Thursday, October 04, 2007


1964, 20th Century Fox, DD-2.0/MA/16:9/LB/ST/CC/+, $14.98, 62m 15s, DVD-1

Less eventful but generally preferable to its "Midnite Movies" companion feature CHOSEN SURVIVORS (reviewed 10/1) is Terence Fisher's barely feature-length THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING, made in B&W for producer Robert Lippert during Fisher's post-PHANTOM OF THE OPERA fall from favor at Hammer Films. Like CHOSEN SURVIVORS, it's a science fiction story of people thrust into a bizarre environmental situation they don't understand and must somehow overcome, but there is more than this thematic connection between the two films. In 1961, CHOSEN SURVIVORS screenwriter H.B. Cross wrote the title song for THE TEENAGE MILLIONAIRE, which was scripted by Harry Spaulding -- who later wrote (that's right) THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING.

In a set-up owed to VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS in equal parts, Spaulding's story takes place in a Northern English village where four independent couples come together to investigate (or take advantage of) why all the locals suddenly fell down dead or unconscious, and to determine why they themselves were unaffected by the phenomenon. Their sighting of stiff-legged, robotic soldiers patrolling in the area, with the capability of reanimating the dead, is all that de facto leader/pilot Willard Parker (TALES OFTHE TEXAS RANGERS) needs to suss out all the necessary answers on the first try, and Earth's invasion by aliens is put to rest rather easily, all told, between smokes and drinks in an up-for-grabs hotel and bar, all on an impressively small scale. (Though the three couples make camp in an abandoned hotel with presumably many empty rooms, everyone bunks in the downstairs lobby, for no apparent better reason than to consolidate action.) Parker's real life wife Virginia Field is the female lead.

Irresistably watchable actors like Dennis Price and Thorley Walters, Fisher's skilled direction, and especially a nearly non-stop, nerve-teasing score by Elizabeth Lutyens will be enough to keep most devotées of British fantasy watching, but this is truly an example of making a consummate craftsman making something passably good out of next to nothing. Shot in a 1.66:1 ratio, THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING's anamorphic presentation is handsome enough but looks moderately tight of frame, especially its Fox logo, though all the main titles and copyrights fit onscreen. Unlike CHOSEN SURVIVORS, the Fisher film contains an alternate Spanish audio track as well as the same subtitle options as the companion feature (English, French, Spanish). Also included is an amusingly hyperbolic trailer that exclaims the title at least a couple dozen times (2m 12s) and a photo gallery accompanied by a nicely isolated Lutyens music track that consists of an unbelievable 93 stills. A few behind-the-scenes shots excepted, that works out to 1½ shots for every minute of the picture -- virtually a flicker book!

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