Director: Montgomery Tully
Screenplay: John Bruner
Starring: Simon Oates, Zena Marshall, Charles Hawtrey, Patricia Hayes, Max Adrian
Running Time: 58 or 74 mins
BBFC Classification: PG
Doomwatch star, Simon Oates, stars in this enjoyable slice of British sci-fi from the late sixties, a time when having no budget for special effects didn’t put us Brits off from having a go at producing some home-grown goofy science fiction, replete with cardboard sets, terribly staged space battles and matte paintings of space stations with dual moons rising above them. The Terrornauts has all of these and much more to warm the cockles of a B-movie connoisseur’s heart.
Adapted by Hugo Award winner John Brunner from Murray Leinster’s novel, The Wailing Asteroid, The Terrornauts starts in a rather sedate fashion following the tribulations of a research team at a British observatory that are using a radio telescope to try and contact other forms of intelligent life across the universe, assuming, of course, that there are some! Their grant is running out and the senior scientist on site (Dr Shaw) wants rid of Dr Joe Burke (Oates) and his team so he can have more space to perform proper research – cue lots of snide remarks and political backstabbing.
On almost the last day of their tenure at the observatory the team pick up what appears to be a regularly repeated, but faint signal, similar to one Burke recognises from some vivid dreams he’d had as a kid. They respond to the signal with one of their own and before you can say ‘holy cow, that’s the dodgiest looking robot I’ve ever seen’, a rather flimsy robot in a space station on an asteroid millions and millions of miles away sends a space ship to Earth to collect the research team and bring them back to the space station. The space ship literally picks the whole building up with everyone on the team inside (plus a visiting accountant and the tea lady, played by Carry-On regular Charles Hawtrey and Brit film stalwart, Patricia Hayes, respectively), protecting them all from the effects of space travel by surrounding them in some sort of force field, which also, rather conveniently, supplies an atmosphere.
On arrival at the space station they discover the originator of the warning signal is long dead and only the hilarious robot is left to guide them around the facility. Without giving any more away I’ll just say that The Terrornauts’ main twist is an interesting one, which gives rise to lots of groovy sixties sci-fi effects shots, with a range of sub-Thunderbirds models being moved around a lot whilst hanging off wires, or being blown up; all very endearing in a low-tech, Clangers kind of way.
Overall The Terrornauts is a fun low budget science fiction film production from Amicus, the main rivals to Hammer, at the time, for genre films. There’s some cool Twilight Zone styled music, which nicely supports the other-worldly visuals, some reasonable performances from a game cast and some amusing lines, especially from Hawtrey who tries to persuade the research team not to send their signal out ‘because they might turn out to be monsters or have tentacles; it might be dangerous to draw attention to ourselves!’ He’s actually got a point! Patricia Hayes, playing Mrs Jones, the tea lady, says at one point, when offered the chance to experience some alien culture: ‘I don’t want to wear that reading device on my head – it’s not long since I had a perm!’
The film is entertaining in a kind of Gerry (Thunderbirds) Anderson sort of way and, at times, it made me think of the TV series The Outer Limits. Sadly the film is let down by it’s all too obvious meagre budget, but it is still quite charming nevertheless. I’d certainly recommend it to fans of British sci-fi.
The Terrornauts has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing who are, to their credit, currently releasing lots of these rarer British film titles. If you’re listening Network, please bring out Don Sharp’s Witchcraft (1964), Val Guest’s Jigsaw (1962), Michael Apted’s The Squeeze and David Kent-Watson’s G.B.H to name but a few British films that should get a rerelease.
The extras on the disc were a theatrical trailer, which is a bit scratchy, a gallery of posters and lobby cards (about 20 of them) and probably, most significantly, another version of the film, this time the longer 74 minute cut. It did make me wonder why they remastered the shorter (58 minute) version and not this longer cut.
The differences between the two versions aren’t really all that many, but the longer version is definitely the one to watch, if you have the time. There’s a bit more in the way of an explanation for the robot, there’s an encounter with a weird crustacean type of being, more daft dialogue involving the cleaner (‘I never did think much of foreign parts!’) and it just generally explains things better, including what the little black boxes in the space station are for. I’m still not sure what the plastic funnels that fit into the boxes were doing though. Talking of cheap props!
Reviewer: Justin Richards
* Please note – the images included in this review are not from the DVD released by Network.