Or, Things I Read Off The Screen in IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE.
In fact, the terror isn’t from beyond space at all, it’s from Mars, which I believe to be IN space. Nevertheless, this nifty little sci-fi monsterpiece may be the jewel in the cardboard crown of Schlockmeister General Edward L. Cahn, the nitwit behind THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (which had some nifty-ish images but moved like a slug). I have returned, after what seems like months but is in reality only… months… to my quest to see all the films illustrated in Denis Gifford’s seminal work, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, a quest I have named See Reptilicus and Die.
Blower Motor No. 4.
The reason why IT! is so decidedly less-poor-than-most-Cahn-films may be found in its script, by respected genre scribe Jerome Bixby, author of It’s a Good Life, a blood-chilling little story about an omnipotent child filmed for The Twilight Zone TV show, and again for the movie (by Joe Dante, a guest at this year’s upcoming Edinburgh Film Festival). Bixby also plotted FANTASTIC VOYAGE (another Dante influence, since this was the original “inject a shrunken submarine into someone’s bloodstream” movie, and thus the inspiration for the entertaining INNERSPACE), and several classic Star Trek episodes.
Landing Platform Controls.
This movie’s quite Trek-like, with its space crew jeopardised by a heavy-breathing man in a suit, and the suspense interwoven with a mild intellectual puzzle — how to kill the apparently indestructible monster. The other point of comparison is ALIEN, which follows the monster-on-a spaceship template pretty closely, only with better design, photography, acting, and man-in-suit. Both ALIEN and IT! may be influenced by a common source, AE Van Vogt’s novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle, which introduces the big idea in ALIEN of the creature that lays eggs inside human hosts. Both Bixby and ALIEN writer Dan O’Bannon seem likely to have been familiar with Van Vogt’s writing. Another influence is likely to be THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD — just change the antarctic base for a spaceship, and James Arness in a bald cap for Ray “Crash” Corrigan in a rubber Halloween cossie. The Howard Hawks-produced movie has his trademark group of professionals living and struggling together as its focus, and that holds true for the Cahn-Bixby flick also.
Atomic Reactor No. 3.
Hand in hand with the good points in this movie are the weaker ones, which are plenty entertaining themselves: the date is 1973 (the future!); everybody smokes in the spaceship; the female crewmembers double as cook and cleaner; when the airlock is opened, it blows lots of papers around, like a mild gust of wind.
But the film is really not excessively ridiculous, and the tension is generated and sustained nicely: by the situations, rather than Cahn’s pedestrian direction. His major contribution is to keep the monster shadowy, which is a smart choice. Scenes like the guy trapped in a confined space with a broken leg, fending off the beast with an oxyacetylene torch, have a real sweaty discomfort to them. “‘Good for up to three hours continuous use,’” says our man, reading the torch’s instructions. “It says to return it for your money back if unsatisfied.”