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The Earth Dies Screaming is a low-budget classic

The Earth Dies Screaming
20th Century Fox

The Earth Dies Screaming

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One day in an isolated town in Britain, people begin mysteriously keeling over dead. A small group of strangers gather together in a local hotel and attempt to piece together what has happened. When deadly robots begin roaming the streets, the survivors find themselves fighting for their own lives.

Directed by Terence Fisher of Hammer horror films fame, The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) is a textbook example of how to make an excellent movie out of almost nothing. A handful of buildings and sets, almost no special effects, an obvious low budget, and yet The Earth Dies Screaming still stands up as a suspenseful and creepy science fiction thriller. With Hollywood blockbusters now routinely reaching the two and a half to three hour mark, and its latest fetish of turning what should be one film into two or three films, the economy of The Earth Dies Screaming, which takes a mere 62 minutes to tell its story, is even more impressive today that it might have been in 1964.

The Earth Dies Screaming is also a film that refuses to give us any more information that necessary. The film opens with a train conductor dead at his post while the train speeds out of control to its own destruction, followed by a businessman keeling over where he stands, a car smashing into a building, and a plane crashing to the earth. We aren’t told why these things are happening, we only know what the survivors know, and that is almost nothing. Each new character is introduced in the simplest of ways, and we learn just enough about them to know how they survived. Robots roam the town, but it is never fully explained who they are, where they came from, or why they are here. When the movie ends, we can’t even be sure if the surviving humans will eventually win or lose the battle.

The film’s miniscule budget is obvious. Although a robot army is roaming the town, we never see more than two of them in any shot, which leads to the suspicion that the filmmakers only had a small number of robot suits on hand. The streets are not littered with dead bodies as they should be, and special effects are limited to the white contact lenses which are seen whenever a dead body rises and begins hunting the living. Yet the low budget is not a drawback; the lack of a full army of robots only makes the ones we see that much eerier, and the white contact lenses are the only thing really necessary to set “walking dead” apart from the living.

The cast is uniformly good, with standout performances by Willard Parker as Jeff Nolan, an America in Britain who becomes the group leader by default, and Dennis Price as Quinn Taggart, a member of the group who only cares about his own survival.

Directed by Terence Fisher. From Lippert Films. With Willard Parker, Virginia Field, Dennis Price, Thorley Walters, Vanda Godsell, David Spenser, Anna Palk.