Title: It! The Terror From Beyond Space
Year Of Release: 1958
Running Time: 69 minutes
DVD Released By: MGM Home Entertainment
Directed By: Edward L. Cahn
Writing Credits: Jerome Bixby
Starring: Marshall Thompson, Shawn Smith, Kim Spalding, Ann Doran, Dabbs Greer, Paul Langton, Robert Bice
1. It breathes, it hunts…It Kills!
2. IT!…Reaches through space!…Scoops up men and women!…Gorges on blood!
3. The revelation shocker of things to come!
It! The Vampire from Beyond Space (1958)
The Terror from Beyond Space (1958).
Review Date: 12.12.04 (updated 1.1.10)
The film opens with a thundering musical theme and a title that threatens to bust out of the screen and into our third spatial dimension. After the credits end, we get a view of the Martian surface. In the distance we see the wreckage of a crashed rocket ship. A voice belonging to Colonel Edward Carruthers begins to narrate, relating how the ship he commanded cracked up on landing six months previously and how he is now the only survivor from that doomed expedition, the crew encountering some strange force on the Red planet they came to know only as death. The camera slowly pans over the landscape and a second rocket ship is revealed, albeit intact and standing erect. Carruthers says that he will now be going back to face his superiors on Earth and possibly another kind of death.
Now we see the capitol building in Washington D.C., which quickly fades to a door marked, “Science advisory committee. Division of interplanetary exploration.” No doubt down the hall are the offices for the division on Radiation-Enlarged Insects and Lizards. Inside this room a government official is conducting a press conference and releasing information on the second rocket ship sent to Mars. He talks about how Colonel Carruthers has been found alive, but is the only survivor from the initial expedition. The Colonel will be returned to Earth to face trial for the murders of the rest of the first ship’s crew.
Back on Mars, we see the Challenge-142 preparing to lift off. Before they can depart, Van Heusen notices an open compartment. It seems Lt. Calder was dumping some crates (littering) and forgot to close it. The open hatch is closed remotely, but as it slides shut, an ominous shadow moving about nearby alerts us to the fact that something has managed to get aboard while it was open. We hear a few growls and even get a close up of IT’s feet as it moves about. I gotta say, this guy needs some serious corrective footwear. Talk about a slewfoot! What is even more hilarious is that the shadow we see on the wall seems to be made by the actor in the monster suit, but not the monster mask. His facial features seem pretty clear in silhouette.
After a name check, Van Heusen begins the launch countdown at ten, while strapped into what appears to be a lawn chair! Where was the budget blown for this ship? No trash recycling systems and cheap chairs! The contractor must have spent it somewhere, but it obviously wasn’t on this ship!
Once in space and safely on the way home, Van Heusen (who will henceforth be referred to simply as Van – some of the characters did it, why not me) begins acting like an asshole, ridiculing Carruther’s story of a monster. He tells Carruthers (seemingly with great delight) that they have enough evidence to put him in front of a firing squad. They head up one level and Van shows him a human skull they found on the surface of Mars. Dental records revealed it to be a Frank Kenner, one of Carruther’s crew. The skull has an obvious bullet hole in it and Van says, “There’s only one kind of a monster that uses bullets.” There is an ominous musical cue. Carruthers walks away and the film fades out.
Sometime later the crew is cleaning up after a meal. Correction: the women are cleaning up after a meal. Yes, in this futuristic year of 1973, women – despite being doctors and presumably vital members of the crew – are still assigned the laborious task of cleaning up after meals and making sure all the lazy, fat-ass males have fresh, hot coffee in their cups and are supplied with cigarettes. I wonder if these guys made them cook the meal as well.
So this group has finished a meal and are relaxing. The usual light banter is exchanged before the topic of Colonel Carruthers and his monster comes up. Royce (the other Royce will always be referred to as Doctor Royce for purposes of this review) says that he doesn’t disbelieve or believe the story. Along about that time Carruthers arrives and is greeted with a smart-ass comment from Van. He gets some coffee from Ann and retreats back up one level. Van then states that before they reach Earth, he will have Carruthers’ confession on tape. What is he going to do, beat it out of him?
