Friday, 5 December 2014

Invasion (1966)

Invasion is a low-budget 1966 British science fiction film made at Merton Park Studios, where countless low-budget British films were made in the 50s and early 60s. Low-key is the term that most completely describes Invasion - low-key in the best sense of the term.

A very small object is picked up by a British military radar operator. The object is much too small to be an aircraft. At about the same time every piece of electrical equipment in the vicinity experienced a momentary failure. Major Muncaster (Barrie Ingham) has his men out scouring the area for the mystery object. What they find is rather puzzling - scorch marks that seem to have been left by a much larger object. And very definite traces of radioactivity.

On the same night Lawrence Blackburn (Anthony Sharp) and his mistress are motoring through the countryside when they accidentally hit a young man. The man is very strangely dressed but they assume he must have been returning home from a fancy dress party. The mysterious man (played by Ric Young) does not seem to be too badly injured but Blackburn races him off to the local hospital.

The doctor on duty in the casualty department, Dr Vernon (Edward Judd), notices a couple of odd things about the young man. He seems to have a rather strange reaction to temperature. He orders a routine blood test and that’s when things really start to get puzzling. Neither Dr Vernon nor his colleague Dr Clair Harland (Valerie Gearon) have ever seen blood like this before. So strange is the blood that, absurd as it may seem, they are convinced it cannot possibly be human blood. The results of the X-rays taken at the same time are just as startling. 

The only possible conclusion is that the young man is not human. They accept this conclusion with typical English sang-froid. But what do you do when a man who is not human arrives in your hospital.

Major Muncaster has meanwhile turned up at the hospital but he doesn’t really know what to do either. The obvious step is to refer the matter to higher authorities but unfortunately all the outside telephone lines are dead. Consultant surgeon Brian Carter decides to refer the matter to the local MP but when he tries to leave the hospital it becomes clear, in rather spectacular fashion, that no-one is going to be leaving the hospital that night.

Even more worrying is the fact that it’s getting hotter. Much hotter. Opening the windows doesn’t help - it’s just as hot outside. And the temperature keeps rising.

An interview with the mystery patient does not exactly clarify things. He certainly admits to being an alien. The rest of his story sounds reasonably convincing but of course no-one is in a position to know whether the alien can be trusted or not.

He is not the only alien either. There are several others. Two of the aliens were apparently prisoners being escorted to a penal planet. The problem is, which of the aliens are the bad guys and which are the good guys? Needles to say they all claim to be the good guys.

The ambiguity of the situation is maintained quite effectively and it is the core of the story. 

The threat posed by the aliens is somewhat ambiguous as well. The big advantage of this story is that it requires virtually no special effects, making it ideal subject matter for a low-budget science fiction film. The movie relies instead on suspense, ambiguity and atmosphere and it achieves these qualities fairly successfully.

The aliens are all played by Asian actors, most notably French-born Japanese actress Yôko Tani. 

Edward Judd makes a fine English hero, dealing with an extraordinary situation in a matter-of-fact way. He gets good support from Valerie Gearon.

Invasion was written by noted British TV writer Roger Marshall from a story by Robert Holmes (who went on to write many classic Doctor Who adventures). Director Alan Bridges handles matters efficiently enough and he keeps the story moving, a vital factor with a story that contains very little action. The ending is satisfactory enough and it’s in keeping with the tone of the film but it could have used a bit more suspense and a bit more energy. 

Network’s Region 2 DVD release has no notable extras but it’s a decent anamorphic transfer.

Invasion is a science fiction movie that makes a virtue out of its very English quality of understatement. It’s a reasonably interesting slightly offbeat story and it works pretty well. Recommended.

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