If not for the fact that it famously inspired Dan O’Bannon to write the script for Alien twenty years later, it’s unlikely that It! The Terror From Beyond Space would have found a niche for itself in the history of science-fiction movies. Despite its claustrophobic setting and its occasional sense of threat and isolation, It! isn’t all that because, even by 1950s B-Movie standards, the monster’s a bit ropey, largely incompetent and quite clearly a man lumbering about in a rubber suit waving his arms around.
Far in the future – 1973! – a manned mission to Mars is in trouble. All the crew are dead, apart from Colonel Edward Carruthers (Thompson) and a rescue mission has arrived to bring him home to face a court martial. He’s suspected of killing the rest of his crew to conserve rations, not knowing if and when a rescue mission will arrive (shades of The Martian). Carruthers, however, insists that a hostile Martian life form slaughtered all his colleagues. Not unreasonably, no one aboard the rescue ship believes him – until the humanoid lizard-like creature emerges from the depths of the ship, where it’s been hiding since gaining access through an engine vent and starts to pick off the crew.
It’s a good, straightforward story, of course, but It! is scuppered by weak direction, which fails to make the most of its potential and throws away any and every opportunity to make its predatory alien even remotely threatening. It all looks reasonably promising at first, with the odd claw revealed here and there, the occasional shadow promising something visceral and terrifying. But it rapidly goes off the boil when the monster – which looks as if it’s getting in an early audition for the 1960s Irwin Allen rubber-monsterfest Lost In Space – starts rushing about the ship roaring and waving its claws ineffectually, and making no effort to move or look like an alien life-form, resembling nothing so much as a bored stunt man in an uncomfortable monster costume. The multi-levelled design of the spaceship interior set is ingenious but it offers little opportunity for real excitement. One character spends an inordinate amount of time hiding virtually in plain sight behind a pipe, waving a blowtorch in the creature’s face, as it makes half-hearted attempts to get him out.
The tension improves slightly as the astronauts suit up and hide away, as far as they can, from the approaching creature and the finale will provide an extra frisson for those who have already recognised the film’s core resemblance to Alien. But It! remains sluggish, visually drab and, despite its cultural significance within the genre, rather forgettable and distinctly one-note. Worth a look just to see where a genuine classic was born, and even though it’s little over an hour long, it seems quite a bit longer.
IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: EDWARD L CAHN / SCREENPLAY: JEROME BIXBY / STARRING: MARSHALL THOMPSON, SHIRLEY PATTERSON, KIM SPALDING, MIKE DORAN, DABBS GREER / RELEASE DATE: 25TH APRIL