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It the Terror from Beyond Space, 1958

From the DVD case: When his crew is brutally murdered on a Mars expedition, Commander Carruthers becomes the prime suspect. Taken into custody and facing a court-martial back on Earth, he discovers that the real killer – a grotesque, slithering monster – has stowed aboard the earthbound ship. But the indestructible creature has already begun a harrowing in-flight rampage, knocking off the members of the crew one by one. Now, as the spaceship heads home toward a panic-stricken Earth, the remaining crew must find some way to stop the unstoppable “It.” (1958, b&w)

Mark says: You may have heard this film hailed as the inspiration for 1979′s Alien, but you will be disappointed if you go into this movie expecting a prototype for the Ridley Scott classic. It! the Terror from Beyond Space more closely resembles 1951′s The Thing from Another World (Writer Jerome Bixby admits that The Thing was a key inspiration for his story). Unfortunately, the reality is that It! The Terror from Beyond Space is notably inferior to both productions.

It! has a simple but interesting premise. A seemingly indestructible beast stows aboard a spacecraft and kills crew members one at a time. The crew, completely isolated in space, have nothing to rely on but their own wits. With each attempt to kill the beast, they find themselves more desperate and increasingly cornered. By the film’s finale, the surviving crew are trapped at the very top compartment of the rocket as the monster crashes through the final barrier.

It the Terror from Beyond Space, image 2Marshall Thompson (Fiend Without A Face, First Man Into Space) plays Col. Edward Carruthers, a man falsely accused of killing his entire crew after a crash landing on Mars. When a rescue team arrives to transport Carruthers back to face a court martial, an alien beast sneaks aboard the ship.

I’m not a big fan of Thompson’s acting, but I’ve come to appreciate him over the years. For me, no one says “B movie” quite like he does. There’s something Shatner-esque about his style that both amuses and annoys me. But compared to his co-star, Kim Spalding (in the role of Col. Van Heusen), Thompson looks like Olivier.

Van Heusen (Spalding) is the vindictive commander of the rescue crew, and attempts to convict Carruthers before he is tried. Spalding’s acting is barely adequate through the first portion of the film, but after he contracts an alien infection, his acting takes a turn for the atrocious. Apparently the infection attacks his brain and he spits out lines like a drunken, imbecilic child. Absolutely terrible.

Shawn Smith (World Without End) plays Ann Anderson, the female element in the love triangle. Ann is the first to hear Col. Carruthers out, and unlike most of the crew, is not quick to dismiss his story of a monster killer. When the existence of a monster is confirmed, Ann is the first to apologize for the crew’s unbelief. Originally involved with Van Heusen, she switches to Carruthers’ corner by the end of the film. Her acting is not noteworthy, which is the kindest thing I can say.

The beast is played by famous “ape actor,” Ray Corrigan (The Ape, The White Gorilla). There’s a good reason the monster is kept in shadows for most of the movie: He’s a bulky, zipper-backed, rubber-suited mess. I’ve heard him compared to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but this is doing the gillman a great injustice. The monster in It! The Terror from Beyond Space is a slow, lumbering ape-like thing, while the gillman, at least in water, is an agile, graceful creature. I’m not saying the fiend in this film is a total loss; I sort of like his armored appearance, but the budget just wasn’t large enough to make it convincing. The monster suit was designed and built by famous creature creator, Paul Blaisdell (It Conquered the World, The She-Creature).

Besides the below-grade acting and cheesy monster, It! has some other camp elements worth mentioning:

The first thing I noticed was the amazingly roomy rocketship. You would think Director Edward L. Cahn (Invisible Invaders, Invasion of the Saucer Men) would have gone for a claustrophobic feel, but just the opposite is true. The interior shots of the spacecraft look like they were filmed inside a warehouse. The walls appear to be made of sturdy concrete, and crates of stuff are just strewn about. The tables and chairs are almost as bulky as the monster, and there is nothing that suggests the illusion of weightlessness.

Another amusing element is how the two females are portrayed. One is an expert geologist, and the other is apparently a skilled medical doctor. However, when it comes to meals, these intelligent women are reduced to serving the men like common cocktail waitresses. They pour coffee, clear dishes, and stroke egos while the men talk about the “girls” back home. It’s an interesting window into the mindset of the era.

It also appears the crew were prepared to wage a war while on Mars. They are absolutely armed to the teeth. There’s not a ray gun to be found, but they compensate with an impressive arsenal of guns, grenades, gas bombs, and even a bazooka! No sense in skimping on the fire power, I suppose.

And just to set the record straight, the setting of the film is 1973. I’ve read reviews in books and online that state the setting is anywhere from 1964 to 1978. I’ve gone back several times now, and Col. Carruthers clearly states that his ship crash landed on Mars in January of 1973, and the rescue ship arrived six months later. So there.

