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IT! The Terror 

from Beyond Space

Part Three of The IT-athon!

     "Only one kind of monster uses bullets."

-- Colonel VanHuesen     




Gonzoid Cinema




"Hey, Monster? S'a'right?"

"S'a'right! Close de door."

Sights &
IT! The
Terror from
Beyond Space
 Vogue Pictures /
 United Artists

Cheap, But
The Been There,
Shot That Films
of Eddie L. Cahn.

The She Creature

Voodoo Woman

Dragstrip Girl

Jet Attack

IT! The Terror from Beyond Space

When the Clock Strikes

No Budget
The Fantastic
Monsters of
Paul Blaisdell.

The Beast with a Million Eyes

The She Creature

Voodoo Woman

IT! The Terror from Beyond Space


Our movie begins with a slow pan over the rocky and desolate surface of Mars, augmented by a solemn prologue from Colonel Ed Carruthers (Marshall Thompson), who waxes on and on about the hellish landscape before us until the camera eventually settles on the wreckage of The Challenge-141, which cracked-up while attempting the first ever landing on the angry red planet.

The lone survivor out of a crew of nine from that ill-fated vessel, Carruthers warns that it wasn't the crash that killed the others but some kind of a horrible monster [...cue ominous music], who picked his shipmates off, one by one, and violently shredded them. And this is where our movie proper begins, with the impending departure of the rescue ship, aptly named The Challenge-142. Under the command of Colonel VanHuesen (Kim Spalding), he, along with the rest of the 142's crew, don't buy the survivor's incredible story. In fact, they all believe that it was Carruthers who killed the crew of the 141, and not some B.S. monster, to hoard the meager supplies while waiting out the rescue ship. And despite the protests of innocence, VanHuesen intends to extract Carruthers' full confession before they reach Earth, where a general court-martial and summary execution awaits.

However, as the countdown to the launch ticks off, VanHuesen is alerted that one of the lower-level cargo hatches is still open. Somewhere below, Lt. Calder (Paul Langton) apologizes, having accidentally left it ajar after dumping some garbage over the side; and after he closes the hatch, the camera pans away, revealing the shadow of something monstrous lurking in the back of hold. And then the sparkler's lit, and The Challenge-142 rockets back to Earth, the crew blissfully unaware that they have picked up an unwanted stowaway -- a stowaway that's hungry...

Okay everybody, curl up on the old Barco Lounger and grab a can of your favorite brew, and then settle in for a nice-n-creepy little feature that is, if nothing else, the poster child on the dire consequences of littering on a galactic scale. Seriously, though, IT! The Terror from Beyond Space is a bond fide seminal film that spawned and inspired plenty of features that followed in its wake -- some more obviously than others. And we're going to get to that, but first, we're gonna take a look at what probably inspired the inspirer in the first place.

Starting in 1939, Astounding Science Fiction, one of the premiere sci-fi pulps of that era (-- of any era, really), published a series of stories by A. E. Van Vogt concerning the exploits of Dr. Elliott Grosvenor and the crew of The Space Beagle, a massive interstellar exploratory vessel, whose own impact and influence on the genre are still rippling through all stages of the medium even to this day. In The Black Destroyer, the explorers find a large, tentacled, lion-like creature amongst the ruins of an ancient civilization. Taking this new specimen on board the ship, though friendly at first, the Coeurl quickly shows its true stripes and starts killing the crew; first clandestinely and then overtly, sucking the potassium it needs to survive from the corpses. Every attempt to kill the rampaging beast fails, as all their interior weapons prove useless, until the creature is tricked into a life-pod, jettisoned, and finally destroyed by the Beagle's larger atomic-disintegrator cannons. 

In the follow up story, Discord in Scarlet, the crew runs afoul of another ancient alien: the Ixtl, a vicious insect-like creature that had been free-floating in the vacuum of space since the Big Bang. Once brought on board, the creature revives and escapes. Hiding in the ship's air-shafts, the Ixtl abducts several crewmembers, who serve as hosts when it implants its parasitic eggs inside them. Able to phase through solid objects, and possessing great stealth and speed -- so much so that all the surviving witnesses can recall is "a scarlet blur" -- the ghostly creature buzzsaws through a good chunk of the crew until, once again, nexialist ingenuity (-- look it up --) tricks it into vacating the ship, which then warps away, leaving the monster stranded in deep space again ... These episodes, and two others -- War of Nerves, where they meet some benevolent bird-like aliens but are hampered by a deadly language barrier, and M33 Andromeda, where the Beagle must lead a nebulous, planet destroying vapor on a wild goose-chase until it starves to death -- were eventually collected into a novella, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, and later again in Mission: Interplanetary, and even if you're just a casual genre fan, you owe it to yourself to track the book down and give it a read. 

