Embassy Pictures brought American viewers another Amicus sci-fi film from Britain. They Came From Beyond Space (TCBS) was a modest budget film -- not ultra-cheap, but not lavish either. It is yet another installment in the alien-takeover sub-genre. It does carry a distinctly British flavor to its paranoia.
Quick Plot Synopsis
A "V" shaped formation of meteorites lands in a farm field in Cornwall, England. A team of scientists is dispatched to investigate. While they examine the rocks, they are taken over by beings of pure thought who rode inside. One of the scientists is Lee, girlfriend of Curtis, the extra-brilliant scientist who was not allowed to travel with the team. Curious at the loss of contact, Curtis travels to the site anyway. The possessed humans have built a fence, posted guards with guns and have run up big bills buying all manner of equipment and supplies. Government agents investigate too, but a mysterious plague breaks out. People suddenly fall dead (apparently) with red spots on their skin. There is no known cure for the Crimson Plague. The possessed people convince the government that they're building a rocket to take the dead for burial on the moon -- as the only safe solution. Curtis senses something else is going on, so keep trying to get into the compound. Eventually, he succeeds, but is taken prisoner. His former colleagues are all possessed by aliens. Even some people thought dead of plague are alive and working. Curtis escapes his cell, stuns Lee and carries her out. He takes her to a geeky friend's lab. They devise an anti-possession helmet (almost a tinfoil hat), a set of goggles that can "see" who's an alien or not, and a ray gun to stun or kill them. They devise a process to free Lee of her alien. Using Lee pretending to be still possessed, they get back into the compound. They sneak aboard the rocket bound for the moon. Once on the moon, they are monologued by the Master of the Moon who tells how they evolved into energy beings but were dying out. They needed some new bodies to possess, but crashed on Earth's moon. In a play for pity, the Master says they just want to go home to die. Curtis lets down his guard and is captured. The Master plans to remove the silver plate in his head and transfer himself to Curtis. Meanwhile, Farge escaped and foments a workers' revolt. This interrupts the operation. The aliens are all dejected about losing. Curtis says earthlings would have helped them build a ship to go home, if they had just asked nicely. The energy alien leaves his host body, who gets all cheery and shakes hands with Curtis. The End.
Why is this movie fun?
Yet another alien-takeover flick could be dull, but the eclectic British flavor keeps it different. Curtis' very clean 1924 Bentley is quite a rare treat to watch. It's almost a co-star.
Cold War Angle
The alien-takeover trope is a handy metaphor for patriots being "turned" to ally with the Dark Side. The not-so-subtle moral of the story is that someone might look like a soulless fiend intent on conquest, but deep down, they're just regular guys. If we'd just talk more, we could all get along. Kumbayah.
Based on the Book -- Joseph Miller wrote a novel titled, "The Gods Hate Kansas" in 1941. This basing means that TCBS's roots are among the oldest of the alien-takeover tribe. TCBS follows the book's plot fairly closely, except for the location (Kansas vs. Cornwall). All the major plot points are there: Meteorites with aliens aboard, who had crashed on the moon. Energy beings take over people and start building a secret compound and a rocket. An unstoppable plague breaks out which turns out to be a tool of the aliens to get workers, the hero has a metal plate in his head so he can't be taken over AND the ending where the hero says they just had to ask.
Possessing Lineage -- Just as a recap, the notion of aliens taking over humans is old. The Man from Planet X ('51) even went so far as to have the taken-over humans acting as manual labor too. It Came From Outer Space ('53) also featured aliens taking over townsfolk to act as manual labor to repair their ship. Apparently, it's tough to find repair shops in this stretch of the galaxy. The most famous take-over film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('56) was an earth conquest theme, not a repair job. From that famous example, to lesser examples, such as War of the Satellites ('58) and The Day Mars Invaded Earth ('63), the plot device of aliens taking over humans for nefarious deeds was becoming traditional to the point of becoming cliche.
Forbidden Fruit Fascination -- A recurring element in British sci-fi, is the notion of a closed-off compound. There must be something in the British psyche -- like a cat that cannot resist an empty box -- that is fascinated by the idea of a cordoned off zone that no one is permitted to enter. Perhaps the Brits have an innate conspiracy theory gene. All of the "Damned" movies featured secret compounds.
Bottom line? TCBS is a notch above the cheaper B sci-fi of the mid 60s, yet it's not all that special either. The alien-takeover trope has gotten long in the tooth, so lost most of its tension value. The peculiarities inherent in a British film, such as the Bentley, add some interest.