When is a shitty movie not a shitty movie? When it’s super cheap, but also good. Such is the case with It! The Terror from Beyond Space, released in 1958.
We wrap up It Came from the ’50s with the movie that was the supposed inspiration for Alien. The story is similar. A spaceship from Earth sets down on another planet and picks up a stowaway alien with a thirst for blood. How the human spacefarers rid themselves of the alien is also similar. How the two films differ is in the small details.
Marshall Thompson plays Col. Edward Carruthers. He was the leader of Earth’s first expedition to Mars, but the ship he commanded crash landed. A rescue ship arrives months later, to find that Carruthers was the only survivor. But, his comrades didn’t die in the crash. Carruthers claims they were killed by a terrible alien monster. The authorities back in Washington don’t believe a word of his story, and plan to court-martial him for murder when the rescue mission returns to Earth.
A whole new ship and crew was sent out into space to rescue Carruthers. This new mission is commanded by Col. Van Heusen (Kim Spalding). He’s joined by the usual gruff 1950s no-nonsense military types in the forms of Maj. John Purdue (Robert Bice), and Lt. James Calder (Paul Langton). The cast is rounded out by some scientist and enlisted types (Dabbs Greer, Richard Benedict, Richard Hervey, and Thom Carney), and some female characters to broaden appeal (Shirley Patterson and Ann Doran). They’re all locked together aboard a spaceship for the four-month journey home.
No one aboard the ship believes Carruthers’ stories about an alien creature, but, early in the film, we viewers saw a menacing shadow board the ship, so we know that Carruthers is not lying. It doesn’t take long for the creature to make itself known, taking care of a pair of cast members early on.
Once the rest of the crew realize there is an alien aboard, the film becomes a battle between crew and monster. And I do mean battle. I don’t know what these folks were expecting to find in space, but they brought along an arsenal of weapons. Besides handguns and M1 Garands, there is at least one box of grenades and bazooka! I mean, sure, it turns out that they did end up encountering a deadly threat out there in the vast reaches of space, but is this how screenwriter Jerome Bixby pictured what space travel would be like in the not-too-distant year of 1973? It’s pretty funny how this film, and so many other space flicks of the day, default to cowboys & Indians. Just the stuff in the weapons cabinet aboard this ship reinforces every stereotype of arrogance and brashness that the rest of the world has for Americans.
That’s an improvement (one among many) that Alien made over this film. The alien is much more frightening when the heroes don’t have anything with which to kill it.
In the end, though, the weapons don’t matter. The alien is invulnerable to the effects of bullets and grenades, and the crew never did get a chance to fire off that bazooka. If the look and feel of the film is any indication, firing the bazooka wasn’t in the budget.
The vast majority of the action takes place in a single set. It’s an interior deck of the spaceship, with a hatch in the floor, a hatch in the ceiling, and a ladder in between. The set was redressed depending on which deck of the ship a particular scene took place. It’s cheap as all hell, just like everything else in the movie, but it also works as a spaceship layout. Why wouldn’t the inside of a spaceship be somewhat modular?
The final sign of cheapness is the monster. It’s a guy in a rubber suit (Ray Corrigan). When it’s lit up well, it becomes impossible to see it as anything other than a suit. The mask is one of the more memorable of the time, but this is from an era of film where makeup effects were not realistic. The Xenomorph from Alien, this is not.
That’s the last time I’m going to compare this film to Alien, because that’s not fair. It! is its own film. It’s loaded with familiar tropes, but it also was the first film to use a couple of them. It was a production of limited means that used those restrictions well. The cast was decent, with only a few clunker deliveries here and there. Most importantly, director Edward L. Cahn kept his picture moving along and quite tense. Any lull in the action was momentary, and he kept exposition to a minimum. It paid lip service to Hollywood convention of the time with a throwaway love interest, but that was the only failing in plot.
It! The Terror from Beyond Space is a better movie than it has any right to be. It might be the cheapest good movie that a person will ever see, and I recommend it to any sci-fi or 1950s movie fan.