And if those stories sound a little familiar to you, you're not alone.

Over the years, many a savvy sci-fi fan traced many of the themes and elements of Ridley Scott's Alien back to IT! The Terror from Beyond Space -- both claustrophobic tales of a small crew trapped on a spaceship, facing an indestructible creature that randomly picks them off and violently dispatches them. But I, like many others, don't think they looked back far enough. In 1979, Cinefantastique ran an article comparing the two films, along with a third, Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires. Had Dan O'Bannon seen these films? Or read the books? And did it help influence his screenplay? Maybe. Unfortunately, when people use the word "influence" when talking about popular media it often has a negative connotation. Why say influenced or inspired when you really mean ripped off, and to confuse things even further, I'm not really sure where the line is when it stops being a rip-off and becomes a homage. But just as George Lucas was inspired by the likes of Alex Raymond and Akira Kurwasawa, O'Bannon, just coming off Dark Star, cherry-picked several key elements from several sources, put them in a blender, and ended up with one of the scariest movies ever made. Some could argue that isn't that what the creative process is? Taking what you've experienced, seen and heard, and make them your own? We'll give that a qualified "yes" -- as long as your not too obvious about it. 

Frankly, I see more of Van Vogt's Discord in Scarlet in Alien than anything else. And so did the author, whose plagiarism case was strong enough that 20th Century Fox settled for an undisclosed sum out of court. Rumor has it that the makers of IT! The Terror from Beyond Space contemplated bringing suit against the film, as well, but that would've been a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. For as much as the xenomorph was inspired by the Ixtll, IT's killer Martian owes a debt to both Van Vogt's The Black Destroyer and John Campbell's Who Goes There and its eventual film adaptation, The Thing from Another World. But before we criticize too much, one has to ask the obvious question: So who or what inspired them, then? And as we noodle that one for awhile, let's get back to the film as The Challenge 142 leaves Mars behind and begins its four-month long trek back to Earth.

And while Carruthers continues to plead his case, still insisting that a monster killed his comrades, VanHuesen shows his blathering prisoner some of the remains they found, revealing that one of the skulls has a bullet hole in it. And since there is only one kind of "monster" in this universe who uses bullets, this clinches the man's guilt as far as VanHeusen's concerned. Carruthers tries to explain that bullet wound was an accident, fired when the monster attacked during a blinding sandstorm, and the recipient was already dead anyway, but VanHuesen won't listen. The rest of the crew pretty much feels the same way, and is a standard representation of 1950’s-era space-pioneers (-- and everyone last one of them a chain-smoker.) Calder is from Texas; and then we have Gino and Bob Finelli, the requisite brothers from Brooklyn (Richard Harvey and Richard Benedict); also along is the ship's physician, Dr. Mary Royce (Ann Doran), and her husband, Eric (Dabs Greer); and, of course, the obligatory love interest, biologist Ann Anderson (Shirley Patterson. And I find it funny that they made the ship's medical doctor and biologist women, yet they're still in charge of making dinner, serving coffee and doing the dishes!) There are a couple of other mooks at the bottom of the cast list, and since we know they’re toast, we’ll just introduce these poor souls as they’re knocked off. Starting right about now...

Hearing some strange noises from the lower decks, Keinholz (Thom Carrey), our first red-shirted ensign, heads down to the darkened cargo hold to investigate. The layout of the 142 rocket is vertical, five decks in all, with one central stairway and a sealable hatch on each floor. And after a few suspenseful turns, Keinholz is attacked by the savage stowaway. Of course, only Carruthers hears something odd, his senses keenly attuned after relearning how to hear while on Mars, and fearing what it could be, demands that the others investigate. Those others scoff at the paranoid prisoner but humor him; but the humor quickly evaporates when they can't find Keinholz anywhere. Splitting up to search the ship, Gino first makes a bee-line for- and then raids a vital storage bin: the one with all the cigarettes in it! But before he can light up, the monster lunges out of nowhere and attacks him before he can even scream! Now with two crewmembers missing, as the search expands, they finally find Keinholz's pulverized and exsanguinated body stuffed up an air vent. Volunteering to search the airshafts, Major Purdue (Robert Bice), our second red-shirt, finds Gino, barely alive. Unfortunately, he also finds the monster. Purdue manages to scramble away and escape, but not before the monster savages his face.

