Written by Jerome Bixby
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Starring Marshall Thompson, Shirley Patterson (as Shawn Smith)
US Release ex: Aug. 1958
Home Video MGM (DVD)
Classic Horrors rating = 8 (out of 10)
Warning: review contains plot spoilers.
I don’t know that It! The Terror from Beyond Space has been compared to Alien (1979), but that’s basically what it is, albeit in a primitive, less terrifying way. Looking like a land-locked version of the Gill Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon, a monster stows away on a rocket leaving Mars and picks off the crew one by one.
It’s already eradicated the original Mars expedition except for Colonel Edward Carruthers (Marshall Thompson), who is considered responsible when the rescue crew picks him up to take him home to Earth where he will face court martial for his crimes. Of this journey, he says, “Perhaps there, too, I will find another kind of death.”
On board, he laments about spending time with a crew that has one purpose: to see him in front of a military firing squad. He sticks to his story about a mysterious creature, and when fellow passengers start disappearing, the remaining men and women are a little more eager to listen and believe him. No longer do they think he killed his team because supplies would last them all a year, but only him, ten years.
The set-up is compelling, and the execution isn’t bad. It! The Terror from Beyond Space even attempts a jump scare or two. Long before one of Michael Myers’s victim’s arms plopped out of the air above to startle a nubile babysitter in Halloween (1978), one of this creature’s victims did the same thing… except there are no nubile babysitters on board, only astronauts.
I found any 50’s monster cheesiness to be incredibly endearing in this movie. While director Edward L. Cahn (The She-Creature, Invasion of the Saucer Men) doesn’t shy away from showing the creature, he offers more effective moments of just its feet shuffling along, or its arms/claws reaching out. Shadows on the wall of it beating a victim senseless indicate a real threat.
Also, the 50’s sci-fi elements are clever, if not depicted with the most advanced special effects. The rocket always seems to be moving “up,” which makes a scene where two astronauts walk down the outside of the ship (Batman ’66-style) to enter a chamber below the creature surprisingly entertaining. The rocket interior actually looks like it belongs inside a long, slender ship, and the sets are better filled than in other space movies where the command centers look like vast, empty warehouses.
The theory about the origin of the creature strains credulity, but fits within the logic of the movie. Perhaps there was once a civilization on Mars. Something terrible happened and they became barbarians. When it’s discovered that the creature’s victims died from cellular collapse and dehydration, it makes sense to the crew because Mars no longer has water. (But it doesn’t make sense for their continued existence before the first expedition arrived.)
Regardless of its origins, the creature is strong, denting steel hatches like they were made of soft rubber. When shooting doesn’t stop it, the crew tries to electrocute it and expose it to radiation. While the former is enough voltage to kill 30 human beings and the latter is enough to kill 100 men, they admit the only drawback is that the thing isn’t human.
There’s quite a bit of sharp dialog in It! The Terror from Beyond Space. It’s a strong first outing for Jerome Bixby, who would go on to write Fantastic Voyage and episodes of The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. During the action, someone will take a moment to summarize what’s happening, none better than with this statement: “It’s got to kill us or starve; we’ve got to kill it or die.”
There’s simply more to this movie than others of its time. Amid everything else, it includes a blossoming relationship between Carruthers and Ann Anderson (Shirley Patterson) that sparks jealousy from, I think, Eric Royce (Dabbs Greer). It enhances the story, but doesn’t slow it down for one minute. The ending is well-considered and stems from everything that has come before.
It! The Terror from Beyond Space is a real treat. I can’t believe I have never watched it before now. I’d sandwich my opinion of it between 1951’s The Thing from Another World (being higher) and 1955’s This Island Earth (being lower). Who knows what other treasures lie out there in my “endeavor to explore and understand the universe” of classic sci-fi horror?!?