Friday, August 1, 2008

It! The Terror From Beyond Space

Just because your budget is almost non-existent doesn’t mean you can’t make a decent film. Case in point: 1958’s It! The Terror From Beyond Space.

The movie opens on the planet Mars, in the distant future of 1973, when we will be jaunting around the solar system in rocket ships. Er, check that. Anyway, the second expedition to Mars has landed to rescue the sole survivor of the first expedition. He tells a fantastic story of how his crew-mates were killed by an evil creature. No one believes him (actually, we do, because we saw the creature on the dvd cover) and he is to be transported back to Earth for a court martial. Unbeknownst to the second crew, the creature has hitched a ride on the second ship, and waits for the moments when the crew members wander off by themselves, then grabs them to drain them of fluids (‘cause Mars is so dry). After only a couple of deaths, the crew realizes they’ve got a problem, and began a grim struggle against the monster. They are well equipped for this, since they brought guns, grenades, and even a friggin’ bazooka along on the ride. They proceed to fire/explode these weapons at will, bravely ignoring the danger of puncturing the hull and dying. I did wonder, if they were so damn sure Mars was uninhabited, why the arsenal? Eventually, they temporarily trap the creature belowdecks, and began seeking a way to kill it. (It took my wife fifteen minutes to state how to do this, although it takes the professionals hours to do so.)

It’s easy to poke fun at the movie for its scientific failings. In addition to the indiscriminate firing of weapons, the crew watches meteors flare by while in transit, even though there is no atmosphere to make them flame, and you will go crazy trying to figure out the order of the decks, since the people making the movie couldn’t keep it straight. And just for the record, if you only go to Mars, you haven’t gone “beyond space.” Still the movie is fairly effective in creating suspense, and scared the heck out of me as a little kid. Finding the desiccated bodies of crew members in the air shaft is a creepy moment.

The movie was written by Jerome Bixby, a well-regarded though not prolific science fiction writer, who also wrote scripts for The Twilight Zone and the first Star Trek series. As a promotional stunt, the poster that accompanies this article offers a $50,000 reward for anyone who could disprove the existence of such a creature on Mars. I guess they felt no one could do that in 1958.

It is widely stated that It! The Terror From Beyond Space was one of the inspirations for the movie Alien (there was a lawsuit), although I don’t know if that’s ever been proven. There are certain plot similarities.

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