Sunday, April 21, 2019

Unearthly Stranger (1963)

... aka: Assedio alla terra (Siege of Earth)
... aka: Beyond the Stars
... aka: Mujeres de lo desconocido (Woman of the Unknown)
... aka: Noiduttu katse (Bewitched Test)

Directed by:
John Krish

In England, Professor Geoffrey Munroe (Warren Mitchell) mysteriously keels over from a brain hemorrhage which has done some other rather unusual things to his body that can only be attributed to extremely high does of electricity... enough to power all of London, in fact. Strangely, the exact same fate has befallen select people in both America and Russia. All of the victims were scientists working for their respective country's space programs and all had been experimenting on the same exact thing: Unlocking secrets of the mind in order to telepathically travel to through space. At a British lab, scientists are working on something that may help accomplish that: TP 91, a formula that unlocks an otherwise dormant energy force we all have in our own minds. 

Lackadaisical, smarmy Army Major Clarke (Patrick Newell) is skeptical about letting all of his scientists know what has been happening around the globe for fear that they'll abandon the project. He has an argument with one of the her cohorts, Professor John Lancaster (Philip Stone), about whether to tell project leaded Dr. Mark Davidson (John Neville) or not, but Mark overhears them anyway. Thankfully he has a sexy, much-younger new wife to return home to that can help him keep his mind off things. Well, uh, maybe that's not such a good idea either.

Discovering their agency is involved in covering up the mysterious death of the former project head and keeping important things from them, Dr. Davidson and Professor Lancaster decide to team up and investigate. Prof. Munroe - the dead man - had high levels of something called trimorphonite in his system; something that is found in large doses only in space. Since he's never been to space, that poses quite a mystery, and so does that the fact that all of his research papers were burnt up in a fire. But perhaps not the mystery as the behavior coming from Dr. Davidson's new bride, Julie (Gabrielle Licudi), whom her met under mysterious circumstances while on holiday in Switzerland. 

So immediately taken with her beauty and charm, Dr. Davidson married Julie after a brief romance lasting only a few weeks. Now that they're in England, Julie barely ever leaves the house, claiming to have lived a quiet and sheltered life in her home country that she wants to continue. When Davidson returns home one night, he finds Julie lying in bed with her eyes wide open. Thinking she's dead, he feels her pulse and notices that she doesn't have one... but then she wakes up, anyway. Perhaps a previous viewing of I Married a Monster from Outer Space could have saved Dr. Davidson all of this hassle.

Because of his wife's peculiar behavior, Davidson has Lancaster over for dinner. Julie puts on the charm, but Lancaster sees her removing a steaming hot pot of casserole with her bare hands from a 275 degree oven without mitts and begins having doubts himself about who or what she is. Babies also cry when she looks at them, a whole playground full of children run inside at her mere presence and tears seem to act like acid on her face... all because "Julie" is nothing more than a host body for an alien.

Back at work, Major Clarke decides to give Davidson a leave of absence because his new wife's past cannot be traced and their top-secret work cannot be put in jeopardy. At his country home, where there's an almost-constant and unexplained humming sound, Davidson continues to work on the project and finally makes a breakthrough in his research. New formula in hand, he goes back to work and has it snatched away for safe keeping by the major, who ends up mysteriously dead himself... and the papers have spontaneously combusted in the process. Seems like the alien race don't want us humans meddling in space travel.

Well-acted, intelligently-written by Rex Carlton (with likable and enjoyable characters), entertaining, eerie and even unexpectedly witty at times, this long-forgotten British film deserves better treatment than it has received. Working with a very low-budget, the tale is told with no special effects whatsoever, but director Krish and cinematographer Reginald H. Wyer do several stylistic things to spice up the material. There's some clever camerawork, noir-ish lighting is effectively used, a framework device provokes the right intrigue at the beginning and there's a very good surprise ending. The entire cast (which also includes Jean Marsh in a supporting role as a secretary) does well, with both Neville and Licudi managing to make their characters - and the grim situation both find themselves in - very believable.

Back when I first wrote a brief review for this title, there had been neither a DVD nor VHS release, possibly because this lacked some creature to put on the cover. Thankfully, that's since been remedied by DVD and Blu-ray releases through Network Distributing (Note: My screen caps certainly don't reflect the quality of that release as I did them back in 2012 from an nth generation copy). I'd imagine most fans of vintage, smaller-scale science fiction, who have no problem with dialogue and subtext in place of expensive special effect thrills, will find this to be something of a gem.

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