by Mel Valentin
Ah, the 1950s, where the men were Caucasian, used gobs of Bryl-Creem, and smoked cigarettes furiously, all to make themselves look reasonably to whatever woman (or, in the parlance of the day, "girl") happened to be in the vicinity. The 1950s were also a veritable Golden Age of science fiction schlock. With the occasional exception, e.g., "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "The War of the Worlds," "Forbidden Planet," movie studios invested as little as possible on the genre, if they invested anything at all. When they did, the end product was strictly B-movie material, filmed on a handful of cheap looking sets (because they were, in fact, cheap), a cast of unknowns (most of whom stayed that way), inexpensive talent behind the camera (usually B-movie veterans), and storylines meant to appeal to juvenile tastes (since science fiction, like superhero comic books, were meant for unsophisticated, adolescent males).Case in point, It! The Terror from Beyond Space , a long ago staple on ďCreature Features,Ē a Saturday morning television program that aired on local television in the 1970s and 1980s before the advent of cable. Better known as the inspiration for the vastly superior Alien, It! The Terror from Beyond Space has little going for it besides the nostalgia factor. Even when seen through nostalgia-tinted glasses, It! The Terror from Beyond Space is perfunctory, generic, forgettable entertainment; an undemanding way to spend 75- smile-inducing minutes.
"B-movie goodness for the whole family. Well, not really."
Chances are, if youíve read this far, youíre probably interested in finding out about the story, correct? Well then, onwards to the plot mobile. Through a letís save some cash by narrating events via voice over, we learn that the first manned mission to Mars has failed. A rescue mission discovers only one survivor, Col. Edward Carruthers (Marshall Thompson), whose claims about a malevolent alien life form are disbelieved by his counterpart from the rescue ship, Col. Van Heusen (Kim Spalding). Van Heusenís goal is to return Carruthers to earth, where, after a court martial, Carruthers will be executed for the deaths of the men under his command. Harsh, sure, but itís the future, 1973, and who said justice had to be fair? Certainly not Col. Van Heusen.
In any case, one of the men under Van Heusenís command inadvertently leaves an emergency hatch open. Not a good decision, as the rescue ship takes off from Mars for Earth with a stowaway, a murderous alien. The alien doesnít strike right away, though, giving Carruthers a chance to meet and greet the other generically cast crewmembers. Itís a large group, mostly alien fodder, but it includes two women, Ann Anderson (Shirley Patterson), Carruthers future love interest and Dr. Mary Royce (Ann Doran). Together Ann and Dr. Royce tend to the crew, cooking, cleaning, serving coffee, and mending their wounds. Dr. Royce is married to another crewmember, Eric Royce (Dabbs Greer), who does something-or-other of vital importance. Maj. John Purdue (Robert Bice), Lt. James Calder (Paul Langton), Joe Keinholz (Thom Carney), and the Finelli brothers, Bob (Richard Benedict) and Gino (Richard Hervey) fill out the rest of the crew.
Soon enough, ďItĒ (Ray "Crash" Corrigan) begins to hunt down and kill the crew. A word to the wise: donít stop for a pack of cigarettes while the rest of the crew is looking for your missing buddy. Itís bad form and itís likely to bring the alien sniffing around, searching for his next victim (i.e., you, buddy, you). In short order, one, two, then three crewmembers are attacked and killed. As the deaths mount, Carruthers goes from murder suspect to fearless leader. One man gets attacked in an air duct, another one gets pinned down between some machinery, while a third gets mauled by the alien (cue pseudo-scientific babble about alien viruses). By the end, the decimated crew is desperate, out of room, and out of options, with the alien steadily breaking through one hatch after another, which he peels back like plastic.
Story wise, It! The Terror from Beyond Space doesnít stray far from expectations. As directed by B-movie veteran Edward L. Cahn (more than 40 credits to his name and none of them memorable) and written by television writer Jerome Bixby (The Twilight Zone), It! The Terror from Beyond Space takes some basic horror conventions, a monster loose in an isolated location, sets it in outer space, and zips along from there, hitting all the action beats with the occasional bit of originality and not much else. Then again, moviegoers then and video watchers now werenít expecting originality from a low-budget B-movie with modest ambitions (assuming the filmmakers had any ambitions beyond making money, that is). But if we dig a little deeper, weíll find some story elements worth discussing or at least mentioning, beginning with story conventions.
It's probably not giving too much away to say that the characters with the fewest lines disappear first, only to reappear (if at all) dead or near death after the monster has fed on them. The characters with the most ethnic sounding names, Keinholz and Finelli, end up in a world of hurt (especially the Finellis, since they're two of them, brothers, and both end up as the monster's victims). With two characters with the word "colonel" to their names, it's obvious one of them will be laid out (if not outright eliminated) at some point, since we can't have two characters making life-or-death decisions for the survivors. And just in case our sympathies are inappropriately placed with the second male lead, the writer and director make sure he makes stupid decisions, including one that endangers several men and leads to the death of a secondary character.
As for the monster, the filmmakers made a good decision early on to keep him in the shadows or showing only his three-fingered hands and pigeon-toed feet. Alas, that doesn't last long. We eventually see the rubber, padded monster suit in all its glory and, once we do, whatever fright potential the monster has disappears for good (unless, like this reviewer, you were ten when you first saw this film, in which case the opposite was/is true). Despite the monster's mostly fearsome appearance (sharp teeth and claws, minus a pig nose), he (or more accurately, it) consumes its victims through suction or osmosis, feeding on bodily fluids (as opposed to solids such as muscle, gristle or organs), which, despite appearances, makes the monster a distant cousin of the vampire.Which leaves us where we began, a modestly entertaining B-movie made by genre filmmakers (filmmakers may be too strong a word to use here) for undiscriminating moviegoers (read: male adolescents). Still, the nostalgia factor counts for something when watching "It! The Terror from Beyond Space." Moviegoers and video watchers who saw "It! The Terror from Beyond Space" on television when, like the original target audience, they were young and impressionable, will definitely get a kick out of revisiting an old favorite. As for everyone else, well, revisiting favorites from their youths might be a better bet than seeing "It! The Terror from Beyond Space" for the first time.
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originally posted: 12/03/06 23:01:16