Some more time passes and Ann brings Carruthers a plate of food. She admits that she has only heard the story of what happened to the crew of the Challenge-141 from Van and would like to hear it straight from Carruthers. He relates to her how they landed, went out exploring and then got caught in a sandstorm. Something in the storm began taking the crew and in the confusion shots were fired, one apparently killing Kenner by mistake. Carruthers was the only one who made it back to the ship. Subsequent searches turned up no signs of his crew or the thing that took them.
Van continues to act like a dick. Ann – with whom he seems to have some sort of relationship beyond work – tells him that he owes it to Carruthers to treat him like a fellow officer and not an animal, and that it is not his place to decide whether he is guilty.
More time passes. Royce and Carruthers are playing chess while Van looks on, smoking a cigarette. Calder is nearby scribbling in a notebook – probably “I won’t leave outer hatches open before lift-off” a hundred times, enforced by Van for his lamebrain mistake. Elsewhere, Keinholz is sitting alone at a desk, looking bored. He hears their stowaway bumbling around the cargo hold. He goes to investigate and is killed, the attack shown as shadows on a wall. The monster lifts Keinholz over his head and brings him smashing to the floor, where he proceeds to pelt the unfortunate crewmen with a barrage of blows…or in this case, cartwheeling its arms and bitch-slapping the guy to death.
Above, Carruthers has heard the commotion and wonders what is going on. No one else seems to have heard anything. He still insists on performing a head count and when Keinholz comes up missing, everyone begins searching the ship for him. While everyone is split up, Gino Finelli is captured by the beast when he stops to pilfer some cigarettes from a storage locker.
Everyone convenes again and Van is in disbelief as there just isn’t a place on the ship a man could hide. Carruthers asks where Gino is and Bob says that he was right behind him. He looks back down the ladder to the deck below and calls out to Gino, but all is silent below. He, Van and Carruthers all go back down where they find Gino’s unused cigarette on the floor, but no Gino. Now everyone is calling out for Gino in addition to Keinholz. Soon after, Keinholz’s body is located in an air duct.
Everyone comes running and arrives as Keinholz is removed from the duct. Bob wonders if Gino is inside the duct, but Carruthers looks and sees nothing. Major Purdue volunteers to go in to look for Gino as he claims to know the layout. He crawls on in, but doesn’t see anything at first. Then he re-orients himself and sees Gino at the end of the passage. Gino is looking pretty bad, like he was in a fight with an Avon lady who applied her make-up samples to him. Purdue yells out that he found Gino and begins to crawl toward him. He shakes Gino, trying to rouse him but Gino just shakes his head limply. Then there is a shadowy movement nearby and IT arrives on the scene, no doubt pissed to find someone playing with his food. IT growls and claws at Purdue, who screams before pulling out a revolver and squeezing off a few shots. This makes the monster roar and outside in the storage room, Carruther’s face is one of dread – he knows that roar all too well, it seems.
Purdue comes barreling out of the duct and Carruthers sneaks a glance inside before he and Van replace the cover over the entrance. Bob, naturally has a fit, upset that his brother is being left behind. He is removed by Royce and Carruthers yells to the cowering women to run and get a head start. A head start for where? You’re on a spaceship, not the open plains of Iowa. Carruthers then spots a crate of grenades and suggests that they wire them up to the hatches, thus blowing IT up if it decides to leave the duct. So Van, Carruthers and Calder wire up these grenades, then gather up Keinholz’s body (which seemed to magically aid them in picking itself off the floor) and retreat to one of the upper levels.
