Doctor K’s Cult Classics: They Came From Beyond Space

Right off the bat, I want to point out that They Came from Beyond Space has a misleading title. The film’s alien race (the “They” of the title) actually come from the moon, which is definitely not “Beyond Space.” And if you want to get technical about it, before they arrived on the moon, they were on their home planet, which is also actually within space. I say this not to be pedantic, but as a warning in case the title got you all excited because it might explain what lies beyond space. It doesn’t.

Also, the movie is not nearly as sexy as the poster.

But that doesn’t otherwise detract from this fun but light, 1967 sci-fi flick, directed by Freddie Francis and released by Amicus Productions. They Came from Beyond Space fits a type of British sci-fi movie that I love, where science–and scientists–are made to look cool, as seen especially in the Quatermass films. In fact, this could have easily been Amicus’s answer to Quatermass, as rival studio Hammer had put out the best film of that series–Five Million Years to Earth–in the same year.

In these films, the scientists are the heroes, but they’re not the Denise Richards or Tara Reid type of scientist, or even the Peter Graves type, but frumpy, middle-aged, pipe-smoking scientists with suede patches on their sportcoats. And in They Came from Beyond Space, the main scientist, Dr. Temple (Robert Hutton), even scores with all the hot chicks. Go Science!

The movie opens in rural Cornwall, where some farmers notice some strange objects falling from the sky in a V-pattern. Quickly, the government calls in all of its scientific experts on the subject of astronomy and extra-terrestrial life to investigate. One specialist, Dr. Temple, is prevented from going by his doctor, who won’t permit the scientist to travel because of a recent car accident that resulted in Temple getting a silver plate implanted in his skull. This will be important later.

Though Temple feels left out, he turns out to be lucky, as the strange meteors emit light and sound that take over the other scientists’ bodies, including Lee Mason (Jennifer Jayne), Temple’s research partner and lover. Soon, the possessed scientists spread their influence to take over the nearby town, and they begin to fence off the farm for some mysterious project. Temple decides to investigate, and his alien-possessed colleagues become confused when they can’t take him over (hint: it’s because of the silver plate in his skull). Temple soon discovers that the aliens are spreading a mysterious disease through the local human population, one which causes victims to develop red spots and die instantly. The press labels the disease “The Crimson Plague,” which is not to be confused with the terrible but thankfully unfinished George Perez comic series of the same name.

AWESOME GOGGLESThe action scientist manages to infiltrate the alien farm, where he finds a rocket ship that makes quick trips to and from the moon, as well as an awesome underground lair. Temple is captured but quickly escapes, but before he goes, he smacks Miss Mason around and kidnaps her. He then takes the possessed Miss Mason to his science buddy and Jimmy Fallon lookalike, Farge. The two scientists work on developing some awesome silver helmets that look a lot like colandars, along with some sci-fi goggles for detecting the alien-possessed humans. The helmet/goggles ensemble is particularly sweet.

With their new equipment, they first free Miss Mason from alien control, and then the science trio return to the farm to defeat the alien menace. This doesn’t quite work out as they planned, and they end up on a rocket to the moon. Once on the lunar surface, they get to meet with the alien leader, known as The Master of the Moon (Batman‘s Michael Gough), who is kicking it in a bright, technicolor robe. As the Master explains, the aliens do not actually have physical bodies: they are bodiless intelligences at the highest state of evolution. However, as balls of pure mental energy, they can’t fuck, so the race is soon going to die out. But they need Dr. Temple’s smarts in order to return to their home planet, so they are going to have to operate on him to remove the silver plate in his head.

After a successful rescue effort from Farge, Dr. Temple explains to the Master that he didn’t need to go to all this trouble to conquer Earth in order to return home. If he just asked nicely, Earth would help him out. Temple agrees to let bygones be bygones, and the film ends with a handshake agreement between him and the Master.

Director Freddie Francis had one of the more interesting careers in film. He won Oscars as a cinematographer for Sons and Lovers and Glory, but he also directed some great genre films for both Hammer and Amicus. His style isn’t quite as refined here as it is on later films, like Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and Tales from the Crypt, but the film still has a nice look, especially in the trippy montage sequence where Temple and Farge test out their new equipment.

The set designs for the underground lair and the moon base are also pretty cool, with a ’60s Dr. Who feel about them. But the best part of this movie is action scientist Dr. Curtis Temple. He frequently kicks ass, and has some mad sharpshooting skills, but he also knows how the break out the science when he needs to, outsmarting aliens who are made out of PURE INTELLIGENCE. And in the end, he totally works shit out with the aliens so that they get to return home, and the humans get a superfast rocket and a moon base. This is a pretty good deal.

By the way, They Came from Beyond Space is available to watch for free from Hulu.com.

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