After an impressive (low-budget) opening sequence of trains, planes and automobiles crashing because their drivers are apparently dead at the wheel, we meet Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker) driving about the English countryside, which is littered with corpses. After appropriating a shortwave radio from an empty shop, he sets up in a small inn. Two more survivors, Taggart (Dennis Price) and Peggy (Virginia Field) show up, then a couple assumed dead but just drunk, Edgar and Violet (Thorley Walters and Vanda Goodsell).
Jeff theorizes that there’s been some sort of gas attack – he’s a test pilot who was on a high-altitude flight with oxygen assist, Peggy was in a hospital in an oxygen tent, Edgar and Violet were at an office party and sleeping it off in a sealed bio lab. The question of who would have done such a thing is answered – kind of – when two robots walk through the village, seemingly unconcerned about the survivors. Until Violet, assuming they’re Air Force personnel, interrupts their stroll and we find out the robots can kill with a touch.
Two more people show up, Mel and Lorna (David Spenser and Anna Palk), a young couple trying to get to Liverpool so Lorna can have her baby. Taggart bitches about the burden of adding a pregnant woman to their group, but Nolan answers “They may have just become the most important people on the planet.”
That’s your setup, and there really isn’t much more to it. There is a lot of theorizing and planning, until it’s revealed that the robots can resurrect any dead bodies they wish as shambling slave units. This induces our survivors to abandon their cozy little inn and start on their planned exodus, only to have the birth of Lorna’s baby bring everything to a halt. Nolan finally figures out that the strange transmission that’s on all frequencies is somehow guiding the robots, and he and Mel have to track down the local radio station that’s being used for transmission, and blow it up (just in the nick of time, of course).
The Earth Dies Screaming runs a typical b-picture 62 minutes, but still has trouble filling that time. Almost all the fantastic elements – the walking, white-eyed corpses, the robots suddenly deciding to do something about the survivors – are in the last quarter of the movie. A more even distribution of these elements would have resulted in at least a halfway decent Outer Limits episode.
A lot of that is typical of low-budget filmmaking. Talk is cheap, action costs money. There are a lot of unanswered questions in The Earth Dies Screaming – not the least of which is who is still manning the power generation plants of Britain – and some of those points actually do improve the movie, giving the viewer’s brain something to fasten on. Who are the invaders? Are the robots merely the troops, or are these aliens truly a race of robots? Who the hell is Taggart, how did he survive (“That’s not important.”), and why is he so good with a gun and picking locks? (I think he’s James Bond gone feral, but that’s just me)
Director Terence Fisher is one of my favorites in the Brit horror field; besides numerous iconic Hammer films, he’s also responsible for underappreciated indies like Island of Terror and Island of the Burning Damned. It’s largely due to his talent that this over-talkative under-active movie has any hope of keeping our interest at all; a mostly painless way to waste an hour, and not much more.
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