The Movie Waffler Re-Release Review - DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS | The Movie Waffler

Re-Release Review - DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS

Devil Girl from Mars review
The guests at a Scottish inn are held captive by a Martian woman.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: David MacDonald

Starring: Patricia Laffan, Hugh McDermott, Hazel Court, Peter Reynolds, Adrienne Corri

Devil Girl from Mars bluray

A popular dramatic conceit in the early decades of the talkies was to have a bunch of strangers held hostage in a single location by a dangerous criminal. It meant that money that might otherwise be squandered traipsing around various locations could instead be spent on star power, and it gave us gems like The Petrified Forest and Key Largo. For b-movie producers it was a no-brainer that allowed them to exploit studio space, often knocking out an extra film at the end of a larger shoot. That was the case with 1954's Devil Girl from Mars, which was rushed into production to avail of a three week block of rented studio space at Shepperton that became available when the production of Calling Scotland Yard wrapped up ahead of schedule.

Director David MacDonald's film sticks close to the established format. It features a group of strangers stuck in a remote Scottish inn with an escaped convict. The twist here is that the threat isn't posed by the convict, who claims he's innocent of the charge of killing his wife, but rather guessed it, a devil girl from Mars.

Devil Girl from Mars review

The titular villain is something of an enduring icon in the world of British sci-fi. Played with malevolent relish by Patricia Laffan, Nyah sports a black PVC outfit that likely would have stirred up recent memories of Nazis in its 1954 audience, and which now looks like a precursor of Vivienne Westwood's '70s punk wardrobes.

Headed for London in search of studs to repopulate her planet after all the native Martian men were wiped out in a war of the sexes, Nyah crashlands in the Scottish moors, just outside an inn.

Assembled inside are the innkeepers, Mr and Mrs Jamieson (John Laurie and Sophie Stewart); their lovelorn barmaid (Adrienne Corri) and her escaped convict lover (Peter Reynolds); a heartbroken model (Hazel Court); an Irish scientist (Joseph Tomelty); and the obligatory big wooden American lug, a newspaper man played by Hugh McDermott, actually a Scottish actor whose performance is as stiff as the drinks he constantly knocks back.

Devil Girl from Mars review

Movies of this sort often see a lot of bickering between the hostages as to how they should deal with their predicament, but everyone here is collectively focussed on defeating Nyah. It's no easy task, as she readily demonstrates her powers by evaporating a handyman ("a worthless specimen"), erecting an invisible force field around the inn and having her robot henchman Chani commit acts of vandalism against any structures that get in his way. Chani is a cheap knockoff of Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still and walks with the clunkiness of a pensioner negotiating their driveway on an icy morning.

Devil Girl from Mars was released the same year as the American sci-fi b-movie Target Earth, which boasts an almost identical setup, albeit its action playing out in a cocktail lounge rather than a Highland inn. The two movies demonstrate the cultural differences that still existed between the US and UK at that point. The histrionics of Target Earth are countered here by classic British stoicism, represented chiefly by Mrs Jamieson, who hilariously declares "If we've only got hours to live we might as well have a cup of tea." The movie's portrayal of relationships is very much of its time, with Court's model declaring her undying love for McDermott's hack within an hour of first meeting the big lug. The presence of John Laurie gives the film the feel of a Dad's Army episode in parts.

Devil Girl from Mars review

The movie is conversely also quite ahead of its time in some aspects, none more so than the kinkiness of Nyah's outfit, which looks like the version of Darth Vader you might find in a porn parody. There are moments where Laffan swishes her cloak in aggravation that make you wonder if George Lucas might have been a fan. Laffan plays the part with the displeased demeanour of a substitute teacher lumbered with a classroom full of idiot kids, and Nyah's humble-bragging over her race's superiority over humans is like a dry run for Leonard Nimoy's Spock. What an effect Laffan must have had on young budding feminists at the time, not to mention their sweaty-palmed boyfriends.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Devil Girl from Mars is the effect of Nyah's exploding spaceship that ends the film. Eschewing the usual balls of fire of the era, SFX director Jack Whitehead instead delivers an ever-growing plume of smoke which viewed today, bears an eerie resemblance to the footage of the Challenger shuttle explosion.

Devil Girl from Mars
 is on UK bluray, DVD and VOD from January 15th.