.
During the eighties, John Mack had come to suspect that there was a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man; a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity, located somewhere between science and superstition. It was time for him to cross over to the Other Side: to an area we call the Esalen Institute, in California. It was here that he met Dr. Stanislav Grof in the summer of 1987.
Grof introduced Mack to Holographic Breathing Technique, mnemonic identification and other legal means of getting in touch with the transcended self. It was shortly after mastering such concepts that Mack started studying the alien abduction scenario with Budd Hopkins and the rest of the IF.
Politely rejecting Hopkins's view that both the aliens and the damage they caused were real, Mack postulated that they may represent another form of "transpersonal experience" designed to take us out of our socially and culturally conditioned egos and into what Grof termed "the holotropic realm." Similar points of personal growth and encounters with the Other were also to be discovered in Near Death Experiences, recollections of past lives, shamanic rites and trances.
And the use of hallucinogenic drugs.
Round about the time when John Mack first encountered him, Stan Grof was being hailed as the most respected psychedelic researcher in America. A Czech psychoanalyst who had studied the mind-altering effects of LSD in the early sixties, Grof was also numbered among those who came up hard against the evolutionary bumpers when the drug was eventually outlawed - but not as hard as one of John Mack's predecessors in the psychiatry department of Harvard University, the fabulous Dr. Timothy Leary.
It had been part of Leary's rhetorical pitch that LSD's potential lay far beyond the therapeutic in its ability to transform us all into astronauts exploring inner space. Unfortunately, the crew-cut reality of NASA's space programme, the 2001 light show and Leary's getting busted by future shock-jock Gordon Liddy all conspired to rob this premise of much of its initial excitement. During the eighties, however, the neuro-consciousness frontier had established another beach-head in California. A whole new generation of psychedelic derivatives were being sampled and tested; most notably the compounds popularly known as Ecstasy and Vitamin K.
The early advocates of Ecstasy saw it as primarily a therapeutic tool, capable of ironing out the glitches in the human persona, enhancing empathy with others and basically allowing the user to reach out across social space. So sociable were the drug's effects, in fact, that pretty soon everyone was partying like it was 1999.
By taking Vitamin K, on the other hand, you could consider yourself part of a truly great adventure. Vitamin K, it was claimed, really allowed you to experience the awe and mystery that reaches out from the inner mind to the Outer Limits. According to Grof, there was no end to what it could do: "It can take you to sub-atomic reality, to astrophysical, to other galaxies. It can make you live the life of a tadpole." With so much of the evolutionary agenda covered, who needs therapy? Veteran head, John C. Lilly was even more precise about the drug's effects: "On Vitamin K, I have experienced states in which I can contact the creators of the universe, as well as the local creative controllers."
This division between the therapeutic and the transcendent, Ecstasy and Vitamin K, has not only helped to influence and inform the twisted history of LSD, but also seems to be reproducing itself in the alien abduction scenario. While those participating in the IF already have enough weird science to handle without getting into drugs as well, the parallel is both inevitable and irresistible. Is the abductee someone who needs to be treated and returned safely to society or have they taken their first painful steps towards a new and higher reality? To use a crude metaphor - and it is only a crude metaphor - John Mack's approach to the phenomenon is Vitamin K to Budd Hopkins's Ecstasy.
Meanwhile, strange things were stirring in hyperspace. Those taking Vitamin K had reported seeing little people running around on the Other Side; cartoon figures, alive and well and living in their own alternate reality. This, however, was nothing compared to what you got with DMT.
More properly known as demthyltriptamine, this chemical brain-bender was first synthesised in Los Angeles some time in the late fifties from the psychoactive element found in a South American vine called ayahuasca. Originally intended as a means of inducing simulated states of madness under laboratory conditions, the drug's effects soon proved too hellish to endure. Even internationally renowned dope fiend William Burroughs sent out warnings about DMT after testing it in Tangiers, claiming the experience felt like "fire through the blood." Generally regarded as a sensation somewhat akin to being mugged by demons, the only thing to be said in its favour at the time was that it was over quickly, lasting barely half an hour.
This was just long enough, however, for psychotropic evangelist Terence McKenna to make a major discovery. During the seventies, his experiments with DMT had revealed that the drug could transport its users into hyperspace and then put them in direct contact with the extraterrersial beings who lived there. "You are in their domain," McKenna enthused during a recent interview. "This is not a hallucination or a state of mind. The place is real, these entities are real, and they're trying to communicate."
