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The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)
Director: Terence Fisher

review by J.C. Hartley

Well it doesn't, it just sort of keels over and lies around for the rest of the film, unless called upon to do the eyeless zombie walk of terror.

Starting off with a spectacular train crash while the driver lies prone in the cab, a car running into a brick wall, and a plane falling out of the sky; the film begins with commendable visual shorthand to establish the central premise: everyone is dead. Cue titles, hoving into view from an empty sky. Then we see Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker) navigating his Land Rover through the dead bodies, in the kind of small English market town that traditionally harboured a grim secret in episodes of The Avengers.

Jeff is armed with a rifle, loots one of those radio ham sets from an electrical shop, and sets up camp in the local small hotel; free bar! Here he is accosted by Taggart (Dennis Price doing his oily spiv), and his not-really-wife Peggy (Virginia Field). Swapping histories, they discover that each of them was in an environment with a protected atmosphere, Nolan is a test pilot and was airborne, Peggy was in an oxygen tent in hospital, which suggests a gas attack has occurred. Next up, they are joined by Otis (Thorley Walters, as an alcoholic toff), and Violet, who avoided exposure by enjoying a quickie on a sofa in a laboratory after a party. Violet sees space-suited figures outside and, assuming them to be some kind of bio-hazard relief squad, chases after them, only for one of the figures to turn its mechanical scarecrow face to hers and kill her with some sort of ray from its hand.

The silver-suited 'aliens', with their blank faces, and filter noses, wired to circuits for eyes, definitely suggest the Cybermen, who would arrive on British TV screens two years later. Violet's corpse is put to bed and the little party is joined by Mel and his pregnant girlfriend Lorna (Anna Palk). Our party of protagonists is complete and it is interesting to analyse the demographic. The 'stars' are rather old in movie terms, certainly middle-aged, and refreshingly so I suppose. The 'teenagers' - Mel and his pregnant girlfriend, are only there for the youth market; Mel is a bit stroppy at first but comes good, and from the way he handles a rifle he obviously did his National Service.

Willard Parker is the American star shoehorned into the role for transatlantic appeal, in the way that Brian Donlevy was for the first two Quatermass films. Parker had a string of westerns in his filmography, and Virginia Field playing Peggy was his wife. It's certainly commendable that there is no overt pandering to the youth market; the film is determinedly low-key which, clumpy silver aliens aside, adds to the realism. Of course, America, in the person of ace Jeff Nolan, is still seen as the source of salvation, even after Suez.

The next shock in store is the reviving of Violet as a zombie, whom Taggart is forced to shoot. Tensions mount, Mel robs a bank and when he tries to burn the dosh Taggart objects. In a curious scene, Lorna gets up in the night to take something, just a pill for a headache, but the tensions around the group make the viewer more concerned, one of the aliens observes Lorna through the kitchen window, while Jeff watches the alien. Nothing comes of the scene but the suspense seems to suggest more, was Lorna worried about her baby's future, have the aliens some interest in the child. When Taggart takes off, forcing Peggy to go with him, Jeff rescues her knocking down one of the aliens with his vehicle. The aliens are robots. It's just a hop, skip and a jump from there to work out that aliens are using our own satellites and receivers on Earth to direct the robots. While the robots and their zombie helpers bear down upon the others Jeff and Mel attempt to blow up the transmitter.

The Earth Dies Screaming is directed by Terence Fisher, the great auteur of Hammer Films, and he crams a lot into a 60-minute running time. This is not great, but has enough going on to suggest intelligence and concern for character over shock-horror effects. Northern note: bad-guy Taggart, and Mel in his stroppy phase, were heading north while things seemed to have fallen apart. Once Jeff and the team have blown up the transmitter he declares that they will fly south and survivors will see the plane and follow them. Regional arrogance if there ever was.

The Earth Dies Screaming

copyright © 2001 - Pigasus Press