While scrolling through TCM’s line-up one night, I spotted a fun sci-fi flick to add to the DVR. After hearing the introduction for the film, I knew that I had to watch. I was not disappointed. TCM host Ben Mankiewicz piqued my interest in his introduction of It! The Terror from Beyond Space:
“This is the story of the first manned space expedition to Mars, which, according to the movie, takes place in the distant year of 1973 … In the film, Marshall Thompson stars as an astronaut, the lone survivor of the expedition to the Red Planet. As the film begins, a spaceship arrives from Earth to rescue Thompson to bring him back home. But as the voyage progresses, we learn there’s a stowaway on board: a bloodsucking alien who starts killing off the ship’s crew one by one. Can this alien be stopped with bullets? Please. Grenades? I don’t think so. Poison gas? Don’t even think about it. Conventional weapons are useless against bloodsucking stowaway aliens. Low budget? Yes. Campy? Absolutely. Bad special effects? Do you even have to ask? But fun? Completely. If you’re a science-fiction fan, you’re sure to love the plot.”
The film begins with a narration of the account of the events surrounding the deaths of the crew members to the expedition to Mars. Famed astronaut Colonel Edward Carruthers (Marshall Thompson) is the sole survivor of the first expedition to the planet. A spaceship arrives to rescue Carruthers, and to return him to Earth to face court-martial for the murder of his fellow crew members. Although Carruthers repeats his innocence, explaining that the crew was killed off by a mysterious creature, everyone believes that he killed them himself in order to keep the limited food supply for himself:
Carruthers: “Do you honestly believe that I’d murder nine of my closest friends in order to survive on Mars?”
Van (Kim Spalding): “Well, isn’t it logical, Colonel? The Challenge 141 cracks up in landing. And you know you’re marooned indefinitely on Mars until another ship is sent. If another ship is sent. You know the food and supply aboard would last the entire crew only a year. But they’d last you ten years, if the others were dead.”
Unfortunately, when the rescue ship lands on Mars to pick up Carruthers and investigate the incident, a crew member leaves open an emergency hatch, allowing the vicious creature to sneak aboard undetected. Mr. Mankiewicz promised cheesy special effects, and this film definitely delivers.
Mr. Mankiewicz was also correct that this film is really fun to watch. It’s one of those movies that will make you laugh each time the spaceship is shown “flying” through space or whenever the totally realistic monster (who is definitely NOT a man in a rubber suit) attacks. Don’t get me wrong, I can see how, at the time, the special effects would have been effective in scaring an audience. After all, the plot itself is rather unsettling: there’s an unstoppable murderous alien, killing humans indiscriminately, and they are unable to defend themselves and have nowhere to hide aboard a spaceship. The crew tries every weapon they have in attempt to stop the creature: they shoot it, they try to blow it up with grenades, they use poisonous gas. This creature is seemingly immortal, and the crew doesn’t know if they’ll make it back to Earth alive. On the bright side, once the crew members start getting killed off by the creature, our poor, misjudged Col. Carruthers has proof of his innocence. Of course, that won’t matter if he doesn’t make it back alive …
If you’ve never seen this film, but the plot still sounds eerily familiar to you, you’re not alone. As Mankiewicz mentions in his TCM introduction to the film, It! is recognized as having served as the inspiration (at least in part) for screenwriter Dan O’Bannon’s script for the seminal 1979 sci-fi classic Alien. That film, directed by Ridley Scott, kicked off a franchise starring the grotesque alien creature and made a superstar out of actress Sigourney Weaver. Alien presents a much more sophisticated take on the general plot of It!; not only does the latter film benefit from more convincing special effects (two decades of technological development will do that), but Alien concentrates much more of its energy on characterization, eschewing the cardboard-cutout stereotypes that populate It!
From low-budget special effects to silly situations (detonating grenades aboard a spaceship, bringing bazookas to space, carelessly littering on Mars to allow the creature to come aboard in the first place, etc.), this movie is a hoot. During one scene in which the crew is asked to talk casually to distract the monster, instead of writing just a few more lines of simple dialogue, a replay of former dialogue is dubbed. I’m not sure who made that decision, but it was a bad one. Were they paying the actors by the word? Seriously? Write ten more lines of casual conversation instead of reusing previous audio.
Still, this was another one of those quirks that make a cult classic like this so fun to watch. For sci-fi lovers everywhere, It! The Terror from Beyond Space is a film you simply can’t miss.