HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection. Despite the countless science fiction movies made these days, with CGI allowing filmmakers to show anything they want, there are some who say the Golden Age of the genre was in the 1950s, so here is a highlight of that era, a great little alien movie with more than a touch of horror.
HCF REWIND NO.48. IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE 
AVAILABLE ON DVD
DIRECTED BY: Jack Arnold
WRITTEN BY: Ray Bradbury, Harry Essex
STARRING: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer
RUNNING TIME: 79 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In the small town of Sand Rock, Arizona, author and amateur astronomer John Putnam and schoolteacher Ellen Fields are having a romantic evening together when they see watch a meteorite crash nearby in the desert. John visits the crash site and notices a strange object in the crater and a glimpse of some being emerging from it. This convinces him that it isn’t a meteorite that crashed after all, but an alien spaceship. After a landslide covers the mysterious craft, John’s story is ridiculed by everyone except for Ellen, who unsure of what to believe but agrees to assist John in his investigation. However, over the next several days, a number of local people disappear……
It Came From Outer Space is a minor science fiction classic and a highlight of that great time, the first half of the 1950’s, where, influenced by a flood of UFO sightings since 1947 and the paranoia which resulted from the Cold War, it must have seemed you could not move for aliens invading cinema screens. A great deal of rubbish was churned out, but you also had great movies like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and The Thing From Another World, and It Came From Outer Space is certainly a strong entry, even if it is not quite good enough to be ranked with the best. It has a simple but strong story which evolves in an almost logical manner, loads of suspense, some fun scares which may still creep kids out [I vividly recollect watching this on TV with one of my brothers who was about ten, and he was scared but loved that he was!], and powerful messages about violence and humanity which are certainly at the forefront but don’t take over the entertainment value.
The screenplay was written by famous science fiction writer Ray Bradbury and adapted by Harry Essex, or was derived from a treatment by Bradbury and expanded upon by Essex, depending on what source you believe. There is no doubt that the film contains some poetic dialogue which certainly seems like Bradbury’s work. Whether outlines or actual scripts, Bradbury offered two similar but distinct stories to Universal, one with evil aliens, one with good aliens, and the studio wanted the one with good aliens, which was what Bradbury also wanted. The film was shot in 3D, apparently making very good use of the format. Of course that is hard to ascertain nowadays, though I have read of either one or two 3D prints which are around and occasionally shown. After shooting was completed, Universal wanted a major change. The film did not actually show the aliens, and this was considered uncommercial, so they went back and added them, though only one suit was built ensuring we only see one alien at a time. The first suit built was rejected but was adapted into the famous Metaluna mutant in This Island Earth. The film was a moderate hit and director Jack Arnold was typecast for a while as a director of science fiction movies.
The opening shows a ball –like craft composed of hexagons, obviously the alien’s spacecraft, crashing into the screen and exploding in the titles, and this is one moment that one can still tell would have wowed 1953 audiences in 3D. It looks pretty cool in 2D too. Actually, a thought has occurred to me as I write this [probably making this review a bit messy so I’m sorry!]. Why, instead of re-releasing films that were never originally shot in 3D, don’t they go and re-release films like this and House Of Wax and Jaws 3D which were originally made in 3D? Converting them would make some sense because we would be seeing them close to the way they intended, wouldn’t it? I wouldn’t have thought it would be too difficult, though I am no expert on the technology and do know that the type of 3D used now is different to the type used then. I suppose it’s thought that it wouldn’t be commercial either, but think about how much money is wasted in Hollywood already……
Anyway, back to It Came From Outer Space, which unlike me in this review doesn’t waste time setting things up and gets into matters right away. I have read reviews that they say it is a slow moving film, but I disagree. While it is not filled with action or rushing around, the pacing is right and each scene is crisp and to the point, though for me the finest scene is near the beginning when the camera tracks through the smoke caused by the crashing spaceship. As the smoke clears the front of the ship is revealed, then a door, which opens, showing corridor inside. As we enter the corridor, everything suddenly goes really dark. After what seems like forever, an eye opens in the distance, surrounded by some vaguely glimpsed form. What a splendidly shiver-some scene! Even after this, the glimpses of the aliens [basically one-eyed lumps with hair who leave a trail of glitter wherever they go!] are very brief, so you can’t make out their details very much, but are executed for maximum effectiveness. Sometimes you think you are going to see an alien, then we are let down and can relax, only for one to appear out of the side of the frame,with timing that would make John Carpenter proud!
There is also a great deal of footage where we see everything from an alien’s point of view, usually accompanied by the wonderfully eerie sound of the theramin, a bizarre electronic musical instrument where the ‘player’ moves his hands around which are then picked up by metal oscillators and turned into sounds. It Came From Outer Space was the first film to show a monster’s point of view, and it could be said led to one of the slasher movie’s most-used cliches! We also see, in this film, the first screen use of the idea of aliens taking on human form, an idea which became overused afterwards, especially by filmmakers with little money. They also create some odd and eerie moments, like one guy looking directly into the sun and two other guys seen as dark figures in a doorway [a still of this scene shows them with glowing eyes, though they do not have them in the film].
All this mild terror is of course just a red herring, because the aliens are revealed to not be nasty at all and their mission a very simple one. They didn’t even intend to land on Earth! The commentary on the xenophobic attitudes brought on by the Cold War is clear to see, and indeed different from many similar films that supported and reinforced said attitudes, but I think that Bradbury is really attacking racism in general, clearly set out in several scenes saying how we are afraid of what is different and “because you don’t understand it, you want to kill it”. Humanity is not portrayed very well, with even John, the ‘hero’ who is supposedly on their side, leading the townsfolk to their ship. What is rather depressing is that It Came From Outer Space ends with a feeling of hope which just seems unrealistic these days. It is suggested that one day we will be ready to receive alien visitors, because we will have learnt to be nicer, but looking at the world around me these days just gives me the impression that we haven’t got better at all and possibly even worse! One of the things that I like so much about It Came From Outer Space is that its message is loud and clear, yet it still works as a piece of entertainment that doesn’t feel like it’s being preachy.
While the overall design element of the film is strong, from the aliens to their strange ship, a few silly things lower the tone, such as an unnecessary ray gun which I would have thought these morally superior creatures would have been above using. Richard Carlson was a popular lead in films of this type but for me seems a little wooden, though co-star Barbara Rush comes into her own in a couple of scenes when she is an alien, sounding genuinely otherworldly and looking like a true femme fatale from film noir. Irving Gertz, Henry Mancini and Herman Stein all wrote parts of the score, which sounds amazingly cohesive and is exciting and even otherworldly in the right places. It Came From Outer Space stayed with me since first seeing it as a kid for many years, its vivid imagery, strange atmosphere and poetry really staying in my mind. And yes, I mean poetry, because the film creates a real dark beauty of its desert locations and sometimes, especially when Bradbury’s writing is in full flow, really conveys a palpable feeling of the unknown, the mysteries that may lie out there, away from the comforts of civilisation, neither good nor bad, just……..different.