Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Night Caller (1965)

The Night Caller (1965)John Gilling had a busy career in the British film industry in the 1950 writing and directing mostly crime films. At the beginning of the 60s he switched to horror and science fiction. He directed quite a few films for Hammer, including a couple of their best (The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies). And in 1965, for a small independent production company, he made The Night Caller (AKA The Night Caller from Outer Space AKA Bloodbeast from Outer Space).

It’s an object lesson in how to make a science fiction movie on a very low budget with minimal special effects.

A meteor is picked up on radar, heading for London. At least the boffins at the government research station at Fansley Park think it’s a meteor, until it suddenly changes course. Something meteors are not noted for doing. They speed off to the spot where the supposed meteor came down (and these are fairly cool scientists since they head there in a rather nice little MGB sports car). They find that the army is already there, in force.

From the size of the meteor they’re expecting a large crater but there’s no crater at all, just a small crystalline globe resting on the ground. This is clearly no meteor. But what is it?

The Night Caller (1965)

They X-ray the globe and discover it’s a thin silicon shell encasing a network of crystal filaments. The globe doesn’t actually do anything, or not at first anyway. But later that night one of the researchers, Miss Barlow (Patricia Haines), has a strange experience. She has a severe headache and reports seeing a strong glow coming from the room in which the sphere is stored. Even more disturbingly she reports being grabbed by a claw-like arm.

The facility is heavily guarded by troops and no-one saw anyone enter or leave the room so the major in charge is inclined to dismiss her story as mere nerves. Although as one of the other scientists remarks next morning that seems strange since she is most definitely not the nervous type.

The Night Caller (1965)

The chief scientist, Dr Morley (Maurice Denham), locks himself in the room with the sphere. This has even more spectacular, and even more unpleasant, results. And when the soldiers break into the room the globe has gone.

Then all hell breaks loose when Dr Morley’s assistant, Dr Costain (John Saxon), breaks the story to the press. And it’s quite a story. In the three weeks since the sphere arrived no less than twenty-one young women have disappeared and Dr Costain is convinced that their disappearances are linked to the mysterious sphere. Detective-Superintendent Hartley from Scotland Yard (Alfred Burke) is called in to investigate the disappearances.

The Night Caller (1965)

Hartley soon uncovers a clue. All the girls had answered an advertisement in Bikini Girl magazine. The advertisement promises film and television work for attractive young women and more than two hundred girls replied. The magazine can only tell him that the ad was placed by a man named Medra. Medra was also the name of a man who called at the house of one of the young women the day before she vanished.

The place set a trap but it misfires badly and Medra escapes. It is becoming clear that Dr Costain is right - this Medra is no ordinary man. And observation of radio signals from one of the moons of Jupiter, Ganymede, suggests that the source of both the sphere and of Medra is in fact Ganymede.

The Night Caller (1965)

But what do the inhabitants of Ganymede want from Earth? The answer to that question is fairly clear - they want women! But why?

This whole story could easily have been very silly indeed (and there are in fact moments of deliberate humour) but in general it’s played fairly straight. The movie gets away with this largely because of the quality of the cast. Alfred Burke (a wonderful character actor on the verge of TV stardom with the terrific private eye series Public Eye) is the standout but he gets fine support from the other principal actors and there are some great cameos by excellent actors like Warren Mitchell.

Director John Gilling doesn’t let the pace falter and the movie has (considering the plot’s camp potential) some unexpectedly dark moments.

The Night Caller (1965)

Image Entertainment’s DVD release has little in the way of extras but it’s a very nice transfer that does full justice to the very good black-and-white cinematography.

This is a fun movie with some nicely atmospheric moments. There’s a nicely seedy and slightly sleazy feel to the scenes set in Soho. Overall it’s considerably better than the plot synopsis might suggest and it’s worth a look. Recommended.

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