❉ More than a little silly, Milton Subotsky’s sci-fi caper serves as the midpoint in the evolution of British sci-fi…
When a shower of meteorites land in a curious V formation on some Cornish farmland, it’s up to American scientist Dr Curtis Temple (Robert Hutton) to investigate. Well, it would be if his doctor would allow him. You see, Temple has recently been in an automobile crash which has left him with a silver plate in his head. Heading down to Cornwall instead is Temple’s assistant (and also, his lover) Lee Mason (Jennifer Jayne) but, oh dear, she and her whole team only go and get possessed by the alien mental energy existing within the meteorites don’t they? I guess that’s what happens when you send a woman to do a man’s work eh, 1960s patriarchy?
When Lee is instructed by her alien overlords to get a loan from the branch of Lloyds Bank on the Cornish high street to the tune of one million pounds (This is the 1960s, so Dr Evil steez if you please) Temple begins to get suspicious over at HQ and decides to take a look at the operation for himself. Before you can say Invasion of the Body Snatchers, our lantern-jawed, slightly too long-in-the-tooth American matinee idol begins to suspect something fishy is going on. And when local residents start to break out in red blotches and dropping like flies from something which none other than TV’s Kenneth Kendall coins as ‘the Crimson Plague’, Temple realises that the Earth itself is in grave danger. But why is he seemingly immune to the alien possession – could it be something to do with that silver plate in his head?
Recruiting the help of his friend Farge (Zia Mohyeddin; a rare and refreshing opportunity to see a Pakistani actor treated with dignity and given something substantial to do in a vintage film), Temple convinces his pal to melt down his cricket trophies (I told you this was a British film) and fashion a colander-like protective helmet that will allow them to go on the offensive against the alien invaders. Rescuing Lee and exorcising her alien possessor with ultraviolet light (don’t ask, I don’t know OK?), the trio smuggle themselves inside a rocket the possessed humans intend to launch to the Moon. There they are confronted by the architect of this alien invasion, the Master of the Moon himself played by none other than Michael Gough. In his trademark icily polite manner he tells them how, marooned on the Moon, their plan is to use the humans – who aren’t really dead after all – to repair their spaceship so that they can return to the planet they call home: Zarn.
OK, first things first: Let’s address that title shall we? They did not come from beyond space. They come, we are told, from planet Zarn originally and have populated the Moon before landing on Earth. So you know, we’re not talking ‘beyond space’ here. What is even beyond space? More space, I presume. But, given that the title of the pulpy novel this 1967 movie is based upon is The Gods Hate Kansas, I guess They Came from Beyond Space is as good a title as any and, just like its plotline of misunderstood alien lifeforms, bears more than a passing resemblance to 1953’s It Came From Outer Space.
As a piece of science fiction, we’re firmly in Amicus territory here and by that I mean that this is quintessential Milton Subotsky. Whilst 1950s sci-fi invariably served as allegorical dramas relating to the cold war and ‘red menace’ or the thought provoking, disquieting work regarding race memory and the inexplicable unknown of Nigel Kneale, Subotsky’s intention – cemented by his two big-screen adaptations of the 60s the Dalek serials of Doctor Who; Doctor Who & The Daleks (1965) and Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966) – was to provide science fiction that children would be able to watch. As a result, They Came from Beyond Space may seem fairly innocuous to adult eyes, and more than a little silly. The Monty Python team certainly thought so, spoofing such solidly British endeavours with their Killer Blancmange sketch (‘You’re No Fun Any More’, first broadcast November 30, 1969) which not only posited the inside-out notion of food devouring humans but also depicted the sentient gelatinous dessert from the planet Skyron determined to turn the English into Scots to ensure failure at Wimbledon. Quite what Andy Murray would have to say about the Pythons’ belief that the Scots are universally terrible at tennis is anyone’s guess.
They Came from Beyond Space was directed by Freddie Francis, the Oscar-winning and much respected cinematographer. In that role, Francis had a remarkable CV; The Elephant Man, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning… The list goes on. As a director however, Francis specialised in this kind of cheesy sci-fi and hokey horror, helming such fare as Dr Terror’s House of Horror, The Deadly Bees, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and Tales from the Crypt. Under his helm, They Came from Beyond Space is efficient, nothing more. It perhaps doesn’t help that Amicus’ budget clearly didn’t stretch very far; having overspent on that year’s similarly sci-fi offering The Terrornauts (which this ran as a double feature with in cinemas) Francis was forced to shoot on sets left over from the far more successful Dalek movies.
Viewed today, They Came from Beyond Space is not without a certain degree of nostalgic 1960s charm and serves as the midpoint in the evolution of British sci-fi. In taking alien invasion tropes explored in the 50s – Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Quatermass 2 – and redesigning them for more family friendly, childhood audiences, it arguably helped pave the way for the early ’70s era of Doctor Who, when Jon Pertwee’s exiled Time Lord seemingly spent every week up to the hem of his cape in some dewy-looking, Home Counties field fighting off alien invaders.
And the moral of the story seems to be you only have to ask!
Released to Blu-ray with a new 4K master, They Came from Beyond Space boasts extras including an audio commentary from film historian David Del Valle and filmmaker David DeCoteau, as well as the film’s original theatrical trailer.
❉ ‘They Came From Beyond Space’ is available to buy on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital formats from StudioCanal. Cert PG. Running Time: 85 mins approx. Click here to order from Amazon UK. We Are Cult is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.
❉ Mark Cunliffe is a regular contributor to The Geek Show and has written several collector’s booklet essays for a number of releases from Arrow Video and Arrow Academy. He is also a contributor to Scarred For Life Volume Two: Television In The 1980s, now available to buy in paperback, £19.99, and as a full colour Ebook (PDF format) £6.99.