Cult Movies: The Earth Dies Screaming is a 'sporadically creepy and decidedly paranoid little British thriller'

The robot aliens in The Earth Dies Screaming were a clear inspiration for the Cybermen in Doctor Who
Ralph McLean

The Earth Dies Screaming

IF THE quality of a film was derived purely from the impact of its title, then The Earth Dies Screaming would be up there with the greatest movies of all time.

Of course the reality is a little different. Slower moving than a geriatric zombie who's mislaid his medication and talkier than a one set stage play, it's really a no-budget B-movie at best – albeit one with some pretty nifty moments.

I recently stumbled across director Terence Fisher's 1964 sci-fi potboiler whilst cruising the schedules of Talking Pictures TV on late night Freeview telly – the source of many an inspirational cult offering for this column down the years – and, once I'd come to terms that the Earth at no point so much as winces in slight discomfort, never mind actually dies screaming, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This is a brisk, sporadically creepy and decidedly paranoid little British thriller. Shot in crisp black and white it taps into the same odd 'end of the world' vibes of the likes of Day Of The Triffids or Village Of The Damned without ever quite scaling the heights of those much-loved genre classics.

After a genuinely unsettling opening where we see footage of trains derailing, planes plummeting from the sky and drivers randomly ploughing into brick walls, the scene settles on a quaint English hamlet where a bunch of mostly upper-class survivors gang together to try and make sense of the apparent gas leak that has left most of the population dead.

As they bicker in the local bar, a pair of lumbering aliens in silver spacesuits arrive looking for survivors to kill. An American test pilot Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker) takes charge of the resistance (there's always an American actor fronting these type of British sci-fi quickies) and there are memorable roles for great character actors like Thorley Walters, playing to type as a bumbling drunk, and Dennis Price, playing even more to type as a cunning cad.

The robot aliens, a clear inspiration for the Cybermen in Doctor Who the following year, are low rent but effectively sinister in a weird emotionless way, and the human zombies they oversee are certainly memorable with their table-tennis ball eyes and slow deadly shuffle.

At times, the non-existent budget drags things down, such as when they talk endlessly in the pub to kill time: at other moments, it makes the whole thing almost magical, with the sparseness of the setting really adding to the atmosphere.

Fisher directs with his usual economical ease that ensures it all wraps up after just over an hour and, while the special effects are basic in the extreme, there's something very appealing about that eerie 'end of civilisation' deserted English village vibe that really works here.

Undeniably cheap but oddly effective, The Earth Dies Screaming may not deliver on its wildly dynamic title, but it's a whole heap of B-movie fun all the same. Both Tom Waits and UB40 saw fit to name songs after it – and watching it today, it's easy to see why.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access