In these austere times it’s good to watch a film that has made the absolute most of its limited budget and Unearthly Stranger epitomises the cut-priced have-a-go heroes of early sixties British cinema.
Director John Krish manages to generate a genuinely-oppressive atmosphere throughout the film as he uses every trick in the book to convince the viewer that aliens might well be amongst us. There are no special effects, no flying spaceships or explosions and, amazingly, there are no alien-looking aliens just one scene involving minimal make-up. Somehow – in spite of a story so full of holes you could strain boiled vegetables through it – he puts the strange and the unearthly into the mix.
The film also benefits from a super cast who put their all into animating what could have been a very dull affair; from Warren Mitchell’s exploding brain to Jean Marsh’s properly prim secretary and Patrick Newell’s boiled sweet addicted spook: if James Bond ate nothing but Fox’s Glacier Mints for forty years, that’d be him!
Soaked in sweat and exhausted he staggers into his office and starts talking into his reel-to-reel… he doesn’t think he has long as he tries to warn his colleague of a truth they have both suspected. The highest stakes are involved and it’s all a lot worse than they ever imagined…
Switch to the aftermath as the institute’s head, Professor John Lancaster (Philip Stone) discusses the case with the sweet-munching secret service man, Major Clarke (Patrick Newell). There’s a marvellously English interplay between the men, respect, rank and duty defining their relationship: Lancaster would rather do without the man from the ministry but he knows he has no option.
|Philip Stone and Patrick Newell|
They’re not alone in this cerebral space race with the Americans and the Russians also experimenting. Both, like the British, have suffered similarly-harrowing deaths. Davidson senses something is up and the polite pressure of the munching Major does little to allay his fears.
|John Neville, Jean Marsh and Philip Stone|
All is perfectly in love but there’s just one thing… Julie doesn’t blink.
|Gabriella Licudi, John Neville and Philip Stone|
One of the best sequences in the film sees Julie enjoying a carefree walk – smiling at a baby in a pram before the poor thing cries in terror – before coming to a junior school. She stands at the fence admiring the children at play until gradually, one by one, they stop staring at her in fear and, as one, edging back step-by-step.
|Julie realises that the children can see what the adults cannot...|
Meanwhile Clarke spots Davidson and Lancaster rooting around for Munro and warns them off. But the mystery is too great now to be ignored and it seems quite clear that they need to talk about Julie…
The idea of mind projection is a pretty one to take but as with a lot of science fiction, it is merely a device to reflect contemporary concerns about the collapse of society from within: a home counties version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers?
|Julie relishes the streets of London|
Dusty verdict: Well worth watching for the dynamic atmospherics and the unflinching early-sixties belief in the power of science!
Unearthly Stranger is available at budget price direct from Network as either a Blu-ray or DVD.
|The school kids retreat|