First, let's tell the story.
The Lemon Grove Kids get a job clearing brush from the property of a gruff fellow named Mr. Miller. One by one the kids are grabbed by a menacing 4-fingered alien claw till only a few remain. Suddenly a saucer snaps into existence on the property. Six feet or so across, it looks like a piece of playground equipment. A big grasshopper, actually a guy in a thick grade schoolplay-style make-up and fake bug wings up by his neck, hops out and from out behind slinks the Vampire Lady. The Grasshopperman points a finger My-Favorite-Martian-like at Mr. Miller and he is instantly hypnotized. He zombie-marches up to the Vampire Lady who bites him the neck. They retire to the house.
Gofer, played by Steckler, enters the saucer. Hitting a switch the saucer snaps uncontrollably in and out of existence as he strikes a variety of unlikely poses on the saucer. Obviously inspired by a bit from Invasion of the Star Creatures, it manages to rise above its source material to actually be funny. Escaping this peril, Gofer and the remaining kids sneak into the house by a back window. One takes up hiding in a suitcase while the others crawl on their bellies seeking the alien lair. Two more are captured.
We see the previously abducted Lemon
Grove kids sitting in a row on a long bench by a wall. They are static
and expressionless - in modern abduction parlance, they have been 'switched
off.' On a table is a guy laid out with some kind of medical procedure
being done on him. The Vampire Lady is trying to stick the rod-like end
of an I.V. tube into his neck. He is semi-conscious and weakly trying to
fend off the procedure. The tube is connected to a large glass watercooler
jug and one can infer they want to
Gofer comes out of hiding and goes on the offensive. He walks up to the Vampire Lady and bites her on the neck. An extremely long scream issues out of her and chaos ensues as the kids snap awake and they start running in. The assistants also start running about in confusion. Some kids run into a room which unaccountably has three witches in it adding to the chaos. Vampire Lady and Grasshopperman slip out to their saucer and leave.
Tickles, the youngest and cuddliest of the Lemon Grove kids, taps the rest of the aliens out of existence with the magic lawn flower. The remainder of the kids escape outside and run pellmell to safety. Gofer's boss makes a more dignified exit and stops in relief that the ordeal is over. Only it isn't, Gofer chomps down on his hand and we see the fangs he has grown. On that little twist, the film ends.
There's a bunch of cool weirdness here. To begin with, this abduction story almost certainly was filmed before the most important true-life abduction of the era, Betty and Barney Hill's The Interrupted Journey, was published or publicised. Similarly, it preceded the emergence of the Antonio Villas Boas abduction into American UFO lore. Betty Hill's unanaesthetized medical terror on an alien examination table, Barney Hill's 'switched-off' state, and Villas Boas's bloodletting clearly parallel what we see in the Lemon Grove film. Yet neither could possibly have influenced the other. To term them coincidences may, in some sense, be proper. There are, after all, also many differences - there are no grasshoppers or magic flowers in The Interrupted Journey, nor is the Vampire Lady naked or as vampy as the lady in the Villas Boas tale. Still, it would be silly to try to argue they are without significance. Probably they hint at shared common notions about the abilities and character of scary aliens present in the culture at that time.
Much more striking and puzzling is a similarity between the Steckler film and a currently popular case called The Allagash Abductions. The abductors: "They're like bugs!" Two of the Allagash abductees sit on a bench built into a wall in a switched-off state bearing a dumb, expressionless look. One is poked by a pointy thing and then made to lie on a table as a medical procedure is forced on him involving the taking of a body fluid - in his case, sperm.
In modern abduction cases having more than one abducted, those left waiting around in a switched-off state are either lying down on other tables or standing. The Allagash situation of the guys sitting on a bench was unique and unprecedented. Bug-like aliens make up less than 10 percent of the population of alien entities. The recurrence of such a pairing of bug-like aliens to seated switched-off abductees has to involve odds against randomness that are difficult to shrug off. Was one of the Allagash guys a Lemon Grove Kid? Jim Weiner, my pick, would have been 13 in 1965. He's not in the credits admittedly. (Yes, I did check.) Perhaps he just visited.
There is one final coincidence growing out of this film. The first known entity case in the UFO literature to involve a large alien insect appeared in 1965, roughly the same time as the Steckler film. The individual involved was Ted Owens, 'the PK Man.' By his account, UFOs gave him a system to make contact with Space Intelligences. They showed him a chamber in which stood two small creatures resembling grasshoppers and insect-like, but standing on two legs. Was Owens influenced by Steckler's alien Grasshopperman?
In this instance, I suspect the answer is no. There are aspects of the Owens story which point to a film made a year earlier, First Men in the Moon (1964). The Selenites are very reminiscent of grasshoppers because of the generally long body profile and insect face. They walk about on two legs. Owens drew his grasshoppers crouching behind and over an eye-like oval machine which translated what he said into symbols and a high frequency found. This is analogous to a film segment where a Selenite crouches over and behind a translator that emitted high-pitched noises. While the translator's appearance consisted of a hemisphere of quartz-like crystals, the segment also displays an examination chamber in which an abducted earthling is X-rayed. It happens to be eye-like in form.
The Owens story also includes his encountering the 'Higher Intelligence' or boss of the bug entities. He sees it on a wall screen and it is shadowy with only its green eyes standing out. The film insectoids also have a larger-brained ruler who can only be seen briefly behind a wavy crystalline wall.
The temporal coincidence of Owens and Steckler appearing in the same year can be reduced to shared ancestry if we can argue that Steckler was similarly influenced by First Men in the Moon. This is harder to do for there is no compelling physical resemblance and nothing else seems borrowed or inspired by it. The evidence is totally circumstantial. Prior to 1964 there are no known examples of alien grasshoppers in the cinema. Suddenly, we see two in two years. It would make sense of things, but a determined critic could fairly have doubts.
The Lemon Grove Kids could be regarded as yet another demonstration that some facets of the modern abduction phenomenon have cultural roots. Those who wish to deny this will have a ready comeback. Maybe Steckler was, in fact, an unconscious abductee and the film is a product of memories buried deep of a real abduction experience. I want to go on record as saying that is flatly impossible. UFOlogists time and again have told us that abductees are normal people. Nobody can tell me a director who makes films like the totally schizophrenic Rat Pfink a Boo Boo, Incredibly Strange Creatures (filmed in Hallucinogenic Hypnovision), The Thrill Killers, Wild Guitar, or The Lemon Grove Kids films is normal.
Alien, maybe--but not normal.
This article orginally appeared in Talking Pictures, Number 15, Summer 1996.
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