Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Terrornauts

Terror Firma

The Terrornauts
1967 UK
Directed by Montgomory Tully
Amicus via Network DVD Region 2

Warning: Kinda spoilers here I guess, although it’s not the 
kind of film I would worry about that kind of thing for.

When I first found out a few years ago there was a late sixties sci-fi movie made which had Charles Hawtrey in it... I set about trying to find it immediately, but to no avail. The mixture of the Carry On star and a movie which had a title like The Terrornauts was just too irresistible for me to bear. Alas, my search bore no fruit but, luckily, Network DVD have come to my rescue with their brand new release at a more than reasonable price (aka value for money... aka cheap).

In all honesty, I bought this film for a laugh because I couldn’t conceive of this movie being any good but, as luck would have it, it’s really a charming curio which I wish I’d known about earlier and, maybe, had the opportunity to see as a kid.

The Network DVD has two different prints on it. A sharp transfer of the trimmed re-release version of the movie and, hidden in the extras menu, the original full theatrical release which, to be fair, does say it has a noticeable drop in quality. Well, I suspect most of the audience who want to see such movies as this one are going to prefer watching a not very good print of the longer version rather than a crystal clear print of the shortened version, so that’s the one I’m reviewing here. I’m glad I did choose that version to watch too because there is an alien creature in one scene which is both a badly suspect costume while simultaneously being a triumph of surrealism in design. You kinda have to see it to believe it but, when I went through the chapter menu of the film so I could show my dad the bizarre and noteable monster, it wasn’t there. I soon realised that the scene must have been cut from the shorter version of the film so... if you want to see a cool (for possibly the wrong reasons) monster, then you need to watch the bad quality version, I’m afraid. But the monster really makes up for any drop in quality... since the drop’s not half as long as your jaw will drop when you see this thing.

When I saw on the credits that the screenplay was written by the legendary John Brunner (from a novel called The Wailing Asteroid by Murray Leinster), I realised that this film might not be the unintentional laugh fest I was expecting and, as it happens, my suspicions were proven correct.

The film stars Simon Oates, Bond girl Zena Marshall and Stanley Meadows who, along with an accountant and a tea lady played respectively by British comedy actors Charles Hawtrey and Patricia Hayes, along for comic relief, make contact with a signal from space... the source of which promptly sends a spaceship to Earth to haul them, and the building they are in, back to an abandoned asteroid base manned by alien robots. Here, our heroes are put through through a series of intelligence tests before revealing how they can save humanity from certain death at the hands of an oncoming fleet of space aliens (presumably, The Terrornauts of the title).

The film is, in a word, charming.

The colours, including an abundance of pinky reds and faded greens are amazing (and what I’d expect from my experience of the two Doctor Who films put out by the same studio) and all the characters are pretty much likeable. Patricia Hayes’ “tea lady common sense” is especially endearing as the group encounter alisen concepts on the asteroid.

The story is really interesting too in that it doesn’t really follow a formula so much and there’s lots of different things pulled together to make the short running time of the movie seem anything but padded. For example, two of the characters have a short romp on an alien planet when Zena Marshall gets accidentally teleported there and has to be rescued by Simon Oates from green skinned aliens who want to sacrifice her to... um... whoever they want to sacrifice her to. Luckily, our hero is armed with a space gun so the primitive spears of the tribe prove no match for him. Actually, the consistency of the way the teleporter works and the way it gets our heroes out of a hole towards the end of the film is somewhat inconsistent and convenient, to say the least, but if you’re not taking the film too seriously (and by this point, you probably won’t be) then you’ll have a fine time with it.

The special effects are a bit ropey in certain sequences - the alien monster costume, for example, or the twin moons of a planet which are obviously painted onto a piece of glass in front of the camera lens - but this all just adds to the charm and I have to say, to the general atmosphere of the film. The music, too, by famous concert composer Elizabeth Lutyens (The Earth Dies Screaming, The Skull) is pretty good... apart from maybe the comic interlude she uses for the entrance of Charles Hawtrey into the narrative. This is yet another one of her scores that I would have hoped to have been made accessible to us at some point. Her film scores seem, like most of her works, actually, sadly under-represented on CD or download.

So will science-fiction fans love this movie or not? Well, I guess some of them will but those looking for some hard core sci-fi movie might be best to stay away. If, however, you’re in the market for a charming, late sixties British sci-fi movie and are happy with the kinds of failings and the big rewards that such films can unfold before you, then you’re going to have a real blast with The Terrornauts. It’s time to give this under-rated gem of a movie a go but, if you do, I’d definitely recommend you watch the longer cut which is found in the extras menu of this new Network edition.

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