Cult Movie: They Came From Beyond Space a thoughtful little sci-fi pot boiler

They Came From Beyond Space (1967), directed by Freddie Francis
Ralph McLean

They Came From Beyond Space

SOMETIMES the neatest ideas can come wrapped in the cheapest of packaging. They Came From Beyond Space is a perfect example. An unassuming 1967 British sci-fi flick produced by Amicus man Milton Subtosky and directed by Freddie Francis, it looks and feels like just about every low-budget offering from the period – but dig below the threadbare surface and something a little deeper emerges.

Based upon The Gods Hate Kansas, a 1940s pulp serial by Joe Millard, it’s superficially a standard tale of a bunch of stranded alien visitors who take over the bodies of the humans who come across them and set about searching for a means to get back to their home planet.

It stars American Robert Hutton as the dashing scientist Curt Temple and Jennifer Jayne as his glamorous beehive-sporting assistant/fiancé Lee Mason. Curt must investigate the mysterious arrival of meteorites in rural Cornwall (Kansas proving too much of a stretch for Subotsky’s miserable budget, it would seem) and work out why members of the public are dropping like flies before it’s all too late and the enigmatic alien visitors speed off back to the moon.

Coming across as a cheap and cheerful cash in on the public obsession with the Apollo missions of the time, it recalls an episode of The Avengers, minus the charm of Steed and Mrs Peel, or the kind of colourful stab at science fiction that the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who would bring to our TV screens shortly afterwards, rather than the films, like Quatermass 2 and It Came From Outer Space, that its clearly nicking a lot of its vibes, atmosphere and storyline from.

Subotsky was dedicated to making science fiction and horror films that children could see in their local flea pits so there’s little in the way of blood, guts or awe-inspiring special effects to get excited about.

Francis, a hugely talented Oscar-winning cinematographer who never received similar acclaim for his directing assignments, shoots it all with an efficiency that allows for the odd fancy filter and lens-bending close-up but little else. Those aforementioned actors go about their duties with typical stiff-upper-lip dedication but rarely inspiration.

Despite all that, They Came From Beyond Space is crammed full of impressive little ideas and thoughts. The aliens we initially see as evil are actually gentle, peace-loving types who just want to return home and there are all kinds of interesting little comments being made about society as everyone from politicians to bank managers appear to lose their tiny minds in all the chaos.

If you can get past the poverty of the production there’s much to enjoy in this thoughtful little sci-fi pot boiler. There’s even a central, and fairly groundbreaking, role for Pakistani actor Zia Mohyeddin as the character Farge, and enough playing about with the clichés and conventions of science fiction in the storyline to make this humble little flick quite revolutionary in its own simplistic way.

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