DIRECTOR: JOHN BULL. RUNNING TIME: 87 mins. DVD: BULLDOG BREED. PRICE: £12.99. CERT: 18.
A long forgotten film, condemned on its release and thought lost for many years, 1968’s They Came From Beyond England has recently resurfaced on DVD. An appalling piece of racism in which equates immigration with alien invasion, it sees illegal immigrants from Africa and the Indian sub continent parachute into the Home Counties and take over a large swathe of Surrey, using voodoo to control the minds of various white officials. It was roundly condemned by critics on its initial release. Not surprisingly, it’s reappearance has sparked a new wave of revulsion. The film’s overt racism shouldn’t really be surprising, not only was it made against the background of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, but it was also derived from the notorious pulp science fiction potboiler, Black Moon by Joe Crowe, originally published in the 1950s. Obviously, being a British movie made on a low budget, the action is moved to then contemporary Surrey, but otherwise shows its US pulp roots, with its scientist protagonist, ‘alien’ invaders in disguise (some of the invaders ‘white up’ to try and decieve locals), deadly plagues, secret moonbases and ‘alien’ possession of human bodies. Indeed, They Came From Beyond England packs a lot into just under ninety minutes. Unfortunately, most of it is utterly reprehensible. Moreover, from a cinematic perspective, there is just too much going and too much convoluted plotting for the viewer to properly assimilate, making some plot developments seem random and arbitrary.
Performed by a cast of unknowns, (all of them white, some wearing black face to portray the invaders – then ‘whiting’ up again to portray those in disguise), and bankrolled by a cabal of anti-immigration businessmen and Tory MPs, They Came From Beyond England has little to reccomend it beyond the fact that it is unintentionally hilarious in its ineptitude. The film opens with a mysterious meteor fall in Surrey and a bowler hatted government official (not John Steed) tries to pull together a team of top scientists to investigate. His top choice, middle aged American radio astronomer Tom White is blocked from joining the team by his doctor, who worries that he isn’t sufficiently recovered from a car accident which has left him with a silver plate in his skull. Inevitably, when the team of scientists – led by White’s assistants – investigate the meteors, they find that they are clearly containers which had been dropped by parachute. Although they are now empty, the scientists are taken over by mysterious ‘alien’ forces, their takeover being accompanied by the sound of voodoo drums. It quickly transpires that various key figures in the local area have also succumbed to ‘alien’ control – they then proceed to fence off a significant part of the countryside, the area protected by armed guards.
Naturally, White goes to investigate these goings on, finding that the plate in his skull protects him from the influence of the voodoo drums. The film then follows his repeated attempts to penetrate the sealed off area – which do become somewhat repetitive. Things are complicated by the outbreak of a deadly plague which kills only white people and the apparent collusion of the authorities with the ‘aliens’. He eventually enlists the aid of his friend Blonde – a character straight out of a forties science fiction pulp story: he conveniently has his own, well equipped, lab in his cottage. Having fabricated a bizarre looking helmet from his melted down cricket trophies, Blonde and White devise a way to identify who is possessed by the invaders (they have to wear bizarre goggles to do this) and a method of blocking the voodoo influence (which involves some kind of scientifically enhanced ear plugs). Aided by White’s female assistant – who they have freed from voodoo possession – they penetrate the alien stronghold, but find themselves reluctant passengers on a rocket carrying the frozen bodies of plague victims to the moon. The invaders claim that they have a deal with the authorities to safely dispose of the bodies on the moon. Except, of course, that the victims aren’t really dead and are being taken to the moon to be used as slave labour to mine precious metals which will then be sent back to black African nations on earth in order to increase their wealth.
At the moonbase the invaders plan to remove the plate from White’s skull so that they can take over mind and access his knowledge. (Although White’s female assistant suggests that are simply fascinated by shiny metallic objects). Blonde escapes and organises a revolt among the white slave labour, arriving in the operating theatre in the nick of time. There then follows the most insultingly racist (not to mention anti-climatic) denouement to a pulp science fiction film I’ve seen, with White making peace with the invaders by offering them a number of shiny trinkets, including mirrors and beads, which he had secreted upon his person earlier. The now mesmerised invaders are easily overpowered by the freed whites.
Directed by the pseudonymous ‘John Bull’, (long rumoured to be adult movie director and Tory supporter Rod Walloper), They Came From Beyond England was originally put out in 1968 on a double bill with another piece of low budget white supremacist propaganda,Spooks on the Rampage. This was quickly withdrawn from distribution after it became apparent that no major cinema chain would screen it. The film has an air of threadbare cheapness about it, though, with very variable miniature effects – the opening meteor fall is terrible, but the rocket launch is up to Gerry Anderson standards – ray guns which are obviously torches and cardboard moonbase sets. Few of the characters are particularly well formed, with too many of them rapidly coming and going to leave any lasting impression. All of which come down to a weak script which, disregarding its racism for a moment, leaves too many plot points vague (just how many people are under alien control, just when did the authorities start colluding with them and how far into government does the alien conspiracy extend, why didn’t the authorities move against the aliens as soon as they started annexing parts of Surrey – is the film implying that the then Labour government was conspiring with them?).
The film does score highly in the way it contrasts the mundane and realistic looking sixties settings with the bizarre events unfolding within in them. The film only really comes apart when these settings are abandoned altogether in the final act. The sudden tumble into the full on fantastic seems jarring and unconvincing. Clearly, those behind the DVD release of They Came From Beyond England hope that the current post-Brexit referendum atmosphere of reactionary anti immigrant sentiment in the UK (not to mention the similar sentiments invoked by President Trump in the US), has created a market sympathetic to the movie. Let’s hope that they are wrong.