If Tim Leary had believed that LSD could transform us into the astronauts of inner space, DMT now offered proof that someone had got there before us. Only instead of leaving shiny black monoliths lying around for us to trip over, the aliens were still there, in person: "self-dribbling basket balls", according to McKenna, "that come bounding up and jump right into you and out again." And what do these cartoon characters want to talk to you about?
Why, the end of the world, of course.
Ghoulita: Is there time?
Criswell: You'd better hope there is.
- Orgy of the Dead
Thanks to the aliens, McKenna was turned on to the mathematical fabric of time and space and thus able to plot the course of human history on his computer as a fractal Time Wave focused on a zero point located somewhere in the future. Factor Mayan Calendrics and Teilhard de Chardin's Omega Point into the system, and HAL 9000 is now running the apocalypse, big time. The Time Wave Zero programme is already available as a software package. Enter Elvis Presley at this point, to the strains of 2001; the human Rosetta Stone of numerology.
Elvis, one of whose gleaming white stage costumes featured a jewelled Mayan stone calender, has become the subject of many numerical myths. The essential digits relating to his birth and death have been found encoded in the number 2001. His life-span has been equated with that of his mother. Elvis himself constantly consulted Cheiro's Book of Numbers, and even altered the spelling of his own name, adding an extra "a" to the "Aron" he was baptised with, to give it a more potent numerological valency. There are also those who believe that the King knew how long he had to live and when he was going to die.
The end of human history, according to the information supplied by the extraterrestials in the DMT zone, is scheduled to take place in 2012, at 11 am on the morning of December 21. Although it is reassuring to note that Sananda and the Space Brothers still favour this particular day as much as they did back in 1952, no one claims to know what will happen when the Time Wave hits zero. The current options include the end of the universe, the beginning of a new phase of ultra-chaotic suprahistory, or mankind finally attaining collective hyperspatial consciousness. Or we could all just wind up singing Christmas carols in the rain again.
Criswell, on the other hand, maintained throughout his career that the world would end on August 18, 1999; a conviction he claimed to share with Nostradamus. A massive data panic has already been predicted for the year 2000 as the world's computers, unable to recalibrate themselves to the millennial double zero, shut down completely.
"I can feel it," HAL 9000 murmurs distractedly in 2001, as astronaut Bowman starts to disconnect his memory banks. "My mind is going." Meanwhile the spaceship "Discovery" continues on its approach to the planet Jupiter and the threshold of a new human evolutionary transcendence. The DMT light show, designed by Kubrick and SFX master, Douglas Trumbull, is about to kick in, and the audience's confidence in itself slowly wanes and ebbs away.
Frankly, this transcendence business is beginning to suck. Our thinking machines, whether running Desert Storm or being plagued by viral madness, are all potential killers, the aliens want to do unspeakable things to our minds and bodies, and more than ten minutes of hyperspace can give you a headache. Well, Darwin never said evolution was going to be easy.
No wonder Criswell fills Your Next Ten Years with dire warnings of global devastation, pitiless scenes of mass murder and the bloody consequences of violent political upheaval. Like the true celebrity he was, Criswell also found time to respond to "the questions most asked of him", which evidently included the rather spooky enquiry: "Are we winning the war against the insects?" Happily, the answer is "yes", but only after hordes of blood-drinking mutant hornets appear from out of nowhere in 1979 to decimate the population of America before vanishing "as mysteriously as they came, leaving mountains of the dead in their wake."
But Criswell was only responding to the demands of an age that had first turned to him more out of boredom than apprehension. Today, astrologers keep watching the skies, on the look-out for the next Wall Street Crash, while magnetic storms over the Atlantic are thought to precede significant collapses on the Dow Jones. All the same, you really know that the Cold War is over when the CIA fires its psychics, despite the fact that their experiments in "remote sensing" produced results no less accurate or complete than those obtained from agents working in the field.
The truth is that the cool, laid-back approach favoured by the laboratory parapsychologists during the sixties just doesn't seem to cut it anymore. The future now belongs to those who seek to control reality instead of merely divining it; people like Steven Spielberg who fills our screens with shiny, happy aliens and funds his own "meta-project" to comb the cosmos for signs of intelligent life. Spielberg even shared a scene with Robby the Robot in Joe Dante's film, Gremlins, which he also produced. While Robby lumbered through parts of his dialogue from Forbidden Planet, Steven careered about in the background at the controls of a motorised kiddy cart.
