It! The Terror from Beyond Space

In the far-flung year of 1973, the second expedition arrives on Mars to rescue the first, of which there is only one survivor, Carruthers (Marshall Thompson, Fiend Without a Face).  The rescue ship’s crew suspects Carruthers of murdering his fellow survivors to conserve supplies and doesn’t believe Carruthers’ story of an ambush by powerful alien beasts.  The ship sets off for Earth and Carruthers’ court martial, but something begins killing crew members-seems a hatch was left open and one of the creatures Carruthers reported crept on board.  Can the (heavily armed) crew find something that can kill the Martian before it kills them or destroys the ship?

It!  The Terror from Beyond Space is one of the inspirations for Alien, both the basic idea of a spaceship crew fighting an alien stowaway and scenes like the assault in the depths of the ship that we see in shadows, a crewman’s journey into the air vents, and the final fate of the monster.  For most of the running time, however, the film It! resembles most closely is its predecessor The Thing From Another World.  No doubt some enterprising screenwriter thought to move the setting from the hostile Arctic environment to the hostile environment of a space.  We get the same trial-and-error attempts to kill the monster, not to mention a Mars rescue mission that brings a horde of WWII surplus weaponry-Colt .45s, M1 Garand rifles, hand grenades, even a Bazooka!

The obvious low-budget of the film, which reuses one sparsely decorated sound stage for different levels of the ship and gives us only one matte painting of Mars, is behind the lack of space-age weaponry, but the stripped down nature of the proceedings lend the film a bit of charm.  The monster outfit is basic, but satisfying, and, if the creature is relatively undistinguished, it functions well enough as the beastie of the hour (and with a run time of just 69 minutes, it really is “of the hour”).  The interpersonal conflict is fairly weak, with the crew of World War Two movie clichés suspecting Carruthers, then having to work together under stress, plus a couple of women-the ship’s doctor and a biologist Ann Anderson (Shirley Patterson, World Without End)-who serve mainly to make coffee, tend the wounded, be menaced and, in Ann’s case, provide a love triangle between Carruthers and Van Heusen.  The love triangle is a weak afterthought, but with the film’s short run time we can perhaps forgive them for being so perfunctory.

These days many criticize Hollywood for the enormous number of remakes, reboots, and “re-imaginings” that seem to fill our screens.  Between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s genuine “re-imaginings” were one of the staples of the screen whether in the shape of blockbusters like Jaws, Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark or in R-rated fare like Alien, The Thing, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  These films mined the earlier films for ideas that were not fully explored, expanded on the earlier films, or truly re-imagined them for the current mood, and Alien did all three.  Dropping the unexploited plot threads of Carruthers suspected treason and the love triangle, the film added genuine paranoia and  betrayal, as well as giving us a crew with only the barest weapons and the dangers of the spacecraft itself to deal with.  These dangers that are very casually ignored in It!, with its heavily armed crew that sets up hand grenade booby traps in the engine room, fires off rifles and Bazookas in a space craft and opens up the shielding to their reactor in their attempts to destroy the beast!

It! is a fun way to kill a little over an hour for fans of 1950s sci-fi/horror and is worth a look for fans of Alien that are curious about the films that influenced it.  It is very much a B-movie, however, with very basic, threadbare sets and a cast of unsung character actors, so fans of modern sci-fi and horror who cannot abide the limitations of an earlier era would do best to stay away.

The trailer:

The entire film on Hulu:

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