Film Reviews

They Came From Beyond Space (1967) – Blu-ray Review

Movie trailers can be some funny things. Take, for example, the one made for 1967‘s British sci-fi flick They Came From Beyond Space, which is included as an extra on the new Blu-ray from StudioCanal – it so loudly and proudly declares that “they came from beyond space” (they didn’t), and have turned a number of scientists into “dehumanised, blood chilling hate robots” (they definitely aren’t), “killer creatures determined to destroy Earth” (again, no).

This artistic licence sounds far more exciting than the actual plot of the film, which hailed from Amicus Productions, who were the erstwhile rival of the rightly legendary Hammer for the title of ‘The Studio That Dripped Blood’. Amicus was the joint venture of two American filmmakers, Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg, and the company became well known for its portmanteau horror films, such as Asylum, Tales From The Crypt, The House That Dripped Blood, Torture Garden, and Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors.

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Amicus also made some occasional forays into other genres, such as science fiction, including two big-screen outings of the BBC’s Doctor Who: 1965’s Dr. Who And The Daleks, as well as the following year’s sequel, Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD. In addition to producing They Came From Beyond Space, 1967 saw the release of one other sci-fi feature from Amicus, in the form of The Terrornauts (which had within its cast such truly unlikely acting luminaries as Charles Hawtrey and Patricia Hayes).

The two films ran together as a double bill, but they flopped at the box office, and were described in Allan Bryce’s Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood as being the “two worst films the company ever produced”. Production of They Came From Beyond Space was also reportedly hampered by a significant spending overrun while making The Terrornauts, which was to drastically eat into the budget for the former, according to director Freddie Francis.

However, any such need to make dramatic cutbacks on They Came From Beyond Space is not that evident in the finished product, as the extensive amount of location filming makes it feel more expensive than it evidently was. The only area in which it feels a bit threadbare is in realising all of the science fiction elements, such as the look and style of the aliens and their spacecraft; the innate cheapness of British sci-fi made in this period becomes even more apparent when you realise the groundbreaking genre features Planet Of The Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey were in production at the same time this was being released.

Adapted from the novel The Gods Hate Kansas, written by Joseph Millard (who later novelised The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, as well as penning several original books starring Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name), They Came From Beyond Space sees the Ministry of Extraterrestrial Life on Other Planets (or MELOP) – headed up by Dr. Curtis Temple (Robert Hutton) – sent to investigate a meteorite crash site, after they entered the atmosphere in a V-formation. After arriving on the scene, several of the scientists are possessed by an alien force, leaving Hutton to try to solve the mystery and save the day.

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A lot of the story feels as though it would fit perfectly in with some of the action shows of the era, such as Department S or The Avengers, particularly the secret military installation, as well as the archetypal English village setting; in fact, only the last 15 minutes or so puts in firmly into sci-fi territory, where things literally get out of this world. Once the action slips the surly bonds of Earth, Michael Gough brings all of the gravitas he can gamely muster to proceedings, while handicapped by frankly the most ludicrous costume and cosmetics, trying to fight a losing battle and restore some credibility to the ailing story, albeit with little success.

The Gods Hate Kansas was first published in a 1941 issue of Startling Stories, so a lot of the story ideas had not yet been mined; however, between the novel’s being written and the film’s release in 1967, a lot of the themes and concepts had been used elsewhere. As a result, the Quatermass serials on television and movies like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers had already usurped a lot of what ended up on the screen in this Amicus adaptation, as a result making They Came From Beyond Space feel somewhat less than original, despite the novel having beaten everyone else to the punch.

A major concession to budgetary constraints sees the setting being altered from Kansas, with much of the location filming being done in and about a small Berkshire village; as a result, it makes this film feel less Hollywood, more Cricklewood. In the Quatermass-esque leading role, Robert Hutton turns in a performance so wooden, you begin to suspect that instead of having make-up put on each day before filming began, they instead just applied another coat of varnish to him. Hutton’s Temple is a charmless charisma vacuum with a Ph.D, and he is not in the least bit suited to the part.

In fact, Hutton does seem – like many of the cast – rather to play against the dialogue, actually delivering it with greater seriousness than it deserves, rather than leaning into it and having fun. Its sister movie, The Terrornauts, is ostensibly rubbish, but massively entertaining all the same, because it embraces the absurdity, rather than taking such a po-faced, humourless approach. Amongst the film’s saving graces are Freddie Francis’ direction, delivering not so much a silk purse as a glitzier sow’s ear; and Zia Mohyeddin, who gives such a strong supporting performance, he may have actually been a better choice to play Temple.

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In addition to the hilariously hyperbolic OTT cheese-fest of a trailer, the only other special feature included on the disc is a commentary track featuring movie historian David Del Valle and filmmaker David DeCoteau; this alone justifies the price, as the two have an engaging, chatty back-and-forth style on the commentary, offering a lot of information not just about the movie, but also Amicus Productions, and the state of the British film industry of the time (although their attempts to pronounce the word ‘Dalek’ do tend to get the hackles up just a tad). The film is very nicely restored, with the print looking crisp, clean and sharp, with bright, vivid colours.

All in all, They Came From Beyond Space is a diverting piece of B-movie schlock, which does not demand too much of its audience during its mercifully concise 85-minute duration. It looks relatively polished for the most part, but it also lacks any real warmth or humour, so you may want to think about perhaps picking up The Terrornauts as a companion piece as well; not only does it deliver those missing things in spades, but you could also recreate the original theatrical double bill at the same time, for a bit of extra fun.

They Came From Beyond Space is out now on Blu-ray from Studiocanal.

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