The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

A train conductor inexplicably collapses and the train wheels right off the tracks. Cars randomly swerve and crash into brick walls.

The world is going haywire, corpses everywhere, and the few survivors have no clue what’s going on.

Everyone’s borrowed the setup, from M. Night Shyamalan’s awful The Happening (2008) to the recently popular TV adaptation of The Leftovers (2014).

It’s all thanks to the pervasive influence of the robots and zombies on tap in the black and white British science-fiction flick The Earth Dies Screaming (1965).

Poison Gas… Poison Gas Everywhere

The few survivors of what has been a mysterious gas attack on the Earth gather at an inn to try and piece together what the deuce is going on, lead by Jeff (the always hunky Willard Parker) and a couple (Dennis Price and Virginia Field).

The gas is only step one of an alien invasion — a killer robot invasion, to be precise—and damn it all, the robots’ victims are rising as the undead. How will the group fare? Will they make it out alive? Will they try and mate the robots with the zombies in and attempt to create an infinite food source in this new, cruel, very British world? One thing’s for sure: they’ll be pronouncing robot as “robutt” in the most adorable way.

The film predates Night of the Living Dead (1968), but any fan will spot the similarities: a group of folks holed up in a home with a radio trying to make sense of a new, terrifying, undead-infested world. Peter Dendle’s The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia calls ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ “an obvious precursor.” Even the avant-garde score from composer Elisabeth Lutyens hits notes eerily similar to the latter’s borrowed musical score. Also, British mise en scène will remind viewers of 28 Days Later (2002): cottages, village streets, and an unsettling calm.

Stop: Hammer Time

Earth Dies Screaming

The Earth Dies Screaming

Director Terrence Fisher is best-known for his work at Hammer Films, the legendary UK horror film production company with its versions of The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), and The Mummy (1959) — all directed by Fisher. The Curse of Frankenstein was responsible for launching both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing’s careers. The production value, for its day, is high in ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ and like a proper horror auteur, it’s clear Fisher commanded production with care.

As for the zombies, they’re slow-moving and silent, with simple makeup that whites out their eyes (and is still surprisingly creepy). Like Night of the Living Dead, you can fend for yourself just fine among a few: just don’t get caught in a swarm of ‘em.

The film could have benefited from a few more ghoul encounters to really test the main characters, and scares do come with quite a bit of spacing between them. But that could all just be my Hostel (2005), wam-bam-gore conditioned brain doing the talking. ”The Earth Dies Screaming’ is so earnest — and a zombie woman slowly pacing in the dark can still terrify. The film’s a marker in our collective zombie brain, one that established a framework whose radioactive effects are still seen infecting us today.

Watch ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ here:

Written by: Ben Mueller

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