johnlink ranks IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958)

I have to pick a show to direct in the fall. 40 minute time limit. Needs to be dynamic and unique. For some reason, every time I watch a B-movie, I think how cool it would be to get the rights to one of these old sci-fi flicks and turn it into a self-aware stage play. Separately, a former student messaged me tonight and asked me to work on a writing project which involved a gender neutral scenario. That got me to thinking… what if one of these B-movies was done with the males in the subservient female roles, and the females in the dominant male roles. That would be something. Anyway, I was thinking about that as I watched IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE. But that has nothing to do with what follows…

It-the-Terror-from-Beyond-Space

I watched IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) on 11.10.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

It’s the future (you know, 1973) and man has managed to figure out Mars exploration. A large team goes up, and never is heard from again. A second expedition is sent, and only one survivor is found: Carruthers (Marshall Thompson). For some reason, nobody believes that something nefarious happened. Instead, the crew throws him back on their second ship and starts the journey back to Earth for his court marshall in the murder of all his crew mates.

We know Carruthers is a good man. And that confidence is rewarded when we see a two-legged amphibious creature sneak on board the ship. Soon, people start dying. The acting is hammy, the writing is obvious, and we are all having a fun time. But when the monster is seemingly trapped in a ventilation shaft, a couple of the crew go after a large crate marked: G R E N A D E S.

Why are there grenades on a space ship? Why might intelligent humans think using these grenades would be a good idea? Chalk it up to a script without sense, or chalk it up to 1958 science. But they jack the top off that crate and gleefully take handful of explosive devices for sure. They then – for some reason – load up a whole bunch of them on each exit of the ventilation shaft. As if one wouldn’t do. Then they go to another room to prep their guns.

We know that 50s sci-fi is largely based in the fear of ‘other’. This movie certainly explores this idea, even if the idea of ‘other’ as ‘us’ is not a focus (that would be the purview of  Communist scare films like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE and the like). Instead, we focus here on the true monstrosity of other, the true horror of what something that is not human (read: American) truly is. But in doing so, this movie predicts the modern slasher film. Here – like in ALIEN or HALLOWEEN – a bunch of people are trapped in a small area with a killer. That killer may not pick them off one-by-one as they would in modern films, but the idea is the same as our heroes try to adapt and survive. To be sure, the quaint 50s effects can’t silly gun-bending monster can’t invoke the terror of latter gorefest films. But from a purely filmic standpoint, it is hard not to see how movies of this sort would later become sophisticated horror flicks.

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The monster sometimes looks cool. He is never scary, of course, but he often invokes a cool sense of sic-fi dread. His silhouette in an early killing is ominous, for example. But later (after a bunch of grenades are thrown at him with no effect), he sulks off in a way that cannily be describes as looking like a man in a suit dragging a sleeping bag behind him. The effect isn’t particularly organic.

But there is some cool stuff here too. The movie does a decent job of hiding the horror off screen, so that we see the characters’ reactions rather than the scary thing. A space walking scene is really cool and, even if the science of it is absurd, there is something aesthetically pleasing about watching two space men slowly walk down a space ship with all quiet other than that stereotypical tonal 50s sic-fi score.

This movie is a little better and a little more entertaining than it has any right to be. By modern standards, the script and the acting are average at best, and that is probably generous. To say this is a well made film would certainly be to understand its circumstances and origins, rather than to compare it to true science fiction classics. And while it is fun, it is the kind of fun that we laugh at even as we know the intent is to scare. So this is a modestly scoring movie which serves as an above-average example of sic-fi B-movies of the era. It may not be a movie to rush to, for sure. But if you want a short list of this genre, you could do much worse.

SCORES

FILM; 5; MOVIE: 6; ACTING: 5; WRITING: 4

5+6+5+4+0=20

FINAL SCORE: 5 out of 10

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~ by johnlink00 on November 11, 2015.

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