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.
Marshall 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.