Control

Or, Things I Read Off The Screen in IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE.

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Control.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Grrr!

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11 Responses to “Control”

  1. Still-looking monster aside, It is a cheaper more effective The Thing looking forward to the higher-priced spresd of Alien (the first of which was always the best.)

  2. The Thing has some really sensational moments, and the human interaction is a bit better than in It! (despite the presence of the dependable Ann Doran).

    When I first saw Aliens on a double-bill with Ridley Scott’s original, I thought, “My God, they’re not even trying.” Visually, it drags in the dirt. But when the action kicks in it’s compelling. And Cameron hadn’t fully developed his cack-handed approach to “ideas”, so it just allows itself to be about what it’s about.

  3. ALIEN still stands as the best of the franchise, I enjoyed its sequel with a certain ambivalence. Replacing the menace of shadows with teeth-gnashing pumped-up attitude, Cameron took a sci-fi/horror film and followed it with a sci-fi/horror/action film. Basically, he replaced atmosphere with big guns and big muscles. Not sure if that’s an improvement, but it is what it is. This makes the second post with Marshall Thompson in a sci-fi/horror film, I think that pretty much covers his resume for this hybrid genre.

  4. Turns out it’s his third appearance, as he’s in First Man Into Space. I never even noticed it was the same chap. But he’s got quite a good, well-written role in this one. His best work is maybe as the Sam Fuller substitute film director in White Dog — he seems more relaxed as an older thesp.

  5. Christopher Says:

    I love the concept of some ..unkown..most unwanted stowaway on a Spaceship headed for home..I would like to see something slicker, something between IT’s streamlined fast pace and Alien’s baroque style..with the dialog and suspence of either Hawks or Carpenter’s Thing

  6. Well, Planet of the Vampires ain’t it! But it’s the other film that seems like an influence on Alien.

    The next step in developing the basic idea would be to make the stowaway intelligent, though.

  7. Christopher Says:

    I love Planet of the Vampires..The scene where they find the big Alien skeleton and that eerie recording is ,for me,equally as chilling as the discovery of the giant Alien near the beginning of Alien..

  8. HR Geiger is clearly a whole new thing for cinema, so Alien has the edge for me, but the design of the stuff in Planet is really stylish too. And I love stuff like the model spaceship that’s too small for Bava to get in focus all at once, and the view-screens that are really just windows with the actors standing behind them. Plus all the great matte shots, knocked together out of magazine photos in a few minutes by Bava. Low-budget invention at its most beautiful.

  9. Curtis Harrington’s Queen of Blood anyone?

  10. Queen of Blood has some very enjoyable stuff in it. I’ve been meaning to get around to the Coppola films which recycle Russian sci-fi footage. And I’ve been meaning to get around to more Russian sci-fi movies. Love those colourful spacey images!

  11. The trailer has subliminal messages. Don’t blink or you will miss them.

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