It! The Terror From Beyond Space
Marshall Thompson, Shawn Smith, Kim Spalding, Ann Doran, Dabbs Greer, Paul Langton, Robert Bice
(Vogue Pictures / MGM)
US DVD: 19 May 2015
UK DVD: Import
Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: an Earth-based spacecraft travels to an uninhabitable planet to investigate a crashed ship on the surface. There, a frightening creature stows away on the new ship, hides itself, and patiently waits in the shadows to pick off the crew one by one in its hungry, terrifying way. The isolated crew do all they can to fight off this unfathomable beast by improvising weapons and crawling about the ship’s air shafts to track it. But who could believe such a terrible thing could be real?
It sounds a bit like Alien, doesn’t it? Sure does… but it isn’t. Nor is it another Alien clone like Xtro, Star Crystal, Alien Contamination or Alien 2: On Earth! No, it’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space, the 1958 sci-fi/horror Thriller that, like Planet of the Vampires and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, was a direct antecedent to Alien, and an acknowledged influence on the part of the filmmakers as well.
The plot of this very original original begins in the “future” year of 1973 with a classic looking rocket ship heading towards Mars to investigate an exploration ship that crashed six months prior. Out of the full crew compliment from the crash, only one survivor remains, the horrified Colonel Edward Carruthers (Marshall Thompson). Carruthers insists that his crew vanished, having been preyed upon by a mysterious creature on the planet’s surface. The rescue crew and Mission Control are both convinced that the truth is found in Col. Carruthers himself, who must have murdered his team in order to survive on the supplies until he can be rescued.
Everyone on the rescue ship pretty much believes Carruthers is guilty as sin at first, but the whole space rocket gang starts to have a bit of a change of heart when crewmen begin vanishing one by one, only to turn up later as bone-dry corpses. You see, not only is there a Martian hitching a ride back to Earth with the cuckoo crew, but the Martian in question is something of a “space vampire!”
Unfortunately, Carruthers doesn’t even have time to enjoy the fact that he’s no longer the least popular guy on the ship, as the crew begins to frantically fight the nightmare on board. Much like the similar monster in The Thing From Another World, “It” is nearly indestructible, and the terrified captive audience it plans to use for food is improvising everything they possibly can to kill it. Frighteningly, nothing seems to do the trick. Grenades, smoke bombs, bullets, and even bazooka shells merely piss it off and make it hungrier.
As with Alien and Jaws, for example, the most frightening things about this creature are the things that we don’t see. When the monster is just a glimpsed part or a shadow on the wall, he’s terrifying, and it seems that the more we learn, the more frightening he is.
Sadly, when we finally do get a good, long look at the monster, there’s no question of what we’re looking at… a big guy in a rubber suit that wrinkles Godzilla-style when he walks. The alien was very well designed by Paul Blaisdell, and Ray Corrigan does a fine job of miming this creature’s actions, accompanied by the frightening sounds effects that make up Its screams. However, with the alien in Alien, we really don’t know what we’re looking at, and although the appearance of the star beast is decidedly foreign, it looks like it could be real. This monster looks like a guy in a rubber suit.
Such comparisons may be inevitable but are equally unfair. The film was made on a low budget in the late ‘50s, 21 years before Alien. For the time, both the scares and the effects are pretty damned good, even if a lot more suspension of disbelief is required.
The whole film is indicative of the ‘50s, as cool as it actually can be. From the set design to the costuming to the dialogue to the hair to the chain-smoking (in space) crew to the gender roles to the setting of a technological future of 1973, there is no questioning what decade this black-and-white film came from. Still, what makes this film work is that everything is taken seriously. While the movie is most assuredly “dated”, the terror here is palpable and the monster itself is frightening.
Further, while the story was unique for its time, it’s hard not to notice that for all its inventive originality, occasionally the film feels a lot like The Thing from Another World set in space instead of the Arctic. If the expedition went to the Alien instead of the Alien coming to the expedition, the stories remain remarkably similar.
With all of this invention and the undeniable influence this little film has had on later movies, it is striking to note that Olive Films’ 2015 Blu-ray release is completely bare bones and has no extras whatsoever. Where is the documentary explaining the impact of the picture? Where is the behind-the-scenes look at the costume creation? Where is the still gallery and promotional material? Sadly, Olive Films is one of a recent crop of distributors that not only does not create new bonus features, but actually ignores and deletes those that are available already.
The marketing campaign surrounding It! The Terror From Beyond Space was a lot of fun. According to the poster a, “world renowned insurance company” was contracted to pay out a “guaranteed” $50,000 USD to anyone who could prove that “IT” was not on Mars at the time of release. With this Blu-ray release, I’d like to see the same (probably fictional) insurance company offer $50,000 to anyone who can prove this disc has any extras. Either that, or Olive could consult with Neil de Grasse Tyson, collect the money, and invest that $50,000 into some actual bonus features. With streaming video becoming the dominant medium, one might think that DVD and Blu-ray distributors would want to enrich their products and keep the one edge that they have. Sadly, that line of thinking is going the way of the dodo.
Still, It! The Terror From Beyond Space looks and sounds good on this new disc and the clear picture makes for the best viewing experience I have had with the film. Film fans and those who can’t resist comparing and contrasting Alien to its ancestors, this may be the disc for you. However, those It! fans who already own the film on DVD should hang on to their old copies; there is nothing terribly new to see here.