Thursday, May 29, 2014

It! The Terror From Beyond Space

Were it not so often cited as the inspiration for the 1979 sci-fi/horror classic ALIEN, I wonder if 1958's IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE would not be even more obscure. This independently made cheapie, the sort of film that was best fitted for drive-in theaters where teens were more concerned with necking than paying attention to what was onscreen, is quite unfortunately not the expected giggle fest. In fact, stretches of it are flat out boring.  At least PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and MANOS, THE HANDS OF FATE are laugh riots, so deserving of their enduring reputations as camp classics.

Turner Classic Movies recently played IT! and it was just too tempting to pass up. The memory is hazy, but I think I originally saw it on a local VHF during my childhood. Part of the Saturday night "Creature Feature", which ran films with guys in ridiculous costumes attempting to be scary. I was riveted to most of these features, silly as they may have been. I may have even had a nightmare or two because of them.  IT! is far from riveting.

In the unimaginable future of 1973, a rescue ship arrives on Mars to find all but one member of an exploratory crew dead. Colonel Edward Carruthers (Marshall Thompson) is immediately suspected of murdering the other nine and carted back to face the tribunal on Earth. But soon several of the rescue team end up missing after responding to strange noises. When their corpses are discovered, it seems that every ounce of water has been extracted from them. Mars is a dry planet. The brain trusts eventually connect the dots. There is in fact a guy running around in a ridiculous costume. Watch out for those ventilation ducts!

As I watched IT!, I violated one of the cardinal rules of such films: attempting to apply logic to the scenario. Absolutely pointless with a near grade Z shocker like this. Perhaps with most films? I wondered how oxygen really figured into the big finale. How feasible it was for crew members to continue smoking around it. And is that artificial gravity inside the ship? Picking holes is (usually) part of the fun.

You can see the similarities to Dan O'Bannon's script for ALIEN, but they're nominal at best. Jerome Bixby's screenplay is generally serviceable, but Edward L. Cahn's direction is static, with little to no tension built. The cast is dull. IT! will very likely put viewers to sleep, though I doubt there will be nightmares.

But I almost felt sorry for the poor alien at the end......
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