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Britain's Amicus Productions and writer/producer Milton Subotsky found their niche beginning in the late 1960s, turning out several well-regarded horror anthologies. Prior to that, Subotsky adapted the popular BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who to the screen in two films starring Peter Cushing, Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966). These films were noticeably bigger-budget affairs than the BBC series, but still exhibited a made-for-TV sensibility, especially when compared to the high quality of the horror and science fiction films produced by rival Hammer Films. This look and feel carried over to Subotsky's next project, an alternately glossy and shabby throwback to 1950s-flavored sci-fi called They Came from Beyond Space (1967).
The film is based on the novel The Gods Hate Kansas by Joseph Millard, and the farm setting transported to rural Cornwall, England. Here a farming couple witnesses a strange sight: a group of nine glowing meteorites falling in a distinct V formation directly in front of them. At the (conveniently) nearby British Ministry of Space Research, Dr. Curtis Temple (Robert Hutton) is under doctor's orders to avoid strenuous activity due to head injuries sustained in a recent car crash. Instead, Temple's girlfriend and fellow scientist Lee Mason (Jennifer Jayne) heads a team to investigate. When a team member strikes one of the meteorites with a chisel, it emits a glow and a piercing sound that briefly immobilizes those nearby. The rocks contain an alien presence, which is able to take over their human host; as Alien/Lee says in a detached voice, "There is a brief moment of struggle before the connection is made, but it passes almost immediately. Control of musculature and vocal chords awkward, but adequate. You may choose your subjects and connect."
The aliens go on to inhabit more humans and set loose a plague that threatens to infect the entire planet. Alien/Lee manages to take over a bank to finance an enormous amount of construction and security at the Cornwall farm. Meanwhile, the aliens discover that Dr. Temple cannot be taken because he has a silver plate in his skull thanks to a medical procedure following his accident. Temple proceeds to zip around in his antique V-8 roadster and, with the help of fellow scientist Farge (Zia Mohyeddin), he infiltrates the locked-down location, where the aliens are transporting the petrified plague victims to the Moon.
The basic elements of the story presented here are certainly familiar. For American audiences, there are clear echoes of several science fiction films of the 1950s, and in particular two classics of the genre, It Came from Outer Space (1953), in which benign visitors from space "borrow" human bodies to make repairs to their damaged spacecraft; and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), in which passionless alien visitors take over humans in a small town in California to plant the seeds for world domination. For British audiences, They Came from Beyond Space must have seemed like nothing less than a complete swipe of the plot of Quatermass 2 (1957 - known in the States as Enemy from Space). The latter was the second film featuring Nigel Kneale's Professor Quatermass, and dealt with meteorite landings, the alien takeover of a rural British community, an industrial complex run by enslaved human hosts, and even discussion of colonies on the Moon! Given the very familiar territory that had already been covered by these three acknowledged classics of the science fiction genre, it is surprising that Subotsky felt that he could add anything new to the mix.
The cast of They Came from Beyond Space is straight-faced amidst an assortment of silly scenes and situations. At one point, scientists Temple and Farge decide that if the metal plate in Temple's skull deflects the aliens' hypnotic power, then a metal plate outside the skull can do the same thing. Farge conveniently has a metal-smelting set-up in his living room, so the two melt the trophies from his mantel and attach a silver plate to a colander that Farge straps on top of his head. Equally silly is a scene in which Temple, captured by the aliens, is held in a small, dark cell. Temple discovers that a spotlight follows him around the cell, so to maneuver in the dark and overtake his captors, Temple simply removes his jacket, which contains a tracking device for the spotlight! The sets and effects are very low-budget, with a woefully obvious model rocket-to-the-moon, flashlights that are passed off as ray guns, and a tubular elevator set that is comically used over and over even though it obviously is incapable of transporting between floors.
James Stevens' score for the film is brassy and jazzy; it is not unlike a score Hoyt Curtin might have written for a 1960s Hanna-Barbera adventure cartoon such as The Herculoids. In retrospect, the music is terrific, but probably not appropriate to set the mood for creepy sci-fi goings-on in rural England.
American actor Robert Hutton also appeared in low-budget genre films such as The Slime People (1963, which he also directed) and Trog (1970), while Jennifer Jayne had been seen in such Hammer films as The Crawling Eye (aka The Trollenberg Terror, 1958) and Hysteria (1965). Late in the film, veteran British actor Michael Gough appears (as no less than the "Master of the Moon"!) Gough has long been a horror fan-favorite, having shown up in a number of genre films such as Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), Konga (1961), Black Zoo (1963), and Trog (1970).
In The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies, Phil Hardy calls They Came from Beyond Space "inferior" but says, "the leaden script and erratic direction notwithstanding, the film is of interest for its optimistic ending." Following They Came from Beyond Space, Subotsky and Amicus returned to the genre and format with which they would find their greatest success, and turned out several fine horror anthologies such as Torture Garden (1967), Asylum (1972), Tales from the Crypt (1972), and The Vault of Horror (1973).
Producers: Max J. Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky
Director: Freddie Francis
Screenplay: Milton Subotsky; Joseph Millard (novel "The Gods Hate Kansas")
Cinematography: Norman Warwick
Art Direction: Don Mingaye, Scott Slimon
Music: James Stevens
Film Editing: Peter Musgrave
Cast: Robert Hutton (Dr. Curtis Temple), Jennifer Jayne (Lee Mason), Zia Mohyeddin (Farge), Bernard Kay (Richard Arden), Michael Gough (Master of the Moon), Geoffrey Wallace (Alan Mullane), Maurice Good (Agent Stillwell), Luanshya Greer (Female Gas Station Attendant), John Harvey (Bill Trethowan), Diana King (Mrs. Trethowan), Paul Bacon (Dr. Rogers), Christopher Banks (Doctor on Street), Dermot Cathie (Peterson), Norman Claridge (Dr. Frederick Andrews).
by John M. Miller