AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 69 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
1973: United States Space Command’s Mars ship Challenge 141 crashes on impact, and it takes rescue ship Challenge 142 six months to arrive. The only survivor found from the wreck is Col. Edward Carruthers, famous as the first man into space. He says that all nine of his colleagues were killed by a monster he never saw, but relief ship commander Col. Van Heusen charges Ed with mass murder and places him under house arrest for the flight home. However, a monster slips aboard just before the launch because of a foolish crew member leaving a door open, and begins killing off the crew….
I’d already seen Planet Of The Vampires and Queen Of Blood, both of which you can find reviews of elsewhere on this website, but it’s taken me till now to see what is regarded as the other major inspiration for Alien – and perhaps more of an inspiration than the other two pictures – It! The Terror From Beyond Space. I don’t remember this one being on TV back in the day when I was a younger teenager and used to constantly stay up late and devour films like this on Channel 4, though of course it’s possible that it was and I missed it. In any case, It! The Terror From Beyond Space is just about as simple a ‘B’ sci-fi/monster movie as you can get: a creature is loose inside a space rocket – and that’s pretty much it. Its almost childlike simplicity gives it considerable charm, while its 72 minute running time simply flies by. No lengthy dialogue scenes and – well – there is romance but it’s cut to the bone. It’s just all action, and that’s fine by me, though there’s also quite a bit to chuckle at, and PC types may groan at some sexist attitudes shown. It’s no classic, but certainly does the job it set out to do.
The film was itself obviously inspired by The Thing From Another World, and like Alien possibly derived from A. E.Vogt’s Voyage of The Space Beagle. The screenplay was written by noted Science-Fiction author Jerome Bixby and was originally entitled It! The Vampire From Outer Space. The director Edward L. Cahn made a total of 51 theatrical films between 1950 and his death in 1963, mostly horror and sci-fi. This one was produced by Edward Small [the recently HCF reviewed Tower Of London] and – like probably many of Cahn’s films – was shot in six days. It was the last film of gorilla perfomer and cliffhanger serial star Ray “Crash” Corrigan. He was set to play the creature, but during pre-production, he did not want to travel all the way to where Paul Blaisdell, the film’s makeup artist, lived and operated his studio. Therefore, Blaisdell could not take exact measurements of Corrigan’s head. Consequently, there were final fit problems with the creature’s head prop, with the mask being far tight, and Corrigan’s chin sticking out through the monster’s mouth….whereupon Blaisdell painted the chin so it looked like the creature’s tongue, and also removed the eyes so we see Corrigan’s own eyes behind the mask. These cheapies were often big money makers for the major studios even if they often seemed embarrassed by them. This one was no different and, sometimes double billed with Curse Of The Faceless Man, it did very good business for United Artists.
The titles occur over a shot of the surface of Mars and a crashed space craft, and a narrator whom we will soon realise is Col. Edward Carruthers begins with: “This is the view of the planet Mars as I see it….I am the only one alive”. As we pan over to a rocket, even I couldn’t resist a slight chuckle at the artificiality of what we see, but unless one is completely in love with modern CGI than one soon adjusts. This is how these things were done back then, and they wouldn’t have looked much different in a bigger budgeted movie. In fact I’d go as far to say that the special effects are generally better than some movies of the time, and the only thing that’s a little jarring to me is how the surface of Mars doesn’t look much the one depicted in the film, though that isn’t the fault of the filmmakers either. Anyway, we briefly switch to Earth for a meeting which fills us in on what’s happening, before returning to Mars and the rocket which picks up Carruthers to bring him home for a court martial. Things don’t look very good for him, especially when someone finds a human skull with a bullet hole in it. Of course we know already that the thing responsible for killing Carruthers’s crew members isn’t a human at all, and it’s only a few minutes before we see a door closing and shots of monstrous three toed feet and a menacing shadow as the rocket takes off for its long journey back to Earth!
Nobody feels very safe with Carruthers around except for Ann Anderson, who becomes attracted to him very quickly. There’s something of a love triangle involving Carruthers, Ann, and Col. Van Heusen who is the person who dislikes Carruthers most, though it’s not dwelt upon and resolved in a most calm fashion. The build up to the first person being killed is well done, as the victim-to-be hears something moving around and slowly descends into a room to investigate before something attacks him and we are greeted with the sight of one shadow obviously ripping into another! Soon others follow and the rest try to destroy the creature. “It was to kill us or starve, we have to kill it or die!” The monster seems to suck out the life force of its victims, cue the classic line: “Every bone in his body is broken, but I don’t know what killed him”. The silliest thing though is how this space rocket carries handguns, rifles, grenades and even a bazooka – and everyone uses them! Then again, most of the crew seem to smoke like chimneys too, and when the ship blasts off not a single person bothers to strap in! O well. This monster seems to be impervious to everything including radiation, but maybe something – a method that was used 21 years later in a similar situation – might work?
The rocket interiors look relatively convincing and there’s a spacewalk scene which doesn’t look too bad though you can see that the picture is slightly lighter around the tiny figures matted onto the outside of the rocket, something which probably wouldn’t have shown up on the DVD. The monster, two thirds Creature From the Black Lagoon and one third pig, is one of the more memorable creations of the era, even if played by Corrigan as if he were wearing one of his many gorilla suits – and you only have two or three shots showing the zipper down the back!. He’s often shown partly obscured in shadow, but I like the close-ups too: his face is just such an ugly sight and probably would have been pretty frightening to some in 1958, though considering how things have changed so much since then the ‘PG’ rating the film now has on Blu-ray is probably about right. There’s very little blood on show and the killings are either in shadow or cut away from. It’s all pretty exciting though, with not one wasted moment, and one rather amusing cut from a romantic scene that looked like it was getting serious, where the filmmakers seem to be having a bit of a laugh. The considerable tightness of the piece though does mean that there’s hardly anything in the way of character development or indeed much characterisation at all. And it may be nice that the two female characters are a doctor and a nurse respectively and do none of the expected panicking and screaming, but they still make sandwiches and pour coffee for the men!
Cahn does a nice tight no-nonsense job of directing and the cinematography of Kenneth Peach employs some nice film noir-type use of shadow and darkness in a few scenes. The acting is reasonable, Marshall Thompson perhaps underplaying but doing fairly well as a hero who keeps calm even when suspected of mass murder and who resists the temptation to say “I told you so” when it becomes obvious that his story is actually true. For the main title theme, composers Bert Shefter and Paul Sawtell all-but-recycled their main title music from Kronos with very few changes. It works fine when used though and is all the more effective for not being used that much. That wailing space music you often get in these things turns up for most of the exterior shots. Though it never really rises above its station, It! The Terror From Beyond Space is almost a model of economy when too many films of its kind – especially the modern ‘equivalents’ – feel the need to waste time on pointless filler.