Then there's Bill Gates, the computer geek turned microsoft superbeing, building himself an underground San Simeon, complete with digital art collection, in Seattle. Rumours confidently predict that he will own the entire world by the year 2000. "As a child," it is reported, "he obsessively practised extending his little toe, as if preparing for some weird evolutionary leap." Now he stars in his own computer games, calmly blowing away digital demons while his employees look on and cheer. He has also published a book of his prophecies, modestly entitled The Road Ahead.
Like Elvis before them, Gates and Spielberg have, in their own way, seen the movie and become its hero; and never has The Revenge of the Nerds had a bigger or more captivated audience. In the ideological vacuum of the nineties, adolescent male fantasies have become the movers and shakers of our collective, free-market destiny. When Terence McKenna, whose own childhood blended Catholic repression with pulp sci fi and B movies, announces that the first hyperspace franchise has been sold to Howard Johnsons, it will really be time to run the closing credits.
Our sense of reassurance already seems to near completion. Douglas Trumbull has used the technical expertise he applied to 2001's special effects to create a fifteen-minute electronic "ride" through the Past, the Present and the Future for the paying guests at the recently opened $375 million pyramid-shaped leisure concept known as the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, the State of Nevada has designated route 375, which runs through an isolated stretch of desert near Nellis Air Force Base, an official alien landing strip. Governor Bob Willis even suggested that the signposts for the Extraterrestial Highway, as it will now be called, should be laid out flat on the ground so that they can be seen and read from the sky. The government, however, continues to deny the existence of Area 51, despite the persistent rumours.
Criswell's voice is heard once more, crackling on an old recording. To the doleful tones of an ancient upright piano, he is reciting a poem entitled "Someone Walked Over My Grave." His words sound as if they are echoing down some long, distant corridor. As he mourns the way in which he has been so thoughtlessly awakened from his eternal sleep, we find ourselves drifting out into space and back through time.
It is 1965 again, and astronauts Fuji and Glenn are about to enter the orbit of Planet X in their spaceship, the P-1. Corny enough still to be impressed by the mysteries of the cosmos and too dumb to rely on anything as complex as a computer, they have been sent by the World Space Authority to investigate the strange radio signals emanating from this new, unexplored world. Located just beyond Jupiter, Planet X is the home of Monster Zero, a three-headed golden dragon with bat-like wings, which Fuji and Glenn instantly recognise as Toho Studios' most vicious film creation, King Ghidorah.
While Ghidorah rears up on the screen, firing lightning bolts from each of is three mouths, we remember that the monster's coming was first foretold by a prophetess who claimed to have been born on Mars. One of the ideas being floated around Toho Studios at the moment is that King Ghidorah will have his own starring vehicle in 1999. Nostradamus had predicted that, at the turn of the millennium, the Earth will be ravaged by a destructive flying dragon, and Toho apparently wish to cash in on the prophecy. "That's the universe," astronaut Glenn observes grimly. "Nobody knows its secret."
But even the universe must end some day. Where do we go from here? "Of all the times to be alive," Criswell declares throughout Your Next Ten Years, "the time is now!" Never has a sense of ending robbed us of so much confidence in ourselves.
"We will escape into the future," a dying alien gasps at the conclusion of Monster Zero, "into that dimension we have never seen."
Nick Adams, the American actor who played astronaut Glenn, made that escape on February 7, 1968, when he committed suicide. During his brief career, Adams managed to befriend some of the most self-destructive personalities in modern trash culture. These were the real Threshold People; including James Dean (killed in a high-speed auto-collision), Sal Mineo (stabbed to death by street punks in LA), Nathalie Wood (drowned under suspicious circumstances) and, of course, Elvis Presley. UFOs were seen cruising over Elvis's grave in Forest Hill Cemetery shortly after his funeral. Then, after a failed attempt had been made to snatch his body, Elvis was moved back to Graceland where he now lies in the Garden of Meditation, between his mother and father.
"And now we return to our graves," Criswell announces happily at the end of Orgy of the Dead, "the old and the new. And you," he adds, pointing at his audience, "may join us soon."
Just as Orgy of the Dead and Night of the Ghouls both began with the same lines, so too do they end. And perhaps, as Criswell lies down once more in his beloved casket, and the camera draws slowly away for the closing credits, we will remember the epitaph Criswell had once chosen for his headstone on the cemetery plot awaiting him in the town of his birth: "World-weary Criswell Predicts; Back home again in Indiana." Let us leave him there.