It’s a minor — very minor — Terence Fisher Sci-Fi suspenser that reaches the bare genre minimum and nothing more. Love the title and love those great stills, but when it’s finished you’re going to be saying, ‘Now all I need is a good alien invasion movie!’
The Earth Dies Screaming
KL Studio Classics
1964 / B&W / 1:66 widescreen / 62 excruciating minutes of horror / Street Date October 4, 2016 / available through KL Studio Classics / 29.95
Starring Willard Parker, Virginia Field, Dennis Price, Thorley Walters, Vanda Godsell, David Spenser, Anna Palk.
Cinematography Arthur Lavis
Film Editor Robert Winter
Makeup Harold Fletcher
Original Music Elisabeth Lutyens
Written by Henry Cross (Harry Spalding)
Produced by Robert L. Lippert, Jack Parsons
Directed by Terence Fisher
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
So I guess we have to add a third choice for the end of the world: a Bang, a Whimper… and now a Scream.
Low-budget science fiction didn’t proliferate in Great Britain the way it did here in America, where everybody with access to a movie camera was trying to pump out the next monster movie hit. Some of the less ambitious English films tried to localize the terror in a single setting, more or less, and the setting of choice for pictures like Devil Girl from Mars, Immediate Disaster (Stranger from Venus) and The Strange World of Planet X (Cosmic Monsters) was the rural pub, or inn, where a little group of locals could sit about and discuss which one of them might be an invader from outer space. The movies are so claustrophobic, they sometimes resemble TV plays.
That brings us to this movie, which isn’t a cheapie yet appears made for next to nothing. The dandy title The Earth Dies Screaming isn’t attached to much of a movie, which is a disappointment for director Terence Fisher, normally a stylist who could find a way to enliven all but the most desperate projects. He seems to have found his match in Jack Parsons’ and Robert Lippert’s weak production, which has perhaps the most thoughtless screenplay in British science fiction of the ’60s. No, I take that back, as I’ve squirmed through The Terrornauts on a big screen.
A mass invasion of Earth is underway. American Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker) makes his way to a hamlet littered with dead bodies and decides to hole up with a few accidental survivors. Then the killer robots arrive. They slay with only the touch of their gloved hands. And not long thereafter, the corpses rise, blank-eyed, to serve the invaders as well. It’s something of a sticky wicket for the locals, while Jeff the Yank tends to think in immediate practicalities.
Don’t get worked up waiting for flying saucers, pitched battles or cities in flames, because most of the screaming in The Earth Dies Screaming takes place off screen. Although corpses litter the streets the kill tally is low. The most promising moment occurs when we suddenly notice that a pair of corpses we’d seen in a crumpled automobile, have somehow disappeared. There’s no faulting the actors, who perform with reasonable competence. But very little happens in the screenplay by Henry Cross (Harry Spaulding of The Day Mars Invaded Earth). The characters meet, talk over their concerns and explain how they’ve survived. There’s the young couple that seems confused, and the older local (Thorley Walters), an eccentric who means well but preps for disaster by hitting the bottle. And then there’s the obnoxious elitist (Dennis Price) who has already decided that an unattached female (Virginia Field) will become his personal property. That’s about the only internal conflict going in a screenplay that has people mostly standing around talking. The crisis of the young wife having a baby in the middle of the killer robot threat is curiously subdued… like, an almost non-issue.
We know we’re in trouble when the killer alien robots arrive. They are no more than actors in pleated silver suits, wearing plastic heads repurposed from space suit helmets from an earlier movie. Old Republic robots were more interesting; these look like a cross between The Man from Planet X and men in hazmat suits. An eerie sound effect and Elisabeth Lutyens’ effective music score add a little menace, but the cast never seems as disturbed as it should. The Earth is dying screaming out there, and they still make small talk.
Still, the predicament of a few people trapped as killer robots roam the streets has worked before and will work again, and this turnip of a space invasion movie has its fans if only for nostalgia’s sake. The persistent positive image that sticks in my mind is the sight of a newly resurrected corpse with a fresh set of blank eyeballs, preceding a pair of killer robots through a door. That was a favorite in the old Famous Monsters magazine. I couldn’t, and still can’t picture myself wearing those special eye coverings.
Various reviewers talk about the great Terence Fisher’s supposed lack of interest in this particular project. I have a feeling that Hammer wasn’t the most generous company to work for, what with Mr. Fisher having to do these cheaper down-market films in the first place. The fact is that only a couple of filmmakers of his generation were still working by 1964, as the Brit New Wave had swept them away in favor of new blood. Fisher’s name was on some of his country’s most profitable film exports for several years — Hammer received honors from the crown — but he wasn’t able to step up to bigger productions. I have to conclude that those involved with The Earth Dies Screaming saw it as just a paid job, not a chance to shine.
Lippert’s English movies, some of them produced with Jack Parsons, don’t add up to much. Their most effective show The Curse of the Fly takes an undeveloped franchise one step forward and two steps back, despite an ingenious basic story idea. Their Spaceflight IC-1 is a blatant rip-off of a worthy Czech science fiction picture. There’s not a lot of achievement in their work. The truth about The Earth Dies Screaming is that it delivers few genre thrills. The great title is the movie.
The KL Studio Classics Blu-ray of The Earth Dies Screaming is a picture-perfect widescreen encoding of a film that was released by 20th Fox in America a year before it hit theaters in the United Kingdom. The best thing about repeat viewings is Elisabeth Lutyens’ sensitive music score, which gives the poky show most of its forward momentum.
Kino provides a still gallery, and has given Richard Harland Smith the uphill task of commenting on this show. Thorley Walters and Dennis Price are interesting personalities to talk about, but not really in the context of this movie. Smith works up connections between this show and the zombie craze and points out that Lippert was a part-producer of the much more competent The Last Man on Earth. He mentions John Wyndham, and the premise of The Earth Dies Screaming is a lazy clone of Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids.
None of the actors shine in this show, so Smith must work hard to find interesting things to say about them, especially the leads. Actor David Spenser isn’t particularly well known here, but he’s immediately recognizable to Terence Fisher fans in a striking role in the chilling horror-suspense film The Stranglers of Bombay. The likeable Thorley Walters almost gets a scene or two in this show up on its feet, but for the most part this is a case of The Earth Muddles Through. The commentary must range far afield, discussing even ‘atomic’ movies for a minute, just to fill out the abbreviated running time. As always, Smith is as engaging and bright as he is in person.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Earth Dies Screaming Blu-ray rates:
Supplements: Audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith, Animated image montage, trailers.
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 26, 2016
Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson