The piece below was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn’t exist.
Shot over two weeks in the early part of 1958 as one-half a double bill with The Curse of the Faceless Man, director Edward L. Cahn (Invisible Invaders, Invasion of the Saucer Men, The Man With the Atomic Brain) and writer Jerome Bixby’s (Star Trek: The Original Series, Fantastic Voyage, The Twilight Zone) sci-fi/horror programmer, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, seemed all but destined to disappear from hearts and minds once it concluded its first and second runs later the same year. Instead, It! The Terror from Beyond Space lived on, first as weekend fodder for regional carriers (e.g., Chiller Theater, Creature Features) and later as the frequently cited inspiration for Ridley Scott’s Alien two decades later.
Given the frequency in which It! The Terror from Beyond Space played on local television in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it’s easy to assume Alien borrowed many of its core ideas from the 1958 film. The similarities between the two films are simply far too numerous to be accidental or coincidental: A spaceship briefly lands on another planet, a hostile stowaway boards the ship, and once back in space, a monstrous, seemingly unstoppable alien picks off the unprepared, hapless crew slasher-style, until only a desperate, extreme measure involving explosive decompression saves the day for the survivors and presumably humanity.
Alien, of course, wasn’t quite as optimistic, but it also showed what a significantly bigger budget, a talented, skillful filmmaker (Scott), and collaborators among the best in their fields could do with similar material. For all of its deserved praise, longevity, and status as an undisputed classic of the sci-fi/horror sub-genre, Alien probably wouldn’t exist without the existence of It! The Terror from Beyond Space. If nothing else, the earlier film serves as an object lesson in how similar or even identical plot beats can play out depending on various, interconnected factors.
From the get-go, it’s obvious that It! The Terror from Beyond Space was made on a modest production budget. That budget meant not just a rushed shooting schedule, but only three or four sets total, redressed as necessary to give the appearance of a multi-level spaceship hurtling through space between Mars, where a rescue mission finds a lone survivor, Col. Edward Carruthers (Marshall Thompson), from an earlier, failed expedition. Suspected of murdering the rest of his crew for rations – a suspicion treated as practical fact given the court martial awaiting him on his return to Earth – Carruthers repeatedly raises a vague alternative to explain the deaths of his crew: an alien life-form, a thing of some kind.
Typical of sci-fi/horror programmers of the era, Bixby’s script plays fast and loose with real-world and/or narrative logic. Col. Van Heusen (Kim Spalding), the leader of the rescue mission and Carruthers’s chief accuser, gives his fellow officer a relatively free run of the ship, a decision that doesn’t go unnoticed by Van Heusen’s romantic partner, Ann Anderson (Shirley Patterson), one of only two women aboard the rescue ship. While Ann’s presence on the ship represents pre-feminist progress on one level, it doesn’t get her very far. She’s still relegated to menial, non-scientific, gendered tasks (e.g., cooking, serving coffee). With practically no agency or autonomy of her own, Ann unsurprisingly joins Van Heusen and Carruthers in the obligatory romantic triangle.
As expected, the supporting characters aboard the spaceship never rise about the one-dimensional, serving primarily as fodder for the ravenous alien once it starts attacking the crew, background players to the central action, or exposition delivery devices. Unsurprisingly, deaths, though not completely meaningless, don’t mean much at all. Only one early death stands out and it’s not because of who dies or how he dies, but in Cahn’s canny decision to shoot and edit the scene as shadow play, with the monster’s silhouette (courtesy of makeup and creature designer Paul Blaisdell), leaving the character’s gruesome demise mostly to the audience’s imagination.
While little else stands out across It! The Terror from Beyond Space’s brisk 69-minute running time, Blaisdell’s creature design certainly design. Besides the aforementioned silhouette, the thick, scaly suit resembles a bulked-out Creature From the Black Lagoon without somehow feeling derivative. Infamously, the actor inside the rubber-suited monster, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, refused to be fitted for his facial appliance/mask, necessitating on-set improvisation (Corrigan’s protruding chin was turned into the monster’s tongue). Comical maybe by today’s rarefied standards, but the opposite by the B-movie standards of the time. (Due to a number of factors, including the widely held perception of science fiction as a genre best suited to juvenile interests, genre films rarely received A-level, prestige budgets.)
Special Features (Blu-Ray)
Brand New HD Master – From a 2K Scan of the 35mm Fine Grain
tidbITs: Ephemera from Beyond Space – Featurette by Film Historian Craig Beam
NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historians Tom Weaver, Bob Burns, Larry Blamire and David Schecter
NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historian Craig Beam
NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historian/Screenwriter Gary Gerani
Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase
Optional English Subtitles
It! The Terror from Beyond Space: Special Edition Blu-Ray is now available for purchase via the usual online and offline retailers.
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