British film studio Amicus is best remembered for the portmanteau horror films it turned out during the 1970s and 80s: star-studded anthologies with grizzly titles such as ‘Dr Terrible’s House Of Horrors,’ ‘The House That Dripped Blood’ and ‘From Beyond The Grave’. Less well remembered are its occasional forays into science fiction. Sit through ‘The Terrornauts’ and you’ll see why.
‘Doomwatch’ star Simon Oates takes the lead as a scientist working at a proto-SETI establishment listening out for signs of extraterrestrial life. Just when the project is about to be shut down, he picks up a faint signal – and his response draws an alien presence to Earth. So far, so familiar. There are echoes of ‘A For Andromeda’ – but with nothing like the quality or confidence.
The movie devotes a large part of its running time to the comedic antics of Carry On staple Charles Hawtrey as an accountant sent in to audit the project’s books. As accomplished a comic actor as he is, Hawtrey’s asides, frantic head movements and arch delivery are out-of-place in what is, essentially, a cut-price Quatermass. The dialogue is risible (“The laws of the universe weren’t made by an accountant” “Pity”) and, once the aliens have turned up, the character all but disappears. He’s there to fill longeurs that would’ve been better cut.
The make-up and models are also poor, though they can at least be blamed on budget: look at the two Peter Cushing ‘Dalek’ movies to see what the same studio could do with a bit more money. Less excusable is the obvious doubling of the same location for both an alien planet and a quarry on Earth, or the ridiculous final act (which contrives to have our heroes wandering around in shower caps, among other things).
The impression is that the filmmakers thought they didn’t have the money to do the story properly, so sent it up instead. There’s a misapprehension that acknowledging your mistakes forgives them; sometimes, it just highlights them.
We’re seeing a lot of obscure British films re-released at the moment. In the case of movies such as ‘The Terrornauts,’ it’s a reminder of the Darwinian nature of art: we remember the good movies and forget the bad. Amicus made some cracking horror films. Let’s watch those instead.
The Terrornauts is available on DVD now
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