Revered for its portmanteau films, Amicus Productions seemed just as interested in science fiction during its early years in the mid-1960s… with mixed to mostly negative success. Dr. Who & the Daleks (1965) was a big hit in the UK, but not in the United States where the popular British character and series were unknown. It’s sequel, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966) was a hit in neither place. Already establishing its legacy with Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) and Torture Garden (1967), Amicus nevertheless gave sci-fi a final effort with the 1967 double-bill: The Terrornauts and They Came from Outer Space.
In the book, “Amicus the Friendly Face of Fear,” author Allan Bryce says:
Not surprisingly in the year that first saw the release of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, both films disappeared from cinemas pretty quickly and Amicus just as swiftly abandoned its brief flirtation with space opera.
While I can’t recommend you hurry to locate and watch They Came from Outer Space, I don’t think it’s an awful movie. Its biggest flaw at the time may have been the fact that it was old-fashioned when compared to the evolution of science fiction in film. Now, though, we don’t have that roadblock; we can pretend it was made a decade earlier when sci-fi was silly, fun, and often produced on a shoestring budget. According to Bryce, director Freddie Francis complained that Amicus “used up most of the money on The Terrornauts, so we had no money to spend to give They Came from Beyond Space any style.”
Bryce says that Francis was not entirely correct in his assessment:
The Terrornauts cost 80,000 pounds and They Came from Beyond Space was budgeted at 120,000 pounds.
Considering we’ve all seen miracles performed with low budgets, I’m not sure it really matters here. There are probably techniques Francis could have used to give the movie more style. Instead, we get a lot of 1960’s style. That is to say, we hear a hip, “modern” soundtrack (by James Stevens) and experience minor whiplash from some trombone zooms. Most noticeable, when someone is zapped with an immobilizing ray gun, we see a colorful spiral rotating on the screen. These effects were better utilized at about the same time by Byron Haskin in producer George Pal’s The Power (1968).
One-half of the Amicus team, Milton Subotsky, who wrote the script based on the novel, “The Gods Hates Kansas,” by Joseph Millard, suggested another reason for its failure:
It was a good science-fiction film that lacked only one ingredient for box office success – a star. We tried to get a slightly larger budget, but couldn’t. The result was a good film with no names – and box office failure.