Tuesday, December 27, 2016

It! The Terror From Beyond Space

Scripted by respected science fiction author Jerome Bixby, who also provided classic teleplays for TWILIGHT ZONE (“It’s a Good Life”) and STAR TREK (“Mirror, Mirror”), IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE is often mentioned in discussions of ALIEN. And for good reason, as ALIEN’s plot and structure are basically identical to IT!, though it would be a stretch to call the more stylish and evocative ALIEN a ripoff.

One of the better films by quickie director Edward L. Cahn (six Cahn films were released in 1958, including IT!’s co-feature CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN, also penned by Bixby), IT! uses its low budget well, and its special effects are surprisingly ambitious, such as shots of two astronauts walking outside their spaceship. The monster suit, worn by stuntman Ray “Crash” Corrigan, is menacing, despite a silly scowl permanently etched into its face.

Credit to Cahn and Bixby for not wasting time at the beginning (the entire film is only 69 minutes). An American rocket lifts off from Mars with a new passenger: the only survivor (DAKTARI’s Marshall Thompson) of a previous expedition. Thompson stands accused of murdering the other nine members of his team and is being brought back to Earth by commander Kim Spalding (THE TRUE STORY OF LYNN STUART) and his crew to stand trial.

Thompson claims his colleagues were murdered by some sort of monster, but nobody believes him. Until, of course, the stowaway creature starts bumping off the cast Agatha Christie-style. Bullets and grenades have little effect on its scaly epidermis (no fancy laser pistols for these blue-collar joes), and most of the astronauts are sucked dry of their bodily fluids before Thompson finally gets the idea to suffocate the dumb thing. He’s vindicated in the end, but if only they had listened to him earlier.

Shawn Smith (THE LAND UNKNOWN) and Ann Doran (RIOT IN JUVENILE PRISON) are aboard, but typical of ‘50s sci-fi movies, they clear the dishes from the dinner table and let the men shoot the guns and fight the creature, even though Doran is playing the ship’s doctor. Doran and Dabbs Greer (THE GREEN MILE) play a middle-aged married couple, which is unusual. Though the film was made quickly and inexpensively, some care was taken to give the characters personalities.

Paul Blaisdell, who designed and created monsters for many 1950s thrillers, such as Roger Corman’s IT CONQUERED THE WORLD and DAY THE WORLD ENDED, also designed It, though Corrigan wore the costume. He usually played gorillas in movies, plus the suit didn’t fit him perfectly, so It is less agile than Cahn and Bixby intended. At least Cahn gave the audience what they came for, showing It in all its glory, for better or worse. By the way, Bixby loved ALIEN.

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