Friday, August 01, 2008

THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE! Oh they did, did they?!?
While I'm on the subject of not-so-well-known science fiction movies (you remember -- RIDERS TO THE STARS, THE ANGRY RED PLANET. . .), here is probably one of the littlest known and oddest of the bunch. THEY CAME FROM OUTER SPACE frankly I never even heard of until it popped up on the TV schedule this week. So I did a little research on it and decided to watch it. I'm certainly glad I did even though I can in no way call it a good movie. In fact, it's one of the oddest combinations of equal parts high calibre professionalism and boneheaded stupidity. I'm also shocked to announce that it's an AMICUS film; that dear old studio that competed with Hammer Films by doing all those omnibus horror films like DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD and TALES FROM THE CRYPT. Here, though, we have a full length science fiction movie. Very odd for an Amicus. First let's tackle the movie's exceptional qualities (this shouldn't take long):
  • The cinematography by Norman Warwick is really sumptuous and a joy to look at. Many exterior location shots of the sundappled English countryside (the film is supposed to take place in Cornwall) and even the London exteriors really look fantastic.
  • The set designs by Bill Constable with Art Direction by Don Mingaye and Scott Slimon are wild and wonderful. This is a 60's film and they really ran with that whole mod, spacey, kooky, spy film type of look when it comes to the interior of alien spaceships and alien headquarters.

I'm afraid that's all the praise that can be heaped on the movie since the rest of THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE is a bewildering muddle -- but still perversely enjoyable to watch. If only because it constantly forces the viewer to shake his head and wonder what the hell they were smoking.

As said previously, this is a 60's film (1967 to be exact). And it does indeed capture that particular British spyfilm vibe that Mike Myers has gotten so much mileage out of parodying. In fact, much of the film feels like an episode of THE AVENGERS or THE PRISONER. Paradoxically, it also feels very much like a 50's film; in the basic plot (as you will see).

That plot (apparently taken from a book by Joseph Millard) was turned into a screenplay by Milton Subotsky. Now, Milton just happens to be the producer of this film as well as every other Amicus movie along with his partner Max J. Rosenberg. That must be how he got the gig because the screenplay is a breathless exercise in "Huh?!?" for the viewer as scene after scene rockets by with improbably plot point after improbable plot point. It never makes much sense but I'll be damned if it doesn't keep you watching to find out what wackiness will happen next. The basic plot should be familiar to anyone whose ever seen a QUATERMASS movie or INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS or IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE or. . .well, you get the picture. I am also told that this might be yet another instance where Stephen King was "inspired" by a movie for his plot of "THE TOMMYKNOCKERS". Now, I have never read the book (or seen the movie I believe exists) so I cannot comment to this opinion. However, for those of you who ARE familiar with THE TOMMYKNOCKERS, see if any of this sounds familiar.

A group of "meteors" falls to earth in Cornwall -- but they fall in a V-formation (!). Token American scientist Dr. Temple (a constipated Robert Hutton) heads a team of space researchers who are requested by British government agent Stillwell (Maurice Good) to go out to Cornwall and take a look. Unfortunately, Temple is recovering from a near-fatal car crash in which he had to have a metal plate surgically implanted in his noggin. When his doctor forbids him to go, Temple suggests his assistant Lee Mason (the semi-luscious Jennifer Jayne). Agent Stillwell, loudly objects with all the chauvinism he can squeeze into this one little scene, but is eventually forced to take her along. When they reach the downed meteorites, all of them are taken over by the disembodied alien intelligences resided inside the rocks. (Shades of QUATERMASS 2)! The aliens begin taking over more and more scientists and other useful earthlings (shades of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and...). I'm still not exactly sure what the hell the aliens are trying to accomplish but . . . well, does it really matter anyway?!? When the aliens try to take over Dr. Temple, nothing happens. Thanks, big ole silver metal plate in my head! Temple teams up with another government agent who goes into a phone box, makes a call and staggers out with dots of blood erupting from his skin, keels over and dies.

Huh?!?! you might say. I know I did. This is just one of the seeming dozens of plot twists that come from left field. It seems he has contracted the plague (the "Crimson Plague" the media cheerily dub it). A passing doctor leans over to examine him, starts erupting blood spots and dies too! It seems the plague is massively virulent. Although, of course, Dr. Temple (the closest person to the afflicted man who actually cradles his body for most of the scene) never gets sick and it's never explained why. I suppose it's the metal plate in his head again?!? Anyway, Temple later discovers a bunch of plague victims frozen by the aliens in a deep freeze. Again, I couldn't tell you for what purpose -- maybe I missed something?!?

