Sometimes efficiency is the most impressive quality a movie can boast, especially in the case of schlocky genre fare. From the outside looking in, The Earth Dies Screaming might not appear to be much. As an alien invasion sci-fi horror from the drive-in 60s that barely clocks in at an hour’s length, it’d be easy to dismiss the film outright as a filler title on some indistinct double bill. The film is far more interesting than its pedigree would lead you to believe, however, and one of its best qualities is that it recognizes the limits of its somewhat slight premise and chooses to stick to the point. The Earth Dies Screaming smartly avoids overexplaining the exact scope & nature of its murderous alien threat and instead uses the mystery & minute to minute deadly obstacles posed by its otherworldly dread to propel the plot forward through several unexpected gear shifts until the whole thing’s over before you know it. The film may look cheaply made & hastily produced, but you gotta respect that kind of genre flick efficiency.
Although you can pinpoint other genre films that have utilized individual elements of The Earth Dies Screaming for more fully realized conflicts, this particular cheapie achieves a very specific aesthetic by gathering all of those elements in a single, well-tuned vehicle. I kind of feel like the genre film equivalent of a fine wine snob while watching this one, detecting hints of 28 Days later, The Village of the Damned, and The Night of the Living Dead with a strong The Day the Earth Stood Still undertone rounding out the bouquet. In the film’s dialogue-free five minute opening most of the world’s population is seemingly struck dead by a mysterious gas, later revealed to have been released by a malicious alien race. Planes, trains, and automobiles crash as their individual pilots are strewn about, lifeless. The few survivors in a rural England town find themselves isolated form the world with no radio or television broadcasts seemingly able to make it through the chaos. The horrors don’t end there, though, as an army of killer alien robots is deployed to sweep the streets of any temporarily lucky survivors and, just in case that wasn’t enough, they’re followed by an undead, mindcontrolled zombie hoard. The alien threat of The Earth Dies Screaming is one thing after another, a continually shifting obstacle course that pummels its audience and its victims with just the right rhythm to remain surprising & just the right runtime to never outwear its welcome.
I guess there might be some kind of lesson at the heart of this film about the best attribute of humanity being in comradery. Our would-be victims (ranging from a drunken cad to a young pregnant woman to an all-American alpha male, all strangers) find their best chance of survival in their ability to solve their differences & work together as a unit. That aspect of the film’s formula is faint at best, though, especially when compared to more heavy-handed message pieces like The Day the Earth Stood Still or nuclear paranoia monster pictures like Godzilla or Them!. Here, the alien threat has no real discernible intent outside pure malice. There’s no source or ending for the attack and instead of worrying about context the film instead eats up its runtime with details like its robots’ Touch of Death executions & its zombies’ whiteout contacts. In the age where big budget action franchises have no foreseeable end in sight & follow a carnival act trajectory of promising the next big thing down the road without ever having to deliver a self-contained product (much like pro wrestling or, better yet, those films’ comic book source material), there’s a satisfying quality to this kind of genre filmmaking simplicity that’s more than a little refreshing. Despite what’s promised in this film’s (undeniably badass) title, the Earth could actually use a lot more of this contextless, go-for-broke efficiency.