From the DVD case: The world has just been decimated by an unstoppable, merciless army of killer robots, and millions of innocent souls have been wiped out! Only a handful of survivors have managed to escape the deadly alien apocalypse, and they must endure a non-stop struggle to save themselves from destruction, and somehow find a way to defeat the marauding death machines before the entire human race becomes extinct! (1964, b&w)
Mark says: The Earth Dies Screaming is only one of a handful of films Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula, Island of Terror) directed outside of England’s Hammer Studios. Fisher was uncanny in the way he could construct richly atmospheric films on shoestring budgets. Unfortunately, even Fisher’s skills could not save this movie from looking incredibly cheap.
The Earth Dies Screaming begins interestingly enough, with people falling over dead for apparently no reason, and a string of unexplained calamities. A locomotive speeds off the tracks; a plane nosedives and explodes; a car drives full speed into a wall. I was instantly put in mind of the 1960 film, Village of the Damned, in which an entire community is rendered unconscious by an unseen force. In fact, it appears a few of the opening scenes in The Earth Dies Screaming are suspiciously similar to scenes in Village of the Damned (e.g. compare the scenes featuring the plane crashing behind the tree line and the car driving into the wall). Regardless, we later discover these people aren’t simply unconscious, but stone-cold dead.
A small band of survivors eventually gather at a village pub. They include our hero, an American by the name of Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker, sort of a cross between Forrest Tucker and Kenneth Tobey); Dennis Price (Theater of Blood, Twins of Evil) as bad guy Quinn Taggart; Virginia Field as good girl and love interest, Peggy; Thorley Walters (Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Dracula: Prince of Darkness) as the forever drunk Edgar Otis; Vanda Godsell (Konga, Horrors of the Black Museum) as Edgar’s lover, Violet; and a young married couple, David Spenser as Mel and Anna Palk (The Frozen Dead, The Skull) as the pregnant Lorna.
What all these people have in common is that they were all in some type of special ventilated chamber when the attack occurred. For example, Peggy was in an oxygen tent; Mel and Lorna were in a bomb shelter, and so on. Jeff was flying “altitude tests,” which seems odd since the film opened with a plane crashing to the Earth, but perhaps Jeff was flying high enough to escape what they later deduce as being a “gas attack.”
While the group discusses their situation, a band of alien robots begin to explore the town for survivors. Violet, mistaking them for members of the Air Force, promptly runs out to them and gets herself killed as they zap her with a ray. The robots themselves are laughable. They look like some sort of mechanical wieners in helmets. They move slowly enough to be nonthreatening and seem to cause harm only if someone runs right up to them and shouts for their attention.
More intriguing is what happens to a corpse after being killed by an alien robot. Eventually, it is reanimated and becomes a mindless zombie slave working for the foreign invaders. The appearances of these walking dead are immensely more unnerving than the robots themselves. Their eyes become “gray globs,” and though they don’t move much faster than their mechanical masters, their gruesome countenances are enough to inspire a fair amount of dread. Poor Violet is the first victim of this nefarious fate.
For the most part, The Earth Dies Screaming is slow paced. The fantastic title of the film does not deliver its promise, as most of the Earth dies snoozing. For a movie that lasts just over an hour, it seems quite a bit longer. An attempt at character development only causes the film to drag. There are also some unintended comedic moments. I especially enjoy how Taggert constantly fingers his gun and acts suspicious, and how Mel is so unexplainably antagonistic at the film’s opening and then becomes Jeff’s willing lackey by its conclusion. Of course, the robots themselves inspire a chuckle.
One scene that deserves mention features Peggy running from the newly risen dead. She hides in a locker and watches through a screened slot as one of the zombies searches the room. There is some semblance of tension built as the zombie slowly approaches Peggy’s hiding spot, until he is actually looking through the opening, his dead eyes appearing to gaze directly at her.
I’ve often seen The Earth Dies Screaming compared to Night of the Living Dead. Though the correlation is definitely there, I think the film is more along the lines of Target Earth, Invisible Invaders, or even Plan 9 from Outer Space.
My admiration for Terence Fisher and the freaky-eyed zombies are pushing my rating up a notch. For most, however, the Tom Waits’ song will be scarier.
Produced by Robert L. Lippert (Curse of the Fly, The Last Man on Earth).
Scene to watch for: When Taggart (Dennis Price) fuels his automobile, he gets more of the petrol on the ground and on his car than in the gas tank. (This is certainly more terrifying to modern day viewers than viewers of the time.)
Line to listen for: “That’s all we need, a cheeky kid and a pregnant girl!”
Wikipedia entry: The Earth Dies Screaming
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.