The last time I saw this film was a morning viewing back in the 1980s. The DVD release announces it as a horror film when actually it is kitchen sink Science Fiction ie grounded in our reality albeit in the 60s. Quite why they have supporting actor Allan Cuthbertson on the cover as a selling point beats me nor to that the odd casting order because essentially Patrick Allen is the lead. It isn’t as though they couldn’t rely on the original poster for either it’s release here or in the States under the name of ‘Thin Air’.
When two different sets of parachutists vanish in mid-jump, the ministry man Hindesmith (actor Allan Cutherbertson) orders the military General Armstrong (actor George Sanders) and the parachute designer Jim Radford (actor Neil Connery) to get an investigator and they get a womaniser, Bob Megan (actor Patrick Allen) on the case who initially doesn’t think anything mysterious is going on. While he gets things in motion, he looks over one of the original landing sites and discovers a parachute buckle. That night at the beach hotel he encounters Lorna (actress Lorna Wilde), a mysterious woman who seemingly also vanishes unexpectedly. Megan does discover a common denominator that all eleven parachutists missing had been trained for space travel and wanted all jumps halted until he finds out what is going on. One parachutist does return but dies before revealing anything but the grounding order is given.
That night, out on the beach, Megan waits and the mysterious Lorna reappears with different intentions on her mind. Later, she flees when Radford photographs her. Even later, Doctor Julie Slade (actress Hilary Heath aka Hilary Dwyer) conducting the autopsy on the dead parachutist is attacked and tells Megan that the body and the parachutes, now missing, had been interfered with giving them a massive radioactive dose. Her boss, Doctor Matthews (actor Maurice Evans) has a far-fetched theory that the parachutist was being adapted for a different environment. Radford develops his photographs and finds they don’t contain Lorna. Clever trick that. A radioactive entity would have smoked the picture not act as a ghost.
Later, at the airfield, Lorna appears and tries to dissuade Megan from jumping to see if it would happen to him while he is wearing a protective suit. When Radford spots and gives chase he meets an unfortunate accident. Megan returns to Earth unconscious but fails to remember what went on when he nearly vanished. A silk scarf left by Lorna is similarly radioactive although Megan doesn’t reveal its ownership.
That night, Julie Slade goes looking for Matthews at his home and finds him dead and replaced with…ah! That would be telling. Megan finds Lorna at the beach and wants answers this time about how she knew about the jump and its dangers. After returning her scarf to her, Megan follows Lorna and discovers her otherwise unearthly origins and the reason the parachutists were kidnapped in mid-air. He also discovers the unconscious Julie Slade.
In many respects, this film idea was sold on the idea of vanishing parachutists as a means to catch the cinema pubic. Tigon Pictures did several films, of which this was the first on a low budget. Most people expected great things even though it was invariably an odd plot when thrown together.
For those paying attention, the hotel owner, Mrs. Thatcher (actress Shelagh Fraser) also played Luke Skywalker’s Aunt Beru in the first ‘Star Wars’ film.
The science goes a bit awkward in places, especially when it is dealing with radioactivity. For things like the parachute buckle, knowing it to be radioactive, no one takes into account their own contamination by it. Judging by how the Geiger counter acted, they probably all got a fatal dose which kinda defeats the aliens’ objective.
All very stiff upper lip Britishness about the entire proceedings. You would think that these aliens desperate for male stock would find a better way to capture to kidnap people to help restore their population. How could humans be sceptical if they saw a real starship land? Mind you, considering their starship looks like a large rotorless white helicopter, maybe they’re right. Some areas of the plot fall down. By playing it ordinary, it brings things down to earth (sic). In many ways, the alien motivation seems contradictory. I mean, once they have the parachutists and are conditioning them, why hang around? Lorna’s role also seems weird as she doesn’t appear to be anything other than a potential love interest for Megan. Speaking of whom, he seems to accept everything told him, even the murders as something that just happened. Can’t tell by whom or else you might suffer the same fate.
‘The Body Stealers’ is essential British B movie fodder. Back in its day, it would have been something to watch before the main feature and be grateful that you weren’t stuck watching a foreign life film that wouldn’t have kept your interest. I doubt if many people would have remembered these films in detail a week later. Well, except people like us. There weren’t many home-grown SF films in the 60s and watching it again now, I would think it would make ideal fodder for convention cat-calls warning the cast of the dangers they were in.
(multi-region DVD: Odeon ODNF323. 92 minute film with stills gallery. Price: £ (UK) if you know where to look)
cast: Patrick Allen, George Sanders, Maurice Evans and Neil Connery
check out website: www.odeonent.co.uk