Proven right, this vindication means little to Carruthers with all of their lives in mortal danger. Knowing what they face, he quickly moves to barricade the air-vents. And before retreating to a higher deck, the others rig an explosive trap for the monster. But when the creature detonates the grenades, they don’t even slow it down, and it even rips through the sealed metal compartment doors like they were tissue paper! Next, they try some gas bombs that Gino had rigged up -- in case they ran into some dinosaurs on Mars. (Remember this is the '50s, and new planets were either inhabited by Iguana-shaped dinosaurs that fought to the death or tribes of buxom Amazonian women.) Donning gas masks, the crew bombards the creature below, but when the gas doesn't work either, VanHuesen is severely mauled in the resulting mêlée. 

Forced to retreat up another deck -- and there ain't that many left, he typed ominously, Royce comes up with a plan to try and electrocute the invader. Donning their spacesuits, Carruthers and Calder use the airlocks to go outside and circle down below the monster. Once back inside, they connect a high voltage wire to the stairway, and then make some noise to attract the beast. It hears them, but when it gets the juice, again, this has no visible effect on the monster -- except pissing it off. And as the monster goes berserk, Carruthers barely makes it back to the airlock. Calder isn't so lucky and takes a beating, gets his leg broke, and worse yet, the monster cracks the faceplate on his suit -- so he couldn’t escape out the airlock even if he could get to it. Managing to squeeze into a corner, Calder uses a handy acetylene torch to hold the creature off and orders Carruthers to go back without him and get help.

And while Carruthers makes his way back up the side of the ship, Dr. Royce finishes her autopsy on Keinholz, where she discovers that the victim died of acute dehydration, not the severe beating -- most of which was done post-mortem. Somehow, the monster sucked all the oxygen, blood and water, every ounce of liquid, from the body through some kind of osmosis. Royce also warns that the wounded are infected with some kind of alien bacteria, and without more whole blood, they will surely die. And, of course, the way this trip's been going, all the medical supplies she needs are right where the monster currently is ... Still kicking below, Calder radios over the intercom that the monster has taken Gino's body and moved into the reactor room. Seizing their chance, using the ships controls, the others seal the thing inside the lead-lined chamber, and then Carruthers, Finelli and Royce head down to retrieve Calder and the medical supplies. When they're gone, in a bacterial-charged delirium, VanHuesen then opens the reactor core, exposing the monster to a massive dose of radiation in an attempt to poison it. Again, this only makes the monster more mad, and after tearing through the reactor door, it proceeds to tear Finelli apart before he can rescue Calder. With the monster gruesomely distracted, Carruthers and Royce retreat with the medical supplies while Calder, left behind again, resumes fighting off the monster with his torch. 

Unable to get at his prey, the frustrated monster flies into another frenzy and starts busting it’s way up through the decks to get at the others. Retreating to the command deck, the upper-most level of the ship, as the few survivors prepare for a final stand, Carruthers notices that the oxygen consumption levels on the read-outs are way up. Way-way up. When Royce deduces that the monster must be the cause, they hit upon a plan to shut the air off and blow the airlock, which should suffocate the creature and finally end its reign of terror. Radioing their intentions to Calder, he manages to seal himself in the lower airlock. Up above, while the others frantically don their space suits, the monster claws its way through the last hatch, cutting Carruthers off from the airlock controls. But as Royce bounces a few bazooka shells off the creature's head to distract it, VanHuesen nobly sacrifices himself, lunging on top of the creature to get at the switches, and blows the hatch. With that, the resulting explosive decompression asphyxiates the creature and it finally dies.

Back on Earth, the head of the Science Advisory Division of Interplanetary Exploration solemnly reads a tele-radio message from what's left of the crew of The Challenge-141 and 142 to the gathered media:

Of the nineteen men and women who have set foot on the planet Mars, six will return. There is no longer a question of murder, but of an alien and elemental life-force, a planet so cruel, so hostile, that man may find it necessary to bypass it in his endeavor to explore and understand the universe.

 Another name for Mars, is death.

