The Birth of a Nation of Monster-on-a-Spaceship Movies: IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE


Some observations while watching IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE

IT! begins with one of those cool 50’s planetscapes, and a voiceover explaining that Colonel Carruthers is the only survivor of his crew that landed on Mars.  He claims a monster killed his crew, but no one believes him.  Another ship picks him up and he’s on his way home to get a court martial.  An air lock is left open so one of the crew can toss empty crates overboard, and a seven-foot, slow moving thing shambles aboard.

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IT! is a study of survivor guilt, as Carruthers is a grim loner who does not expect anyone to believe his tale.  It feels like a subplot from a war movie, and is a refreshingly harsh change from the usual spacefarers who are all best friends.  Though it shares many elements with ALIEN, Colonel Carruthers’s guilt is unique to this version. Ripley ain’t sorry she got away. Hell no.

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While the rest of the crew are playing chess (on a wooden table), one of the crew, Kleinwitz, investigates a sound, and does the standard move: He approaches the stairway, listens, decides it’s nothing and walks away, then hears it again and investigates.  We see the claw and shadow of the hulking beastie, and his size 15 shoes, and then…the shadow of doom, as the hapless crewman goes down screaming…not so different from Brett’s demise in ALIEN.  What a goddamned coincidence.

The scene in which everyone stands around waiting to hear if Kleinholtz will respond to the repeated calls for him looks weak on paper—people standing around while others call his name—but it works.  As the ship is a rocket, the set probably wasn’t very expensive—just move the wooden table out of the shot and it’s the next floor—but it increases the claustrophobia.  There’s something about being backed up into a corner that’s unnerving.

“I’M not getting in the escape pod with that thing, are you nuts?”

Crew members keep getting picked off even though the beastie moves like an arthritic mummy.  The crew soon learns that the monster uses the air vents—writer Jerome Bixby is the unsung hero of so many action movies for coming up with this move.  The Captain and Carruthers decide on the brilliant idea of putting grenades on the air shaft hatches. To Hell with that ‘science’ and ‘decompression’ and ‘the airlessness of space’ from them Round Earth types!  I like how the captain just hangs the grenades in a pleasing string, like he’s trying to trick It into thinking they’re Christmas ornaments.

One of the crew theorizes that the creature is a devolved Martian. So how can It be from Beyond Space, I ask you?

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The use of a weird electronic wail during the spaceship flying exteriors really adds to the weirdness, and it is such small touches that show someone behind the camera gives a damn.  (That you’re soon incredibly sick of it kind of works, since space travel sure looks dull.) That’s the kind of detailing that a movie maker only gets to do in science fiction. Another such detail: in one shot the monster is making sure his mask is on properly.

The beastie tries to escape, causing the grenades to explode but to no effect other than to piss him off.  At least there’s no gas or shrapnel to worry about, which begs the question, why not more bazookas? (Or a flame thrower…) He stumbles around the storage room knocking shit over, pounding on the door.  I can see where kids would identify with the monster, trying to get out of his room where he’s been locked until he behaves.

He’s got Maxine Waters’ tongue.

Turns out the thing sucks all the water from the victims through osmosis.

Survivor guilt, AND a water connection—forget ALIEN this movie was ripped off by ORDINARY PEOPLE.


They open the hatch just enough so the beastie can make a grab at them.  They then look at him while he wanders around, dragging a body behind like it’s his favorite doll.

While the captain’s girl is fixing Carruthers up from an encounter with the alien, she explains that after one bad marriage she buried herself in science.  Carruthers says, “If we get out of this I’d…” You’d what?  It doesn’t matter, he’s just guaranteed that both of them will survive the film.  I just question the timing.

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Cancer metaphor, or just bad makeup?

While attempting to get blood to cure the wounded of a leukemia-like condition, they’re down another crewmember.  (What did this thing do before humans were available to eat?)  Someone asks “What about Bob?”  Another movie owes Bixby a debt.

After putting all kinds of crates on the center hatch, the survivors are stuck on the top command level.  I love how they have a bazooka ready to fire, inside a spaceship.  Maybe it’s one of those directional bazookas. In the scuffle that follows, the Captain stumbles across the room and lets the air out of the ship, suffocating the thing, which didn’t need much oxygen on Mars but apparently needed SOME.  Close-Up on the hands of the new lovers.

In Washington, some reporters hear the story, and the declaration: “Another name for Mars is DEATH.”

So unlike our current heroes, the hero gets away with not doing much during the climax, leaving the wuss captain who couldn’t keep his girlfriend to die from I don’t know what.

It is one of those meat and potatoes movies that never get much praise at the time, but years later people mention it to friends, thinking they’re the only ones who’ve seen it, and feel good when others agree that it’s an enjoyable movie.  It is not some hidden classic, but some of its imagery—the opening shot of Mars, the creature in front of the reactor room—sticks with me.  And with a few filmmakers, apparently.

I don’t recall this scene in the movie, but I’m old.