Sunday, May 20, 2018

They Came from Beyond Space (Amicus, 1967)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The last movie on the Vintage Sci-Fi lineup, They Came from Beyond Space, was by far the best of these three — though in this case “best” is strictly a relative term. It was a 1967 British production from Amicus Studios, a short-lived company that was trying to compete with Hammer and whose main coup was scoring the theatrical-film rights to the BBC series Doctor Who and making two reasonably appealing films of it with Peter Cushing as the Doctor (though, probably since they made Cushing a generic Earthling mad scientist instead of an alien Time Lord, these aren’t considered canonical by the Doctor Who cult). According to, they shot this one as a double-bill partner with something called The Terrornauts and Freddie Francis, a Hammer refugee who directed both, said the company blew so much of the budget on The Terrornauts they had to do They Came from Beyond Space on the ultra-cheap. The story begins with a meteor shower from outer space that lands on earth in a perfect “V” formation, and to their credit the authorities, instead of denying the obvious for several reels as they usually do in films like this, immediately conclude that the “meteors” are actually craft from outer space, though where they’re from and what they’re doing remain a mystery. Super-scientist Dr. Curtis Temple (Robert Hutton, a better actor than usual in roles like this) wants to go to the deserted field in Cornwall where the things from beyond space landed, only because of a car crash (his hobby is collecting and restoring antique cars and he drives a beautiful 1920’s-era Bentley through most of the film) he’s got a silver plate in his head and his doctor refuses him permission to go. 

So the delegation is led by his assistant and girlfriend, Lee Mason (Jennifer Jayne, who once again, like the female leads in Contamination and The Wild, Wild Planet, turns in the film’s best performance), only when they get to the site where the spacecraft landed she and everyone else in the crew are taken over and put under mind control by the aliens who launched them. So Temple decides to go out to the site himself, and it turns out he’s shielded from the aliens’ mind-control gimmick by the silver plate in his head. He’s there to investigate why the aliens — or, rather, the human scientists under alien control — have requisitioned heavy-duty construction items and are building a huge factory on the deserted Johnson farm. (They’ve also mind-controlled a local banker into approving their loan request for a million pounds.) It turns out they’re from the moon — or at least that’s where they’re based: they actually come from a planet named Zaad in another system, only they developed their mental powers to such an extent that they were able to dispense with their bodies altogether and become pure mental energy. Alas, as anyone who’d seen Forbidden Planet (which was obviously on the watch list of this film’s writers, Milton Subotsky and Joseph Millard — Subotsky wrote the script from Millard’s source novel, which had the far more engaging title The Gods Hate Kansas — along with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the original Invaders from Mars and even The 27th Day) would know, turning yourselves into pure mental energy has its downsides. In this case, the downside is that the aliens have become excessively bored and they’re now beaming themselves around the universe trying to find a planet where they can take the form of the native population, colonize it and regain normal corporeal form so they can die. To do this, they start a plague on earth that appears to kill everyone it infects — though they then revive them and turn them into slave labor in the big factory they’ve built almost literally overnight on the Johnson farm — and they also launch a rocket to and from their base on the moon where they take the bodies of the plague victims and revive them to be their workforce, and where the “Master of the Moon” (Michael Gough, the only member of this cast I’d ever heard of before), their leader, has his base of operations. 

They’ve also taken over Lee Mason and turned her into their straw boss on Earth, and of course this makes Temple determined to defeat the aliens and return his main squeeze to normal humanity. That he succeeds in this was actually somewhat disappointing to me since there’s a subsidiary character, a platinum-haired woman gas-station attendant near the Johnson farm (she isn’t given a name in the film but she’s played by the appealing Luanshya Greer) who practically rapes him when he comes in to get gas for that cool 1920’s Bentley and whom I thought was being set up to become his new girlfriend after the old one got killed while still under alien possession. It seems that silver is the one shield against the aliens’ mind-control system and also that the ray gun the alien-controlled humans have been carrying (and which Temple misses several opportunities to steal from the people carrying them until it finally occurs to him to grab one) is actually harmless to humans — it merely stuns them — but deadly to the aliens, and if it’s fired at an alien-controlled human the human will become unconscious but will quickly wake and be free of the alien influence. Through the use of this weapon Temple and his assistant Richard Arden (Bernard Kay) are able to liberate Lee and the others on the Johnson farm from the aliens, though they also end up trapped on the rocket to the moon, where in a 27th Day-ish finish Temple tells the aliens that if they had just come to the leaders of the earth with their problem and offered to live with us in peace instead of trying world conquest, we would have said yes and helped them with their plight. Michael Gough’s character makes a brief reference to the history of human wars as a reason why that didn’t occur to them, but he doesn’t argue the point very long and the film creaks to one of the most unbelievable “happy” endings in the history of cinema. They Came from Beyond Space is a dorky title and a pretty mediocre film, but after Contamination and The Wild, Wild Planet “mediocre” was a definite step up!