Tag Archives: Terence Fisher

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.


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!
Vanda Godsell gets zombiefied!
Vanda Godsell gets zombiefied!

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…

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.


Island of Terror (1966)

A silicate approaches
It wants to suck out your bones!
This film rocks!

Dr Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing) and Dr David West (Edward Judd), along with his new girlfriend Toni Merrill (Carole Gray), travel to an island off the coast of Ireland to look into the case of a dead local man… who has been discovered with no bones in his body.

A boneless corpse
A boneless corpse

With the help of local doctor Reginald Landers (Eddie Byrne), they find out that a group of researchers, seeking a cure for cancer in a secluded laboratory on the island, have accidentally created creatures that absorb all the bones from their victims.

The researchers fall victim to their own experiment

As the island becomes infested by these ‘silicates’, the protagonists must try to discover a way to stop these starfish-blob-like creatures, which have hardened, knobbly skin carapaces and a single, central tentacle that they use to inject bone-dissolving enzymes into their victims.

A silicate
These critters are a favourite of mine

Axes, shotguns, petrol bombs and dynamite have no effect on these slow, slithering critters, but Stanley and West come up with a solution that involves poisoning the silicates with Strontium-90. As the islanders gather together in a building, with the monsters crawling all over it, the heroes wait to see if their plan will actually work…

A silcate
Another shot of a silicate because, well, why not?

I like this flick quite a bit!

The silicates make a very distinctive sound (I’m a sucker for creatures that make peculiar noises, such as the ants in THEM!), which imbues the scenes with a certain creepiness and adds tension too, because once you hear the sound you know a silicate is nearby!
Barry Gray, who did the scores for Gerry Anderson productions like STINGRAY, UFO, THUNDERBIRDS, JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN and SPACE: 1999, provided the electronic sound effects.

A solicsate tentacle reaches out...
Don’t let the tentacle touch you!

The silicates are very slow moving, which I actually like, because – as with un-speedy Romero zombies – I think more anxiety is created when the heroes should be able to keep out of reach of the creatures but you just KNOW the critters are still going to sneak up on them somehow.

The local policeman becomes the next victim
The local policeman becomes the next victim

The silicates have an unusual way of multiplying, which involves each creature splitting into two every six hours or so. This adds a ticking clock element to the plot, as the protagonists need to deal with this threat before the silicates exponentially grow in number until there’s a million of them. A couple of the creatures are shown subdividing, which calls for the production of milky goo and what looks like tinned spaghetti!

This scene probably put some people off spaghetti for good!
This scene probably put some people off spaghetti for good!

Cushing, Judd and the rest of the cast, including Niall MacGinnis, treat their roles seriously, in a plot that is like a Hammer Films-style horror yarn mixed with a 1950s-era scientists-versus-an-experiment-gone-wrong story.

During the finale, with the besieged islanders seemingly doomed to be overwhelmed by the silicates, there’s a moment where Judd and Cushing decide that it’s best for Carole Gray’s character to be given a lethal injection, rather than risk death-by-silicate. Judd doesn’t inject her at the last moment, because the creatures start to die from radiation poisoning, but it was pretty presumptuous of him to decide to kill her without her consent!

An islander falls victim to the silicate

Director Terence Fisher made another blob-monsters-on-an-island movie for Planet Film Productions, called NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT (known as ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED in the US). But ISLAND OF TERROR is the better film, with such fun moments as a silicate dropping onto an islander from a tree and some brief shots of rubbery, boneless victims, plus there’s a little bit of gore, as Edward Judd is forced to chop off Peter Cushing’s hand before a silicate can digest his bones.

Peter Cushing is grabbed by tentacle
Cushing gets nabbed by a tentacle…
Peter Cushing has his hand cut off!
…so his hand has to be chopped off!

To finish, here are a bunch of posters, some of which misleadingly suggest the movie will feature female nudity!

This poster art is, erm, quite inaccurate…