Temple goes to see his old buddy Farge (Zia Mohyeddin) and talks the poor guy into melting down all his bowling trophies. (Stay with me, here). Yeah, it seems he wants Farge to make a silver plate for his OWN head so he won't be taken over by the aliens and can help him fight. This results in Farge wearing what looks like a metal spaghetti collander with a rectangular metal plate attached to it on his head. Observe -- what every good alien fighter is wearing this year:

They also invent some google-eyed goggles (big, thick lenses out on stalks, ya'll) that enable them to . . . oh, I don't know. See the aliens or something. Again, following the plot THAT closely isn't really important. They also fix up a ray gun which can zap the bad guys. The pair go kidnap Lee Mason (who Temple suddenly, without any previous indication, reveals he deeply loves), ties her up and eventually zaps the alien out of her. They rig up a metal plate/salad spinner for her to wear on her head and go off to battle the alien menace.

Now, there are a LOT of other wacky plot points I'm leaving out because if I were to list them all not only would I get carpel tunnel but also your head might explode trying to collate them all in your mind. Suffice it to say that eventually our klunky hat-wearing heroes sneak aboard the alien rocket and head off to the moon where they meet the big cheese himself: Michael Gough as the "Master of the Moon". No shit, that's what his character's name is! He and all the other high poobah aliens are dresses in what can only be described as castoff Bill Macky costumes from the Donny and Marie Show! Seriously, Michael is rockin' the orange and pink! Oh yes, and I think he's got clay in his hair. Don't ask. I won't reveal what the alien "master plan" to all this is; mainly because I don't want to spoil your enjoyment of this mindspinning denouement and also because I also not really sure what the hell happened.

As bizarre and mindbending as all this is, it still compels you to watch the thing. The film is actually directed by master cinematographer and frequent Amicus (and Hammer) director Freddie Francis. However, it seems the meandering maze of a screenplay may have been too much for him. Scenes move from one to another in a rather abrupt manner resulting in a rather choppy-feeling movie. It's probably all Freddie could do to get everything in the packed script INTO the movie at all! The special effects by Les Bowie involve some pretty good model work (which reminds me of SPACE: 1999 or UFO calibre) as well as some woefully cheap-looking not-so-special effects: the "ray gun" looks like nothing more than a flashlight (or a torch for our British friends) -- the victim essentially has a light shown at him and pretends to crumple down unconscious. The budget for this film apparently was, shall we say, underwhelming. Also the musical score (apparently by James Stevens) conducted by Philip Martell sounds mostly like it belongs in a MATT HELM movie; underlying the British spy film mania feel of the film. That is, when it isn't just annoying; as in the fight scene in which the entire musical score consists of an annoying rat-a-tat snare drum at machine gun speed.

While I still cannot recommend this film to anybody, at the same time . . . if it happens to be on . . . and you have nothing better to do . . . and you want to take a sideways dimensional shift into Wacky World . . . well, it's up to you.

8 comments:

Weaverman said...

Oh, don't do that! I'm still aching from the laughter and may need a truss! I click onto your blog and see your title picture and say "Oh great he's reviewed WILD STRAWBERRIES and I scroll down and find you've reviewed THEY CAM FROM BEYOND SPACE! And furthermore you've spent more time reviewing it and written more words about it than ANYBODY in the history of film criticism!!!! That's why I love The Land of Cerpts and Honey - totally bonkers!

Weaverman said...

Or even THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE!

Cerpts said...

That's what I'm here for!!! What does the world need with another critique of a Bergman film when I can give them the power and the glory of THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE!!!!

Cheekies said...

You only watched Rebel Without a Cause because I did. What a coikidink! Shall we compare notes on our reviews?

Cheekies said...

Oh and by the way the plot thinly resembles the Tommyknockers story by Stephen King. They both have meteors and aliens taking over peoples minds but that's about where the similarities end. Now I gotta go cause I'm about to watch To Kill a Mockingbird. That's not gonna be on your list soon as well is it? Tee hee

Cerpts said...

Oh no...I watched REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE before I saw dat YOU watched REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Of course, I had seen it before. Had you??? But no, unless TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD starts having goofy aliens in it, I'm not gonna watch it again for some time yet.

Cerpts said...

But why would I watch anything but ANUS MAGILLICUTTY!?!?!?!???

It's ALL about the ANUS MAGILLICUTTY!!!!!

Cheekies said...

No that was my first time seeing Rebel.