They Came From Beyond Space (1967)
Director: Freddie Francis
Starring: Robert Hutton, Jennifer Jayne, Bernard Kay
Thought I’d seen this – but apparently not (apart from the Michael Gough bit near the end – seemed familiar, that). Amicus Productions decided to dabble in Quatermass territory but was it worth the bother? May contain tights-wearing alien henchmen and spoilers…
As meteor showers go, this one’s a puzzler. You see, the meteors plough up a rural English field in a perfect ‘V’ formation. The intelligence and science fraternity is a-buzz prompting MoD-type geezer Richard Arden (Bernard Kay) to approach American boffin Curtis Temple (Robert Hutton) with the offer of putting a team together to examine the objects in question. Temple is keen to go but his doctor forbids it; seems the good professor is still recovering from a car accident in which he received a near-fatal head injury. The result: a metal plate in his skull and a front row ticket to twiddle his thumbs. Colleague/girlfriend Lee Mason (Jennifer Jayne) takes his place and all appears to be going swimmingly until they try and chip off a rock sample. Lee is first paralysed by the resulting energy burst, then quite pleased – so, energy bursts for everyone, cheers! Back in Twiddlethumbville, Temple is curious when all communication ceases and requisition orders begin to arrive for such things as explosives, weaponry and custard creams. He is left with no alternative but to investigate…
Based on the Joseph Millard novel The Gods Hate Kansas, I don’t think it’s an accident They Came From Beyond Space was released the same year as Quatermass & the Pit. Furthermore, how much closer could they pitch this thing to Quatermass 2? Seriously, we go from a meteor shower into a research facility tracking said meteors leading to ‘possession by space rock’. We have our ‘senior’ American protagonist who ventures forth with trusty assistant, who gets ‘rocked’ in front of him and he gets a smack in the chops for his trouble so he goes off to find out what’s happening at the scene of the meteor melee. And that’s just the basics, you’ll find more in the detail. The difference between TCFBS and Q2 is obvious; the former has none of the pacing, paranoia or the sheer force of motion from its leading man, plus an ending that beggars belief. What it does have is good photography as one would expect looking through the eyes of DP-turned-director Mr. Freddie Francis. Unfortunately, good looking film or not, this single item does not constitute a recommendation to see the movie, although you may want to try and find the howlingly bad finale somewhere.
A lot of stuff gets thrown into the mix in an effort to inject intrigue; first example of this is when Curtis Temple heads off to a nearby village and we are introduced to ‘foxy blonde mystery garage lady’ (Luanshya Greer). The following stilted conversation is both baffling and laugh-out-loud funny for all the wrong reasons.
“Can you tell me how to get to the Roberts farm?”
“Yeah…” (lingering ogle) “Yeah, it’s a couple of miles down the road.” (abruptly serious) “What do you wanna go there for?”
“I’m a scientist and some of my colleagues are working there.”
“Well, if you get bored with your work you can always stop by for a chat… I might even make you a cup of tea… (emphasis on the word ‘tea’) with sugar…”
A cup of tea? With sugar? What just happened? Is this brazen hussy trying to distract Curtis from the alien business at hand? So is she meteor-directed, or human with an agenda? We then get introduced to another character skulking in the bushes, Stillwell (Maurice Good), who claims to be with ‘internal security’ and has a good idea what’s going down on the Roberts farm. He wants to bring Curtis into the frame but must first get clearance from his boss. The film starts to lose it big time around here; Stillwell enters a phone box to contact his superior and appears to get struck down by a virus. Eh? Now, those old red phone boxes were extremely unhygienic, granted, but even by meteor aliens’ standards it’s a bit random, innit. Anyway poor old Stillwell staggers out of the box and pretty much everyone gets infected – that is, everyone except Curtis so presumably the metal plate in his head also renders him immune to contagion. The ‘Crimson Plague’ makes the news and at this point Stillwell’s boss, Williams (Michael Hawkins) arrives (his big entrance ruined by him walking into an occasional table) to warn Curtis away from the farm and that his ongoing presence could somehow put the planet in jeopardy. He even intimates the aliens are aiding humans. But is this a waft of alien subterfuge?