The End

Okay, it seems back in the 1950's, Robert E. Kent was a screenwriter who dabbled a little in independent film production. Moving from genre to genre, focusing on whatever was popular with audiences at the time, his Vogue Pictures churned out many a cheap bottom-bill fillers. And by 1958, he decided it was time to cash in on the resurgent monster-movie movement and managed to convince Edward Small, a producer for United Artists, to back a proposed sci-fright twin-bill of IT! The Terror from Beyond Space and Curse of the Faceless Man. Seeing what the likes of American International and Allied Artists were making on such little investments, it wasn't that hard a sell, and Kent got the green-light. Both films were scripted by noted sci-fi author, Jerome Bixby -- probably most famous for penning Fantastic Voyage and the classic Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life"; and to direct, Kent plucked fast-shooting Eddie L. Cahn away from American International. To realize the Faceless Man, Kent turned to Charles Gemora, who designed the rubbery aliens for War of the Worlds and I Married a Monster from Outer Space; but as for the deadly Martian, he tagged another AIP alum, Paul Blaisdell

Originally envisioned as a sleek, lightning fast monstrosity, that idea was scrapped when Small cast former matinee idol Ray "Crash" Corrigan to add some punch to the marquee. By 1958, however, Corrigan had badly gone to seed and was a practicing alcoholic, and when the cameras finally rolled, according to Randy Palmer's biography on Blaisdell, it was far from a happy shoot. To start off with, the surly Corrigan hadn't shown up for any measurements so the suit didn't fit him very well, and to top it off, most days he showed up intoxicated, making things worse when he continuously lived up to his nickname by constantly crashing into things. In the infamous scene where we first glimpse the monster's shadow on the storeroom wall, Corrigan refused to put the ill-fitting mask on, and you can clearly make out the very human profile on the hulking body. 

Image courtesy of Shadow's B-Movie Graveyard.

Despite all the off-screen acrimony, on-screen, Cahn and cinematographer James Peach managed to hold things together and delivered quite a remarkable film with some genuinely creepy [... the discovery of Keinholz's body], gruesome [...the abuse of Gino's corpse], and hair-raising moments [...Calder holding the thing off with the torch] that still holds up when viewed today. A veteran of hundreds of films from just about every genre imaginable, Cahn had a reputation for being quick, cheap and effective. Clocking in at a brief 69 minutes, the director lived up to that rep, and really amped up the tension and suspense in IT! The Terror... by keeping things trim and tight and visually murky -- and kept Corrigan in check by keeping the monster in the shadows or very brief glimpses. I also love the fact that at first the ship essentially dooms the crew by trapping them with no possible means of escape, but then ultimately provides their salvation by offering the only means to finally kill the damned thing! Couple all of that with an eerie, punctuating score by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter, Bixby's claustrophobic setting, the relentless pace (-- marked by each death and evacuated floor), and a solid cast of can-do character actors (-- anchored by Thompson, Doran and Greer), and the end result is one of the most solid B-Movie efforts to come out of the 1950's. 

Sure, there are a few anachronistic touches that will give you a few chuckles, like all the smoking these "astronauts" do inside the controlled environment of the ship. Or how no one seems to be all that concerned about the hull's integrity while firing off hundreds of rounds of ammunition, detonating several grenades, and popping off a few rounds from a bazooka. And I'm not even going to bother to poke the insipid love triangle between Carruthers, VanHuesen and Anderson with the sharp stick it deserves. Also, I have no idea if anyone was able to disprove that the Martian didn't exist to claim the windfall offered in the promotional campaigns -- but I kinda doubt it.

When it was released, the films did well enough financially that Kent and Small immediately reunited most of the production crew to churn out another creepified double-feature, The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake and The Invisible Invaders -- the latter film also recycling the monster suit from IT!. Alas, lightning failed to strike twice at the box-office, but still, over the ensuing years, Kent and Small would continue to turn out many a gonzoidal feature, including a couple of Vincent Price vehicles, The Tower of London and Diary of a Madman, and culminating in the 1970 bio-pic The Christine Jorgenson Story.

As for the who inspired what, when and how, I think most of it can be chalked up to Hollywood's penchant for constantly cannibalizing and then regurgitating back-up what came before. And by the 1970s, when JAWS showed the studios what a B-Movie with an A-Budget could accomplish at the box-office, it was only a matter of time before somebody picked the bones of this fine feature film and others of its ilk, threw a ton of money and talent at it, an wound up with an even finer feature film, that in turn spawned many a rip-offs and homages. 

And so it goes...

IT! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) Vogue Pictures :: United Artists / P: Robert Kent, Edward Small / D: Eddie L. Cahn / W: Jerome Bixby / C: Kenneth Peach / E: Grant Whytock / M: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter / S: Marshall Thompson, Shirley Patterson, Kim Spalding, Ann Doran, Dabbs Greer, Ray Corrigan

Back to the IT-athon!

Originally Posted: 03/17/00 :: Rehashed: 04/19/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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