The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)
After the success of Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), which demonstrated an alien technology capable of freezing man’s ability to use machinery, a sci-fi “alien holocaust” sub-genre surfaced that generally pitted an isolated, ill-equipped but resourceful group of survivors versus an alien menace. These are old themes, stemming from folklore and mythology. We see relatively modern sci-fi examples in works of fiction like John W. Campbell’s classic novella Who Goes There? (Astounding Stories, 1938), later loosely adapted as Howard Hawks’ production of The Thing from Another World (1951).
Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (Gold Medal, 1954) uses similar themes, although the aliens are vampires, but a talented hero is present and survives in a post-apocalyptic world. Several films fall under the alien holocaust veil and the 50’s and 60’s were well-punctuated with examples. One of the earlier films that comes to mind is the disappointing Herman Cohen-produced Target Earth (1954), where crudely fabricated automatons from Venus invade Chicago. The Earth Dies Screaming (1965) is similiar, but is better, primarily due to punchy direction from the Hammer-seasoned Terence Fisher.
I downloaded this well-crafted British sci-fi from iTunes and loved every single minute of it.
The Earth Dies Screaming opens with scenes of transportation vehicles —a steam engine, cars and an airplane crashing. A train conductor appears to be dead or sleeping as the engine derails. Several shots of the English country-side close in on bodies strewn across the landscape. The film cuts to an urban setting as more cars and victims are shown. A 1951 Toyota Land Rover pulls up. American pilot/aernautical engineer (?) Jeff Nolan (played by former 6’5 tennis pro Willard Parker) gets out and recovers a short wave radio from a local and deserted store. Nolan seeks shelter in a nearby hotel. There he meets a couple, including Peggy (played by Parker’s wife Virgina Field). Two other couples are eventually found and the surving crew consists of a cliched mish-mash of personality typecasts including a drunk, a greasy aristocrat, a neurotic socialite, a pregnant girl and her immature smart-allecky husband.
Nolan concludes that people have died through some means of a gas attack, but the enemy is not known. Of course we all know the enemy is from space…
The alien design is inspired and effective, but low-budget. They remind me a bit of The Man from Planet X (1951), with nondescript features, bulbous headgear, rivets and piping conveyances. The production design of this film was done by George Provis, who worked on the Daleks in the Peter Cushing vehicle Dalek’s Invasion: Earth 2150 AD (1966). The aliens also possess an energy weapon.
The Earth Dies Screaming has a few surprises. Early on as Nolan (Parker reminds me of Kenneth Toby) was tuning into a radio and TV we hear the exact same feedback buzzy sound. Assuming this was a budgetary constraint, I laughed to myself thinking this film was so cheaply made they didn’t bother to cull through different library sounds, but we later learn an alien transmission of the same wavelength is blocking out all the airwaves. The film is thoughtful and made me think. The Earth Dies Screaming was made by Lippert Films, the same company that gave us the underrated Curse of the Fly (1965). Screaming also crosses into the mind-control sub-genre, but I won’t spoil the fun.
On a side note, there’s also a vintage Atari 2600 game that borrows the title and a Tom Wait’s tune that has nothing to do with the film.