‘The fantastic night of terror that menaced the fate of the world!’
Devil Girl from Mars is a 1954 British science-fiction film directed by David MacDonald from a screenplay by James Eastwood and John C. Maher. It was produced by Edward J. Danziger and Harry Lee Danziger. The movie stars Patricia Laffan, Hugh McDermott, Adrienne Corri, and Hazel Court.
Nyah (Patricia Laffan), a female alien commander from Mars, heads for London in her flying saucer. She is part of the advanced alien team that is looking for Earthmen to replace the dying male population on her world.
Because of damage to her saucer, caused by entering Earth’s atmosphere and then colliding with an aircraft, Nyah is forced to land her damaged flying saucer in the remote Scottish moors, near a local village. She is armed with a raygun that can paralyze or kill, and she also has a tall, menacing robot named Chani…
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A pioneering slice of British science fiction from 1954 – before Hammer’s Quatermass Xperiment opened the floodgates for the genre – Devil Girl from Mars is something of a curiosity. Too well directed by directed by David MacDonald to be hilarious but too trashy to take seriously, it’s an odd – and very British – take on the genre.
The film takes place entirely within a Scottish highlands inn out in the middle of nowhere, making it also a pioneer in the ‘British movies set in a pub’ sub-genre. The first half of the film introduces the characters – there’s inn owners Mr and Mrs Jamieson (John Laurie and Sophie Stewart) who have the sort of ‘hen-pecked husband / no-nonsense wife’ relationship so beloved in British culture, mysterious and well dressed Ellen Prestwick (Hazel Court), irritating child Tommy (Anthony Richmond) and barmaid Doris (Adrienne Corri), who has moved to Scotland to be close to ex-boyfriend Robert (Peter Reynolds), who is in prison after killing his wife.
It just so happens that Robert has escaped, and he turns up at the inn to hide out, employed by the Jamieson’s as a handyman. Unfortunately for him, Professor Arnold Hennessey (Joseph Tomelty) and reporter Michael Carter (Hugh McDermott) also turn up, having gotten lost while travelling to investigate claims of a crashed meteor, and Carter immediately recognises him. But before this revelation can go anywhere, events are interrupted by the arrival of a spaceship, carrying Martian Devil Girl Nyah (Patricia Laffan).
She’s quite the sight in her fetish wear cape and mini dress, black stockinged and booted legs, and when she announces that she has come to take men back to Mars for the purpose of breeding (the Martian men having been rendered useless for procreating after a war between men and women), you’d think there would be no shortage of volunteers. But thanks to a miscalculation, rather than landing in London, she’s arrived at a near-empty pub where half the men seem to be pensioners and everyone seems more interested in having a cup of tea.
Nyah does her best to convince them she means business – her ray gun disintegrates trees and tractors, and when she rolls out robot Chani – for no obvious reason, given that he does very little – everyone is amazed, including the audience who will probably fall off their chairs laughing at this extraordinarily clunky machine – imagine Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still made from toilet rolls and sticky-backed plastic. Seeing she means business, the men cut cards to see who will have to sacrifice his stiff upper lip and travel to Mars to be used as a breeding tool – though their cunning plan is for whoever takes the trip to sabotage the ship and destroy it.
Devil Girl from Mars is nevertheless better than you might expect – though if this is a good thing or not is debatable. Certainly, in the pre-Martian part of the film, things plod when they ought to gallop, with characters introduced slowly and events spelled out by a radio announcer (saving on additional shooting to show the meteor and letting us know who is who before they are even seen on screen).
The film’s origins as a stage play are all too obvious. However, the performances are better than you’d expect in such a film – old fans and future talents like Laurie, Hammer star Court and Corri ensure that the film never slides into high camp. Of course, the characters are fairly weak – McDermott in particular seems so horrible and arrogant and has such an annoying transatlantic accent that the idea of Court falling for him within a couple of hours seems even more ridiculous than it otherwise would.
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The arrival of the Devil Girl livens things up considerably of course. Laffan gives a haughty performances that is perfect for her space-dom character and plays the whole thing as if it is high-art. These moments of quality ensure that the film never becomes a hilarious Bad Movie, which is a pity, because it has all the right elements – but stubbornly refusing to play along, Devil Girl from Mars is simply too solid a film to ever work as a Good Bad Film, the high-camp of Nyah’s costume and her clunky robot assistant aside.
Still, that’s not to say you won’t get a lot of pleasure from the movie. There is much fun to be had here, not all of it intentional, and it’s better – certainly more memorable – than a lot of 1950s American sci-fi.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
“Obviously, the striking Patricia Laffan as Nyah steals all her scenes, mainly due to her ahead-of-its-time black leather mini-skirt and long legs. She doesn’t have to overplay her lines, because they’re already pretty silly. The film doesn’t out stay its welcome, if you like fifties sci-fi and you’re forewarned about the tiny ‘pub invasion’ scenario, this shouldn’t disappoint.” Black Hole Reviews
“There is way too much talk in this flick, and what little action it contains is far too enclosed for the movie’s good […] Even with a Martian S&M queen running around zapping people with rayguns and siccing the galaxy’s shittiest robot on sheds and trees and shrubberies, there are long stretches of this movie that are soul-suckingly dull.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
“hilariously solemn, high camp British imitation of U. S. cheapies” Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide
“Devil Girl from Mars is not without its charms: Nyah’s bright black get-up, complete with a glossy helmet, is certainly an attention-grabber, and her robot sidekick is so phenomenally goofy that I couldn’t help but admire it […] But as far as entertainment value goes, Devil Girl from Mars relies a little too heavily on the spoken word to generate any real excitement.” 2,500 Movies Challenge
” …rather set bound and high on talk and corny melodrama. Keeping the whole thing mildly amusing is Laffan, who’s pretty hilarious as the bitchy, humorless, short-skirted alien who seems to take great pleasure in tormenting the humans […] Dated special effects (thought not too horribly bad for the time) and some laughable lines (one of the hysterical females notes “I’m scared! Nothing like this has ever happened to me before!”) are good for assorted chuckles throughout.” The Bloody Pit of Horror
“Leave it to the British, the only people more sexually repressed than Americans, to make a movie about a creature from Mars seeking to mate with earthlings that’s less sexy than a science lecture on the periodic table of elements. Throw in acting below the standards of rural community theatre, plus “Martian” props and costumes already outdated when they were created in 1954, and you have all the ingredients of Devil Girl from Mars…” John Wilson, The Official Razzie Movie Guide
“Settings, dialogue, characterisation and special effects are of a low order, but even their modest unreality has its charm. There is really no fault in this film that one would like to see eliminated. Everything, in its way, is quite perfect. This primitive effort at science fiction is quite enjoyably ludicrous.” Monthly Film Bulletin, 1954
“Strip-cartoon hokum with more emphasis on the hackneyed goings-on among the humans in an isolated Scottish hotel than the doings of its extraterrestrial visitor: silly enough to be enjoyable.” Alan Frank, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982
“It’s not every day we have a distinguished professor from London, a writer for the newspapers and a right purdy lady staying here, so drinks on the house!”
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Cast and characters:
- Patricia Laffan as Nyah, the Devil Girl
- Hugh McDermott as Michael Carter
- Hazel Court as Ellen Prestwick
- Peter Reynolds as Robert Justin/Albert Simpson
- Adrienne Corri as Doris
- Joseph Tomelty as Professor Arnold Hennessey
- John Laurie as Mr Jamieson
- Sophie Stewart as Mrs Jamieson
In the UK, the film was released by British Lion Films.