Next we see a table loaded with guns, rifles and ammunition. It looks like a NRA convention! It is at this point that I must point out the sheer stupidity of these people. They are on a spaceship, which is traveling through the vacuum of space. Rupturing the hull of the ship in any way would be extraordinarily bad. I’d imagine that great pains would be taken to minimize the chances that such an event ever took place. Yet these fools insist on firing projectile weapons within the confines of the ship. Not only that, but they have grenades ready to detonate below. Now, what kind of tests did these people have to pass in order to be selected for this mission? Cuz smarts don’t seem to be a requisite. Not once does any one of them stop to consider the chances that such an explosion might actually harm the bloody ship! No, they just fire away. Either these people are colossal idiots, or they are confident in the construction and engineering of the ship – but given the lawn chairs adorning the place, I would not exactly be willing to bet my life on the latter possibility.
So the men are taking stock of the weapons while the ladies apply the most idiotic looking bandage to Purdue’s head. Royce tries to console Bob by telling him there was nothing they could have done for Gino, but Bob is pissed that they didn’t even try to rescue his brother.
Meanwhile, Van is asking Carruthers if he knows what IT is. This must have just galled the guy to no end. Here he was all ready to break Carruthers and get a confession, and now he must admit that the other man was right all along. Time passes and the gang is pacing up and down, waiting for IT to leave the ducts and trip the grenade trap. They all gather around the intercom and listen as IT busts through the grate covering the duct and sets off the grenades. All those grenades detonate and we are treated to an explosion that looks like it was made by a box of firecrackers.
They still hear the monster growling, so they know that the plan has failed. Without a word, they hoist their firearms, open the central stair hatch and head down to investigate further…well, all the guys do. The women stay up above, no doubt prepping coffee. The guys gather around the door to C and open it up. A lot of smoke passes through the doorway, obscuring their vision. Calder, who is carrying the biggest gun, goes in first. Well, actually Van was in the lead, but when he couldn’t get the lights activated, he motions for Calder to go first. Chickenshit bastard. Calder barely gets through the door when IT lunges out of the smoke, grabs his rifle and bends it, Superman-style, over its head. Calder, Royce and Bob then run like hell up the stairs while Van and Carruthers fire their pistols at the beast. They retreat up the stairs, firing all the way, while IT tears the door to C compartment open wide enough to get through. Once safely up the stairs, the crew closes the central stair hatch.
Next gas grenades are used in an attempt to kill the beast. This fails to work as well and Van comes out of the engagement with an injured foot, scraped up something bad when the monster grabbed him.
Dr. Royce has completed the autopsy on Keinholz, discovering that “there is not a molecule of oxygen or a drop of water” left in his body. Blood, bone marrow, glandular secretions – everything, is gone. She theorizes that since there are no puncture marks on the body, that this was accomplished through some type of osmosis process. Keep in mind that the Human body is sixty to seventy percent water. Now, we got a pretty good view of the dead Keinholz earlier. Sure, his body was shriveled, but if all the moisture in his body had been removed, then would not he have looked more like a dried up prune, and been the size of a cabbage patch doll? Van Heusen hasn’t joined the cadaver club yet, though his wound is infected and nothing Dr. Royce can do helps it any.
They open the central hatch and peer down. IT is two levels down, but they can see it breaking through the center hatch onto the level directly below them, which will grant it access to the next level. They realize that if IT can get through the center hatches, they are royally SCREWED. Ann approaches Carruthers and tells him that he was right and they were all wrong. They hold hands and share a Kodak moment.
Royce pipes in about now with an idea he and Bob have worked out. He proposes that two men exit through the control room airlock and then space walk down the side of the ship and re-enter through the airlock on the motor level – below the current location of the creature. This would enable them to surprise the monster, but they aren’t sure what to surprise it with. Carruthers says he’s been thinking and has an idea, so he and Calder suit up and make their way down the hull to the bottom of the ship. They reach the airlock on the motor level and the others above begin talking loud at the proper time, distracting the monster from what is occurring below it. Carruthers and Calder sneak out onto the motor level and set an electrical trap on the stairs that lead to the upper level where IT is located.
The two then take cover behind some induction pumps and open the center hatch, which is noticed by the creature. It begins to descend the stairs and when it gets to the appropriate spot – ZAP. Nothing. The monster is not affected. Carruthers is able to make it safely to the airlock, but Calder takes a blow to the head that tears his vinyl “helmet” and stumbles back, his foot getting caught and the fall breaking his leg. He fires up an acetylene torch and uses it to fend off the monster every time it gets to close to his hiding spot.
Carruthers returns to the others where they try and think of a way to rescue Calder, who can be heard over the radio. Meanwhile the Doctor approaches Royce and tells him that the alien bacteria are attacking bone marrow, resulting in a leukemia-type condition. The drugs she has been using are working too slowly and she needs fresh blood to keep Van and Purdue alive – but there is no more on this level. They will need to descend to the cargo level and retrieve some more.
Royce is preparing to make a run for the blood and Bob decides that it his “turn” now to go. What is this, a ride? I suppose he feels the need to do something in helping kill the monster that murdered his brother. Carruthers decides to accompany them. Calder promises to keep them apprised of the creature’s movements via the intercom. A shadow on the wall tells us that IT is still dragging dead Gino around, and has wandered into the reactor room. After Calder reports this, it gives Carruthers an idea. He remotely closes the reactor room door and asks Calder what the monster does. When no odd behavior is reported, the three men make their descent in search of the blood supply.
Meanwhile Van has awoken again and is trying to get up from his cot. The women try to restrain him but he yells and pushes past them. He has an idea – by unsealing the reactor, the radiation will kill the monster. He flips some controls while the ladies still try and talk sense into him. In the reactor room, the creature is banging on the door to get out when the reactor is unsealed and it gets a face full of radiation. The women call down to warn the men what has happened, inciting Carruthers and Royce to speed things up. Below, Bob is helping Calder up the stairs when IT breaks out of the reactor room. Calder dives back into his hiding spot and Bob fires off his pistol at the beast. He then tries to run up the stairs, but IT is too fast. The monster reaches up and grabs him, pulling him down to the floor and bitch-slapping him to death. Royce and Carruthers haul ass back up the stairs with the blood, having to leave Bob behind. They get back to the laboratory level and then everyone heads on up to the topmost level – the control room.
Everyone is now huddled on the highest level. For some IDIOTIC reason, Carruthers is carrying a bazooka. A bazooka! They pile some heavy crates over the hatch in the floor, hoping to keep IT from busting up through the opening. Nearby Ann and Van are talking and the ever more disconcerted Colonel is remarking on Ann is now “with” Carruthers and how it happened out of the blue. She tries to dismiss it and wants to talk about it later, but he insists that there may be no later considering how their situation is degenerating rapidly. She walks off to help Carruthers and Van continues to mutter to Dr. Royce.
They contact Calder down below, who is still alive. He can see the monster still bumbling around on the motor level. About now IT has decided to find out where everyone else has gone. IT ascends the stairs to the first storage level and begins banging around. Calder warns Carruthers that IT is on its way up. The gang up top makes ready, turning the lights off and preparing for the last fight. Carruthers tells Calder to make his way to the airlock now that IT is no longer nearby and hide there. Then Carruthers picks up the bazooka again and aims it at the hatch.
While waiting, Carruthers happens to glance at a dial on a nearby instrument panel and notices that the oxygen consumption on the ship is far in excess of what it should be. He points this out to Royce and the two theorize that it is due to the monster. With the thin air on Mars it would need a gigantic lung capacity and has thus been hogging all the oxygen on the ship with its Darth Vader breathing style. Carruthers suggest letting all the air out of the ship to kill it. Royce agrees, saying they can build it back up for themselves later.
A mad rush is on now, everyone trying to get into his or her space suit. The monster tears his way up onto the laboratory level, doesn’t even hesitate and then heads up the latter to the top level. IT bangs on the hatch, causing all the boxes sitting atop it to topple over, and then IT peels back the metal of the hatch like wrapping paper and pokes up through the opening like a jack-in-the-box. Everyone has their spacesuits on now, but Carruthers cannot reach the controls to release the air because the monster is in the way. He calls to Royce, who is now holding the bazooka, to drive it back down so he can make his way to the proper control panel. Royce fires the bazooka, but the rocket just bounces off the monster before bouncing around the floor some. No detonation at all! It must have been a dud. Carruthers is trying to reach the controls, but the monster is preventing him from getting too close. Van then jumps up, runs to the controls and hits the correct button. The airlock doors open and the air begins rushing out. The monster has grabbed Van and no doubt given him the squish treatment, as when next we see Van, he is stretched out on the floor.
The ship begins diving. Well, not really…but given that the emergency klaxon blaring away to warn everyone of decompression and air loss sounds just like the diving bell in some old WWII movie, and one can see why it seems like the ship is diving. Everyone hangs on for dear life. Papers start flying around the room, but very few actually get blown out the airlock. The monster growls, writhes around and finally stops moving as the last of the air is removed. Carruthers checks on both IT and Van, but both are still and quiet. I have to wonder how Van didn’t get blown out. Everyone was hanging on, but Van was out cold (or dead). It seems the monster is finally dead. Everyone seems relieved, and the camera zooms in on Ann and Carruthers as they hold hands before fading out…
…Into ANOTHER freakin’ shot of the ship flying through space (number nine). This fades into the room in Washington D.C. that we saw at the very beginning of the film. The same government official is conducting another press release. He has more information to add to the story he gave to the reporters the previous evening. He reads a message from the Challenge-142 received less than an hour ago:
“This is Eric Royce talking. Of the nineteen men and women who have set foot upon the planet Mars, six will return.”
Six? Let’s see…Carruthers, Ann, Royce, Dr. Royce, Purdue and…Calder, I suppose. Calder was hiding in the airlock on the motor level while Van Heusen got beat up by the monster and was laying there pretty still at the end, so I guess he was the one who died. The message continues:
“There is no longer a question of murder, but of an alien and elemental lifeforce. A planet so cruel, so hostile, that man may have to find it necessary to bypass it in his endeavor to explore and understand the universe.”
Well, at least Carruthers has been cleared, but Royce makes out like the planet Mars is so damn dangerous. Excuse me, but were not you guys all safe until you got back on the ship? The planet seemed pretty harmless. It is the native life that proved to be so deadly. Big difference. The message (and the movie) concludes:
“Another name for Mars…is death.”
Fade out. The End.
Structurally, this movie is most similar to The Thing From Another World in that it deals with a small group of people trapped struggling to prevail against a deadly organism from another planet bound and determined to make a snack of them all. Aside from the opening and closing segments set on Earth (which most people conclude were added in order to stretch out the film’s running time) the movie never leaves the crew of the Challenge-142. Once things get rolling, the movie rarely lets up and moves along at a brisk pace, rapidly pushing its characters through one bad situation and into another. While not as intense as later films would be, the approach taken works very well and the viewer begins to detect the sense of danger and desperation that builds as the film progresses.
Sadly, the character development that was so well executed in the Howard Hawk’s The Thing From Another World, is sorely and quite obviously lacking here. We are quickly introduced to a number of people, who for the most part, will be expanded upon very little and examined only long enough to form the vaguest of impressions. With the exception of Carruthers and Van Heusen, who these people are and what motivates them was just not important to the producers. Those two are plainly set up to be at odds with each other, though the conflict is really all on the part of Van Heusen, who is resolute in his belief of Carruther’s guilt. Yet, the film sets up this adversarial dynamic and goes no where with it. Early on during the monster’s rampage, Van Heusen takes a hit and is restricted to bed for the rest of the film, offering up only smartass remarks and a failed attempt at killing the creature thereafter. I suppose one could say that Van Heusen was shown to be in error when it came to the veracity of Carruthers’ story, and that he was pushed aside to make room for latter to take the lead and redeem himself. There could not be two leaders, so one was removed.
