Article by Geek Soul Brother
That’s a long title for such a small, undefined threat. But that was the best way to invoke that 50s horror movie fear in people. THEM, THE THING… it was all about fear of the unknown, which was prevalent in that time of history.
Well, in the movie – IT: THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958), ‘IT’ became an alien creature that stowed away on a rescue spaceship sent to Mars to save Col. Edward Carruthers, the sole survivor of an exploration mission sent 2 years prior. It seemed that Carruthers might have killed the rest of his crew in a fit of insanity, but Edward maintains that he didn’t do it. It’s not long before the audience sees what must have been the true killer, a hideous monster that attacks from the shadows. One by one, the creature kills and feeds on the crew, even as the men and women fight with every weapon they have. The true terror of the film is realized as the creature makes its way up the compartments of the ship, making Carruthers and the rest retreat to a point of no escape. This was the fifties, and the sci-fi spaceship was imagined to be vertical with levels from top to bottom.
Directed by Edward L. Cahn and written by Jerome Bixby, the movie starred Marshall Thompson as Edward Carruthers, Shirley Patterson as Ann Anderson, and Kim Spalding as Col. Van Heusen. Ray Corrigan played the charming and lovable ‘IT’ creature.
The reason that I picked this classic black and white horror film was not because it was the most frightening, or the best directed, or even my favorite 50s horror film. IT: THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, to my recollection, is the first film that actually did a story of an alien monster attacking people on a ship. Most scifi horror films up until then showed the alien monster landing on earth and attacking people, or a manned spaceship traveled to a planet and then get attacked. Even in THIS ISLAND EARTH, the creature attacking people was just a small part of the larger story. It was a rare story plot at the time that invoked real tension.
And the truly interesting aspect about this film is its similarities to another ‘alien aboard a ship’ film that came out about 20 years later. You might not agree with me, but some of the action highlights in ‘IT’ played out very much like ALIEN. Sure, the alien creature was much more imaginative, but it was still a guy in a suit (much cooler suit), hiding in the shadows and killing people one by one. Not to spoil anything, but just watch the air vent scenes in both films and tell me that Ridley Scott didn’t do some serious borrowing.
That’s the cool thing about old films; you can see how they were foundations to the more modern films once you really give them a look. And those same ‘modern’ films will someday be classics that will inspire newer ones down the road. But you know the day is coming when your grandkids will talk about THE MATRIX as though it was a bad joke.
You may laugh at the rubber looking monster (the lighting and shadow work were great though), you may cringe at the corny dialog or bad acting (good acting at the time I’m sure), but you may also see the reasons that classic horror fans like this film. I think that for the 50s audience, the tension and sense of doom was palpable, just as it was in ALIEN when I was a kid, sitting in the theater, clutching my chest so the burster wouldn’t come out. Geek Soul Brother says give it a chance, you might like it.