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British Body Snatchers: They Came from Beyond Space on Blu-ray

  When it comes to Amicus, the British studio of the nineteen-sixties and seventies run by Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, the horror genre is the one most associated with it thanks to a collection of portmanteau chillers which started with the hit Dr Terror's House of Horrors. Knowing a good thing when he saw it, Subotsky, who often oversaw or even penned the screenplays they utilised, drew up a collection of these, hence why the following two decades (or under) produced such fan favourites as The House That Dripped Blood, Asylum and Tales from the Crypt that were the talk of playgrounds across the United Kingdom.

Even if the kids were not generally allowed to get into cinemas to see them. But horror was not the only string to the Amicus bow: they had started with teensploitation pop music efforts like It's Trad, Dad! and its sequel Just For Fun, but the other, secondary style they adopted was the science fiction film. Their most famous series in that vein was their spin-offs from the runaway BBC success story, Doctor Who, which had introduced the Daleks as the most famous alien enemies on British television. This spawned two movie adaptations of existing serials, Dr Who and the Daleks and Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (something for the human race to look forward to).

While a third Doctor Who instalment stalled in the planning stages, Amicus forged ahead with a double bill they hoped would do the business for them, The Terrornauts and They Came from Beyond Space. Alas, it was not to be, and neither set the box office tills a-ringing, but with science fiction, and indeed horror, nothing is utterly lost since there will always be the completists who want to see everything. Admittedly this has become more difficult with the dawn of straight to DVD or streaming, but those who seek out the oldies that had a theatrical release are amply catered for when so many of them have so many formats on which they point blank refuse to die.

The Terrornauts, according to director Freddie Francis, used up all the budget that should have been available to his effort, They Came from Beyond Space, although if that were true then judging by the first film's production values the money must have gone on the catering or something, because it sure wasn't up on the screen. That item was a basic space invaders yarn - but so was Francis's, so the explanation for why they did not do too well as a pairing might have been that audiences didn't fancy the repetition of watching two very similar-looking science fiction flicks one after the other - sort of a "seen one, seen them all (or both)" attitude that even left the space kid fans cold.

Actually, there were differences, it depended on whether you wanted to see Charles Hawtrey in a sci-fi (and you were unmoved by the promises of Zeta One) or Michael Gough. Mr Gough, a cult actor in horrors, especially when he let rip with the prime slices of ham, appeared in They Came from Beyond Space, but only in the final half hour as he was the stand-in leader of the aliens who show up in meteorites which land in V-shaped formation in an English field. The first-billed star was overage American import Robert Hutton, there to increase the appeal to the international market, and he played the scientist who has been investigating the possibility of life on other planets.

He also is under doctor's orders thanks to a heart condition, so sends his assistant Jennifer Jayne (also his girlfriend) to the site to investigate. One attempt to chip away at the meteorite later and an eerie glow has emanated from them all and they have used some kind of force to possess everyone in the vicinity. There then began an Invasion of the Body Snatchers type of alien takeover that Hutton, once alerted, is determined to foil, though the basis for the aliens' actions turns out not to be something sinister so much as desperate (no spoilers). Really this was an excuse to have the cast arse about in cheap action sequences in a selection of fields, a reliable way to film a science fiction or horror back then.

Or indeed now. The Great British Countryside is a treasure trove of fine landscapes, after all, so why not use them, filmmakers? And they didn't even have drone footage back in 1967. They Came from Beyond Space had some aspects in its favour, despite a middling reputation at best, there was that scenery, the psychedelic title sequence (accompanied by decidedly non-psychedelic music), the subplot about "the red plague" introduced by the aliens and announced by newsreader Kenneth Kendall, and so forth. And Michael Gough, of course, resplendent in a brightly coloured robe. Amicus would continue to make science fiction, serious (The Mind of Mr Soames) and not so serious (At the Earth's Core) though their most celebrated entry in that genre was probably The Land That Time Forgot a decade after this poorly received double bill. Though not as accomplished as that cult movie, They Came from Beyond Space had its shonky amusements.

[They Came from Beyond Space is released by Studiocanal on Blu-ray looking and sounding nicely restored with these special features:

Audio commentary with Film Historian David Del Valle and Filmmaker David DeCoteau (they don't sound that keen!)

Original UK Theatrical trailer

...and check out the groovy original 1967 artwork on the cover.]

Author: Graeme Clark.


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