In the sky over this English village there is a strange sound and what locals who are up at this time in the early morning cast their gaze heavenwards to catch sight of a formation of bright lights hurtling overhead. With a crash, they hit the ground: some odd blue meteorites which it is quickly surmised must be investigated by the government, so the department of Dr Curtis Temple (Robert Hutton) is contacted. He is fascinated by this news, but before he can go his doctor tells him it would be too dangerous due to the new metal plate in his skull...
One of those movies that you can imagine Stephen King saw at an impressionable age, basically because even more than the Quatermass and the Pit this looked to be the inspiration for his novel The Tommyknockers, in truth that was about the most interesting thing about They Came From Beyond Space. Not that it was a laugh riot of egregious ineptitude, but it simply wasn't anything more than writer and co-producer Milton Subotsky's attempt to recreate the heyday of fifties science fiction during the Swinging Sixties, leaving this looking like a movie out of step with its contemporaries to some extent.
Of course, that would have been more of a problem in 1967 than it is now, because you can amuse yourself with how quaint the nonsense taking place here appears for much of the Invasion of the Bodysnatchers take-off narrative. That's due to those meteorites carrying psychic hosts, an invisible space alien race which possesses we puny humans and presses us into service as their slaves. What for, you ask? So they can rebuild their starfleet and save their existences, even if it means the cost of human life. As if aware that this was pretty hoary stuff, director Freddie Francis adopted a dynamic style on a budget, meaning loads of dramatic camerwork.
At times this merely drew attention to failings elsewhere, but at others it lent proceedings a pleasing, pulp fiction look: see the scene where the aliens put their sinister space plague plot into practice and Temple is the only one not dropping around the village when the locals break out in red spots and collapse for a neatly nightmarish use of paltry resources. In fact, for the first half this had a fairly decent rural English scare story appeal to it as Temple endeavours to break into the alien's comandeered compound, with his brain unaffected by the threat of possession or plague for that matter thanks to that all-important plate in his head, freeing him to get all commando - in the sense that he's raiding the bad guys' lair rather than not wearing underpants.
Although he may have been doing that as well, the thought of which may add an extra frisson to the movie should you care to contemplate it. But it was in the second half where it began to make sixties episodes of Doctor Who look like the apex of slick sci-fi, as we're meant to concur that yes, of course the aliens could have built a rocket transport service to the moon, where they have a base we've never noticed, and we see nothing wrong with the old cape and leotard ensemble they don once Temple hitches a ride up there to confront them. Part of this is helped along by none other than Michael Gough hoving into view as leader of the extraterrestrials, barking out their plans for domination of the cosmos as if he really believed it, but if you're expecting this to all wind up in a major battle, well you should know by now that they didn't have the money for that. How it does end is quite surprising for this type of tale, nice but not very dramatic. Music by James Stevens.
A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).