THEY CAME FROM
BEYOND THE MOON
Movie review of:
‘THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE’
With Robert Hutton, Jennifer Jayne, Zia Mohyeddin
Director: Freddie Francis. Producer: Max Rosenberg
& Milton Subotsky. Original Release: Amicus Productions,
1 May 1967 Blu-Ray: StudioCanal, March 2021
There’s been a degree of irreverent speculation concerning the movie title. In what sense can it be said that they come from ‘beyond’ space? What does that actually mean? It’s as though the title ‘They Came From Space’ was considered inadequate, it needs more. Adding ‘Beyond’ provides an extra incentive to suggest an even more extreme dimension of terror, a bonus lure to stand out on the lettering of the marquee sign above the cinema foyer. But, without investing a degree of seriousness that this silly movie does not really deserve, perhaps there can be another reading. The titular aliens originate on the planet Zan, in the Leporis system. It just so happens that they are marooned on Earth’s moon. So they come from beyond lunar space, beyond the solar system. Does that make sense?
There’s an infectious jazzy sway to the soundtrack music behind the credits, and at intervals throughout the film, walking bass-lines, chiming vibraphone and horns. Scored by James Stevens, born in Hackney and imprisoned as a conscientious objector when he was ‘called up’ for National Service, he’s the perfect musical choice for this essentially pacifist movie. This is 1967, after all, and it’s musical tone is clearly informed by the swinging vibe of ‘The Avengers’ – no, not THAT Avengers! The real 1960s ‘Avengers’ from which hero Curtis Temple (New Yorker Robert Hutton) borrows Steed’s green Bentley sports car.
The drama opens with the Roberts farmhouse in Cornwall as trees sway in the eerie breeze, and a ‘v’-formation of nine ‘shooting stars’ descend, accompanied by appropriate electronic sounds. Then it switches to Jodrell Bank with a solar diagram flared across the floor. The Ministry of Space Research wants a team to fly down and investigate the strange meteors. Dr Curtis Temple (Robert Hutton), warns that ‘they may have been guided here by creatures, intelligent creatures,’ but although he’s considered an expert on ‘life on other planets’, and has written two books on the subject, he’s forbidden from going due to a silver plate embedded in his head as the result of a recent vintage car accident. So Miss Lee Mason (Jennifer Jayne) heads the team instead, after all, she’s ‘the brains behind the outfit’ anyway.
The meteors are crinkly silver aluminium shapes. And when a geologist strikes one with a hammer they emit a series of shock screeches and trippy flashing lights. Inevitably the team’s minds are taken over by sinister ‘pure energy’ alien entities. ‘The brains of these primitives seem quite suitable for our purposes’ says one. ‘Connections completed and quite satisfactory’ says the one inhabiting Miss Mason, ‘we can now proceed with the next part of our plan,’ which includes driving into the local village – which in reality is Cookham High Street, and withdrawing a million pounds from Lloyds Bank after taking over the manager.
Meanwhile Temple’s silent assistant Alan Mullane (Geoffrey Wallace) backtracks the meteor’s path to the moon – before he’s kidnapped. While Temple becomes increasingly suspicious when all the lines are down and he can’t contact Lee, who is also his lover. And when he discovers there have been financial irregularities and bizarre weapons purchases he drives down in his green open-top car, pausing only to flirt with the girl petrol attendant at the ‘Barn Garage’. He discovers that construction work is transforming the meteor site with armed guards and an electrified fence. Lee sends him away, despite his declaration of love for her. He’s machine-gunned at the perimeter barrier. Williams of Internal Security (Michael Hawkins) tells him to quit and go back to his telescope. When he attempts to pursue Lee’s Land Rover she shoots him with a ray-gun which emits more spiral pink effects, and he wakes back at the Barn Garage cared for by the attentive blonde attendant (Luanshya Greer), but warned away by two heavies.
