Because I’m an old guy who grew up in the pre-Internet, pre-DVD Era and relied on old sci-fi movies being broadcast on Saturday afternoons on the local stations (Hi WPIX in New York! And WOR!). And when I try to turn people onto some of the gems of the 50s and 60s to a younger generation, I end up getting The Stare. You know The Stare: the one that practically screams “Are you serious? This is shit!”
And, admittedly, a lot of it was shit, shit filtered through a child’s undiscriminating eyes and marinated in decades of nostalgia. But there are still a few gems which stand the test of time, more or less, if you can forgive the faults and ignore the wires holding up the spaceships and the zippers in the monster suits.
One of them is 1958’s IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, directed by Edward L Cahn (INVISIBLE INVADERS) and written by veteran sci-fi author Jerome Bixby, better known in movie and TV circles for writing Twilight Zone’s “It’s a Good Life”, Star Trek’s “Mirror Mirror”, and the screenplay for 1966’s FANTASTIC VOYAGE. It’s his pedigree, plus some excellent cinematography, which elevates this movie above the dross.
It’s set in the future year of 1973, and we open on a static shot of an alien landscape, where one of those funky traditional rockets is parked next to the wreckage of another one, and we hear the narration of our hero, Col. Carruthers (Marshall Thompson), the sole survivor of the first expedition to Mars. A second ship has arrived to take him back home – to face trial.
You see, everyone believes he murdered the rest of his crew after they crashed to take advantage of the remaining supplies. And strangely enough, no one believes his story that some creature had attacked them. We get a shot from back on Earth as some official fills in the waiting reporters, and us, in on all of this. We’re not two minutes in and already we’ve dispensed with the back story, which is pretty economical; it takes someone like Zak Snyder two hours just to get Wonder Woman’s boobs on the big screen.
The rescue ship prepares to depart, taking time to dump all their trash on the Martian surface (yes, this was a different time) But while the hatches are left open, something shadowy sneaks onboard and hides. I’m pretty certain it’s not Matt Damon.
The leader of the rescue party, Col. Van Heusen (Kim Spalding), believes that Carruthers is guilty, though at least he doesn’t act like a douche about it, unlike some of the others onboard; it’s gonna be a long bunch of months cramped up in there with people who don’t like you. It reminds me of every single family reunion I attended. Ever.
Our all-white crew has two women in it, medical professionals who still serve coffee and meals to the guys (yes, this was a different time), and of course the talk is still about Carruthers, and whenever he walks into a room everyone shuts up. I’ve been there too, usually just before they fire my ass for stealing office supplies and pissing in the break room sink. Ann (Shirley Patterson) brings Carruthers some food on his own, where she clearly doesn’t believe him, but is a lot more gracious than those horrid old men on the upper decks.
Later, while Carruthers is playing chess with Crewman Royce (Dabbs Greer, the only actor I recognise, who will go on later to be the Reverend Alden on Little House on the Prairie). And smoking. Everyone is smoking. And later we’ll see a scene where there’s a locker with dozens of cartons of cigarettes. Fuck me, it’s like MAD MEN IN SPACE (yes, this was a different time). Joe Kleinholz (Thom Carney), sitting nearby, decides that now’s the time for things to heat up, so goes off for a walk, and is attacked by It! (Ray “Crash” Corrigan).
Carruthers and the crew go in search of Kleinholz, losing another guy when he’s dragged into the airlocks (we all know that spaceship airlocks are big, clean and ideal places to hide yourself. Or a monster. So maybe you shouldn’t hide up there). Another victim is found in there, broken up, pale as Marilyn Manson and with circles under his eyes like he stayed up all night watching porn (which might explain why he looks so drained of fluids).
The rest of the movie is a cat and mouse game between the humans and the monster, as it proves invulnerable to bullets, grenades, gas, electricity, even bazooka shells – yes, they use a bazooka inside their ship (it was a different time). For that matter, given the prevailing wisdom at the time that Mars was devoid of life, they came to the Red Planet with pistols, rifles, grenades, bazookas…
They came armed for bear. Martian Bear.
Not that It! seems to care. In one scene, it grabs a rifle and bends it in two, and you can almost here It! say, “You see this, you big jerk? This is what I’m gonna do to your girlfriend!” Worse, the creature injures some of them, infecting them with a leukemia-like disease that requires loads of plasma, and their supply is down in the lower decks where the monster is waiting….
IT! isn’t the best monster movie out there – for its relative short running time (69 minutes) and brief introduction, it feels like ages before the action starts. This is due to too much dialogue from too many characters, and nearly all of them indistinguishable. The initial tension over Carruthers’ innocence or guilt is fairly quickly cleared away, when they could have strung that out longer by making the others suspicious when people start disappearing. And of course, you had moments of stupidity and helplessness, even as the monster stomps about and waves his gigantic hands about, but we never explicitly see any mayhem except in silhouette.
But I don’t care. Someone actually took the effort to set up light and shadow, lending an atmosphere more associated with the best of film noir. There is a genuine sense of menace felt as every effort made to kill the creature fails, and there are moments of peril, like when one man gets trapped behind some machinery with the monster inches away, and with only a blowtorch and a limited supply of fuel to keep him alive. And yes, think about this movie the next time you rewatch ALIEN.
IT! was the last film of actor Ray “Crash” Corrigan, a veteran of around a hundred movies and serials (and who was famous for owning his own gorilla suit). Corrigan was set to play the creature, but during pre-production, he did not want to travel all the way to Topanga in western Los Angeles County where Paul Blaisdell, the film’s makeup artist, lived and operated his studio. So Blaisdell could not take exact measurements of Corrigan’s head. Consequently, there were final fit problems with the creature’s head prop, and in true improvisational style, they left Corrigan’s prominent chin stick out through the monster’s mouth, so the makeup man painted his chin to look like a tongue.
See what I mean?
Once you know that, you can’t look at IT! the same way.
IT! is available in various formats, and the retro trailer is below.
Director: Edward L Cahn
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 1 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. The Terror from Beyond Manchester…