While the characters might not be the most fleshed out in film history, they certainly make up for it with their actions. After viewing this movie, one has to wonder what kind of idiots these people truly were. How they ever graduated from some type of training program and granted a position on a ship to Mars is beyond me. In fact, the entire organization seems lacking. There is just so much that betrays them as morons. Like smoking. These people are nicotine fiends who are lighting up non-stop. Someone missing? Have a smoke. The monster kills someone? Have a smoke. Time running out and death looking certain? Have a freaking smoke! I must say that the Challenge-142 must have one HELL of an air recycling system. These folks have the oxygen scrubbers working overtime with all the smoke they exhale.
On top of that, these guys are gun toting, trigger-happy morons who make the Montana militia groups look like the boy scouts. They start squeezing off rounds at the drop of a hat, no worries about ricocheting bullets or friendly fire. I guess the ship, on top of having a first rate air recycling system, also has the sturdiest hull ever manufactured by mankind. It must have, as these guys don’t give a single thought to accidentally rupturing the hull. And they don’t stop with guns! They haul out grenades by the dozen and detonate them and then move on up to firing a bazooka in their ship’s control room!
As far as visual FX are concerned, this film doesn’t have too many. What we do see is adequately done by the standards of the day. The most ambitious shot is the view of Carruthers and Calder walking down the side of the ship as it traverses the stars. Back then it might have looked awesome, but now it is very easy to notice that the actors don’t seem to be covering any ground, despite taking numerous steps as well as the obvious signs of matting them into the footage of the rocket. I’d venture to say that the best looking thing we see, though it is just for a few seconds at the film’s beginning, is the painting that represents the surface of Mars. Sure, it looks nothing like what Mars really looks like, but it is still executed pretty darn well.
Now we come to the one aspect that is both one of the best as well as one of the worst things about the movie: The monster. The monster costume is a glaring source of both potential embarrassment and possible fun. The costume is a rather bulky, rubber affair that bends in all the wrong places, heightening the “cheese” factor and lending a certain air of ridiculousness to the film. The way it lumbers, stumbles and plods around the ship is laughable considering the dire circumstances and danger it supposedly represents. The face is static, except for the tongue that is often protruding from the sizable mouth. This effect was produced by the actor’s chin pushing the “tongue” through the creature’s maw.
Since the movie was filmed on a mere handful of sets, with a single set used to represent the various central chambers of the ship – just re-dressed for each one, director Cahn makes good use of the limited space he has. Thanks to the camera work and the set dressing, the ship comes across as being fairly good sized. Another thing he does rather well in conjunction with cinematographer Kenneth Peach is to hide the monster and utilize shadows to create an atmosphere of dread and creepiness. Whether this was done for artistic reasons or to help hide the often silly-looking monster suit is open for debate, but since the creature is shown quite well on several occasions, and the suit holds up pretty darn well to scrutiny, I personally believe it was the former. There are numerous occasions where all we see is the beast’s shadow on the wall, or a foot moving across the floor. More than one assault on a Human is shown as nothing more than shadows on a wall, which, while lessening the onscreen violence, only makes the attacks more horrifying. This method really helps in firing the imagination, as what the mind conjures up is almost always more frightening than what we ultimately see on screen.
Still, despite all the apparent flaws…indeed, perhaps because of those very flaws, this film has a sizable “fun” quotient. Taking it too seriously will only lessen the enjoyment derived from the proceedings. An enormous grain of salt, along with a large suspension of disbelief will come in handy here, and will help transform the film from an “old 50’s monster movie” into a “classic B-Movie experience.”