The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

Killer robot!

A gas attack of unknown origin wipes out most of the population of Earth. A group of survivors (who all lived through the gas strike because they were in air-tight rooms, etc) gather together and base themselves in an English village hotel/pub.

poster
Poster

The group, led by American test pilot Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker), soon discover that the gas attack was a prelude to some kind of invasion… because they now spot silver-suited robots plodding around the village! These automatons can kill humans with a touch of their hands and then, it is revealed later… these victims come back to life as white-eyed zombies!

Blank-eyed victims return from the dead!
Blank-eyed victims return from the dead!
Robot and zombie slave!

The protagonists move between the village and a Territorial Army drill hall, dodge stalking robots and zombies, and then Jeff finally formulates a plan that involves blowing up a local radio mast that’s being used to send signals to the robots…

First of all, I must say that THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING is a great name for a movie! Just how awesome is that title?!
Okay, the movie doesn’t live up to the promise of this title (the Earth dies pretty much silently thanks to the gas attack), but the film does have some tense scenes that are well-handled by director Terence Fisher.

THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING has a brief running time, is low budget, has a doomy, subdued, dour atmosphere and is a ‘Middle England apocalypse’-type scenario reminiscent of a John Wyndham story. I always find these set-ups quite interesting, as scenes of dead bodies littering quaint village streets and robots clomping past homely pubs make for quite interesting visuals.

Dead bodies in the home counties...
Dead bodies in the home counties…

The lo-fi robots have a Cybermen vibe to them, though they predate the DOCTOR WHO villains by two years. These mechanical menaces (they’re basically guys in silver spacesuits) move unhurriedly, as do their zombie human servants, and I think this adds anxiety to the scenes because you know the protagonists SHOULD be able to outrun the robots but you also KNOW these clunky dudes will still somehow creep up on them.

They may look a bit like Cybermen but these clunky robots came first!
They may look a bit like Cybermen but these robots came first!

There’s an effectively directed sequence where Peggy (Virginia Field) escapes from unreliable cad Quinn (played by Dennis Price, who always played cads) and finds herself pursued by slow moving robots & zombies. There’s a similarly tense moment at the end of the movie when some robots and a now-zombiefied Quinn menacingly approach Lorna (Anna Palk) and her newborn baby.

Quinn returns as a zombie working for the robots
Quinn returns as a zombie working for the robots

Though the movie ends rather abruptly, with the destruction of a single alien-commandeered radio mast conveniently putting all the robots in the area out of action, THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING is an interesting watch and its depiction of people coming back from the dead as zombies means that it can be viewed as a precursor to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). 

Terence Fisher must have acquired a taste for making small-groups-of-Brits-threatened-by-aliens/monsters movies because he went on to shoot ISLAND OF TERROR (1966) and NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT, aka ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED (1967) soon afterwards.

The robots close-in...
The robots close-in…
Pressbook

The movie’s no classic, with the characters lacking any real goal until the decision to destroy the mast is suggested late in the plot, but this B&W horror-sci-fi tale is worth a watch.

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