July 10, 2013

INVASION (1965) - the prototype for Spearhead From Space

 

INVASION
(1965, UK)

A Doctor Who story - without Doctor Who!

If you liked The Earth Dies Screaming or Night of the Big Heat, with their minimal alien invasions and earnest British reactions, this is for you. A far less well known entry into the genre, not seen on home video since VHS (above). The story parallels and predates the first Jon Pertwee Doctor Who adventure...

A series of minor electrical malfunctions are shrugged off around the edge of town in south-east England. But an Army tracking station thinks an unidentified rocket has crash-landed in the woods. Then a couple driving home from a party hit someone walking in the middle of the road, and wearing a strange, silver, rubber suit...

Even the lowest-budget British sci-fi from the 1960s is graced with solid acting and tight monochrome cinematography. The night time exteriors of Invasion have extra punch for not being faked with day-for-night filming.
 
The Frank Chickens started out as a garage band... 
The limited special effects are functional, mostly propped up by stock footage and only used where absolutely necessary. To compensate, the cast all play this 'first contact' scenario for real, though they snap into the extraordinary concept rather quickly!

Like an underwritten episode of the original Outer Limits, the situation quickly grips and draws you into the story. Every actor is on form and every character counts. Even the radar operator who tracks the UFO. Usually a thankless one-line role, but here someone with messy habits, a trashy taste in pulp fiction and a lax attitude to his commanding officer. He even thinks the blip on his screen might be an off-schedule car ferry!

Barrie Ingham and Glyn Houston puzzle over a strange rocket 

Meanwhile, the (gasp) unmarried couple run over a stranger with their car. The argument over whether they should leave him to die is chillingly real. This isn't a children's film, and there are several more plot-driven shock moments.
This is one of leading man Edward Judd's run of sci-fi adventures. He previously looked hot and sweaty in The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961, reviewed here). He also fought aliens in Island of Terror (1966), and the awesome Ray Harryhausen version of H.G. Wells' First Men in The Moon (1964). His moments of tenderness aren't nearly as convincing as his take charge, 'I know what I'm doing - I'll sort this out right now' attitude.



Valerie Gearon plays a blood specialist at the same hospital, where the wounded stranger is taken. In her first scene, she's allowed the time to show that her character really doesn't want to stir from a place by the fire to rush to an emergency at work. 

Also nice to see Barrie Ingham without his silver Thal wig, as seen in Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965). Here he's an Army man caught up in a potentially dangerous threat from outer space.



The aliens are played by South East Asian actors, like Yoko Tani (above). I wonder why?

This was the first feature film directed by Alan Bridges, who later made The Shooting Party (1985) and an aborted 1987 version of Stephen King's Apt Pupil, that would have starred with Ricky Shroder.

According to 'Doctor Who - The Seventies' (published in 1994), writer Robert Holmes recycled the core elements of his script for Invasion when he wrote the Doctor Who story 'Spearhead From Space' (1970). Specifically an injured alien (The Doctor) being analysed by medical doctors at a remote hospital. Gosh.

But while most Anglo Amalgamated movies of this period have made it to DVD, I last saw Invasion on late night TV. It was on VHS in the UK, but has never on DVD. I wonder if Network DVD have this in their vaults...

The BFI website has a few clips and more production stills from Invasion.



Invasion is one of the films made at the long defunct suburban Merton Park Studios, where Horrors of the Black Museum and Konga were filmed. More of the low budget Merton Park horrific mayhem is listed here.




 

13 comments:

  1. It's curious that this hasn't been released considering the DOCTOR WHO connection you have highlighted, which I have to admit I was oblivious to, but then maybe only a few Whovians are even aware of this. Maybe your post will ring a bell in the head of someone who can make a DVD a reality.

    Actually it wasn't until I just checked the IMDb that I realised that Robert Holmes hadn't 'ripped off' INVASION for his WHO tale but that actually wrote the original story. Maybe I didn't read your post carefully enough.

    Like your good self, I haven't see this since a TV viewing (afternoon, C4, I think) many many moons ago. I seem to recall thinking it wasn't as good as I'd hoped...maybe I was expecting another DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE, since Halliwell in his film guide gave it a generous 2 stars.

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    1. It was released on Region 2 DVD in 2014, as part of Network's 'British Film' series, and is included in the company's current sale (£4.19 instead of the usual £6.98). Sale ends 7 December. NB: Network has an odd p&p policy, levying a £3.60 charge if you exceed a certain weight, but it's free if you split the order up.

      News & reviews: http://www.roseofeibon.co.uk/

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  2. You're right, Miles, I've not been clear enough that Holmes wrote both. I'll amend it.

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  3. teddy crescendo11 July, 2013 17:45

    "Invasion", "Night of the Big Heat", and "The Day the Earth Caught Fire" weren`t really very good films but they were perfect late night entertainment on Friday or Saturday nights on Channel 4 back in the mid-90`s, and i`d also still take them over any of the garbage produced by the British film industry now, anyday ! ! !.

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  4. steve prefontaine11 July, 2013 23:38

    I just saw on IMDB that Yoko Tani was 37 in 1965, i thought she was only about 24, she snuffed it 14 years ago in 1999 at the age of 70, shame.

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  5. Where do you know Yoko Tani from? I only know her from this!

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  6. steve prefontaine12 July, 2013 19:22

    Just Google Yoko Tani and you`ll find a surprising amount of information about her including the other films she appeared in and interveiws on YouTube.

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  7. I can't believe someone wrote that THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE isn't "really very good."
    The mix of sci-fi elements with the realist aesthetic prevalent in a lot of great British genre films has never been bettered.

    Yoko Tani's career peaked in 1960. FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS/DER SCHWEIGENDE STERN, THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS and PICCADILLY THIRD STOP.

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  8. I agree with Miles - DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE is a superb film, very underrated.

    INVASION is pretty decent as well. But, I haven't seen it since the 'Creature Feature' days on TV back in the 80s. I did always find the casting of cute asian women as the "aliens" to be more than a tad racist, however. But, they were cute!

    Tani was in the SF film FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS, and such Hollywood productions as THE QUIET AMERICANS and SAVAGE INNOCENTS.

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  9. Yoko Tani.. born in France of Japanese parents.. is hardly "South East Asian"

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    1. I'm sorry, I was going by her Japanese name rather than a biography. But the use of two actresses who look Japanese struck me as an unusual idea to represent extraterrestrials in an English movie.

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    2. Don't want to be "that person", but Holmes later went on to write "Talons of Weng-Chiang", a Doctor Who that is usually noted for its, erm, less than stellar portrayal of the Chinese (and then there was his aborted 80s Doctor Who script "Yellow Fever and How to Cure It" set in Singapore.)

      Well he had been a soldier in Colonial Burma...

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