Meanwhile there are other, more scary developments. As he makes a report from a red phone booth Agent Stillwell (Maurice Good) breaks out in red spots, a doctor who comes to his aid is tainted, and passersby begin to collapse with the same blotchy rash, the mystery malady that they term the Crimson Plague spreads alarmingly. Observing through binoculars Temple sees a gantry rise from the farm pond, which launches a rocket into the night sky. Shorting the electrified fence he breaks into the fortified compound and the derelict farmhouse, with furious soundtrack percussion as he fights henchmen through to a bee-striped black-&-yellow cylinder dropshaft that takes him down into a James Bond Dr Evil-style subterranean scientific complex where the frozen bodies of plague victims – including the garage girl, are being transported by rocketship to the moon on an impossible twenty-four-hour turnaround schedule. He reaches Lee in the control room, and knocks her out in order to rescue her, loads her into the Land Rover through swirling mist and crashes out through the perimeter barrier.
With colleague Farge (Zia Mohyeddin, who had already appeared in TV episodes of ‘Danger Man’, ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Adam Adamant Lives!’) they attempt to evict ‘the thing that’s taken over her body.’ After subjecting her to various tests using close-up lighting effects they replicate the alien’s cosmic ultraviolet ray-gun and use it on her. She’s cured. Deciding that Temple himself is protected from predatory mind-invasion by the silver plate in his head, they melt down Farge’s trophies to create an insulating helmet for him, which ludicrously resembles a bowl-shaped colander! Lee is able to bluff their way back into the compound – they think she’s still alien, and using helmets and ray-guns the trio fight their way back into the complex in order to stow away on the next rocket, launching towards a rather unconvincing moon.
‘It is films like this that give British science fiction a bad name’ says David Miller & Mark Gattiss (in their excellent ‘They Came From Outer Space!: Alien Encounters In The Movies’, Visual Imagination, 1996). Although Freddie Francis excels as cinematographer – with ‘Sons And Lovers’ (1960) and ‘The Elephant Man’ (1980), the Hammer and Amicus films he directs ‘have an air of tattiness about them.’ Even the lunar sets are said to be recycled from the Amicus ‘Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150AD’ (1966). They do their best to contort their faces with G-effect as they accelerate into hyper-drive, although there’s no low-grav when they arrive at ‘The Master of the Moon’s lunar base. Of course, the brightly-cloaked colour-coded super-minds could have induced artificial gravity? Or is that to overthink it, to invest a degree of seriousness that this silly movie does not really deserve? After all, ‘the ultimate evolutionary forms’ have evolved beyond physical bodies into pure mental energy, but faced with extinction they seek to return to their home world in order to die. They need slave-workers – the revived plague-victims, to reconstruct their ship. Strapped to a star ‘Flash Gordon’-style, Temple is threatened with having his silver plate surgically removed, allowing a mind-takeover, but Farge escapes and urges a slave’s revolt.
In the film’s final sad moments the hapless Michael Gough – in the thankless role of alien Mastermind, concedes defeat, now ‘we will die on a strange planet in a strange galaxy.’ Not so, says Temple. ‘We would have helped you.’ Not through force. But willingly. Which is the tagged-on pacifist message.
Does it work? As an amusing Sci-Fi curio, there are a number of stools, and it falls between most of them, above and beyond a degree of irreverent speculation concerning the title.
‘CONQUERORS FROM A
DYING WORLD INVADE EARTH!’
‘THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE’ Original Release: Amicus Productions, through Embassy Pictures Corporation, 1 May 1967. Directed by Freddie Francis, at Twickenham Studios. Produced by Milton Subotsky & Max J Rosenberg. Written by Milton Subotsky based on the novel ‘The Gods Hate Kansas’ by Joseph Millard. Edited by Peter Musgrave. Special Effects by Bowie Films. With Robert Hutton (as Dr Curtis Temple), Jennifer Jayne (as Lee Mason), Zia Mohyeddin (as Farge), Bernard Kay (Richard Arden), Michael Gough (Arnold Grey, Monj ‘Master of the Moon’), Geoffrey Wallace (Alan Mullane), Maurice Good (Agent Stillwell), Luanshya Greer (Garage Attendant), John Harvey (Bill Trethowan), Diana King (Mrs Trethowan), Kenneth Kendall (TV newsreader), Frank Forsyth (Mr Blake). Music by James Stevens, conducted by Philip Martell. 85-minutes. Blu-Ray, StudioCanal, March 2021