It! The Terror from Beyond Space (Kino Lorber, NR)

Cast your mind back to 1973…No, wait, cast your mind back to 1958, a time when, apparently, people believed manned missions to Mars would be an ordinary occurrence just 15 years in the future. That’s the frame of mind you need—a willingness to set aside adult skepticism and science knowledge and watch this film like the sci-fi-loving, eternally optimistic audience it was meant for—to appreciate Edward L. Cahn’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space, an independent B-movie originally distributed as a double feature with Curse of the Faceless Man.

The screenplay by Jerome Bixby (who also wrote the story “It’s a Good Life” that was adapted as a Twilight Zone episode of the same name) put us aboard the second American mission to Mars, which was launched to bring members of the original mission home (they were stranded after crashing their spacecraft). When the second mission arrive, they found only one survivor—Col.. Edward Carruthers (Marshall Thompson)—and he’s under suspicion of murdering the other members of the crew for their rations. Carruthers, for his part, claims an apelike monster killed the other crew members and he was lucky to escape with his life.

The commander of the current mission, Colonel Van Heusen (Kim Spalding of Washington, MO) isn’t buying it, and treats Carruthers, who is being brought back to Earth to face a court martial, with suspicion. What Van Heusen doesn’t know is that his ship is bringing something else back as well—the very monster he doesn’t believe exist (this film has been cited as inspiration for the Alien franchise). The monster (played by actor/stuntman Ray Corrigan in his final role) picks off several crew members and proves resistant to conventional weapons such as bullets and hand grenades (not sure why such things on are on the ship in the first place, but that’s a question for another day). As this is a 1950s creature feature, you can guess that the crew comes up with a clever and science-y solution to their dilemma, which I’m certainly not going to spoil here.

I have to hand it to Cahn and Bixby: this is an incredibly cheaply made film with a laughable premise and yet it’s entertaining to watch if you take it in the right spirit. Just remember, kids: Mars is inhospitable to humans not because of surface temperatures fluctuating between -166° and 95° F or an atmosphere that is less than 0.2% oxygen, but because apelike monsters live there. Further, while we have technology that makes manned missions to Mars routine, we are apparently incapable of doing anything about these creatures.

If you like old sci-fi movies, you’ll find much to enjoy in this film, from the crew’s snappy jumpsuits (#sarcasm) to the random collection of techno-stuff that makes up the bizarrely expansive space ship. You can also enjoy the sight of crew members smoking on their spacecraft, which apparently has a really good ventilation system and an ample supply of oxygen.

Technically, It! sometimes rises above its budget courtesy of clever cinematography by Kenneth Peach and scary makeup by Lane Britton and Loren Cosand, and sometimes sinks to the Ed Wood levels (as in the depictions of the rocket ship in flight). The monster effects are pretty standard, although heightened by the choice (also echoed in Alien) to hold off letting you see the whole thing. It’s all good fun if you’re willing to take it as such, and the extras on this disc add a lot of value to what is, in the end, a programmer made to fill out a double bill.  

Director Edward L. Cahn amassed quite a track record in Hollywood. His first credit is from 1927, as editor of  Edwald André Dupont’s Love Me and the World is Mine (about which Variety said it “won’t hold up for a week in the big houses and may have its troubles getting the production cost back”). Fortunately, he got to work on some better films as well, including Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs (1928) and Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Cahn began directing films in 1931, specializing in shorts (including the Our Gang comedies, a.k.a. the Little Rascals comedies) and B-movies like this one. |Sarah Boslaugh

It! The Terror from Beyond Space is distributed on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The print is from a 2K scan of the 35mm Fine Grain and the packaging includes a commemorative O-Card slipcase. Extras on the disc include the featurette “tidbITs: Ephemera from Beyond Space” by film historian Craig Beam (44 min), the trailers for this (complete with subliminal messages!) and 8 other films, and 3 audio commentaries, by film historians Tom Weaver, Bob Burns, Larry Blamire, and David Schechter; by Film Historian Craig Beam; and by Film Historian/Screenwriter Gary Gerani.

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