The film is rife with superfluous scenes; Curtis visits his doctor and is forbidden to go meteor hunting, but that doesn’t stop him re-visiting Doc Stick-in-the-mud 5 minutes later and being told exactly the same thing. Really, though? He’s searching for intelligent life in the Universe and learns a bunch of meteors flying in formation has landed in a field… He’d just go – laters, Doc. Shortly, he arrives at the Roberts farm and is told to pee off and not come back unless he wants his brains blown out, a scene rendered ludicrous when he intimidates the automatic weapon-wielding guards by revving his motor car at them – and they cack their pants! ‘If I release this handbrake you will all be squished, nee-yah-hah-haaa!’ The idiot guards have got machine guns! Blam! – handbrake moot. Yet half an hour later (movie time), and I’m not exaggerating this, he returns to the same front gate for what can only be described as no reason whatsoever whereupon the guards – who, remember, have been instructed to kill him if he dares return – fire at his feet. He gives them a stern look and drives off again within seconds of arriving! The laughable inconsistency continues when Lee instructs Arden to set his phaser to ‘kill’ and take care of the imprisoned Curtis. Yet when the escaped scientist is later confronted by Arden he is told it was never their intention to kill him. Eh? TCFBS is chock full of silly stuff like this.
Anything to like? Apart from the previously mentioned cinematography it’s not easy to find anything passable. I kind of enjoyed watching the dogged Curtis try to find a weakness in the farm’s defences, the electric fence in particular But where did he get the rifle from? There isn’t a scene of him acquiring said rifle, he just pops up with it, plus he’s a top shot to boot. The introduction of his scientist friend, Farge (Zia Mohyeddin) does enliven the pace somewhat but you’re just left thinking, ‘why didn’t he go to this bloke in the first place?’ In this section of the film – interrogation by coloured filters! – Freddie Francis makes sure actress Jennifer Jayne (the other half of the psychic sisters with Janet Munro in The Trollenberg Terror) gets her ravishing close-up. But for everything halfway decent there’s always piffle like the punch up with slapdash fight choreography (accompanied on the soundtrack by a very irritating military snare) or comedy guards running in and out of an elevator (cue Benny Hill theme).
The ending, which I shan’t go into in detail, is a dilly with poor, poor Michael Gough and his alien cohorts dressed in shiny capes and disco pyjamas (in fact judging by their garb, Everything Everything must’ve been watching this film before they took to the stage at Glastonbury this year) and shirtless bodyguards in tights who can’t even withstand a soft push from an even softer cardigan-wearing nerd… I couldn’t do it justice in words. When Goughie begins his big exposition scene with, “We come from a world called Zarn…,” that in itself is enough to provoke a lengthy snooze. His monologue also contradicts the movie title, given that the star of which he speaks, Leporis, is in the constellation Lepus and not exactly beyond space – it’s just in space. After yet more Quatermass 2 shenanigans (inspiring the workers to revolt) the dénouement amounts to little more than humans teaching aliens good manners. Yes, you won’t be stealing our brains without a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, now go and stand in the corner. ‘Sorry, Mr. Earthling, it won’t happen again…’ No, seriously, check it out, has to be seen to be believed.
Performances for this kind of thing are adequate; Jayne, Mohyeddin and Kay all appear to be having a modicum of fun with their roles and Hutton, while nowhere near the level of Donlevy intensity, brings a quiet determination to his character. That said, he doesn’t cut the mustard as an action hero; no way does he look capable of all that leaping over privets and sofas and scrapping for his life, not to mention more than a little old to be diddling Jayne. SPFX are rudimentary – glowing rocks, rear-projection (at times poorly processed), even dabbling in the ballpark of Gerry/Sylvia Anderson with the miniatures. I’m not sure what the jazzy soundtrack is going for, hopefully not dread or paranoid fear because it achieves utter failure in that respect.
Released by Amicus as a double-bill alongside The Terrornauts, Francis claims that all the budget went on the aforementioned film rather than his. Given that The Terrornauts is arguably worse than They Came From Beyond Space is probably not much of a comfort to Freddie.
Trailer (Inception-style): http://tinyurl.com/qz3prxe
Can’t go any more than 1.5 Dumbstruck Donlevys out of 5
ThereWolf, August 2015