Sci Fi Genre Gems: Nuggets from the worlds of science fiction and fantasy that may have slipped under the radar or faded from our memories but that are still deserving of our attention.
Director: Edward L. Cahn
Writer: Jerome Bixby
Cast: Marshall Thompson, Shawn Smith, Kim Spalding
Initial Release: 1958
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars
What Is It? This little B-Movie gem came out in 1958 and takes a somewhat realistic look at space travel as it chronicles the consequences of a failed mission to Mars. The first manned rocket crash-landed there, and only the commander survived, claiming that he and his crew were attacked by some sort of creature. A second ship arrives and takes the commander back with them, where Earth authorities plan to Court Martial him. But the creature boards the ship before it leaves Mars and begins to kill off the ship’s crew members one by one.
Why It Stands Out: This one is a better than average B-Movie and provides us the basic template for movies like Alien and other films where some sort of creature runs amok on a ship picking off the crew (and 1951’s Thing From Another World was the precursor to It!, though that earlier film was not confined to a spaceship).
I stumbled across this not too long ago as one of the few sci fi movies Netflix has available for instant streaming (in their defense, they do have a rather hefty selection of genre television shows). I’m sure I saw this as a kid because I devoured this sort of thing in my younger years, but it did not stick in my brain so it must not have been part of the regular rotation on the old UHF channels like Them! and The Thing and The Day the Earth Stood Still were. Despite its superficial similarities to Alien, Dan O’Bannon denies that It! provided any inspiration for his film (he claimed he wanted to do a darker version of the alien beach ball sequence from his own Dark Star), but it undeniably foreshadows that 1979 movie and you can see where it has been imitated (unintentionally or not) many times since in genre films.
Apart from its influence and significance in film history, It! is a good, if not spectacular, piece of science fiction film-making. As with many genre films from that time, especially those featuring a monster of some sort, it is a B-Movie through and through. The special effects are rather cheesy, though judiciously used, and the monster himself probably ranks as one of the worst among the more important early genre films, giving us one of the least memorable of the rubber-costume, Halloween-mask baddies of that era (quick check: can you even picture this monster in your head if you have not seen the movie in the past year or so?). But surprisingly, despite its production limitations, It! delivers a halfway decent science fiction tale. The script came from Jerome Bixby who penned many science fiction short stories and also contributed several episodes to The Twilight Zone, Star Trek and several other genre TV shows (and he also wrote the script to one of my all-time favorite science fiction movies The Man from Earth). The movie handles space travel rather intelligently for the time and also gives a plausible explanation for the monster and why it’s such a vicious killer (though not necessarily for why it is so indestructible). On the down side, the acting is nominal, though not bad for a 50’s B-Movie, and the directing and pacing is plodding and slow. But for those like me who love cheesy old sci fi films like this, it’s worth catching. And as B-Movies go, I would rank this rather highly compared to its ilk, maybe 4 or 4 ½ out of 5 stars. The rating at the top of this review is how it compares in general to other genre films.
Don’t go into It! expecting classic science fiction, and you won’t be disappointed. Just look at it as a decent enough early sci fi cheapie and you will better appreciate its merits. And it only runs 69 minutes, so it won’t take too much of your time to watch. If you already have Netflix streaming, then get it in your queue for when you have an hour to spare and want to revisit an enjoyable little genre film from an age past.
Interesting Facts: The monster was played by Ray “Crash” Corrigan, a frequent western actor who also appeared in many movies dressed in an ape costume including The Ape and Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. It! was Corrigan’s last film before he retired. The promo poster for the movie that showed up in many theaters when It! came out (click on image above for larger view) guaranteed $50,000 to the first person who could prove that “It was not on Mars now”. Word is that NASA may be trying to claim that prize (that $50k from 1958 is worth about $400k today) to help fund the next Mars mission . . .
Buy It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Other Classics from the 50′s on DVD from Amazon.com: