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It! The Terror From Beyond Space
Tonight's Feature Presentation

IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958)

Starring: Marshall Thompson, Shawn Smith, Kim Spalding, Ann Doran, Dabbs Greer, Paul Langton

Written By: Jerome Bixby Directed By: Edward L. Cahn

The Short Version

It! The Terror From Beyond Space has the potential to be great, but it isn’t.

Of course, it could also be worse, and is still better than a lot of other products of its era.

Unless we’re talking about the two lead actors; they’re pretty much made out of wood.

There is a lot of facepalm material here for a Bad Movie Night, even if this one does deserve better.

Watch It! The Terror From Beyond Space if you love classic sci-fi/horror, but don’t use it to introduce others to the genre.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

FARMER CHEESE.

Unripened cheese that’s just kind of there but which tends to be remembered as better than it is.


Pairs Well With...

BEAR REPUBLIC RED ROCKET ALE.

Rocket from the Red Planet… connection works for me.  And a full-bodied ale is just what this movie needs to make it more fun.

“What about Bob?”


Amazingly enough, the first time I saw It! The Terror From Beyond Space was as part of a double feature at a real movie theatre.  No, I’m not that old; it was playing at an old local theatre that had been restored and would do classic movie nights during the week.  Why do I bring this up?  Simply to encourage you to see if any theatres near you do the same thing.  It’s an experience worth having, no matter how big your screen at home gets.

Okay; good deed for your struggling local movie palace done.  Now, on to our regularly scheduled program!

It! The Terror From Beyond Space tends to carry one of two undeserved reputations, depending upon whom you ask.  Personally, my view is contrary to both.  It! The Terror From Beyond Space isn’t the best movie to come out of the alien-obsessed 1950s; to be honest, it’s not even in the top three.  (Since you’re wondering, those are, in order of their release dates: The Thing (From Another World), The Day the Earth Stood Still, and War of the Worlds.)  However, it’s also far from being the worst, and while there’s no question that the movie provides more than enough fodder as Bad Movie Night material, there’s also enough good here to allow It! The Terror From Beyond Space to rise above such a mantle.  As happens so often with so many things, the truth of the matter lies somewhere between the extremes, in a place called “mediocrity.”

I’ll let the film’s opening narration, read by a certain Colonel Carruthers (Marshall Thompson) over the hand drawn backdrop of a rocky planet surface and a rocket ready to take off, set the stage here.

“This was the planet Mars as my crew and I first saw it.  Dangerous, treacherous, alive with something we came to know only as Death.  This is what we faced when our spaceship cracked up and landed just six months ago in January of this year, 1973.  But it seems as if six centuries passed before rescue ship arrived.  For today, of all my crew, I, Colonel Edward Carruthers of the United States Space Command, am the only one alive.  Now I will be going back to face my superiors on Earth.  In Washington.  And perhaps there, too, I will find another kind of death.”

This final comment is clarified as we cut to a scene back on Earth, where an official looking fellow is delivering a press briefing.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the press, as you know, the first attempt to send a spaceship to the planet Mars was made six months ago.  We knew that that ship, the Challenge 141, had reached its destination.  But that's all we knew.  Teleradio communication with Mars ceased immediately, and we were forced to assume that the ship and crew had been lost.  The man in charge of this expedition was a man who had become known to the world as the first man to be shot into space, the man who pioneered interplanetary space travel: Colonel Edward Carruthers.  Two months ago, we sent a second ship to Mars to learn the fate of Colonel Carruthers and his crew.  The President has asked me to pass onto you this significant news: Colonel Edward Carruthers has been found alive on Mars!  But there's a tragic side to this history-making event.  Colonel Carruthers was the sole survivor of this first expedition.  One hour ago we received a teleradio communication from Colonel Van Heusen, commander of the second spaceship.  This ship is now ready to take off for its return trip to Earth from Mars, and Colonel Carruthers is being brought back for a court martial to face trial for the murders of the rest of the crew!”

Needless to say, Carruthers says that he’s innocent, and that some horrible alien creature was responsible for the deaths.  Most of the crew members of the second ship aren’t buying it, especially the ship’s commander.  I’m guessing that you’re astute enough to prognosticate that when someone comments that a hatch was left open by mistake just before takeoff, it’s a sign that the Colonel’s monster took the opportunity to use that hatch to come aboard and prove his story true during the trip home…

There’s another bit of reputation that’s been given to It! The Terror From Beyond Space by its latter-day marketers and critics alike, and frankly, it drives me nuts.  That bit of rep is the one that says that clearly, Alien is a remake/rip-off of this movie.  I’m not going to mince words here; clearly, that’s bull.  That’s like saying that any story in which the girlfriend’s father hates the boyfriend and doesn’t want her seeing him anymore is clearly a rip-off or remake of “Romeo and Juliet,” or that any story about a private detective is clearly a rip-off of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who in turn by that logic can be said to have clearly ripped off Edgar Allan Poe).  The suggestion is clearly silly; if anything, there’s more merit in comparing this movie to The Thing from seven years earlier and saying “hmm.”  Were Ronald Shusset and Dan O’Bannon aware of It! The Terror From Beyond Space when they made their movie?  Of course they were, but that doesn’t change the fact that they made their own movie.  The similarities begin and end with the idea of an alien stalking the crew of a ship in space.  Beyond that, they’re different stories.  Live with it.  Okay; soapbox stashed.  So, what do we get with this story?

