The horror and science fiction genres have always loved their end of the world movies. From the original comet-crashing 1916 movie The End of the World to more modern dystopic films like The Hunger Games and Divergent, the end of mankind is a solid premise. In 1964, the extinction of humanity by alien invasion was explored in the dramatically titled The Earth Dies Screaming.
The Earth Dies Screaming is about an American test pilot named Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker from The Great Jesse James Raid) who, while working in England, goes up on a flight mission and returns a few hours later to an Earth that seems to be devoid of life. He wanders around for a bit and discovers another pair of survivors – Quinn Taggart (Dennis Price from Vampyros Lesbos) and his wife, Peggy (Waterloo Bridge’s Virginia Field) – and the three hole up in a hotel while they try to figure out what happened. Soon enough, they are joined by more survivors, but they also catch a glimpse of what has caused the devastation – the streets of the town are being patrolled by aliens whose touch not only kills the humans, but turns them into bloodthirsty zombies. Nolan and the others have to find a way to get past the aliens and their zombies to find other survivors, but they have more to worry about than just the invaders – not everyone within their group is who they claim they are.
The script for The Earth Dies Screaming is credited to Henry Cross, which is a pseudonym used by prolific Canadian screenwriter Harry Spalding (Curse of the Fly, The Watcher in the Woods). Directed by Hammer Horror stalwart Terence Fisher (The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula), the film is a perfect combination of a sci-fi B-movie and a horrific psychological thriller, part alien invasion movie and part zombie apocalypse flick. Full of twists and surprises, The Earth Dies Screaming is a much more thoughtful end-of-the-world movie than its exploitative (yet awesome) title would suggest.
Right from the beginning, Terence Fisher sets up the post-apocalyptic world of The Earth Dies Screaming very effectively. The very first sequence shows a train, apparently out of control, careening down the tracks until it crashes. The next sequence shows a plane doing basically the same thing, falling to the ground while the pilot is incapacitated. Then, Fisher shows a montage of wrecked cars and deserted streets strewn with bodies – this is all before the film’s hero, Nolan, even shows up. By the time the audience meets any of the main characters, Fisher has already firmly established the haunting background of The Earth Dies Screaming, so the story can unfold organically with the audience already knowing everything that they need to know about the disturbing condition of the world.
The alien invaders in The Earth Dies Screaming are great. Appearance-wise, they look like typical fifties/sixties style sci-fi aliens, with shiny spacesuits and glass helmets. However, these aliens are diabolical, and their three-tiered plan for global conquest is meticulous. First, they gas the world to kill most of the earthlings. Then, they walk the streets and touch the survivors, killing them as well. Finally, the dead come back to life as zombies right out of Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space to help out with the last stage of human extermination. It’s all very thoughtful, but even with their well-laid plans, the aliens are still full of creepy surprises; as the audience learns throughout the movie, these are not your average B-movie extraterrestrials.
The music for The Earth Dies Screaming was written by British avant-garde composer Elisabeth Lutyens (Paranoiac, The Psychopath). Lutyens was best known for her serialist and atonal compositions, but she paid the bills by scoring movies for studios like Hammer and Amicus. The music in The Earth Dies Screaming is plentiful, with background music populating most of the movie, yet sparse, with light flutes and strings giving the score an airy mix. Once the aliens start marching, the technological sounds of radios and spaceships blend with the traditional filmic music to give the movie a campy sci-fi vibe. The score for The Earth Dies Screaming isn’t some of Lutyens’ more experimental music, but she wasn’t writing it for art, she was doing it for a paycheck, and the soundtrack is exactly what the film needs to accompany its human-versus-alien theme.
In the big picture of post-apocalyptic dystopia movies, The Earth Dies Screaming is barely even a blip on the radar compared to movies like The Last Man on Earth (and its other incarnations, The Omega Man and I Am Legend) and 28 Days Later…, but it’s a fun world-ender nonetheless. And, with a brisk sixty-two minute running time, the thing just flies by. If alien invasion movies with a twist are your thing, you could do a lot worse than The Earth Dies Screaming.