“It! The Terror from beyond Space”

CAUTION: CONTAINS “SPOILERS”

Well, not really BEYOND space–“It” as our humanoid lizard-like creature is known, is a resident of the planet Mars. In the halcyon days of 1958, we actually thought that there would be manned missions to Mars by 1975, and certainly one of the charms of 50s Science Fiction films is their optimism. “It” is often cited nowadays as a percursor to “Alien”–a very different type of Science Fiction movie although both films use the notion of a crew being trapped in the depths of space with a murderous stowaway. But “Alien” was a very expensive “A” film with a budget for state-of-the-art technical effects, a genius team of designers and one of the best casts ever to grace a humble “monster movie.” “It” on the other hand is a true child of the 50s “B”-movie culture. So, how well does it stand up as a “B”-movie?

Budgetary limitations definitely don’t conceal themselves–the “ship” is all too obviously a studio set and the cast is a group of seasoned “B”-movie regulars, led by Marshall Thompson who once had a shot at becoming a legitimate second-string leading man in “A” productions–but aren’t these unassuming, workaday actors exactly what Jerome Bixby’s script calls for? The set limitations are overcome by the skillful direction of Edward L. Cahn, a lifetime toiler in the “B”s. This one is one of his best efforts with great tension being milked from the logical, but inexorable progress of the hostile creature toward the nose of the ship where the human survivors are gathered. Despite its lurid posters, promising carnage galore, the film has a reasonably low body count–only three crew members fall victim to the Martian’s vampiric embrace before the  last-minute “Eureka” moment–really more logical than scientific–that allows the crew to triumph over a creature immune to bullets, gas grenades and even a healthy dose of radiation from the ship’s reactor. Interestingly enough, it also involves opening the ship’s airlock, in this case to suffocate the intruder, rather than to blow it out into space. (There probably wouldn’t have been a budget for that anyway.)

Although “It! The Terror from beyon Space” seems pretty tame now, in 1958 it was strong stuff with dying blood-drained crew-members and one really ugly-looking rubber-suit monster–cleverly kept in shadows for much of the film and never really glimpsed full-length in full-light. This film paved the way toward the even-stronger “The Monster of Piedras Blancas”–another humaboid reptilian horror, although of earthly origin,  with a penchant for ripping its victims heads off.

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