Monday, April 18, 2011
1.1 THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (1965)
Dir. Terence Fisher
The first film in the 2011 Easter Zombie Movie Marathon is a golden oldie from 1965. We decided to go with a chronological order for this year's films, so as the week goes on we'll get closer and closer to the modern conception of what a zombie film is.
But for this first night, we're really dealing with a variation on the classic Voodoo zombie, only with a creepy British Sci-Fi twist.
Terence Fisher is probably best known as the man who almost single-handedly redefined modern UK horror with his run of classic Hammer Horror films, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula (1958), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Mummy (1959), The Curse of the Werewolf (1960), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), and many, many others.
In 1965 he directed The Earth Dies Screaming for Shepperton Studios in London and filmed in Surrey.
The film opens creepily enough, with shot after shot of people casually dropping dead wherever they might be, whether that's while driving a train, cars, planes, or just standing around waiting for the train. For the rest of the film, no matter what's going on with the main plot, there are almost always corpses littered around the backgrounds. It's subtle and does a very nice job of creating a disturbing mood, even when things don't seem to overly tense.
A group of survivors hole up in an abandoned hotel and try to figure out why everyone else is dead but they survived. The lone American in the group, Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker), figures out that each of the survivors were isolated places where their air was recirculated. Because of this, they figure that it was some sort of gas attack that murdered the majority of humanity. But from whom?
That's when the scary guys in the spacesuits show up, strolling rather awkwardly through town.
Not long after that, the dead begin rising, too. With frightening white eyes that had to make acting difficult for the performers playing the zombies.
Long story short, they're alien robots with the touch of death. Nolan and the others have to figure out how to stop the invaders and hopefully restart the human race.
As I stated above, this is essentially a classic tale of Voodoo zombies, a la White Zombie, only the plantation is Earth and the evil master is an unseen alien force. You can always rely on Terence Fisher to provide a solid piece of direction and this film is no different. Even though we're dealing with some rather broad characters, the drunk, the crook, the pregnant girl, the moody youth, etc. it never seems too terribly cliche.
All in all, it's a pretty good start to this year's festivities.
Plus, this film inspired the song "The Earth Died Screaming" from Tom Waits' 1992 album Bone Machine, even though Waits says he never actually saw the film.