Saturday, July 2, 2011

They Came From The Heavens...And Sent The World Into Hell!

The Earth Dies Screaming(1964)
Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Willard Parker, Dennis Price, Thorley Walters, Virginia Field

I'm a real sucker for end of the world type movies and tales of survival, so naturally I gravitated towards enjoying this modest British b-movie from the early 60s. The film is directed by veteran Hammer ace, Terence Fisher, one of the most underappreciated genre directors who also helmed the classics, Curse of Frankenstein(1957), Horror of Dracula(1958) and The Mummy(1959). The plot and look of this film resemble many other pictures of it's type from this era, especially the cult hit, Day of the Triffids(1963) and seems to play almost like a British version of the American made, Target Earth(1954) with a few slight twists and alterations.

Shot in eerie black and white, which gives the film a kind of darker and more distinct atmosphere, appropiate to the grim story which revolves around a group of disparate people, led by stalwart American test pilot Willard Parker, who is joined by a criminal(Dennis Price), a woman(Virginia Field), a drunk(Thorley Walters) and a young couple, the woman being pregnant. They find that everyone around has been killed by an apparent poisonous gas attack. The griup soon discover the perpetrators to be aliens who send androids to Earth to invade. These androids are some really creepy looking things with spacesuits, complete with pipes and wires sticking out and shapeless faces. In a disturbing subplot, they also have the capability of ressurecting the dead and using them against the living! The heroes hide away and arm themselves with a few revolvers and an M1 Garand rifle and attempt to fight them off. Eventually, it is discovered that the androids are controlled by radio waves, so it di decided to stop them, they must demolish a nearby radio tour. The girl gives birth and they decide to take to the skies in a plane, hoping more survivors will see and follow south.

The movie is very well done on an obvious low budget, benefitting largely from experienced director Fisher and an able cast. Dennis Price is probably the standout as a crook, who proves villainous and desperate, and meeting a truly horrid fate. Like many British genre films of the period, this contains an American hero to ensure stronger sales overseas and while this may have annoyed the Brits to no end, luckily Parker is a natural leader type and fits the role like a glove. All the others, including veteran character actor Thorley Walters, fill the roles very well and are part of the film's strength, Unfortunately, while Fisher is almost always capable of a lightning pace in his films, in this one it serves as almost a detraction. The running time is barely over an hour and the plot is so full of interetsing concepts, like the origins of the aliens, the characters backgrounds, the zombies and the so much else, that it seems to be one of the few films that may have been bettered with some additional padding.

It is by no means a great sci-fi film, but works on a few basic levels and is able to scare. The ambiguous ending, with the characters simply just leaving in a plane and declaring that others will follow when they catch sight of the craft, may seem to be too simple, but it ends like the character's fates, which is ambiguous in a now new and frightening world. There are some good suspenseful moments including the walking dead and the first arrival of the androids that are very memorable and as a whole, this is a pretty good low budget effort that should appeal to fans of this subgenre.

This would be an admittebly interesting concept to remake, but unfortunately, with the state of the industry now as it is, maybe it's better to leave well enough alone. The focus today of poor computer graphics and bland, uninteresting characters(almost always the worst teenage stereotypes you'd never want to meet) would mean certain doom if that were ever attempted, which is a pity considering the potential that is here. With a truly disturbing plot, nice claustrophobic setting and an emphasis on characters, this film works, but it's obvious that there is room to roam. Maybe someday we can see another picture like this that will understand that characters and an intelligent script are far more long lasting than just special effects.

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