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THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE ***

Directed by Freddie Francis.

Starring Robert Hutton, Jennifer Jayne, Zia Mohyeddin, Bernard Kay, Michael Gough.

UK 1967 85 minutes Certificate: PG

 

Out now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital from Studiocanal.

 

This largely forgotten picture marked the reunion of Amicus co-founder / screenwriter Milton Subtosky and cinematographer-turned-director Freddie Francis following their successful entry into the Hammer-dominated horror realm with DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS and THE SKULL. It joined a cycle of low-budget, conceptually ambitious 1960s British alien invasion movies made in the shadow of Hammer’s catalytic hit THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT (1955) aiming to cash in on the popularity of sci-fi on both big screens and small. Prior to this, Amicus had also enjoyed solid box-office with their two cinematic DOCTOR WHO spin-offs.

 

With its gaudy Eastmancolour look, low-rent FX and family-friendly age rating, THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE plays out like a feature length TV genre piece from the period – a feeling reinforced by the busy contemporary score by James Stevens. This very British extra-terrestrial invasion is lighter and sillier than the stark, downbeat QUATERMASS but holds significant charm. Though it would appear a quaintly dated English take on INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS, it’s worth noting that the script was adapted from Joseph Millard’s “The Gods Hate Kansas” which predates the Jack Finney tale by over a decade.

 

Nine meteors fall in Cornwall after perturbed locals witness mysterious V-shaped craft in the skies. Scientist Robert Hutton (a gossip column celebrity thanks to his relationship with Lana Turner and also in Francis’ TORTURE GARDEN) is devoted to the study of possible alien life and, with his lover / assistant Jennifer Jayne (a vampire in DR. TERROR) is assigned to provide expertise at the crash site. Hutton survived a severe car accident via a metal plate in his head – and this now affords him convenient immunity to the aliens’ mind-control powers. Having chipped fragments from the crashed craft, his colleagues have their bodies hijacked by the invaders, who need the physical form to fulfil their ultimate plan.

 

Hutton is a stiff hero and clearly too old for the role, despite bombing around country lanes in his vintage car and getting propositioned by a suspicious female petrol station attendant tempting him with a cup of tea (with sugar). When the narrative sags, Hutton’s more agile stunt double steps in to bring some fisticuffs to the picture before he’s placed in a series of AUSTIN POWERS-style easily escapable perilous situations. Jayne is a lot of fun as the heroine-turned-emotionless-drone; her first port of call is to put the whammy on a Lloyds Bank manager so the aliens can “borrow” £1 million. Maurice Good pops up as a Basil Exposition figure, expiring in a good old red phone box as he spreads a (now timely) “Crimson Plague” to the masses while the TV news provide regular updates, including a Swinging Sixties incarnation of Test & Trace. In an echo of QUATERMASS, the story pauses for a “live” news report from beloved BBC newsreader Kenneth Kendall, notching up one of many appearances as himself in everything from DOCTOR WHO to DEAD OF NIGHT (“The Exorcism”) and EDGE OF DARKNESS.

 

Despite the presence of possessed mechanics and alien ray guns with “Maximum Power” settings, there’s an almost total lack of actual threat, but it’s spirited fun nonetheless. Zia Mohyeddin is genuinely engaging as Hutton’s buddy, assisting with world-saving plans hatched over cornflakes and striving to avoid falling prey to mind control by wearing what appears to be a souped-up colander on his head. The dialogue is appropriately goofy (“We’ve gone into hyperdrive!”) and the suitably bonkers climax showcases a movie-stealing turn from Michael Gough as the wonderfully named “Master of the Moon”, bragging his race to be “the ultimate evolutionary form” despite their total reliance on “primitive”, self-destructive walking flesh bags like us. For Gough (and his outfit) alone, this is well worth a revisit.

 

Extras - The extras consist of the film’s suitably gaudy original UK trailer and a lively commentary courtesy of film historian David Del Valle and filmmaker David DeCoteau. Clearly Amicus fans (“All you have to do is say ‘Michael Gough’ and I was here”), the duo provide a trivia-packed track that is honest about this movie’s obvious laws while filling out the context of Francis’ involvement and the director’s general dislike of sci-fi (plus his disappointment with previous Amicus flick THE DEADLY BEES). There’s plenty of fun factoids about the use of Hammer personnel, Subtosky’s weakness as a screenwriter, the DOCTOR WHO-level FX and the similarities to contemporary TV shows like THE AVENGERS.

 

Steven West.

 

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