I hope my review does not sound overly harsh, as I do have a fondness for this movie. It’s an intriguing concept, and though it does not produce much in the way of suspense, it is an enjoyable watch. Look for Paul Langton (Invisible Invaders, The Incredible Shrinking Man) as Lt. James Calder, and Dabbs Greer (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) in the role of Eric Royce.

Scene to watch for: There’s a series of reactions/expressions made by Marshall Thompson when he suddenly notices a hand dangling from a ventilation shaft that always cracks me up.

Line to listen for: “There’s only one kind of a monster that uses bullets.”

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

15 Comments

  1. When I sa this film, back in the mis sixties, I lived in an old tenement in NYC without an elevator. Walking up those stairs at night, that were dimmly lighted scared the heck out of me. It was like the ship, and to this day, I still watch the movie. It scared the pants off of me.

  2. Thanks for dropping by, Norman. It’s funny, but the interior of the ship looks more like the inside of an old tenement than the workings of a spacecraft. And I have to admit, some of the scenes were rather ghastly for the time.

  3. It! gave me nightmares about what would happen when real astronauts arrived on Mars. 50′s spaceship and crew – but with a real tension that mirrors Van Vogt’s “Dark Destroyer” – according to Sci-fi Encylopedia – and it is an unkillable “demon” that gave me chills at age eleven. There are many tech flaws – smoking on an oxygen – filled cabin, no communicators among the crew, women screaming at the sight of the creature. But there is real tension till the very end. It holds up better than some of the other 50′s sci-fi in b & w. I am 57 now and have a copy which I watch religiously every Halloween. So much for youthful critics brought on CGI and underacting teens in countless movies!

  4. Ken: This is one of the films I didn’t see as a boy, and so some of the nostalgic value that “carries” the other films I review really didn’t come into play here. However, I do have to admit that I’m pretty sure this movie would have left an indelible impression on me at age 11. Amen on the CGI and underacting teens!

  5. I always wondered why the monster’s tongue seemed to be protruding out of his open mouth every time we saw him. I only recently learned that the mask made by PB didn’t fit the actor, and his chin was visible through the mouth opening. So they left it like that! Now I can’t watch it without seeing his cleft chin sticking out of the mouth, which kind of ruins it for me. And it probably ruins it for you now, too. :)

  6. Fred: Yes! I read about that, too! But it doesn’t ruin the film for me at all; it just gives it a little more camp charm. You’ll notice when they go in for close-ups on the creature’s face (like in the still I posted at the top of this review) they seem to take precautions not to show the mouth very clearly, if at all. Paul Blaisdell actually did wonders for what he had to work with, and I consider him sort of an unsung hero in the genre.

  7. i love this move as much at 43 as i did at 11.the nostalgia is wonderful for me

  8. Steve: Really, that’s the prevailing beauty of these films. They have a way of transporting us back to a wonderful era when even cheap costumes and sets could give us a terrific thrill. Thanks for dropping by!

  9. Your personal not referenced the “remake” of The Thing. After reading the book I thought it was more of a continuation of the story. In the book after the original monster is destroyed the dog goes to the American base camp.
    Great web site by the way.

  10. This was always one of my favorites and still sends chills. A little campy but the thought of being trapped and nothing can stop it from getting to you is terrifying no matter the age of the film.
    Sorry about the previous email. Supposed to be on the The Thing page.

    • I agree, Jeff. The horror of this film is the “nowhere to run” aspect of the spacecraft. There is a certain tension as the crew gets forced into smaller and smaller quarters while the monster makes its way through the levels.

  11. In 1962 I worked in the mailroom at KTTV Hollywood. On the lot were the offices of Daystar Productions (Outer Limits), Joseph Strick (The Balcony) and among others, Edward L.Cahn. I was very immature and inexperienced and shy in those days (age 20), and didn’t use my brain. I was very “into” films and production and blew a perfectly good opportunity to try to get hired by Cahn, who regularly produced cheap but effective Sci Fi and horror. Too bad. BTW, when my friends and I were thinking about produšing a cheapo Sci Fi ourselves someone from Cahn’s office offered us the FREE used of that rocket ship cutaway (with the ladders and ports)! Also, between mail delivery I used to check out chessy sets on soundstages and found a rubber monster on wheels used in an Outer Limits episode! Their per episode budget at the time was around $25K or so! Amazing!

    will

    • Will, I gotta tell you I’m loving your stories and your comments. These stories and insights are like gold to me. I was born in 1962, and so I’ve always felt a bit removed from these movies I love. You’re an insider! Keep the stories coming; I love them!

  12. I love this movie When i 1st saw this space movie in the early 60′s it scared the crap out me esp when I walked home alone down the dark allies of Chicago Hell I ran home. Then at the drive in I think it helped scare the pants of the girl i was with!!! I long forgot the name of the movie and always wanted too see it and remembered the story. Looked for it a number of times before I lucked into it on TCM

    • Hey Swamper: Those are the kinds of memories I love hearing about! Glad you stopped by.


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