“What is the usual reason an intelligent creature kills?” asks Col. Edward Carruthers. Mary Royce responds, “It’s hungry? What made you so certain it’s intelligent, Colonel, and not just an animal?” Carruthers says, “It opened the door to ‘C’ compartment.”
Science fiction films of the 1950s have acquired a certain amount of charm over the last 50-plus years; it doesn’t matter if it’s the good ones or the bad ones. The best ones that featured a monster (e.g.: an extra-terrestrial) would have to utilize careful cinematography to make up for what the monster suit may have lacked (some could say this is a disadvantage of the pre-CGI era; others might say it is an advantage). The best sci-fi films with a guy in a monster suit were effective because they knew when and when not to show their monster (taking their cue from early horror films). Less can be a lot more than more (although it’s in a different genre and decade, many have agreed that Jaws would be a much different film if we had seen more of the shark). Edward Cahn’s It! The Terror From Beyond Space is much more than just another 1950s sci-fi B-movie.
I recently got the opportunity to see the film at Film Forum in New York City as part of a sci-fi double feature with Christian Nyby’s 1951 classic The Thing From Another World. Cahn’s film starts in the year 1973, where the first manned mission to Mars goes terribly wrong, resulting in the death of the entire crew (except for the mission’s commander, Col. Carruthers). A second ship arrives on Mars to bring Carruthers (an excellent Marshall Thompson) back to Earth for a court martial. No one believes Carruthers’ innocence until crew members start to go missing during the flight back to Earth. After recovering two dead crew members, it is discovered that an alien from Mars has found its way on board. Carruthers and the remaining crew members must work together to defeat the alien stowaway before it’s too late.
One of the film’s highlights includes the editing by Grant Whytock. The film is incredibly well-paced, slowly building the tension and suspense of the alien’s presence and eventual actions. This is complemented by the superb black-and-white cinematography by Kenneth Peach. At times the film evokes a noir feeling, especially when the alien is lurking in the shadows (a few times all we see are shadows, which work very effectively in creating suspense). Cahn shows us the monster just enough times to make us believe that the crew really is in danger (if you actually manage to laugh whenever the monster is shown, then it means you’re probably stoned). Special mention must be made of Paul Blaisdale, who created the terrific alien suit for this film. The theremin-based score by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter is also quite effective in building up the tension and suspense (the soundtrack can be ordered here). The story works well, and there is no doubt in how influential this film was on Dan O’Bannon almost 20 years later when he was writing 1979’s Alien. In fact, he may have borrowed too much, but I’m not complaining (I’m just surprised that he was never sued by the writer or producer of this film). It! The Terror From Beyond Space is a terrific sci-fi film that is much more than a trivia note for Ridley Scott’s Alien, and it is certainly worth checking out.