Amicus Productions was one of a number of companies that jumped on board the gothic horror bandwagon that Hammer Films had set rolling in the late 50s. During the 1960s Amicus made some pretty reasonable movies within that genre. Like Hammer they also tried their hands at other genres such as science fiction. Their 1967 release The Terrornauts was one of their science fiction efforts. It’s rather more interesting than its reputation might suggest.
The Terrornauts was scripted by noted science fiction author John Brunner, based on a 1960 novel by Murray Leinster.
Dr Joe Burke (Simon Oates) is an astrophysicist heading up Project Star Talk. The idea is to scan the heavens for messages from alien civilisations, using a radio telescope. As a boy Burke had had an odd experience while on a field trip with his archaeologist father. His father had found a very strange object and the object triggered a vivid dream. Burke has never been able to forget this dream, or his conviction that it was some kind of message from the stars. This dream led him to pursue a scientific career and eventually led him to establish Project Star Talk.
Just as his funding is about to be cut off Burke and his colleague, Ben Keller (Stanley Meadows), finally pick up something that seems promising. It might be a message. They do the obvious thing - they reply to the message. They get a much more spectacular result that they had expected - a spaceship arrives and carries them off to an asteroid!
In fact it carries off the whole building in which the project is housed, along with the two scientists, their assistant Sandy Lund (Zena Marshall), the project’s accountant Joshua Yellowlees (Charles Hawtrey) and the tea lady.
Dr Burke had hoped to make contact with an extra-terrestrial civilisation. And he does, after a fashion. In fact it could be said that he makes contact of a sort with more than one alien civilisation. He also discovers that aliens can be hostile and deadly but that this is not always the case.
The special effects are very cheesy, but cheesy special effects do not necessarily equate with cheesy ideas.
And while the special effects are undeniably crude it has to be said that within the constraints of what was clearly an ultra low budget they do show some imagination. They’re cheap but they’re fun. The space battle (yes there’s a space battle) is very cheesy indeed. There is also however the obligatory friendly robot.
You might be wandering about the virgin sacrifices to the gods of a ghastly galaxy promised by the tagline. Does it deliver on this count? The answer is a qualified yes although I wouldn’t get too excited by this aspect.
Simon Oates, Stanley Meadows and Zena Marshall are all quite competent in roles that are not, to be honest, overly demanding. Max Adrian enjoys himself as the director of the radio telescope establishment who regards Project Star Talk as a ridiculous waste of money.
The presence of Charles Hawtrey in the cast is a clear indication that this movie was not intended to be taken all that seriously. Don’t be put off by this. Hawtrey does provide the expected comic relief (and being Charles Hawtrey does it fairly well) but then does not mean the movie is a spoof or an out-and-out comedy. It has some whimsical touches certainly but it also has some reasonably decent science fictional ideas.
Network DVD’s ridiculously cheap Region 2 DVD release offers two different cuts of the film. There’s the shortened re-release version which looks extremely good and there’s also the slightly longer original theatrical release with slightly lesser (although still quite acceptable) image quality.
Perhaps The Terrornauts would have benefited from a bit less in the way of comic relief. It would certainly have benefited from having a lot more money spent on it. But then again part of its charm is its cheerful cheapness and the plot might not have been quite sufficient to justify a huge budget anyway. As it stands it’s amusing and fairy entertaining and in general it’s good slightly silly fun with one or two decent ideas thrown in.