Friday, December 24, 2010

IT the Terror from Beyond Space (1958)

It! The Terror from Beyond Space is a 1958 black and white science fiction film directed by Edward L. Cahn.
The film opens with a classic 1950s version of a spaceship (three tail fins, long, pointed body) perched on the cratered surface of an alien world. A voice-over tells us that the year is 1973 (voice at the beginning of the film says that it's six months after the initial crash, which was listed as January, 1973) and this is the planet Mars. It transpires that this vessel has been sent to rescue the crew of a previous exploration mission. They have found only one survivor, Col. Edward Carruthers (Marshall Thompson), and suspect him of having murdered the other nine to save rations for himself since he could not know if he would be rescued. Carruthers pleads his innocence, blaming the deaths of his colleagues on an unknown creature they encountered on the planet in a thick sandstorm where people just vanished. The commander is unsympathetic and orders the ship to return to Earth, a four month trip. However, before blasting off, a junior crew-member unwisely leaves a door to the spaceship open for a long time... After liftoff (one man is seen sitting in an ordinary metal chair during liftoff--the ship does have "artificial gravity", which saves on a lot of special effects), the crew settle down for the long trip back to Earth. It is not long before things start to go amiss, first with Kienholz having gone missing: In (now) typical horror-movie fashion, unimportant crew-members wander off to dark and isolated parts of the ship and are dispatched by It. Usually, we see only a character's reaction shot and, perhaps, a looming shadow - the creature, at this point, is not clearly seen. There are seven men and two women on the ship besides Carruthers. The women are first seen serving the men food and drink at dinner (it is the fifties), but one turns out to be a doctor who can perform autopsies. Since it is the fifties, people smoke on board ship and there is an ample supply of cigarettes in a very large and roomy, many decked ship with little in the decks. As the trip progresses, the crew are at first skeptical that something is aboard, but soon have to accept the fact as the body-count mounts, with the bodies sucked dry of all moisture, bone marrow, etc. which is what the creatures feed on, on barren Mars. At this point they decide to tool-up - the ship is equipped with an impressive amount of weaponry, including handguns, machine-guns, hand-grenades and even a bazooka. One hole in the ship and they lose all their air. Electricity enough to kill a hundred men just annoys the monster with its razor sharp claws. The intruder is largely immune to all this hardware however, and at one point the crew manage to trap It in the "reactor room" (the ship is nuclear-powered) and expose it to the reactor by raising a shutter (apparently the nuclear pile is like the furnace in a steam-ship). At one point two men walk "down" the outside of the ship to try and get behind the monster. In one shot, they can be seen from a distance with the two men in a lighter rectangle obviously imposed onto the (model) ship and space background. There is an often repeated bit of film with the ship flying through the same bit of space. As the crew dwindle, they retreat upwards in the ship. The monster is strong enough to rip apart the hatches which separate the decks. Finally they are in control only of the top-most chamber. In a final standoff, all manner of anti-armor weapons are unleashed in a confined space, to no great effect. Observing that the ship's oxygen is down quite a bit, they realize it is due to the creature, which must have large lungs, and they hit on the excellent idea of opening the hatch while wearing space suits. The decompression of the ship takes all the air out of it as the creature gasps its life out and it is no more. A quick investigation reveals it is dead. Back on Earth, their base having had the news, a press conference is told of the monsters that inhabit Mars, that the planet is death, and that they may have to leap frog it and leave it out of future space exploration.

EDWARD L. CAHN   (1958)
69 MIN

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