Archive for Terence Fisher

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

Posted in Sci-Fi with tags , on May 25, 2013 by MONSTERMINIONS


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).

I Am Legend_PulpRichard 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.

TEDS_Steam Engine

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.

TEDS_Robot Control

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.

Atari_Earth Dies Screaming

Vintage ATARI Game

Island of Terror (1966)

Posted in Cult Movies, Horror, Sci-Fi with tags , , , , on May 22, 2012 by MONSTERMINIONS

This film is quintessential b-movie monster greatness and one of my all-time favorites.  Everything works beginning with rapid editing, fine direction by Hammer regular Terence Fisher, an original and taut score, a moody setting (there’s Brocket Hall again), a terrific supporting cast (Niall MacGinnis), an unusual story about cancer research gone bad, the inimitable Peter Cushing and the unforgettable turtle monsters or Silicates.  Island of Terror (1966) is a fast paced film.  Like The Thing from Another World (1951),  Doom Watch (1972), and The Wicker Man (1973),  the movie benefits from the uneasiness of an unknown terror threatening an isolated and unprepared group of people. Terence Fisher’s direction is sublime.  However, this is not a Hammer production.

In some ways, Island of Terror reminds me a bit of a 007 flick —I like how Peter Cushing (Dr. Brian Stanley) and Edward Judd (Dr. David West) don Level A radiation suits. They look like Dr. No!  My friend Jim thought the film to be a “little bit Dr. Who-ish”.   The monsters look like they might appear in a Dr. Who episode.

You’ll notice the research facilty as Karswell’s mansion Lufford Hall (Night of the Demon, 1957). This is the historical home of Lord Brocket, in Hertfordshire, England.  It’s in several films.

Here’s a plot rundown.  An island off the coast of Ireland harbors a research facility and specialists using radioisotopes in hopes of finding a cure for cancer.  A body of local farmer Ian Bellows is found devoid of bone structure.  His body is essentially a big mass of jelly.  A local Dr. Landers (Eddie Byrne) examines the body and recruits input from mainland Dr. Stanley (Peter Cushing) who specializes in pathology.  Both doctors are dumbfounded and consult with bone specialist Dr. David West (Edward Judd).  The three good doctors and West’s wealthy girlfriend Toni Merrill (Carole Gray) fly to the Island of Terror via a Sikorsky helicopter.

The doctors examine the corpse of Ian Bellows and discover numerous minute puncture wounds and discover that his bones and skeletal structure have been completely dissolved.  Other bodies are discovered. They recruit the aid of a local constable and investigate the cancer reasearch facility run by a mysterious Dr. Philips (there are a lot of doctors in this film).  Several “jelly” bodies are discovered.  The constable pokes around in the wrong place…

Still in the catacombs of the research facility, Stanley, Merrill, West and Landers encounter a strange slug-like creature with a hard tough carapace and long snake-like tentacle.  Landers grabs an ax…

The doctors discover that the creatures or “silicates” become dormant when they split.  They multiple much like primitive organisms… One silicate becomes 2, then 4, 8, 16 and so on… 

Peter Cushing and friends learn that Doctor Philips research into creating cancer fighting cells led to the creation of the durable, deadly multiplying silicates.  Local islanders are informed.  I particularly like Niall MacGinnis (Karswell in Night of the Demon) who plays one of the island leaders toting a shotgun.

Peter Cushing approaches one of the silicates with a Geiger counter…

I won’t spoil the ending, but Cushing has an encounter…

Island of Terror is tremendous fun.  This film serves as a template on how to make a good sci-fi/horror film:

  1. Hire Terence Fisher (or other experienced horror/action film director)
  2. Hire Peter Cushing (or Christopher Lee)
  3. Hire good writers.
  4. Create a weird and interesting monster and have it stalk people in an isolated setting.
  5. Film on location.
  6. Don’t make the film too long.
  7. Add punchy score.
  8. Never ever add CGI unless it’s a superhero movie like The Avengers.

Ah, they don’t make ’em like they used to…

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