The first manned expedition to Mars is decimated by an unknown life form…which stows away on the rescue ship.
The late director Edward L. Cahn, ( Girls in Prison / 1956 ) who passed away in 1963, has an amazing filmography that is astounding and completely diverse. Starting back in the 1930’s doing crime dramas and thrillers, Cahn rose through the ranks with standout films like Radio Patrol and I Cheated the Law. He directed a number of “Our Gang” comedies and is known for his many short subject movies like Baby Blues and Fighting Fools. He went on to direct many B movies and had a long gig helming movies for AIP. It was at the start of 1950’s where Cahn began his love affair with the mid to low end of the science fiction genre. He pushed out B pictures as if on an assembly line. The Brooklyn native was no stranger to making films quick and easy.
His brother, Phillip Cahn was also an editor who in turn had a son and grandson that eventually became editors. Ed’s nephew, Dann, was the lead editor over at Desilu Studios for many years and worked on I Love Lucy and Beverly Hillbillies. So, when it came for Ed Cahn to start churning out some B flicks he took his job seriously and late in his career began establishing himself as the director of some entertaining, substantial and original movies that stand the test of time. Ed started off the decade with quite a bang with Destination Murder and Two Dollar Bettor but it was in 1955 that he brought us the Curt ( The Wolfman) Siodmak penned B classic: “The Creature with the Atom Brain” which was a great sign of things to come for Cahn and his niche of fantastic and clever genre entries. The sky was the limit and if he can make a movie about a remote controlled zombie fun then he could just about do anything to entertain audiences.
After his string of hits and not so hits with movies like The She Creature, Zombies of Mora Tau and the very cool “Invasion of the Saucer Men” with Frank Gorshin, Cahn went on to make something that changed the game and set the bar pretty high. A film that eventually garnered a massive cult following as well as becoming an influential piece of singular cinematic art. A movie that would go on to define what a “Midnight Movie” really is. The movie was released in 1958 and was called appropriately: “It! The Terror from Beyond Space” The film stars Marshall Thompson ( Gunsmoke ), Shawn Smith aka Shirley Patterson ( The Land Unknown ), Kim Spalding and Ann Doran ( Rebel without a Cause ). Supporting actors that round out the cast are Dabbs Greer, Paul Langton, Robert Bice, Richard Benedict and the late great Ray Corrigan as “IT.” Corrigan made quite a name for himself as a “Costume Actor” who repeatedly played numerous, Apes, Gorillas and strange creatures. Corrigan has the films, White Gorilla and The Monster and the Ape in his varied filmography. The film starts in the future in 1973 and as we watch the opening shot of a earth spaceship there is an eerie voice over that explains that the ship is on Mars, the red planet, and that they are there to find survivors of an earlier expedition if there are any.
Seems that there is one by the name of Col. Carruthers ( Thompson ) who has survived an attack but a malevolent alien life form that is indigenous to the planet. He tells Col. Van Heusen ( Spalding ) that in one confrontation they were attacked by a creature during a convoy. It was something large and fast. Not everyone believes the story but soon enough, Van Heusen starts the trip back to earth with Carruthers in tow ( and confined to his quarters ) to stand trial back on earth for murder. As the crew prepares for departure though, it seems that a shadowy menacing form enters the space craft through a large vent duct that was left open.
Cahn keeps the film moving with some very nice effects of space, the craft heading home and star fields. The ship’s interior is what Cahn establishes right away as a claustrophobic environment that is shadow filled, eerie and cramped. Thanks to set director Herman Shoenbrun (Gunsmoke) and art director William Glasgow (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?). With their help, Cahn keeps us in suspense and the tight and confining decks, vents and air ducts are almost a character all it’s own in this film. That helps Cahn to set mood and fear within the decks of this doomed space craft. Things go wrong almost immediately as a crew member is attacked and dragged back into a ventilation duct by an unseen and brutal life form. Eventually another crew member is attacked and the crew discovers that this creature must have stowed away on the ship and is attacking the crew one by one.
They also find the corpses and bodies of crew members sucked dry of all water, blood and even bone marrow. One cannot help but think that a type of alien vampire is aboard. Van Heusen and Col. Carruthers with the help of the rest of the crew arm everyone and start a plan to try and dispatch the unseen terror that is slowly and methodically decimating the crew. With Carruther’s insistence they come to the conclusion that Carruthers must be telling the truth and that this is the same creature that murdered the previous astronauts that tried to explore Mars. While in space, Cahn does an absolutely wonderful job at creating tension, doubt and suspense. The photography stands out by DP Kenneth Peach (Taxi) who had his camera slowly peer around the sets, penetrate space and frame the decks and crew members with skill and intensity. It is easy to see where DP Adrian Biddle may have gotten his influence for shooting “Alien” after watching how the film visually unfolds.
Several attempts to try and destroy the creature fail. They at one turn trap IT inside a nuclear radiation chamber but it has no affect. IT breaks out and starts more mayhem. A standout sequence involves one of the men trapped inside the cargo room behind some cargo barrels and boxes warding off the large and hideous creature ( designed by Paul Blaisdell of IT Conquered the World 1956) with nothing but a blowtorch. It is a long and terrible moment between the monster and the crew member that never lets up. When the remaining crew members retreat up to the upper decks and levels, IT continues to pursue them with his large sharp claws and razor like teeth. Obviously, with Corrigan in the alien suit, he manages to act through all the make up and sends chills up our spine as he walks around with deadly intention through out the confines of the space craft. One of Corrigan’s shining moments for sure. Will the crew be able to save themselves? Will the crew be able to eradicate IT and get home safely?
Or will IT get to them all and drink them dry of all of their bone marrow and blood before they reach the safety of earth? You must watch “IT! The Terror from Beyond Space.” It has been, many times cited as a direct influence for Ridley Scott’s “Alien” which turned out to be a true masterwork on it’s own. Yes, there are many similarities. The alien, the claustrophobic sets and decks, the dark corridors, desperate crew members and the such.
But IT is a completely different animal among the annals of science fiction B pictures as being the first of it’s kind and even though it is a template for many like minded films whether by Ridley Scott or even Roger Corman, the movie remains a very scary outing with a very scary beast that lurks and shows no mercy like the primordial monster it is. It is of the same family as Spielberg’s great white shark or even Scott’s Xenomorph. It is a force of nature and we as the humans, as smart and intellectual as we think we are, are no match for this monster. We can fight back but not before the wrath of such creatures takes it’s toll on us.
“IT, The Terror from Beyond” is a fun B picture that only Ed Cahn could have delivered back then. It has cheap scares, a foreboding atmosphere and loads of close calls and action. It is a genuine slice of pulp pie that satisfies and entertains. It has tension that is masterfully provided by Cahn, the story and the actors. It is intelligent and has like-able characters who deliver some quick and sometimes sophomoric dialog that fits the proceedings nicely. The film sports some dated but respectively nice looking special effects and Chan makes good use of shadows which do not let us see IT in it’s entirety for many of the confrontation scenes. This is a film that would make a killer double bill with Hawks’ and Nyby’s “The Thing from Another World.” It is, like I said earlier, the definitive “Midnight Movie.” Enjoy!
It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)