The Earth Dies Screaming DVD
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Directed by Terence Fisher
Produced in 1964
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Terence Fisher's admirably spare science-fiction sees its very first release in any format in a great print. It will delight lovers of films such as Village of the Damned, says Graeme Hobbs.
Enthusiasts of British science-fiction films from the 1950s and 60s will be happy to see that Terence Fisher's The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) is finally getting its first release on any form of home video in the UK. Its a great little film that fits squarely into the 'curious goings-on down English country lanes' genre.
It opens with a series of disastrous accidents, most notably a train ploughing through a level crossing (a scene which had been doing the rounds as stock footage ever since its first useage in the 1928 film The Wrecker), a car crash-banging into a brick wall and a plane dropping from the sky, followed by the inevitable plume of black smoke rising from behind trees. After the camera takes in bodies sprawled on pavements, out of windows and on grass, it tilts upwards above a parkland cedar, until we are left looking at the sky as the title comes looming in aslant. Yes, the Earth in general, and Surrey in particular (it was filmed mostly in the village of Shere, near Guildford) is dying, and despite the overly dramatic promise of the title, it is doing it silently, with - as we learn later - the smell of mushrooms.
The first few minutes of the film are both eerie and engaging as, accompanied only by Elisabeth Lutyens’ score of dissonant strings and foreboding woodwind, occasionally underpinned by martial drums, Willard Parker’s test pilot, Jeff Nolan, drives his Land Rover into a village, lifts a radio from the shop (needs must), and with rifle in hand, installs himself in the village hotel, where he tries the TV and the radio, only to receive nothing but a curious oscillating hum. Eight minutes into the hour-long film, the spell is finally broken by the first words, from Dennis Price’s decidedly untrustworthy Quinn Taggart, who has walked in unnoticed, and snaps ‘Turn it off.’ If Jeff Nolan is a man to have around in a crisis – a solid, dependable American, unfazed by aliens and zombies – then Quinn Taggart is his opposite. He is accompanied by Peggy, a woman he has told to pose as his wife. They are later joined by Thorley Walters' cowardly bottle-hugger Otis and (wink, wink) Vi, both a little worse for wear after the company’s 25th anniversary bash, and, rolling into the village in a stolen Vauxhall, young punk Mel, with stripy tie and crotch-hugging white trousers, and his girlfriend, heavy with child. They are survivors all – cocooned from the mysterious event by a test plane, an oxygen tent, a lab, and an air-raid shelter.
The theme is familiar: with the rest of the country apparently lifeless, an unlikely group assembles and does its best to survive, battling whatever it is that is trying to take over – which in this case are rudimentary remote-control zombie robots, nut-and-bolted together from the contents of various back rooms at Shepperton. The group moves between hotel and village drill hall as they stand guard and attempt to repel the slow-moving robots who, along with the now blob-eyed villagers, re-awakened into zombie life, threaten their existence.
Like Wolf Rilla’s 1960 film Village of the Damned, in which another undefined event of extra-terrestrial origin occurs in a home counties setting and leaves a lasting effect, The Earth Dies Screaming has an aesthetic that comes from the intersection between minimum budget and maximum effectiveness. In Village of the Damned for example, a memorable moment comes with Peter Vaughan’s village bobby acting as a guinea pig to test a contaminated area. He walks his bicycle into the restricted area and simply falls over, out cold, to show its potency. The Earth Dies Screaming uses up this same trick early on as a bowler-hatted city chap on a suburban railway platform simply drops his briefcase and umbrella (although not his newspaper) and falls backwards onto a luggage cart. The economy, in both senses of the word, is admirable.
Also, you can't help but admire a film that only just nudges the hour mark but which is so relaxed about how it spends its time. A case in point is when Lorna, the pregnant girl, rises in the middle of the night to get herself a glass of milk from the refrigerator in the hotel. Nolan watches her protectively from the shadows. A clarinet and strings play a pleasant interlude – until a cyber-zombie approaches from down an alleyway and turns to watch the oblivious girl through the window. Nolan watches it watching Lorna, the music builds to a crescendo – and then the girl turns the light off and walks out of the room, and the zombie-robot turns and teeters past Nolan, who wonders if he should clunk it over the head with his rifle, but doesn’t, and lets it walk off. No fuss, no mess. Maybe they could only afford to destroy the one costume, which happens when Nolan smashes into a robot in his Land Rover, leaving a smoking heap of circuitry and tin foil in the road.
Fisher’s direction is admirably spare and unfussy, while Lutyens' haunting music lends an air of distinction to the material. Don't let that put you off though - it's also, to be frank, a hoot.
Graeme's extended piece on the film appears in Offbeat: British Cinema's Curiosities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems (forthcoming from Headpress).
Graeme Hobbs on 10th August 2011
Author of 294 reviews
A 1960s cult classic from Terence Fisher, The Earth Dies Screaming finally gets a UK release.
The film opens with a series of disastrous accidents - a train crash, multiple car crashes, a plane crash and ordinary people dropping dead in the streets - what has happened? A handful of survivors gather together in an English village to fight whatever threat they may have to face - which comes sooner than they feared. Willard Parker plays the rugged American who saves the day; Dennis Price the shifty Englishman and Thorley Walters the cowardly drinker who has to find some courage.
With its haunting score (from Elisabeth Lutyens) and general creepiness, this is a lesson in cinematographic economy and atmospheric invention. It's also, to be frank, a hoot.
Length: 62 mins
Format: DVD B&W
Released: 29th August 2011
Cat No: FCE029
“On the DVD itself”
by Ross Gowland on 19th January 2013
I can't add to Graeme Hobbs' review of the film itself, but I'll add that the DVD itself is surprisingly good. The picture - anamorphic 1:66 - is surprisingly good co... Read on
I can't add to Graeme Hobbs' review of the film itself, but I'll add that the DVD itself is surprisingly good. The picture - anamorphic 1:66 - is surprisingly good considering this is a 1960's B-picture.