What we get is a movie that could have been great, but instead has to settle for a level that might best be considered as “mediocrity with distinction.”

Let’s start with the good stuff. 

The premise of having an alien creature stalking the confined crew of a spaceship is a good one, but even before that happens, screenwriter Jerome Bixby (who also dreamed up the Mirror universe in “Star Trek”) has come up with an interesting human frame to the story.  The crew we’re meeting here is the second crew; someone else has dealt with this terror already, and the lone survivor of that horror is accused of being its perpetrator.  The sole surviving victim being falsely accused of being the killer when in fact an alien is responsible?  That’s fabulous!

The movie also moves along at a good and steady clip.  Though not perfectly directed by any means and sometimes feeling rather statically photographed, It! The Terror From Beyond Space benefits tremendously from a pace that doesn’t allow the audience to get bored enough to grumble at its flaws out of anger.  And while you may never quite reach the edge of your seat, there’s also just enough tension to allow the tag of “thriller” to not be a joke.

Indeed, these two things by themselves already make It! The Terror From Beyond Space better than many of its peers, and had the potential to extend to greatness.

So what stops it?

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but the two lead actors are terrible.  Marshall Thompson and Kim Spalding spend most of the movie looking and sounding either dead tired or bored out of their minds, and the rest of the cast isn’t far behind them.  When Spalding finally does decide to sound like he’s doing something other than reading from the phone book, there are only ten minutes left in the movie, and by then, it’s pretty much too late.  As for Thompson, he really never wakes up.  The fact that any excitement could be generated at all with these two guys in the lead is a testament to the folks behind the scenes.

Not that they’re getting a free pass, either, mind you.

Many critics like to praise this film’s monster, and frankly, I don’t understand why.  Even by 1950s standards, this is a pretty awful Man In A Rubber Suit.  Look back to the makeup for James Arness in The Thing, and you’ll see a much better job by far.  I’ll even set standards back an additional two or three decades; compared to the early 1930s, this is still a pretty awful Man In A Rubber Suit, made worse by too many close up shots.  The shadow images are by far the best ones of the creature here; even when the close up is just of its hands or feet, the results just aren’t good.

And then there’s the poor attention to detail.

There’s a scene wherein members of the crew are asked to talk loudly, so the creature is distracted by hearing them on the floor above rather than listening to the other two guys sneaking up on it from below.  However, the filmmakers were apparently too lazy to ask the cast to record fresh dialogue, even if it would just have been a few minutes’ worth of ad-libbed walla-walla.  Instead, random clips of dialogue from earlier in the movie are simply looped into the soundtrack.  These repeated lines are incredibly obvious, and what’s worst of all, they include dialogue from people who are now supposed to be dead.  I don’t care what decade it is or what the budget was; this is sloppy, lazy, and inexcusable.

From here, we descend into the Bad Movie Night material, assuming you weren’t already counting the dreadful acting or the rubber suit.

My personal favorite stuff here involves the crew’s various attempts to kill the creature.  Bear in mind: they are trapped inside the hull of a relatively small spaceship.  However, they’re still perfectly comfortable, say, lining the mesh cover of a ventilation duct with half a dozen grenades without fear of blowing a hole in the hull or damaging any equipment on the ship.  Indeed, when the grenades go off, not only is the creature unfazed, but none of the boxes near it move, either, and the open box loaded with a whole lot more grenades is also unaffected.  Whew!  They also try hurling poison gas grenades into an environment which we have no assurance is sealed and in fact have good reason to believe is not.  Not enough?  How about removing the safety shielding from the ship’s nuclear reactor, specifically because “that will release enough radiation to kill a hundred men,” especially since within moments, all of the doors between said reactor and where the people are gone?  Or – my favorite – shooting a bazooka inside the confines of the ship’s bridge!  A freaking bazooka!

Can anyone here say “hull breach”?  Apparently not.

I think you’ve all got the hang of things by now, so I’ll let you make your own comment about bringing a woman along just to add sexual conflict and fetch coffee.

And yet, for everything that It! The Terror From Beyond Space does not just wrong but flat-out badly, there’s still just enough good here to keep it from being relegated to the “laughing material only” pile.  Even with the flaws, there’s still tension.  Even with the bad acting, there’s still fun to be had with these characters.  Even with the bazooka on the bridge, there’s still enough here to call it a decent story.  No, this is not the great film that so many seem to remember it to be, but at the same time, it’s also easy to see how a movie like this could go on to inspire others to do something better.  (Note, I said “inspire.”  Huge difference.)

Bottom line, It! The Terror From Beyond Space is an interesting, if flawed film.  It’s got more than enough silliness to serve as Bad Movie Night stock, but it also deserves to be seen as more than that.  Somewhere in all of this, there is a good story, and if you love the sci-fi horror genre, it’s a story worth seeing.  Just pick a better movie if you plan on introducing someone else to the genre for the first time.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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